So, I’ve been learning Japanese for a long time – over eight years. That’s so long I don’t even like to think about it! I’ve always been interested in finding the fastest and most efficient methods, but of course, things don’t always go as you’d hope. Therefore, I have created this article – the ultimate guide to learning Japanese according to me. If you’re interested in learning Japanese, you might find something of use written here.
But be warned – when I say learning Japanese, I mean investing your life and soul into an addiction of language acquisition. Without further ado, here is my guide on how to learn Japanese!
Step 1. Learn Hiragana and Katakana
A good place to start is the alphabet, right? While Romaji (Japanese written in Roman letters) may seem helpful at first, it’s generally a waste of time as it soon becomes redundant. Make some flashcards and practice reading AND writing both of these alphabets from memory. You can learn these in a day (or a few hours) but you’ll need to regularly revise them for a while.
Step 2. Learn Basic Verbs, Nouns, and Adjectives
Don’t go over the top here – learn the basic ones. The idea here is just to give you enough vocabulary so that you can experiment with grammar. Colours, animals, actions are all good starters. While learning these words, reinforce the hiragana and katakana you learned. Pay close attention to how they join together.
Step 3. Learn Basic Grammar
It’s time for you to start making your own sentences. To properly learn Japanese, you need to understand how to conjugate verbs into different tenses, the differences between adjectives, and how to use ‘desu’.
Step 4. Start Listening to Audio Lessons
I’m going to recommend Japanesepod101, since you can download them for free and there are thousands of lessons that will take you years to listen to. One time each isn’t enough, you need to listen to lessons several times each over the course of weeks or months. Where possible, mimic/shadow along with the lesson to also increase your speaking ability.
Step 5. Reinforce and Expand
Everything you’ve learned so far – expand on this. Practice you’re hiragana and katakana again, making sure you’re not making pronunciation mistakes or writing mistakes. Increase your vocabulary as much as possible (flashcards is the best way for me). Increase the amount of grammar you know and listen to as much Japanese as you can.
Step 6. Japanese Phrases/Travel Japanese
You’re now probably good enough that if you learn a Japanese phrase, you can understand how it is constructed, rather than just blindly remembering it. Japan is full of phrases used for different times, so it’s a good idea to get to understand as many as you can.
Step 7 (optional). Remembering the Kanji
One way to learn Japanese is with a book called ‘Remembering the Kanji’ written by James Heisig. Heisig suggests that you should first learn kanji like an alphabet through mnemonics (a remembering technique). If you follow the book as suggested, it will take a long time to complete and you won’t actually learn any pronunciation of the kanji. However, it is a good way to familiarize yourself with kanji and their radicals, allowing for much less confusion later on.
Step 8. Learn Basic Kanji
Once again, flashcards come in useful for quickly improving your kanji reading skills. For writing (if you want to learn to write), it’s the old fashioned way I’m afraid. Get a pen and paper, choose 10 kanji you want to remember and write them from memory several times. Make sure you don’t simply write the same kanji over and over, but alternate between the ones you write. Make sure to practice these the next day and the next and the next, while also adding new lists to learn.
Step 9. Learn Sentences
You’re now good enough to read a wide variety of sentences. Flashcard software such as Anki has sentence decks you can download. There will be a lot of words and grammar you don’t know, but that’s why you’re doing it. Learn anything you’re not sure about.
Step 10. Take a Moment and Reorganise
Hold your horses a second and think about everything you’ve learned and everything you’re weak at. If needed, alter your study pattern to improve areas you think you’re weak at and improve on everything you’ve done so far. More, more, and more!
Step 11. Learn From Paragraphs
Don’t dive into difficult paragraphs, but read low-level paragraphs that you can understand at least 50% but not 100% of. Paragraphs can be structured differently from sentences, so it’s good to start getting familiar with them.
You can find such paragraphs on several websites. The NHK Web Easy site isn’t bad. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/?utm_int=all_header_menu_easy
Step 12. Study Japanese Language Proficiency Test N3
You don’t need to take the test – I don’t even advise it. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t study for it, though. Buy/download a couple of N3 level books, familiarize yourself with relatively hard grammar and paragraphs. Download/buy a mock test until you’re confident enough you could pass it if you want.
Step 13. Find a Japanese Language Partner
Find someone to talk to! There are websites where you can do language exchange, or if you can afford, you can even find online teachers. If you don’t actually practice with real conversations, you’ll feel like you’re not improving as much as you actually are.
Step 14. Go Wild With Anki
After JLPT N3, your next step will be N2 – but that’s a lot of work. Make use of Anki to give you an advantage when it comes to vocabulary and kanji.
Step 15. Aim for JLPT N2
This step could take you a while, there is a lot of stuff you need to learn. If it’s possible, actually take this test because it’s pretty useful to have if you plan to live in Japan.
Step 16. Re-evaluate
Let’s assume you’ve passed N2 now. Well done, that’s a big deal. Now you should take some time to think about what you want to do with your language and where you’re going to go from here. Think about the areas you’re weak in and try to improve them.
Step 17 (optional). Head to Japan
While some people say all you need is artificial immersion to master Japanese, nothing actually beats going there. Learn to use everything you’ve learnt so far and let the compliments fly in to boost your confidence. Don’t put all you’re studying on halt just because you’re in Japan, though!
Step 18 (optional). Study for JLPT N1
This test is really difficult. Unfortunately, it makes N2 look like a nice stroll in the park. So advanced is the language used in this test that there is little chance of you using it in your day-to-day life. However, it does make a great benchmark to push you up to that next level.
Step 19 (optional). Study in a Japanese School
You can choose to study N1 in a language school, or if you’re thinking long-term, you could study in a specialist school or even university. These are pretty life-altering decisions, but it’s a great way to learn Japanese – and by this point, Japanese is already a huge part of your life, anyway.
Step 20. Books, TV, and Media
This should be further up on the list and it’s likely you’ve already started this anyway. If you want to improve your Japanese past 99% of all other foreigners, then you need to start being able to listen and read like a Japanese person. Novels, talk shows, Japanese social media, news – practice and master! (I’m on this stage, but I still have a long way to go).
That’s it, I couldn’t possibly include any further steps because I haven’t got there myself! Now, go, learn Japanese… and tell me how it’s going in eight years! XD
Here is an article on how I actually learnt Japanese, as opposed to how I wish I had!
And here’s a list of websites you may find useful to learn Japanese.
http://tangorin.com (free dictionary app/website)
http://ejje.weblio.jp/ (free dictionary website)
https://kanji.sljfaq.org/drawj.html (use to draw and look up kanji you don’t know)
https://japaneseclass.jp/ (a point-based leveling game where you learn Japanese)
https://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/ (NHK news website)
http://lang-8.com/ (language exchange website)
https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/rikaikun/jipdnfibhldikgcjhfnomkfpcebammhp?hl=en (hover your mouse over words to look them up in your browser, chrome extension)
https://addons.mozilla.org/en-GB/firefox/addon/rikaichan/ (same as Rikaikun but for Firefox and Edge)