I’ve recently finished this book, so I felt it might be a good idea to give it a mini-review. I hope this is the right place to do so! Incoming wall of text
This series gets a lot of praise and I haven’t really seen any criticism of it. So it felt like I should write something about my experience with the book. Please note, that after finishing the book I did notice my kanji reading skills “levelled” up somewhat, so obviously the book was beneficial! Still, I have some gripes and I think they need to be conveyed.
The Tango series is often recommended to those studying for the JLPT at levels N4-N2. This is especially so on Reddit and for those following Nukemarine (of ex-koohii fame ) The books are recommended for a few reasons:
There’s an Anki deck you can get via discord, this is obviously very nice!
The grammar used is a level above Core 6k
The sentences are N+1 and words are learned in themed groups (school, travel, hobbies, etc)
Kanji used should be at N3 level.
The vocabulary should be right for N3.
Personally, whilst some of this is great (grammar and a voiced deck, with the odd mistake). From my experience, I disagree with the latter points.
Let’s begin with my complaints
The sentences are not i+1
The sentences are only roughly i+1. Typically a sentence at the start of a section may contain 2/3 new words, the other unknowns are then covered with the later sentences. This is obviously not great and it would’ve been nice to amend the order in a few places.
Uses words from the N2 book!?
In a number of cases, the sentences included other words that were not in the book. After searching for these words they were often labelled “N2” on jisho or they were covered in the Tano N2 book. This is a pretty poor oversight. Likewise, I came across various kanji I’ve not covered despite completing RTK lite and a few hundred extra kanji (~1300). This really came as a surprise seeing as it’s only N3 level!
It’s hard to say how book aligns with N3
Now my main issue is something I’ve come across from looking at other resources. Let’s preface this by acknowledging, there is no wordlist for the JLPT. Furthermore, N3 resources can’t latch off the old JLPT level’s wordlists as there wasn’t an equivalent level. So pretty much every book out there is guessing at the vocab required.
When I was about ~3/4s of the way through the book, I went to a book shop and went through some N3 level “drill” books. I was really surprised that there were so many unknown words in both the grammar and vocab books. At the time, I put this down to not having finished the deck, so didn’t pay too much attention.
Now I have finished the deck, I tried again this weekend. I had the same experience. So I opened up another N3 vocab book and found pages were I found I didn’t know. 7 of the 10 words listed. This was a big surprise! Now, as mentioned before – these books are all guessing on the vocab, so there’s bound to be some misalignment!
On discord, I found a user who had failed the N3 test and his sentiments about the N3 book matched my experience:
I didn’t know all of the Tango N3 deck, I had about 300 to go and I hadn’t consolidated a fair number more, also Tango N3 doesn’t cover all N3 words, there are plenty that aren’t covered, Tango is just a good base for the test. I should also say that I only studied the sentence cards from Tango not the vocab only cards.
Now obviously, there are a few shortcomings. At the time of the test, the student did not finish the book and there would’ve been plenty of “immature” words in Anki. Still, this matches my experience trying example questions and tests in other JLPT resources.
What would really help here would be going through some past papers, unfortunately, the JLPT is pretty secretive about those!
Many words have no example sentences
The final issue I have with the book is that many words do not have sentences. It’s a big issue for me, as I hate learning words in isolation and don’t like making sentences (mistakes, no audio, etc).
So if you’re doing the deck as “Sentence only”, you’ll drop a few hundred notes. This is not great, but 仕方がない either do them or learn them form another resource!
The book is a good resource, the deck is great and the audio helps. Just don’t rely on this as your only N3 vocab resource – you will come up short!
There are other books that are similar, they just don’t have decks. There’s a newish Kanzen Master book series in the same format (with audio for each sentence and a red sheet) and another series called “キクタン日本語” that is again the same. Interestingly the キクタン series has pronunciation guides for each word!
TLDR: The book is a good resource and so is the Anki deck. Just don’t believe all the hype and don’t rely on it for the N3. Hopefully, you’ll do your vocab work first and reading or grammar books will fill in any gaps!