Let's demystify studying Japanese grammar!
Grammar is either your favorite part of a language, or the most frustrating part of a language. Here’s my guide on how to study Japanese grammar.
These methods can be applied to any language with a similar sentence structure, though! If you’re looking for tips to study Korean grammar, read this post.
Write a grammar structure down and fill in your own words.
Once you learn a grammar structure, writing it out and filling it in with your own words is one of the best ways to learn it.
For example, if you have the structure ~てみる which is to “try”, then and your example is 「この本を読んでみてください」 (please try reading this book), then you can take the sentence and replace words to make it your own. e.g.:
このパンを食べてみてください Please try eating this bread
その車を運転してみてください Please try driving that car
After you write it in your own way, be sure to get it checked by a native speaker.
Use a grammar reference dictionary
My favorite grammar dictionary is A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. It’s full of example sentences and easily describes the differences between similar grammar structures. There are 3 dictionaries: One for basic, then intermediate, and finally advanced. You can find enough resources for basic Japanese grammar for free online, so I suggest getting the Intermediate one first if you need a reference book for grammar.
I recommend not using it as a textbook itself to work through, but rather as a reference to refer to when you encounter a difficult grammar structure. If you’re not keen on buying a book, you can always use a grammar reference website like jgram.org.
Use the grammar structure often through writing
As soon as you learn something new, don’t just write it down in your notebook and forget about it. You can make an Instagram post using it, write a blog in Japanese using it, or even just talk to yourself or make a video where you use it. The more you say it, even if you just speak to yourself, the more it will become cemented in your memory.
The more you write in Japanese, the more you can engrain new grammar structures into your long-term memory. When you use a textbook and see a new grammar structure, write it down and replace nouns and adjectives with other words so that you can practice the same grammar structure for different examples.
Don’t be afraid to write your own example paragraphs and mini essays even if you’re a beginner. I have a comprehensive guide that can help!
Regardless of which level you are in Japanese, this guide will be useful as it’s packed with 112 writing prompts and activities, writing tips, a 7-step guide to success, and resources that will help you get the most out of your writing.
What you’ll get
- Information on the importance of writing
- Tips for writing if you’re not just ready yet
- A 7-step guide to writing long-form pieces
- 112 writing activities and writing prompts for beginner, intermediate and advanced levels
- Resources and ideas on where to get corrections on your writing
- A discounted personalized language coaching call with me
Get a good grammar textbook or app
An app I use regularly for all levels of Japanese grammar is Bunpo. It goes from beginner (hiragana, katakana, and basic vocab) all the way to N1 (advanved Japanese) grammar. I’ve found Bunpo to be most effective when you do a little bit daily, and that also helps the review section not pile up.
Here’s a Twitter thread I made with my pros and cons while using Bunpo.
Starting a thread for myself here to keep track of my progress on @BunpoApp. Right now I am at N3 level, studying towards N2. For my sanity I want to clear all the levels on the app. Today I wanna aim to finish the Hiragana and Katakana section.— Lindie • 凛子 • 린디 • 琳迪 💕 (@lindiebee) February 24, 2020
Top recommended Japanese textbooks
A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar
Must-have for all grammar geeks! I have used this for years and it’s amazing for explaining grammar concepts.
Nihongo So Matome series
For all levels
I use these for N2 and N3 grammar and vocabulary. They’re featured in almost all of my book review videos!
Tobira Gateway to Advanced Japanese
Must-have for all grammar geeks! I have used this for years and it’s amazing for explaining grammar concepts. Totally recommended.
Recommended grammar app: Bunpo
Not sponsored or affiliated – just recommending a wonderful app that I use to learn grammar structures according to JLPT levels. Here’s a review video!
Actively listen to and read Japanese
If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, you might hear the grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and you’ll be reminded of what you’ve learnt. You can also listen to podcasts actively and write down what the speakers are saying. If there are new grammar structures, write them down and look them up.
If you need some new music recommendations, here’s my Japanese playlist on Spotify. What you can do is take a song you like, look up the lyrics, and write down some sentences. Take a highlighter and highlight verbs in one color, particles in another, nouns in another and adjectives in another color. This will help you visually see the structure of Japanese grammar.
Tip: read out loud!
Don’t be afraid to read out loud if you have that luxury. I read my sentences over because I’m an auditory learner. This is good for intermediate and advanced learners who don’t have issues with pronunciation. If you are a beginner and still learning how to pronounce things, I suggest asking a native speaker to record some sentences for you. You can ask an italki tutor or ask someone on HelloTalk or Hinative.
Tip: Practice Japanese with a free game!
You can practice the grammar you’ve learned and solidify it into your long term memory on a writing game app like Polygloss. Polygloss is completely free! Read more about free language learning resources here:
What not to do when learning Japanese
Don't just rely on a textbook
There are great grammar forums that you can use for reference to read more about grammar structures. I suggest the following:
Jgram (so good, even has JLPT level indicators and study lists)
Take Kim’s guide to Japanese
You can also use an app that focuses heavily on grammar. Remember, grammar is not just something to learn in isolation – you learn it faster when it’s in the context of a sentence, a situation or something you are interested in. Lingodeer and Busuu are apps that do this excellently. Fore more Japanese resources, check out my collection here:
Don't only study grammar and ignore other skills
Learn from daily conversation and remember not to neglect reading, writing, and listening. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking.
Everything is connected, so by practicing Japanese daily, you’ll be ingraining grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure.
How I learn Japanese (videos)
How I study Japanese (Kanji focus)
My Japanese study routine for JLPT preparation
Related blog posts
How I find and study Kanji For a beginner, I recommend using a structured textbook to learn new kanji. This is a good method because
Studying grammar shouldn’t be tricky. Step 1: Get a textbook and note down the grammar structures Step 2: Categorize and color-code the grammar On the