How do I start to piece it all together?

Howdy, first post here. I’ve always had a desire to know Japanese, but aside from briefly trying kana flashcard apps several years ago, I never even got started. After my first (and so far only) visit to Japan in 2018, I started to think more seriously about learning the language. My primary interest, honestly, is to play video games in Japanese (mostly older ones, but newer ones too), with secondary benefits possibly being able to get more out of any future trips to Japan and being able to edit Japanese interviews more easily (I’m a videographer and that was the purpose of my trip… aside from recklessly buying every Super Famicom cartridge that struck my fancy).

This past spring, I was planning to take summer classes for Japanese at a local university, but the cost was significantly higher than I was expecting, so I backed out, not sure how to proceed. Well, some friends and I (one of which knows Japanese) recently decided to play Dragon Quest X (still only available in Japanese), and after sampling the game and feeling completely captivated by that good old fashioned Dragon Quest flavor, I immediately felt a desire to comprehend it on a deeper level than simply knowing that the attack I want is the fifth one down on the third menu selection.

So exactly two weeks ago I downloaded hiragana and katakana flashcard apps, read about some other resources, and started going at it. I learned some really basic vocabulary, but not in a way that would be rigorously enforced. I was having fun (which surprised me), but I realized I wasn’t going to get very far without learning Kanji and expanding my study resources. So one week later (and one week ago today), I started Wanikani… and started having even more fun! Because I’m not exactly the most disciplined person but was a good student, I always thought I would need that structured classroom experience to keep me motivated and on task. But now that I’ve started Wanikani, I have no idea how I even would’ve begun to learn anything in a classroom environment. There’s not enough time in a class to reinforce much of anything, and there would be no structure to my study outside the classroom. The Wanikani system just makes it so easy to come back and be lazily fed this knowledge. I’ve been thinking of it like a conveyor belt… maybe I’m on a faster conveyor than some people, and on a slower one than others, but as long as I stay on it, it seems like I should be able to come off the other side knowing pretty much the same stuff as everyone else who was along for the ride.

So yeah, this is fun. I’m surprised. But obviously, while Wanikani is teaching me a lot of vocab and helping with my ability to recognize Kanji, I still know next to nothing about how to piece the language together. A wall of Japanese text is still extremely intimidating (especially with no spaces between words!) and despite feeling pretty good about hiragana overall (still need to reinforce katakana a bit better), it’s still extremely difficult to chew through any text at all (let alone vertical text, which makes it hard to identify small characters… or stylized fonts… the worst!!). My brain just isn’t processing the syllables very quickly just yet, even though individual radicals, kanji, and vocabulary are coming to me relatively quickly on Wanikani.

I have very limited (and rusty) language-learning experience (I’m a native English speaker). As far as foreign language goes, I’ve only ever taken German classes (which I was decent at, but didn’t have to be great at to make an A). I consider myself a pretty decent writer in English, but that’s mostly rooted in intuition at this point, having forgotten a lot of the nitty-gritty of “why.” I don’t remember that much from English class about “participles,” “conjugation,” and junk like that. So it’s a bit intimidating when I see Japanese resources talking about this stuff, assuming I’ve got a firm grasp of what “passive voice” means and whatnot.

With Wanikani just being so good at feeding (and reinforcing) information in comfortable bite-sized chunks whenever I’m feeling ready for a brief distraction, I wish there was something similar for the rest of the language. Am I overlooking something like that? I’ve found books and written websites recommended here and there, but I wish there were a “system” for it. The irony is that I was so afraid of kanji at first, thinking I would first be able to understand games/writing that mostly use hiragana and katakana… now I feel like kanji is going to be the easiest thing to learn and all of the れ, ね, ます (and associated context) is what’s really gonna slow me down!

The other tricky thing is that while I don’t necessarily have a need to be fluent, and don’t presently have plans to pursue JLPT exams (unless I decide they’d be a good motivator to reach certain milestones), I’m sort of getting this feeling that I need to be sure I’m not neglecting to practice all aspects of the language. For instance, while speaking and listening isn’t as important to me as reading, I don’t want to reinforce bad habits early on or let my Wanikani lessons fade away, eventually just lazily understanding that 火 means “fire” while forgetting how to say it correctly. I guess my concern here is that while I don’t have the greatest need to strive for a high level of fluency, I’m worried that drawing the line somewhere and saying “that’s good enough” doesn’t really make sense. Even handwriting, which I frankly have no interest in, would probably help me understand those tricky stylized fonts a bit better. At some point I’m sure I’m going to hit a wall (probably a few walls), but am I throwing away too much of my time and effort if at some point I say “yeah, I don’t need to do any better than this”? That’s why, even though on the face of it, I don’t need to speak good Japanese or have the best listening comprehension, I feel like I probably actually do need to make an effort in those areas.

I did look into iTalki after I was hit by the sticker shock of university classes, and I do think I should engage in some sort of native-speaker dialogue, but I suspect at this point (moving comfortably through Wanikani level 2), that would mostly be a waste. I also saw mention on these forums about HelloTalk, which is I think lets you talk to people for free? But that somehow feels awkward to me, ha. I’m not exactly outgoing.

In addition to the “what,” I guess the other question I want to pose is “when”? I’m definitely planning to pay for Wanikani after I’ve cleared level 3 (thinking about just going straight for the lifetime subscription). But at this point, studying grammar right now seems a bit useless when I don’t know enough vocab to do anything with it (I really can’t parse much of anything from the sentence examples used in the vocab lessons).

At any rate, I’m enjoying myself and am feeling good about eventually being able to learn enough for it to be useful. I keep reminding myself that hey, I don’t understand everything I read in English either! I don’t know how to say some words. I misunderstand people all the time. If communication in my native language of three decades isn’t always easy, then it’s OK to feel confused by Japanese too.

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I think Bunpro might be your holy grail! It’s best used in conjunction with an actual lesson plan- I’m partial to Tae Kim’s method, personally- but I think even just going off Bunpro, you could learn enough to start to piece together basic sentences and get you into reading native material. Bunpro REALLY shines as an SRS means of reinforcing the grammar points you learn, and as a grammar dictionary. Also… $3 a month =)

Also, here’s some beginner reading material that I found really helpful when I was struggling to make that leap from “recognizing characters” to actually reading.

Fairy Tales with Translations
More Fairy Tales
Graded Readers

You might be surprised at how much you can pick up already. :smile_cat: And, of course, welcome to the community!!

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First off, welcome! I hope you have a good time with WK, and everything else for that matter.

I don’t have a good answer as far as what you personally might be interested in, but here’s some grammar guides and other things that I’ve collected. Take a look around and see if anything seems useful, maybe.

Grammar Guides

Visualizing Japanese Grammar
This has an intuition-based approach to teaching some basic grammar. Perhaps not the prettiest.

Tae Kim’s Guide
You’ll see this one mentioned a lot. It has some errors, but it’s structured pretty well and is an easy start.

Maggie Sensei
This is a blog with posts about grammar points and specific vocab tips. Most of them will probably be a little above your level and they’re a bit confusing in layout, but I’ve found the explanations very helpful.

Nihongo no Mori
This is a YouTube channel with tons of playlists of vocab/grammar at different JLPT levels, plus some others. There are a few different presenters but overall they’re pretty easy to understand. You will probably want to look at the N5 playlist, maybe N4.

Japanese for the Western Brain
It doesn’t have much content, but this site mostly tries to make Japanese grammar intuitive. Your mileage may vary.

Practice

BaBaDum
It’s a cutesy site which has a few methods of vocab recall in multiple languages. I like it, but it’s best if you already know the vocab.

Delvin
This is a site that gives you audio snippets from Japanese movies and TV series, then asks you to pick out a word by listening. The audio quality is a bit mixed but it’s quite easy to get into and can be sorted by JLPT level.

HouHou
This is a combo dictionary and SRS system (like WaniKani).

Type Kana
Hiragana & katakana practice.

Don’s Japanese Conjugation Drill
Verb/adjective conjugation practice.

Duendecat
Sentence translation practice, with definitions. I think it’s graded by WaniKani level(?) so you can practice kanji you already know.

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Thanks for the suggestions! I did see that Tae Kim guide mentioned from browsing the forum, and did plan to take a closer look within a few weeks, after some more leveling up on Wanikani. I’ll take a look at those other links as well to see if something clicks for me.

Thanks for the mention of Bunpro as well! One of the apps I downloaded the other week was “Bunpo” and I really like it in some ways, but other times it lacks context and just teaches you a common phrase without breaking it down. But it was good for helping reinforce Hiragana and some very basic words or phrases. If Bun"pro" is similar but more robust and refined, I definitely think I’d like it a lot. I’ll take a closer look tomorrow.

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I dont have a lot to say that others haven’t, but I wanna say something about this.

One thing that wanikani is fantastic at (as long as you dont cheat) is long-term memory. I started Wanikani a few years ago (and reset(that’s not the important part)) and haven’t seen levels 1-5 kanji for a long while. However, just this year I took Japanese classes, and there were multiple occasions where I’d see a kanji and something in the back of my brain would know the answer. It’s honestly such a satisfying experience, and I’m so glad I did wanikani if for no reason other than those moments. Personally, I’m so prone to passing a test in a class, and then immediately forgetting what I learned. Wanikani circumvents that perfectly for me.

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I think the classroom is especially helpful for grammar study, and regular actual speaking with a teacher to steer you in the right direction.

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The YouTube channel Japanese Ammo with Misa is excellent - she’ll cover topics of interest in her videos but the amount of extra stuff she mentioned by-the-by is brilliant and devoting so much time to expressing something in different social registers and nuance (very important in Japanese) is priceless knowledge that’s hard to get any other way. Her colour-coded subtitles are super helpful too - she uses corresponding colours for the English and Japanese words, and that helps form intuitions about how Japanese grammar actually works… and it also doesn’t hurt she’s really funny.

Of course with Japanese grammar once you tweak to how it actually works you kind of go “oh, that’s actually not so bad”. The main difference between Japanese and English is how back to front they are to one another. This video is a goldmine of tips:

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If you can live with the quirky voice and shameless overselling
Cure dolly’s youtube series is really informative on how japanese structure works.

I also like telling people to have a read through the Japanese grammar wiki

I Think those 2 gives a pretty good overview of what youre getting yourself into.
Don’t worry about understanding it all, but do take a mental note of the subjects contained inside.
I want to stress that Japanese is topic prominent (as opposed to subject prominent in English), Strictly head final (rare for languages) and left branching. These 3 things may not make sense to you now, but it can really make your life easier if you understand those things from the start. (Make a post-it and hang it somewhere visible)

Bunpro as mentioned before is a great grammar SRS, best used with some prior grammar knowledge but not impossible to use as a stand alone ressource, do beware how many lessons you do at a time because it can very quickly overwhelm you, the same goes for WK.
Ideally, once you have some basics down you want to consume as much as possible as it builds vocabulary and gets you intimate with the structure of the language.
WK has the best bang for buck for the first 20 levels and then it slowly begins falling off so it can be worth considering to blast through 20 levels and then slow your pace to steady while you consume native content. Likewise id say getting to N3 is also sufficient to enjoy most native content.
The awesome thing about consuming native content for learning is that it doesnt feel like practice and your brain will do all the work on its own. Sure it takes quite some time, but its rather effortless.

I hope you find a strategy that works for you and you can stick with.
But before anything, accept that learning a language takes A LONG TIME.
Don’t start the journey without having some idea how long it is, otherwise youll run out of provisions (motivation) halfway through.
I only say this because some give up once they realize how large a commitment it actually is.

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With respect to English being topic prominent, it depends on the sentence. :slight_smile:

You cant really talk about individual sentences using language typological generalizations because, well, its a generalization. With regards to topic vs subject, no language is strictly one of the two.
The point is, It takes a bit of getting used to the different way of thinking in languages that rely more on topics if one comes from a subject focussed language as most western languages to my knowledge are.
And learning a language we want to shift our thought process to the target language ASAP

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As I understand it, you can’t have a topic prominent, grammatical sentence in English (it’s not the same as making your subject the topic).

The closest you get is the headline style e.g. Pen: There is one on the table.

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What an amazing set of resources. Thanks so much for sharing!

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Hey I might have something you’ll like!

Why don’t you learn grammar from video games?

This channel explains japanese grammar from games.
(Sorry I can’t figure out how to link it. It’s on youtube.)

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Are you against using a textbook for any reason? If not I think that’s the best way to learn grammar with using youtube/online resources as supplements.

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Thanks for the extra resources. As for a textbook, no, I’m not opposed, but just worry whether it would be very compelling for me without a class to go along with it.

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True true, western Indo-European languages do tend towards being Subject-Verb-Object - Germanic ones like English, Romance ones like French, fairly sure Slavic ones are SOV too… but far from being rare, subject-object-verb languages make up about half of the world’s languages, including the traditional language from around where I call home. :slight_smile:

Yes ok that was a bit tongue in cheek - more to show how は “feels” in English, except は has that nuance of distinctness on top.

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These are what you need
Watch a video or two a day and learn basics.
Use Tae Kim’s to supplement and reference grammar points

Learn some basic grammar, then blast off into native content. Class is fun but I think there is much better value in these free resources and using native content

That’s my biased opinion though lol
I took the first two classes at my Uni covering Genki I and it was fun, but I think you can accomplish everything quicker on your own

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My advice is to purchase Genki 1 and 2 and work the textbooks on your own. They are still very good for self-study. :slight_smile:
Nothing can beat an organized textbook approach imo. It builds upon the complexity gradually and has examples, exercises, and passages to read to reaffirm your knowledge. Best part is you don’t have to search for content that you are able to handle since the textbook won’t give you anything you won’t be able to understand. Just my two cents.

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You should check out The Ultimate Additional Japanese Resources List!, there is a lot of stuff here and I think taking the time to look through it and seeing your options could help cause it has helped me!

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The Japanese From Zero books might be a good fit for you then. They’re not as popular as some of the others, but the author has a ton of videos on YouTube to go along with the material.

I’ll also mention Cure Dolly in that her videos really helped me grasp some of the concepts I was struggling with.

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