Has anyone here learned japanese mostly through real practice?

I’ve only been learning japanese for a few weeks but I’ve been thinking about moving on to grammar. It’s frustrating to have all these examples on Wanikani and not really be able to understand anything more than the kanji I’ve already learned !

I started with the guide over at tofugu, so I’ve been naturally following it. I’ll be waiting until I’m level 10-20 on WK to start grammar since it’s what’s advised, but I started looking at their textbooks list and I realized something.

Do I really need a textbook ? I’m French, and as far as I can remember, textbooks are not how I learned english. Sure, we had them in school, but I never paid attention in class and I was already ahead ever since 6th grade anyway. No, the reason I learned english was because I pirated games and could only find most of them in english. I was forced to, and as I learned english I started naturally downloading more and more stuff in english and visiting english websites, forums, etc… and I didn’t even want to, originally. I used to hate english when I started learning it in school.

So what about doing this for japanese ? Learning grammar rules, and then just jumping in. Reading japanese novels, manga, watching anime or japanese youtubers or whatnot, playing online games on japanese servers, etc… just all around bathing in japanese. I’m wondering because the first time around, with english, I did this kind of unintentionally. Maybe I just got lucky, or maybe there’s some big disadvantage to this method that I haven’t noticed yet ? Not to mention english is similar to french in many ways while japanese is really alien.

TL;DR : once you’ve learned kanji (and you keep on learning more with wanikani) and you’ve learnt grammar rules and their exceptions (and have a reference to check when you forget something), is there any reason to keep following a textbook rather than start right away to read, hear, type and speak japanese ? Any good resources for this method ?


Once you know some kanji, and have learned some grammar rules, you should start practicing with Japanese media. But even then, it’s not the same as just jumping right in.


I studied basic grammar while doing WK and started reading a lot in the 20s, and now I learn most new vocabulary and grammar by reading. Though I still sometimes dedicate time to reading grammar textbooks, and at least for me I feel it accelerates my learning.


Your ideas are intriguing to me and I would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

No but yeah I’m on board with your philosophy.


I totally get where you’re going. I had a similar process with english as an L2 (spanish been my L1).
Japanese is a diferent beast altogether… first… most likely you won’t ever need japanese to the extent that probably you needed english. Then you’re not bombarded with japanese content the way we are with english material (think in the music we consume / movies, etc)… So a similar process with japanese it’s most likely unheard of.

Then my experience was, going through Genki I, and then jumping into consuming media, doing sentence mining, reading…
Having a reference grammar book with me, so I could learn new grammar on the spot… and then eventually dropping that and using native japanese material, to both continue to learn while using japanese as much as possible.

I would say a basic textbook (similar to Genki series) it’s a shortcut to getting grammar and learn to quickly identify it… no need for doing that many drills if you’re aiming at understading mainly, as you’ll finally really get it when you see it many … many times.

I did a (huge) post about my first year in WK and something like 16 months with japanese. Dropping textbooks it’s not an easy path, you’re bound to test yourself on every step so you keep learning… which honestly it’s both time cosuming and sometimes a hit and miss … but overall I think can result in a much efficient approach, as you can customize your routine as much as wanted.

So overall, I would say you’ll need initially some “crutches” as compared to the process you did with english…

Anyway, just my experience though, take it with a grain of salt :+1:


While I can’t say anything about exactly what you are proposing, I can say that I have learned most of the grammar I know(which still is far from everything though, I’m not an expert or anything) from exposure(I have actually never actually used a textbook at all for Japanese beyond just googling stuff occasionally), so at least it’s clearly possible to learn stuff that way. There’s also some vocab I’ve learned from context, so it is definitely possible to at least learn some stuff without textbooks. Whether it actually is worth it compared to traditional studying is harder to answer, though. Either way, it’s definitely possible.


Isn’t learning the grammar rules where you need a textbook for? You don’t need a traditional one. But can use an online guide like TaeKim or an SRS like BunPro (which is very similar to wanikani) to learn grammar rules.


I guess so. Textbook to me means a fat book full of lessons, examples and exercises that’d take at least a month to study inside and out. What I’m wondering is, can I not just get a basic understanding instead, something that allows me to read and understand any kind of sentence (paired with kanji knowledge, of course), which shouldn’t take more than a few hours of study, and then just jump in and figure it out as I go ? I feel like that’d be infinitely more fun to me. I felt like I got good at english so quickly compared to the average because I just went in and directly forced myself to face real english. It also felt way funnier than textbooks. And grammar doesn’t really seem insanely complicated, especially compared to the massive effort of memorizing thousands of kanji.

Tae Kim’s guide seems promising. I’ll also definitely do the textfugu free trial. It’s just that I’m afraid of getting bored if things don’t move fast enough. I definitely just want to start practicing with real material as soon as possible.


This is what I did more or less.

Its been awhile but if I recall correctly, I learned particles and their most common usage, verbs and how they can be conjugated, and stuff like te form. I never did any exercises or took notes really, just sorta looked it all over on tae kim or genki. You can probably count the amount of grammar questions and drills i have done in the past 3 years on two hands.

Where I really learned was through things like song lyrics and reading. And some anime I guess. But yeah, you cant just pick this stuff up, you still need a textbook or something similar either way. For example, I heard たら in a song and I didnt know what it meant so I pulled up the maggie sensei page on it and gave it a read. Never added it to any SRS or anything, but seeing it more and more helped keep it fresh in my mind and all.

However, just one thing…

Hell. No.

It takes a lot more than a few hours to be even able to properly parse any sentence (not to mention the vocab youll need to understand it, oh lawd). Now if youre looking at easy examples from textbooks, sure, but native material? No there are plenty of sentences that even with n4 level, you would have no idea how to even properly break it down and have no chance at being able to look stuff up in the first place.

Theres plenty of stuff that you can sorta sandbag through, but far enough past your current level and things become so hard that you dont even know what it is you dont know. So with that being said…

Yes to some of those things. Novels seem like too much of a stretch. Like I initially started off with yotsubato and that was with wayyyy more than a few hours put into grammar. You can definitely use these things to drive your grammar studies, but work your way up. Starting with something too hard will only slow you down way too much.


I would have loved to learn Japanese this way, but since you can’t phonetically read the words you see for the most part, jumping right in is easier said than done + the grammar is completely foreign.

I would suggest that you go through Tae Kims Grammar Guide + Learn 1000 words or so and then go explore. You still might not understand a lot but it’s possible.

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I mean, you can count pretty high with two hands :joy:


Ive been found out!



i moved to Japan this August with only hirigana and katakana under my belt (along with the basic understanding of x は y desu). So, in my time here i have been pretty shy with talking to Japanese people, espeically as my area has a relatively low standard of English compared to larger cities BUT, speaking Japanese and listening to conversations at work or socially has accelerated my understanding and speaking.

For example, I would learn a new kanji\vocab from WaniKani or another source. It would kinda stick and i could read it but i didnt _understand_ it. Once i heard it randomly used in conversation, or on a sign or something - it clicked (id even have little “I know that!” moments). I think a very basic understanding of grammar and sentence structure is necessary, but often when speaking to Japanese people we tend to meet halfway, using short phrases or vocab to get our point across. Over time, my Japanese has gotten better and with some thinking I can now string a simple sentence together and respond to some questions).

Basically, i can advocate for an immersion technique, but only after nailing some basics like particles ect, as they are confusing and can be misinterpreted without explaination (I thought に meant something completely different until it was explained to me haha)


This is very true. Although English is a germanic language in it’s grammar and vocab, a lot of vocab was borrowed from French and Latin (often also through French). Also both are Proto Indo European languages, so at it’s core there is already a kinship, that you don’t get with Japanese.

This is very true! I lalso learned English very easily from a young age, through tv, music, and reading a lot of young adult novels and literature (Ian McEwan was probably my favourite) from about 12 onwards. And that gave me a lot of vocabulary and grammar exposure. Also, compared to Dutch, English grammar is not so different, that even the small differences are easy to pick up.

But with Japanese I couldn’t see that happening.

I think you meant funner? Which doesn’t sound like a real word, but it is! :slightly_smiling_face:

Or “more fun” like people normally say.


But funner is funner to say


Waiting until you’re level 20 on WK to start grammar doesn’t seem like a very good advice, in my opinion. You should start right away with grammar, right after learning Hiragana and Katakana, of course. I started with the Japanese From Zero books, and while it’s a textbook, it’s very easy and fun to use. And you’ll get started on the first concepts of grammar without worrying about kanji, since the author uses mostly Kana. You can also use BurnPro and start going though grammar points by level. If you have trouble with any point, they advise other resources where you could learn more.

If books ain’t your thing, and I completely understand, there’s a ton of videos on Youtube, like from George Trombley (author of the JFZ books), Japanese Ammo, Japanesepod101, etc.

I also never used a textbook for English or flascards or any other learning resource. I learned it passively over the years, but as everyone pointed out, Japanese is a whole different matter. It’s very difficult to learn if you don’t take an active approach, whether it’s by textbooks, online video lessons, etc. You need much more effort than with western languages.

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Oh god what have you done!? Why did you have to show me this?! :laughing: I’m addicted… And it’s beautiful

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The answer to if you need a textbook in order to acquire Japanese is no. To acquire a language, you need lots and lots and lots of comprehensible input. There’s a lot of second language acquisition research on this. If you’re interested in a little primer, this video can be helpful. But, also, your experience with learning English is in support of what the research says.

But, the issue that self-studiers of Japanese run into is how to get that comprehensible input in a manageable way. And/or how to make the input they are getting more comprehensible. Here are some of my thoughts on how I’ve been doing it, and maybe they’ll help you. The basic idea is to read as much as possible.

  1. Continue going with WaniKani as it will be your #1 way to understand what you read.

  2. Start reading children’s books. The kanji will be simpler, if even there. And when it is present, it’ll probably have furigana with it, making it easier to look up. I really like using PIBO on iOS for these materials. Japanese Graded Readers (another app) can be helpful, too. Also, this website has some simple graded readers. The idea is NOT to understand every single thing that you read in a sentence, but to get the general idea and then move on. You can always come back as your language acquisition progresses and see if you understand even more the next time through.

  3. Eventually you’ll want to progress to readings that contain kanji with furigana. There’s a thread here on WK that shares some great reading resources that I recommended checking out. For example, Satori Reader is a nice one.

  4. Use Duolingo and/or Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone’s method is solid from a language acquisition perspective, but the price tag is often too high for people. That being said, purchasing textbooks can be expensive as well, so it kind of depends on how much cash you have to dedicate to this project. Also if you go through Rosetta Stone’s app you can buy a lifetime subscription, similar to WaniKani.

  5. Find things to read that are personally interesting to you. For example, I like growing things and gardening, so I’ve looked up a bunch of words around that and have googled for different articles online, etc. These kinds of articles are DEFINITELY tougher to dive into, and require a lot of time investment, but since the topic is interesting for you (similar to those English games you played), it could be easier to get through. Speaking of gaming, a lot of people have played through Stardew Valley as a way to practice their Japanese. Could be fun to try, especially as you progress!

  6. A textbook CAN be a way to get a lot of comprehensible input as it will be easier to understand if you learn the vocabulary. So you could use a textbook and just not really read through the grammar. Most textbooks contain some kind of reading practice, and listening activities via CD.

So, overall, the idea is to read as much as possible, utilizing dictionaries like jisho.org and maybe some grammar topic look up as you get stuck. Start with simpler texts meant for children, and work your way up. Alternatively, start with all the reading materials found in a textbook and work your way up. Learning grammar rules is not the focus, but rather it’s on understanding the general gist of what you’re reading, re-reading the same things multiple times as you progress, and then moving up to more challenging readings.

Hope this helps! I may have rambled a bit there D:


I am in very much the minority and was, (and still am) blessed to be immersed in Japanese culture on a relatively outer island before the advent of the internet! So, I totally think OP’s philosophy is spot on! Of course, self study was needed to get the basics, but I loved improving my reading skills through karaoke and izakaya menus! Just having the TV on constantly in the background at first helped massively! After 8 odd years, I was able to pass the old JLPT level 2 …but the more serious academic work was lacking and my first go at JLPT level 1 was pretty disappointing. It truly was an eye opener and now after encountering WK, I am reinvigorated and ready to give the N1 another go in a year! As far as that is concerned the WK approach and community resource has given me the 2020 vision! ( sorry for the ripped off Dad joke).

The daily need for communicating in the target language is the obvious motivator. I have to comprehend my lesson plans in Japanese for teaching English. Outside of work, I really enjoy using recipes from Japanese cookbook resources, so another way to continue plugging away, too!