5 Ways I Study Japanese

I have made several short, lackluster efforts over the past few years to study Japanese. I remember way back in junior high during my anime-obsessed days I rented a series of Japanese learning tapes from the library; however, I didn't dedicate myself to using them daily. Since then, my Japanese knowledge has been limited to phrases here and there that I've gotten from Japanese media, especially music and television. 

Nevertheless, over the past year or so I've been making efforts to learn more Japanese. Compared to Chinese, I think it's certainly a more difficult language in terms of the grammar and writing systems among other things. At least with Japanese, when it comes to speaking, there's only intonation to concern yourself with rather than tones.

See how I use Chinese to learn Japanese here.

Although Japanese challenges me, there are five methods I use to casually study the language and check what I've learned or how much I know. I'm conversational in Mandarin, but not Japanese; I think my strongest Japanese skill at the moment is reading. Nonetheless, hopefully I will be able to hold a decent conversation in Japanese by the end of this year.

1. Learn Kana & Practice it Everyday
A hiragana-katakana chart. Memorize it!

There is simply no way one can learn to read and write Japanese efficiently without learning the kana systems, hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is used to write words of Japanese origin that do not have a corresponding kanji or Chinese-derived character. Katakana represents foreign/foreign-derived words and sounds. 

While you still need to know several kanji to read most Japanese text past early elementary level, there's a host of words you can read once you learn kana:
  • カレー (karē) - curry
  • おにぎり(onigiri) - Japanese rice balls
  • オレンジー (orenjī) - orange (the color)
  • ドキドキ (dokidoki) - badum, badum; onomatopoeia for a heartbeat
  • ハンバガ (hanbāgā) - hamburger
As you probably noticed, many of my examples are food items. Therefore, if you're taking a trip to Japan, I'd strongly recommend you to learn kana so you can articulate what you want to eat instead of pointing at displays! You can easily do it within a weekend.

2. Practice Kanji by JLPT Test Level

A collection of kanji.
Naturally, knowledge of kanji in addition to kana is essential when learning of to read and write Japanese. It's one thing to memorize kanji as you come across them, but I believe it's also logical to memorize kanji according to Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level. Using this method, you can gradually encounter more complex kanji at a steady pace. Also, you'll have the tools you need to pass the JLPT level you'd like to conquer, if that's important to you. Here is a page you can use to study JLPT 5 or the lowest level proficiency test kanji.

3. Consume Japanese Media

I think the major impetuous behind me wanting to learn Japanese is my love for Japanese media. I'm a huge fan of several Japanese musical artists and enjoy a nice TV drama once in awhile. While I doubt using media can help anyone learn a language to a high level, it helps with casually checking your comprehension level. If you can follow a radio conversation of read an entire Japanese post on Instagram or Twitter, you know you're getting somewhere!


I don't listen to Japanese music consciously for comprehension purposes all the time, but when I do, I attempt to select songs that are slow in tempo where the artist isn't distorting their voice too much. If there's minimal filtering and auto-tune, it's much easier to hear the words they're singing. 

Naturally, I don't have a comprehensive list of all slow tempo Japanese songs, but whatever artist you choose should theoretically have slower song or two, unless they're an instrumental or heavy metal band. 

Happy End's 1971 hit 風をあつめて (Kaze wo Atsumete; Gather the Wind), which you can listen to above, is the perfect example of the type of song I mean. It's slow with simple vocabulary, but still paints a vivid picture for the listener. You can read the lyrics in Japanese here.

I think watching Japanese television dramas is a great way to practice the language casually and check your comprehension. It's not an efficient method, but if you watch subtitled dramas, you can pick up new vocabulary here and there as you read the subs; there are several websites out there that stream dramas. Alternatively, you can watch dramas "raw" or without subtitles and challenge yourself to follow the story without the support of a translation.

Social Media

As I stated in a previous post, social media sites are a great way to get free reading practice in another language. Simply follow Japanese (or speakers of the language you want to learn), and see how much of their posts you can read.

3. Speak to Japanese People

What better way to learn a language than to converse with native speakers? If you have a Japantown in your city, find yourself somewhere in Japan, or run into Japanese speakers elsewhere, find a way to speak to them a bit! I'm shy myself, so I understand how daunting it can be to approach strangers. However, I think if you approach a person with a friendly attitude, they might be willing to speak with you. 

In Japan, people find it strange to strike up conversations with complete strangers, but you have several chances there to conduct day-to-day conversations in Japanese (and practice your kana and kanji skills by reading as many signs and labels as you can). 

If there aren't many Japanese speakers in your area, and you don't think you'll be going to Japan any time soon, take part in a tandem language exchange. In tandem language learning, two native speakers share their language with a partner. There are several tandem language learning sites online (like Tandem Exchange) which you can use to strike up a language exchange with a native Japanese speaker.

5. Use the Genki Textbook

The 2nd Edition of the first book.
I asked a few Japanese learners what their favorite textbooks were before I started my self-studying journey. The top responses were Genki and Minna no Nihongo. I was torn between the two, but ultimately chose to buy Genki although I admittedly would have liked to purchase the other textbook. 

Genki is clear and easy to follow with useful vocabulary and phrases along with English translations of everything. On the other hand, Minna no Nihongo follows a more immersion style approach with no English translations (if you'd like to have a translation of the text, you must purchase it separately). I wanted to buy the Japanese-Chinese Minna no Nihongo to challenge myself, but as I'm in the beginning stages of this process, I went for Genki. I enjoy the book; it's a great choice it you're studying without an instructor. 

I hope these tips inspire you! What are some ways you study Japanese (or another language)?

1 comment:

  1. Language learning is quite tough and Japanese is more, as it is having a vast library of different types of alphabets such as Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana! Your steps are great to learn Japanese.