Start learning Japanese grammar

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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