Learning Japanese When You Think in a Western Language

Japanese is a challenging language for most who didn’t learn it as children. On these pages, I present some of the basic principles of grammar and usage in a way that probably doesn’t resemble your textbook.

Most Japanese tutorials and textbooks I’ve seen make no attempt to explain the fundamentals of Japanese grammar. They simply present the language as a series of patterns to be memorized. “When you want to say such-and-such, you use the expression so-and-so.” This is a practical approach, but hardly satisfying in the long run. Who enjoys just memorizing new patterns with no sense of the overall structure?

However, if you try to look beyond lists of patterns, the texts can become quite scholarly, using ideas from formal linguistics. This might be illuminating for a linguist, but the rest of us just want to learn some Japanese.

I have tried to walk a middle path in my tutorial. I have written it so that people who have a working knowledge of English grammar (such as what you learned in school, even if you’ve forgotten some of the details) will be able to compare and contrast English and Japanese grammar. I don’t think you need to be a professional linguist to understand some discussion about grammatical structure. And I think you will find Japanese much more satisfying once you learn some actual grammar, rather than just memorizing patterns. I hope you find the organization useful and the grammatical lessons illuminating.

For greater utility, I have chosen not to use kana and kanji characters. Examples in Japanese are written in romaji (romanized Japanese).