How do you guys learn vocab and grammar efficiently?

Hello! I’m wondering what techniques and resources you guys think are good for learning vocab and grammar. I’m struggling a bit with knowing what I should use now because I feel that my current routine is lacking a bit.
Here’s my experience so far and some of the resources I currently use:
I’ve been studying since November 2022 but I took a 3 or so month-long break because I graduated high school and visited family. I got back into it maybe a month ago and have mostly caught back up to where I was. But I’m not super satisfied with my progression overall, I struggle very much with memorizing vocab and grammar. Kanji has been much easier for me probably because of visual cues. I am a fairly slow and thorough learner though so that may be part of it.
I’m currently going through primarily Genki I and Bunpro (I’m a bit newer to Bunpro), and I occasionally read or listen to media. I don’t really feel like I know enough vocab for the amount of time I’ve been studying, and grammar is just hard for me to actually understand in ways that make sense and that I can remember. The nuances in Japanese vocab that we don’t have in English are really throwing me off. It may just take practice, but do any of you have recommendations for resources or techniques that help you progress more efficiently or if you get stuck?
I’ve studied for basically 7 months or so but I’m not even N4 yet just because I’m struggling to find vocab methods and grammar practice that works for me. My only other idea that I haven’t tried is some vocab/grammar decks on Anki or Bunpro, or just taking in a lot more reading and listening practice. I’ve loosely tried these but they were pretty overwhelming, if that’s the best way though I’m willing to try again. I just don’t want to jump in if there are better ways to go about this. Any thoughts? Much appreciated and I wish you all the best with your studies!

I think more input would help with this problem. Reading and listening naturally enforce vocabulary and grammar. Have you tried graded readers? Satori reader is a popular option, and then there are also the Tadoku free graded readers which are mentioned a lot on here. And if you’re ready to tackle native material, the forums have many book clubs (current and archived) at the absolute beginner level that you can use to help your studies.

Personally, I would skew towards more input rather than more SRS/decks.

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Thanks for the recommendation! I briefly tried Satori reader out and liked it pretty well. I haven’t heard of/tried the free ones though so I will definitely check those out :slight_smile: Thank you for the info!

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Me thinking that passive learning is good enough and having put off seriously learning vocab for 10 years and should probably be able to take the N1 in my sleep had I actually studied
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Writing is another way. At least it should be enough for basic grammar (with correction). But imo it can be overdone, depending on your goals.

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I did it the dumb way, by making a custom anki deck for everything and adding every word i didn’t know until i did know them. (I actually think this works, but it is very much brute forcing it. Also, you have to let words you repeatedly fail on the SRS drop out, because you know you’re going to see them again one day).

I think frequency lists are a good idea for most-used vocab.

/edit but yes as @soggyboy says, actual comprehensible input is way better than SRS for tying meaning and context to things and making them memorable. SRS is, like, a crutch I guess? It’s just a scaffold so that the actual memorisation can take place in proper usage, imho.

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Yeahh lol I briefly tried that, I also found (and tried) a core vocab deck with almost 40k words and needless to say I got overwhelmed :rofl: I’ll definitely give that a try tho, it definitely makes sense and I’ve heard a lot about context being pretty much crucial for learning vocab. Thank you!

I read an article about Anki that describes this:

As good as it is, it’s NOT a magic pill nor a substitute for poor learning skills.
Why? Because Anki covers just the final one-third of the memory’s core processes for information encoding1 — which is retrieval.
This means that if the first two-thirds of the system you use for studying — encoding & storage — is messed up, then using Anki won’t be the magic pill that it’s believed to be.
In contrast, when you do use Anki with the right process, you could gain tremendous advantage over the competition

Link to article: How to Use Anki: An Efficient Tutorial for Beginners
I found it very helpful! I use Anki for more than just Japanese, and it’s great, but doesn’t work if you don’t comprehend the subject matter first!

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frankly i’ve never found using anybody else’s decks to be any good. I guess making your own deck based on a frequency list might have worked.

What people often don’t realise about SRS is that making the cards is part of the learning process as much as just doing the revision

/edit a lot of this is covered in the article @neeco linked above, I recommend giving it a read

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It took me a year and a half to feel solidly N4 (I still need to review grammar though). Having said that I used N5 and N4 anki decks, Nihongo con teppei podcasts to solidify the vocabulary and SKM N4 was the best grammar book (Genki 1 was necessary).

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‘Sentence mining’ in particular might be a good phrase to google! That will give you specific examples of how people are using Anki to learn Japanese vocab. The really general Anki guides are neat too especially if you are interested in the theory of learning.

e.g. Morg talks about sentence mining here and says he likes the refold sentence mining guide (while also giving a warning about refold’s content overall)


I also really recommend ch.5 of Paul Nation’s language learning guide (h/t mitrac!). It’s a good quick explanation of what we know about vocabulary learning and what conditions can help or hinder it, i.e. how to have an easier time with ‘encoding & storage’ as @neeco’s article was describing.

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I explained what I would do it if I were to start learning from 0 again in this thread :

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I’ll second the “get more exposure” comments!

You don’t need to understand everything when you read/listen, just as long as you’re picking some things up. Even if all you remember about a word/grammar point is that you’ve seen it before, but still need to look it up to check the meaning, that’s still meaningful progress!

You can also try to use some resources to “scaffold” off of rather than going into a text completely blind, here’s some potential strategies:

  • read something you already know the story to well.
  • read in parallel, referencing an English version of the text after trying it in Japanese to see if you can understand how/why it was translated the way it was
  • reread stuff you’ve already tried in Japanese, more things probably stuck than you think from your first attempts
  • frontload vocabulary by frequency specific to that text using something like jpdb + mokuro or something of that nature to make it easier to read that specific thing
  • use a tool like natively to help gauge the difficulty of what you’re interested in reading and make appropriately difficult picks (the easiest "native content’ is generally around level 15/16, ちいさな森のオオカミちゃん seemed to be pretty popular with the new new readers in the ABBC)
  • try reading something that has already been read by a book club here on the forums! The absolute beginner book club and beginner book club picks generally have vocabulary sheets and lots of discussion about any confusing passages, and lots of more experienced readers are still watching/tracking the threads, so you can even still ask questions and people will help you out!

Lastly, Japanese is one of those things that really just takes time. Like a lot of time. Like a lot of lot of lot of lot of time. Even if you’re studying an hour a day every single day, it can still just take years before you’re a truly independent language user.

I’d take these specific numbers with a grain of salt, but Japanese is a real long term endeavor! Keep with it and eventually you’ll get to taste the sweet sweet fruits of your labor

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Well I’d say instead of studying more arbitrary lists of words, to take a few of the simple grammar points you know and try to explain something in your area of interest. What your hobbies are, what your town is like, what you did last weekend, narrate to yourself everything you do on the way to work – I realize many (most?) of the textbooks do this too, and people learn the example sentences in them. But what people tend not to do unless forced is to immediately use those patterns to say what THEY want to say, not just repeat what the book said.

It’s harder than it sounds - at first you’re almost constantly at a loss for the right word and have to look it up. But then that’s more memorable, because it’s a word relevant to YOU and automatically comes with a wani-kani-style memory-hook scene associated with it - the story you were trying to tell.

Chances are if you do that A LOT, you’re eventually going to cover most of the N5 and N4 vocabulary, because they’re chosen in the first place to be commonly-occurring words that people use.

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Thank you guys a ton! All these resources and tips help me out a lot, I’ll definitely give this a try!

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Lol. So true.

Vocab - by reading a lot
Grammar - from study books to understand how the various patterns look like and what kind of nuance they represent. Later by reading a lot to see how they’re used in context.

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Thank you!! I agree that it’s difficult for me too with reading and listening because of the lack of words, but looking it up is a great way to progress a little. I tried that once while reading, and it helped a lot, so I will have to try doing that again! Japanese and English subtitles used simultaneously on videos help a lot too, cause it’s a bit easier to piece together. I appreciate the help and the encouragement, it is frustrating to keep learning new things/uses for words/grammar points you’ve already learned. That’s definitely not my favorite part, but it helps to know that’s normal. Thank you for the tips!

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