Best way to learn without using a textbook?

I’ve tried using both the Genki textbooks and the JFZ textbooks and honestly learning from textbooks just hasn’t been something I’ve ever enjoyed doing. They get stale for me incredibly fast.

I’m looking for alternative methods of learning for someone who is still new to the language. I can read hiragana and katakana and currently learning kanji through here. When it comes to stuff that’s typically taught in text books though, like grammar, they can never keep my attention.

I’ve looked at both Tae Kim and Imabi. They seem like good resources but I hear Tae Kim is more beginner friendly, however not entirely correct, whereas Imabi is more detailed but not too beginner friendly.

Would be nice to get some advice from people who have had success at learning without using a textbook and the methods they used. I don’t want to keep looking around forever and delay my learning but it feels like that’s all I’ve been doing recently.


Get a subscription to Satori Reader, pick a topic (I like the stories about Kona, a cat) and start reading. If you run into something you don’t quite understand, you can always look it up, but true understanding comes from seeing things in context a thousand times.

Expecting to get better at the language by reading a grammar guide is like being given a booklet about the piano, its size, its 88 keys, what intervals are, and then being asked: “Right, you’ve studied the piano, now play Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto”. It just doesn’t make sense.


Isn’t learning grammar with an online guide kind of the thing same as studying it in a book? If you don’t enjoy studying grammar you don’t have to do it.

I think this :arrow_up: is definitely a great alternative. When you notice a certain pattern you can look it up in a guide like Tae Kim or Imabi.

If you want other resources to learn grammar I suggest Wasabi, which might not be the most complete and accurate grammar guide, but is very simple and easy explained, so I think it’s good if you want to just have an idea of the basics of grammar (which I suggest before throwing yourself into reading, especially if you don’t have experience in language learning).

Another way you might enjoy is using an app like Bunpo or watching youtube video lessons A list of some Youtube channels that might help you

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You could watch Tokini Andy’s Genki Series on youtube. I also didnt like the textbook version a whole lot but he adds a lot of new stuff and presents it way better. I liked it a lot more. Here is a playlist of all his genkivideos


I spent years off and on trying textbook-style learning with zero results.

Eventually, I decided to picked up something I wanted to read in Japanese (that wasn’t available in English), and start reading it. I’d failed at this as well a couple of times before, but this time I analyzed and deciphered each sentence, one by one, looking up every word, looking up any grammar.

It’s a very slow process in the beginning, but two things worked in my favor:

  1. I was reading up on grammar (by doing a web search for the bit of a sentence I was unsure of alongside the word “grammar”) that was directly a part of something I wanted to be able to understand. This made it stick better initially.

  2. I kept myself on a schedule of “reading” a certain amount every day, so I was seeing the most common grammar come up again and again. After looking up and reading about the same grammar over and over, it started to become familiar.

My progress was still slow and scattered and lacking until I added in two more things:

  1. I joined the Absolute Beginner Book Club here on the WaniKani forums. I could ask questions, and get answers from people who knew more than I did. And others were asking questions and getting informative answers as well. This was essentially the same as I had been doing on my own, except with a whole bunch of built-in teachers giving targeted answers, so I didn’t have to scour the web for information.

  2. I started watching one subtitled Cure Dolly video every day. Cure Dolly breaks down Japanese grammar in a way that makes it clear and understandable for me, versus the textbook-like resources that shoehorn Japanese grammar concepts into English grammar concepts. Since I already learned the basics of grammar from reading deciphering my way through some manga on my own and in the book club, Cure Dolly helped me deepen and solidify my knowledge, as well as round it out a bit more.

I’ve continued to use these methods since, and it’s worked very well for me these past few years.


Honestly I love Bunpro, which is an SRS but for grammar. I’m only using that and Wanikani right now, but I’m still new to the language. Good luck!

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I will second the BunPro suggestion, I find it very helpful. They’ve also been really beefing up their grammar point explanations lately.

That said, it is ultimately reading that will really drill it all into your brain - grammar, vocab, everything. (I need to read more!!) But BunPro has been a great way to make reading start to feel accessible.

Websites and apps like Duolingo and Memrise

You have to learn grammar some way or another. Japanese just works in completely different ways than English does and to try to decipher its grammar without explicit instructions seems very inefficient for me.

That said, some other people have used different approaches than traditional textbooks and if it works, it works. They usually have their downsides too, it’s just about what you prefer.

For example, learning grammar only as you encounter it while immersing means that you are more motivated to learn the grammar point, but has the downside that you will have to spend forever trying to decipher each sentence and having to piece together things in a rather ad-hoc manner instead of starting with simple constructions and then gradually increasing complexity, although graded readers and Satori Reader are some sort of middle ground here.

That may or may not be the right approach for you (for me it’s too frustrating to jump into stuff I don’t understand, but it’s all about preferences).

I just don’t think that there is a magical approach that will never get frustrating or boring at times.

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Plus the bookclubs =D


Judging from my experience, actually no. I couldn’t keep myself motivated to read something where I had to decipher so much.

It’s certainly a valid path but I don’t think it’s the one for me.

I think I’ll go back to immersion with native material not earlier than after finishing Genki, in the meantime there’s still the Genki readings + satori reader.

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I used a combination of the Shinkanzen master grammar books and Nihongo no mori videos on YouTube when I was studying for the N2.
I found it more useful to really grasp the meaning of the forms I learned, but you can’t have everything on video so books will always be a must have.
Now I’m also using Japanese 101 audio podcast style classes, it’s not free but the dialogs are quite entertaining.
I also use the bunpo app at the moment.
For me personally just reading lines of text don’t help me either so I found it better to watch videos, listen to things and use apps, with both full Japanese speaking on some materials and English explanation on others beforehand, THEN I start working on my textbook and doing the exercises that come with it, and it sticks more because I already have a good grasp of how a form is used when I come across them again.
It’s a form of repetition learning but since it’s from many different sources not only it sticks better, but you also learn nuances since every explanation is different.

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I highly recommend checking out

They are available on iOS and Android as apps as well:
Human Japanese Beginner
Human Japanese Intermediate

The beginner version covers Hiragana, Katakana and simple grammar points.
It also begins to introduce useful vocabulary.

The intermediate version builds on this by covering some Kanji and exploring more complex grammar points and introduces more useful vocabulary.

I love the apps because I enjoy the writing style of the author, they have loads of example sentances, all with Native pronunciation and full break downs of the sentences.


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