Learning Japanese – 5 Things I Wish I Had Known

Okay, so you want to try learning Japanese, but you’re not sure where to start. Or, maybe, you’ve started already but you’re not sure where to go next with your studying. I may not be a complete expert on Japanese, but after studying it for the equivalent of three years in high school and continuing to study it in college, I’ve picked up a couple tips and tricks that I wish someone would have told me when I had first started. They have helped me a lot in the past, and hopefully they can help you too!

ONE // Utilize online resources.

Anki (暗記) is an efficient flashcard program/app that is extremely customizable, basically allowing whatever form of media you like to be imported to aid you in your studying. It’s not just for languages, but it’s incredibly helpful for learning Japanese because it allows you to mark certain terms (or whatever it may be that you’re studying) based on how confident your knowledge of it is. It then uses this information to decide how frequently to show it to you in the future.

Jisho (辞書) is a fantastic English-Japanese online dictionary that makes it really easy to translate or look up words you’re unfamiliar with. It also lets you draw kanji and search for characters you know the pronunciation of. You can also look for kanji by selecting radicals from a huge list. Super convenient and easy to use.

JLPT Study The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is basically a standardized test that determines your Japanese ability, level N5 being very basic and N1 being near-fluent. Whether or not you ever want to actually take the test, this website is an excellent resource to help you figure out what you should be studying. Each “level” on this website provides the vocabulary, kanji, grammar, and expressions you should know in order to pass a certain JLPT level which can be helpful for learning at a steady, incremental pace.

TWO //  Set realistic goals, and stick with them.

I feel like a lot of people get started with learning Japanese and immediately feel like they need to be able to hold solid conversations and be able to read manga (or whatever it may be) with ease. This isn’t a great way to look at it, because it takes a lot of effort and consistent studying to be able to do these things. Instead, I recommend pacing yourself and committing to smaller, realistic goals.

As a student who is currently studying Japanese, my professor determines my pacing (This is about a Genki chapter every week to week and a half, as well as learning to write/recognize 30~40 kanji in that timeframe). However, without the motivation of upcoming tests and quizzes to keep me studying consistently, I would likely have a hard time keeping up with the pace. Try to start small, maybe learning to write one new kanji a day and teaching yourself twenty or so vocabulary words a week, along with trying to learn some grammar and sentence structures where you can apply what you’ve been learning. If you find whatever goals you set for yourself to be too intense, make them easier. And vice versa.

The most important thing I can stress is that you are consistent with however much you decide to study!

THREE // Find people to practice with.

I know what you’re thinking. “How the heck am I supposed to find people to practice speaking Japanese with?”

If you’re in college (or even live near one), you might have access to some sort of Japanese department. Try to get in contact with them and have them help you find someone you can practice speaking with. A lot of times universities will have Japanese exchange students who are looking to practice speaking English, so it can be an incredibly helpful relationship for both of you.

If you don’t have access to a university’s Japanese department or for some reason you aren’t able to find a speaking partner, I recommend checking out Twitter and reaching out to Japanese users who are trying to learn English. You can also try practicing with people who are trying to learn Japanese, but you run the risk of seeing some pretty awful grammar. There are plenty of language accounts like this, so they shouldn’t be hard to find. I also suggest that you check out accounts that post random vocabulary and sayings such as TanoshiiKaiwa (楽しい会話), which literally translates to “fun conversation.”

FOUR // Find a learning method that works for you.

Do you know what your learning style is? If not, go take this quiz!

For example, I’m a pretty visual learner myself, so when I’m studying kanji it really helps me to visualize each character as a picture that somehow relates to its meaning. For example, the kanji “ki” (木) means tree, and it’s easy for me to remember it by visualizing the character itself as a tree.

Another really helpful thing for learning kanji can be to just write a character over and over until it becomes memorized. This would probably fall more under the kinesthetic learning category.

Figure out whatever helps you learn best, and do that.

FIVE // Immerse yourself.

What initially made you want to learn Japanese? Was it anime or manga? Maybe J-Rock or J-Pop?

There are tons of ways to immerse yourself in the language without actually having to go to Japan. Listen to Japanese music, read untranslated Japanese books or manga, watch anime… the list goes on! There’s a huge breadth of things to experience out there that can really enhance your learning, but you have to be okay with struggling through it. Don’t just stay in the small bubble that is formal, written Japanese.

Note: This post completely unsponsored; any websites or companies I have listed I have chosen because I believe that they are extremely helpful resources. Also, in addition to all these tips, the basis for my studying has come from the Genki series of textbooks.


Next post: “Happybee, Happymee” – A Honeymee Review


  • Scribbling Geek

    February 4, 2017 at 11:51 pm

    Immersion, by spending time in Japan, is absolutely necessary. I studied the language for 18mths. Took exams and scored As. And then I went to […] Read MoreImmersion, by spending time in Japan, is absolutely necessary. I studied the language for 18mths. Took exams and scored As. And then I went to Japan and I found to my horror I could barely manage a conversation in a store. For whatever reason, a lot of text books don't teach commonplace words used in everyday life. Words like chodo, etc. Read Less

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I'm Laura - an avid food and lifestyle blogger, photographer, freelance graphic designer, Japanese pop culture lover, and food enthusiast. I'm currently based in Los Angeles, CA and studying communications, cognitive science, and Japanese.

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