For me personally, grammar is the bane of my existence. It’s the thorn in my side; it’s the itch I can’t quite reach. Long story short, I hate studying grammar.
The unfortunate part is that grammar is essential to any mastery of a second language. Without it, language is just a jumbled mess of words slapped together with duct tape and glue. Basically, its the rod that holds everything together.
In Part 1 and Part 2 I talked about the importance of the Japanese writing system and building a strong vocabulary. Continuing on with the fishing analogy, I will now attempt to connect a fishing rod to Japanese grammar.
For people like me, studying grammar is the point at which progression starts to hit a snag. You go from studying neat little Kanji pictures to individual vocabulary to full blown sentences that can be twisted and contorted into hundreds if not thousands of different ways. How are you suppose to keep your line and lures in order?
You grab a rod. It’s nice, orderly and the perfect tool to hold everything together.
As mentioned before, like Kanji and vocabulary, you have to study grammar if you want to get really really good. I mean really good. Without it you’ll forever sound like a caveman and that’s not cool.
Like many people out there, I started with Genki I and II and then progressed with intermediate and advanced level textbooks that my company provided. The qualm that I have with Genki, and many other textbooks, is that while they are detailed and progress along a linear path that you would find in a standard class, they start with learning polite forms (～ます・です) and sentence patterns that are closer to English.
What I mean is that polite forms, while useful, aren’t the foundation of Japanese grammar. The regular forms (～る・だ) are the key to starting in your grammar study. They are the base that support everything. If you know your regular forms, you’re able to conjugate into essentially any pattern / form.
The second qualm is that textbook examples often follow English grammar patterns. The great thing about Japanese is that it is a highly abbreviated language with many one word sentences. In English, a normal sentence requires a subject and verb: e.g. I eat, I sleep, I poo. Whereas a basic natural Japanese sentence only require a verb:e.g. 食べる、寝る、うんこする。
However, often times in textbooks they include the subject of I, わたし; you, あなた; him, 彼; etc. This is not the case in normal everyday Japanese. These textbook patterns serve to help learners understand easier, but in doing so, make the learner sound less natural and more… textbook-ish.
“So what’s the best way of learning Mr. Kuma-Sensei?”
“Unfortunately, little Jimmy I don’t have any real neat tips and tricks in studying grammar. There’s a lot of different methods out there, and many of which I have tried, however the best one that stands out to me is the traditional method: text book, notebook, pen and consistency.”
I’ve yet to try Textfugu but I’ve heard a lot of great things from people who do use it. It’s from the creators of Wanikani and you can get a package deal if you sign up for both. They follow the path that I think is the best way (similar to natural Japanese, starting with regular form, etc.). However, again if you’re on a shoe string budget, it can be a bit pricey.
Another way that has brought back great results and is free is a combination of Japanese Level Up and Anki. At its core, everything you do, you do it in Japanese. This method takes an incredible amount of dedication but has brought about great results to those who have followed through. Also, the creator has put together a comprehensive leveling guide to gauge about where you’re at with your ability.
And like I said before, traditional textbooks may have their downsides, but nothing beats having a nice book to work through and reference back to when needed.
Whatever you choose, consistency is the key. Stay consistent and you won’t have any problems down the line.