@Update: 10,000 Sentences is Dead. Let the MCD Revolution Begin! | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time is.gd/AWLzAv
Right then. The focus on sentences is perhaps what makes this site unique. So what is the whole deal with sentences? As I’ve mentioned before, I used (and continue to use) sentences extensively in my learning of Japanese.
Sentences are far better than individual words or grammar rules, because a correct example sentence is nothing other than a set of words arranged according to grammar rules with the added benefit of showing the “sense” in which to use the words. This is crucial. It’s no good knowing the word for something if you misuse it.
As one might expect, a lot of words in Japanese actually mean similar things; they may even translate to the same word in English. But they are not the same; knowing when to use what is the difference between sounding native-like in English or Japanese, and sounding just a little bit “off”. Correct usage is that je ne sais quoi, what the French call the…I don’t know what.
For example, the words “place” and “site” mean almost the same thing. But look at these two sentences:
- “A building site”
- “A building place”
One of these sounds correct; it feels right. The other is just…off.
Now, am I suggesting you need to learn every possible sentence in Japanese? Of course not, not even close. You don’t know every possible sentence in English, but you seem to be doing fine at that. What I am suggesting is that learning thousands of real Japanese sentences will eventually give you a “feel” for what is and is not correct Japanese. Your human brain’s fuzzy logic will start to make the connections for you.
If you give it a moment’s thought, isn’t that how you write and speak English? Especially speaking. You don’t usually think “hmmm, well, I’m wanting to express the subjunctive mood here, so I should use ‘were’ instead of ‘was’”: there’s no time for crap like that. You just say it out. And you’ve been doing that as long as you can remember. Three, four and five year olds routinely speak correct English (and Japanese), so it’s clearly not that intellectually taxing (not that kids that age are stupid). And ignore that crap about “it’s easier for kids”. It’s not easier for kids; they just don’t have years of experience in making lame excuses.
I will projectile vomit on the next person that comes to me and uses their age as an excuse for (not) learning or being able to learn. Let me tell you a secret: you’ll never be the “right” age for anything. You’ll always be too young or too old or too poor or too rich or too obscure or too black or too white or too tall or too short to do something. You should always have started when you were younger—if only your parents had paid for you to have lessons in it, right? Wrong. Just do it! Break the age, height, money or reputation barrier and just do what you have to do.
Let me tell you another secret: even if you suck now, even if you only know a little, that’s fine! Because, my friend, guess what— you would have sucked back then, too. No matter what the endeavor, sucking is what you do when you’re new at something. I mean, I could go on about this all day. For example, have you seen babies attempt to walk? Long story short: they suck. They can barely go two steps without falling. It makes you wonder, I mean, since babies just suck so badly at practically everything they do, perhaps human beings were just never meant to walk, or talk, or play Counterstrike…
If you forget everything else, dear reader, remember this: when you begin something new, you are a baby. So cut yourself the same slack you would cut a baby, because like them, you’re just starting out, and you will eventually get good at it. Now, I’m not a Hindu, but as the Bible says: in the beginning there was the sucking. And it was good.
If you want, think of Japanese like drug abuse. All drug addicts and Japanese learners started from nothing, they were “just trying it out”. When you’re in the early stages of Japanese/drug addiction, you’re not as affected by it. But do it every day, and pretty soon you’re giving wedding speeches/selling your body in order to get a fix. But all along the way, you were only saying “just one more hit; it’s just one hit; no one ever got hooked from one hit; I can quit anytime; one hit has hardly any effect”. Japanese is a drug. Just one hit. Just one more kanji. Just one more sentence. Just today. At some point even if you wanted to quit, even if you wanted to be bad at Japanese, you couldn’t.
The full technical explanation of why sentences are important is for another time. I’ve wasted enough of your time already! Next, let’s just see how to use sentences in learning Japanese.