Help please, the grammar concepts aren't fitting in my head

I’ve been trying to learn grammar for nearly half a year, but I feel like slamming my head against a wall every time I try to actually read something.

Like—I get the general context of a sentence, but I keep messing up really basic concepts, as in whether a sentence is positive or negative, or what tense the sentence is in. I find myself reading sentences 95% sure of what they mean, before looking at the translation to find that the sentence means the opposite of what I thought, or sometimes the meaning is something else entirely.

I’m past the Wk halfway mark now, and I feel like I still don’t get some N5 concepts.

I started off the same as a lot of other people did, with Tae Kim—which I found too vast to take in. I even bought a copy of みんなの日本語 but haven’t even finished the first lesson.

Towards the end of last year, I was almost half my way through this playlist—it’s by a channel called Nihongoal on Youtube—but as the content started getting tougher, older concepts started slipping out of my mind.

I’m planning to reset and try out Cure Dolly’s series next, but I’m wondering whether it’s going to lead to the same memory loss as last time.

Morale’s low, and Wk’s really starting to feel like a bunch of random words I’m learning without the means to stitch them together.

So yeah.

I’d really appreciate any advice on how to git gud at grammar.

PS. I still haven’t learnt how to write—I struggle with hiragana—mostly because of the amount of time I feel it will take. Which played a huge part in me dropping みんなの日本語. Is learning to write to learn from a textbook worth it?


Hey @kinksdrinks have you tried any of the more kid-friendly textbooks? I’ve used things like Genki at evening school but also bought Japanese From Zero prior to that, and I gotta say things like JFZ are more accessible if you’re going it alone. Might not learn as many little details but if you’re trying to get a basic grounding maybe it would help? Good luck to you whichever way you go with!!!


Have you tried breaking the problem into small pieces? Take one grammar issue at the time, like present tense negative. And the read all you can on this particular topic until you master it. Then move to another topic: past tense positive, then another topic past tense negative etc. By tackling the issues one by one it should be easier to learn and remember what you have learned.


Honestly, it sounds like you haven’t even tried, and are just looking for the easy way here. Something like みんなの日本語 is your best bet here. Everything else you’re talking about is just talking at you, and then you’re not actually using the Japanese or doing anything. So yea, naturally you’ll forget things. Something like Minna or Genki also gives you grammar, reading, writing, and listening exercises that build upon themselves and will constantly reinforce the things you’ve learned.

If just hearing something once and then moving on was enough to learn a language, we’d all be geniuses. But it’s a slow process that involves regular work.

And you 100% should learn to write Hiragana, it is not hard and does not take that long to learn to write. If you want to learn the language you’ll need to put in the effort.


My first question would be what do your notes look like?

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It might help with recognizing the kana, if you learn to write them, but it’s not a necessity, per se. You could just as well type out the answers if you want, or write them in romaji. If one of your goals is to one day become a proficient handwriter, by all means, practice writing them over and over, just like you practiced your alphabet when you were six.

Minna no Nihongo I really like for grammar, but if you only have the main textbook, the exercises are pretty much only ‘fill in the blanks, with the right conjugation’ for renshu B. What my Japanese teacher does (and what I’ve done during self study as well, at times), is provide a translation of the finished sentence, and then expected up to translate it back to Japanese, using the required grammar. This works really well to get you making your own sentences. For self study, it first requires a good understanding of the grammar, of course. So you could one day work on understanding the grammar on one level, translate the sentences in the book. Then a few days to a week later, try to translate your own sentences back to Japanese. See if you come up with something close to what the book initially said. You can maybe use the days between to study the vocab list for that chapter, so you don’t have to look up as many words when you translate back to Japanese.

For this I’d like to recommend katsu. With this webapp, made by a guy in my language school, you can practice making certain conjugations, depending on what you toggle, and you can also practice recognizing the conjugations if you choose to reverse the exercise, so you get a conjugated form, and you have to answer with the base verb/adjective.

WK level only tells you how many kanji you might be able to recognize. Grammar is a whole separate beast. Seeing as for now building kanji doesn’t seem to be an immediate concern for you, why not take a break from WK and only do reviews for now, and try to put more time into grammar? You can use various threads here to help you with it, for example the Japanese Sentence a Day Challenge.

Don’t try to go too fast through the grammar. I don’t know what your pace has been, but basic grammar is important to get lots of practice with. On the other hand, don’t get too bogged down by details and exceptions and classical origins for now.

Good luck!


This. That’s exactly what WK is, and what it’s supposed to be.

As bad as they might be, the context sentences in WK are better than nothing. If you try to decode them, even with looking up the unfamiliar words, you’ll discover some grammar hidden there too.

I struggle with hiragana—mostly because of the amount of time I feel it will take.

Like, two days if you take it slow? I get where you come from, I still confuse some of them now and then, but you memorized 30 levels of WK – how’s that in comparison to 45 kana?


Honestly Duolingo is a great way to learn Hiragana quickly. But I don’t understand why you’d focus so much on Kanji early on, that seems like the exact opposite order of what you should be doing


Can I suggest buying a basic textbook which uses romaji, and forgetting about trying to use hiragana and kanji, or at the very least partitioning your efforts so that you learn syntax and grammar on the one hand, and reading and writing Japanese script on the other. Japanese is more suited to being written in the Roman alphabet than English is, and you will more quickly learn how verbs are conjugated etc.

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Some people say that Minna no Nihongo is written to be used in a classroom setting, and I agree. Each person learns differently, so maybe a classroom lesson is the right method for you. I know there may not be any Japanese classes near you, especially with the pandemic, but it’s worth trying if you can find one.

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Yes. I think it’s well worth the time. Working through the grammar with writing is a great way to learn and connect to it. Just learn it at your own pace… there are plenty of online worksheets and guides. You could probably master 5-10 a day.

Romaji isn’t really necessary. I wouldn’t recommend this. I feel it’s a short-term solution but in the long-run, with just a couple of weeks of hiragana/katakana struggle you’ll end up learning Japanese a lot faster and have a lot more resources available to you.


First of all, WHY are you learning Japanese? Wanna talk to Japanese people on line? Wanna move here for work? Wanna understand native media? Your motivation for learning can help inform which method of studying you want to dig into.

I am a little surprised that you have made it this far without being able to write kana. It does not take long at all. Like, a weekend to get the basics, and then just keep practicing. They are no more complicated than the Roman alphabet, and like a zillion times easier than writing kanji (which you can honestly probably skip). Just suck it up and do it. Find a chart and copy it until you feel like your fingers are gonna fall off. Done.

I did Genki in school, and promptly forgot most of it. So I struggle too. I have focused on reading/recognizing, not producing, so I can’t conjugate for crap. But I can usually parse the general meaning of sentences.

It sounds like you’re giving up too easily. So you got something wrong. Why? Take a look at the sentence you misunderstood and break it down. Google the thing you don’t understand. Nobody expects you to understand everything at first, but you need to actually work at understanding it. Then when that pattern pops up again, you can be like, oh yeah this is ringing a bell, and you look it up again. It’s like the manual version of the SRS WK uses. You have to encounter the grammar point multiple times before you really understand it. You can’t just go, oops I got it wrong oh well I will never learn! Look it up. Copy it out. A zillion times.


Thanks so much for all of your replies, it really helped put stuff into perspective.

I think my problems mostly come down to me expecting to learn stuff from videos and casual reading without putting in my own effort. Wk with its SRS automates the effort part, and has spoiled me :grin:

A bunch of you have said learning to write kana isn’t as tough as I thought it was, so I’m going to try that this weekend.
After which I’ll probably pick up a textbook again.

A lot of you also recommended breaking down sentences to figure out exactly what I didn’t understand, which I can’t believe I wasn’t doing already. :expressionless:

This looks incredibly helpful, thank you so much!

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You should try watching Japanese with Misa youtube videos, she is great at explaining things.
I used Minna no Nihongo at school and I hated it, so I tried learning with Genki, it was much better.
I learned basic grammar concepts with Nihongo no Mori N5 videos with Steve, unfortunately, the videos were taken down but someone uploaded them to mega, I’ll leave the link below.

mega dot nz slash #F!CQpnXAID!pChVpWYxUePLMRdVciaoGg
mega dot nz slash #F!mYZjASaB!VI_34qZFQ4x6LoJcR5nfRA

Also, you should try doing a lot of drills, I use Jpdrills but there are books like Sou matome that are great. You’ll start seeing sentence patterns. I try to do them every day so concepts stick in my head. Don’t be discouraged, please keep going, consistency is key :wink:

Some thoughts, based on my observation on teaching (not Japanese, but I think this still applies).

In order to learn something you can’t just read grammar explanations and expect to retain things. This is like all my C-range students who just come to lecture, don’t take notes, don’t do readings and are surprised they are not receiving better marks. A-range students do a lot of extra work that is not always obvious: they seek out extra resources, they do all the readings, they come to talk to me when they don’t get things, they take detailed notes during lectures, etc.

So in order to learn Japanese you have to use it. How you do this can vary - I personally feel that it beneficial to engage with the language in multiple modalities (so listening, writing, reading and speaking), but depending on your goals, you might emphasize one skill over the other.

Some ways to practice:

  • Work through みんなの日本語: A textbook is never going to be enough to get fluent, but doing the exercises by hand will help build those connections, especially with the very basic stuff.
  • Do an audio course like pimsleur, or listen to Japanesepod101 or Nihongonotepei.
  • Do some shadowing! With Japanesepod 101, I use the transcript to shadow all of the dialogue, in order to help building some speaking fluency. I don’t do it as much recently (My goal in Japanese is largely reading), but I think especially with basic N5 stuff, practising speaking definitely helped me internalize grammar.
  • Read! Pick a book. There are tons of bookclubs here on the forum - pick one from the absolute beginer book club and start working your way through it, with the help of the vocab lists and threads.
  • Or maybe start reading through these free graded readers. The advantage of these is that they start SUPER basic, so that even if you are still in first chapters of a textbook, you can start reading (warning: content is extremely boring, especially for the first ones… but hey, that’s the price you pay for being able to actually understand things)
  • Listen to some Japanese media that you enjoy. Don’t worry too much about getting everything, but concentrate on picking up the things you do know. Did you hear them use a negative sentence? Woohoo, that’s progress!

The key is, whatever you do, you need to encounter a lot of the language in order for things to start feel natural.


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