Welcome back, folks! Today, we’ll be talking about the best way to learn Japanese. With all the techniques out there, narrowing down those A1 solutions sometimes feels overwhelming–and we’ve come to set the record straight!
Here, we’ll discuss the order of importance as you learn Japanese and introduce to you a step-by-step method to learn most efficiently. With this information, you’ll be able to maximize your Japanese learning potential and take your language learning to the next level!
- 1 Learn Basic Japanese First
- 2 Use a Japanese Textbook
- 3 Set Goals for Learning Japanese
- 4 Get Accustomed to the Japanese Language
- 4.1 Listen to Japanese Podcasts, Music, and Radio
- 4.2 Watch Japanese Anime, Movies, and TV
- 4.3 Read Things In Japanese
- 4.4 Find Useful Japanese Tips from Other Learners
- 4.5 Use a Japanese App
- 4.6 Practice with Native Japanese Speakers
- 5 Wrap Up
Learn Basic Japanese First
The first place to start learning anything is at the ground level. Nothing else will make sense unless you have a starting foundation. In the case of Japanese (or any language, really), that’s the alphabet along with basic structuring rules.
And so, here we’ll highlight the order of importance when it comes to learning Japanese. This material is best suited for beginners who are just starting in the language and wants to double-check their technique. You may want to skip forward if you’re already at a more advanced stage in Japanese.
Learn the Japanese Alphabet
ABCs and 123s – learn the alphabet before doing anything else. About the Japanese alphabet: There are three writing systems that make up the Japanese language – ひらがな (hiragana) カタカナ (katakana) and かんじ (kanji｜漢字).
The first of the three, – ひらがな (hiragana), can be considered the most authentic as the Japanese populace created it for Japanese vocabulary. カタカナ (katakana) was also created by the Japanese and is used when writing foreign words. The last of the three, かんじ (kanji | 漢字), was adopted from China and is, in fact, Chinese characters.
That being said, only ひらがな (hiragana) and カタカナ (katakana) should rightfully be considered as the Japanese alphabet. Each system is comprised of 48 characters that represent the major sounds in Japanese.
With the Japanese alphabet under your belt, you can construct any Japanese sound and, therefore, any Japanese word!
Note: ろまじ (romaji｜炉マジ) is another Japanese alphabet, but it requires almost no learning on the part of English speakers since 炉マジ (romaji) is just the Latinized transliteration of words in Japanese. For example, the word おはよう would be written in 炉マジ (romaji) as “ohayou” – good morning. It’s just a way to read a Japanese word as if it was written in English!
Learn Some Japanese Words
While you’re getting the hang of the Japanese alphabet, you’ll naturally begin combining characters. It sounds like the perfect opportunity to learn some new Japanese words!
We’d guess you probably already know a few, like ありがとう(arigatou | 有り難う| thank you),さようなら(sayounara | 左様なら | good bye), and すみません (sumimasen | 済みません | excuse me). Now find out how to say some other basic words and write them down somewhere. If you’d like some tips on how to remember Japanese words, we have them in this separate article.
Writing is an absolutely essential component for optimizing your ability to learn!
More on the power of writing further along!
Learn Japanese Pronunciation
Honestly, Japanese pronunciation is just as important as any other and is a given – it will get incorporated as you move along in the language. Remember, the foundation is most important when learning anything. It’s better to do it once in proper form than do it 1000 times in improper form.
As you learn the alphabet and acquire new Japanese vocabulary, be extra sure that your pronunciation is top-notch. Use Google translate or ask a buddy to get the perfect sound for the situation (more on that later).
Eventually, getting the right Japanese pronunciation will come naturally, so learn it right the first time and forget about it!
Slowly Introduce Basic Kanji
There are thousands of kanji characters, and yes, they can be pretty scary! But if you want to become a proficient Japanese student (meaning you can read and write too), then it’s important to get a grasp on kanji.
The good news is that beginner kanji is fairly easy and simple. Knowing even a few elementary kanji will make reading much easier for you. It’s also just as important a language component as anything else, so why not get an early start on it?
Learn Japanese Sentence Structure
The final step in mastering Japanese basics is to become familiar with the language’s sentence structure. Don’t rush into this step – take some time to really comprehend the alphabet and pronunciation before moving onward.
At a point, you’ll be ready to put together some of the words you’re learning so that they actually make logical sense. That will be your introduction to the world of Japanese grammar, and that introduction will start with basic sentence structuring.
Wonderfully enough, this will introduce two (2) major pieces of the Japanese language into your world: (a) the verb です(desu), and (b) the particle は (ha). There is a lot to say about these two beauts, which are not fit for our topic for today but do roll into our next tip for the best way to learn Japanese!
Note: although romanized as “ha” the particle は is actually pronounced as “wa”! For example, わたしはよすけです(watashi ha yosuke desu｜私はよすけです) is really pronounced as “watashi wa yosuke desu”! Oh, and this sentence reads: “I am Yosuke.”
Use a Japanese Textbook
Perhaps you want to tackle the basics of Japanese on your own before committing to purchasing a textbook just to see how the language suits you. Well, anyway, after you’ve committed sooner or later, we’d highly recommend learning Japanese with the help of a textbook.
Having a textbook is basically like having a paper teacher. In fact, all successful language textbooks are constructed with the help of several language teachers, linguistic professionals, and native speakers.
Not only does a textbook provide a resource for the myriad of language points it contains, but it’s also structured and organized to allow perfect pacing along your journey. On top of that, there are cool technical tips and challenges you wouldn’t receive without the help of a textbook.
Our recommendation for Japanese language textbooks would be the Genki! textbook series. It’s one of the most popular book series among Japanese learners and even has a complimentary workbook for better study and practice.
Set Goals for Learning Japanese
We assume that if you’ve found your way to this blog, it’s because you’re a serious student of Japanese, or at least someone seriously considering how to go about learning Japanese efficiently. If you’ve warmed up to the language, acquired a book, and are looking for the next step, start setting some goals!
Goals may seem trivial, but they are the backbone of consistent success. Goals have been proven to literally mobilize energy, leading to a greater output toward any given task.
According to scientific research, it is the single most prominent factor in any result when it comes to performance. After all, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. So goals are super important!
If your aim is simply to become conversational, you can study at a more relaxed pace and spend less time on writing/reading. If you plan to get a job at the embassy, it’s best to create a harder regiment for yourself with a greater focus on kanji and high-level sentence structures.
It doesn’t matter where you plan to be in the long run, so long as you take progressive steps to reach your goals!
Give Yourself Homework
In alignment with setting goals, hold yourself accountable with appropriate homework assignments. Accountability (either of yourself or from another) is like the best friend of accomplishing goals, and homework is perfect proof of your efforts. Besides, homework helps you measure your progress in a language.
Another cool thing about homework is that it has no restraints – homework can look however you want it to! In fact, the very first homework and language student should simply have to study every day. From there, it’s your call.
As we mentioned earlier, if you have a textbook with a corresponding workbook, you can perform review exercises before grading yourself. Maybe you’d choose to read a page of a children’s book and write down any new words or concepts you’re unfamiliar with.
For more advanced students, your homework can even be to watch an old episode of your favorite drama without subtitles to test your comprehension.
The choice is yours, but using the power of homework is definitely one of the best ways to learn Japanese and move you closer to your goals!
Get Accustomed to the Japanese Language
There is no shortage of helpful resources these days for getting your ears and eyes accustomed to にほんご(nihongo｜日本語). That’s “Japanese,” by the way.
And in that vein, take full advantage of what’s out there so you can learn Japanese with ease, unavailable to those who came before you! Here are the best ways to get more familiar with your target language and improve your learning pace!
Listen to Japanese Podcasts, Music, and Radio
This is especially useful for those with the main aim of becoming conversationally fluent in as short a period as possible. Listening is a wonderful way to learn the implicit rules of Japanese. In other words, listening teaches the brain what can’t be found in textbooks.
When you listen to a language, you develop an ear for the cadence and signature of the language. You learn Japanese from native speakers, which words fit into what slots within the language – you learn their nuances.
You learn the appropriate places for pauses and what kind of intonation denotes one kind of expression. You remember the rhythm of the language and eventually begin to know its dance.
News In Slow Japanese is a wonderful place to begin listening exercises. As the name implies, this website provides real Japanese news at a slower pace for learners. A written version of what’s being spoken also appears on screen for viewers, so it’s a visual/audio combination. Plus, there is a range of different topics to choose from.
NHK Radio is another well-known official news radio in Japan. When you want to warm your ears up to completely standard and politically correct Japanese, go to NHK. They even have official news articles of whatever doesn’t get broadcasted and some .pdfs for Japanese students.
Learn Japanse Pod is another great resource for Japanese listening practice. This podcast is hosted by two people, one a Japanese native and one a native English speaker. Each podcast episode is conducted in Japanese with an English explanation afterward, so you get the best of both worlds.
Watch Japanese Anime, Movies, and TV
I bet you never realized that you were actually exercising your brain every time you watched your favorite Japanese TV drama, did you? Well, you were! And now that you’re in study mode, you can do so with even more enthusiasm and awareness!
This way of study is perfect for visual learners who associate a visual context with newly acquired material in a language. Also, the language is granted more exploration, as visual aids like signs or expressions, etc., create language patterns that would otherwise be unavailable. It’s like adding more colors to the palette of the language itself.
Lastly, watching Japanese movies and the like grant a far greater understanding of general expressions and the body language of Japanese people, which is indeed a language! Perhaps you’re one who learns best through mimicry.
Imitating the particular movements, etiquette, and mannerisms of what you see on the big screen will actually make speaking the language much easier. After all, the Japanese language is simply a reflection of Japanese cognition – do what the Japanese do, think how the Japanese think, and feel the language for yourself!
NicoNico is a Japanese media site with plenty of videos and images to scroll through – you’ll never get bored here!
For a heap of free Japanese movies and dramas, head on over to DramaCool.
Kiss Asian is another JDrama and JFilm powerhouse to find cool visuals in high quality.
Read Things In Japanese
One of the best ways to stay on top of your Japanese (especially reading and writing skills) is to read stuff in Japanese. Go for a lighter material like children’s books for those just trying it out. For intermediate students, try reading some fiction novels and material geared toward adolescence.
Newspapers can also be used. For the most advanced students, pick up a magazine or a (manga) and get to lookin’. Finally, for those students aiming for top-level efficiency at a high business level, read political articles and official documents in Japanese.
It’s important to focus on something you’re interested in, so the context of the material keeps you engaged as you exercise the technical realms of your brain.
Another great way to learn Japanese is to change the language settings on all of your devices – phone, laptop, game console, TV, etc. The goal is to create an atmosphere of immersion here. It’s the next best thing if you can’t make it out to Japan!
Find Useful Japanese Tips from Other Learners
Nothing beats community on the language journey. Learning with and from others gives you a greater perspective on your own process and understanding of the language. It’s like hanging out with helpful mirrors!
There are videos and forums online with veteran students who offer great tips to the upcoming (kohai) trying to get the ins and outs of the language.
AJATT is one of our favorite go-to’s due to its resource list and personal engagement style. The author and creator, Khatzumoto, gives advice and inspiration so informally that it relaxes you into your process. And you can contribute to the community with your thoughts on what Japanese has been like for you thus far.
Use a Japanese App
It goes without saying that apps for language learning are out there for those who wish to get on board. Naturally, the same goes for the Japanese. There are quite a few reliable and well-vouched Japanese apps for learning.
One most popular among the few is Anki. It’s mostly used for vocabulary and kanji study since it’s a flashcard app, and flashcards are a long-time savior for language students throughout history.
Bunpo is a fully comprehensive Japanese learning app for beginners and veterans. It has a study plan and Japanese grammar courses, and even JLPT-level-specific material division. It’s a great supplement to Japanese classes or a language textbook if you’re using one.
Yomiwa is a Japanese-English dictionary application that’s more than just a dictionary. They offer one word of the day every day, precise search filters, study regiments, and a kanji-specific dictionary too.
Practice with Native Japanese Speakers
Last but not least, one absolute best way to learn Japanese is to hang out with native speakers. Connecting with a native speaker gives you real-time feedback on your Japanese input and output. It’s the hottest fire in which to forge your Japanese skills.
And luckily, there are quite a few ways to go about connecting with Native Japanese speakers, the most important of which we’ve listed here.
Pay for a Tutor
The best way to guarantee quality service for your time with a language partner is to hire a teacher or tutor. The service price guarantees that the person you’ll be engaging with has the experience and hopefully some technical background in the language.
Not only that, but really good teachers even have their curriculum from times past, so you don’t have to plan out a learning strategy all on your own. There are a bunch of online platforms for paid-online learning like iTalki and Preply.
Get a Language Partner
Here’s the equivalent of paying for a tutor/teacher, except you’ll save a dollar and have no expertise guarantee. It will also put you in the role of a teacher. It’s probably the most organic way to learn a language from scratch – make a friend, communicate from time to time, and get better Japanese.
Keep in mind that having a partner in learning the language will, more than anything else, improve your casual Japanese level (unless they’re some government agent or something). Still, having a partner is a stellar way to gain insights into Japanese culture, grow in speaking/listening confidence, and perhaps explore an intimate friendship–with a twist.
Attend a Langauge Exchange
A language exchange is sort of like the runner-up to a language partner. What’s cool about a language exchange when learning Japanese is the group atmosphere that comes with it.
Different people from different parts of Japan (and probably your country) speak Japanese differently. They have different accents, stylizations, and even different vocabulary sometimes.
If you’re lucky, you can get a mix of genders and backgrounds within a language exchange, which might offer a more refined approach to what Japanese communication can mean for you.
On top of that, you can bring your coolest buddies to back you up in case you’re too shy to head to exchange alone!
We hope this article can give you a headstart on your Japanese learning journey! If you want to learn Japanese effectively, you don’t need to jump into Japanese grammar points immediately. Start with the basics at your own pace.
がんばってください (Ganbatte kudasai)! ^^