Best way to learn without using a textbook?

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.