One of the real, visceral failings of standard Japanese courses is that they only teach the formal versions of verbs in the classroom. Granted, this is good for academic situations, the conduct of professional business, and interactions with public officials, and all students do need to learn formal versions. Nonetheless, students are tangibly harmed by the inability to use and understand plain and informal Japanese that is commonly employed in real life.
For our purposes, the classroom is not real life.
Anyone attempting to read manga to learn Japanese (and if you want raw material for this, just go to J-Comi; see previous post) absolutely will not succeed without a broad understanding of informal Japanese.
Furthermore, informal Japanese is necessary for full enjoyment of anime, film, and normal, everyday conversation with Japanese natives.
For businessmen, small talk is far more difficult to engage in without informal Japanese. Thus, a firm grounding in it is necessary.
The Really Basic Basics
基本の基本は (The basic basics) are like this:
行く （いく） = iku, “To Go.” Root version/ plain, informal version.
行きます （いきます） = ikimasu, “To Go,” Formal version.
Let’s alter this slightly.
We’re going to use the volitional tense, which reads like “Let’s do X.”
学校に行こう。（がっこうにいこう。）= gakkou ni ikou. “Let’s go to school.”
This is the plain version.
学校に行きましょう。（がっこうにいきましょう。） = gakkou ni ikimashou. “Let’s go to school.”
This is the polite version.
The first version would be naturally spoken by young boys, but the second version would be naturally spoken by young girls.
This is such a basic, basic, fundamental comprehension issue that it is scarcely worth the time to even try to teach someone how to read manga if this is not covered.
It’s vital to understanding the feel and tone of Japanese dialog. If you have an interest in this, make it your business to learn the plain forms of Japanese verbs – starting with the most common ones that you will see. Besides, the plainest form is the root form, also known as the dictionary form. You do want to be able to look these up in a real dictionary at some point, don’t you?