Anne Crescini

Grammar Geek (文法オタク)

For as long as I can remember, grammar has been the dirty word of language study. Nobody wants to study grammar because, well it is not fun or exciting. Having a conversation partner, watching movies, listening to music, and traveling to a foreign country–now that is fun. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that they don’t want to study grammar and vocabulary, but just wanna talk, I would be rich woman. But if I may be blunt, this is the stupidest thing I have ever heard. And the only reason I am using such strong language is because I am the woman who said, “I don’t wanna study. I just wanna talk.” That was more than twenty years ago when I first came to Japan, and I have grown a lot since then, both in my reasoning skills and my Japanese ability, and if you think about it rationally, “just talking” in a language you have never learned using vocabulary and grammar patterns you don’t know, is absurd.

外国語を勉強している人、 殆ど文法が嫌い。文法の悪口を言う。何でかというと、文法は楽しくなくて、めんどくさい。外国語で映画を見たり、友達と話したり、海外旅行をしたりすることの方が楽しいやろう?もちろん、みんなそう思う。もし、「文法を勉強しくない!ただ話したい!」とういう表現を聞く度に100円を誰かにもらったら、もうすでにお金持ちになっているって間違いない。でもね、正直に言わせてください。こういう考え方はおかしい。おかしいだけじゃなくて、バリバリダメ。私は、20年前日本に来たばかり時にそういう人だった。よく覚えている。リズは「アンちゃん、日本語を勉強せんといけんよ」って言われた時に、「嫌だ。日本に住んでいるから、勉強せんでいい。自然に話せるようになるバイ。」と答えた。まあ、その時関西に住んでたから多分弁で答えないけど。でもね、よく考えて。習った事のない文法と単語で会話ができる?口を開けて、自然に話したい言語は出てくる?もちろんない。

Of course you can pick up words and phrases by living in a foreign country with zero effort. You can learn how to ask where the toilet is, how to say the weather is nice, and how to ask how someone is doing. You can buy soy sauce at the supermarket, find your way to the station if you are lost, and ride the train. But that is not language learning–that is remembering random phrases. You can learn to say, ‘chotto matte‘ (please wait) in Japanese, but you will never learn to make any other sentence with the word wait (matsu in Japanese) because you don’t want to study the grammar necessarily to make it. You won’t learn ‘I am waiting’ ‘He made me wait.’ ‘I have to wait’ I don’t wanna wait’ ‘I didn’t want to wait’ ‘I waited for a crazy long time and it totally sucked.’ You will be stuck your entire life using only one form of the wonderful word ‘matsu,’ when there are more ways to use it than I can count. It is kinda like going to a buffet and eating pizza every time, because you are so set in your ways you don’t wanna try the steak and grilled fish.


At the same time, studying grammar without using it is useless, too. It doesn’t matter if you know 35 ways to use ‘matsu‘ if you never get a chance to use them. Because what happens if you don’t use something? You lose it. So, I am big fan of both grammar and practical application. You work your butt off studying grammar, making sample sentences, making word cards, blah blah blah, and then you practice what you have learned, most likely making a fool of yourself like I did when I told my friend that she was worthless, when actually I wanted to say that she is priceless. That was a total run-on sentence. Sorry. Don’t tell my mom. But you know what? It is okay I told my friend she was worthless, because I will never forget again in my entire life how to tell someone that they are priceless. If you really want to master a language, you have to be willing to fail, willing to make mistakes, and learn from them. I am writing mainly about Japanese learning, but this could be applied to any language. Japanese learners of English are famous for being afraid of mistakes. This is one of the biggest barriers to language acquisition.


If I were to give advice to someone moving to Japan long time, it would be this: study, study, study. Your life will not be nearly as fun and fulfilling as it could be if you don’t. There is nothing more important in my mind. And more than studying the language for your own personal fulfilment, you need to do it as a sign of respect for the culture that has so graciously allowed you to live there. There is nothing ruder in my book than moving to a foreign country and then expecting them to speak your language. Of course I am aware that learning a language takes time and that is cool, but I have little patience those who don’t respect a culture enough to learn the language of their heart.


So, remember this. Grammar is not the enemy. It is your friend, and if you really want to know the heart of the people among whom you live, you need to be friends for the duration of the time you are a guest in the country in which you live.


Category: Blog