I can read most textbook Japanese! But I can't read 'real' Japanese?

Hi folks, back at it again with another rant that I’m sure some people have been able to relate to in the past, or maybe even right now.

The problem is simple : I can’t read ‘real’ Japanese! You know, the kind of Japanese that Japanese people speak with their friends in person, or maybe between friends online (Facebook, LINE, twitter).

It’s actually been a huge drag for me as of late. It sort of ties in with the fact that I need to work on accepting ambiguity, but in the past I eventually was able to learn things that once confused me via textbook, my tutor, the friendly WK community, or free online resources as I was digging into the very basics of Japanese.

But now that I have most of the basics of Japanese grammar on my back, I find myself still feeling like I haven’t learnt a single thing! I’m not really interested in reading news articles and such, I am more interested in conversing with Japanese people about Japanese hobbies that I like online. As such, I often see sentences that are just beyond any realm of comprehension to me since these people are writing in a very… Casual…? way of Japanese that textbooks just don’t seem to brush on much (for good reason?).
I even see this style of writing in a Japanese mobile game I play during the VN style cutscenes. I can’t hardly understand any of what is written in the text boxes because they just talk so differently!

I’ll try and provide you with some examples to better describe this phenomenon.
This was a message my tutor had sent me when I had asked her if she could send me some material we went over, I understood this sentence and hardly had to think about it, really : “ははは、はい、ちょっとまってくださいね、私は今歯医者にいますから、後でメッセージ送ります(^^)”

Now let’s take a piece of a random post from a Japanese friend of mine on Facebook :
“何かある意味つまらない世の中になってきたような感じが?”
Aside from some words, I don’t understand this at all… Am I maybe overthinking and there is much more advanced grammatical concepts at play here?

When I converse with Japanese people I also find they start using that “textbook Japanese” with me as well. It’s much appreciated though, because I can usually understand it without any issues usually (less new words).

I read social posts in Japanese on and off all day long, so I feel like I’m definitely getting the immersion that is necessary for wanting to understand casual Japanese, but still making 0 progress to understanding it.
At times I look up things that I start realize are patterns (って particle、い form of a verb, etc) and it does kind of help, but things in-between that just feel like noise to me and nothing more. Like abstract concepts.

Several times I have really felt like dropping Japanese altogether since a big part of the reason why I want to learn it (talking to the Japanese community for my hobby) feels like it is continuously far out of reach for me.

So that’s my rant… Have you been here before too? Are you here right now? Anything you found that helped you better understand casual Japanese?

And to end things on a more positive note, I recently set all my devices to Japanese. Maybe it’s a placebo, but being forced to look at kanji almost all day now has helped me remember kanji a lot more easily! Yay!

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Well, a good free resource to get accustomed with more natural Japanese is

https://nihongoconteppei.com/

It is for listening though, but still.
If you find it too easy, he also has podcasts for intermediate learners though I haven’t checked those yet, becasue I want to finish listening to the beginner ones first.

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Thank you for this! Listening is also important for me, so this is very useful. Should I be starting at a specific podcast# or will any podcast# suffice?

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Sounds like you might be struggling with the fact that people omit a lot in casual Japanese.

A more “complete” version of this sentence would be something like

何かある意味ではつまらない世の中になってきたような感じがしませんか

“In some sense… Don’t you feel like this world has gotten boring?”

Learning to tell what has been omitted and what is filler (like 何か here, it’s frequently used like “ya know” or “kinda” in English) is just something you pick up with experience.

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Any will suffice. The way he posts them, the last podcast is always the first one, if you want to get to the very first one, you should go to

https://nihongoconteppei.com/page/21/

P. S. Btw, I’ve made a script in Python to download all podcasts on a page in the folder

import requests
import re
import os

url = 'https://nihongoconteppei.com/page/21/'
path = r'E:\Docs\Japanese\Podcasts'

with requests.get(url) as r:
    contents = r.text

regexp = re.compile(r'http://media.blubrry.com/nihongo_con_teppei/s/nihongoconteppei.com/wp-content/uploads/\d{4}/\d{2}/.+?(\d+)\.mp3')

for res in regexp.finditer(contents):
    file_url = res.group()
    file_name = res.groups()[0]
    full_path = os.path.join(path, f'{file_name:0>3s}.mp3')
    print('Downloading:', full_path)
    with requests.get(file_url) as r:
        with open(full_path, 'wb') as f:
            f.write(r.content)

You only need to replace the value of path with the path to the folder where you want to download the podcasts and, to download more recent podcasts you should change the last number in url from 21 to a smaller one.

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Yeah, it has been a struggle. Sometimes I can pick up on what might be omitted, other times it isn’t remotely clear to me what’s been omitted.

Maybe not so similar, but when Japanese is written purely in hiragana, I can’t really understand it at all unless it’s super common words (which is also partially why I am still awful at listening to Japanese :sweat_smile:). This is likely because my brain is wired to read kanji+hiragana if that makes sense.
How does this tie in? Well maybe my brain is wired to see certain patterns shown to me in textbooks, so when those patterns are slightly altered I get stuck…

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Well, one other thing to think about is… Do you understand literally everything people say on Facebook in English? Do people sometimes not post vague or strange sounding things even among your English speaking friends? Sometimes people express themselves poorly or even make mistakes from rushing. That could be another source of difficulty. The difference is a native can usually spot when that is happening and just ignore it and not waste energy thinking about it.

As for hiragana only Japanese, again practice makes perfect. Read children’s stories, for example, which are often only in kana.

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To be honest, in order to figure this sentence out, I needed a few tries, because I needed to run through a few possibilities until I found the one that worked. Leebo’s already broken this down for you, but I just wanted to point out that this might also be a matter of being aware of the readings that different kanji can have. 何か is usually pronounced as なにか, if I’m not wrong, but if you’re using it in the sense of ‘something like’ or ‘kinda’ or ‘sorta’, then it’s なんか. You also need to know that ある can mean ‘some’ or ‘a certain’ and not just ‘to have’ or ‘to exist’. Without these ideas, you won’t be able to come up with a workable interpretation.

That aside, the last element that you might be missing is a general sense of what the sentence might be about. It’s fairly clear that つまらない世の中になってきたような感じ is a block that has nothing omitted from it, so you need to see where you can go from there: 何か can’t be used as ‘some’ because there’s already ある, and 何かある意味 can’t be ‘the meaning that there is something’ because that doesn’t match the rest of the sentence. However, since 意味 is right before つまらない, it almost definitely has to be followed by an implied で, because there’s no other way to link it logically to つまらない and the rest of the statement. If you proceed by elimination, you’ll arrive at Leebo’s explanation. (I didn’t manage to think of ‘感じがしませんか’ because I haven’t used 感じがする in a while, but I could tell that the question was whether everyone else was feeling a certain way, because there was the word 感じ and it was followed by が, so it had to be exerting some kind of influence on those whom your friend was addressing.)

Ultimately, I think it’s a matter of experience and more particularly, a matter of exposure to casual Japanese, which there may not be enough of in your textbook.

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I gotta practice this. All kana sentences still give me trouble.

I’m a novice and I don’t have much experience with real, casual Japanese at all (I know I need to actively seek out more of it, and just haven’t yet), and often feel this way when I do see it. But I was able to more or less put together the sentence you posted, though I could not have filled in the omitted parts or put it as naturally as @Leebo did. The approach I took, that I often find productive, was to forget about grammatical precision and just chunk up the ideas expressed, as many as you recognize, and see if you can make sense of that:
<something><certain><meaning><boring><society><become><start to><similar><feeling><question>
I wasn’t like familiar with the pattern of 何かある意味, and I’m sure it contributes something to sounding natural but once you break it down to <something><certain><meaning>, it doesn’t look like it really means much, so I kinda disregarded it. Look at what you’re left with, and you might not come up with a precisely correct translation, but you’re bound to end up in the right ballpark.

I guess what I mean is language is fuzzy to begin with, going between two is even fuzzier, and it’s probably more productive to just embrace that than get hung up on precision.

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Yes, the filler 何か (basically with the feeling of, “I want to start talking but it’s tough to just jump into it without a bit of a run up”) is なんか. If this was spoken as なにか, we’d have to adjust the interpretation.

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I’m also around the beginner levels but here are a couple of the things I’m doing to practice casual Japanese. Sorry if these are the things you already know.

-I mainly follow Minna no Nihongo for grammar which is way too formal. After or before studying each chapter, I look for Youtube videos for the respective grammar points that also explain the casual forms. The channels I’m mostly using are Japanese Ammo with Misa and Miku Real Japanese.

-Book clubs here. For now, I’m following the book clubs for Teasing Master Takagi-san and Nichijou, and reading Flying Witch by following the past discussions. They have been so helpful because each manga has characters with different ways of speaking and we get the chance to discuss to make meaning of what they say. Especially Nichijou has some characters with quite unconventional ways of speaking. :smiley:

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If you like gaming in Japanese, Chrono Trigger is fairly light on kanji.

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Like leebo said, a lot of the difficulty imo comes from the fact that stuff is omitted. Theres other factors at play too, but I just think that’s one of the bigger ones worth focusing on.

If you can round up a buncha those kinds of sentences, and ask japanese friends, your tutor, or us to kinda do what leebo did and break them down for you, you’ll hopefully start to notice patterns and get it with practice. Alternatively, if you read enough, you’ll see the non-omitted form enough to where when you see a fragment of that expression you’re used to, you’ll know what they mean because you’ll intuitively know what comes next. Overall thats probably a less efficient method, but its more or less what I did.

How much are you actually understanding (that you’re sure of).

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Just wanted to say that I’m right there with you. I’ve recently begun dating a Japanese person that is still learning English. We try to switch back and forth between days where we speak English and days where we speak Japanese. The transition from Japanese textbook language to suddenly speaking intimately with a native Japanese speaker hit me like a ton of bricks. Casual Japanese has humbled me in a way that was very discouraging.
I’m not reinventing the wheel here, but being in your shoes I just wanted to say that I usually have this YouTube channel playing passively in the background while I work so that I can hear native speech for immersion purposes: https://youtube.com/user/weathernews
It’s just weather news but they seem to often have call-ins from native speakers who will speak quite casually.
Also, not sure if you’re a wrestling fan, but I actually started learning specifically to understand the content on Stardom World. They have a YouTube that often has livestreams of native conversation as well. Casual conjugation still messes me with me, but if you try to pick out what you can or even try shadowing where you repeat what you hear as you listen along it could start to help even when you get to the written forms
https://youtube.com/c/STARDOMofficial
Sorry if none of this is helpful, but I really just wanted you to know that I feel what you’re saying so much. Keep it up. Japanese is an amazing language and, despite being in the same spot of feeling far away from my original goal, it has already enriched my life in other ways.

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I was just observing this the other day when watching a Let’s Play of the Japanese version. I was surprised at how (relatively) little kanji there was.

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Thats good to know!! I definitely would love to play Chrono Trigger in Japanese. I thought it would be more dense than that!

If you really don’t mind retro gaming, Famicom/Game Boy era games are almost 100% kana in my experience. I’d been worried about trying them for that reason, but I recently starting playing 魔界塔士サガ (a.k.a. Final Fantasy Legend), and it definitely feels like good practice at recognizing words by their phonetics.

(Incidentally, this game comes in a collection on Switch that includes the full Japanese versions of all three original SaGa games, available regardless of your console region or language settings. It’s really nice if you enjoy super old Game Boy RPGs!)

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I’ve always gone through periods of… hmm… how would you call it. Feeling like it’s pointless, maybe? Cause you do it in school and you read textbooks and there’s a ridiculous overzealous focus on desu/masu. And then you watch anything in Japanese and you’re like, “but these people don’t talk the way I’m being taught? What’s the point?”. When I was in high school, I was top of my class in Japanese studies. And then I happened to see something on TV and this ancient dude was being interviewed about something. And not once in his whole interview did I hear desu or masu. And I thought, “wtf? Why does what I’m learning sound nothing like that”. I watched anime as a kid (dubbed of course. Subbed wasn’t available to foreigners in the late 90’s and early 00’s when I was watching anime on VHS. God I’m old) which resulted in me listening to Japanese music for years before even getting to high school. And nothing I was learning was close to the usage I’d already been exposed to. Cue confusion and loss of motivation to continue learning.

People often say “anime bad real Japanese don’t anime speak”. Except they do, in my experience. I watch anime, drama, news programs, live streams from gamers, live streams from celebrities, play video games, etc. If it’s been made, I’ve probably seen it at least once. The main differences appear to be mainly that anime is almost never polite (and commonly uses “ruder” language like varying derogatory terms for ‘you’) and it’s common to have coded speech for character purposes. Like the Chuunibyou who uses lots of RPG terms, or the cat-character who says “nyan” at the end of every sentence. Almost nobody talks like that in real life, but like you watch Horimiya, and it’s the exact same way I’ve heard streamers talking to each other on stream. So, obviously, anime is, for the most part, “real” Japanese. So, maybe it’s not the best way to actually learn what speech is and isn’t okay to use (and/or when to use it), but it’s perfectly fine to learn how people tend to interact with each other, and to be exposed to the sounds and tones of the language. And it’s nothing like textbooks.

The issue is with textbooks, as Yuta likes to say, is that they are outdated. Genki? Originally published in 1999. Minna no Nihongo? Originally published in 1998. A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar? Originally published in 1986. (I’m younger than only one of these :sob:)

Obviously, I’m not saying that they’re trying to teach Shakespeare levels of old, but language is evolving at an incredible pace (thanks to the internet), even in Japan. So colloquially, 20 or 30 years is an age in terms of language change.

Also, rightly or wrongly, textbooks do not teach you plain speech (either as much as they should, or even at all. We certainly never learned plain speech in high school). Things like Genki might introduce it a little, and tell you how to make it, but most stuff is still presented in polite speech which you do need to know (although I would argue most foreigners don’t really have need of humble/honorable forms), but you also really need to know plain speech. (And onomatopoeia. Really important to know. Never covered)

Cause learners will absolutely notice that what they’re learning is completely different from what they hear native speakers actually speaking, and there’s nothing that causes your motivation to plummet than thinking that what you’re learning is completely and utterly pointless.

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To be fair, I regularly see Japanese natives say that they wouldn’t be able to understand really old people on TV without the subtitles that tend to be used.