Cure Dolly: I wish I had found her sooner

I’ve been studying Japanese language for approximately four years. Initially using a local tutor, I nearly completed Genki I along with its workbook. COVID forced a break from that, but I continued with Wanikani. After COVID, I didn’t continue tutoring because I wanted to learn more vocabulary before continuing with grammar, listening, and composition.

My goal has always been to enable reading books and playing video games. I recently decided to quit delaying, and have dove in deep with Japanese manga and video games. It quickly made me realize that I never truly understood Japanese grammar despite Genki spending so much time on it.

I recently stumbled across a YouTube channel from “Cure Dolly”. I am making no exaggeration when I say that her first six eight-minute videos revealed more to me than all my time with Genki.

For example: Genki spends its entire time teaching masu forms of verbs and how to conjugate them, but relegates “short forms” to one lesson. IT SHOULD BE THE OTHER WAY AROUND. Trying to learn masu first, then unwinding it back to “short form” (which is actually the core language) was so exhausting. Now it is all so clear and simple.

Anyone who has spent some time learning Japanese language and still has questions regarding grammar, “conjugation”, or just feels confused, please try these videos. For me, it was as though a fog lifted and now I can see clearly.

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@latepatate look look

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While I agree with you and the fact that sometimes Genki’s focus is questionable (for instance, it makes hurtful oversimplifications like emphasizing that the passive voice is used only for unfortunate occurrences or that the conditional と is used only for general statements), I think the order of teaching the masu form first might also be dictated by the fact that it’s going to be used more often at the initial learning stages. That’s true for a number of other textbooks as well.

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There’s a reason this series is one I often recommend for absolute beginner readers who haven’t learned enough grammar yet. (I often recommend the first 15 to 20 videos from the Japanese from Scratch playlist.)

It also helps some that the videos include subtitles/closed captions.

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There is too much Cult Dolly lore that is now hidden somewhere deep in this forum
Perhaps one day, someone will rediscover it, just as Matskye and I discovered the truth through our efforts in the depths of 2000s internet forums

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You can argue it either way, I think. In favour of “-masu first”:

  • if you need to actually use Japanese in the wild, it gets you (assuming you’re an adult) something you can use for basic sentences without being rude. I think that’s part of the “target user” most textbooks have in mind.
  • the inflections are simpler because they’re all the same, unlike plain form which has multiple verb groups, so they’re a bit easier to grasp initially.

I think it’s going to come down to personal learning preferences. It’s always good to have multiple sources of explanation – sometimes one person’s way of putting something will ‘click’ when another didn’t.

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That definitely triggered my curiosity. I have always been fascinated by Cure Dolly and would love to know more about her :slight_smile:

Because it’s just the ‘masu’ that gets conjugated, yes? That much is true.

I can see where textbooks are coming from when they make that choice, but honestly, when I look at how people struggle later with all the other forms, I feel like textbooks are doing it wrong by taking too long to start covering the plain forms. Learners have to go through so much mental gymnastics to memorise form changes with no apparent meaning. No one explains why those are the forms; they just say ‘minus I plus A plus NAI’ and stuff like that. The worst offenders are Japanese textbooks and schools that teach students there are I-verbs and E-verbs based on the masu forms, severely handicapping students for future learning because they have no understanding of how verbs can be categorised based on how they conjugate (i.e. they don’t realise ‘ichidan’ and ‘godan’ are a thing). In my opinion, it’s a lot more logical to know that some verbs change final vowel a ton, and others don’t change at all, whereas those taught using the I-verb and E-verb system learn all ichidan verbs whose masu stem ends in I as ‘exceptions’. Way to make Japanese more complicated by oversimplifying it. Well done.

My griping above aside, the simplest reason why using masu as the base form complicates things is this: everything on conjugation you put into a textbook gets longer because you need to tell students to delete the masu.

When I’m asked to teach a class (and I have been asked twice, on the topic of adjectives), I make sure my classmates/(fellow) students associate a certain meaning with the forms and changes they’re memorising: ‘This form is negative. This is what you’re negating. This form appears before nouns.’ No formulaic rubbish from me, thanks very much.

I don’t like Cure Dolly’s choice of controversial, non-standard terminology and insistence on unnecessary concepts like the null-subject/zero-が/silent が/whatever it was, but I do like how she tried to make Japanese grammar intuitive and sensible. I don’t usually recommend her because of what I’ve just said (I also find the android voice jarring), but her videos aren’t a bad resource overall.

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I guess partly the specifics of the textbook explanations never seemed a big deal to me because the textbook I used[*] generally didn’t provide grammar explanations but just gave you patterns and lots of examples and expected you to pick things up. So fairly early on I also got the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and similar resources and used those to satisfy my “how does this actually conjugate?” questions.

[*] It was rather quirky – it doesn’t introduce verbs until page 100 or so, almost everything before that is just です, あります and います. But way back on page 32 it teaches たべるもの, のむもの etc as nouns for use in the すしとそばはたべるものです pattern. So when it does get around to sentences with verbs it introduces them as “take たべるもの and knock off the もの part and what’s left is the dictionary form” :slight_smile:

Oh, and I do personally like the null subject way of looking at things, but I prefer Jay Rubin’s explanation of it (which is quite probably where Cure Dolly got it from in the first place).

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Oh, that’s interesting! (And the example you gave is quirky indeed lol.) My textbook did provide explanations, but nothing too technical or lengthy. (To this day, that’s exactly the reason why Assimil remains my favourite language course publisher.) If there was anything I wanted to know more about, I would just google or (occasionally) ask a friend, and that would be that.

Yeah, I think Cure Dolly also mentions Jay Rubin at some point. I’ve never seen the original explanation, and maybe it is helpful for some people, but I just don’t really think it’s needed. However, where I’m from, people drop subjects while speaking (non-standard) English, and Chinese sometimes does it too, so that might be why it’s never really troubled me in Japanese (unless I’m really lost for whatever reason).

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Always rated Cure Dolly’s approach and explanations, but the presentation is so “unique” it can be quite distracting.

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If you want the other end of the spectrum on grammar explanations, try Shirane’s Classical Japanese: A Grammar, which starts out by going through the traditional 6 conjugations for regular verbs, irregular verbs and adjectives, all before going on to the auxiliary verbs that you need to do anything useful with most of the verb conjugations (like, say, simple negation). It’s a very academic presentation and I haven’t yet quite figured out how I want to work with it. I suppose I need to brute force memorise the conjugations at some point, but there are rather more of them than there are for modern Japanese…

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10 minutes of google has turned up some very weird stuff that I will not repeat here. But it’s worth the effort if you’re interested.

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Personally I just bought myself a Japanese book on the basics of Classical Japanese grammar :rofl: I felt I ought not to try to learn it in English.

That sounds a lot like this (modern) Japanese textbook I know of in France:

It’s super thick (like 500 B4 – or whatever’s squarish and larger than A4 – pages?), and written like a grammar reference book. I have no clue who would want to learn Japanese like this, but it’s still on shelves in French bookstores, so it must be popular enough to survive. I can only imagine it being compulsory (and in my opinion, somewhat useless) reading in a degree programme on Japanese language and culture.

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The more Dolly videos I watch, the more frustrated I get with the Genki textbook.

This is a perfect example:

I spent so much time with my tutor and the textbook trying understand why すき used が as the particle. If I am saying, “I like coffee”, why am I using が? Don’t ask! Just memorize that we always use が when saying we like something.

Four minutes into this video, and it all becomes clear. WHY DOESN’T THE TEXTBOOK TEACH US THIS? Why on earth does it just expect us to memorize all these rules and exceptions instead of just teaching the actual language?

Until recently, I thought Genki was great and that I just sucked at learning a language. It turns out that one person with a robotic voice can reveal more than a university-level textbook.

(I may or may not still suck)

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While I was looking back through it I found this illustration I had to share:


Check out that smug looking banana :sunglasses:

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Out of curiosity, what is the Genki explanation? I’ve understood すき as an adjective for the longest time, including when I was a beginner. (By the way, my preferred understanding of 好き is as ‘to be liked/likeable’.)

I don’t know if this is exclusively a Genki problem though. I think a lot of Japanese people (and honestly, a lot of Asian people) are used to learning things by rote and not questioning why things are that way. (I’m from such an education system in Asia, and it’s ironically ranked among the best in the world. I hated that approach though, so I just found out why myself. Who needs teachers anyway? PS: No offence to any teachers on these forums – I love to teach, and have taught people on several occasions, but I have very little respect for poor teachers who add little value to source material.)

Additionally, another massive problem with Japanese teaching is that it’s heavily geared towards making Japanese ‘understandable for foreigners’. That’s a huge part of why there are so many conjugations in our books, versus just six per verb in Japan. (E.g. Japanese people don’t understand たべられる as ‘the potential form of たべる’, but rather as ’the irrealis form (未然形) of たべる with the helper verb for the passive voice, potentiality, spontaneity and honorific speech られる’. たべ is the conjugated form; られる is just a suffix that conjugates.) I think one consequence of this is the sort of explanation you’re talking about: you’re just supposed to learn ‘how to say XYZ in Japanese’ because it’s ‘easier’. You’re learning translations, not how Japanese works. Why? Because it’s easier to immediately apply. :man_shrugging:

I mean, I think all this stuff is nonsense, but see, my first textbook wasn’t any of the common ones, so I have no idea exactly how bad it is in general. I only used a common textbook (Tobira) at the intermediate level, and it honestly wasn’t that bad. The only thing I know is that I found that my peers’ lessons with Minna no Nihongo (at university) at the beginner level were very slow.

EDIT: Yeah, I’ve just found an old print English edition of the Japanese textbook I used (written in French). すき was translated as ‘to be liked’. (Every passage came with literal and natural translations.) That’s probably why I didn’t have the same problem with it (which I know is something that surprises a lot of Japanese learners).

EDIT 2: If you’re wondering why I know what the beginner classes were like when it seems like I’m not a beginner – my engineering school couldn’t open more Japanese classes because of a lack of Japanese teachers, so I would sit in the back and do advanced assignments from the teacher/read Japanese books I had bought. It was the only way I could take Japanese validly as a module.)

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Rubin’s explanation (putting it into my own words here) is essentially that whereas English uses pronouns in place of words clear from context (he, they, it, etc.), Japanese leaves the words unspoken. This extends to leaving the subject unspoken when it’s clear from context.

From Rubin’s writing, this boils down to (quoting from his book): “All Japanese sentences have subjects.”

Cure Dolly extended what Rubin was saying by giving the idea of a known-from-content-unspoken-subject its own term: “zero pronoun”.

Giving something a term makes it easier to talk about, but it’s clearly debatable whether this specific concept should have a term or not and whether this term is a proper term for it.


Genki introduces すき and きらい as “な-adjectives”, respectively meaning “to be fond of; to like” and “to be disgusted with; to dislike”.

The usage is shown with example sentences of the form 「XはYが(すき/きらい)です」 with the meaning of “X (dis)likes Y.”

Personally, I prefer the approach of “が always marks the subject” (perhaps with minor exceptions in more advanced grammar?), so Genki’s translation putting the は-marked topic as the subject and the が-marked subject as the object in Engish looks completely wrong to me in every way.

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This is precisely what I was led to believe by Genki and the source of my confusion. For me, Genki seems to present a series of individual rules and exceptions. “When you are trying to say this in English, say this” sort of thing. I suppose it can work if you are just trying to pass an exam or get through a few conversations.

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Ah, I see. I think my disagreement lies in how Cure Dolly insisted there was an invisible が in every sentence. I don’t know if Rubin did that as well, but I certainly do agree with that quote you put there. To me, thinking about an invisible が is shockingly redundant and formulaic: you just have to know that there is always a subject, and that you should be able to find it from context somehow (including by looking at what’s before は).

Ah, so that’s what happened… it’s correct as a translation, but no good as a means of teaching Japanese.

I’m sorry to say this, but I think all of Japanese teaching is infected by this mentality, and I’m actually wondering if the existence of the JLPT is responsible. I say this for one big reason: the existence of the concept of grammar points. Everything I’ve seen about conventional Japanese teaching is atomised, and doesn’t require links to be drawn between ideas. There’s nothing wrong with isolating structures and pointing them out to students, but on the other hand, who the heck thought it was sensible to say 〜ている is N5 grammar and 〜ていられる is N2 grammar? They’re based on the same verbs. All you need to do is understand the idea of the potential form (‘can do’), and you’ll instantly understand what 〜ていられる means. Treating them as separate objects, one of which is ‘far too advanced for beginners’, is one of the stupidest pedagogical decisions I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve spent my entire life as a student criticising teachers, so believe me, I’ve seen a lot.

If you want a more constructive idea, I’ll say this: keep searching for explanations online (e.g. YouTube, Maggie Sensei, Wasabi Japan etc.) and delving deeper whenever you need to. As soon as you can, switch over to Japanese sites for grammar explanations, because they’re infinitely more detailed than English JLPT sites (and infinitely more concise than Imabi). Beyond that, if you want, go learn traditional Japanese grammar words and concepts through dictionaries (or Wikipedia/Wikiversity, which has pages on Japanese school grammar vs Japanese grammar for foreign language teaching), because even just knowing the basics can unlock a lot of more advanced knowledge. If you don’t learn the tools to teach yourself, you’ll forever be limited by how textbooks (except maybe the advanced ones) are written.

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