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JLPT BC 147 | How to Learn Japanese Particles

JLPT BC 147 | How to Learn Japanese Particles post image

It has been an incredibly tough month for me. I had some more medical issues I had to deal with. Nothing serious or life-threatening just incredibly time consuming. We are also running into some family issues that are taking up a lot of time. Again, nothing serious, but just time-consuming for me and my wife.

All this means of course that I haven’t really been able to put anything that resembles a healthy amount of time in for studying. I have to cut a lot of my study sessions short and do a lot more impromptu studying when I can. I have managed to keep up with my vocabulary study, but I haven’t been able to start a lot of things that I would have liked to this month.

I have continued to listen to podcasts, which have gotten easier and easier. I still think Jane Su’s podcast is a great resource to study with. The conversations are pretty natural and have daily vocabulary, and the show notes give you a good enough of an idea of the main idea that you are able to guess and fill in the rest while you listen. I’ve been listening to it once to see if I can guess the main idea. Then, check the show notes to get the main idea. After that, go back and listen as many times as I need to get most of the details.

I have Bocchan on my reading list. I listened to the English audiobook, which is available for free, awhile back. Although it was written a century ago, it still reads pretty well except for the dialog which uses the old Matsuyama dialect. This can be a little tricky even for some Japanese. But, thanks to the English translation being easily available I can hopefully fish out the meanings.

Bocchan is in the public domain, so you can pick up the book on Amazon Kindle (with an Amazon.co.jp account) for free or from some other sources.

JLPT-readingWeb Easy NHK

I mentioned previously that I was going to give NHK Web Easy a try, and I have to say that it is a great little resource. If you haven’t heard of it before, it is mini NHK site where they have taken NHK articles and rewritten them in simple Japanese. This makes them a lot easier to digest and learn from. What is really great is that they also link to the main article that they simplified as well as the video clip of it.

I would say the level of the simplified articles is around N3, which actually at about the level where you have to start getting reading speed up and getting comfortable with reading in Japanese. The main article is a fairly easy N1 level, but still good for reviewing vocabulary and some grammar structures.

The main reason why I say it is pretty simple is that these articles are pretty cut and dry. There are no twists or anything particularly strange about them. They are simply too short to really deliver more than just the facts. So, they are easy to understand and great vocabulary practice, but not the best thing to read for comprehension practice.

There is audio available for the simplified news story, but it is computer generated. It is pretty life-like, but you can tell early on that it is not a real speaker. If you are looking to get some real pronunciation practice you might have to look somewhere else for it. However, the computer generated voice is good enough for doing some listening practice.

What I usually do is listen to the audio of the news story and try to get most of the key words and the main idea of the article. Then, I click through to the real article and use that for my real reading practice. Finally I check out the video that they have available, which has pretty fast speaking on it, so it is good practice even for N1ers. They loosely follow the story but not word for word. The flow is generally close enough that it can help you understand most of it though.

I do feel that sometimes the simplified article is too simple, to the point of not really being interesting or actually slightly confusing because they are unable to express all the interesting details, just the gist. This could start to get a little tedious if this were your only source of reading, but it might be a good addition to some of the other stuff you should be reading.

Leaning Japanese particles

I have recently gotten a few emails from readers asking about how to master Japanese particles, so I thought I would do my best to shed some light on how to get a good grasp of them.

Japanese particles are and will probably always be one of the biggest hurdles to learning and mastering Japanese. You start with basic usage of particles at the N5 level, but you don’t ever really finish studying them. Even on the N1 test you’ll find a few questions over particles. I still mix up some of the more advanced uses of them.

Particles really don’t have direct translations in English. This never so apparent but with the whole wa vs. ga battle that you will probably fight with for most of the time you are studying Japanese. Even though I have heard several explanations of the differences between these two particles, I still find myself in those rare situations where I really don’t know which one would sound better.

Another thing to keep in mind when you study particles is that you really need to use them in order to get a good feel for them. When you are speaking with someone, like your tutor or another native, be sure to clearly pronounce the particles and try to get them to correct you.

The reason for this is that, to be honest, a lot of the time particles are not necessary in order for you to get your idea across and natives will generally fill in the gaps and understand what you are trying to say without the need to be exactly correct. It might actually be quite frustrating to practice and master particles only to not hear them with nearly the frequency that you are expecting.

See, particles are absolutely necessary in writing, especially formal writing. Okay, so in informal writing, like on Twitter or Line or something you don’t need to be exact with your particles, but most writing requires proper particle usage.

The last thing I can tell you is that you really need to experiment with them and test out different ways that the particles can be used.  Write out a few sentences and get them corrected by someone.  Start off with some simple sentences so that you get a feel for them and then try to pile on a few just to see if it is correct or not.  Also, do a few mock tests, because they will twist particles around all the time on those and you will see them in a different way.

all-about-particlesThere are a few books that people recommend when it comes to particles.  The first one is the most simple, All About Particles (also in the US), this is shorter book that gives you the basics of the different particles without going into too much depth.  It is less than 200 pages and can be an easy read to get through.  The other book, Dictionary of Japanese Particles (also in the US), is more through and more of a good reference book.  All About Particles does not have exercises, whereas Dictionary of Japanese Particles does have a few, however the layout of the questions is pretty rudimentary.

The last book I can recommend is “How to Tell the Difference Between Japanese Particles“(also in the US), which groups particles by common themes like time.  This book really helps pry apart the differences between particles, which is something the test really preys on.  The exercises help you to see when one particle is used instead of another.

What do you do to Study Particles?

How do you conquer these beasts?  Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Tatsuhiko

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • David December 22, 2014, 10:50 pm

    I was stationed in Japan for about two years, made two deployments, but in port equaled about a year learning to speak Japanese. I left off in my training trying to understand the particles! I also have felt the “wa” and “ga” dilemma .. I knew at the time that it was essential to speaking emotive Japanese, but I could not figure it out then. I just recently started studying again after a 10 year hiatus and it seems I have picked up right back where I left off!

    Thank you very much for the article and the book references! I ordered the practice and exercises. Good luck and I will follow up with posts if I find something that helps.

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