It's getting harder to recommend Bunpro

Dramatic title? Maybe. But please know that I’ve spent the last two years singing Bunpro’s praises as the single tool that got me out of a two-year rut and into actually learning Japanese. I’ve always said “if you’re only going to spend money on one Japanese resource, make it Bunpro”.

Back when I was using Bunpro every day, the N1 path still had about 20 grammar points and there were no “explanations” besides a legend pane that showed inflections. I would generally dive right into the SRS and trust the example sentences to do the work, which was a tactic that ended up serving me well. Since finishing out my subscription and largely leaving it behind me, I’ve continued recommending it to other people, but during that time the material itself has been changing without me realizing it, and in my opinion, it’s a change for the worse. The explanations are often overly verbose, full of pointless trivia, and (the reason I’m writing this post) occasionally containing complete nonsense.

This post is sort of a last-ditch effort to bring attention to these issues. I (and a bunch of my friends) have submitted feedback which (when not being ignored completely) has often been met with bewilderingly incorrect rebuttals. There are more I could bring up but I’ve already spent long enough on this post and for all I know nobody will even read it.

  • こそすれ
    The explanation claims "The imperative form is used to contrast the clauses. " Anyone should be able to see that this is not the case. する’s imperative form is しろ (or せよ); すれ is the 仮定形 form (or 已然形 if we want to get really spicy). Feedback about this item has been ignored.
  • Pronoun の
    Another case where feedback was initially ignored and later only partially addressed. The article conflates two distinct usages of の; one where it represents a noun itself (面白いの, “an interesting [thing]”, and one where it is simply the の particle with the following noun omitted (田中の[ペン], “Tanaka’s [pen]”). Again, anyone should be able to see that these are not the same; despite the article’s claims to the contrary, 面白いの映画 is clearly ungrammatical.
  • Prohibitive な
    The article attempts to draw a connection between several distinct usages of the 終助詞 な, making the bold (and entirely unsubstantiated) claim that all of its uses are secretly identical and that its use as a prohibitive “…shows that something is for the speaker only […] you are literally saying ‘this (verb) is not for you!’”. Asher has responded to feedback by saying “this is actually correct”, “I recommend you read a grammar book for native speakers”, and other such unhelpful things without once providing any kind of reference. While trying to track down literally anything that would back up this claim, the only similarity I found between them is that they are both classified as 終助詞, which in and of itself means nothing – this article, for example, makes a clear distinction between three related usages (感動・疑問文・確認) and the unrelated 禁止 usage. This claim badly needs a source, and no, “just research it yourself” does not count.

I want to see Bunpro be the best it can be, and the recent changes have me concerned.I’ve been feeling the need to hedge my recommendation by saying “ignore the explanations and just use the example sentences”, but honestly it feels like what I loved about it in the first place – that it taught through exposure to carefully curated example sentences without getting bogged down in jargon – was just an accident. Bunpro’s tagline is “Simplifying Japanese Grammar”. I wish that was more of a guiding principle than it seems to be.

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Thanks for leaving your feedback, and for raising your concerns again here on the forums, something you are more than welcome to, and of course encouraged to do😊.

Our main focus with the new explanations is to give as many useful examples as possible, and include bits of trivia where we think the trivia will enrich the learning experience, rather than make it more difficult.

When thinking about the history of the language, we have to remember that it was spoken long before it was written, and has gone through many changes since the introduction of kanji. In my reply to your feedback, I mentioned that this was something we wanted to delve into in a higher level explanation, bringing into light the deixis in Japanese.

I have included an article for your reading on な below, it also has a lot of interesting material on よ and ね, in regard to the relationships they propose between the listener and the speaker.

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https://www.li.ocha.ac.jp/ug/global/mrs/korea2.pdf&ved=2ahUKEwjktZWO_dr5AhXSfjABHVbdAdoQFnoECBgQAQ&usg=AOvVaw29yt0qXdeVnVFPpN_d9iwy

I do personally apologise if you feel any of the explanations are unnecessarily verbose. I will keep this close in mind in future, as one of my personal goals is to make the language as accessible as possible, and not the opposite :bowing_man:.

Please note that while I am a Bunpro employee, this post is written purely just as someone that loves Japanese, and is trying to find the best way to alleviate pain points for other people that love Japanese wherever possible.

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Yes, I noticed that you mentioned this. I think 内外 is incredibly helpful in understanding many aspects of Japanese (I’ve written about it myself here). If the intention is to expand the articles about これ・それ・あれ etc with more information about the way this works, I would certainly support it. However as I already stated, your application of this concept to 禁止な is an overreach that is not supported by the literature.

I also found this article, yes. I have to say I never expected you to cite it, considering that it includes the abbreviated なさい directly under the 禁止な definition. Surely you aren’t claiming that both “do this” and “do not do this” can both be explained as “this verb is not for you”? This article also clarifies that only definitions 3-6 can be elongated into なあ, which is a distinction Bunpro does not make (incidentally, these are also the only ones that have the self-directed nuance you claim is present in 禁止な).

Furthermore, below the list of definitions, we find this stated in no uncertain terms:

また「伝達態度のモダリティ」としての「な」を主に扱う関係上、1の禁止の「な」や2の命令・要求の終助詞「な」も除外する

If you would like to point out a specific portion of this paper that you feel supports your claim, please do so.

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As someone who is not as far in his japanese learning journey as you two I can’t really judge any of those claims, however I can support that the explanations are rather verbose.

Which is a double edged sword, as yes the explanations are useful when still having a question about the grammar point, but they also make learning new grammar points more exhausting, because you get flooded with lots of difficult to digest information (especially with all those grammar lingo such as case marking particle). Even more if you want to be an honor Student and also read all of the example sentences.

(Which also makes me wonder why we can’t set our default amount of lessons to 1 and seperate the amount for vocab and grammar, but that is another topic in itself)

For me though it has become even easier to recommend bunpro, as the write ups make it so you don’t have to say: “Yeah Bunpro is fine, but you need a good grammar book alongside it for explanations”.

Having Vocab is another huge bonus.
(And yes I’d love to have kanji here too, as I think wanikani has many many flaws in its structure.)

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In case anyone wants the transcription from the referenced document for the six meanings of な:

1) 相手に何かを禁止することを表わす。

2)気安くつきあえる相手に対する命令を表わす。

3)自分の主張・判断などを相手に納得させたり自分で確認したりなどする気持ちを表わす。

4)何かの実現を心から望む気持ちを表わす。

5)直接的な感動を表わす。

6)自分の言葉を納得させようとする気持ちを表わす。

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This is exactly what I was referring to with regard to “jargon”. Sometimes I like to explain the difference in approaches as “learning japanese” vs “learning about japanese”, and it feels to me that bunpro’s explanations tend towards the latter. I don’t feel that anybody is helped by learning that らしい can be either a 助動詞 or a 形容詞の一部, or that て is a 接続助詞, etc etc. None of that was ever necessary for me to learn Japanese, and I frequently see people getting bogged down in the weeds of linguistics when they could be obtaining the keys to understanding in a more natural way.

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While I love that bunpro seems to have a good balance between teaching Japanese the “textbook way” and the way how a Japanese would actually learn it, I mostly find myself just skipping over the sentences that contain the -詞 terms. While in the beginning I thought it to be quite interesting, I realised that my learning experience did not improve by memorising or trying to understand those terms. I am not saying I am resistant to learning the names of some grammatical terms, but to me it seemed that most of the time, the information was just there, without being really useful for someone just wanting to learn the language.

I gave up long ago to learn both Japanese and “about Japanese”, simply because of time constraints. I could be wrong, but I think most people tend to learn a language because they have some sort of goal in mind, and for this goal they need to learn the language, not about the language.

Writing explanations is probably a lot of work, especially writing explanations that please everyone (if that is even possible). But I found this thread and thought now would be a good opportunity to get this off my chest. :slight_smile:

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I get the point people are making, and I think everyone could benefit from an “abstract/tl:dr” explanations that focuses on syntax and general usage. Maybe something that could be toggled, like a “cut to the chase” mode in settings.

However, I’ll say that I greatly benefited from the detailed explanations, especially when they discuss the evolution of certain constructs. Even highlighting the original kanji in a set phrase helped understand how to use it better. At this point I have to say I value bunpro way more for this kind of explanations, which are rarely found in English for those without access or sufficient proficiency to study them in Japanese than the reviews themselves.

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You can’t please everyone :man_shrugging: Some people like the linguistics stuff (I don’t). Crucially, some people thing that linguistics stuff is essential to learning the language (it’s not). Fundamentally I just think introducing all kinds of jargon muddies the waters and goes against the stated goal of the site. Etymologies and word evolutions can be fun, especially if they help you form connections that might not have been obvious.

Ultimately it depends on your priorities; I always saw Bunpro (and Wanikani and Anki) as just a way to get me to a point where I could read and learn stuff naturally. To that end, the short-and-sweet approach is a lot more effective. I don’t expect Bunpro to teach me every nuance because they’re readily available out in the wild.

Of course, if those etymologies aren’t accurate, it doesn’t help anybody.

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Yeah personally I think it helps the team is breaking down long constructs into smaller parts. And I don’t feel like those kind of explanation needs to be cut altogether. But as you said maybe less eye cathing with its own setting or in its own tab or something.

Also to be clear this is very nitpicky , because everyone who does not like gramar lingo can just skip it and read some examples.

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Right. As much as they’re not to my personal taste, at least it’s (usually) possible to just filter them out. At worst the jargon is distracting but at least it’s not presenting incorrect information. The main reason I mentioned it originally is because I’ve seen a bunch of beginners (to whom I’ve personally recommended Bunpro) fall down a rabbit hole and come back asking stuff like “okay so wait, what’s the difference between 助動詞 and 補助動詞?” and I keep thinking “sweetheart you do NOT need to worry about that right now.”

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I find the jargon and trivia immensely helpful to gain a better understanding of why the language is the way it is. Is it necessary for you to learn Japanese? No, you could just grind the countless free anki decks and figure your way through things. But this extra info can help clear things up. Is it necessary to learn about a culture to learn its language? Again no, but you may find yourself butting your head against things you don’t understand and being like “why is this stupid thing this way?!” Whereas by exposing yourself to the history and/or culture can help you realise “ahh this is why X thing is the way it is” and can help you appreciate the language you are learning.

I also find it easier to use a Japanese dictionary after some exposure to what the actual grammatical terms are. Otherwise you have to look up words in a dictionary to be able to use a dictionary :man_shrugging:

These bite size “fun facts” and the progressive detail in the explanations are what helps this site stand out vs just being another anki that you have to actually pay for.

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This has been fixed! Big thanks to TheGreatestZenMaster, whoever that is.

This grammar construction has roots in Classical Japanese where こそ forces the final verb into the realis form (已然形). This pattern can be seen in other combinations like こそなれ and こそあれ.

Pronoun の and prohibitive な remain unaltered. I’ve seen several Bunpro team members typing over the last few hours so let’s assume they’re still in the pipeline. Just for convenience, though, I’ll go ahead and add a bit more detail.

“Pronoun” の

This article conflates two distinct usages of の which cannot be reconciled.

  • The actual pronoun の (used to refer back to something which has already been stated)
  • The possessive marker の with an omitted noun after it.

These two usages should really each have their own articles (in my opinion, the omission usage should be included in the page for possessive ). However, in the meantime, it would be best to at the very least remove one example sentence in particular, as it makes the following claim look completely ridiculous:

あの頃の映画は面白いの。
That era’s movies are amusing ones.
In these examples, it would also be grammatically correct to use the same noun following の.

(Emphasis mine)

Any beginner can tell you that 面白いの映画 is grammatically incorrect.

Prohibitive な

I would appreciate a reply to my comment (either from Asher or from any other staff member who has oversight over the content team) where I show that Asher’s source does not support his claim, and in fact directly contradicts it.

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I like having all the extra info. I’m still more of a beginner and mostly skip it during lessons actually, but I’m interested in linguistics and may want to come back to it at some point. I find that using the Japanese way of talking about grammar instead of “converting” everything to verb, noun, adjective etc. like it’s usually done really helps with some of the quirks.

Looking at the pages about な in Kodansha’s Dictionary of Japanese Particles (pages 105-107), I don’t see anything that contradicts bunpro’s explanation regarding the prohibitive な. I also don’t see where it says “that all of its uses are secretly identical” on bunpro.

I don’t know if they’ve made changes to the articles, but it seems the article about の makes a distinction like you asked, right at the top. Not sure if we’d need an extra article for that (also not sure why you’d ask for one, right after complaining that bunpro explains too much?)
I do agree about the example you mentioned, they should probably alter the text to “use the same noun following/replacing の”, as the structure at the top points out that の replaces a noun when used after an adjective.

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Asher is the one saying that, due to his misinterpretation of the document he linked in his comment. To quote him directly from a reply to feedback my friend sent in:

Both な’s are classified as 終助詞, and they are not separate in any way. These common misconceptions caused by English mistranslations are something we aim to avoid on Bunpro.

I don’t see the distinction you’re talking about; can you point it out to me?

That’s not my claim at all. Explanations are great if they’re correct. I’m asking that the explanation not provide blatantly false information. Again, please see my latest comment. The explanation makes the claim that pronoun の and possessive の with a dropped noun are the same. They are not. Anyone familiar with い-adjective rules should be able to see in an instant that 面白いの[映画] is laughably wrong.

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Thank you for pointing out the typo on the こそすれ~ない grammar point. I have updated the text and added a bit more context to it.

As for the Pronoun の. Here are some more examples in the same vein taken from one of the sources we link to.
わたしはくろいセーターをもっています。あかいのもっています。
やすいじしょを買いに行きました。でもいいのがありませんでした。
これはスーさんのかばんですか。 いいえ、それはメアリーさんのです。
アメリカのアイスクリームのほうが日本のよりおいしいです。

I am not sure exactly what the confusion is. Maybe it is around the reduction (in the case of noun + の) verses replacement (adjective + の)? Because in the writeup on the grammar point we aren’t saying it is 面白いの映画 (reduction) but that it is 面白い映画 (replacement). Maybe just adding an extra paragraph would help clear that up! Either way, they both use の as a pronoun to refer to something else. I also added text in parenthesis to the structure section to help clarify things and the suggestion by @nellyneko to add some more clarification is something we will look into :+1:

Regarding the Prohibitive な, the writeup and Asher’s assertion that the な in something like これは美味しいな and the な in 行くな are both the sentence ending particle な is correct. Further more the link Asher shared goes into more detail about how the use of the sentence ending particle な (whether prohibitive or used similarly to ね etc) gives priority to the opinions or knowledge of the speaker rather than those of the listener.

That being said, I think here again, the confusion is our fault and comes from the fact that the grammar point (in terms of what we at Bunpro call a grammar point, which may be just a single use case of a piece of grammar that has potentially many) is not for the more general な as a sentence ending particle, but specifically for prohibitive な and so the inclusion of the extra information without more context as to the larger picture at this stage can leave a disjointed picture. In fact even looking at where the な linked to in that sentence could make it confusing without directly linking to a version of the な sentence ending particle that goes over in more detail the nuance of な when used similarly to ね.

In general we get a lot of feedback through the onsite feedback channels and unfortunately a lot of the feedback we get is in the form of “X thing is just plain wrong”, “my answer should be accepted here” and so on, is incorrect. It is often simply a small oversight on the part of the user, sometimes it is hubris, and others, like your feedback on the Pronoun の and sentence ending particle な, we have presented the material in a way that is suboptimal or introduces confusion rather than providing clarity about the intricacies of the grammar.

That being said, we love to get feedback like this because it helps us drill in and figure out why the way we presented the information has lead you to believe what we said is wrong. Odds are, you aren’t the only user that ended up confounded by how we presented the material, so bringing it to our attention helps us solve the issue and be on the look out for other places we might have accidentally left users confused as well.

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Jake, you LITERALLY are not saying this!

In these examples, it would also be grammatically correct to use the same noun following の.

Emphasis mine again.

FOLLOWING, not replacing!

^ Tell me you didn’t read my feedback without telling me you didn’t read my feedback.

The portion that I quoted clearly states: 禁止な and な(さい) do not fall within the umbrella of 伝達態度のモダリティ. If you’re not familiar, this is literally referring to the 聞き手 mechanics that you claim are in support of your position!

Please give me some indication that my feedback is actually being read here! Unlike you, I don’t work on Bunpro for my job. I spent the day on this because Bunpro helped me out a lot and I want it to be the best it can be, but if the time I’ve spent writing feedback would be better spent doing literally anything else, say the word and I’m gone.

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Do you have any actual source for this? Because I don’t think that’s what your screenshot is saying and from what I’ve seen there’s really no evidence for this claim etymologically at least. Even if we look at the standard usage of the sentence-ending な and the prohibitive な they have two very clear and separate usages and meanings.

Personally speaking, even if we were to assume that you’re correct and they are, in fact, the exact same particle (they are not), this is such a trivial thing to have that is pretty much useless from the point of view of a learner, it’s incredibly misleading (from a “meaning” point of view), and is probably counterproductive to have.

EDIT: Just to add, if you claim they are the same, how come they work very differently when it comes to 語尾 like 美味しいなよ is incorrect (よ can’t go after な) as opposed to 美味しいよな (although this is still a bit weird but not wrong). Whereas 行くなよ! is definitely grammatically correct and very common, whereas 行くよな would be a completely different thing.

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It’s in the structure section, it (now) reads
Noun + の (reduction)
Adjective + の (replacement)

Although thinking about it more I’m actually not sure if that’s super clear (we have something similar in my language, so I never thought about this point much as it’s easier in Japanese). I guess I see both sides, bunpro is putting both uses into one article as it basically translates “the one” in both cases, but I see how it could become confusing, especially for new learners. Maybe the first use with nouns should be included in the article about の indicating possession, or at least those should be linked in the related grammar section?

This has always been the most egregious offender on that page and it’s still untouched.

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