Most textbooks and schools teach desu-masu Japanese (teineigo) from the beginning.
This is a bad idea because desu-masu is not basic Japanese structure and it leads to a number of confusions about what basic Japanese structure really is. You can easily learn to put basic Japanese into desu-masu form once you have learned it. But learning that form first is learning upside-down.
This video shows exactly what goes wrong when you learn desu-masu first and how to avoid it.
Japanese learners can feel confronted by a vast array of strange sentence endings – n desu, na no desu, na n desu etc.
Complicated as they may feel they are actually very easy once you know how they work. However there are two little facts you need to know that the textbooks don’t tend to tell you.
Once you have them, you can understand all these endings and a lot more with no difficulty at all.
I hope you will enjoy this video that explains everything you need to know about n desu, no desu, na no desu and all their happy and much-simpler-than-they-seem cousins!
In the video
母が来る haha ga kuru
Is translated as “mother is coming”. I think it is clear from context but I should state that this means “mother is coming” as in “mother is coming tomorrow” or “mother is coming later today” – not “mother is (now) in the act of coming” which would be
Up until now kanji books have used methods dating back centuries.
Alice in Kanji Land brings kanji learning into the 21st century, teaching kanji in the form of a narrative structurally linked to an SRS deck (included free) that will cement the kanji into your long-term memory with an algorithm based on the brain’s learning process.
It also teaches kanji not as abstractions but as part of the organic whole of language, making them easier to grasp and retain.
Using Alice in Kanji Land in conjunction with the deck (about 15 minutes per day) you will not just learn all the kanji needed for JLPT level 5 (all first-grade kanji and a substantial portion of second-grade kanji) together with quite a lot of vocabulary.
You will also learn
The radicals and underlying construction principles that will make it far easier to learn more kanji in future.
The ways in which kanji fit together in themselves and the ways in which they align with other kanji and kana to form words.
The principles behind the ways they are pronounced in different circumstances.
Learning kanji not as abstract isolates but as part of an organic whole turns an exercise in brute-force memorization into something more logical and easily graspable.
And if this all sounds a bit abstract – well, actually it’s fun. This is an Alice book after all…
Kanji as Character and Adventure
The age-old technique of making kanji into story-pictures is brought up to date by integrating it with an Alice in Wonderland storyline that makes encounters with the Kanji memorable and engages the emotional responses as well as intellectual ones (extremely important for memory).
We chose Alice not just because she’s cute. Also because the crazy logic and punning nature of the Alice books is exactly suited to the kind of thinking needed to make kanji mnemonics.
You can read the story without putting too much effort into memorizing the kanji.
Because the Alice in Kanji Land SRS deck will handle memorization for you.
The back of each card has extensive reminders of the story’s mnemonic elements in the notes after the answer. So you can refresh your memory by reminding yourself of the story as often as you need to.
After a while the story will drop into the background and the words will become second nature.
In accordance with our philosophy, there are no “abstract kanji” cards. The front of every card is a real word that has been introduced in the book, incorporating one or more kanji also introduced in the book.
The back of the card gives you the meaning and pronunciation of the word on the front. The word is spoken aloud by the card (well, you know how cards are in Alice) as well as being written.
Below the meaning and definition are notes reminding you of the mnemonic elements of the story. You can use these as much or as little as you need them.
It also helps Cure Dolly because Amazon eats most of the money from books they sell. So buying from KawaJapa direct helps keep the lights on here and make it possible to provide so many free videos and other information. You can also buy the book from Amazon.
This week’s new video is on desu/da. One of the earliest and simplest things we learn.
However, I have seen people at JLPT N3 level and beyond getting into trouble with more complex sentences simply because they have never learned what da/desu really does.
As so often, the textbook explanations don’t make it properly clear.
Actually some of them do tell you, in passing, the technical term that would give you the key to the mystery.
But then they don’t explain that term properly and carry on with the usual rough-and-ready dumbed-down explanations that leave your Japanese understanding like a poorly-built building that will come down when a strong wind blows.
So is this going to be some complicated technical explanation that the textbooks don’t tell you because it’s too difficult?
Not at all! It’s very simple and straightforward. In fact, it’s easier than what they do tell you. And once you know it your understanding of the da/desu function will be as solid as a rock.
This is part of a mini-series or “story arc” (heh heh) within the current sequence of videos, because part of the confusion is intertwined with the way i- and na-adjectives aren’t properly explained (one of my earliest grammar articles which I made into a video last week) and will lead on to a discussion of “na no desu” and related constructions in videos to come.
So if you need more desu (and who doesn’t?) watch this video now.
For more information on the concepts in this video, please see:
One of the problems with textbook Japanese is that they treat Japanese grammar as if it were a series of random, unconnected “points” when really it is an organic, beautiful and amazingly logical whole (much more so than European grammars, including English).
In fact, I think it is because they expect language to be complicated and random, like European languages, that they treat Japanese as if it were so, and thus make it so for the poor learner.
Da/desu fits together with everything else in basic Japanese to make a rounded whole.
Rikaisama has finally passed away, but Yomichan and Rikaichamp are waiting in the wings to take over the crown.
You will still be able to read unknown kanji and get instant definitions and deconjugations on almost any web-page.
And fortunately, just like Rikaisama before them, they are both free.
We always recommended Rikaisama on this site. Its amazing functionality – especially its ability to seamlessly create Anki cards with one click, made it far and away the best contender for the serious learner of Japanese. So it is with regret that we report that the application no longer works with the latest Firefox upgrade (it was always Firefox-only and by itself made Firefox the browser of choice for serious Japanese immersionists).
The new Rikaisama alternatives are Yomichan and Rikaichamp. The more modestly named Yomichan is clearly the more powerful of the two. It does most of the things Rikaisama did and a few that it didn’t.
Which Rikaisama alternative is best for you? Rikaichamp is the simpler of the two. If you were a Rikaichan user and Rikaichan was adequate for your needs, then Rikaichamp will give you a seamless transition to an almost identical experience.
You won’t have the lookup bar (assuming you ever used it) and there is less customization (you are stuck with the pop-up window in blue, for example).
However, these are minor issues and if you want to continue with Rikaichan then Rikaichamp is the way to go.
However, if you need the functionality of Rikaisama you really have only one choice. Yomichan.
So all in all, Yomichan is a sleeker and more robust version of Rikaisama. We are very lucky to have it waiting in the wings just as our beloved Rikaisama goes down. So what’s not to like?
Frankly, I think most people are going to be 100% happy with Yomichan.
However, I miss Rikaisama and I know that a number of other serious Japanese immersionists feel the same.
Why? It’s not just sentiment. There are a few of Rikaisama’s features that Yomichan doesn’t have, and one of them is a serious blow for me (and not only me).
That feature is Rikaisama’s Sanseido mode, which allowed one to get Japanese–Japanese definitions taken from Sanseido’s simplified online dictionary. When in Sanseido mode one’s automatic Anki cards had J–J definitions.
Can anything like this be done with Yomichan? Well, yes. Like Rikaisama, Yomichan allows the import of selected J–J EPwing dictionaries (and unlike Rikaisama it actually works).
There are two problems here. The first is that EPwing dictionaries are not very easy to get hold of. Yomichan doesn’t include them in its downloadable dictionaries as they are proprietary products.
In fact, I sometimes end up pasting in a definition from the Sanseido site, which slightly undermines the whole automation concept.
I have had some discussion with Yomichan’s developer on the subject. He says that the “web scraping” involved in the Sanseido mode is technically difficult and inherently unstable. I am sure he is right. Rikaisama’s Sanseido mode could certainly be flaky and not always available. But it worked most of the time.
In short, I think J–J definitions were part of the core functionality of Rikaisama. I know beginners don’t need them. I also know that a lot of more advanced learners never graduate to them, but that is part of what is wrong with the whole non-organic non-immersionist “studying not living the language” approach. In my humble opinion.
So should you be using Yomichan? If you are a serious immersionist, absolutely you should.
If you were happy with Rikaichan, then Rikaichamp will serve your needs near-perfectly. However, if you use Anki you might still want to take a serious look at Yomichan.
If J–J definitions don’t matter to you, then Yomichan is a step up from Rikaisama. Not a vast step up. Most of its functionality is pretty much the same, but it does everything more robustly and generally it is a polished, high-class piece of software.
Despite my criticism on that one point, I want to go on record as both congratulating and thanking Foosoft for a truly splendid creation.
Without Yomichan, the life of the serious, slightly-advanced immersionist would have become significantly harder with the loss of Rikaisama.
As it is, it has become just a little bit harder.
And the life of the pre-J–J immersionist has become just a little bit easier.
Finally, whether you are installing Yomichan or Rikaichamp, I recommend doing it through Firefox’s add-ons management system (just go to Add-ons and search what you want to install). Almost all once-reliable download services like Softpedia and Softonic have sold out and now often include unwanted bits of nasty that don’t do your computer any good. So please always download via your browser’s add-on manager or from the actual developer’s site.
The “suffering passive” or “adversity passive” is one of the weirder notions that the Western version of “Japanese grammar” foists on us.
According to the textbooks, Japanese people, for some quite inexplicable reason, lapse into the passive voice in order to complain or lament about some event.
As we have explained before, there is no passive in Japanese, at least not in the sense of the English “passive voice”. It is the insistence that the Japanese ukemi (receptive form) is “passive” that leads to this odd notion of a “suffering passive”.
What is actually happening in the meiwaku ukemi (nuisance receptive – the accurate Japanese term for the “adversity passive”) is much simpler and actually is something that English speakers also do all the time – although it isn’t considered to be correct grammar in English.
Once you know this, you can forget the Byzantine explanations of European-language-based “Japanese grammar” and see the nuisance-receptive form as it really is – simple, logical and easily intuitive.
Watch this seven-minute video and stop suffering passively forever!
‘Cause dolls do what doctorates don’t.
This video unpacks pretty deeply the confusing tangle that is Western “Japanese grammar”. The “suffering passive” misconception is born out of three other misconceptions. I think this video works on its own but you may need some help (and it certainly would be a good idea anyway, to dispel the other three.
So I am listing the three underlying misconceptions and giving links to the lessons that clear them up.
Te iru, te aru, te iku and te kuru are among the most commonly used constructions in Japanese.
Once you’ve learned how to make and recognize the te-form (made super easy in our last video lesson) you’ll want to start using it. It isn’t difficult and the textbooks don’t do a bad job of teaching it.
They do tend to omit telling you the rationale behind how it all works, and that makes life harder.
Why do they do it? In this case I think it’s because they don’t want to burden students with “something extra to learn” – but that something is what makes it all hang logically together.
So it’s a bit like making people carry the shopping home without a bag because the bag would be “something extra to carry”.
Yes it would – but it’s the something that makes carrying the rest easier!
It’s not a huge deal in this case (the way it is in some of the grammar taught in this series) but if you know, for example why te iru (meaning “be”) is used the way it is, and what is the logic behind using te aru in place of te iru, it makes it a lot easier to know what you are doing instinctively rather than just trying to remember abstract “rules”.
More importantly, by learning it logically and organically we start to get a grasp of the way Japanese, unlike Western languages, fits together in various ways like so many very regular, very logical lego-blocks.
So let’s devote 8 minutes to learning just how te iru, te aru, te iku and te kuru really work!
1. One other irregularity (apart from kuru and suru) is iku which is irregular in te-form only (it is itte instead of iite). This really is the only other irregularity you will encounter in basic Japanese.
2. Why do we say akete aru when we say aite iru? This is because logically te aru can only be used with transitive verbs while te iru can be used with both intransitive and transitive ones (but tends to favor intransitive).
Our article on transitive and intransitive verbs makes this much easier. But if you’re a beginner don’t worry about it too much yet. All you need to know is that 開く means open (as in “the door is open) while 開ける means opening something (as in “I opened the door”).
Te aru needs a transitive verb because it is always stressing that somebody caused the state something is in. Te iru doesn’t and is happy with either. If this is all gobbledegook to you, don’t worry. You’ll get to it as your Japanese level advances.