One of the biggest hurdles to learning a new language obviously is grammar. Grammar in the way I describe it, isn’t just memorizing the grammar pattern, but really the situational context of its usage. This means grammar is essentially a production-based structure when thinking of how to memorize it. That is to say, it isn’t until you try to say something that triggers a pattern, will you work your brain to try and say the correct thing or figure it out. I’ll talk about the theory behind grammar and memorization in more detail later but this is just a quick post, as I’m going slowly through some grammar stuff right now.
The internet has THOUSANDS of lessons, videos and the general internet has TENS OF THOUSANDS of examples, articles and so on. You can spend years reading about one pattern if you like.
In my post on what I call Advanced Bias’ what many folks don’t realize is that ‘examples’ that people give you and explanations can vary wildly. You can get super dense examples that are hard to read, or long winded explanations that aren’t helpful.
When learning a new pattern, I have one mission:
To internalize the meaning as quickly as possible and farm examples that are super easy to understand that allow for dozens (or hundreds of quick repetitions).
So what I’ll do is look for a video to learn about the pattern (if the meaning is not super obvious). In this case, I’m talking about the n4 pattern, ‘GARU’, which describes something emotionally someone is doing.
The first thing I look for is a SHORT video. If I can’t understand the pattern in 2 minutes, 30 minutes is a waste of my time. So I find something very short, as these tend to (1) clearly cover the grammar point (2) provide 2-5 simple examples.
So I found this video nice and short.
Then after I get a sense of the pattern, I list a few sentences for practice. So my time for doing this entire thing is about 3 minutes. (I don’t have to watch the entire video most of the time).
Once I get that, I try and find another (short) video where someone explains it again. This gives me multiple contexts with which to give my brain reference and allow it to extrapolate more meaning. So I went to this video.
Here its short (again) and I get more example sentences which I can train at this level. The first website I found was loaded with ‘Advanced Bias’, meaning the sentences were pretty advanced usages of this grammar pattern. Eventually i’ll have to learn those, but it completely defeats the purpose if this pattern is heavily embedded in other complex grammar forms.
Once this is done, then i’ll try and have a list of 10-20 sentences and some that I make and then i’ll look at them often and try to say it every now and then.
Since we learn grammar one pattern at a time, it is important to be efficient when trying to cover the ground with hundreds of patterns. Doing things this way allows me to easily go through say 3-5 partners at a time and not feel like my brain is exploding, once I internalize the meaning of the pattern. If a pattern is giving me trouble, I spend more time watching videos on it until I ‘catch it’. Meaning my brain goes ‘aha! that’s what they are saying’. So i’m not saying do not watch longer videos about grammar, i’m saying in my experience, grammar is production-based and highly situational so what you really are memorizing is the pattern, PLUS the situation, so only by internalizing when this should be used does it really lock into your brain. Most patterns don’t require much thought to memorize, just practice. Some are very nuanced, and are expressed with other complex forms which is why as you get to higher levels like n2 and n1 it is important you have mastered the lower concepts that allow for advanced understanding.
Use ‘Anchoring’ To give Color To New Pattern
That said, many of these are not ‘difficult’ and are memorized easily, but at a glance can feel like a giant mountain to climb when you try to think of “when will I ever need to say this?” Grammar is triggered by situations, and we can get creative in these initial moments by using strong connections to start the process.
For example the following two sentences explain the pattern がる(garu) very clearly:
He is always afraid of speaking to girls.
She is always buying expensive things.
But ‘he’ and ‘she’ are very vague. What I try to do is make the situation something obvious that we already use with this exact pattern in our native language. So:
Superman is always afraid of Kryptonite. (has a tendency to be)
Batman always needs more weapons. (has a tendency to need)
Batman is always angry. (has a tendency to be)
This is what I call ‘anchoring’ and can be used with any of the hundreds of thousands of situations in your life and are useful for practice. However I always keep these SUPER simple, because grammar can always get more and more nuanced and there are so many ways to say certain things. This pattern explain what others are doing mainly in the 3rd person. So off the top of my head:
My sister was always afraid of cold water, He always want new games, John always want a pretty girlfriend, Connor McGregor always wants to win.
These examples do a few things: They create powerful visuals that connect to the new pattern. I can see my little sister standing at a pool in shivering with fear, afraid to jump in. I can remember a friend talking about the games he always wants and then I can see hundred of images of fighter Connor McGregor talking about wanting to win and be number one. I can see superman on the ground in pain from seeing Kryptonite, Batman in his cave tinkering and making weapons. The point here is that the end goal of all language learning is memorization.
When I was studying German, I did nothing more than use mainly one channel (German with Jenny) because it never took her more than a minute to explain a grammar pattern and the rest of the video was loaded with example sentences. I went through dozens and dozens of patterns like this. So with Japanese which isn’t as close to English as German, sometimes the ‘training’ has to be a little different.
So I make a list of these sentences I practice until I get the ‘feeling’ of the pattern and then train listening to the sentences to get a sense of the overall statement. You brain needs enough data to get the ball rolling and once you feed it often enough, it will figure out the rest. The idea I’ve found is not to spend too much time on a pattern as that is waste. Spend more time (initially) on patterns that are more abstract, but only real world exposure is going to show you how well you understand what is presented to you.
How You Know Its Working
Usually, you know you are in a good place when a new grammar pattern you’ve learn pops up in your immersion. You’ll hear it and maybe not even understand the full sentence (which is fine). It means your RAS (Recticular Activating System) got turned on and the brain is doing its thing.
Trust The Brain
Lastly what I learned is that you must trust the brain. Once you spend a little time with a pattern, move on. Put it in your revision schedule and use it until it sticks. The only important thing is to internalize the situational context. Then keep triggering it until the brain triggers it when you are watching TV, reading anime etc.
The reality is that you didn’t grow up speaking and using hundreds of grammar partners per day. You won’t have the experience of say “Man! He always want to drive slow! (tends to)”, “Yeah, that girl is always afraid of meeting new guys (tends to)”, and so on.
But this isn’t something to worry about, because once you get enough data, you brain allows you to process new information through extrapolation. That’s why a kid when it learns colors and has a question to ask what colors are, can learn new words and make new sentences. “What is that red thing?” — “It’s a fire hydrant”. Now the kid can talk about ‘fire hydrants’ all day? See where I’m going.
This process works at scale, as you go through your partners step by step. I advise going through each level n5, n4, n3 in sequence, because pattenrs build on each other. You’ll encounter more advanced patterns all the time, but the benefit in learning the basic patterns very well is that the essence of how they are used contextually becomes quite repetitive (and predictable) as you encounter new forms that say slightly different things. This kicks your brian into gear and you memorize new patterns even faster (weird I know).
Either way I’m trying my best! Life has been busy but i’m still plodding through. Not as fast as I want but i’m enjoying the journey thus far.