Japanese Language Tools Review: A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar

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dictionary_jap_grammarOk, I’m going to break down the reasons why this is one of the most useful Japanese Language study tools that you can buy. This dictionary can be a little pricey; I saw it recently on Amazon for about $40.00, and White Rabbit sells it for $44.50. I bought mine years ago for about 45 bucks and I think it’s been worth every penny.

Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui have created an essential reference for any beginning student of Japanese. Comprehensive in its coverage of grammar fundamentals, this dictionary goes beyond basic explanations of grammar points and drills down to an exhaustive description of each entry.

The first important chapter is “Characteristics of Japanese Grammar” where the roots of the language are covered. Word order, politeness and formality, particles, onomatopoeia and so on are explained in detail. If you haven’t learned this stuff, this isn’t a bad crash course crammed into a few short pages. If you buy it, you will use this chapter as a pocket reference. But, most of you can probably get this material elsewhere if you are a serious student. I told you I would give you a breakdown of the reasons you should buy this book, so here it is:

Reason 1

Each grammar point is arranged alphabetically in the dictionary, written in Romaji. This means if you need to know how to use kara correctly, you just look it up under K. Each entry will then give you a quick meaning, then a key sentence where the meaning is explained, plus other words that have a related meaning. After that, there are a number of example sentences, written in English, Romaji and Kanji, to really pound the meaning home. Sounds complicated, but compared to other sources that I’ve seen, these entries are the easiest to follow.

Reason 2

The example sentences have degrees of acceptability! This means that with each example you will see a grammar point used in a way that you might hear in everyday speech or that a non-native speaker (such as you or me) might use accidentally. If the example is marked with a question mark (?), it means it’s not really great grammar, but you could safely use it. Two question marks (??) means it’s a little worse, three (???) is pretty bad and an asterisk (*) means that the example would be unacceptable Japanese to a native speaker. This system is remarkably useful because it gives a clear explanation for slang  or less formal grammar that you might hear on the street or on a TV show, yet always points you in the right direction of correct, formal Japanese.

Reason 3

The first two reasons that I’ve given to you are pretty solid reasons, and most people who own this book probably only get that deep into it, but I’m going to tell you the awesome secret of this book! The appendices! That’s right, each appendix in the back of the dictionary has a particular use that will save you a ton of time when you’re studying, translating, or writing. There are a couple of basic appendices, verb conjugation and classification, etc. Then, you hit some super useful ones. Appendix 5 is called ko-so-a-do,  a quick reference for direction and proximity in Japanese. Appendix 6 is just numbers and counters, arranged so you can actually understand and retain them. From there, each appendix actually contains more usable info, in condensed form. Seriously, you could just study the back of this book and form a pretty solid understanding of basic grammar. Then comes my favorite section…

Reason 4

The coolest part of this book is the appendix titled “English Index”. I owned this dictionary for like two years before I even discovered it. It’s a reverse lookup for the rest of the dictionary. I’m going to pause and repeat what I just told you.    ….   A reverse lookup. That’s right, you can basically reference the rest of the dictionary using the word or phrase that you would most naturally think of in English! I know I sound like a total dweeb, getting so excited about an appendix in a dictionary, but if you’ve struggled with learning Japanese, you’ll appreciate how amped I was when I figured this out.

So there it is, the breakdown in total. Once you familiarize yourself with the layout of this dictionary, you’ll find yourself whizzing back and forth from entry to entry and you’ll master basic Japanese grammar in no time.

P.S. I’ve done only positive reviews on this blog, and I started to realize how that’s not really balanced information. So, I will begin to add reviews of drama or language tools that I didn’t think too highly of. I’ll try to be objective and polite, but perhaps you can benefit by avoiding some of my dead ends.

Posted by Jon   @   29 August 2016 0 comments
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