Suggestions on learning how to actually understand japanese

Hi! It’s been a while since I’ve been here. I’ll be a bit rambly, so feel free to skip to the TL;DR at the end, haha.

I’ve done WaniKani for a while, got to level 20 before I had to stop due to work and college, and I’ve been wanting to get back since the beginning of the year. I know I’ll probably have to revert to around level 10, since I forgot so. Much. Stuff. In this short period of time, but that doesn’t really bother me (saved up for a while and got the lifetime access last year). What does, is that even though I know many of the kanji and readings in, say, an Easy News article, I almost never understand what it means. Sometimes I can grasp the gist of what’s written or being said, and rarely I can really understand, but that’s about it.

I’ve been exposed to japanese since I was little, (even if mostly the anime kind at the beginning) so I have a good “feeling” for how it’s supposed to sound, when it feels right or wrong, and I believe I have a pretty good pronounciation of it (helps that all japanese phonemes are included in my native language). I became fluent in english without any formal study, mainly through videogames, MMOs and other online stuff (I’m south american), but I’m aware this is much, much harder when it comes to 日本語.

So the thing is, I don’t know where to go from here, and I don’t know how to learn in a way that’ll actually stick to my head. I’ve tried Genki, Bunpro (more than a year ago, while it was still in beta), recently Tae Kim (I actually kinda like the way the lessons are written, but the exercises don’t really work for me). What I’ve really managed to stick to the most was WaniKani, and it felt very rewarding when I could recognize so many kanji, but since I can’t understand the meaning of what’s written most of the time, I don’t get to practice reading apart from identifying kanji amidst other stuff - result being, I forget a ton when I have to take a break from the SRS. Also kinda getting tired of seeing explanations about は, が, の… hahaha.

One thing I had fun with for a little while, was going to Kanshudo’s list of grammar, ticking off stuff I already knew and randomly clicking on more basic topics and trying to learn them. I don’t know if that’s gonna help me in any way, though. In a perfect world, there’d be some kind of “roadmap” or something that I could follow, like learn this, after learning it, learn that

TL;DR: I don’t understand grammar and am having a tough time learning it in a way that works for my head (like many people, I guess). I don’t know if I should be cramming conjugation or grammar topics, or if there’s a more osmotic way of learning that’d be closer to my experience learning english. Any suggestion or tip is appreciated! :smiley:

Thanks for reading through my rambling! That was quite therapeutic. XD


If you last used BunPro a year ago, I hear it’s way more fleshed out than it used to be. I didn’t use it back then, but I’ve found it to be moderately useful now. Way better if you use the reading resources it provides - with something like grammar, flashcards shouldn’t be your only study/exposure.

I’m sure everyone is gonna chime in with their Youtube channel recommendations. Personally I think Misa from Japanese Ammo has some super good explanations on all sorts of topics. She’s a really good grammar resource. Cure Dolly (you’re just gonna have to power through the presentation) is another channel - she’s good at explaining things in a way that illustrates where the grammar comes from, rather than just adding it as another thing to memorize. Helps get in the head of the natives a bit.

Also, NHK easy has plenty of news articles you can read. If you get the gist or a bunch of words, but not the whole sentence, punching it into Google translate can often get you far enough in seeing what it means (if you know what to look out for with grammar points it tends to miss). Same goes for basically any easy reading.


Satori reader has nice grammar notes/breakdowns.
An example


Thank you both! I’ll give BunPro another chance, just looked and it seems there’s a 30 day trial for free, so might as well. I’ve seen a few videos from Misa, just didn’t remember the channel, haha. Definitely will give it a go too!

Satori Reader seems amazing, but at this exact moment I wouldn’t be able to afford it. But perhaps I’ll try it and see if it’s worth saving up for. Thanks! :slight_smile:

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Sounds like what’s stopping you the most is the lack of grammar knowledge. I’m going to do a Radical Thing and suggest laying off WK (you have lifetime!), and just power through Genki 1 and 2 before coming back. Don’t try to bite off more than you can chew.

(Another method that would be less painful but more expensive would be getting a tutor on a site like iTalki and working through the exercises with a tutor.)

ETA: there’s a new Genki study group forming on the forums, you might find it more palatable than studying it on your own:


Yeah, I had a feeling that pausing WK would be the smart thing to do, for now. Not sure if I’ll be doing the study group thing, but there’s time until it starts, so who knows? Thanks! :smiley:

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Wonder if a shadowing book/CD would be something that might click for you. Japanese native audio, Japanese transcription, English translation. One prompt/response at a time.


Hmm, that’s the first time I hear about this shadowing. I’ll have a look into it, seems interesting! :o

Watch TV shows, but don’t just watch them, really study the language that’s going on.

Take an anime or Japanese TV show that you like and is interesting, but isn’t too complicated or fantastical (unless your goal is just to be able to understand anime!). Netflix shows are good because they’ve got English and Japanese subtitles, among other languages. I usually take it one scene at a time. First I’ll watch the scene in Japanese with no subtitles and see how much I understood. Sometime I’ll only catch a few words, sometimes I’ll understand some of the sentences perfectly and the rest not at all, and sometimes I’ll get the gist of the whole conversation. Then, I’ll watch the scene again with English subtitles to see if I understood it correctly. I’ll make notes of the parts I didn’t understand, and watch them again, taking notes of new words or phrases, or sometimes whole sentences that I think are useful.
It can be kind of time consuming to do this for a whole episode, but in just a 4-5 minute scene you can learn so much. And the is particularly useful for the USAGE of words, which can be so different from English. Do this enough, and the grammar patterns will start to stick in your head


Hi @Kaedalus! I’m also from south america (Brasil) and I’ve also learned english by “osmosis”, mostly by watching tv/movies, playing games, and reading a lot, so I think we have a similar background with this.

But here is the thing, I think I was first introduced to english at school with an age of maybe 7-8 years, maybe earlier, and I was finally confortable with the language by the time I was 18-19. So that’s 10+ years to learn a language “organically”, that is, without any real focus or effort in studying it. Looking back now, that doesn’t sound very efficient, but I can’t really complain since learning was just a side effect of having fun.

So how to do this with japanese? One method is called 多読 or intensive reading, and it has two objectives:

1-help you memorize grammar points and vocab
2-teach you new vocab through context

The material should be appropriate for your level, but there’s a very convenient thing called graded reader, which can be found in this post

The graded reader is designed in a way that it uses limited grammar and vocab which should be appropriate to your level, and it’s also written in a way that you can guess the meaning of the words through the context. It also feels amazing to read a whole text in japanese and understand everything without really needing a dictionary. So I say give it a go and see if those grammar points finally stick to your head!

PS: the NHK easy news it’s closer to a N3 rating, so it actually has an intermediate level of grammar!


Private teacher will quickly asses your shortcomings and drill into those. If you have good read knowledge from Tae Kim and you are well versed in kana and kanji, you will amaze yourself with private teacher how fast can you accommodate new stuff into your daily knowledge of language. It’s pretty expensive though, but most online sources recommend taking few hours every now and then with private teacher, especially when you get to conversational leve if you don’t have daily exposure to native Japanese dialogue.


@arisaclear I did try to do that with Terrace House, haha. I just kinda stopped for whatever reason, but it is really neat. I should get back into that. :slight_smile:

@VictorLino (Bom ver um outro brasileiro por aqui! Hahah) Thanks a bunch, this graded reader thing does seem quite good! :o

@Yarumari Yeah, I’d love to be able to afford that. Maybe in the future, when I’m more confident on my fundamentals I’ll give it a go. :slight_smile:

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Where’s @Omun?

Gonna recommend Cure Dolly’s youtube channel. Her intro still gives me nightmares to this day, but her content is the best. It aims to give readers a good conceptual understanding of the most basic aspects of Japanese (particles, etc.) rather than dealing with isolated grammar points (ex: ように) which can mostly be derived from the things she describes. She opened my eyes to a lot of things that I didn’t understand as an N2-passer who’d only gotten there by memorizing grammar drill books.

Watch her first videos, since she builds upon them.

If you can’t deal with her satanic audio you can try her book.


Yes! CureDolly! comes running over with banners and pamphlets

The audio is difficult to handle for most, but she adds full captions to the vids (not auto generated).

She also has a website with articles, though they might not cover all her videos, and they’re sometimes more supplementary to the vids than replacements for them.

While the book is quite cheap, I’m beginning to hear sounds that it’s good but very brief, so it doesn’t cover as much as the YT channel.

CureDolly made a huge amount of difference to me! Made reading attainable, and makes me not only understand but remember grammar. :ok_hand: A gift from the robot gods for me personally.


What I did was to use Tae Kim in conjunction with this Anki deck to actually drill the contents.

This is what got me to a point where grammar was no longer what was tripping me up!


Addition: CureDolly’s videos are less painful to watch when sped up to at least 1.5, + subtitles.


Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Japanese podcasts, especially Nihongo con Teppei, and I think my comprehension and ‘feel’ of the language has skyrocketed. I feel like studying grammar structurally can only get you so far. As soon as you get to the level where you can consume even basic content like graded readers, I think focusing on input is the key. I’m not sure doing conjugation exercises is all that helpful. I see a lot of the classroom people studying for many years and barely can read an easy news article. Maybe they are just spending their time writing simple sentences and correcting basic grammar mistakes. Getting past the fact that you don’t understand everything and that you make mistakes is key. I think.


Yeah, this is one of the things I was (correctly) hoping to not actually have to actively study.

I learned how to recognize the various conjunctions in Tae Kim, but especially since Japanese verb conjugations are so regular, I’ve just come across the various conjunctions of (say) 飲む enough to just know what sounds right or wrong for a ~む verb in general.


Japanese Ammo with Misa is my favourite source for grammar explanations. She uses lots of examples and breaks things down in a way that makes it easier to understand. Highly recommend going through her videos. She also has a few that are in Japanese only, so you can test yourself and see how much you understood.


Honestly you just have to stick to a basic level resource and just complete it. I did genki but really it can be any.