Why do people study Japanese Grammar In English?

The one thing about this message board that has surprised me more than anything else since I started Wanikani is the wildly elaborate, English-based explanations people come with when explaining Japanese grammar points. It’s amazing to me really. Not that they are wrong or anything…

I’m interested in understanding why people study Japanese grammar in English. I could totally understand if you are looking to teach Japanese or if you are really interested in linguistics. But if your purpose is learning Japanese, there are endless resources that teach you Japanese in Japanese, which is far more efficient. Unless you are a beginner who can’t read at all, what’s the point of trying to equate Japanese to English while learning? It just seems like a crutch to me. The languages are very different. If you study Japanese at school in Japan at a reputable institution, I can assure you that they do not explain grammar points in English. Most of the other students will be Chinese or Korean, etc. anyway.

When people ask questions about the meaning or usage or translations of Japanese sentences on this board, I always respond with Japanese examples. Inevitably, multiple people follow up with elaborate English explanations that equate the Japanese in question to English. How does that help? It just seems like a big waste of effort to me.

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First of all, most people studying advanced grammar do study it in Japanese. If you buy something like 新完全マスター, the entire thing basically is in Japanese. It doesn’t make sense to learn basic grammar in Japanese before you have the concepts down.

The reason we discuss things in English here is for pure efficiency. Most people asking Japanese grammar questions are not proficient enough in Japanese to carry on a conversation in Japanese about Japanese at a reasonable pace. And with enough precision to aid in understanding.


Is it really more efficient to try to equate Japanese to English? I learned basic Japanese grammar mostly in Japanese. The thing that made that possible for me at the time was romaji. My college textbook was Japanese The Spoken Language. I know romaji is frowned upon these days, but when I got to uni in Japan, my speaking was much farther along than my classmates.

There are plenty of N5 Japanese resources. Again, if you go to Japan and study Japanese, no one is going to explain it to you in English. Is it really more efficient to study and discuss it in English? I just wonder if it creates bad habits and mental translation.

Are people really being given N5 explanations (emphasis: explanations) in Japanese? They are given examples, sure, but explanations?

And if you study N5 level material in Japan, sure, you’re taking on a bigger burden, but it takes a completely different kind of one on one teaching to achieve than what we are doing here on the forum.

EDIT: I feel like the transition level is around N3, where you’ve learned enough grammar points in Japanese that you can use those simple ones to explain more nuanced ones. Before then you’d need grammar that is beyond their level to explain grammar they haven’t learned yet.

EDIT2: To expand on why it would be different if you are actually in Japan, teaching in person means you can use gestures and physical props to explain your points. It’s far different from explaining in text.


I don’t think it’s a question of efficiency, it’s a matter of convenience. This is Wanikani, it’s not a university course. The people posting here looking for grammatical advice are likely either self-studyers in Japan (like myself) or those who are trying to practice and learn kanji in their home country which is frequently English speaking.

This is an English speaking website when you get right down to it. Wanikani doesn’t tell you how it works in Japanese and then throw you to the wolves with the first set of radicals, so why would we do that on the message boards? I understand the point you are trying to make but this is the wrong place to make it.


Maybe that’s the point I’m getting at. My old college textbooks were short on explanations and long on examples. The low-level JLPT study guides don’t have explanations. They give examples, and you have to absorb them. I’ve found that more effective than trying to equate to English (square peg round hole). And now when I see people explain Japanese in English here, I’m bewildered.

I see your point for brand new students who haven’t had the benefit of class. I guess I’d love to see the higher level members provide more examples than explanations - for the benefit of everyone.

I agree that having a teacher in the room is different. Gestures are big.

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Yeah, but Wanikani just teaches kanji/reading. There is no grammar. Saying this isn’t the place to make a point about using English as a crutch to study Japanese grammar seems tenuous.

I agree that it’s important to know what the words mean in the context of Japanese, but I don’t really see why explanations can’t be well done in English.

For example, if you know the ways in which as な adjective / 形容動詞 differs from a noun or adjective in English you can move forward without being bogged down by preconceptions of English nouns or adjectives. The important part is categorizing the Japanese word in its Japanese category, rather than avoiding English as a medium for communication.

At least the way I see it.


Speaking generally, I think one obvious reason is that it’s simply easier to understand the explanation for a grammar point in your native language.

I’ve attended intermediate level Japanese courses in Japan and there were some cases where I failed to learn the grammar point simply because I didn’t understand the examples or the explanations (or just failed to connect them). To be fair, at the time I was placed in a class that was a bit too advanced for me, but the point is I still failed to learn it because the language barrier got in the way.

Learning grammar in your native language is a crutch to be sure, but sometimes it’s a necessary crutch.


It’s all good getting the basics down via your mother tongue / a more fluent language than the one being studied. However, as soon as possible, I’d move on to studying Japanese in Japanese.

I used to become mildly bewildered from some explanations our introductory Japanese course’s teacher gave about phrases and points I had already absorbed on my own. I felt she was making things more complicated than needed, in order to bend the phrases to match the language she was teaching in. BUT to be fair, it did come in use at other times, so it surely is not all that bad.

Another example is from my old university in Japan, where the Japanese classes were divided into seven difficulty levels. The very first introductory course (level 1), was taught completely in English. The basic courses 2 and 3 also heavily relied on English, but level 4 suddenly had very little English used and from level 5 onwards, the use of English in class was completely forbidden. Everything from explanations to exams were all in Japanese.

Here it’s only fair to explain in English, as we don’t know each others levels - not to mention usually the grammar questions that do pop up here, are still quite elementary. Everyone studies at their own pace.


Because 'Murica!


Mostly because it’s easier and faster to take in. If you are studying vocabulary it isn’t quite the same because you’re translating each word a word at a time but for grammar you can’t really expect to take in what is being taught if you are having to look up every single word. It’s the same thing for learning in any language really. When you get to a level where you can understand the sentences you are reading then you can probably study Japanese grammar in Japanese :thinking:

Actually id rather learn and practice my understanding of grammar points through reading books or texts in Japanese AFTER I’ve studied the basic concept in English.


I’m speaking for myself here but I’d find it quite difficult to study Japanese grammar in Japanese when I don’t know any Japanese grammar.

It’s much easier to study something in a language that you can actually read. Once I’m proficient enough, I’ll obviously switch to Japanese, but that day has yet to come. :confused:

Definitely, for me. I’ve had teachers who couldn’t speak English and when I was lower level and they’d explain stuff, I’d just be sitting there blank faced.

Another reason Japanese isn’t used much on here is because you’d have to be not only highly proficient but pretty damn confident in your proficiency to be dishing out grammatical explanations in Japanese. Most English speakers mangle attempts to explain their own language, let alone a foreign one.


Not speaking specifically about Japanese here, but learning language in a classical way very often (I am tempted to say “almost always”) starts from your native language, or another language you know. Then gradually the students get exposed to more and more explanations which use the language you learn.

So I guess your question is not to this forum, but to the system in general.

I don’t know enough Japanese to speak about it, but speaking about English, for example, I learned English grammar in my native language. My English is not very good today, but I don’t think there was any damage done specifically by this.

It doesn’t mean that one language is being equated to another, it is just about describing the structures. It doesn’t really matter in my opinion whether you describe grammar of language X in language X or languages Y and Z - the important thing is that you understand the involved concepts.

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Definitely, for me. I’ve had teachers who couldn’t speak English and when I was lower level and they’d explain stuff, I’d just be sitting there blank faced.

Yeah, while in your native/known language you can easily understand complex grammar concepts, think about them, get to know their quirks and details, in a language you don’t know the same becomes pretty awkward, and the explanations are clumsy at best.

I’ve been learning most of my Japanese in english and I think there are benefits to both ways. I’ve heard good things from people who have learned Japanese from japanese-only teachers, but I also feel like I’m able to grasp the ideas better in a language I’m comfortable with.

I’ve had japanese people explain japanese grammar to me in japanese, and I feel it is a bit hit-and-miss. And I think that often the same point could have been made in another language and I might have understood it more clearly.

I guess I feel a bit similar with vocab. They don’t map 1-1, but if I get a rough idea (even just a single synonym) of what a word means, then that’s a sort of scaffolding for me to start constructing my own internal understanding of it as I see it more and more in context.

I also feel that, for me at least, there’s not really a tendency to mentally translate unless I really have to. The way I usually go about figuring out the meaning of something that’s not intuitively understandable is to first repeat the Japanese to myself and try to deconstruct it, and then if that fails I’ll try to translate parts of it.

It’s not really something I consciously do, but I think it indicates that the training wheels naturally fall off on their own so to speak.


I don’t think its enough just to have Japanese examples and try to absorb it from that. I did the Duolingo German course and that’s pretty much how it “teaches” grammar. It didn’t work for me at all. At some point you need a prose explanation, and if you’re a beginner in japanese, a prose explanation in japanese is not going to help.

I also disagree that Japanese concepts are not explainable in English. Sure they may be expressed very differently but all the grammatical concepts I’ve come across so far are fairly easy to give an English explanation of. How to express thoughts, how to express desire, how to say you tried, how to report another person’s speech, etc. Some are very specifically Japanese like the differing verbs for giving/receiving but they’re still explainable in english.

@tel003a Do you have any free online resources that teach/explain beginner or intermediate level japanese in japanese? If so I’d be willing to give it a try. As a self learner who doesn’t really like standard textbooks I’ve just ben using sites like imabi.net because they explain grammar points in english in ways that I can understand, while giving tons of examples in Japanese, but I’d like to try to see what you mean by learning grammar in Japanese, though I worry If it would involve much more vocabulary than what I’m currently familiar with.

Honestly, I feel like you’re just being an elitist and trying to get points for doing things the harder way. It is SO much easier comprehending when it is done in your native tongue, and you’ll get the grammar down a lot more quickly. Definitely, eventually you’ll want to get to a point where you’re studying only in Japanese, but you should by no means begin that way.