What does “real” Japanese look like?

One thing you’ll notice very quickly when you look at Japanese in textbooks and then Japanese in manga, on Japanese television or in video games, is that or the most part, that Japanese you are seeing, looks nothing like what you are studying. I find this can create confusion about “real” Japanese and also it might make the study of Japanese seem a bit pointless.

However, I am not going to explain the different kinds of Japanese from formal, to casual, to super formal, that stuff is all over the internet. I’m talking about what bugged me in particular. I’ve been doing some grammar revision lately, and i’m happy to see that studying grammar patterns is a lot easier. Trust me, once you can read a good bit of Kanji, certain things start to self-reinforce. You pay less attention to words and just the sentence. So to “ease back” into doing some Japanese revision, I started going through a Japanese grammar book I had, Genki 2. This book has some pretty cool explanations about how grammar works (in fact i’d recommend everyone have some kind of grammar reference book on hand.)

My issue with Genki was that I didn’t trust the sentences in the book. They were a little too nice, a little too contextually perfect, in other words a little too textbook. So i hopped over to Jim Breen’s site and plugged in some new grammar patterns to see examples of hardcore “real” Japanese sentences, and I was almost blown away by how strange many of these sentences looked. Even some of the regular sentences had little particles at the end and grammar shifts that looked nothing like the textbook examples! (which is why I don’t really use textbooks super religiously).

For people just learning Japanese, this can be quite discouraging and even frustrating. So the sentences on Jim Breen’s site are taken from the Tanaka Corpus, which has literally hundreds of thousands of  Japanese sentences for you to read. So what I do sometimes is just drop in a grammar pattern and see the varieties of sentences that come up.

So I wanted to see “ni atta” (にあった)in use.

so I dropped it in and a bunch of quite varied sentences from easy to complex popped up.

after reading through several of them, I started to get a better sense of “ni atta” across various different contexts. I found this VERY cool, because in a textbook, you generally get one or two example sentences, and then “practice exercises” that relate to those original sentences, or something very close.

True, some of these sentences are quite complex, but that’s the point of learning the language isn’t it? Either way, I remember noticing this in manga quite a bit. These “irregular” sentence patterns with all this “nano?” and “noni” on the end of stuff and i was lost quite often because textbooks don’t explain that stuff very early on.

But as I’ve said somewhere on this blog before, small steps are the best way to go before taking a leap. Right now, for each grammar pattern I’m learning, I find about 20 sentences that I print, examine and try to generally understand. What happens is that with these varied examples, I get the use of the grammar pattern in mixed situations and therefore mixed variations.

My only issue with this is that sometimes the English translations (though possibly accurate) explain the “sense” of the sentence. So it might not come off as a literal translation because if you focus on the exact meaning of the grammar it might be confusing. But if you can read the sentence, pause and then get a general understanding of the sentence, you are 90% there.

This is what I noticed when I was trying out extensive reading. When you consume whole sentences over and over, the implicit meaning is often enough relative to the time you are putting into the effort. So approaching grammar in reading is pretty equal to vocab in someways. If you can maximize the exposure to grammatical patterns in a reasonable context, then you can see them pretty easily later on no?

Because honestly if I see a grammar pattern 100 times in one manga, in context, I will get a better sense of the grammar pattern, then going over 1 sentence 100 times. But i’ve found so far that doing light revision of the grammar patterns and reading is helping a bit with going through more complex sentences.

anyhoo, just another observation but the cardinal rule is, if you aren’t reading Japanese you won’t reinforce it, no matter how much grammar you study…

so until you start reading through Manga, or short stories or whatever know grammar patterns will be great, but you need to see them in context a few thousand times to start solidifying the mental associations… so hopefully I can get back on my manga wagon : P


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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