How To Learn 20+ Grammar Patterns a Day #Japanese

My revision of new cards and only cards for today, which after 10 days or so, hits the 50 minute mark.

In your strategy to do things super quick, you need to make certain compromises. There are a few main compromises I make in the beginning when pushing through studying a lot of grammar, to ensure I don’t get (too) stressed out.

Firstly, I tell myself the following:

  1. I won’t remember everything right away. – this might seem obvious, but some grammar patterns just don’t ‘stick’ and need a lot of attention. I always highlight these.
  2. Ignore things that sound/feel similar and memorize them anyways. Context will reveal itself in time.
  3. Speed (upfront) is better than nitpicking. its just too much data to nitpick. Learn all of it then nitpick afterwards.
  4. Treat a lot of grammar like words.
  5. Have an ENDPOINT – (Important!)

Secondly, grammar, unsurprisingly, is a lot like vocabulary. In fact, a lot of grammar is vocabulary, meaning it is just a word that conveys a grammatical point.

Thirdly, a lot of grammar are just versions of other things you learned with slight changes (which gives you an advantage). Mostly, what you’ll find is that there are four general ways to say things:

formal, casual, informal and (sometimes) rude.

99% of everything fits into the first 3. This is very important to know because it saves you a lot of headache down the road. In Japanese a ton of things sound very similar (and some are), but I found a lot of them are just either formal versions, casual versions, or informal versions of the same thing. This happens a lot. I repeat a lot. So sometimes a “new” pattern, is one you already know, that is probably either a formal, casual, or informal version of what you learned. I put this as a note in my anki card. Quick example below:

このマンションは狭いばかりでなく、暗いです。

このマンションは狭いばかり、暗いです。

Both sentences read: “This apartment is not only small, but dark.”The only difference is the use of “denaku” versus “ka” in the same position in the sentence. Such nuances for grammar are usually explained, and my go to resource is JLPTsensei.com

TPG  – TIME PER GRAMMAR

Most grammar patterns are very straight forward. All I have to do is read a few example sentences, then add them to my anki deck and then start revising. Generally one pattern doesn’t take more than 3-5 minutes. this means at 20, its about 60-100 minutes per day on the high end. Then revision is probably another 35-50 minutes. So with focus, its about 2-2.5 hours per day. I didn’t really measure my time this time around, I just made a rough estimate. I think a dedicated learner can keep this pace up for about a week or so before you brain starts to crash. Of course you don’t need to do 20 per day, you can do 10 and learn at a more leisurely pace over 2 weeks.

In my experience, revision is always better than memorization. The “brain heavy” component of memorization never goes away, whether you are learning 20 in a day or 10. It’s a lot of work, it drains you, which I why I try and get through it faster. I call this “sprinting”, I sprint to the end of a goal, marinate for a bit and then sprint again. 

Going through 186 grammar patterns in 10 days is Herculean and I feel it in both my brain and body, however, I don’t have to worry about learning N3 patterns anymore, all i need to do is focus on revising them. I dont’ need to ‘add new data’, just keep the data there. That make sense?

What’s cool here is that moving forward its all about training the patterns with mixed listening, reading and a few other techniques to try and get them solidified. In 10 days you will NOT 100% memorize them. You will be “familiar” with them. These will ‘self-internalize’ if you focus on high revision, within 30 days or so.

Okay, on to 5 rules I came up with.

RULE 1 – MEMORIZE CONTEXT, NOT GRAMMAR.

This might sound very counterintuitive, but hear me out. We are obviously, memorizing grammar, but really you are memorizing a situational context more so that just a word. It is the situation that triggers a grammar point’s usage. You must remember the context (and construction of the grammar) or you will either use the point wrong, say it wrong, not fully understand it and get very frustrated.

Grammar learning is a very active process. Doing what i’ve done requires ENERGY, TIME and FOCUS. You need energy to really work through the grammar and get a feel for it.  You need to really vibe with what you are learning.

For example, if I was to say:

“With just a cellphone, he walked into the desert.”

VS   “With just a cellphone, he hacked into the school database.”

A native English speaker immediately knows both sentences are completely different. One emphasizes that he went into the desert with “nothing but” a cellphone. The other says, with “nothing but” a phone he was able to do X thing. We also know we could also express these statements with the words: just, only, or nothing but interchangeably.

Imagine now that these are 3 different grammar patterns for these specific situations. When I learn a new pattern, I try my best to emphasize the context as specifically as possible.  In these examples, two grammar points that could be used here are: て済む、and だけで。Saying “just” is quite relative and what we are really memorizing here are contexts, not just the patterns.

If I was to say: 携帯電話だけでそれを作ったの? keitai denwa dake de sore of tsukutta no?

“You made that just with a cellphone?” or “You made that only using your phone?”

But literally, we could be saying “just”, “only” or “nothing but”.

This means a huge part of working through loads of grammar, is ENGLISH not Japanese! So you have to be sure you get what is being said.

However, not everything is that close in meaning. My emphasis here is to show that grammar is very contextual at high or low levels. The higher we go in grammar, more we tend to add nuance. For example if you say:

“I would never go to Europe.” vs “I would never go to Europe, let alone France.”

One sentence expresses your dislike for Europe, the second emphasizes that in particular it is France you have a dislike for. These are the things we must remember in addition to our pattern. Again, remembering these things take energy and focus. 

I ensure that with each pattern I get this ‘feeling’ right. 99% of patterns are pretty straightforward. If a pattern is unclear, I hop on Youtube and make sure I find a few tutorials and then try my best to get a sense of what it is saying so I can memorize the context. In these cases, I spend as much time necessary to learn the pattern. So if I’m in the middle of learning 20 and I find a “tricky” pattern. I usually mark it, and move on to easier ones and learn it later when I have complete focus.

RULE 2 – RANDOMIZE PHONETIC ORDER OF LEARNING.

In memorization, when the mind is learning things that are brand new that sound similar, it will map them together and this can cause great confusion. For example the patterns, wazuka ni(narrowly), wazato(on purpose) and  wazwaza(with great effort) mean completely different things. Learning them at the same time could cause confusion. In a rapid learning strategy, I find that mixing things up helps. I try and make each new pattern I learn be from a completely different sounding group.

aete あえて (dare to), yara yara やらやら (things like A & B), kagiri 限り(as long as) ,ni sotte  に沿って(in accordance)

This allows my brain to be a lot less likely to mix things up. This is a hardcore rule because you don’t want to be doing hundreds of reps and getting super frustrated because you keep mixing up words that sound similar. The thing is you will inevitably mix some things up, but you wanna make sure you do it after you have an understanding of the differences not when you are initially learning them.

RULE 3 – TRUST YOUR BRAIN and ANKI

Your brain can adapt to learning a lot quite quickly, as long as you don’t stop. Assume you will memorize everything eventually and keep learning. What gets us to a point of what I call ‘production’, is what comes after we stabilize our memory of new words and grammar. In the beginning, there is lag time between memorization and usage that can take anywhere from a day to a month depending on the pattern. So I don’t give myself too much stress about perfection, but focus on completion. I can have a bad day and be tired and still plough through my patterns, and get the benefit the next day of having learned them regardless.

Why Plough Through 

Here’s why:  People take FOREVER to learn Kanji, because it seems impossible. But Kanji is the key to all words, grammar and reading. This means that Kanji is the key to pretty much all forms of training of Japanese. Not knowing Kanji, is a massive disadvantage. I learned at 2,136 Kanji in around 90 days knowing it would set up everything i’m doing now.

In the same way, I want to “get through” all my grammar. I’d rather be “aware” of all grammar points up to N1 than have a God level mastery of just  n4 and n5 (which is useless basically).

The only way to get to high levels quickly is with speed. The only way to get results from speed is proper revision. But the great thing is, once we get through all these patterns, there are many ways to reinforce them (reading, listening, etc). 20 patterns a day sets up a challenge for me that requires focus and dedication. I know i’m gonna have to learn them, revise revise and make sure my work counts. I make more priorities based on the level of my investment. If i’m moving slowly I don’t need to do that with such intensity. This forces me to want the benefit of my goal. 

RULE 4 – FOCUS ON COMPLETION, NOT PERFECTION

As technical as my approaches are, the main thing i’ve learned is that is makes no sense to nitpick on things in the beginning. I could have saved myself months of research (and life time ) by simply executing, versus theorizing then executing. This means a few things:

  1. General awareness. – in the beginning the mission is to be generally aware of everything i’ve learned, and not focus on complete mastery immediately. I’ll go through say, N3, and keep revising, will going through N2. The mission is the reach the top, and the only way to the top is by finishing. Finish, then cycle back.
  2.  I define a pattern as “complete” in a simple way. I read it in a sentence, I train several of them, and then each day I see how I do reading the sentence, if I understand it, i’m good to go. if I don’t, I just read it again. But I keep moving.

Here is how I do it exactly:

a) I read the sentences and type a few up them up into Anki. I type them to add a kinetic association to the pattern.

b) I read the sentences aloud and skim through new sentences to see what they say without reading the translation.

c) When I’m revising (doing Anki reps in the evening), I read the entire sentence aloud and try to recall the part i learned. I find doing this takes more energy, but is giving me practice saying the grammar out loud in context. After 10 days you will easily get in well over a thousand repetitions of saying these grammar points. 186 sentences at around 5-20 repetitions = 930 reps on the low and and 3,720 reps on the high end. So not only am I revising but i’m also saying the patterns thousands of times. 

Now I emphasize, this is not full memorization, because a “full production” of the pattern is done, raw, from the brain. But this is like a version of “extreme training wheels”. After thousands of reps and then reading and translations, you will be shocked how quickly you can internalize a lot of these.

The point is, I don’t expect to be blabbering rapidly in no time flat. What I do expect is to have a much more enhanced understanding while reading, eventually while listening, and far more command constructing certain kinds of statements.

What you put in is what you get, so for me at the moment, the mission is to lock down N2 as quickly as possible, hopefully in another month. It is then i’ll assess where I am and see how to incorporate more speaking at length to really tighten everything up. And I still have thousands of words to learn! Ain’t Japanese fun? lol

RULE 5 – HAVE AN ENDPOINT

Your endpoint is the finish line for your sprint. In my case, the end point was around 10 days to do all of N3 no excuses. I’ve been delaying for months (not on purpose) but didn’t want to lose the benefit of all my immersion and strategies thus far. For the month of September, my focus will be mainly on the n3 i’ve done, and working on my revision. I might give it 2 weeks and then sprint through N2 and see how that works. My mission really is to see if “rapid grammar acquisition” is just like vocabulary, because so far, they aren’t much different. Slight more complicated, but not impossible. But knowing that your effort has an endpoint allow you to relax a bit at the end. Today I’m done, so I’m not learning any new grammar, but I still wrote about 100 verbs by hand and also did my Anki. That’s my “rest”.

I’m going to try my best to really lock in these patterns and see how quickly things internalize and then work quickly through N2 with the same strategy to see how best to level up rapidly.

cheers

 

About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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