Inductive or Analytical Approach to learning Japanese: Where do you Stand?

Some people believe that a grammar-based approach is key to efficiently learning a language. They say that a thorough grammar study is necessary for understanding the structure of the language. They insist that without understanding grammar, a language would be a jumble of words difficult to decipher. Some go as far as to say that they first need to have a good grasp of grammar even before starting learning the language. Let’s call this an analytical approach.

On the other hand, some believe the opposite: that grammar books are an unnecessary obstacle that slow down the learning process, particularly in the early beginner stages. Grammar rules should be exclusively inferred by the language and not vice-versa. According to this vision, a student should start “attacking” the language as soon as possible. Massive exposure and deduction are key factors here. Often called an inductive approach.

Having unintentionally derailed a thread on another topic with this discussion, I thought I would move the debate here. My own viewpoint leans heavily towards the latter approach where I prefer to recognize patterns in the language to help crack the code, but that isn’t important. I thought it would be interesting to see hear views from other WaniKani users.

Firstly, this is not about seeing who has all the answers or a my approach is better than your approach thread. People have different learning styles and what works for some won’t work for others. Nevertheless, I find it interesting how different people use different approaches to successfully achieve the same ultimate goal, which is cracking the code to fluency in another language. So how about you guys?


I did both grammar study and exposure at the same time and that made the most sense to me. Not sure why you would want to take either extreme.

Edit: I guess if you’re limited on time I would lean towards exposure with minimal grammar explanations.


If you just study how the grammar works, than you’ll grasp the concepts much faster than trying to listening and hear patterns. With Japanese grammar feeling backwards sentences to English speakers, I think it makes more sense to study grammar. Unless you are a baby who constantly hears their parents speak the language, or unless you go to the country that speaks the language, I don’t think the latter approach would work very well against the the former. Does it not take babies a couple years to have a simple conversation? Where as if you study grammar you can have a simple conversation in a couple months. Plus people and children who are exposed 24/7 are getting in about 12+ hours of exposure a day probably, where’s a learner in there own country could arrange at most 30 hours a week probably. (just an estimate) So it would take longer than studding grammar.
I honestly think grammar speeds up the process, and makes it more optimal and efficient. I don’t know why you’d force yourself to figure out how something works, when there’s already someone who did figure it out and can explain it to you. You know, ever hear of standing on the shoulders of giants?


To summarize the definitions, the analytical approach is focused on learning grammar rules while the inductive approach focuses on exposure. As is usually the case for these sorts of theories, some middle ground between the two extremes should prove the most effective.

If I were to prefer a side, I would lean towards inference. Our brains take time to be trained, so exposure is necessary. One can learn a lot simply by listening to people speak or by watching subtitled anime (e.g., vocab, set phrases, tone, verbal cues, etc.). In essence, I think you can capture the most useful parts of a language through inference alone. (And as @Iwasneverhere pointed out, pre-school children have to do this.)

However, I think it is nearly impossible to produce and understand nuanced speech without grammar study. Exposure helps teach things that occur frequently, but the more complex rules will be very difficult to infer due to their relative rarity.

Doing both approaches together is best for language mastery. Learning the grammar (and other rules) provides explicit structure to the deluge of information that exposure provides. Likewise, the exposure provides reinforcing examples to solidify the language in your mind, so that abstract rules become efficient neural pathways in your brain.


I do not think that understanding grammar is a process that takes a lot of time. Studying grammar takes up a minority of the time and the one annoying part of grammar, the exceptions, are learned by exposure anyway. However, I think it is essential or better more efficient to read up about grammar. I myself started learning Japanese grammar by just staring at sentences and deducing how it works, but this process is tedious and only really works in a language like Japanese where grammar is very visible (particles) and even then only for easy grammatical constructs.

So I am for once taking the middleground.


I would say an iterative approach is the best, switching back and forth between for example reading (without worrying too much about the things you don’t get), and looking up grammar points.

But for getting started in reading you need grammar. Japanese is not easy to parse because there are no spaces, so you need a rough idea what the words are before you can “analyze” anything.

Actually I recommend learning the kanji first to around WK level 20–30 or so as well. It is not so frustratingly slow and distracting to read a single sentence (except for the “Bobu no pen” ones), it’s easier to learn new vocab by reading sentences, and you can tie together words you heard before to unknown written words. Also, you can read more engaging content (beginner level grammar can take you a long way).


There are valid arguments on each side, but as is often the case, I believe the best approach is a combination of both. Depending on your abilities and interests, you may veer more toward one approach or another, at different points along your study journey. I think people should study grammar, but I suck at Japanese grammar, yet survive my daily life in Japan by spouting nouns and verbs at people until I get what I want or give up and get my supervisor to help me. Grammar without nouns/verbs/adjectives is useless, and they are pretty limited without grammar. Yeah, grammar probably slows things down, but what’s the rush?


I enjoy the grammar approach.

It’s worth noting, though, that every single one of us here has already learnt a language purely from exposure.:smiley:

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With one or more 24h personal trainers for a few years everything is possible :wink:


But most of us do not have the luxury of learning a second/third/nth that way. As your brain gets older, it gets harder to learn languages. Our baby brains soaked up language in a way that our adult brains cannot. It is difficult to get the needed exposure, as well as override a lifetime’s worth of thinking in another language.


I do both. Both is best.

I think it’s obvious that a balance of both approaches is best. But if I had to choose which one I thought is more effective, I’d definitely say the analytical approach. Without having any knowledge of the structure and grammar rules of a foreign language’s sentences, you’d just be trying to decipher a wall of foreign-blurred words. Sure you’d get to a point where you can recognize “です” or “ました” or “でしょう” coming at the end of sentences, but you wouldn’t have any clue what it signifies.

Sure, this is true, but we were completely immersed in that language. Our parents, and family members, and everything around us was in that language. Many people don’t have the opportunity to just up and move to a foreign country to get that immersion, but I imagine that if you threw me into the middle of Russia and left me there for 30 years, I’d figure it out too :slight_smile:.

I think seen at it’s most basic level I think most of us would agree that a balance of approaches is ideal. But I think the question is where is that balance to be found. I think even the people who are not huge fans of grammar would recognise that some is important. I think the interesting question for me is how much and when.

Of course if you’re one of the people who finds grammar study easy, even at the beginner level then I think you’re more likely to stand on the side of stressing the importance of grammar as early as possible. For some it acts as a shortcut to fluency.

But what if you’re one of the people (and there are many as a look through these very forums will tell you) who find grammar study really difficult. And I count myself among this group.

In my humble opinion. Some of us make the mistake of studying too much grammar too soon. In many cases grammar is pre studied before much of the target language is discovered. To me this is putting the cart before the horse. I think that grammar study is most useful when it’s what Krashen defines as ‘comprehensible input’ and so I think it’s better to make sense of language that you’ve discovered and encountered rather than putting a lot of effort into grammar at beginner level.

To those people I’d say ignore much of that grammar study for now. If it’s not going in and your brain almost doesn’t feel ready for it. Then it’s probably not. There’s loads of other stuff you can be doing rather than bashing your head against the brick wall of grammar.

I think this guy Steve Kaufmann has views similar to my own in terms of studying just as much grammar ‘as you need’ when you need it. Which especially for those people pulling their hair out with grammar is usually later on in your studies.


Oh, I’m inductive through and through, I hate grammar with a passion. That being said, I recognise that grammar will be necessary at some point, at the very least to make sure your deductions about the way the language functions are correct.
When you start learning a language, you probably want to learn a good chunk of basic words, to which you will apply grammar rules later, like tenses, word order, prepositions, articles etc. As the words get more complex, so will the grammar at some point and before you know it, you will have learnt that language. Of course, it’s not at all as simple as it sounds, but anyway, you probably want to balance the two approaches: you are more inductive at the start, but towards the end, you become mostly analytical.


I think most people, even the people that use AJATT recommend grammar in the beginning up until the point where you can start read sentences. One of the main points against grammar is it honestly doesnt help all that much, there is generally many different grammatically correct ways to say something that will sound painfully unnatural to native speakers. I think the best method once you have a solid foundation is focus on input and immersion.

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I more or less agree with this. I still think having minimal grammar explanations with your exposure is ideal though (e.g. Jisho definitions). Something like Rikaikun would give you those, help you parse text, and deal with unknown words. I’ll avoid rambling about that here though.

Yes, and (a) in the beginning, our parents used short simple sentences, with words which were very contextualised, and then grew the length and complexity of those sentences as we matured. That’s not always so easy when learning an additional language as an adult.
(b) Even in your native language, formal education makes a big difference to how grammatically correct your spoken and written language is in the long run.

Having said that, grammar can often seem very dry. It’s useful to learn a chunk of language which you can use as a model e.g. “I like ~” “Please give me ~” or “Let’s ~” that can be used in many different ways by varying the ~. This is more useful than just learning a list of words. The more chunks you know, the easier it becomes to communicate. Once you have enough of them, the finer points of grammar become easier to absorb.
(Which I think is what several people ahead of me have already pretty much said. :slight_smile: )

I just think that while this is true for many people, for others grammar study (at least the traditional grammar textbook study) doesn’t stick and therefore what takes some people no time at all takes others an age.

I’ve never understood this. Why would it not stick? Any textbook gives the grammar point and then gives several sentences exhibiting the usage of said rule in an actual sentence. Books like Genki also contain entire skits dedicated to showing the grammar points within a certain context. How are these sentences different from the ones you’d come across while reading comics or novels?


I suspect it’s mainly due to the amount of practice involved. That’s also tightly coupled with the amount of vocab you know when you’re learning grammar, because it’s difficult to internalize grammar without diversity of practice. The brain tends to just memorize phrases if diversity is low.