Welcome to the Journey of Learning Japanese!
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I am currently living abroad in Fukuoka, Japan and am studying at a Japanese language school. My goal is to find a job in Japan after my year of classes so I am working hard to improve my Japanese as much as possible before then. (If you want to know where my progress currently is, check out this blog post)! Are you looking to study abroad in Japan too? If so, continue reading to the best tips I have for learning Japanese as quickly as possible!
Most Helpful Methods and Resources:
During my time as a student, I am trying to immerse myself in the language as much as possible. I’ve come up with a list of the methods and resources I’ve found most helpful so far, so please take a look! These are great beginner tools for when you are just starting out and range from easy passive learning (listening to Japanese music), to more intensive commitments (daily kanji flashcards).
- Japanese Podcast (JapanesePod 101) – This is one of my favorite resources because of the huge database of lessons avaliable. Lessons are bite sized and entertaining (most around 15 minutes) and with both native Japanese and English speakers, they are easy to understand and learn from. With additional pdfs avaliable that have a breakdown of grammar, vocab and the dialog, you can easily take studying even further. Finding a linear learning path is a bit confusing, but the Nihongo Dojo series a good place to start. I like listening to JapanesePod101 while I walk around the city. Find out more about it here!
- Kanji Flashcards (WaniKani) – Kanji is one of the most hated and feared parts about learning Japanese, especially for Westerners. I certainly felt that way when I was first starting to learn. However, I’ve slowly started to gain an appreciation for the crazy characters, and dare I say, maybe even like them a bit? It’s all because of WaniKani! This smart flash card app teaches you the fundamentals of kanji while slowly working up to more difficult items. To memorize the kanji you are taught fun mnemonics. Additionally, you learn vocab along the way that uses the learned kanji. Two birds, one stone! Everything about the app/ company is fun and quirky and by the end you will know almost all of the 2,000 essential kanji. You can try the first few levels for free to see if it’s something for you. I committed to the lifetime access which was a bit expensive ~$200 I think? (It’s cheapest during the holiday season). But I figured that by spending this money I would be making a committed investment into myself and my studies. Right now I am on level 23/60 so lots more to go for me!
- Additional Vocab Flashcards (Anki) – Two flash card apps you ask? Yes, because they are both great and fulfill different needs. Anki is a free, open-source flashcard program that also uses spaced repetition to help you quickly learn new vocab. Since it is open-sourced, you benefit from a huge library of decks that other users have already created. By downloading decks specifically for the Genki Textbooks or the JPLT, I’ve been able to learn a little vocabulary each day. If you really don’t want to spend the money on WaniKani, you can probably get by almost as well with Anki decks.
- Japanese Music – When I’m not listening to JapanesePod 101, I am usually listening to Japanese songs. I’ve found this to be a fun way to practice listening and to tap into a bit of pop culture. I download my favorite songs through the Spotify app so that I can easily listen offline and on the go.
- Japanese Friends – Of course the best way to improve Japanese is to actually use it! If you have native friends, talking and messaging is a good way to practice conversational Japanese, casual grammar structure, and meet also great people! MeetUp if a super popular app in Japan where people host events and… meet up 😂. I recommend this app/site if you are looking to make friends abroad! Host families are a good way to foster this kind of communication experience if you have the opportunity.
- Japanese Locals – Going out into the world is another way I’ve enjoyed learning more about Japan and the language. Visiting restaurants, bars, and events has given me the opportunity to meet and talk with locals and practice listening/speaking. (This is sometimes a little intimidating though as there are still many times where I can’t understand a lot of what is being said).
- Manga – Reading is great, but manga can be a little tricky as a beginner since the kanji, vocab, and grammar can be pretty difficult. To make things easier, I have been reading really simple manga (Yotsuba has been really fun and is pretty good for beginners) or manga based off of anime that I’ve watched before (so I understand the plot a bit already).
- Japanese Graded Readers – These simple books are written explicitly for different levels of proficiency. Because they are catered to each reading level, it is easier to enjoy and learn from these books. I have found Level 2 (初級後半, second half of beginner) graded readers to be around my current proficiency level (midway through Genki 2).
- Anime – There is so anime out there, I’m sure you can find one you’ll like. In the US I watched shows off of Netflix, Crunchyroll, and VRV. (Unfortunately the Netflix offerings are different in Japan and not all the shows have English subtitles. Also you can’t stream from Crunchyroll or other similar sites while living in Japan). Because of this I haven’t been watching as much abroad.
- Genki Textbooks – These are decent beginner books. They go over the basics fairly well though I have found some of the related exercises and worksheets a bit lackluster.
- Italki – Before coming to Japan I wanted to practice speaking, so I signed up for Italki, a service that connects you with native speakers from around the world through conversational lessons. I spoke with a handful of different teachers and had really good experiences with everyone! This is definitely a great way to actually practice speaking and get helpful feedback. I definitely recommend this if you are looking for more speaking practice!
- Google Translate – While I sometimes get really funky translations back from Google Translate, it has been more useful than not. However, I take all of it’s translations with a grain of salt and rely on it more for the general gist of content rather than nitty gritty details. The two best features of this product are: the translation through camera feature that translates live text using the camera or imported images, and the ability to write kanji on the screen and have it turned into a text character. (Note that handwritten or very artistic script will not be translated well with this feature)
- Jisho – This is a great dictionary app that is much better at defining individual words than Google Translate. It does a good job of breaking words down into their subsequent kanji characters, providing many definition variations, and also has the handy draw-to-text feature.
- Deep L – This platform is similar to Google Translate, but I’ve found that it usually provides more reliable translations. There is no camera feature though so you need to type or copy and paste the text you want translated.
I hope you found this list helpful! If you have any questions please let me know! I will continue to expand and develop this list as I find more resources. Until then, 頑張ります！