Cure Dolly: I wish I had found her sooner

It’s certainly debatable whether it’s better to just say “all Japanese sentences have a subject, even if it’s unspoken due to context”. (I’d agree with going the simpler route.)

But let's also keep in mind that Cure Dolly's lesson style was very *visual*. She needed a way visually to show a sentence has a subject.

(Personally, the train car concept visuals always confused me.)

Aside from that, I see the “zero pronoun” or “invisible が” concept as acting as a crutch to help learners who only know subject-prominent sentences to transition into topic-prominent sentences by helping them see that the subject really is there, just often “invisible” (unspoken) in Japanese. (Again, debatable whether worth the overhead of a separate concept.)

Disclaimer: Cure Dolly’s lessons helped me finally understand the basic roles of は and が, so I found her way of framing it was a useful crutch in my learning.

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I think you touched a point I wholeheartedly agree with: the whole idea of “grammar point” gives me the ick. There are no grammar “points”, and it is so idiotic to teach a language in that manner. Sadly it seems very hard to find resources that follow a more sensible approach aimed at beginner or intermediate learners. I am sure that there are many native resources that don’t do that but they are probably aimed at advanced learners or Japanese people.


I could not get over cure dollys voice. Fortunately she has a book, which is worth a read. I read it and Rubin the same week, and found them both enlightening.

I think it is easy to look back from whereever you are now and say it should have been taught differently. Harder to be sure that if it had been taught differently you would have gotten as far as you have.

I think the masu/desu first approach is good for politeness the first time you head to japan, and also because it’s relatively easy to teach it in analogy with English. Not everyone is even going to get all the way through Genki 1


While I think it’s worth watching the video with subtitles, there’s an effort to put her videos into a word document format:

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I suppose there may indeed be some benefit that I haven’t really considered based on my own experience. And yeah, it does help to provide a visual aspect, I suppose.

I mean, there certainly are certain typical structures that are useful to know, but it’s essentially the same thing as knowing common conjunctions in English, or learning more advanced vocabulary. Isolating them to teach them is fine, but I find the idea of calling these things ‘grammar’ disingenuous.

I have to say though… maybe this just reflects how many Japanese people are expected to learn English, and the differences in structure between the two languages just make them assume this is how people need to learn.

I intend to make one as a YouTube channel, but I haven’t finished drafting my grammar guide (still working out what to teach beyond a certain point).

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Wow this is game changing for me too… Those phrases are so ingrained even though I did learn は in the form shown in that video.

Thanks for sharing a great resource


ている is much more common than ていられる (which is typically ていられない)and its not immediately apparent that that would work to english speakers. If you are going to teach ている as enduring state, I don’t feel like its really obvious to people to follow up with ていられる・ない. The connection is there and its a single logical step to you, but I don’t think people fresh to the idea of enduring ている will always agree. For example, resultant ている, in my opinion, is a zero step construction and is just the sum of its parts て+いる, but tell someone who just learned て and いる that 「 もう聞いているかもしれませんが」that 聞いている means “to have heard” and not “to be listening” and it won’t make sense to them. Things look a lot less complex to those who have a high level because we have a different way of thinking about it.

You’re a very intelligent guy and clearly have a very refined view of the grammar, so I have no doubt you could teach it better than a lot of resources. At the same time, I think that the decision to split those two isn’t all that stupid. I don’t think its something that is immediately graspable to most nor is it something that will be needed at a low level. So maybe its separate not because its “too advanced” but just because there are bigger fish to fry and its not worth it to them to try to make sure your students have a more deep/abstract understanding of ている and the things you can do it that early on. Maybe thats not true and it would be better teach them together, but I can see why one might think so and not be stupid.

I’m not really big on the whole studying grammar thing as you know, anyways, so its not like im qualified to teach it in the first place. But I guess its also precisely because I didn’t study grammar and still got to where I am to where I’m pretty down with the idea of breaking stuff up/simplifying and just teaching them as they’re needed.


The term “zero pronoun” is in the preface of Rubin’s book, in a quote by a linguist who pointed out to him that his explanations were somewhat reinventing a concept that academic linguistics had already worked through under that term. Rubin doesn’t use the term in the book proper, because as he says he is writing for an audience of learners, not linguists.


To me “there is an invisible が marked clause” and “there is always a subject” are just different ways to say the same thing (give or take the usual argument about whether が does other things than marking subjects), so I don’t really see where your view and hers differ. It’s just a memorable way to say “there is always a subject, even if it’s not written”.


On top of that, Tae Kims guide, I should’ve started reading through it sooner (not that I postponed my grammar all that much, but should’ve read it through at level 25-30 at the very least). Would’ve saved me alot of headaches later on. So I would probably go through Cure dolly early, then transition to Tae Kims Guide and read it from front to back a couple times.


I think it’s fairly difficult, once you reach a certain level of knowledge, to understand what would work for other learners.

I started learning japanese on a whim, through duolingo. Started bunpro a couple month later, and discovered some very key things (the difference between i and na adjectives, the structure and particle switches of noun phrases, etc…) in “Japanese 80/20”. Plus a couple small grammar resources here and there.

Looking back, it would be tempting to say that I wish I had not wasted time on duolingo and went straight for japanese 80/20, then bunpro. But I don’t think much would have clicked if I had not spend some time on duolingo, learning kanas, basic sentences and particles.

I guess the most important thing when learning alone is to vary your sources. You never know when something will click.


Here I would completely disagree with you. I think that the kind of approach that works when you’re analysing the grammar of a language you already speak is not the same as the approach that works best to teach you how to speak a new language. Trying to learn, for instance, past tense by first learning a lot of conjugations for the verb which are useless on their own and then adding た, or learning 食べている as 食べ plus て plus いる is going to result in a lot of mistakes and very halting speech. Learning it as one unit means you can say it fluidly and without having to think too much about it. You can always come back and do some of the breakdown into smaller pieces later. It also means learners can deal with one thing at a time (eg “how to do negatives”) rather than trying to juggle lots of pieces at once.

As I mentioned earlier, I’m working with a Classical Japanese grammar text, which obviously does use the Japanese traditional “handful of inflections and lots of auxiliaries” approach. This is analytically neat and awful for learning – I expect I’m going to have to construct something similar to what you get in a modern Japanese textbook (this is what these verbs look like with these common auxiliaries, etc) to get a handle on it.


Her channel is too much of a fever dream for me to seriously engage with. I’m glad people find so much success with her but I’ve always aired on the side of skepticism with her, MattvsJapan and Yuta because “they are the only ones who knows the REAL path to fluency, not these stupid linguistics professors and Japanese teachers who are accredited.”

Sorry for my tangent. Glad it’s working for you. A lot of people have had a lot of success with her.


I guess I should have been clearer: I’m not against teaching them separately, especially since it’s definitely true 〜ていられる probably isn’t a very useful structure early on. Teaching it later is fine. What I don’t like, however, is the way a lot of resources (especially JLPT prep sites, but really, I think even textbooks like Tobira are the same) act like they have nothing to do with each other. They’re just Grammar Point A and Grammar Point B, they each mean such and such, and they’re each used in certain situations, but no effort is made to show how you can get to Grammar Point B from Grammar Point A. It’s the same with structures like 〜かもしれない: most textbooks include a translation and use cases, but don’t attempt to break it down. That’s my gripe: students are encouraged to memorise new structures without understanding, like so many stars in the sky, instead of learning the links the same way people made up constellations. Moreover, because many people are really attached to JLPT levels (I think everyone but the most advanced learners still goes, ‘Woah, N1 stuff is so advanced and difficult!’), by separating grammar points completely from one another and labelling one as N2, people are conditioned into falsely believing that 〜ていられる is significantly harder, whereas I don’t think it is.

Yeah, this is fair enough, and as you’ve pointed out, there’s a prerequisite: you have to know that 〜ている can mean both ‘continuous action’ and ‘continuous state’. I’m one of those people who didn’t know about the ‘to have done’ (continuous state) meaning until I was in the lower intermediate portion of my textbook, so I can relate. However, I still think that once you know that meaning and the potential form, it’s pretty easy to explain the link.

Yeah, but I think you still have some way of breaking these structures down, right? Or do you just remember them as monolithic blocks without thinking of the component parts? I personally never really studied grammar points, but I would make guesses at what structure I hadn’t understood in order to find the information I needed on Google. The way I understand things is entirely based on breaking them down into parts, and that allows me to use previous knowledge to acquire new knowledge. That’s the reason the lack of such links in teaching resources disturbs me, especially because I see how so many people desperately attempt to cram new structures into their heads without any sort of aid or method. Teaching them simultaneously is not necessary, but in my opinion, teaching the links is.

For me the issue is the mental overhead of adding a ‘〜が’ into the sentence in order to work it out, along with how unnatural something like 私は私が食べます feels. It additionally doesn’t help if the learner is confused by the nuances of using は and が with a subject, because even if you might understand their functions in terms of meaning or grammar with this ‘invisible が’ explanation, you might be tempted to think, ‘The が is always there, so why should there be a difference?’

However, if this approach allows a learner to parse a sentence that was otherwise impossible to understand, sure, why not? We can live with the downsides. I just feel that ‘there is always a subject’ is the more accurate interpretation.

All valid points, but I still think the breakdown is very important and needs to be presented at some point. I personally would have liked to have this information as a side note after learning the basic forms (e.g. the history of the plain た past forms so I would have an idea of why they don’t really look like the original verbs). However, I know from experience talking to friends learning Japanese that not everyone can handle this much information at once (I find it useful for understanding and retention; other people feel overloaded and would much rather just memorise the forms through drills), so I guess there is some merit to the JFL teaching approach.

Still, as it happens, I actually learnt the stems very early (when I was less than halfway through my beginner-to-intermediate textbook), and I found them anything but useless because of how they were presented by Wikiversity on this page:

At the time, I just really wanted to know why godan verbs were ‘5-dan’, and aside from the term ‘infinitive form’, I found that all the names given to the stems in this version were very meaningful and helpful. I came up with a mnemonic to memorise the names of the different forms based on their final vowels, then went back to studying. Turns out having this awareness of the stems served me all the way up to when I started encountering classical grammar, simply because it helped me remember new conjugations and guess their meanings much more easily. That’s what I’m aiming for in the resources I’ve been working to create – an approach that’s technical only as far as it’s useful, while also remaining practical – and it’s based on an idea I’ve seen work for me and many other people: sometimes, awareness of an underlying principle, even if it’s not fully memorised, is enough to give a learner an anchor point for new knowledge, and a structure for storing it, which tends to make it easier to learn because this way, knowledge is layered and associated with past knowledge, instead of being scattered and disorganised.

One caveat though: I’m aware that I’m looking at this from the perspective of someone who knows grammatical terms and has experience learning languages. For that matter, I even learnt my native language in a grammar-based fashion (in school, we were doing drills on the future tense, continuous tenses and perfect tenses when I was 7 or 8), so I might be more comfortable with this than most. Therefore, I think it would be necessary to introduce grammatical concepts at some point in order to teach this way, but provided the learner is comfortable with studying those concepts, everything should work out OK (and I think they can be introduced gradually anyhow).


I suppose for stuff like that I managed to figure it out on my own so it never bothered me, but I can see why you would want them to be more explicit about it.

I don’t think natives do, nor have I ever really. I think @pm215 kinda summed it up well with his other example. I’m not sure breaking it down here is really even beneficial to fluid understanding of the language. Deeper, sure. But fluid? Idk.

I never really bothered to break anything down on my own. I only learned what was needed to understand it in a single sentence. In my case you gotta understand that a lot of my initial learning of grammar took place reading visual novels. So when I saw a sentence I didn’t get with some weird grammar, I would look up that grammar and see its english definition and the sentences it was used in and I would just look at it until I knew how to apply it to my sentence. Once I thought I got it that was it. Page closed. I wanted to get back to reading my visual novel.

So at first I had a very low resolution image of each piece of grammar, but as I went through tens of hundreds of thosands of sentences, each of those images went though several minor corrections and enhancements. Then, it just so happened that once it had been enhanced enough I could understand them on a more individual level in cases where it mattered.

Nowadays, some structures of them I understand how they break down but intentionally think of as a group (e.g. かもしれない、ともかくや、なくてはいけない) and some of them I still don’t know how they break down to mean what they mean but I don’t care because I know exactly how they’re used and defined in japanese anyways (e.g. ○○とした事が、事もあろうに). I think I’m good at noticing patterns, but yeah I really just memorized them as blocks and let my brain sort out the commonalities as they popped up.


Thanks for correcting this! It’s been a long time since I read the book, so I had forgotten this detail.

It sounds like perhaps criticism on Cure Dolly on this point may actually be completely criticism of Rubin.

I had a somewhat similar situation with the book “Japanese the Manga Way”.

I wasn’t ready for it when I bought it and ended up not making much progress, and I shelved it for a year.

When I finally got back to it, I was (finally) too far along in learning to get any practical use from it.

I wish I’d put the proper time and effort into utilizing it back then.

One of my favorite Cure Dolly lessons is the one that breaks this down. I went from not being able to grasp/memorize its translation to understanding it completely.


But you see, that’s precisely my point. Back then, you were not yet ready to extract something from it.

I didn’t watch any curedolly, but I agree. Understanding noun phrases and clauses made some grammar points much easier.
For instance the bunpro lesson on けど read:

As can be seen from these examples, just like many other grammatical constructions, だ will be required when using けど after a な-Adjective, or a noun.

And I was like “… well, you mean けど, just like ‘but’ in english, links independent clauses, right ? A verb or i-adjective is an independent clause, but a noun or na-adjective is not. So really, it’s obvious”

It’s ironic, because bunpro usually does a fairly good job at deconstructing set expressions into components.

For the given example:

かもしれない is an expression in Japanese that is often treated as a single word, but is actually the combination of the particle かも, and the potential form of the う-Verb ()る (to know) with the auxiliary verb ない attached. かもしれない is regularly translated simply as ‘might’, or ‘maybe’, but the literal translation is much closer to ‘even (A), we cannot know’.&


I see a lot of people arguing over what’s the best way to teach the language, but I think something a lot of us forget is that different people have different reasons for learning the language that are conducive to different ways of learning. If somebody had suddenly found themselves going to Japan in a month and wanted to learn as much as possible, the usual methods might work well for them. But then for someone like me who (currently) doesn’t care about output at all and is just looking to understand the language, I would much rather have a logical and methodical way of presenting the language that doesn’t care about actual usage.


It’s great that it worked out for you, but IMO it worked out really because you had a huge amount of input, so you could keep looking things up until you remembered them/until you had, as you said, a sufficiently enhanced image. Also, it’s pretty clear you really wanted to get through those VNs :laughing: Obviously it’s beneficial to have more exposure/input as a learner, but I think most Japanese learners don’t have close to even half the amount of input you had while learning (myself included). I think your way works great, of course, but I guess I think my approach works better for memorisation and increased extrapolation ability (i.e. being able to guess what new structures with familiar parts mean) with minimal input. Since I’ve had to take long breaks from studying Japanese since I’ve started learning, and had limited time for input – and let’s be real, I love diving into the details when something piques my interest – I guess I ended up doing something that suits my needs.

I think your experience proves that you can get a feel for grammar and structures without studying them specifically (and frankly, basic conjugations aside, Japanese ‘grammar’ is like vocabulary – you can find it in a dictionary), but the condition is a lot of input. Given that a lot of people seem to try to learn without much input – and some of us don’t really have that much time for it – I think stuff like breakdowns and using component parts to learn grammar and meaning can be very helpful.

I think this is sort of proof. If you’ve seen it over and over and the meaning is always the same, you can just absorb it as such. But if you’re not spending tons of time in immersion and repeatedly encountering something, it’s not going to stick without extra help (breakdowns, mnemonics etc.).

Not to boast, but as someone who started learning Japanese precisely because he had a week left before he went to Japan, and whose Japanese learning speed has been remarked on by more experienced learners and natives, I just want to point out that I was very far from the usual methods. I used quite a lot of (simple) input directly from my very context-heavy textbook (filled with translated conversations and texts), dug deep into what I felt was useful core grammatical structure, and never stopped extrapolating based on patterns I had noticed and seeking to summarise new knowledge. I’ve seen traditional Genki-style textbooks for both Japanese and other languages, and I know from past experience that the sheer mass of explanations and isolated examples (aka vocabulary lists and isolated grammar points) would have dropped my learning speed into the ground. In my experience, the usual methods are the slower ones, and I’ve tested this on multiple languages (e.g. Greek, German, Spanish… even French and Chinese, which are among the three languages I’m very fluent in).

However, it’s possible that the way I learn makes me an outlier, so perhaps I should not expect my experience to apply to anyone else. Still, I’m just putting this out there: too much analysis, however logical, can definitely impede fluid learning, but looking for structure and patterns that likely can be extended to a higher level, with just enough explanation for understanding and extrapolation, has proved consistently faster than learning the usual way, simply because what I learn that way tends to still apply at more advanced stages.


Funny thing for me is that I was actually encountering it constantly while reading manga, but I kept having to look it up every time. For some reason, it just didn’t click for me.

Once I had the breakdown of 〜かもしれない (via Cure Dolly), I instantly had it down and recognized.

But this is just how learning Japanese grammar works for me, personally. I often can’t grasp it until I have rules I can understand for it, which is why Cure Dolly’s approach worked for me whereas more traditional teaching methods often didn’t.

Now if only I had a way to learn vocabulary better, maybe I wouldn’t have had to look up the meaning of (あらわ)れる over 50 times while reading through Sailormoon before I finally learned it…