This article originally appeared in the April 2023 issue of CONNECT.
Veronica Nielsen (Hiroshima)
Learning Japanese Grammar in Context
For many of us living in Japan, learning Japanese is essential for getting by in our daily lives, work, and just about everything around us. Although everyone has different challenges they must overcome when studying the language, one common aspect many learners struggle to grasp is Japanese grammar.
With several ways of conveying one general idea, it can be difficult for learners like me to memorize every possible method of expressing one’s thoughts in Japanese. To ease the difficulty, one online program, with a mobile app available for iOS and Android, called Bunpro helps Japanese learners pick up more grammar points than they could from a single grammar book or language class.
The Spaced Repetition System
After I started using this app about three months ago, my Japanese comprehension has significantly improved. The program utilizes a popular learning method called the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) to challenge learners to remember content whenever they randomly encounter it. For example, the app will frequently randomly challenge users to use previously studied grammar concepts as they study newer ones. As the learner gains more familiarity with a concept, the app will challenge the user about that grammar point less frequently to check if they fully understand how to use it.
Japanese Language Proficiency Test Compatible
For users who want to consider using Bunpro, the app categorizes all grammar points under which Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level they may most likely appear. From N5 (beginner) to N1 (advanced), users can start completing grammar from any level they wish, and they can change which level they want to tackle at any point. Learners can also adjust how many grammar points they study before the app quizzes them on what they learned.
The program utilizes a popular learning method called the Spaced Repetition System (SRS) to challenge learners to remember content whenever they randomly encounter it.
Learning Japanese Grammar with Context
I love that Bunpro has many details about Japanese grammar concepts. One grammar point’s page has information about how to use it, how often Japanese speakers may encounter it, and realistic example sentences that help learners sound more natural when using the point. One of my biggest problems with many Japanese grammar resources is that they don’t often discuss when learners may encounter or use the grammar in real-life situations. For instance, if I had learned earlier on in my studies that ga hayai ka (as soon as) appears more frequently in written versus spoken Japanese, I would have saved myself from some awkward but hilarious interactions I have had with my Japanese friends.
The Cram Function
Also, Bunpro has a “cram” function that allows users to review previously reviewed or all grammar concepts. Out of all the features available on this app, this is the most useful for me in reviewing Japanese grammar. Users can select whether they wish to study all grammar on the app; review all grammar under one difficulty level; cover learned grammar; or study grammar points the app thinks the user may have more difficulty grasping.
Users can choose to fill in the blanks with the correct Japanese grammar, complete reading practice, or grade their comprehension level with listening practice. Frequently reviewing is necessary for those aiming to take exams like the JLPT to measure their Japanese reading and listening comprehension at a predetermined level. It is also helpful for understanding Japanese grammar that speakers can use in their speech and writing to improve their communication quality.
A Strict Teacher
While Bunpro offers Japanese language learners helpful grammar content, one potential downside is how the app is not forgiving for those who make typos when entering their responses. Given how numerous grammar points like tokoro de (by the way) and tokoro da (place or situation) resemble each other in speech and writing, it is easy for learners to confuse their meanings and usages. Because of that, users must acknowledge that this app challenges them to learn and type Japanese grammar as accurately as possible.
One other downside that Bunpro may have for some users is the timing of its Spaced Repetition System. Some reviews for previously learned content take longer to appear than others. Depending on how many grammar points a user must review at one moment, some grammar points they learned may not appear for a while. This delay can make it easy for users to forget the grammar they covered if they don’t take advantage of the cram function. Because of that, I highly recommend Japanese learners who want to use Bunpro to utilize the cram option whenever they study. Otherwise, it can be too easy to forget that they already reviewed a grammar point earlier.
Overall, the Bunpro app and website provide Japanese learners with plenty of content to help them understand Japanese grammar. Each example sentence comes with an English translation, and many include audio provided by a native speaker to improve listening comprehension. Shadowing has improved my Japanese speaking ability considerably. For anyone who studies independently, shadowing is a helpful strategy to repeat what the native speaker says to develop your ability to speak as articulately and quickly as they do. In this case, shadowing will help you use the Japanese grammar you learn so you can apply it to your interactions with Japanese speakers and your understanding of Japanese culture and media.
Veronica Nielsen is a first-year Coordinator for International Relations (CIR) on the JET Programme living in Hiroshima Prefecture. She has traveled to many prefectures in Japan and aims to visit Shikoku, Kyushu, and Okinawa—three areas she has yet to see.
Feature image photo credit: Jonas Leupe on Unsplash