Japanese: after a year, what I learned and realized

I’ve been reading on lingq for 8 months, and elsewhere after that, and I’ve been doing the heisig method for learning kanji. Now, I want to make this short, so let’s just say there two thing I could have done earlier to save me lots of time:

  1. do the heisig thing, but change the approach. His is no good in my opinion, too much emphasis on writing. I could elaborate.

2 ) Stop what you are doing, and buy this book right now: A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar

Actually, it’s 3 volumes, 700 pages each. It seems long and boring, but MY GOD, those books are brilliant, easy to read, you just do a topic each day. I have never found a grammar book that exhaustive, and full of examples. If you don’t buy it, download it. I promise, it’s not a waste of money.

I was reluctant to spend too much time on grammar, especially since I put so much confidence in Steve’s philosophy, which I think is good, but I found that learning japanese was not like learning another Indo-European language, or even Mandarin for example. The grammar is just full of exceptions, and I realize that after 8 months of reading and reading, there is SO much I have not mastered in the grammar, and those gaps made the understanding so difficult many times. To make a comparison, when I started russian, I found that very easy to understand the grammar. I feel It will take me longer to speak russian because of different reasons, but the point is : it’s easy to recognize the grammar, so it’s easy to read and understand what you read. In japanese, my opinion is that you should start with a basic grammar pdf, but after let’s say 3-4 months, start to read the books I mentionned. You just don’t want to miss anything.

Bottomline: learn the kanji with mnemonics, and spend some time on the grammar.


But the way, if some people were kind enough to point to me an equivalent for korean, I’d be very grateful. I don’t want to waste my time with beginners books of 100 pages anymore, that lead you nowhere. I would be happy to have a monster book to read each day, and make sure I get it all after a year :slight_smile:

Having spent 3 years in Japan, then buying the first volume of that grammar trilogy, I found that the distinctions the authors drew were overly precise and really hard to verify from my actual experience of reading and listening while in Japan. I ended up giving the book away. The hardest thing about Japanese grammar is knowing when to use what form. The forms themselves are only moderately complex.

Totally agree about Heisig. He is great as a way to break down resistance to idea of Kanji from an indo-european perspective, and a great intro to mnemonics. But, unless you actually enjoy handwriting for its own sake, it is a waste to learn the writing of the kanji in these days of free word processors.

I agree japanese grammar is not that complex. But if you list all the possible constructions in the language, you have hundreds of topics to know. It’s probably the same in any european language, but the difference is that most constructions in europeans languages are pretty familiar to an european native speaker.

The thing I like the most about those books is that they seem exhaustive to me. For instance, the key word “no” has multiple uses. I got very easily that it marks the possession, and also that it can end a phrase. However, I was puzzled when i first saw it in the title “Tonari no Totoro”. I had to google to find explanation, etc. In the 3 books, you pick a key-word, and you get like 10 pages on that single word. Sometimes, each keyword is seperated in multiple topics. In the end, you don’t miss anything. And there’s many examples, with nuances explained, with connected expressions with explanations on when to use this expression instead of the other, etc.

I guess it is a difference in our approaches. For example, the “no” in “Tonari no totoro” seems quite straight forward to me once you know the common, general idea of “no” as a possessive. “kare no namae ha… etc” despite the slight context distinction.

I also dislike taking prescriptive grammars at face value. You have to have a lot of blind faith in these authors to spend time assimilating their decisions on how to categorize the language, when I believe in reality living language in use is not easily nailed down, at least not in neat grammar points.

But this is a dialog that is common on this forum. In the end, whatever makes you get up every morning and meet the language is the correct way for you.

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For the case of Tonari no Totoro, it was actually not this specific case, it was something else I cannot remember, and actually Tonari no Totoro helped to understand how to use the marker. So yes it’s clearer in this context.
But the possessive marker “no” in “kare no namae”, is quite the common use of the keyword “no”, and to me it’s very different than the construction in Tonari no Totoro, which in this case does not mark really the possession, nor an attribute. It poses two nouns next to each other, and both point to the same subject. I go like “is Totoro the property of Tonari?? doesn’t make sense” But eh, I understand each person is different, and depending on the case you encounter, you assimilate a notion faster than others, etc.

Regarding the different approaches in learning languages, I wouldn’t assume general conclusions. It’s not like my profile as a learner is to read grammar and google each time I’m puzzled about something. Actually, quite the contrary: I spent a year just reading and listening, not bothering if I did not understand everything, etc. I think it did me good… but I also think I wasted a lot of time because I didn’t take time to check for answer when I wasn’t sure about the grammar. I use to check the general explanation for example on lingq, and it seemed enough. Actually, I still think one should not interrupt a reading to open a grammar book each time something is not clear, it’s just to tidous. I feel I should have just spent 2/3 of my time reading/listening, and the rest reading a grammar book like this one. It just make things sharper.
Of course, you lived in Japan so your context is totally different, and can’t even be compared with a distant learner. Living the language with real people is the best.

About the blind faith about categorizing the language, it’s a fair point. Although, I don’t see so much place for arbitrary decision: the author just pick every single keyword he can think of that is part of the grammar, and creates a topic about it. Maybe it is arbitrary as a way to organize a grammar book, but the topic themselves are quite obvious to incorporate once you’ve made the choice to organize the book like that. I just love to pick a topic, and scan the pages to see if there is a use for it I havent seen before. I find that most topics have something in there I can learn from.

I think it is difficult precisely because it is simple. Particles can mean SOOOO many different things, different, complicated phrases and connections with a relatively few amount of connector words. As a beginner it is always very vague to me and sentences seem like random strings of words.