The Japanese language, when looking at it from a learners point of view, can be seen as one large puzzle. Quite often you stare at your textbook of choice, and the clues will leave you puzzled, everything is a riddle. But you are a genius! A puzzle is there to be solved, not to diminish all your hopes, to be able to ever move on to the next one. There are many pieces, which, when brought together in the right way, will give you a clue. With this clue in hand you have solved one part of the overall gigantic meta-puzzle. Put another way, if you are looking at a grammar point, i will use the Volitional form as an example, what is the first thing you will see in your book? A cryptic explanation what a Volitional form is, what it is good for, and how to conjugate verbs to form it. You will also find a Conjugation table, which is part of our puzzle right there. You would want to memorize all the parts, but memorizing stuff isn’t very creative, and not very funny.

Volitional form, conjugation table

Ru-verbs: Drop the final -ru and add -yoo.

食べる (たべる)                                          食べよう (たべよう)

U-verbs: Drop the final -u and add -oo.

行く (いく)                                                   行こう (いこう)
話す (はなす)                                            話そう (はなそう)
買う (かう)                                                 買おう (かおう)
泳ぐ (およぐ)                                             泳ごう (およごう)
遊ぶ (あそぶ)                                            遊ぼう (あそぼう)
待つ (まつ)                                                待とう (まとう)
読む (よむ)                                                読もう (よもう)

Now, let’s see how we can use the information we have, to turn it into a meta-puzzle.

    1. We know, that the volitional form is the less formal, and more casual equivalent, of ましょう. We also know that ましょう is used to suggest a plan of action.
    2. We have our conjugation table, which gives us some verbs we can work with.
    3. We also have a story. No? You don’t have one in your book? Let me help you out.

This morning みき woke up very early. The first thing she noticed after leaving her bed, was a letter, lying on her desk. It was from her mother, who was suggesting a plan what みき could do today.

Dear みき,

It was snowing last night. I know that you like winter and snow, so you might like to go to school today, instead of taking the bus. Your friend was calling me yesterday, you were already asleep, and i did not want to wake you up. He said he would come to our house, so you can walk to school together, and have a nice little talk on the way. When school is out, please be so nice to go to the store, to buy some food. Bring it home, before you go to the park, to play with your friends. If you like, you could also go swimming with your father. He is working so hard in the rice field, but the mountain air is good for his health. He said that he would drive you, but call him first, will you? In my room you will find a present, because today is your birthday. I know how you like those flowers so i bought them for you. Before you go to sleep, you can read your new book. I will be home late, so don’t wait for me. I love you!

    4. To solve the riddle, you have to translate the letter into Japanese, using the volitional form on the words that are marked in bold.
    5. The answer to our riddle is also hidden within the text. We are looking for the flowers みき loves so much, and the name of her mother and father.

When you try to solve this puzzle, you will have the opportunity to use vocab you already know, apply the new conjugation rules on the spot, and you can solve a little riddle. After you are done, you can do the textbook exercises, before you work on the next 文法 (ぶんぽう) grammar point in your textbook. And if you like the idea of having to solve puzzles, why not try to make one of your own? You could create a crossword grid, revealing a hidden word after it is solved, for vocab learning. For the next grammar point you can build upon the story i have written. If the next grammar point is ~ておく, for instance, which is used to describe an action performed in preparation for something, do the following. Try to figure out what みき was doing before she went to school. Did she brush her teeth? Did she decide to wear her warm pullover? Maybe doing some homework that was due today but she forgot? What else did she do before she left school to go shopping for her mother? Maybe you can uncover more than just her favorite flower, and the names of both her parents.

You can do this for all the grammar, and vocab lists, in your textbook. Build upon each grammar point as you are working your way through your textbook of choice. Use a variety of tenses and conjugation patterns, or anything you can think of, that let’s you use your knowledge. A benefit you will gain from this creative approach to the content of your textbook is, that all lessons come together, making them feel more connected. I had this feeling of disconnection between the lessons in げんき 1 as well as げんき 2 all the time. So even a book that solely covers grammar can be turned into something fun. Given, of course, that you are willing to devote your time, to come up with enough puzzles in all sizes and shapes. What counts is that you are having fun, and try to be as creative as you can, because the big prize awaits you at the end of your textbook.

It is a creative process and as such it might take a while to figure out some good puzzles that you like. But once you get the hang of it, you will love it, i promise you that! Let me see one of your own puzzles if you are going to create any. Also i would love to hear from you if you like this idea. And even if you don’t let me hear your thoughts.

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