Japanese is frustrating!

Hello everybody.

I’ve been learning Japanese for about 4 months (not long I know). I just levelled up to 5 and in the level up email it recommended i go to the beginner section and ask / answer questions using kanji i have already learned.

Scrolling through, I realise that I can’t read (basically) anything!!!

I am working my way through the first Japanese From Zero book but this doesn’t really cover too much grammar.
I do DuoLingo every day (yes I know it is not the best tool, but it is free).
I have completed about 8 eps. of Pimsleurs as well.

My question is - What should i do from here in order to advance by reading abilities?
Buy the TaeKim book (or something else) to understand grammar etc. better?

Any help is greatly appreciated (and needed!!!)



Have you tried the Japanese from Zero youtube series? You could still go through the book at a normal pace, but if you listen and watch all the videos, it’ll give you a decent foundation of grammar that you can use to start reading. From there I recommend joining an absolute beginner book club or reading one of the books they’ve read. As you practice more with real Japanese aimed at native speakers, grammar should make more and more sense. :slight_smile:


Hi, Yes i’ve watched a few of the youtube vids (they are good) but i haven’t got around to finishing them off. Thank you for your response.

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I don’t think it has to be frustrating if you want to take your time. For the time being you can focus exclusively on reading or watching videos about grammar. I did mainly that for the first year I was learning.

I did attempt to read and watch real media during that time, but usually gave up quickly because I’m lazy and only want to deal with Japanese content if I’m actually understanding and enjoying it. If I can’t understand most of the words and grammar I just leave it for later when I have more experience. After a year I was finally able to begin reading comfortably enough. I think it’s important to understand enough that you can easily pick out the things you don’t understand when reading Japanese content, if you don’t understand anything at all I don’t think reading is going to help much.

Tae Kim’s guide is on his website for free, so you wouldn’t need to buy it: Learn Japanese – Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese


Isn’t that the same when you are learning something?

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I think if you’re hitting a point of frustration, it’s useful to find something you can more or less handle. Of course, being new (and I’m new too, even less time than you!), pretty much everything native is beyond us. Well, that is, unless your tolerance for looking up every word in a sentence and every grammar point is remarkably high.

What I’ve found that really works, and helps make Japanese feel a little more approachable, are graded readers and simple beginner comprehensible input videos.

There’s more out there, but those are the resources I’ve personally used and had good luck with, and both have multiple difficulty levels to choose from. Some people don’t like them because they aren’t the most thrilling content, and I mean, yeah, that’s not untrue. But I find them useful for easing myself into the language – dispelling the apprehensions that come with reading and listening to the unknown, and I’ve picked up plenty of words and stuff along the way. Allegedly (if you’re familiar with the Stephen Krashen theories about language) this is even the best way to properly acquire language – personally I just like as much variety in methods as I can find. I hope something here helps <3

I should add, have you noticed the book clubs around here? I just joined the Absolute Beginner one myself. The manga is clearly beyond my level in some ways at this moment, but the thread is full of helpful people, and that’s another nice way to ease in.

And as for the grammar question, it seems definitely important to pick some sort of grammar resource to get a foundation. I use Genki, but anything decently reputable, including several Youtube video series (Cure Dolly for example) or Tae Kim’s website stuff that you don’t have to pay for (as opposed to buying the book), can all do the job.


Thanks for your response bud.

Thanks for your input. I’ll have a look at those free books. Yeh, I saw the book club thread but i think i will hold off on that for now. A bit out of my league.

I have been using www.duendecat.com to practice my reading and kanji recognition. You can set the level based on your WK level, the website will give you a sentence based on the level that you set. Then you can practice reading it and see if you got the translation correct or not.

I also use rikaikun plugin for chrome. When you hover a kanji, it’ll give you the definition and correct pronunciation (99% of the time). It’s very helpful when practicing reading.


Thanks mate, that is very helpful.

To increase your reading abilities I don’t think you should focus as much on grammar. (japanese grammar is pretty simple compared to english) As long as you know your particles and what they do and your verb endings. (both polite and casual) You should be in a pretty good spot grammatically. Vocab is the big thing that can boost reading ability. As long as you know all the words in a sentence you can generally get it to make sense based on context. That said with only 4 months and lvl 5 wanikani, I’m not sure I would recommend trying to read much yet. It might do more harm then good. The amount of input unrelated to your current studies could become overwhelming.

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I have been learning Japanese for about 5 years now, and even I can tell you that I have a long way to go. Its a looooooooong journey.

I also used Tae Kim’s free resource. Albeit boring, it is a phenomenal free resource that covers most grammar points used in daily Japanese conversation and text.

I am nearing the end of my WaniKani journey, and using mostly these 2 resources I can confidently say my Japanese level is pretty high. That being said, I have been living in Japan for 2 years so I am exposed to it every day.

Study, study, study. There is no secret path to fluency. Hit the textbooks, review the kanji, and even if you can’t read or understand anything, expose yourself to Japanese through your interests or hobbies.

Good luck!


I’m going to stress again that I’m new, so this isn’t from a position of authority. Other people who have gotten farther will be better able to talk about their experience in reflection. But as someone pretty new myself, my own experience trying to read has felt like the exact opposite – grammar is what I feel like I need to study harder than vocab.

That’s not to downplay vocab. Sentences are made of words so if you don’t know any words, good luck lol. But even beyond the basic conjugations, there’s so much that gets tacked on to words and changes them. For the early learner at least, it can become difficult to even recognize the words you do (sort of) know when they have hanging endings that change their meanings, and the sentences are full of unfamiliar uses of sentence enders or set phrases, and without spaces between words, you’re fighting to tell where one ends and another begins, because the grammar spices between everything are making them unfamiliar. All of that settles with time, I’m sure – everything about learning this does. But if PeterRoss’s experience ends up being anything like mine, my own encounters trying to read native material showed me that I want to study grammar as a top priority for a bit. Plus, assuming you’re not having to look up every word in a sentence, word definitions are trivial to search for. Grammar? You’re going to establish a method to look it up for sure, but it’s always going to be a little more in depth and a little more disruptive to research grammar than to look up an unfamiliar word, I’d think.


Tell me about it! I’ve been studying since high school! (Granted, not well). I’ve lived in Japan! And yet reading has always eluded me. Probably because I didn’t study kanji hard enough. I have a distinct memory of leaving my final exam during study abroad, looking around town, and being like “oh THATS what that says! Wild! I could have read all these signs if I hadn’t crammed for exams and promptly thrown out any knowledge acquired!”)

And then I promptly forgot everything and am back here.

The difference between where you are now, and me in Japan, however, is I had the grammar and vocab to back things up - I was just missing the characters. So if you said “おいしさたいけつ!” I’d understand it, but if “おいしさ対決!” was written in an ad, I’d be confused.

All this to say, reading Japanese is pretty hard - honestly way harder than listening or speaking in my opinon - and at 4 months in you will be missing a lot of grammar and vocab, not to mention kanji. Before you spring money for a textbook, there are quite a few youtubers that cover Japanese grammar. Here are some that I will ~play in the background while doing something else~ cough I mean watch to learn:

These people all do lessons entirely in Japanese, but honestly its slow enough (especially at the N4 ish level) that even if you don’t understand them completely you can get through. While I personally don’t love her, a lot of people recommend Cure Dolly as well.

While some people can pick up vocabularly naturally, I’ve never been that person. I really recommend making flashcards, even physically writing things out so you can remember it. If you are lazy, Anki has a million and one Japanese decks, and there are also a million and one Genki/Tobira/Nakama/Insert College Japanese Textbook Here vocab decks on Quizlet as well.

Of course, as you start to read more you will start to recognize more. Using the sentence above as an example, you may say “hey wait, I know what おいしい means, what does it mean when the “さ” is at the end?” and then you can just look up grammar like that as well.

But at the end of the day you need a foundation to build on. And frankly thats where intro textbooks work really well. If you still find yourself struggling, I would just hop on facebook marketplace or amazon and get a used or older, out of print copy of genki and work from there. You will be reading light novels in no time!


Not quite. I think this only holds true once you’ve gotten past N4 grammar. After that, it’s mostly idioms so you can focus on vocab then.

You need to learn more grammar and vocab. There’s no way around it.

While WK will teach you Kanji and some vocab, you need to stick with a secondary resource. The JFZ books are pretty good so things should get better as you move through the series.


I feel that! Three years in and I feel useless reading, speaking and listening. It gets better but it’s a long road. Cheers!


I fell you, as someone that loves langauges, at the end of the day there is a tinge of jealously when there are people that automatically click with these type of things.

Keep on chuggin young train.


Yes, I really like these, too! I take notes and it really helps me learn the grammar. I need to do a LOT more! Personally, I think learning some grammar as early as possible is helpful.


If you want to read something super super basic, I’d recommend the manga Crystal Hunters. https://crystalhuntersmanga.com I remember how excited I was to read it ~1year ago as my first Japanese reading experience because I always struggled with reading, grammar, conjugations, etc.

They break out all the grammar, vocab, conjugations, etc. and keep the reading at a super elementary level. (Supposedly you can read chapter 1 with zero Japanese knowledge and just 2 weeks of diligent study). The first chapter is free and the next chapters are super cheap. The only con is the slow release rate, as your Japanese will improve a lot faster than the manga.

Don’t be discouraged! Just keep learning every day and believe in yourself!


The Tae Kim grammar guide is available for free.