#5 - Assemble Japanese Words into Sentences

Making Sentences

If you make it this far, then you can pronounce Japanese, recognize Japanese characters, and you’re steadily building a solid base of Japanese vocabulary words.

Only one problem with all of this: we haven’t looked at how to actually make sentences yet!

Input VS Output

I think that it’s always good to distinguish between “Input” and “Output.”

Input is comprehension. It’s understanding the language. Everything that we’ve looked at so far in this course is input.

There’s a reason that I put such heavy focus on increasing comprehension—It’s the most important aspect of learning a language. It doesn’t take very long to become “conversational” in a language, because it’s easy to make sentences in languages (especially Japanese), and then you can sound like a clown while you rattle off stuff about me, me, me.

People that have real, deep, meaningful conversations, however, always have high comprehension. The reason for this is that good conversationalists are the ones that get people talking, the ones who listen, the ones who understand anime and manga and weird Japanese commercials.

Having said that…

Output is for cool kids.

When you can make long, complicated sentences with perfect-ish pronunciation, there’s no denying that you look, sound, and feel very cool. So we should probably learn how to do that, yeah?

There are two sides to this:

  1. Learning the structure of Japanese sentences (i.e. grammar)
  2. Practicing the construction of Japanese sentences (i.e. lessons and language exchange)

Grammar Shark

There are a ridiculous amount of truly awesome Japanese grammar resources. I don’t have enough space to list all of them here, though, so I’ll give you the (still very awesome) condensed version:

Bunkai Beast Grammar Course

Bunkai Beast is the name of the introductory grammar course that appears in our Hacking Japanese Supercourse. It has a special place in my heart.

Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide

In his grammar guide, Tae Kim gives quite a bit of free introductory grammar guidance.

JapanesePod101 PDF’s

JapanesePod101 has hundreds of lesson. They also have PDF notes on Japanese grammar accompanying every single lesson. I was never too good about reading these, but some people seem to like them.

Nihongo Master

Nihongo Master is not free, but it is a pretty cool site, and they have a ton of grammatical breakdowns and explanations for various levels of Japanese. I wrote a review of their site, too, which you can view here.

Genki Book Series or Minna no Nihongo Series

There are actually quite a lot of Japanese grammar book series, but these are the two main players for beginner students of Japanese. You can get these books (and workbooks), then do every single lesson in every single chapter. Teachers like to use these with students.
  • Genki Series
  1. Genki I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese
    1. Genki I Workbook
    2. Genki I Answer Key
  2. Genki II: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese
    1. Genki II Workbook
Those links above are from White Rabbit Japan, because they tend to have a wider variety of Japanese learning resources than other sites (also I've found that a lot of Japanese textbooks on Amazon tend to be either out of stock or overpriced). But apparently you can actually rent the Genki books on Amazon:

Dictionary of Japanese Grammar Series

These books are more so reference guides than anything, and they’re sweet! I used to carry them everywhere back in the day.

Grammar and Speaking Have a Tenuous Relationship

Back in the day, I thought that studying grammar (all that stuff I just listed above) improved my output ability.

Well, that is both true and not true.

Based on scientific studies and experiential accounts of hundreds of thousands of people, forming sentences with native speakers that are interested in helping you improve is the best way to improve your output skill in any language.

I’m talking about lessons, language exchanges, and all that good stuff.

Online Lessons

It took me such a long time to come around to accepting that online lessons are better than in-person lessons. Something about being human, when I practice a language I want to be in the same room as my teacher. Thanks to this, I put off studying (and teaching) online for a long time.

But, alas, I have seen the light.

I know what 87% of you are thinking: That’s cool for you, Niko. But as for me, well, blah blah blah I don’t wanna do online lessons.

Well I say to you, dear friend: If I can convince my parents to go to Thai food, then I have a pretty good chance of getting you to seriously consider online lessons.

Reasons that online lessons are better than in-person lessons:

  • Accessibility: You don’t have to go all the way to Japan! You can build boss ninja skills while sitting in your living room.
  • Affordability: Not sure if you guys have noticed, but language schools are expensive. And they’re even more expensive if you start taking into account the level of attention and practice you’re actually getting (or not getting) in a group class. With online lessons, you get your language teacher’s full attention. In-person lessons can also cost a lot in opportunity costs. For example, if you have to quit your job or not work for a few months in order to study abroad in Japan, then really you’re paying the lesson and travel fees, plus the money you would have made if you’d kept your job. Conversely, online Japanese teachers tend to be really cheap. I think it’s because they’re excited to use their English while explaining Japanese to low-level students. However, others seem just genuinely interested in sharing their language and culture with others. Maybe that’s why there are so many volunteer Japanese teaches available in Japan.
  • Online dictionaries: You can look up words in online dictionaries while you’re talking to your teacher, without interrupting the flow of the lesson. If you’re really nervous, just try Google Translate or something. Yeah, the translation will be super awkward and full of mistakes, but it’s your teacher’s job to fix and explain that stuff anyways.
  • Written clarification: You can have your teacher write down words that you can’t catch so that you can study them later.
  • Live-action proofreading: You can both write on online documents using Google Docs, Microsoft OneDrive, etc., simultaneously. For example, you could practice writing, and your teacher could write corrections as you’re writing. So, the second you’re finished, you get instant feedback.
  • Recording tools: You can automatically record the audio from your lessons using tools like this one, and then you can listen to them over and over again as review. I’ve read that some teachers even do screen sharing using tools like WebEx, then send videos after. (I’ve never tried it though, because it costs money.)
  • Fewer excuses: It’s difficult to make excuses for flaking on online lessons. Rei and I experienced this when we took lessons in Bangkok in Fall 2014. She was studying English, and I was practicing translation with a Japanese teacher. We always made excuses to skip classes. It’s raining. I’m tired. The school’s so far away. I don’t feel like taking a shower. I don’t have enough time to go all the way to school and back today. Excuses, excuses. With online lessons, all you have to do is turn on your computer. You don’t even need to turn on your webcam if you don’t feel like taking a shower.
  • Comfort: Taking a language lesson is scary. You feel insecure about your low level, uncomfortable that you can’t communicate, all-around stressed! But it’s not quite as scary if you’re doing it from the comfort of your own home. You might even want to turn off your webcam, so that you can see your teacher, but they can’t see you. I don’t know why, but there’s something about that combo that makes everything a little less intimidating.
  • Quality: I have some experience teaching English both in-person for a company and online as a freelancer. I can say quite unequivocally that my online lessons are both cheaper and higher quality than the lessons I gave at language schools. At language schools, I had very little control over the lesson structure, because I had to adhere to the company’s standards. Similarly, I could not provide my own materials. Whereas with online lessons, I choose and develop materials that are custom-tailored to my students’ levels, goals, and interests. There is a lot of responsibility that comes with being someone’s personal language coach. You have a vested interest in their success. And it causes you to go above and beyond.

By the way, my parents love Thai food now. And maybe—just maybe—you’re a bit curious about taking online lessons.

As far as I’m concerned, there are really only two options for online lessons, both of which are awesome in their own right:

Language Exchange

Some of us are poor and can’t even afford cheap online lessons. That’s chill, though, because we can do language exchanges. I think that these are the two most accessible, effective options:

  • italki (Yeah, they have free language exchanges, too)
  • MyLanguageExchange (First get Line, because that’s what everyone in Japan is using, then funnel your Japanese contacts from this site into Line and start messaging up a storm. Skype is also a good option.)

Recap, Please

It is so hard for me to keep the size of these lessons down. I feel like there is so much more that I want to share with you. For example, in the Hacking Japanese Supercourse (all I ever talk about, right?) I explain how to prepare for lessons, spread out grammar studies, etc.

That said, I doubt many of you even make it all the way to the end of these lessons. Props to you for reading this.

To recap the course so far…

  • Unit #1 – Checking Yourself Before Wrecking Yourself
    • Decide if you’re really committed to learning Japanese
    • Mentally prep yourself for high volumes of consistent, level-appropriate language exposure
    • Start listening to audio loops
  • Unit #2- First Steps to Learning Japanese
    • Learn about Japanese pronunciation
    • Learn Hiragana
    • Learn Katakana
  • Unit #3 – Learning the Kanji
    • Learn the Meanings of All 2,136 General-Use Kanji Characters
  • Unit #4 – The Power of Vocab
    • Download Anki (you should have already done so in Unit #3)
    • Download the Caveman Convo Deck
    • Download the Vocab Mastery (Sample) Deck
    • Study new cards in these decks whenever you have time
    • Study review cards every single day
    • Take your time, and watch as your vocab skyrockets
  • Unit #5 – Making Sentences
    • Take note of the differences and uses of input and output
    • Start studying grammar using any of the resources listed
    • Start making sentences using online lessons and language exchange

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