Japanese, Japanese Resources, JLPT N2, Miscellaneous, Resources

in with the new.


Hello! This is my last post before semester starts again and I neglect the blog. Kinokuniya was having a start-of-semester sale so all Japanese textbooks were 20% off! Bless. So here are the goods! ^^

I’ve started working though the Shin Kanzen Master N2 Grammar book (on Chapter 2!) and this is the series I intend to use to hopefully help me on my way to JLPT N2. I’ve found downloads for all the books in the series except for the listening book, so I thought I may as well buy it. I also decided to buy Unicom’s listening book because I liked what I saw as I flicked through: it appears that Kanzen listening focuses more on improving your listening skills in general, whereas Unicom is more test-specific. So I think they should make a good duo a bit later down the track. I don’t know why both publishers decided to use a red/pink colour for their books though, it’s an odd coincidence! Is there some neurological study linking red and pink with err…listening? I don’t know. Perhaps somebody can shed some light on this 😀

And the third book is of course Benny Lewis’ Fluent in 3 Months. Because I read his blog fairly regularly, I didn’t really feel the need to buy it at the time of its release, but I have since decided to attend his meet up here in Sydney in late March, so I figured the polite thing to do would be to actually have a book for him to sign! A lot of the advice is quite familiar to me, but I’ve been reading it to and from work on the train and I’ve been enjoying it very much. The book is inexpensive and well worth a read. I’m really looking forward to meeting him! But I suspect that I will probably just end up tongue-tied T.T Ah well. We’ll see.

So that’s about it for this week. If any of you have experience with these listening books, or the Shin Kanzen Master books for N2, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear your thoughts. As I mentioned before, I hope that I can keep this blog updated (I’ve been doing so well, this is unusual orz) during semester, but my priority during university is first and foremost not failing law school so we’ll have to see >.< But I’m determined to continue to have time in my life for my beloved languages!

I hope your learning is progressing well, and until next time! ^_^

Japanese, Japanese Resources, Textbook Experiences

Textbook Experience: Tobira (Gateway to Advanced Japanese)


Greetings everybody! I finally finished my Tobira textbook last week (more than a year after purchasing it OTL), so as promised, here is a post regarding my experience with the book. I hope that you guys will find this helpful and / or interesting in guiding your own Japanese studies. I have also written a bit about comparisons between Tobira and An Integrated Approach, in case you wish to know more about that. If you can’t be bothered to slog through all this, just head to the bottom of this post.


The book has 15 chapters. My photos of the contents page turned out a bit crappy and unclear, so I will just list the topics here instead:

  1. 日本の地理
  2. 日本語のスピーチスタイル
  3. 日本のテクノロジー
  4. 日本のスポーツ
  5. 日本の食べ物
  6. 日本人と宗教
  7. 日本のポップカルチャー
  8. 日本の伝統芸能
  9. 日本の教育
  10. 日本の便利な店
  11. 日本の歴史
  12. 日本の伝統工芸
  13. 日本人と自然
  14. 日本の政治
  15. 世界と私の国の未来

The book also has 17 sections dedicated to language notes and 10 notes on culture. You can see photos of these further on in the post. As you can see, the book covers a diverse range of topics. Some of the earlier chapters deal with pretty stock-standard ‘Japanese textbook’ subject matter (e.g. food, sports and recreation etc), but I still enjoyed these nonetheless. I thought that the chapter topics were well-chosen and engaging (except maybe for Chapter 2, that was a bit dry but hopefully you can get past that lol). I learnt a lot about aspects of Japan and Japanese culture that I hadn’t really bothered to explore, such as its traditional arts. I have even started listening to podcasts about Japanese history, it’s that bad O.O The later chapters about politics and the environment also had lots of specialist vocabulary that would be useful if you’re transitioning to more authentic and difficult texts such as newspaper articles, or the articles that often appear in the JLPT N2 reading.


Pre-reading activities

Each chapter has a little activity that can be done before actually beginning the chapter. It gives you an idea about what you’ll be learning about, and useful context for the reading passages. As there were no similar pre-reading activities in AIATIJ, this was a first for me. Some activities link you to pages compiled on Tobira’s website (more on that later), while some just have vocabulary or discussion activities meant to be done without the Internet. I didn’t do the discussion activities because I was learning by myself but I did the other research activities. It was a good way for me to have a handle on reading vocabulary so that I didn’t have to consult the glossary later, and in some cases, especially for topics I didn’t know much about (like Japanese history), good background information. Thumbs up from me!


Reading Passages

Here is an example of a Tobira reading passage. This is from Chapter 5 (food!) so it’s not that long, but the passages in the second half of the book definitely get longer. There is a mix of horizontal and vertical writing (but mostly horizontal) and 1-3 passages per chapter. There are kanji readings at the bottom of each page if you need, and a vocab list if you need on the next page. The book doesn’t have a CD, but all of the passage audio files can be found on the Tobira website (details on how to login are found in the book :D).



As mentioned before, a typical vocabulary list (as well as a snippet of a 言語ノート). You can download Anki decks of all the Tobira vocabulary from their website if flashcards are your thing.



There are usually 1-2 dialogues per chapter. These are a mix of formal and informal language. As with the reading passages, you can listen to them if you download the tracks from the Tobira site. The book also comes with some pairwork activities and a sort of “fill in the blank, make your own conversation based on the dialogue you’ve just read” exercises, which are probably more for a classroom environment? idk.


Comprehension Questions

Test your understanding of the dialogues and reading passages here. There are also expansion questions aka questions based on the general topic of the passages but not the exact content, so a good way to test your active skills of writing and / or speaking.



There are quite a lot of grammar points introduced in each lesson (10+), but some of these aren’t so much grammar points, as phrases or expressions, which makes things less strenuous. Some of the points were also already covered in AIATIJ. There are no English translations for sample sentences, but it’s good to get rid of the crutch I think. At this level, translation shouldn’t be too hard. But it is hard to think about the best way to translate some of the harder, very Japanese language-specific structures.

Edit148 Edit146

Language and Cultural Notes

Each chapter has at least one language and / or cultural note. These are a nice touch, with interesting points on nuance or further cultural knowledge. The language notes are particularly important because you want to use this book to transition to a more advanced level right? So it’s getting these little mistakes and knowing the subtle differences in language usage that will help to make the difference.


The Tobira site / Tobira’s aim of ‘multimedia’ learning

You can see on the little disclaimer on the front of the book that Tobira aims to distinguish itself from other textbooks by taking a multimedia approach to learning. In this day and age, this is pretty appropriate. So this is where the Tobira website comes in. You can download kanji practice sheets, kanji exercises, grammar exercises, watch (grainy) cultural videos (the book is from 2008 I think so no HD here guys…), Anki decks, listen to the audio of the book’s passages and find the links used in the pre-reading activities etc. The site makes for an interesting and useful companion, but I question how they will go about updating everything when a new version of the book comes out. However, the sheets that you can find online mean that you can probably do without Tobira’s companion kanji and grammar workbook I reckon.

In Conclusion:


-engaging content with lots of cultural information

-self-learner friendly

-lots of resources available on the Tobira website

-pretty decent grammar explanations (that can be supplemented with a grammar dictionary if you want) and lots of sample sentences


-err…in AIATIJ they would point out when new grammar points were being introduced in the reading passages. I personally would have found it useful if they did this as well in Tobira because sometimes I couldn’t remember whether I’d learnt it already or not (lots of Japanese grammar points are so similar >.<) and I’d just get confused, and my translation would get a bit funky.

-I don’t think there are answers to the worksheets available on the website…?

So…Tobira or An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese?

I’m just going to put this out there now that I personally found Tobira more engaging and less dry than AIATIJ. I was also eternally grateful that the Tobira content was much broader in context, and not just limited to university student-centric topics (e.g. letters of recommendation, awkward homestay situations). That aspect of AIATIJ literally drove me up the wall, I wanted to tear my hair out sometimes. It seems to me that Tobira is less well-known than AIATIJ, probably because the former is newer, but I enjoyed learning from Tobira more, I’m going to say this upfront.

In terms of difficulty…I would say that Tobira is a bit harder than AIATIJ? Well, the titles do say ‘a gateway to advanced Japanese’ and ‘intermediate Japanese’ respectively so….yeah. There is overlap between the grammar points covered in the two books though, so I don’t know if it’s so much of an investment to buy both books. I had initially only bought Tobira, but then I had to buy AIATIJ to take with me to university Japanese classes. There are downloads of AIATIJ floating around on the net, so what I would perhaps recommend is get the PDF and purchase Tobira, if you indeed have language learner fear of missing out. Otherwise, just buy one and use a grammar dictionary (PDFs floating around on the net too). Learning is pretty individual after all so the choice is yours! Edit: A reader has drawn my attention to the fact that not paying for language resources hurts their creators, and by extension, the language learning community. I acknowledge that this is true, and am embarrassed that I did not think of this at time of writing. All creators should be remunerated for their works, and I apologise for the callousness of these comments. 

So here ends my textbook experience with Tobira. If you have any thoughts and questions, please feel free to leave a comment ^^

Japanese, Japanese Resources, Resources, Textbook Experiences

Textbook Experience: An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese


Hello everybody! As promised, here is my post on AIATIJ (because who has time to type out the whole title). I have labelled this post as a “textbook experience” rather than a review because I am just a person who blogs about my own language learning and I don’t really feel particularly qualified to review it ‘properly’ as such and I don’t want people to think what I have written about it is definitive. This is just my experience with the book and a chance for you guys to take a look inside and see the structure of the text if you so wish – take from it what you will. In any case, the text and CDs are available to download on the Internet ^^ (I bought the book so I could take it to university + I like paper books). I considered doing a video to accompany this but I decided that my voice sounds too horrible when recorded, and my mum loves to talk on the phone so it’s hard to find a spot in the house to film where the air is not dispersed with Cantonese chitchat =_=


The book comes with 2 CDs inside the front cover. Every dialogue and reading passage (except for the speed reading exercises) has a corresponding track on the CDs, as well as separate listening practice exercises. The pace of the recordings is quite fast.


Table of contents: there are 15 chapters, covering a wide range of topics as you can see. However, if there is one issue with this book, it’s that it is heavily geared towards university students (seeing as it was written by university professors for their students originally). This means that a lot of of the book’s dialogues and reading passages take place in a university or homestay context e.g. dealing with misunderstandings with host parents, university clubs etc. This can be a bit unengaging if you are not a university student and/or not going on exchange. I am a university student and I was sick of it at times. The whole content isn’t student-centric but I’d say about 80% of it is.


Chapter cover page: outlines what the chapter will be teaching you.



Dialogues: There are three dialogues per chapter, incorporating each chapter’s grammar points and topic matter. I appreciated how the conversations were a mix of both formal and informal language by introducing a variety of contexts (speaking to teachers using honorifics, talking with friends etc.). I think this is important for many intermediate learners because most easier textbooks only use formal ます language, leaving people frustrated about not knowing how to communicate in daily situations using more casual forms. The book also has a good section on 敬語 (keigo).


Reading Passages: There is usually one reading passage per chapter, two for the last couple. The passages are a good length and some were a good challenge. They have drawn extracts from a variety of external sources, including books, essays and even a newspaper article (which fits in to the N3 criteria of understanding everyday texts). The first few passages are written horizontally and from then on, they are written vertically, also good practice if you wish to start reading authentic Japanese books.



Vocabulary and Kanji Lists: To be used as one wishes. The kanji lists are divided into kanji that you should be able to read and write and kanji that you should be able to read in each chapter.


Grammar Notes: Each chapter introduces 8-10 points. It might seem like a lot (?) but some of the ‘grammar’ points are actually more like phrases so it’s not that hard. There’s lots of good sample sentences so you can see the points in use and a short explanation to accompany each one. If I felt that I needed a bit more help understanding the point, I just looked online. You could also potentially invest in a grammar dictionary to aid your studies.

I think you could safely say that the grammar is N3 level. Some of it might even be N4 level because I already knew some of it.


Other activities: the other activities included per chapter include classroom speaking activities (maybe if you have a study buddy?), writing practice and listening drills. There are no answers or transcripts provided in the book though, which could be a problem if you want to see how you’re going with your listening :/


Speed Reading: And last but not least, each chapter finishes off with a speed reading exercise – this is to practice reading quickly and learning how to make educated guesses as to the meanings of unknown words by examining the context (as they don’t want you to look up the words you don’t know).

Thoughts on the book: 


  • It’s a good book! 😀 Seriously though, I quite enjoyed it haha
  • Quite self-learner friendly! 🙂
  • I learnt a lot of interesting cultural bits and pieces from it (because not everybody gets to go to Japan =.=)
  • It’s quite thorough
  • Some of the reading passages were quite challenging, but in a good way


  • THE UNIVERSITY STUDENT-CENTRIC CONTENT – I DON’T CARE ABOUT HOW TO ASK A TEACHER TO WRITE ME A LETTER OF RECOMMENDATION TO GO ON EXCHANGE ETC ETC Sorry for the caps, but it was just annoying that the book’s target audience is so narrow ie a university student studying Japanese and going on exchange in Japan. Having said that, the reading passages are often broader in context and audience.
  • Lack of transcripts and answers EDIT: transcripts and listening answers can be found on the Japan Times website (thank you almantina!)

I think that’s about all I have to say about AIATIJ – this is why I feel so ill-placed to review things. I have too much fun learning and studying and these endorphins just kind of blind me to any possible objective faults of resources T.T In any case, I hope that this was helpful / interesting. If any of you guys have used the book or might want to use it in future, let me know in the comments! As I said in my last post, I’m still working through Tobira but I hope that I can post about my experience with it at the end of summer break.

See you guys next time ^_^