I regularly see Tae Kim’s guide suggested, and hearing it recently implied to be always or almost always correct kind of triggered me to write this, which I wanted to make my own post.
To start with an external somewhat authoritative force, the creator of Imabi posted this on r/LearnJapanese:
One quality that the creator of Tae Kim lacks which I’ve embraced for quite a lot time has been humility, and I believe it serves as the core difference between our philosophies and the stance of veterans here that disapprove of his work. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Shitsumonday thread in the past four years or so I’ve frequented here that didn’t have at least one Tae Kim reference that was not later scrutinized by very knowledgeable individuals and or native speakers. Yet, as many know, you could have a copy of Tae Kim’s work from 2008 and compare the same pages to what is there now and nothing will have changed. There is no evidence that he cares about the mistakes/critiques floating about. Sure, you shouldn’t dwell on people critiquing your work, but as for me, I’ve always shadowed remarks made about my work, and I make good on the commitment to fixing any flaws that are pointed out (and I don’t even make an income off my stuff when he does :/).
There is more for him not taking critcism well, like when he appeared in the comments here on an r/badlinguistics post pointing out his mistakes.
Of the 3 Tae Kim articles I have ever read (only 1 of these 3 were really selection biased), literally all of them were misleading, oversimplifying, or just outright wrong (according to Imabi creator, this is a trend that extends to the other articles). People will defend this by saying it is for beginners, but it is also often still confusing despite all of these things.
Let me just trace through the 3 I have read:
This is the worst of all of them. Its also literally the first actual grammar lesson (other than introducing だ as the copular). The worst part is the introduction to が:
This is where the 「が」 particle comes into play. It is also referred to as the subject particle but I hate that name since “subject” means something completely different in English grammar. Instead, I call it the identifier particle because the particle indicates that the speaker wants to identify something unspecified.
This, naturally doesn’t make any sense. The correct explanation would be something on the lines of “が typically marks the subject, but occasionally it marks other parts of speech. Generally, when something is marked, it is the important “thing” the speaker wants you to think about which is is either acting or being acted upon.” People may say that is wordy and confusing for a beginner, and fine, but Tae Kim’s explanation is just nonsense.
Then he tries to give the nuance between は and が (another point against being aimed at beginners) but gives an explanation that is simultaneously confusing and not helpful.
However, the second sentence is specifying who the 「学生」 is. If we want to know who the student is, the 「が」 particle tells us it’s 「私」. You can also think about the 「が」 particle as always answering a silent question. The second sentence might be answering a question, “Who is the student?” I often translate the topic particle as “as for; about” and the identifier particle as “the one; the thing” to illustrate the difference.
Like, what? Sure, は is literally something like “as for” but the literal English translation doesn’t help at all in giving the nuance. Generally, if one wanted to highlight the difference in oversimplified terms, just say that は is kind of like “the” and が is like “a.” A full detailed account on the differences could take several pages, at least, and would require more understanding of grammar to illustrate.
When I was learning, I actually tried using Tae Kim’s guide, and this is where I stopped, and man am I glad I did.
The main thing here is he gives ないとならない as a valid way of saying “have to.” The grammaticality of this is disputed. If you look it up, you will see some sources saying it is OK, some sources saying it is linguistically awkward, and some sources saying it ungrammatical (see this as an example). At the very least, one would expect some sort of warning about this. But nope, its included.
If you try to wave it away by saying it is for beginners and not to overwhelm them, then why include it in the first place? It isn’t a very common pattern (obviously given its linguistic status), and for speaking there are a ton of other patterns (like the 11 other ones listed by Tae Kim, along with their truncations).
And of course, he gives all of these patterns, but fails to actually convey any of the nuance between them as well.
I read this article originally because it was linked to by BunPro.
- Giving and receiving in Japanese: The guide says this:
Using 「やる」 to mean 「あげる」
Usually used for pets, animals, and such, you can substitute 「やる」, which normally means “to do”, for 「あげる」. You would normally never use this type of 「やる」 for people. I only included this so that you won’t be confused by sentences like the following.
Which is super misleading. やる and てやる are both used in other contexts. It generally has a vulgar feel to it (not just rude), so you typically mainly see it in media with action and stuff.
It also (though I don’t really fault it for this) really give the nuance between using あげる and やる for pets. Basically, older people tend to use やる for pets more than younger people, because やる used to not have the level of vulgarity/rudeness associated with it and was just normal to use when giving to inferiors, but slid down so far that あげる is just the default way for everything that isn’t a superior. But old people will still feel uncomfortable using あげる with pets.
I only read this article because I remember a learner asking me confusedly about やる based on what they saw in the guide. So this one is admittedly selection biased.
So, after all this, I don’t want to tell you that you can’t use Tae Kim’s guide. But please, if you do, use it with a grain of salt.
My own personal opinion is that there are much better sources than Tae Kim’s guide in the world of 2021, like Wasabi’s grammar guide (which serves Tae Kim’s exact intended purpose of being a pure beginner thing), Bunpro, Imabi, Maggie Sensei, The Dictionary of Japanese Grammar series, The Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns, and Pomax’s grammar guide.