This blog post was brought to you by the generosity of AJATT's patrons!

If you would like to support the continuing production of AJATT content, please consider making a monthly donation through Patreon.

Right there ↑ . Go on. Click on it. Patrons get goodies like early access to content (days, weeks, months and even YEARS before everyone else), mutlimedia stuff and other goodies!

10,000 Sentences: Why

@Update: 10,000 Sentences is Dead. Let the MCD Revolution Begin! | AJATT | All Japanese All The Time

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.

  50 comments for “10,000 Sentences: Why

  1. October 26, 2006 at 00:29

    this is the second best introduction I ever read for a language course (well, sorta).
    the best one is Heisig’s one.

    keep up the great work!

  2. John B.
    August 9, 2007 at 03:02

    Hi! I agree with the “no excuses” attitude. I am 50 years old and I have been studying Japanese on and off for over 5 years. I also study Spanish (30+yrs) and Dutch (10+ yrs). It has always been tempting to give up on account of some excuse or another (age and lack of available time being among them). Fortunately, my language study addiction always brings me back! My expectations of what I can achieve are more realistic than they might have been 20 or 30 or even 5 years ago, but I nothing can match the kick I get from the discovery of something new.

    I also agree that sentences are better than just words alone, but I would add that sentences in context with a story or some overall personally meaningful situation are far more “sticky”, or memorable, than disconnected dictionary examples or examples from a grammar/translation text. I think this goes back to Heisig’s RTK philosophy and his hammering away at “stories” and making them personal.

    Thanks for your web page. I am enjoying it a lot and find a lot of encouragement here.

  3. khatzumoto
    August 9, 2007 at 09:56

    >sentences in context with a story or some overall personally meaningful situation are far more “sticky”, or memorable, than disconnected dictionary examples or examples from a grammar/translation text.


  4. khatzumoto
    August 12, 2007 at 15:43

    Then again, I used to read the (English) dictionary for fun as a kid. So I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that we can say all dictionaries are weaker than “live” text. In a way, the dictionary IS a living text, it IS an example of a text in the language in question. Perhaps, then, it comes down to the person in question and also to the dictionary in question. A well-written dictionary will have cool examples and will be fun to work with, a crappily-written dictionary, less so.

  5. khatzumoto
    August 12, 2007 at 15:51

    The moral of the story is: do (read) what you enjoy!

  6. rich
    August 17, 2007 at 02:40

    I love your idea of using sentences to learn languages- not just Japanese, but other languages as well. I’m just starting to revive my old German language skill, as well as my Japanese language skill (at #1977 in Heisig vol. 1), and right now I’m puzzling over what to do with all of the noun gender issues in German– how do I keep straight what’s masculine, what’s feminine, and what’s neuter in my SRS. (Using Anki.)

    So from what you’re saying, do you think sentences alone would make the noun gender issue take care of itself? If so, that would save me a lot of vocab-drilling drudgery. I never was very good at keeping the not-so-obvious genders straight… if I can find a way around that, then I can also revive my 6 lost years of French sometime later on.

    (Discussing the insanity of learning German and Japanese at the same time can be set aside for now. Needless to say, I need them both now, but I don’t know/remember enough of either to feel confident laddering them yet.)

  7. khatzumoto
    August 17, 2007 at 23:49

    >So from what you’re saying, do you think sentences alone would make the noun gender issue take care of itself?

  8. September 12, 2007 at 20:42

    hi khatzumoto, am i missing something, or are you suggesting that we skip learning the 音読み & 訓読み after completing RTK1? that confuses me, because how will we know how to pronounce the words?

  9. khatzumoto
    September 12, 2007 at 20:44

    Learn them on a sentence-by-sentence basis. So, say you see the sentence:
    コレは例文です。 You memorize the reading for 例 and 文 in this case.

  10. September 12, 2007 at 21:17

    Makes sense, thanks for the quick response!

  11. September 19, 2007 at 18:53

    i LOVE the way you’re able to be straightforward and yet so entertaining. i feel quite pressured since i’m pretty much at a beginner’s stage in japanese self-learning, but reading your articles gave me faith and believe that it’s ok to suck. well, for the time being, at least. ;T

    arigatou gozaimasu ^_^

    i’ll be visiting here often. hope you’re having a great day!

  12. Kay
    January 17, 2008 at 08:06


    Your method seems crazy but also like it just might work. My question is, is it due to it being a great method or simply the vast amount of effort you continually push readers to put forth? Would learning words and grammar with as much fervor work just as well?

    I’m not sure what to do. Someone directed me to this page because I said I felt a little burnt-out, even though I am doing very well in Japanese 2 at college. I felt that way not because it was so hard, but because I had to keep putting forth effort for such sloow progress. I want to learn Japanese FAST, I want to be fluent within less than 5 years, preferably 2 or less! But that’s not the path college has me set on.

    So here is my question. Can you guarantee that if I put forth all this effort, your method will work? Even though I already know a fair number of Japanese words and grammar rules? Some of this almost seems to rely on ignorance. And I won’t be able to stop learning separate words and grammar rules in my class, not at least until the end of this quarter.

    I know students who have spent a year in Japan on foreign exchange and are still not fluent. I don’t understand the reasons behind all this, or what exactly is a waste of time and what isn’t.
    Well…in conclusion, I’m lost, and finding and breaking down 50 different Japanese sentences in one day seems like it would take hours in the first place! Can you help me understand?

  13. khatzumoto
    January 18, 2008 at 11:21

    I would direct you to the post by “nacest” (#132) on this page.
    He knows what I’m talking about better than I do 🙂 .

  14. Kay
    January 18, 2008 at 16:15

    Thanks. =) So basically: whatever works for me, right?

    I did order the kanji book you recommended. I read some of the amazon reviews and if that works, it sounds hella awesome.

    What I got mostly from this site, like lots of people, is motivation. Ever since I read it a few days ago, I’ve been working my ass off trying to learn more Japanese. I thought about your sentences suggestion and realized that hey, I am uncanny at learning songs. So it looks like I’ll get my 10k or 5k or whatever from doing that–today I learned “Hoshikuzu Namida” or something from Gunbuster, and in breaking it down I even learned several new verbal compounds and threw them into khatzumemo. How did I make it till now without -chatta and -ba?? Best of all, it’s stuck in my head. (Although ” byebye hoshikuzu namida” may not get me to the supaa on time.)

  15. khatzumoto
    January 18, 2008 at 17:34

    #127 by “dilandau23” on the same page is also very informative.
    Um…there are only 3 fundamental rules.
    1. Have fun
    2. in Japanese
    3. First learn rule #1
    Everything else is to help do that more efficiently.

  16. January 19, 2008 at 02:41

    While learning the sentences, you must first know the words right? (learn the words within the sentence) so you can understand the sentence?

  17. khatzumoto
    January 20, 2008 at 12:55

    Correct. You can tag them on to the “ANSWER” (BACK) side of the sentence card to check yourself.

  18. khatzumoto
    January 20, 2008 at 13:14

    >So basically: whatever works for me, right?
    Ultimately, yes. Initially, though, I would suggest you try to follow some of the guidelines — because I think they are valuable and based on experience — and then work out your own tweaks, changes, and customizations from there.

  19. Robert
    March 21, 2008 at 09:56

    Well, that answers my question, thanks for that! I’m gonna buy the books now instead of wondering weather I’m unprepared at taking on this passion. I just started and I forget most of the stuff, but this helps me out! Kudos! And I also agree with Kay because I’m constantly learning new music lyrics in different laguages from German to Swedish and a couple inbetween. So thank you too Kay.

  20. Sherry
    May 26, 2008 at 11:10

    I do like the idea of immediately immersing your “students” in Japanese. Secondly your optimism when it comes to learning this language.
    But in this I’ll continue to toil with my books and my flashcards, I believe in grammer, more than that, I like it.
    And occasionally I’ll opt to impress with a few key sentences that I can speak fluently, because what good is a language that you never boast with?
    I’ll conquer this slowly, but your little web page provided some lights for this tunnel that I’ll [eventually] walk out of.
    Because kanji and kana like to knock me on my ass.

  21. Shaun
    June 8, 2008 at 14:40

    Wow! I stumbled onto this site yesterday.It’s just what I was looking for.I started learning Japanese about two years ago with Japanese friends in Australia.I didn’t have any formal lessons, just “おたがいにおしえあう”.I always wrote down the sentences and words I learnt from friends, or books, and revised in my spare time untill they were memorised.Step two was to meet and hang out with Japanese, as much as possible, so I could use my new sentences.After about one year,I could speak enough to impress, then someone gave me two of the ”べらべらのほん”by Shingo, of SMAP fame.After learning the sentences in these books, people started thinking I could really speak, because the way I spoke was so natural sounding, as opposed to the text book and dictionary sentences, that sound too formal.Of course , it was just an illusion, my Japanese is nowhere near good enough to understand television programs, or even contribute intelligently to Japanese only conversations.Anyway, now I live in Japan ,and feeling like I’m out of my depth, but thanks to this site I can see my way forward.I need to memorise more sentences but this time written in Kanji, and I need to use my mobile internet.Why didnt I think of that??

  22. umautodidade
    December 8, 2008 at 07:25

    “Correct usage is that je ne sais quoi, what the French call the…I don’t know what.”


  23. February 22, 2009 at 14:49

    I’m pretty impressed and ready to get started! I took 3 semesters of Japanese Language in undergrad and I can only pick up a few words here and there while watching Japanese Animations. Fluent Japanese language coupled with my degree in International Affairs, I’m sure I’ll be able to take my career to another level.

    Thanks so much for this inspiring website!

  24. Pingback:
  25. mushi
    August 7, 2010 at 17:33

    dude!! haha!! ur mental in such a good way! 🙂

  26. Pingback: keeping it simple
  27. cecilia
    June 8, 2011 at 07:51

    I have to say that this method is absolutely fantastic! I swear that if I had learned this technique ea then I would be a lot more earlier in my Japanese learning I would be more proficient. Doing these sentences is unexpectedly rewarding. knowing I can recognize and duplicate a sentence because of the sentences I’ve already learned is amazing! My Japanese has definitely improved and so has my Kanji reading. kudos Khatz!

  28. December 11, 2011 at 17:22

    I am on sentence number 702 and I feel that I can already string sentences together, unlike before where I could only conjugate verbs, which led to think, what the hell am I doing?/?
    Thanks, this has opened my eyes to language learning, you are a legend. 

  29. Insiya
    November 25, 2012 at 03:46

    This is an awesome site for making printable flashcards to use when the Internet refuses to work.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *