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:
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
-engaging content with lots of cultural information
-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 ^^