Why should I use NativShark over a textbook?


NativShark teaches both natural, everyday Japanese, and the textbook, rigid grammatical Japanese that is taught in textbooks and seen in places like the news.

This sets it apart from textbooks, which present rigid, grammatically perfect Japanese as the only Japanese that exists and never tell you how Japanese is actually used in daily life.

Teaching both and letting you know the difference gives you a huge boost when you start experiencing Japanese in the wild. Not only to your comprehension abilities, but your ability to communicate and even read as well.

Firsthand experience

In my first years of learning Japanese (Ty here!), I went through a lot of different resources. I read a grammar book or two, went through some anki decks for vocab and listened to all the audio in them.

I even read through two separate Japanese grammar dictionaries— twice.

I thought I was doing great. Then I started speaking to real people.

And it was like I was a beginner all over again.

It was brutal. I had no idea what people were saying.

Words were being shortened, particles were flying off of sentences left and right, and I think someone just called me stupid. Or maybe they were asking if I wanted a bag. I don't know 😅

Anyway, I experienced two major issues when going through these resources…

The first major problem

They were teaching me unnatural language and not giving me context.

I was not used to how "shortened" everyday spoken Japanese actually is, and that when we add too many subjects and particles in our own speaking, it makes it very obvious we learned Japanese via a textbook or similar resource.

Unsurprisingly, Japanese is a very different language from English, and if you're a native English speaker (or a native of any language that isn't Korean [a story for another time]), then as a learner, it's basically impossible to know how to use any new piece of Japanese vocab or grammar given to you without context.

For example, let's open up "A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar" to a random page. I landed on page 160.

An example sentence from that page:


matsu made mo naku tsuma wa kaimono kara kaettekita
(My wife came back from shopping without my having to wait for her.)

*I added the romaji

I asked Chie, one of our native speakers at NativShark, about what situation she would expect to see this sentence.

Before I tell you the answer, what do you think she said?

A: At a bar with your friends
B: In a novel
C: During a casual conversation with your coworkers
D: When talking to your boss
E: When writing a blog
F: In a video game

☠☠ Thinking space ☠☠

☠☠ Thinking space ☠☠

☠☠ Thinking space ☠☠

☠☠ Thinking space ☠☠

☠☠ Thinking space ☠☠

☠☠ Thinking space ☠☠

The answer is… B.

Well, actually she told me 誰も言わない (dare mo iwanai, nobody says that) at first and then I had to be very specific to get "a novel" out of her.

If we were to say it in real life, it would likely look something more like this:


meccha hayaku kaettekita
([She] came home really quickly).

To be clear, this is not to say that the sentence I picked out is necessarily wrong, it's just that most resources don't tell you that everything they're teaching you sounds like it's from a novel, and not something you would say when speaking with people so then you go out into the real world and are really confused, or you spend so much time learning and reviewing concepts that won't help you in a functional way like I did.

But wait there’s more

Textbooks and grammar books also don’t teach you kanji until they deem you’re “ready” for it based on arbitrary decisions by whatever relevant group of people.

This results in weird things like words being not written in kanji when they normally are, which makes it both harder for you to understand because kanji are designed to help speakers of the language with reading quickly and being able to differentiate homophones (words that are the same but have different meanings) more easily.

Or worse, a word being written in half hiragana and half kanji because one of the kanji is “too high level” for the student.

It just makes your learning slower.

The second major problem

The audio I was listening to was recorded with a learner in mind. It's much slower than normal. Or sometimes I just didn't have audio at all.

Though, slowing is an understandable thing to do. Right? You don't want your students feeling lost, so you try to make things level-approriate for them.

Sadly, that doesn't account for how words are pronounced entirely differently when they're spoken slowly in Japanese (and most languages for that matter). Nor does it really improve our acquisition speed vs. just listening to full speed audio, multiple times.

Not only that, many resources don't even bother to tell students that they're not exposing them to the language they'll actually end up interacting with outside the classroom.

This puts a wall between what you're learning in the classroom and what you need for real interactions.

Then you put in more classroom time thinking that's what you need, and your effort goes unrewarded because you're only cementing slow audio and unnatural language in your brain.

And lots of effort for little reward leads to a significant danger: burnout.

In short, using resources with the problems above greatly increase our chances of quitting studying Japanese.

It can ruin our ability to reach our fluency goals and fulfill potential dreams.

So how do we fix this?

We have to make sure the Japanese that people actually use is actually being taught in the learning environment.

This is why we made NativShark.

We have specifically instructed all of the voice actors to speak at natural speeds, which means your ears don't have to work double time to actually understand what's going on when you use Japanese outside of your studies. We also turn down any audio that doesn’t sound like something someone would actually.

We also teach context with our example sentences. You'll learn not only what words to use, but when to use them as well, which makes you not only easier to understand, but also much more natural sounding.

This also translates into knowing what words to expect and listen for when someone is speaking to you as well.

Here's an example from one of the Units in the platform:

Nativshark natural language example meccha kunkun shiteru
A very natural sentence for sure. BUT. If you read just the translation, without reading the context, it could sound super strange🤣 Context is so key, especially in Japanese.

I don’t think you’d find anything like that in a textbook. Especially because context is so important in explaining the use of this sentence.

We want you to get the most out of your study time, and have as few walls between the real world and your learning environment as possible.

So textbooks are a waste of time?

No, actually. But it's good to know their limits. Textbooks are good for classrooms because, well, it's a classroom. It's the nature of things and grammar books are fine as references.

They can turn into good supplements for your learning, but they should only be used in conjunction with ways to make sure you're getting exposure to natural language and audio in context.

For example, if you're going through NativShark and want to use other resources like these as a supplement, I think that's a perfectly fine thing to do.

At the same time, I tend to recommend that if you're using NativShark, going out and trying native materials tends to be far more helpful than doubling up on learning resources.

More on how native materials can help you here.

P.S. If you’re thinking about Genki when reading this, we have an article specifically about it here.