Start learning Japanese grammar

Hello to everyone out there

When do you think I should start learning Japanese grammar? and what would be the best app/ books to use?

plz give me some suggestions
thanks

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I would personally suggest starting as soon as possible so what you learn starts making sense and you can “play” with the language. I started learning Japanese in a classroom setting using the textbook Minna no Nihongo, but it may be challenging without a teacher, although it has a side book for translations and grammar notes which is very helpful. Another very popular textbook for self-taught learners seems to be Genki; I checked it back then and it seemed nice, I remember myself liking it, and I think there are some YouTube channels going through the chapters which is nice. Both Minna no Nihongo and Genki have listening practice too.

Another popular option is Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide, but I haven’t used it so I can’t say anything about it. Some people like it, some people don’t, but it’s free so it can’t hurt to try it.

For Kanji practice other than WK, if you use an android phone I highly recommend the app Kanji Study. It is a paid one but it’s constantly being developed, and I’ve used it for hundreds of hours over the years.

Some people dislike textbooks or grammar-heavy resources a lot, but they tend to be very effective, challenging you with listening, reading and writing; at least they have been for me. They can be tedious, but they get the job done. I tried to find the easy option at times, but I’ve never learned as much personally without putting in the work.

My last recommendation is to check the Ultimate Resource List even if out of curiosity, you might find things that you like and work well with your learning style.

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Here’s a list of resources that are commonly recommended, some of which I use (and some of which I don’t like personally). If the descriptions/explanations are too long, feel free to skip them. Just look out for the titles of each section and the first words of each bullet point to get resource names. Not all of them are grammar resources though.

The ones I really recommend for grammar are

  • Maggie Sensei – her site is great, and you can follow her on Twitter for grammar/vocabulary/kanji bites.
  • Any JLPT prep site, since grammar points are usually explained with example. Here’s a rather nice one: JLPT Sensei Potential problem: since there’s usually less explanation of meaning than on, say, Maggie Sensei’s site, you might not be able to retain grammar points as easily. You might have to make flashcards or something similar to help you in that case.

Optional: you can try Imabi, but I’ve never really needed it. It is very good though.

Moving on, I think textbooks are probably the easiest way to organise and structure your learning (including grammatical study) at the beginner’s level. For textbooks, I think Genki is easier to use and more engaging than most other textbooks out there. However, Minna no Nihongo, which is also very popular, is more complete, though it seems less interesting to me. Tofugu’s review of beginner textbooks describes it as good for those who want to learn as much as possible, but ‘moderately expensive’, since an additional book must be bought to study the textbook, which is entirely in Japanese. Elementary Japanese is another textbook mentioned by Tofugu’s review which sounds very good, but I’ve never looked into it myself.

About my first textbook, which I think is excellent and much faster than the other beginner's textbooks, but which is hard to find in English now

My first textbook was Assimil’s Le Japonais. The publisher is French. It had an English edition called ‘Japanese with Ease’, but it mostly has to be bought secondhand right now. It covers a lot of material quite quickly, and allowed me to reach an intermediate level within about 7 months. (I could have finished faster, but I was busy with university.) When I moved on to Tobira (a fairly well-known intermediate textbook), I had very little difficulty (some new kanji aside, which I already knew because I speak Chinese), and I think I had to go through at least 5 of 15 chapters (1/3 of the book) before I started seeing a significant number of new grammar points. The main thing Tobira taught me was vocabulary. (Subsequently, many other grammar points were things I had already learnt, or which were really easy to guess, but I’d attribute that more to watching anime and reading the dictionary than to Assimil.) In short, Assimil’s textbook made me really comfortable.

The main complaint people have with regard to Assimil is that there isn’t enough grammatical explanation. I felt it was sufficient, however.

My main complaint: I learnt タメ口/辞書形 (casual language/dictionary form)、丁寧語 (polite language) and 敬語 (honorific language) in substantial detail, but the textbook didn’t explain what mixes of them were acceptable, so I ended up proficient in polite language and honorific language, but had to sort out casual speech on my own because I didn’t know that you couldn’t mix polite words into casual language due to a confusing sentence in one of the usage notes. Even now, I’m still not sure how I should speak to people who are closer than acquaintances, but not quite good friends or family. It’s not a huge handicap, because I can still do a lot, but I feel socially handicapped as a result. I’m just luckily I don’t have any Japanese people with whom I need to converse right now.

As such, I’d recommend my own textbook to you if you can find it or if you happen to be a fluent French speaker. Otherwise, I think Genki is probably better unless you’re OK with Minna no Nihongo’s style. Try taking a look online and seeing which you prefer.

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Welcome to the community :sunflower:

If you are new at studying Japanese I’d also recommend starting with a textbook. @rikaiwisdom senpai and @Jonapedia senpai already pointed out following a textbook safes you time and energy finding out what and how to study since the material is curated and designed to follow teaching practices that are / were considered to be good and effective. (Since this changes over time, depending on how old / new your resource is the underlying teaching principles are as well.)

Choosing a more “popular” textbook like Genki or Minna no nihongo gives you the benefit that you’ll easily find people in the forums that have been through the lessons already and you can ask questions to or people at your level you can form a study group with.

I still like to throw in two less popular and one new resources as well:

The Irodori series is curated by the Japan Foundation, focuses on speaking Japanese, can be downloaded online and for free. It covers basic Japanese (level A1, A2). What I like about them is they also include “newer” practices like shadowing or focusing on understanding a subject / grammar point / … instead of simply repeating the same grammar point in writing down multiple sentences that follow the same structure. (Other textbooks may offer you the same experience though :slight_smile: )

Once you have some basic Japanese under your belt feel free to add some Japanese only resources. A very beginner friendly one is Necota classroom. They start teaching with N4 grammar points and their newest videos entered N2 level already. The lessons are very structured and the different videos follow the same / similar structure. This may sounds a little bit boring but is super helpful to not get lost and to really focus on what the teacher is actually saying, I think :slight_smile:

Also, in the N4 videos there is a few English explanations added to make sure the learner understands what is the basic meaning and usage scenario. In more advanced videos these descriptions are in Japanese and there are related / similar grammar points mentioned as well. Also they added Japanese subs.

Last but not least, in the newest blog post from the “New Japanese Learning Resources” series the Tofugu team reviewed Nihongo Now! a very new textbook. I can’t say anything about it but wanted to mention it here … and also point out the named series on Tofugu blog in case you didn’t you knew about it already :slight_smile:

When to start? I can’t really give a recommendation here since everyone studies a little bit different and wants to focus on different aspects of language learning. In case you decide to go on with WK roughly between level 4 ~ 7 sounds reasonable to me. Give WK and it’s SRS a couple of weeks so you have a clear understanding of your daily WK workload and how to enhance / adjust your daily routine to fit in the grammar studies.

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Thank you that detailed feedback @Jonapedia
I have no problems in English (hence my choice of WaniKani for kanji), though my mother tongue is French. Would you recommend going for Assimil’s textbook in order to learn “faster” (saving some time on understanding the concepts as explained in my mother tongue, more deeply rooted in my brain than English might be?)?

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Hello! I don’t know if new knowledge will be ‘more deeply rooted’ if you learn using French, but I know studies have shown that sometimes, we don’t feel emotions as deeply when we’re not using our mother tongues. Has that been true for me? Uh… maybe initially. As you become more fluent, I think you start reacting emotionally like a native speaker (e.g. to insults, praise, slang etc).

Summary: Assimil has a few flaws, which I mentioned in my previous comment. It also contains a few minor kanji errors (about five). You may find Assimil challenging because it uses kanji right from the beginning, but there are many pronunciation aids including romaji and furigana, and you will be given literal translations so you won’t be clueless about what everything actually means in the Japanese. You generally won’t be given set phrases as translations. If you are prepared to face this challenge, and to deal with Assimil’s flaws, then I strongly recommend Assimil because it likely covers more than Genki I + II or even Minna no Nihongo’s elementary-level books, and does so much faster. (Everything will take about 98 days in theory, and even with my busy schedule in my first year of classe préparatoire scientifique in France, I finished it, including French-to-Japanese translation practice, in 7-8 months.) The texts are also more authentic and don’t feel like they were made for a textbook. I have attached a photo of two pages of lesson 45 of 98 so you can asses whether or not you like this sort of approach. If you want the full details, you can expand my comments below. Regardless of your choice, I will you all the best!


Preamble – problems with Assimil

Like I said above, there are only two main problems with Assimil’s textbook:

  1. Not enough grammatical explanation (for some)
  2. Not enough breakdown of different registers (for me)

One more minor one: there are about… 3-5 kanji errors in total? They probably used handwriting input or scanning, because the incorrect characters look like the correct ones.

On that note, Assimil’s textbook contains a lot of kanji, but you will also have a lot of romaji, furigana and a phonetic transcription (prononciation à la française) to help you at the start, so the only thing you will have to do is to look up individual kanji if you want to know individual meanings (or wait for them to appear on WaniKani).

Oh yes, like most textbooks, Assimil doesn’t tell you about pitch accents. But hey, they expect you to imitate the recordings anyway.

Why I Recommend Assimil

Reason 1: Authentic Japanese (or at least, something close) and Kanji Right Away

Now let me get to the point and answer your question directly: yes, I would recommend Assimil because it’s quite immersive and you learn fairly authentic Japanese straightaway. The very first lesson of the entire textbook runs something like
ー早く。行きましょう
ーわかりました。
ーどこへ。
ーあそこへ。
ー暑いですね。
ーそうですね。
And yes, those kanji are there from the beginning. Assimil will give you kana stroke order exercises and dictation exercises, and they do have a kanji book that’s sold separately (which you probably don’t need because of WaniKani), but basically, it doesn’t spoil (or bore) you with sentences like 「私は〇〇です。これはペンです。それはカップです。あれは何ですか。」You dive into real Japanese right away, just that the pace of speech in the recordings is a bit slower initially. By the end of the book, you’re not really at ‘real life’ speed, but you’re close enough to start understanding regular speech. And throughout the book (except maybe near the very end), you are given literal translations so you can learn to think in Japanese and see what ideas Japanese people use.

Reason 2: Speed and Quantity of Material Covered

The other reason I recommend Assimil is simply that you will cover at least enough to reach the lower N3 level, all for just a bit more than the price of one Genki volume, and that’s even though Genki I + Genki II will only get you to N4. (Not N5. My mistake.) If you know all the kanji in Assimil, I’d say you’re probably at a pretty solid N3. In terms of grammar, I had almost nothing to learn for the first third of Tobira, which is known for being one of the harder intermediate textbooks. That means Assimil takes you pretty far really fast. It’s only supposed to take 98 days (if you do one lesson a day as recommended).

Final Thoughts on Lesson Content

I started with that long preamble because I feel that some people might find Assimil quite challenging because of its choice not to shy away from kanji or to make the initial sentences artificially easy. The lessons will be very short and simple at first, but not because of repetition: they just choose short sentences and simple words, but they’re far more useful than stereotypical textbook sentences. The lessons start getting much longer and more challenging around lesson 25 or so. However, if you’re willing to take up the challenge, then I think Assimil is for you.

A Picture of the Textbook

I leave you with this picture of my textbook, taken at lesson 45 of 98, about halfway through the book, so that you can decide whether this is the sort of approach you like. Note the presence of usage notes in the bottom right hand corner – every lesson has some of these. The topic: opening a bank account in Japan while on holiday. Whatever you choose, all the best!

https://aws1.discourse-cdn.com/business5/uploads/wanikani_community/original/4X/f/1/6/f16e297653fd795f7266313b694d1d681de022dd.jpeg

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Wow thanks a lot for that very detailed answer. This is exactly the kind of information I’m looking for in order to take the right decision. Pretty impressed by the fact that you were able to take on Japanese during your prépa… during mine I could barely save a few hours to sleep :sweat_smile:

It looks like the right choice for me; this combined with the general recommendation to start grammar when you’re level 10 on WaniKani should hopefully get me going.

I’ve seen that the current edition of the textbook comes with 5 CDs and 1 pendrive. Was your edition this way? As I do not own a CD player anymore (not even in my laptop), I wanted to be sure that the pendrive contained all the audio files corresponding to the CD tracks. I might be looking for a second hand copy as well…

Hahaha. It was my first year, so there was a bit less to learn. I speak Chinese too, so I didn’t need to learn kanji or figure out what they meant. I need to work harder this year though – I’m repeating my second year because last year went poorly. Three more months to the first exams! :scream: (And I’m aiming for one of the top five schools, because most of the generalist schools below that level don’t offer biomedical engineering courses, or just aren’t generalist.)

You can buy the hard copy separately for 24-27€. That’s the usual price range for a textbook on Assimil’s site. I can’t remember the price for Le Japonais specifically.

My edition came with just the CDs. I bought it a few years ago, but only started in 2018 before a holiday in Tokyo. (Just before I started prépa, incidentally.) I see that the website says there are 2630 files on the thumb drive. That sounds about right for the entire book, because Assimil’s audio files come in two flavours: individual sentences and individual lessons. There are about 15-20 sentences on average per lesson, not counting dictation/spelling, so I think if we add everything up, we’re definitely in the range of 2000+ audio files. Plus another 98 for the lessons themselves. I think shipping the CDs with the thumb drive are just Assimil’s way of catering to clients who only have/still prefer CD players. They even have apps now, you know? Not bad for a company that’s almost 100 years old. :stuck_out_tongue: The app is cheaper (I think about 40-50€ vs 70-80€ for the book with recordings) and comes with all the explanations as well, but I think it’s a bit harder to use. The main advantage is that you don’t need to carry the book and can just pop your phone out to study. But well… Assimil’s textbooks are small to begin with. Le Japonais is slightly bigger than my hand and about 4cm thick.

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Thanks, I’l try a few of them!

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Wow, I will definitely try Assimil, it sounds quite good!

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Do you speak French? If not, like I said, it might be a bit harder to get hold of a copy. Also, just so you know, even if you manage to get it, the English edition is relatively old. Apparently the Japanese in the French edition is closer to how Japanese is used now.

I’m saying all this just to be sure you’re aware. If you manage to get hold of it though, all the better. :smiley:

Found your post when searching about Assimil on the Community.

Assimil Japanese (in English; I don’t speak French) was one of the first Japanese books I bought more than one year ago and never felt much confidence about using them.

I kept them in one drawer in my room and just saw them again a few days ago.

Because I paid so expensive for them, I feel a bit guilty for not using it.

Sorry, correctly me if I’m wrong: did you went from Assimil to Tobira straight away?
How many lessons you did a day?

Yes, I went straight from Assimil to Tobira. However, I’m a Chinese speaker. If you don’t already know kanji, Tobira will probably be slightly more challenging because it will introduce a few more kanji, but in terms of grammar, you will have seen almost all the Tobira grammar for about the first five chapters. The only ‘problem’ is that Assimil doesn’t really break things down into grammar points: it gives you literal translations that allow you to work out what each part means on your own. I personally think that’s better, because so many grammar points are just set expressions you can easily understand just by knowing what their components mean, so learning lists of them is a waste of time. However, some people find it easier to learn with lists of grammar points with specific examples, so it depends on your preferences. My memory is probably slightly above average, so perhaps it’s easier for me to remember stuff in context without specific study.

As for the number of lessons a day, it really depended on how busy I was and how long the lessons were. You’re supposed to do one a day, and that’s what I did towards the end of the book, when lessons were much longer and I was much busier. I sometimes had to take breaks of one or two days between lessons because I had other things to do. However, that wasn’t because the lessons were too hard, though I sometimes felt that more than one lesson a day at the end of the book might have been too tiring given my schedule. Right at the beginning though, I did 7 lessons a day for 3 days straight. I started slowing down around lesson 24.

I sincerely think Assimil is the fastest way to get to the intermediate level, where you’re roughly at a low N3. Practically every other textbook costs about the same while only covering N5 or N4 alone, and never both in the same course. However, again, I recognise that some people feel Assimil doesn’t provide enough explanation, and that I did have to do a bit of googling from time to time, along with consulting a fluent friend. Since you’ve already bought the course though, I encourage you to try it out, keeping in mind that it is meant for beginners. Don’t feel intimidated by it, especially since you already have WaniKani to teach you kanji.

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First of all, thank you very much for your explanation.

After I asked the question, I went straight way to the Assimil and did the first 7 lessons (which are very short and the 7th one itself was a review from the previous ones). I didn’t have any problems with the 7 lessons but I tried to learn Grammar before in the past. I have Genki I (and did 10 lessons of it) and used Japanese From Zero 1 & 2 (borrowed from a friend). The reason I’m looking for alternatives is exactly because I have problems maintaining consistency with textbooks. I already study almost everyday because of my classes related to school, and studying textbooks just feels like more of that studying. And my brain gets tired of it.

I will keep trying to use Assimil; I’m very glad to see someone giving an exactly comparison between Assimil and JLPT. I tried to search about the equivalence before but it was always about the European framework for languages and nobody compared with the JLPT (at least in the places I searched for).

(And those first 7 lessons I already got some unknown vocabulary and kanji not covered by my current level in WK. Maybe it’s a good thing, more stuff to learn.)

The reason I bought Assimil at first was because I wanted to learn Japanese the same way I learned English: reading non-stop and without using textbooks. Maybe I got intimidated because I was unfamiliarized with Kanji, and I got some false assumptions (besides English being foreigner to me the grammar is much more similar to my native language-Portuguese-than Japanese). By the way, may I know how did you learn Chinese?

Yes, I mean, that’s the idea behind Assimil: it’s really just guided immersion.

The main reason for this is that there’s no clear comparison. The two standards test different things. I’d say the JLPT N1 requires a level between B2 an C1, but only in certain domains, particularly reading. However, the JLPT doesn’t prove anything about your ability to spontaneously converse or to write fluently, even if a good score might suggest you won’t make certain grammatical mistakes. You might have an N1 and still be pretty bad at understanding native speakers speaking quickly and at holding conversations.

Uh… I was raised bilingual. English is my main language, and I started Chinese as a toddler. It was a compulsory subject for me at school, so we read aloud from textbooks (usually containing short stories with a moral), wrote essays and so on. What really allowed me to progress at the higher levels was reading a book of newspaper articles from China. The exposure helped me to really understand how to use new words and remember them. As far as Chinese hanzi go, they’re almost the same as Japanese kanji, and even now, I still use the same methods for learning new characters, regardless of which language I’m studying. A lot of my Chinese knowledge is usable in Japanese too.

I’ve also studied four other languages seriously, though I’m only fluent in three of the six languages I’ve studied seriously. Japanese will be the fourth. I’m not fluent in German despite studying it with Assimil because I haven’t had enough practice. With Japanese, I’ve had a lot more practice expressing myself. Either way though, having experience studying languages has helped me develop ideas and approaches, including some that I myself may not realise I’m using, because some things just feel natural.

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That’s maybe the reason I had a weird sense that in the end JLPT may be less changeling than IELTS (taking in consideration if a person achieve the same degree of proficiency in JP and EN) as Speaking and Writing are tested on IELTS.

Raised bilingual in English and Chinese? Are you from Singapore or Malaysia?
I currently live in Singapore. People here are bilingual, but sometimes I can see some struggle between a Chinese-Singaporean and a Chinese from the Mainland talking. And I found a few cases of Chinese Malaysians that speak Mandarin, Cantonese (which I believe is very different from Mandarin), Malay and English.
I personally think it’s a very impressing thing being raised in more than one language.

Yeah, I guess that combination is pretty rare, huh… yup, I’m from Singapore. We used our second languages in school, generally. Oh, and when ordering food.

I think being able to speak dialects other than Mandarin is much more common in Malaysia. I could be wrong. Cantonese is definitely quite different from Mandarin, but there are probably plenty of basic structural similarities.

As for Mandarin in Singapore vs Mandarin from China… well, there’s a difference in accent, which sometimes makes things hard, but that aside, it’s just that most people from China have a much larger vocabulary in Mandarin than most Chinese Singaporeans. There are also some words that only exist in Singapore, like 巴刹 (bāshā), which comes from the Malay (I think) word ‘pasar’. In China, its 市場/市场 (‘market’), which is clearly different.

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