Most Japanese textbooks are designed for a course that integrates all aspects of the language, and as a consequence must balance language knowledge with language use. Because of this, aspects of Japanese grammar and other complex topics are often broken up and covered in small pieces scattered among chapters. This is reasonable enough, but the problem is that most textbooks go to the extreme, delaying information that you should have been aware of early on until long after you’ve internalized an initial, inaccurate piece of language knowledge.
To be clear, I am not a textbook hater. In fact, there are several common Japanese textbooks that are quite good. But wouldn’t it be nice to have a more complete explanation of how the language works up front? These lessons are designed primarily to solve this problem.
The Beginning Lessons start with the basics of pronunciation, writing, and other background knowledge, and move on to basic grammar, expressions, and everything else. Topics from the intermediate beginner level and up are organized into rough levels: Elementary, Advanced Elementary, Early Intermediate, and Intermediate. Kanji (Chinese characters) are treated separately from the rest of the content.
The ordering of lessons within each level is flexible. Each page lists prerequisite topics at the top and subsequent lessons at the end, and the top page for each level is organized to show the rough overall ordering. Because of this, you can use each level as a complete course, or skip between individual pages. Each level beyond the Beginning Lessons assumes that you are familiar with most of the content of the previous levels.
Related information is always grouped together, explained to the full depth appropriate for the level. This is in contrast to most textbooks, in which each lesson is typically centered around a particular situation or theme, such as school, shopping, or the weather, and introduces several small and often unrelated pieces of grammar.
Although my organization of the material will almost certainly be different from your textbook if you’re taking a course, you’ll be able to easily find what you’re looking for thanks to hypertext and searching. And with links throughout each page to topics you might need to brush up on, you’ll rarely need to go out of your way to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.
This organization is also different from most reference books, which typically assume a certain degree of prior knowledge, but at the same time cannot assume for any particular topic that you know very much about the others. In this sense, these lessons constitute a resource for learning Japanese that is intermediate to a textbook and a reference book.
Most lessons are organized by subtopic, or break a single complex topic into several steps. The hybrid textbook/reference style often leads to pages being longer than many people will be comfortable digesting in a single sitting. So take things as slow as you need to – the organization is designed to lead you along the thought process, building up the language piece by piece.
When looking up a particular topic, you may or may not need to read the “Recommended Background” pages depending on how much you know about those topics. For those working through a level from start to finish, you should at least skim every prerequisite lesson listed before continuing.
There will be reference material such vocab lists and conjugation charts to accompany the main lessons for each level. You’ll also find a site-wide collection of links organized by topic in the Reference section.
More general information on Japanese language and culture, and especially on learning Japanese, will be the main focus of the blog, which will also notify you of new content and other updates.
How to Use the Lessons
These lessons can be used by those who are studying Japanese on their own as well as by those who are enrolled in a classroom-based course. In either case, you may want to quickly review most lessons from the beginning even if you’ve been studying for a while in order to fill in any gaps in your knowledge.
For those who are taking a Japanese course, the single most useful thing these lessons will do for you is to fill in the gaps in your textbook. Simply working through the lessons in parallel with your course will help you understand the language at a much deeper level. You can also make use of the alternate presentation these lessons provide by using each level as a review after completing a course of the same level.
For those who are studying independently, you will find these lessons particularly useful for building the foundation that will help you make sense of all the random tidbits you are no doubt picking up.
I’d like to claim for these lessons to be a true all-in-one learning method, but as of right now I have no plans to produce any audio files or practice materials in the near future. For these (very necessary) items I’ll give you recommendations for external online resources and published materials.