Are you using a textbook to study Japanese? Do you find there are some disadvantages?
Many, if not most, Japanese-learners use a conventional textbook when they first begin studying the language. The vocabulary lists included are a good reference for beginners, with words that can be used in conversations for different situations - going to the bank, visiting the post office and so on. However, when talking with their Japanese friends using the grammar patterns taught early on, learners can become frustrated by the difference between what they hear every day and what they are being taught to say.
Why am I the only person around here beginning sentences with "watashi wa..."? Also, when I saw my friends yesterday I said "o-genki-desu-ka" and they replied "genki! genki?" What happened to the "desu-ka"? Then I said "hiru-gohan-o-tabemasen-ka?" and they giggled and said "meshi kuou!" or something like that... I didn't understand...
Does this sound familiar? You might be able to visit the post office and ask for some stamps in perfect polite Japanese, but you can't understand your friends when they invite you out to lunch with them. Of course, it is important to be aware of the different politeness-levels found in Japanese, and if you want to be taken seriously as a member of Japanese society you will have to be able to use ～masu forms and keigo at some point. However, in most conventional Japanese language textbooks, you are loaded down with formality right at the beginning of your studies when perhaps all you want to do is be able to connect with people on a more personal, friendly level.
If you want a slightly different approach to learning Japanese you might like to try reading
Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese (Introduction article). You may know of it already, as many Japanese learners in the online community have very positive things to say.
Tae Kim aims to offer a different perspective on learning the Japanese language from that often found in conventional textbooks and phrasebooks. Rather than try to teach you how to say English phrases in Japanese, he aims to “take Japanese and explain how it works”.
The Japanese Grammar Guide reflects this philosophy by giving LITERAL English translations of Japanese example sentences, word by word, as far as possible in the early stages. This means you are shown exactly what is conveyed by the sentence, complete with ambiguous subjects, where you might not be 100% sure about whom or what the speaker is talking. This is to help the learner become comfortable ‘thinking in Japanese’. Beginning to think in a language is the first step towards mastering it, and by encouraging this way of thinking early on, Tae Kim's Grammar Guide can help learners get a head start.
Tae Kim also begins by introducing the plain/dictionary form BEFORE the polite form, which makes a refreshing change from most textbooks available. After all, you could argue that this is how native speakers themselves learn the language, and they are the best example for those striving for fluency.
Anyway, for learners who feel they aren't progressing as fast as they want to, a different approach can work wonders sometimes. Tae Kim's guide offers just such a different approach, and includes very clear, straightforward explanations alongside relevant - and often amusing - example phrases.
Perhaps best of all, all the content here is FREE!
From the site's top page, simply click on the tag marked 'grammar guide' underneath the main title to access the grammar contents.
You can read our introduction article to find out more details about the different contents of the guide.