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Bunpro Review: Japanese Grammar Made Easy?

Bunpro Review: Japanese Grammar Made Easy?

Bunpro is the answer to Japanese grammar. Hands down, this is it. If reading the text books, scrawling out workbook examples, and grinding Anki reviews isn’t doing it for you, then Bunpro will whip you into shape without a problem. I love this site and this review is going to be glowing, fair warning. I swear they’re not paying me to say this stuff, it just happens to be a seriously awesome tool for learning Japanese grammar.

 

A Quick History

Bunpro’s name is a pun on the Japanese word for grammar, “bunpou,” and the English word, “pro.” Luckily, their terrible punning is right about where the weaknesses with this website begin and end (who am I kidding? I love a good inter-lingual pun). Bunpro is seriously extraordinary. It’s one of the newest resources on the market, but it’s also one of the most robust, focused, and well-developed ones around—and it’s still being improved.

I poked around to find the earliest reference to Bunpro I could find, and I came upon an old, now deleted, post on the Learn Japanese subreddit dated to August 31, 2017. At the time, the creator (or one of them at least—I haven’t found any information about the team) said it was just a side-project for fun and practice building a website.

Only 15 days later they posted a direct link—one I remember clicking on myself. Ah, yes, like so many of the things I’ve reviewed, my compulsive, learn-about-learning nature put me squarely at the earliest days of the website. And boy-oh-boy has it grown up nicely!

 

A Brief Overview: What you get

If you’re familiar with WaniKani, one of the first things you’ll notice is that Bunpro feels very familiar. I suspect they scraped a lot of the code from WaniKani and its very open API in order to build this. Heck, even Bunpro’s community forum looks like a photocopy of WaniKani’s. Still, it doesn’t feel like it’s ripping anyone off. Bunpro is, without a doubt, its own, fully-fledged program.

Here’s the premise: Bring grammar and SRS (spaced repetition system) together.

Sure, anyone can figure out how to test themselves on vocab and kanji with an SRS flashcard system, but Bunpro manages to optimize the concept for grammar.

Currently, Bunpro is complete up through JLPT N2 (high intermediate), though they are consistently putting out more material and have plans to finish N1 (and possibly go further?). There’s full explanations, multiple sentences, the ability to add your own sentences, audio (for most items), and even links to outside sources if you need more or different explanations.

Considering that it took them just a year and a half to put together high-quality content for levels N5 to N2, I have no doubt that the complete JLPT grammar gauntlet will be available in no time. Hopefully, they keep adding on even after that.

And judging by their changelog, they’re not slowing down any time soon. They’ve been posting a minimum of two substantial updates every single month for over a year now. That’s impressive no matter which way you slice it.

 

How does it present the grammar points?

Bunpro has a handful of options for how you can progress through their available material.

One option is to pick and choose what you want to study by using the excellent search bar. Having trouble remembering the てはいけない grammar? Just type that in. Or, if you want to search in English, you could type “must not” into the search bar to get the same info.

Alternatively, if you want, you can scroll through every single grammar point laid out on a single page and pick as you wish.

That’s probably not a great idea though. So, the next option is to use Bunpro’s built-in progression option. Bunpro has developed its own system for progressing you through Japanese grammar. They start at N5 and work you down to N1. Each N-level contains ten sub-levels. And each sub-level contains between eight and twenty grammar points.

Bunpro’s level system is designed to gradually teach you everything you need to know. But perhaps you are already using an outside resource. Let’s say you’re studying with the extremely popular Genki textbooks. Bunpro has laid out the grammar for you, chapter by chapter. Ditto Minna-no-Nihongo and Tobira.

Plus, it’s all interconnected. So, when you’ve studied a grammar point under the Genki part of the site, it gets marked as learned across all instances of it elsewhere. That means that, for example, if you’ve been learning from Genki, but you have an N5 exam coming up, you can add all the N5 you missed, separate from Genki.

This is structured incredibly well.

 

How does it do lessons?

Once you’ve chosen your path, you can drop into a study session by simply clicking “study.” Boom, you’re loaded directly into a page showing you your first grammar point in big, bold lettering.

It starts you off with the meaning and the structure, as well as any exceptions, politeness discrepancies, or other important notes. It also shows you related grammar points which, when clicked, don’t load a new page, or a new tab—nope, it conveniently just does a drop down panel with the requested info. Brilliant!

If you’re unfamiliar with anything you’re seeing, there’s a link to a legend of terms, a place to add your own personal note, and a link to the community discussion on the grammar point.

And if there’s a problem, there’s a convenient report button right there. It couldn’t be easier.

After that, you move onto the second page for this grammar. Now you get to see example sentences. Lots of ’em. Each sentence has native audio which can be slowed down as necessary, as well as English translations, with all of it written in a beautifully readable font that has the grammar highlighted in both English and Japanese for easy comparison.

Third, you arrive at the readings page. Here you’ll see a cross-reference to where you can find the grammar in your text book as well as direct links to outside websites’ pages on the grammar.

The fourth and last page is awesome. You can add your own sentences and optimize them however you want for the grammar point. Those will automatically go into your review queue.

So, imagine this: You’re reading the news and come across a new grammar point. You search for it in Bunpro and add the grammar to your queue along with the actual sentence from the news article you didn’t understand. Now that’s learning!

Then you get to do the next grammar point. How many you see in a sitting is up to you. You can set your lesson batch size to teach you from three to ten items per sitting.

 

Bunpro Grammar Reviews: Magic Time

Oh man, this is where things really stand out.

At the top of your home page you can see how many reviews you have waiting for you. At the time I’m writing this, I have 72 waiting for me. Let’s click in and take a look around.

There’s a lot going on in these review pages. Yet, despite the density of information available, Bunpro manages to keep it light, simple, and clean. And if you want it real simple, they even give you a “focus” option which strips away everything but the question, the hint, and the answer box.

With everything else on the page, you also get to see your XP meter which garners you points for correct answers, leading to increasing your level. I’m not really sure what this is for, but whatever, it’s harmless.

In the upper right corner, you see how many reviews you have left, what SRS level your current grammar is on, and the percentage you’ve gotten correct so far. Additionally, if you’re on a grammar point you’ve been struggling with, you’ll get a little ghost icon. This is to indicate that this grammar “haunts” you. Bunpro handles ghost reviews with a slightly different SRS algorithm in order to help you learn it more effectively.

Top left corner has a drop down menu available where you can see a guide to the interface, a link to the settings, the aforementioned “focus” mode, and the option to finish your review session.

To type in your answer, you don’t need to enable a Japanese keyboard. Just type in the romanized version of each character and Bunpro automatically changes it to the appropriate character.

The question is always a sentence with some word missing which you have to fill in. If politeness is a factor, the empty space will have some light text telling you to input the casual or polite form.

The question sentence will also have furigana on it if you want. You have the option to turn this off, or have it tethered to your WaniKani account. That is to say, if you use WaniKani, you can connect your accounts and if you know a word on WaniKani, then Bunpro will know not to show you furigana for that word. Furthermore, if you are showing the furigana, but you click on a word, that will remove the furigana, including for all future instances of that word. That’s right, Bunpro remembers even these small changes to your settings.

You’ll also get hints, if you want them. Again, all this can be toggled in your user settings, and then you can rapidly (and temporarily) toggle it with the spacebar during reviews. Your options for hints are nothing, a simple English hint (you kinda need at least this much), a full English translation, or an even more amped up hint.

When you enter your answer, it’ll either show green for correct, or red for wrong. If you got it wrong, but it was a mistake, you can just backspace to try again. Be honest with yourself, though. It’d be easy to abuse that undo function.

When you submit a correct answer, you hear the sentence auto-read in native Japanese (unless you turn that off in the settings) and see the option to read about the grammar point in detail again.

Oh, and one really awesome feature of Bunpro is that when there are multiple particle possibilities, it forces you to enter all of them. So, for example, you can often interchange へ and に. If you enter に you’ll be prompted for へ, and vice versa.

Plus, if you get the answer incorrect, but it’s only because you responded with the incorrect level of politeness, Bunpro won’t mark you wrong—it’ll just ask you to redo your answer with the appropriate politeness.

For example, one question was presented as あれは___。 with the note that I should use the word きれい to fill in the blank. So, first I answered simply, きれい. They mentioned that was too rough. I needed to be more polite, and that perhaps a copula would help. Nice reinforcement there. I tried きれいだ. Almost, but not quite. I still wasn’t being marked wrong for my answer. Bunpro merely nudged me towards greater politeness. I finally answered きれいです and was at last marked correct.

Here’s a few screencaps to show you what I mean:

Insert one of two possible particles…

And it’ll ask you to put in the other!

Or it asks you for polite-casual…

But you go a little too pinky-out…

So you have to tone it down…

Sometimes, when you get the answer right, it offers to show you an equivalent answer…

so you can compare different forms of Japanese grammar with the tap of a button!

When you’re done with your reviews you get a little summary page showing your accuracy, as well as all the grammar you got right or wrong.

This is absolutely one of the best tools I’ve ever seen. It forces you to engage with Japanese grammar by making you type out your answers and really demonstrate your knowledge. Nothing else compares.

 

Cram Mode

Cram mode allows you to review things without affecting your current SRS progress. So, if you’re going along at your own pace with Genki, but the N4 exam is next week, you can activate cram mode and drill sentences and grammar without affecting your reviews or lessons at all.

When setting up a cram session, you choose a JLPT level and then decide to study either all the material, only the grammar you’ve already seen, only the sentences you’ve already seen, or only the grammar that’s really been kicking your butt.

Once the cram session starts, it’s basically the same as the reviews with very minor aesthetic differences. Only thing I’d like to see added here is the option to cram the specific textbook paths as well.

 

Other random features

You can easily keep track of all the grammar you’ve learned and how you’re faring overall by checking out your summary page.

On your profile page you get four options. The main part shows you a little bar graph illustrating how far along each JLPT level you are plus a handful of other bits of data like how many reviews you have in the next hour, your Bunpro level, your study streak, and your total XP.

Next, you get to look at your stats. Your stats are split up by regular reviews and cram sessions. The reviews page shows you at the top how accurate you are, broken down by JLPT level. Then you get some neat heatmaps for your reviews done per day and your new grammar added per day. Below that you get a pie chart of your JLPT progress as well as a bar graph showing how many items you have at each SRS level.

The cram section shows how many sessions you’ve had, the total time you’ve spent cramming, and your accuracy.

They also note that they’re still working on the stats page to make it as useful as possible.

Next, there’s a badges page. This is neat I guess. You get badges as you level up, gain XP, and achieve things here and there (e.g. You get a badge for learning a ghost item well enough to move it out of the ghost SRS queue).

You also get the option to reset all your progress.

Three final great things: They’ve got a dark mode (for both the browser and apps). Their app is solid. Their FAQ is easy to navigate and super informative.

 

The community

 

The community section of Bunpro is still growing, no doubt. That said, they seem to be a friendly and moderately active bunch. If you like forums, this is a good place to be. There’s lots of chatter and discussion and people are nice. Heck, there’s even a place to post user-made scripts to wholly customize your Bunpro experience.

Plus, the layout is cool. It’s ripped straight from WaniKani, but that’s okay. I like the unique structure of WaniKani’s forums, and it’s nice that there’s so much kinship between the two platforms.

 

The bad parts

This is going to be a short section.

There’s no throttling of lessons. Basically, you can firehose yourself in the face with an absolutely absurd amount of reviews just because you thought, “Hey, I know all the N5 grammar points, might as well add them to the queue tonight!” Holy moly, it is way too easy to overwhelm yourself.

Because Bunpro adds multiple sentences for each grammar point, simply doing, say, 20 lessons in a sitting will result in hefty reviews the following day. When I first started my account, I did something like fifty lessons at once and the next day had to simply reset my account because it was so unmanageable.

WaniKani often gets criticized for their throttling of lessons, but, frankly, the guys and gals over at Tofugu are right: you need to pace yourself, even if you know the material.

Granted, you can control this yourself, and you learn your lesson real quick, so this is a small gripe.

However, stemming from this is the fact that you can’t reset individual lessons. It would be nice to be able to undo just a portion of my progress if I accidentally unlock too many grammar points.

Luckily, Bunpro has an easy-to-find suggestion box and the team there is super responsive.

Also, I wish they’d force you to type in all forms of a grammar point instead of just showing you the alternatives. For example, Bunpro teaches ~てはいけない and ~てはならない as the same thing, grammatically. If you answer with one, you get marked correct and offered the option to see the other. I’d like to be tested each time on both.

That’s it. That’s all the negatives.

 

Final Diagnosis: Rating Bunpro

 

Price-Performance Ratio: I think it’s way more than fairly priced. 5/5

Difficulty: Starts easy and ramps up at your own pace. 5/5

Usability: Super intuitive interface. 5/5

Fun Factor: If you like studying, you’ll like this. If you don’t, then no app can help you. 5/5

Completeness: They say they’re at 60%, but they’re closing in on that 100% real quick. If you’re studying up through N2, Bunpro has you covered. 3/5

[wp_review]

Related Questions

 

Is Bunpro free?

It is for the first 30 days, no need to put in any payment info or anything. Just choose a username and try it out. Yeah, it did used to be free when it first came out and for a while after, but recently the project just grew too big. Still, it’s extremely fairly priced if you decide to subscribe.

 

Bunpro Pricing

First off, since you can try out Bunpro in its entirety for free for 30 days. That’s more than enough time to see if it’s for you. Really, I’m dumb as rocks when it comes to Japanese grammar, but even I noticed serious improvement less than a week after starting.

After that, you can choose between monthly, yearly, or lifetime subscriptions. Monthly is $3, yearly is $30, and lifetime is $150.

They currently rate their site as 60% complete. When the site is 100%, they plan to change the monthly cost to $5 and the yearly to $50. Still, it’s a steal.

 

Is there a Bunpro app?

Both Android and iOS have open betas going for the Bunpro app. I’ve personally used the Android app. While it was buggy as heck just a few months ago, as of this writing I couldn’t be happier with its performance. So, if you had a bad experience previously, try it again—it seems the issues have all been fixed.

 

Who should use Bunpro?

If you don’t know your kana yet, do that first. Bunpro won’t be useful to you if you’re totally new to Japanese. After you can read at least the phonetic Japanese script, you could start to use Bunpro.

That said, you’re not going to want Bunpro as your only resource. Heck, you don’t want it as your only grammar resource. You’ll need to go elsewhere to study vocab and kanji. And it’s still probably best to read a full grammar guide on the side. Genki’s a great option, but there are fantastic free ones out there like Tae Kim and Imabi.

So, I’d say that after you’ve got a month or so of Japanese under your belt, you’re ready for Bunpro. You want to be able to focus on the grammar, not struggling just to sound out the words, or having to look up every single vocab word.

Once you’re feeling ready though, you won’t find a better resource for reinforcing grammar.