The podcast about learning Japanese.

When it feels as though you’re getting nowhere…

April 6th, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese | No Comments »

I’ve been studying Japanese for a long time, when I add it all up. Even though there have been times when I’ve really been on it and times when I’ve been kept away from it, I think I can confidently say that I’ve put as much time, energy, and resources into studying Japanese as almost anything else in my life. I remember when it began, how it began, precisely what I felt back then that propelled me forward, but the person I was then is very different from the person I am now. My motivations and goals for learning Japanese have changed as I have grown. But though there have been times when I’ve slowed down in my study of the language to give attention to other priorities, I’m still about as passionate about it now as the day I started, more than a decade ago.

That’s the thing with language learning. You can start whenever you like, and you can stop whenever you like, too. It can be a life project, or you can stop at hello, goodbye, and asking for directions to the train station. It’s really up to you. But if, like me, you’re in this for the long haul, or if you’re just getting started but can imagine yourself studying Japanese for many years to come, then you need to know how to keep yourself moving forward, come what may. This post is about my personal philosophy which has kept me going without fail.

Before I get into that, my first piece of advice is to have goals. We’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. An ideal goal is just outside your grasp, but not so far that it feels impossible. It’s something concrete, something you can actually work your way towards day by day, little by little. Often, people will say their goal is to become fluent in Japanese, but what does that actually mean? The question you want to answer, I think, is what do you want to do with Japanese? Once you know what you want to do, you can break that down and figure out what you need to do to get there.

For example, I want to be able to comfortably read light Japanese novels. To do that, I need to build a broader vocabulary by reading a lot of material, including the books I like to read, review that vocabulary (Anki is my tool of choice for that), and also review and learn more kanji, which will help me become less dependent on my Japanese-English dictionary when encountering new words. It’s a tall order, but in my mind it is doable, and I know what I need to do to keep myself on course.

Armed with your goals and your daily study regimen, you’ll get far. However, there will be days when it feels as though you’re getting nowhere at all. And it’s precisely then that you must keep going. This isn’t just any old motivational speech about how you have to push through the pain to attain your goals (though that’s definitely true). Unless your study regimen is lacking, that feeling that you’re spinning your wheels and making no progress is actually deceiving you. You’re in a plateau.

It’s sort of like the way that water changes state from ice to liquid to gas as you apply more and more heat. There are periods when the temperature of the water doesn’t go up even though you continue to apply heat. But it isn’t that the water isn’t absorbing the heat. It’s just that at that time, more energy is needed in order to loosen the bonds between the molecules and fully change the state. Once there’s enough energy in the molecules of the ice, their bonds loosen and they start to flow around. Now you have water. If you’re cooling water down to make ice, you’ll also notice that just before the liquid turns to ice, there’s a plateau; the temperature stays constant for a while until the molecules lose enough energy to slow down and start forming the rigid bonds of solid matter.

I think language learning is just like that. Those times when you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, the knowledge is still building up but you just don’t feel particularly better at the language than you were the day before. During those plateaus, you are accumulating the bits of knowledge and skills that will form your foundation for the next level. And here’s the best part: it works in reverse too. Even after spending a couple of years literally not studying Japanese at all (save for my exposure to it in my hobbies), I was surprised to find basic Japanese come back to me like riding a bike. As I continue to study in earnest, I’m noticing my skills start to rise rapidly to their original level, almost like a rubber band snapping back into place. Once something enters your long-term memory, it takes a long time for it to leave.

Rather than feeling like you’ve leveled out, you might actually feel like you’re getting worse. That’s a natural result of the Dunning-Kruger effect. As you become more skilled in Japanese, you start to become more and more aware of all of the things you don’t know. Your reaction to this might be to feel like you’re staying at the same level and aren’t going up, or you might feel instead like you’re steadily slipping down. The solution is the same. Steadily bring in new material, review it, retain it, bit by bit, day by day.

You’ll know when you’ve gotten over the plateau. You’ll do something with your Japanese skills that surprises you. I didn’t know I could do that, you’ll think, but the truth is that now you can. With your new foundation you can now attack more complex material and you’ll feel the pleasure of making steady progress again. But none of this is possible unless, when you feel like you’re struggling and your efforts are futile, you keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tofugu eBook Review: 30 Days of Becoming a Better Japanese Learner

March 29th, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese, Reviews | 70 Comments »

I have read Tofugu’s new eBook “30 Days of Becoming a Better Japanese Learner” and wanted share my thoughts with all of you.30 Days of Becoming a Better Japanese Learner

This eBook is filled with some creative ideas on how to optimize your Japanese studies. Each day, for 30 days, there is a different idea you can try out.

I was too excited to read all the ideas so, I read the entire book in one sitting! (I want to improve my Japanese that badly! Haha!) I have taken notes from some of the suggestions and have been trying my best to apply them to my current study goals.

For example, day one suggests that you create a habit. Any habit. It doesn’t have to be related to Japanese studies. It could even be as simple as washing your dishes on the same night every week.

We all know that at times, learning to write kanji and how to read them in compounds can be a little dull, but by creating a habit of doing the “not-so-fun” stuff with your studies, after a while, you don’t mind doing it. It becomes routine and it eventually becomes a part of your lifestyle.

One of my habits is when I wake up,  the first thing I will do is to update the daily word on our Facebook and Google+ pages. This has been helping me in many ways as I help others learn a new word every day while I also get to practice additional words within the example sentences.

I also have a “study journal” where I write down everything I reviewed and studied that day. This has helped me stay on track with my review for the N4 Japanese Language Proficiency Test that I plan to take in December.

From Tofugu.com:

“Over the next 30 days, you will go through a lesson per day showing you how you can learn Japanese better. Because this eBook only divulges the secrets of how to learn Japanese, it can (and should) be used with whatever Japanese resource you’re using at the moment.”

This eBook is currently being sold here: http://www.tofugu.com/shop/30-days-japanese/

Some Japanese Learners may say “wow, I just spent quite a few dollars on stuff that I already know” but luckily there is a 60 day guarantee. If you are not fully satisfied with your purchase, just e-mail them and you will get your money back.

There are many more ideas within this book that I have found to be helpful in my current studies, so I definitely recommend purchasing this book if you are looking for ways to keep your studies from getting too boring or if you need some suggestions on how to improve. the quality of your studies.

Join us next week when Enrico returns to our blog and writes about what to do when you feel like your studies are going nowhere.

See you all next Friday!

The Japanese Learner is not affiliated in anyway with Tofugu.com, nor are we receiving any money for recommending their products or services.

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Time to Hit the Books Again! (Kimi’s Journey)

March 23rd, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese | No Comments »

I’m excited to share with all of you that tomorrow I’m starting my “Japanese journey” all over again from the beginning, but in a Japanese language school and not just self-study. I’m nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time.

It’s been so very long since I’ve been to a Japanese language school. It’s been almost 10 years and felt it was finally time to keep pursuing my dream of becoming fluent in Japanese.

For as long as I have been studying Japanese on and off since I was 12, (I am now almost 29);  I know myself well enough that self-study can only take me so far but combined with a structured course of some kind; be it in a textbook or in a language school, Japanese becomes easier and easier over time. This is especially true when you have a good grasp of the basics, because you keep building your language skills on a strong foundation.

I know I have a good grasp of the basics but unfortunately; some skills are weaker than others. I would like to round out all my skills so that they are all just as strong. This is why I decided to start over from the beginning to review the basics while relearning new and better habits to polish up on my Japanese and then to surpass my current abilities. I’m more passionate to become fluent now more than ever and feel that this time around, I can really make some good progress towards my goal.

What I hope to accomplish with going back to Japanese school, is to come up with new tips and strategies to share with all of you. After all, anyone can learn Japanese if they really have the desire to do it.

The school I choose to study at is very different than any other Japanese language school I have enrolled in the past. How you many ask? They teach you Japanese directly in Japanese. It sounded pretty interesting to me as most courses teach Japanese in the English language, for example.

The one rule for the school is, to only speak in Japanese. No other languages are allowed to be spoken during class. It’s full immersion. I thought that this kind of learning environment will help improve my speaking and listening skills. It will also assist with “thinking” in Japanese.

I wanted to try a different approach to learning Japanese so I can keep it fun and interesting for me. I also feel that I will thrive in a classroom environment while interacting with the teacher (who is a native Japanese national) and with all the students.

I hope you would like to join me on my journey while I share with you the new things I will learn and how my progress is doing.

After all, my journey is also your journey as all learners start from the very beginning. Nothing is hopeless and Japanese will get easier if you stick to it.

So, let’s learn Japanese together, while also bridging cultural understanding between your country and Japan!

See you next week!

Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook and Google+ page for our daily word plus examples sentences and drop us a comment! Why are you learning Japanese? Let us know!

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Kimberly’s Experience with the JLPT Exam (N5 Level)

March 18th, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese | 5 Comments »

As you may recall, Enrico and I took the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) this past December 4, 2011.

For those that may not know, the Japanese Language Proficiency Test is a test that is held yearly (and sometimes bi-yearly) at various test sites around the world to test one’s Japanese language ability. For more information, please visit this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_Language_Proficiency_Test/

In today’s blog entry, I will talk about my personal experience plus my test results.

On Exam Day (December 4, 2011):

The test was held at a University in Toronto. While entering the facility; I was greeted with the sight of at least a 100 different people. It was really interesting to see all sorts of Japanese language students of all ages and nationalities congregate together to have their Japanese skills put to the test.

In the hall of the facility, they had various tables broken down into the different levels of the JLPT. I walked up to the N5 level table and handed to the representative, my exam number as well as my photo identification.

Next was our orientation in one of the lecture halls. During this time, the facilitator of the orientation had informed us of the rules to obey when taking the test.

When the orientation was done, each level was instructed to go to their designated test room. The seating arrangements were numbered according to your last 5 digits of your registration number. We were all instructed to have only our pencils, erasers, the test voucher and our photo identification on top of our desks.

Then the test started. It was broken down into three sections; vocabulary/grammar, reading and listening. (As long as one has a good grasp of these language skills, their chances of passing are quite high.)

I felt at ease once the test had started. The questions were pretty straight forward.

When the test was over, I felt pretty confident that I had passed. I really wanted to use the N5 test as a way to evaluate where I can make improvements to my Japanese studies going forward.


The Results (March 14, 2012):

After much anticipation, my certificate and my results arrived in the mail. I was very excited and anxious to get it.

What I got in the envelope was; a score report of the results by section, a bi-lingual pamphlet that explains how the JLPT compares to the old JLPT tests (click here for more info), how to read the score report and finally, the official N5 certificate.

Here are my results per section of the test:

Language Knowledge Vocab/Grammar・Reading:                     80/120

Listening:                                                                           53/60

Total Score:                                                                   133/180

(Approximately 74% PASS)

 

Reference Information: (*Grade per section)

Vocabulary:    A

Grammar:      A

Reading:        A

 

Based on my results, I can focus on my vocabulary/grammar and reading skills when I take the test in December 2012.

My goal this year is to pass the N4 test. I have been making preparations by collecting together vocab lists, kanji lists, grammar books and reading material.

I have to work really hard this year to pass the N4 test.  I know if I stick to my study goals, I should have enough confidence to pass it.

If you look to your right, you will see a “Daruma” image. When one eye is colored in, it means I have a goal to strive for and the second eye will be filled in once I achieve my goal. (To find out more about the “Daruma”, please visit this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daruma_doll/ )

Anyone that is preparing for the JLPT this year, feel free to visit us on our Facebook page or our Google+ page if you would like to discuss more tips and strategies for preparing for the test.

Next week, I will talk about going back to Japanese language school and my thoughts after being in self-study mode for so long.

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ご注文は? 「Gochuumon wa?」 “May I Take Your Order?”

March 9th, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese | No Comments »

If you live near a major city; the next time you go out to your favorite Japanese restaurant, find out if they have any Japanese nationals on staff.

A few of my favorite places to dine, fortunately has a few Japanese nationals as their serving staff. I always use that as an opportunity to practice my Japanese.

Try ordering your next meal in Japanese or perhaps strike up a conversation with the staff while you wait for your order to arrive. These are just some example exercises you can do while you are in the restaurant.

You may even find a restaurant where other Japanese patrons go to. If you are lucky to have such a place at your disposal, you will find that in some cases they have a menu in English and one completely in Japanese.

I always like to challenge myself by using the Japanese menu and when I couldn’t read something, I would ask the server what the item was and how to read it.

Please be aware that even though the restaurant you could be dining at may be a Japanese restaurant, don’t assume that the staff is Japanese either. You may find yourself in an embarrassing situation if the staff was from another nationality.

In cases where you are not sure, you can simply ask in a polite manner or even call the restaurant before your visit to see if they have any Japanese nationals on their serving staff.

In my experience, many Japanese restaurants like to hire Japanese nationals that are in the country on a working holiday visa. They like speaking to others as they can practice their English, while you get to practice your Japanese speaking skills.

Think of it as a glimpse of what to expect when you are in Japan someday. Once you familiarize yourself with the common terms and phrases for ordering food at a restaurant, being at a restaurant in Japan won’t feel as intimidating as you have already had lots of practice before hand.

I honestly wish I had that advice before my exchange program to Japan in 1999. I found it quite nerve-wracking to say the least, when I tried ordering something at a McDonald’s! Rather than trying to order a meal, I just said “Appurupai kudasai・アップルパイ下さい” (Apple pie, please) at the counter.

If I ever found myself in that situation again, I know that I have the confidence and the language knowledge to not be so nervous the next time around.

So give it a shot the next time you are at a Japanese restaurant!

See you next Friday!

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You Never Know What You’ll Find at the Library!

March 2nd, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese | No Comments »

I live near a public library and had never really taken the time to go in and check it out.

Recently, when I was looking around, I noticed that they had an international section that had books in various different languages from around the world.

I was surprised to see that they had two full shelves with books in Japanese. They had all kinds of books ranging from self-help to famous literary works; such as “Bocchan.”

They even had children’s books in Japanese! This is a great way to improve your reading comprehension skills since there are rarely any kanji characters.

In some cases, they may also provide reference materials such as Japanese language dictionaries, books on Japanese history and even Japanese culture.

So, the next time you visit your local library, ask the staff if they provide books in other languages because you never know what you may be missing out on.

See you next Friday and happy learning!

 

Next Friday, we talk about how liking Japanese food can help with your speaking skills! I’m sure you have an idea how!

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What has Kimi Been up To Lately?

February 27th, 2012 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Hey there everyone, I’m back!

For those that may not know, Enrico has asked me to take over the blog for a few weeks as he is getting quite busy at work.

Just to recap, I’ve been looking for new employment as a result of being laid-off in October.

While times have been pretty tough, one positive note is that I’ve been studying Japanese as much as I can in my spare time when I’m not looking for work.

Now that I have more time to dedicate to my studies, I can feel myself remembering all the grammar structures and vocabulary that I have long forgotten as well as learning new material.

I must admit, I’ve been pretty rusty with my Japanese; especially in the reading and writing areas of the language.  So, that has been my focus these past few weeks.

Certain aspects of the language that I thought to be difficult in the past, are now becoming easier and easier for me to grasp because of my daily exposure to Japanese.

I have also discovered a new appreciation for the language these past few weeks and have decided to go back to Japanese language school to keep my momentum going. I start in late March and can’t wait to get started! (I’ll more than likely blog about my new journey in the weeks following March 24.)

I hope everyone is still trying their best with their studies. No matter how much time you may or may not have for studying, the most important part is to never give up and to never stop learning.

I look forward to finding new ways for us to improve our Japanese! See you on Friday!

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Japanese Podcasts

February 19th, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese | No Comments »

If you’re like me, chances are you spend a number of hours of your week in transit, whether you are driving yourself or you are taking public transportation. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that these hours can be put to excellent use for your Japanese study! There are many things you can do to further your study of Japanese while in transit but in this blog post I’ll talk about one of them: listening to Japanese podcasts. This really has two meanings: there are podcasts that offer Japanese lessons or are otherwise geared towards the Japanese learner and there are podcasts intended for a Japanese-speaking audience. In this post I’ll be trying to include a bit of both, but first let’s go over some basics.

Podcast? What’s That?

Podcasts are Internet radio/TV shows, amateur or professional, distributed as a series of files (audio or video) that can be subscribed to via RSS or Atom, or downloaded directly from the web. It’s a portmanteau (combination) of the words “iPod” and “broadcast”, as Apple’s iTunes was the first podcatcher. However, even if you don’t have an iPod, you can still subscribe to many podcasts via software for Windows, Linux, and Android, and download the newest episodes to your media player of choice to take with you when you’re out and about.

The iTunes Store is probably still the best consumer experience for subscribing to and downloading podcasts, so it makes a good starting point to browse around if you want to dip your toe into the world of podcasting. If iTunes absolutely won’t work for you or you just don’t want to use it, there are many podcast directories on the web. Try subscribing to shows about your other favorite things and see if listening to podcasts is a habit you can make. If so, read on to see some of our recommendations for Japanese podcasts.

Podcasts for Japanese Learners

JapanesePod101

I couldn’t write a post about podcasts for Japanese learners without giving a mention to JapanesePod101. The site actually hosts a number of podcast series divided up by level and in total contains over 1700 audio and video lessons. Don’t be put off by the very thick marketing you’re greeted with when the home page loads up. It may look like they’re selling “learn Japanese fast” snake oil here but rest assured the lessons are all very high quality and come with well-made supplementary materials to help you retain what you learn.

If you subscribe to only one of the podcasts we mention here, make it this one. There are paid accounts that give you access to much more material and the ability to customize your own subscription(s). We’ll let you decide if you think it’s worth the money but I personally find the customized feeds feature to be very useful.

The Japanese Learner

It’d be really difficult to write a post about podcasts without mentioning our very own. Our podcast takes a different approach from many other podcasts for Japanese learners in that instead of giving lessons, it is a series of discussions on how to go about learning and retaining various aspects of the Japanese language. If you’ve just started following the blog, I highly recommend you check out the podcast episodes.

It has been a long time since we’ve recorded new content but as I mentioned near the beginning of the year, I’m planning to produce at least one more season of the show this year. I look forward to producing more great material for you to listen to, with my fabulous co-host (and tireless maintainer of the Facebook page), Kimberly Fraser.

Podcasts in Japanese

NHK News

Reading the news is great for intermediate-to-advanced reading practice but if you want to give your ear for Japanese the same kind of exercise, try the Japanese NHK Radio News podcast. It is updated a couple of times per day and each update is around 10 minutes long.

I personally find these a bit difficult to follow but I rarely read the news in Japanese as well. If you’re having trouble listening to these, you might get some mileage out of reading the news on the web for some time first, to build up vocabulary, and then trying the podcast. If you’ve got any other tips for listening to the news in Japanese, please leave a comment!

podcastrank.jp

If the Japanese iTunes Store is a no-go for you, podcastrank.jp might be able to help. It’s one of the first Google hits if you search for “ポッドキャスト” (the Japanese word for “podcast”) and it’s quite a large directory. Through this site, I found a pretty interesting anime/otaku podcast to subscribe to. It was actually fun listening to a couple of guys in a studio gushing about Nichijou and other shows that I like to watch.

You can search by keyword or by tag, but it is hard to tell from the results what is fresh and active and what hasn’t been updated in a long while. You’ll get quite a few results for most common things, but the results may be hit or miss. If you find a really interesting Japanese-language podcast through here, please let us know!

More?

The world of podcasting is quite huge, although I’m not sure it has taken off in Japan the same way it has here. However, there’s still quite a lot to explore and hopefully you’ll find many things that you’re interested in listening to.

As we find more podcasts about particular topics, we’ll be updating the Facebook and Google+ pages, so stay tuned!

Finding Anime Online

February 10th, 2012 Posted in Japanese Culture | No Comments »

We’ve written before that it is best to study Japanese through things you like. Perhaps one of those things is Japanese animation. This week, we go over a few of our favorite sources for anime on the Internet. To clarify, these are all legitimate (read: legal) sources — The Japanese Learner does not endorse the infringement of copyrights. This will be very America-specific but if you know of good sources of anime in your region, we’d love to hear from you!

Crunchyroll

Initially a community that streamed anime episodes provided by its users, Crunchyroll has transformed into one of the main anime streaming powerhouses in North America. They currently have simulcast deals with a number of studios, making the site a great place to watch some of the newest series as they air in Japan. Despite the name, I don’t think it is truly simultaneous, but it is close enough to compete with fan-distributed translations of the same shows if you’re not super-picky.

For the Winter 2012 anime season, Crunchyroll is streaming episodes in 1080p for premium members, which in my personal experience has been pretty awesome save for a few very tiny stutters. For most everything else, Crunchyroll streams up to 720p for premium members, 480p for free users. I’ve enjoyed many series on this site by hooking up my computer to my TV via HDMI and letting the good times stream.

Some of my favorites that can be found on Crunchyroll:

Anime News Network Video/Hulu

I actually didn’t hear about this one until recently. Anime News Network has a listing of videos for viewing online. The catalog seems to be mostly stuff available on Hulu so if you’d like, you can go right to the source, but you might find this to be much more convenient.

To my knowledge, Anime News Network doesn’t do any simulcasting and the listing is considerably less fresh than Crunchyroll’s, but it also includes many old favourites that Crunchyroll’s old community used to upload and are now unavailable due to licensing. Basically, if Crunchyroll isn’t doing it for you, you might like to try this as your next stop. Streams are in standard definition and have forced commercial spots but they are plentiful, free, and legal. If you’re looking for subs (and really, if you’re learning Japanese, you probably should be), you want to look for the “(s)”.

I know relatively little about Hulu because I had a Netflix account in Canada and carried it over to the US, giving me little need for Hulu. If you know more — particularly about Hulu Plus and anime availability there — please leave a comment! Note, just as we do not endorse illegitimate sources, we also do not endorse using proxies to get around Hulu’s US-only restriction. So none of that in the comments, please!

Some favorites of mine I found in the catalog:

Netflix

Netflix is a bit of an odd entry for this list. The majority of the anime they stream is dubbed; Netflix only does subs for a few movies and I can’t even remember which they are. But Netflix is listed here because it’s pretty ubiquitous in both the US and Canada and the selection is halfway decent. It lacks the freshness of Crunchyroll and some titles it previously had, like Sacred Blacksmith, are gone. But if you’ve got a PS3 or an Xbox 360, you’ve got an easy-to-use Netflix player for your HDTV and if you’re not already a Netflix member, I highly recommend giving it a try.

Some of the streams are in HD but many are SD, or SD upscaled to HD. Really, I think Netflix would be a lot better for anime viewers if they could get the same rights to subtitled versions that they have for dubbed versions, but if Netflix is what you have to work with, you might find some things you would like to add to your personal DVD/Blu-ray collection and that’s never a bad thing.

Some old favorites of mine are here:

  • The Slayers (the three old TV series plus the two new direct-to-video seasons)
  • Noir (they don’t have Madlax but do have El Cazador de la Bruja)
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple
  • Fullmetal Alchemist (and Brotherhood)
  • Full Metal Panic (and Second Raid, and Fumoffu)

Anime A-Plenty!

So there are a few of my favorite on-the-up-and-up sources of anime. It’s amazing to see just how far anime has come in North America though true fans may agree that it still has a ways to go yet. How do you get anime in your part of the world? Let us know in the comments!

A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar – Book Review

January 27th, 2012 Posted in Learning Japanese, Reviews | 1 Comment »

This is the first time we’re reviewing a book on The Japanese Learner so before we get into it, here’s a small disclaimer: we link to Amazon.com’s listing of the book but this is only because Amazon.com is where Enrico buys many of his books (and, since moving to the US, many other things as well). The Japanese Learner is not an Amazon.com affiliate and is not affiliated with The Japan Times. We do not make a single penny off of you clicking on that link or buying books from Amazon.com and we have no such deal with the publisher either. We want to emphasize this because we want you to know that while Enrico definitely recommends this book, he has no financial incentive to convince you to buy a copy.

If you’re following along on Facebook or Google+, we post a new vocabulary word almost every day. On Facebook, we are starting to see more and more questions about grammar. So this week, I thought I’d review one of the best grammar books in my personal Japanese reference library for beginners: A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar, by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui and published by The Japan Times. You can snag a copy from Amazon.com or your favorite Japanese bookstore, among other places.

At ~630 pages and (by my rough estimate) a couple hundred entries with both English and Japanese indexes, “dictionary” is definitely a very appropriate term but this book is also an excellent general-purpose grammar reference. The preface of the book includes in-depth explanations of general grammatical/linguistic terms, notes on characteristics of Japanese grammar and word order that include basic verb conjugations, introductory notes on particles, and even a brief treatment of levels of politeness and sound symbolism. The first thirty of so pages of this book pack in more valuable tidbits of Japanese grammar than I’ve seen in books spanning well over a hundred pages. After the entries, there are appendices with even more in-depth coverage of verb conjugation, pronouns, counters, compound words, transititve/intransitive verb pairs, and many other important concepts of Japanese grammar.

But the real meat of this book is, of course, the entries. They are printed in alphabetical order by romanization and include all of the basic grammar you could need in your first two years of Japanese courses in college/university. Many particles and verbs that beginners have difficulty with are also included. At the back of the book, there are English and Japanese indexes, but I rarely use either. I personally find the indexes unintuitive and prefer the printed order of the entries for lookup but your mileage may vary. Each entry includes:

  • Key sentence or sentences. These sentences embody the core meaning of the grammar point and include romaji, full kanji, and translation to English. All of this is enclosed in a grid and each of the parts of speech are separated from each other and labeled, to aid beginners in parsing the sentence.
  • Formation. If there are multiple uses for the same word in sentence formation, each is covered and concisely labeled.
  • Example sentences. These expand on the key sentences by giving slightly more complicated examples using the grammar point of the entry.
  • Notes. This is where the entries really shine. While many other grammar books may give a loose translation to English and some samples and hope you can pin down the rest by context, this book gives in-depth notes about the grammar point, including descriptions of precisely what context(s) it can be used in, related grammar points (with references to other entries), and more sample sentences, very often demonstrating how not to use the grammar point by presenting purposefully awkward or outright grammatically incorrect sentences.

Really, the greatest strength of this book is also its greatest weakness: the explanations are incredibly dense. The notes are very thorough and packed with linguistic terms. To be fair, the book includes an explanation of very many of those terms, but it does incur a lot of cognitive overhead for readers who aren’t intimately familiar with linguistics (or who can’t quickly pick up the linguistic terms from their explanation at the beginning of the book). To save space, many common terms are also abbreviated, which makes reading them even a bit more difficult.

Also, while many basic particles are covered, they are not the focus of the book. If you’re having trouble with particles in particular, there are other books that are all about particles and you may find some of them to be much better than A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar.

This is not a book for simple explanations and it is probably not a book that you want to use to learn or teach yourself Japanese grammar; this is the book to go to when you need to go beyond the basic explanations of your first- and second-year textbooks and get a much fuller picture of how the grammatical structures work. But it’s for that precise reason that I strongly recommend you add this book to your Japanese reference bookshelf. In my opinion it is, no contest, the greatest basic Japanese grammar reference ever printed.

Sample content can be found here.

Do you own a copy of this book? How do you like it? Leave a comment here, on Facebook, or on Google+. Or, if you’d like to suggest other materials for us to review in the future, leave a comment or e-mail enrico@thejapaneselearner.com.