All through my Japanese studies I have always dedicated a large portion of time to learning grammar, almost to the extent that I would call it “grammar-driven learning”.
Of course it’s great to have a rich vocabulary, but without knowing the rules for how to transform and combine words to get across your intended meaning, you’ll never become fluent in any real sense. That’s what grammar is.
Fortunately, there are many useful references, both online and in print, for Japanese grammar. I’ve included a handful in the references section below, but in my experience there is no one-stop-shop which contains all the information you need. Just as when learning conversation, you want as many ‘data sources’ as possible to enrich your speaking ability. I recommend getting your hands on as many of these grammar resources as you can and just read through them. That’s what I did.
For those of you who are on a budget and just want to take baby steps, I’d start with the first reference, Tae Kim’s Japanese Grammar Guide. While I feel some of his explanations aren’t the best, for beginner/intermediate level students its a great reference, with ample example sentences and a layout that is easy to follow. This site is free and convenient, since many of the better grammar books aren’t available in your average bookstore.
Particles (助詞) are one of the key parts of Japanese grammar, and also one of the easiest areas to make mistakes in, so make sure to give sufficient attention to them. One of the trickier things about these little “helping words” is that in many cases they can be omitted, unlike related words in English such as prepositions and articles. Of course when in doubt you can just use particles, but as you become more fluent you’ll want to experiment with dropping certain particles to sound more like a native speaker.
Here is a comparison of omitting Japanese particles with omitting English articles and prepositions:
- うみに（or へ）行こう
- うみ行こう <== Natural
- Let’s go to the beach
- Lets go beach <== Very unnatural
The last reference below has a great reference on particles. I also plan on writing a series of articles about some of the finer nuances of key particles.
While reading through grammar dictionaries can seem tedious, your other options are trying to learn grammar constructs just through listening (very difficult), or to frequently stop when reading to look up unfamiliar patterns (also tedious).
If you want to really accelerate your grammar learning, try and make several example sentences for each grammar construct you come across.Let’s make an example sentence for 「〜したほうがいい」, which happens to be one of the first patterns I learned:
- I think it’s best if you study Japanese grammar every day.