Japanese Particles: An Overview

JP Particle overview

Japanese grammar has a few quirks, and I would say that after sentence structure, the use of particles is the trickiest thing for Japanese beginners to get their head around.

Particles are little words similar to prepositions in English that follow verbs, nouns and adjectives to indicate various things within a sentence. I like to think of them as little signposts that show the relationship between different parts within the sentence.

Let’s have a look at an example sentence.

私はあした東京に行きます。

わたしはあしたひこうきでとうきょうにいきます。

In the example above, は indicates the topic and に indicates the destination.

There are a lot of particles in Japanese, but I have put together a mini summary of the most important particles and how they are used:

は Topic marker

  • Not necessarily the subject of the sentence

アントニアは映画が好きです。

アントニアはえいががすきです。

In the sentence Antonia is the topic and movies are the subject

  • Often omitted unless the topic changes
  • Can be used to show contrast as below:

赤ワインは好きですが、白ワインは好きではありません。

あかワインはすきですが、しろワインはすきではありません。

が Subject marker

  • Usually followed by a verb or adjective phrase

スイーツがあまり好きではありません。

スイーツがあまりすきではありません。

  • Always marks the subject of a subordinate clause

先生が私にくれた本は今でも読みます。

せんせいがわたしにくれたほんはいまでもよみます。

  • When used after the end of a clause it acts as a conjunction that can mean ‘and’ or ‘but

レストランに行きましたが、まだ開いていませんでした。

レストランにいきましたが、まだあいていませんでした、

  • Used with intransitive verbs and potential forms of a verb

あそこから海が見えますよ。

あそこからうみがみえますよ。

を Object marker

  • Always followed by a verb/ verb phrase and follows the strict object of a sentence

トムさんは毎日漫画を読みます。

トムさんはまいにちまんがをよみます。

  • Transitive verbs are preceded by を

キムさんはドアを開けます。

キムさんはドアをあけます。

に Time/ place marker

  • Always indicates the location or place with a verb indicating movement

ロンドンに行ったことがあります。

ロンドンにいったことがあります。

  • Also used to denote a time when an action takes place

私は7時に朝ごはんを食べます。

わたしは7じにあさごはんをたべます。

  • Indicates the recipient of an action

リンさんにケーキをあげました。

で Indicates means of an action

  • Indicates the location in which an action takes place

公園でお弁当を食べました。

こうえんでおべんとうをたべました。

  • Can also be used to show the means of doing an action

電車で大学に来ました。

でんしゃでだいがくにきました。

の Possessive marker

  • Can be used in place of が in relative clauses

彼は自分のしたことを後悔しています。

かれはじぶんのしたことをこうかいしています。

  • As a sentence-final suffix, it can add an explanatory nuance

新しい店でワンピースを買ったの。

あたらしいみせでワンピースをかったの。

と Meaning ‘with’

  • Is also used to quote direct or indirect speech

来年アメリカに行こうと思っています。

らいねんアメリカにいこうとおもっています。

If you are looking to get a book that has a great job of explaining the vast majority of the particles you are likely to come across, then I would consider the book All About Particles by Naoko Chino.

This book gives an overview of what each particle can mean in different contexts alongside example sentences. I like that the book shows where particles can be used interchangeably as well as how this can affect the nuance of the sentence, especially with the infamous ha and ga particles. This makes it a great reference book for beginner-intermediate learners.

Getting a good grasp on how particles work from an early stage will help immensely later on when tackling more complex grammar, so do not be afraid to spend a lot of time on studying particles.

Quick Quiz:

1 京都にはお寺__多いです。 きょうとにはおてら__おおいです。

2 家__遊びに来てください。 いえ__あそびにきてください。

3 ペン__名前を書いてください。 ぺん__なまえをかいてください。

4 今日は私__誕生日です。 きょうはわたし__たんじょうびです。

5 マアリーさんは大学__仕事をしています。 メアリーさんはだいがく__しごとしています。

6 先週私は友達__パリに行きました。 せんしゅうわたしはともだち__パリにいきました。

7 きのう天気__よかったです。 きのうてんき__よかったです。

8 窓__開けてもいいですか。 まど__あけてもいいですか。

Practising how to use Particles

  • The JLPT grammar section has some questions on particles where you have to select the appropriate particle missing from the sentence. This is a great way to practice as there are a few quizzes available online.

Examples: JP Drills, JOSHU Particle Quizzes from the University of Texas

  • Pay attention to the sentences you use in your normal studies. I do write a lot about the importance of context – when it comes to particles, certain verbs for example will be used with specific particles, eg. 〜が見えます instead of 〜を見えます.

How do you study particles? Know any useful resources? Let me know in the comments!

Quick quiz answers:

  1. が 2) に 3) で 4) の 5) で 6) と 7) が 8) を
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Sound more like a Japanese native with あいづち

In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called 相槌/ あいづち. あいづち does not translate well into English but refers to little phrases that help to facilitate a smooth conversation in Japanese. We do use this in English too, but it is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not mean you necessarily agree with it!).

Therefore when used well, it has the double benefit of keeping the conversation going whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.

The most common あいづち are  へー, うん, え, うわ,そうですね, but actually あいづち can serve several purposes:

  1. As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
  2. Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったです
  3. Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
  4. Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから

Here are some more you may hear:

さすが; なるほど ; その通り, 本当に, やっぱり

Nodding also counts as あいづち!

Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful あいづち.

Line Stamp Chocotto

Source: https://twitter.com/CHOCOTTO16

So the next time you are practicing conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some あいづち!

One thing to note: be careful about your use of あいづち with people senior to you, it can sound too casual.

Using podcasts to study Japanese

Podcasts for Japanese study

Podcasts are great for language learning because you can use them to get used to the rhythm and sounds of a language and are often educational at the same time. I’ve recommended a couple of podcasts on the blog before but I thought that it would be best to put together a post that explains why I love using them for language learning.

There are two main ways that I use podcasts for learning Japanese:

1) Podcasts for immersion. These are the podcasts I like to play as background noise while I am doing something else.

I try to pick up as much as possible and may listen to the podcast more than once, but I do not worry too much if I come across something that I do not quite understand. I download the NHK daily news bulletins for this purpose, but I normally catch up with current affairs in English first before listening to give me an idea of what might come up in each bulletin.

Example podcasts: NHK daily news (there are morning, noon and evening podcasts every day), ひいきびいき (two presenters talk about a given topic each week – the podcasts can be lengthy but I find the episodes on topics that interest me very entertaining!).

2) Podcasts for study. These are the ones that I will study to make sense everything that I hear.

Depending on what your language level is, this may include some that mix English and Japanese. I might use a bilingual podcast to go over a grammar point or review some vocabulary.

I also listen to podcasts entirely in Japanese, but unlike the podcasts in the first category, I am using them to study more actively. For example, I will review the podcast together with the transcript (if available) and look up the words and phrases I didn’t understand.

Example podcasts: JapanesePod101, News in Slow Japanese, Bilingual News Podcast

I also use podcasts to:

Learn about Japanese culture. Culture is so closely intertwined with Japanese that knowledge of culture greatly informs your knowledge of the language and vice versa. For example, I am trying to improve my knowledge of Japanese history and so I have started listening to the Samurai Archives Japanese History Podcast.

Boost my language learning motivation. Sometimes finding the motivation to study is difficult. For times like these, I listen to a couple of podcasts that relate to motivation and language learning in more general terms.

One of my favourites is the SpongeMind podcast (I recommend this in particular for Korean learners, as each episode is available in English and Korean), where the hosts Jeremy and Jonson discuss different aspects of language learning in each episode and always impart useful advice.

What do you use to listen to podcasts?

I like to use Podcast Republic (available on the Google Play store) to listen to my podcasts as it is free and very user-friendly. By clicking ‘Add Podcast’ and then searching for the podcast name, you can easily subscribe and download podcast episodes for all of the podcasts I have mentioned in this post.

Alternatively, you can get the podcasts by going through the websites linked above and downloading them manually onto any device – you can then listen to these through specialised podcast apps such as Podcast Republic or any other music playing app you already have.

As I have entirely Android devices I do not often use iTunes, but iTunes is a great source for podcasts – reading the reviews can give you a good idea of whether you’d enjoy the podcast before you listen to it.

What I find particularly useful about podcast apps like the one I use is that you can skip forward or backwards by 15 secs in order to listen to a key piece of info again or for shadowing.

Which podcasts do you listen to? Please let me know in the comments (especially if they relate to Japan, Japanese or language learning!).

Going back to Japanese study after a break

JP study after a break

September means going back to school/ work/ university after summer the summer holidays. It might be that you’ve taken a break from language learning too.

Sometimes with learning a language, you can be incredibly motivated to begin with, but then life gets in the way and by the time you remember about your plan to learn Japanese you feel like you’ve forgotten everything!

I myself have taken breaks away from learning Japanese – here’s what I do to ease myself back into the language.

  • Writing: Writing in my journal helps me to use vocab and grammar I may have forgotten – I tend to use this as the basis for my grammar study, ie. I will go back over a grammar point if I’m not confident in using it anymore (especially if I’m not working towards the JLPT).
  • Listening: Listening to podcasts helps me set my brain into ‘Japanese mode’. You might find that watching a TV show or film helps with this too.
  • Reading: I’m using Anki to help get my vocab and kanji skills back on track, together with reading articles on NHK News Web Easy.
  • Speaking: Speaking is probably the hardest to practice when coming back from a break. I suggest building your confidence by talking to Japanese friends about topics you are familiar with at first – focus on what you can say rather than what you cannot say.

Here’s a few key things to bear in mind after having a break:

• Don’t be afraid to go over ‘easy’ material.

• If there’s something that doesn’t make sense in the resource you’re using, try to find an explanation somewhere else.

• Make sure you have a goal to work towards. Having a goal, however small, will remind you why you decided to study the language in the first place.

Remember, language learning is much more about the journey itself than the destination – having a couple of stops along the way is nothing to be ashamed of.

Japanese Author Spotlight: Niimi Nankichi

As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.

Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.

Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!

There are rather a lot of Nankichi’s stories at Aozora Bunko so I thought I would highlight a few stories here:

ごん狐/ ごんぎつね

Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.

There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)

狐のつかい /きつねのつかい

This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.

ひとつの火/ ひとつのひ

In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).

二ひきの蛙/ にひきのかえる

This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.

Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

Using sentences to study Japanese (and other languages)

Studying using sentences is incredibly beneficial for studying any language for a couple of reasons:

  • It gets you used to sentence structure, which you can then adapt to use when speaking or writing
  • Helps you to learn vocabulary in context – important for words with similar meanings in your native language

This article from Fluent in 3 Months explains it better than I can, but the brain is good at spotting at remembering patterns. As we are learning to speak our first language, we hear sentences spoken by others around us and so we build up a bank of sentences for our native language(s) in our brains.

This is why it is very easy for us to spot when something sounds unnatural in our native language(s), even if we are not sure why. With learning a new language, we have to follow the same process of learning what phrases and sentences are natural or not.

Engrish_Example

Sometimes, you just know when something has been put into Google Translate

Studying sentences alongside grammar rules will help the grammar to stick in your mind more effectively. Once you’ve understood a grammar point, you can then focus on making sure that you can implement in in your own speaking/writing – which is why I think keeping a journal in Japanese is such a good idea.
Let’s say for example that you are studying counters in Japanese, and come across the counter ‘hai’ which is the counter for glasses.

beer-1669298_1920beer-1669298_1920beer-1669298_1920

If you also memorise the sentence [ビールを三杯ください/ ビールをさんばいください/bi-ru wo sanbai kudasai] meaning Please can I have three glasses of beer, you are not only memorising the counter ‘-杯/はい/hai’ but internalising several other Japanese grammar rules at the same time.

  • That after 三, -はい becomes ばい
  • That counters are used after the particle を
  • That ください can be used when making a request (especially when ordering food and drink)

You can then experiment with substituting in different vocabulary, for example using a different number with the same counter…

ビールを一杯 (いっぱい/ippai) ください

beer-1669298_1920

Or you can change the counter itself…

ビールを三本 (さんぼん/sanbon) ください

duff-872502_1920duff-872502_1920duff-872502_1920

(Just like with -はい, the -ほん counter has a sound change to -ぼん when following 三).

Or you can change the drink to something else…

水 (みず/Mizu) を三杯ください

water-1585192_1920water-1585192_1920water-1585192_1920

(NB: probably a good idea if you’ve been ordering beer all evening)

… and this is all by changing just one word in the original phrase we learnt!

With Japanese, context is key to understanding grammar and vocabulary, so I believe that studying using sentences is more important coming from English. Adding Japanese audio in the mix is even better for learning to distinguish similar words, especially as Japanese has different pitch accents for similar words.

So how can I implement this into my language study?

With new grammar points, try writing out an example sentence you already know to be correct, then try changing different vocabulary as in the example above. You can always ask on an app like HiNative or a friend to check your new sentences to make sure they still make sense.

When learning across new vocab, look the word up in a dictionary or ask a friend to give you an example of how that word is used in a sentence and write it down for review later.

When making your own flashcards (real or online), make sure to write these sentences together with the vocabulary. If you are using Anki for vocabulary study, you’ll notice that a lot of decks introduce sentences at the same time.

I also highly recommend Delvin Language, which offers sentence and listening practice at the same time!

Screenshot 2017-09-02 at 18.15.23

You can learn new vocabulary via sentences taken from real life speech in dramas and documentaries, with all furigana and meanings provided for words and grammar points you may not know yet.

I hope the above post has helped – if you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments!


Japanese sign image source: with attribution By Info2Learn (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

3 More Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

They say you can learn anything from YouTube, and Japanese is no different. I have done a post on this previously, but since then I’ve found three more channels you might find useful on your language level journey.

Good for beginners: Bond Japanese

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 21.40.30

Bond Japanese is a very good resource for newbies to Japanese, I certainly wish it had been around when I was a beginner. The channel has lots of helpful bite size videos on learning hiragana as well as basic grammar, common phrases and greetings. The language videos are presented by Marina who speaks clearly and does a great job of covering basic grammar points.

I find that at times, the spoken conversations can be quite a step-up in difficulty from the grammar or vocabulary covered but all dialogues have the Japanese on screen together with the English translations. At the very least this means you get used to natural conversation sooner rather than later.

My favourite videos to watch are the ‘Stroll Around’ series which focuses on different places in the Tokyo area. Through this series, I’ve certainly discovered a few places I’d like to visit next time I am in Japan.

For intermediate learners: Chop

Chop is a bit of a strange one and is a fairly new channel, but I am oddly fascinated by it!

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 21.46.27.png

This channel focuses on super short videos which introduce Japanese, perfect for those looking to build their vocabulary. Each video has a short skit which can be summed up in one Japanese sentence containing the new word at the very end, along with furigana and an English translation. These skits are funny and often a bit strange, but I think this is what helps the vocabulary to stick in your head.

Whilst the type of humour will not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you do find them funny then this could be an entertaining way of getting in a couple of minutes’ study when short on time. Each week there is a ‘Weekly Chop’ which is a compilation of the skits from that week (there tend to be 3-4 videos uploaded per week).

The accompanying website has a full vocabulary list for all of the words that appear in each skit.

For intermediate/advanced learners: Talk in Japan

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 21.52.00.png

Talk in Japan has a large number of videos aimed at Japanese learners from JLPT N5 right through to N1. I would be hesitant to recommend the grammar/ vocabulary videos to those just starting out as all videos are entirely in Japanese with English subtitles which could feel a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, if you are working towards the JLPT (especially for N3 and above) then I can recommend their videos on each aspect of the test which is targeted towards each level. I like the grammar point videos as they are normally less than 5 minutes long, do a pretty good job of explaining usage and are accompanied by example sentences and a short dialogue at the very end. There are also some videos on business Japanese etiquette in addition to Japanese culture and cooking videos which you may find useful as well.

All of these channels are up and coming rather than established channels but I hope you find them useful and can support them as they continue to grow!