Beginner’s guide to Japanese grammar

While a lot of people enjoyed my Brief guide to learning Japanese, some pointed out that I didn’t include enough details on how to study grammar. At the time, I was mostly learning Kanji and vocabulary, leaving grammar out of my curriculum.

Being quite comfortable with the amount of vocabulary I know now, I’ve decided to dive into grammar. As usual, I set out to find the best resources to help me learn as quickly and effectively as possible.

Now that I’ve got a good learning plan in place, I’d like to share it with you.


Thoughts on web resources and applications

So where to start learning Japanese grammar? Your first response might be to go and buy a Japanese textbook. While that’s a valid option, I prefer to use online resources or apps for a couple of reasons:

  1. Rapid improvements. Content could be refined and improved in a matter of months, not years. Who wants to wait for a new textbook edition?
  2. Casual language. It depends on a resource, but usually there are no editors to regulate language used, and I find it more fun to learn from a witty creator.
  3. Interactivity. Your average textbook might come with a CD (does your laptop even have a CD drive anymore?) or some printouts. But it doesn’t compare to a multitude of different interactive experiences you get with web resources or apps.

Guide to Japanese by Tae Kim

If you are starting to learn grammar, I think Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese is a great place to start. It provides both a complete guide to Japanese as well as separate grammar sections.

Some people think it’s oversimplified. That is a valid point, so I would recommend using it to get an overview and moving on to Imabi after (more on that later).

I recommend going through Basic and Essential Grammar. You’ll find most of the grammatical structures like partials or verb conjugations explained in an easy to understand way. With various examples, printouts and exercises, it will give you a nice foundation to build upon.

Comprehensive grammar using Imabi

After getting through the basics, it’s time to build upon your foundation. My go-to resource for learning more intricate details is Imabi.

the Imabi curriculum dives deeply into Japanese grammar, covering everything from pronunciation to over 4000-word explanations of each particle. You don’t have to read everything, but it’s a good resource to refer to when having questions.


Getting some practice

Now you might say: “Wait, you said web resources are great for interactive learning, but all you’ve given me so far is a textbook in website form” and you’d be correct! But fear not, there are plenty of other resources that you should use alongside these.

JPDrills

One of the lesser known, but well-executed websites is JPdrills. With plenty of exercises to practice your understanding of particles and sentence building, you won’t get bored. They also have vocabulary and kanji tests if you want to mix those in.

I’ve started to use it to improve my particle usage (especially the dreaded difference between が and は) as there are plenty of examples to work through.

You get three quizzes for free every day, so there is no excuse not to try it out. If you can see yourself using it in your daily routine, I’d recommend getting the premium version. Remember, practice makes perfect.

Duolingo

The much anticipated Japanese course on Duolingo finally arrived a couple of months ago. It took over two years due to the differences between Japanese and languages based on Latin (you can read more on that in their blog post). And as you’d expect it’s a fun and high-quality course to get your basic Japanese going.

But Duolingo shouldn’t be used as a standalone learning resource. It only touches lightly on some useful Japanese phrases and sentences. Instead, I recommend using it when you have five minutes to spare, instead of playing Candy Crush…

Italki

This isn’t quite like the other resources I’ve mentioned. If you want to step up your Japanese learning game, you can’t go wrong with getting a tutor. But a personal tutor can be expensive and finding a good one will take time. With italki, you can get online tutoring at very affordable prices, anywhere in the world.

There isn’t any commitment attached, you can get 1 or 100 lessons with a conversation partner to practice whatever you want to, whether that’s your newly acquired grammar skills or learning new vocabulary.

HelloTalk

Learning grammar is closely related to your ability to speak the language. You might know how to construct sentences in theory, but it’s quite another thing to do it in a dynamic context with a native speaker.

HelloTalk is an app that lets you chat with native speakers around the world. If you are a bit intimidated by face to face conversations using italki, this is a great app to let you practice your sentence building at your own pace.

While the app provides voice and video calls, I think it truly shines with its chat capabilities.

The app has plenty of tools to help both you and your speaking partner, from the ability to translate text on the fly to your chat buddy correcting your grammar.

How I study Japanese grammar

While I’d recommend you try all of these tools first and see how they can fit into your routine, I am going to outline mine in case you just want to follow along:

Daily:

  • Review notes made from Imabi and Guide to Japanese to reinforce my understanding of grammar.
  • Do three quizzes from JPDrills on particle usage.
  • If I have couple of minutes to spare (waiting for a bus), I’d review Duolingo lessons and potentially do a new one if available.

Weekly:

  • Have a 45-minute conversation with a Japanese native speaker in Italki (usually on weekends)
  • Dive into new chapters on Imabi and compile new notes. I personally use Nuclino, I think it’s the best tool for knowledge accumulation.

Monthly:

  • Try reading a volume of manga I bought in Japan to see if I can understand more without looking up words or breaking down sentences.
  • Rewatch some anime series in Japanese without subtitles to see how I follow along and how much I can understand.

So there you have it, my personal approach to learning Japanese grammar. I am sure there are plenty of other ways, of course, including both books and other online resources. Do leave a comment to say what things you have found to help you improve your Japanese grammar. I hope this will help some of you and I’ll be back with new tips and tricks in the future.