The Ultimate Studying Japanese Guide: My 7 Year and Ongoing Learning Experience
In this article, I plan to go through what I have learned to help me improve over time. It will include free resources, paid resources (I am not paid to mention them) but I use them, and also little mentions for learning in general.
The guide will follow this layout;
What I did
What I Now Recommend
I also want to mention, I have never lived in Japan, so this guide is mainly for learners living abroad. This also means that my methods and tips will be very different than someone living and learning in Japan or studying at School / University.
*Skip to Japanese Learning Year 1 to get right into the Guide
My Language Start (2013)
My road to learning Japanese started in 2013, I was in my final year of University Studying Programming, Design, and Marketing, so it was the perfect timing to take my first trip to Japan and have a break. Going away for fun before exams is always a good idea. (Unfortunately, this is not actually the case)
Ultimately, I did get through my exams, but it came at a price. Luckily for me, that price was finding out, that a life of Japanese learning was exactly what I was looking for. I don’t regret this decision at all. In these 7 years, I have tried multiple methods of learning. So, let’s start with my first year.
Japanese Learning Year 1
What Did I do?
My first 12 months of learning revolved around the following;
Learning Hiragana and Katakana
Paid Japanese class (1 hour per week)
What I should have done
Watching anime is completely fine, you can practice listening, pick up words, and also experience many different types of speaking styles. You might pick up or hear some silly Japanese, but, generally, my experience is that if you want to relax and enjoy watching something, this is a good side practice. The more you listen to and absorb the Japanese, the better your outcome will be.
But, just remember, It should never be your main learning method!
Regarding Hiragana and Katakana (Hiragana and Katakana)
I paid for classes and spent 1 hour each week learning online with a teacher how to learn these. Looking back, I wish I didn’t. My teacher was a lovely lady, but, this is really something that you can easily learn for free alone. The only area that you need to be careful in, is your pronunciation. However, you can easily find native speakers saying the sound for free after a simple google search.
Spend time writing and speaking these yourself, you don't need a class
Regarding Paid Classes Year 1
For those of you who do have the luxury of paying for classes, I fully recommend it. For my first year of learning, actually my first 3–4 years, I did not continue to pay for classes. As a student, I had other expenses (beer and parties) that couldn't be forgotten. Initially, I searched online and found private teachers, however in year 4, I found Cafetalk. Here you can find 1000’s of teachers, class types, and pricing to fit your needs. After becoming a worker bee, I have paid for over 300 hours of classes on this platform. I’ve improved way beyond what learning alone could ever give me. I can’t stress enough just how much easier it is to learn by paying for classes. Unfortunately, this won't be possible for everyone, but even if you can study with a native teacher for 1 hour per week, you will slowly and gradually improve.
This was probably the area where I made my biggest mistake. I took classes, once per week, but, I would never manage to keep it up, making sure to do it every single week without a miss.
It was only for one hour, but even then, I missed week after week and class after class…..
If possible, you should aim to use Japanese every single day, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, anything that you can fit into your schedule. You’ll find that outside of your study time, the minutes of thinking and using Japanese in your head will pile up. Keep consistent. It will make you fluent.
Consistency really is king!
Traveling to Japan
After spending my first year learning basic introductions, learning how to count and read katakana and hiragana, I felt like it was time to go back to Japan.
What I did
I got really frustrated that I couldn't communicate well with the locals.
I felt like people weren't listening properly
I felt like being a foreign speaker got discriminated against
I began to stress about using Japanese in situations where I would make mistakes
What I should have done
People in Japan are generally very polite and reasonable people. No one is out to make foreigners feel stupid, unwelcome, or discriminated against. I would also recommend leaving any pride aside when you want to speak a foreign language. It isn't a battle, competition, or a win/lose matter of life and death.
You will make mistakes
You will feel stupid sometimes
People won’t always understand you
This was a really big mistake of mine in my initial learning years. I wanted to be amazing quickly. I wanted to be better than other Japanese speakers. I should have focused on myself rather than others. You are probably learning Japanese because you love it, so please enjoy it. Don’t let it make you feel awful. It should be fun. Take and look at each language exchange as yet another advancement in your level. Each time you make a mistake and correct it, you’ve just improved.
Learning using online resources has many advantages, many are free, and you can absolutely improve learning with other passionate learners. For anyone starting and aiming to see if you really want to study, I recommend the above site. I was able to meet really amazing people, one of which, I have been studying with for over 5 years and counting. You will need to sacrifice your time, and also teach something in return, but, if you are on a budget or looking for an extra path for more learning, this is truly a lifesaver.
Lately, we have also decided to share some learning methods through our podcast. EJPOD. Feel free to check it out, however it is for intermediate to advanced levels.
It might take you a little bit of searching and time to find your language learning partner, but if you are lucky like us, it will save you a ton of money and you will improve greatly together. You also make friends and can learn so many types of speech that you cant discuss with teachers.
For example, talking about family, personal matters, or anything that you can only share with friends. Learning how to do this in Japanese will be a huge difference-maker for anyone aiming to work or ultimately live in Japan.
Similar to my feelings for anime, I learned that Manga will help you practice simple reading in the beginning. For beginners, if you read online or purchase the books, usually even in the English versions, you will be able to see background hiragana or katakana written to describe the sound. Think of a scene where the wind is blowing, there will be a sound effect written such as whooooooshhhhhh, or a car starting to accelerate, vroom, etc.
This little onomatopoeia is useful, but again, it isn’t a good main method of study. If you are able to read at an n3 or n2 level, then you can aim to read the raw versions of Manga, which will be a great way to practice. However, for many beginners at N5 or N4 levels, it wouldn't be my recommended place to start.
Manga is fun, but the real study is only possible when you reach N3 level
Alternative Reading Resources
If only I knew what I know now, I would have quickly reached goals and aims. One of the best free online tools for learning to read must be NHK Easy News.
This news site covers all new events, stories and world media written in Japanese. It has hiragana written above Kanji for beginners, and there are so many great stories and vocabulary covering all things for learning.
With so much variety, you can easily find something to enjoy reading, and at the same time practice your Japanese. I am not sure if N5 readers would easily be able to use this, however, as soon as you know how to read hiragana and katakana, you will be able to read every news story on this site. It is 100% free, updated daily, and I can’t stress how useful it is.
Compared to manga, this is the clear winner.
Year 3 to year 7
From year 3 to now, (currently year 7 as of writing) I have continued to be consistent.
My main study changed to;
Business Level Japanese
Consistency really is key !
In these 4 years, I have combined free online tools, Language exchange, and paid classes to reach my ultimate goal of speaking, reading, and writing Japanese fluently. For this last part of the guide, let me leave you with some sites, tools and other info I can personally recommend.
JapanesePod101.com is an online Japanese language learning website. With us you’ll learn to speak, read, write and hear Japanese. You’ll have fun learning with listeners around the world. Get ready to “wow” your friends, family, teacher and colleagues with the Japanese you learn with us!
For questions and asking others about grammar or usage of certain words, this is a great community to check out and contribute to.
The full version of Japanese news written in Kanji. This platform really offers a lot for anyone learning Japanese. I really want to mention it again as I hope it can help you all learn, just as it has for me.
If anyone has any questions, feel free to reach out to us at EJPODCAST. We will be happy to help answer any language learning questions or help point you towards the right place.
Or, join us for weekly practice below!
And finally, good luck learning!