Starting out in Japanese

Robert M.Starred Page By Robert M., 24th May 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

Interested in learning Japanese but don't know how to start? I'll share with you what I've learned on my own journey.

The journey.

All the wonderful anime I had watched, the moving Kurosawa films I had seen, the still images of Japan I had viewed, these were among the many things that led me to pick Japanese as my second language at university.

I had never thought, starting out, that after my first test I would be looking at a C.

Learning Japanese has been a very humbling experience. I've made a lot of mistakes, had some successes, and had to reevaluate my methods of learning often. I've had to suck it up and ask for help when I didn't know what I was doing, and suffer the consequences when I'd let my pride get the better of me.

Here I'll share with you some tips on how to start your own journey and what tools to bring along with you. Hopefully, I can help make your journey a less bumpy one than my own.

Shall we begin?

Where to start.

Basically, however you can, start learning some basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary.

I started my journey at University. If you choose this path, it'll be wonderful but there are some things you should be aware of: Not all American University Japanese language programs are great and some may not even explain Japanese grammar clearly. Also, Japanese language textbooks, while nowhere near as bad as they used to be, still have some issues regarding what, in what order, and how they teach. Just be prepared to have to revise certain things you learned later in life, depending on your university.

For some of you, you've either already graduated or University isn't an option. That's okay, there are still ways for you to start your journey. A simple Google search will reveal that there are classes in Japanese taught by language schools in your area that are available to you.

Maybe your time and resources are limited and you can't go to a class. There are other resources available to start your journey, such as Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide.
This is a free and simple to use guide to learn Japanese, available not only on the web but there's also an iPhone app version available in the App Store (also for free). While I do use this grammar guide, I do caution others about it's use as I've been advised by a Professor of Japanese that it's not entirely trustworthy.

While buying a Japanese-English dictionary or using an online one (like Denshi Jisho), is a good idea, I would caution about learning EVERY SINGLE WORD in such a dictionary. You might be learning very old and outdated Japanese words they no longer use. You'd either sound old or weird.
To avoid this problem, make sure you use Google for new words you discover to see if they're in common use or not. Some Japanese-English dictionaries also have a feature where they clearly identify what's in common use and what's not.

Tools to keep you going.

You've signed up for your classes, or you've started started learning Japanese in some other way. How do you keep going? What are some good tools you can utilize as you really start learning Japanese?

1. The Memory Book. Sure, flash cards are nice and good. I still use them in fact. But HOW you use them is what's important. Rote Memorization (repeating something over and over until you remember it) is very difficult and takes so much time. This book, which is a required text for first-year Japanese students at University of Missouri, is applicable to all things in life, not just learning and remembering Japanese. It will increase your ability to remember anything, not just Japanese.

2. Nelson's Original Modern Reader's Japanese-English Character Dictionary. If you want to learn Kanji, and/or want to find a Kanji you just encountered and don't know what it means, THIS is the book for you (Stick with the Original, avoid the New version). This dictionary utilizes the Kanji Radical look-up method in order to find your Kanji. According to Professor Martin Holman of the University of Missouri, it's important you use such a method or it will greatly hinder your ability to learn Kanji.

3. Remembering the Kanji. Students of Japanese swear by this book as being effective to helping them remember the look of Kanji. One complained to me that it's focus is the image of the Kanji, not the sounds.

4. Quizlet. This is the site I use to make my flash cards now. Yes, I did just rebuke Rote Memorization, but I do believe flashcards can be utilized as a tool for memorization when one uses Trained Memory Techniques, such as in the ones you find in The Memory Book. The neat thing about this is if you download the Eductic App for your iPhone, you can download whatever flashcards you made on Quizlet straight to your phone! There might be similar apps on Google Android that will connect with Quizlet.

5. Lang-8. This free website is an EXCELLENT place to practice your Japanese. Here, you pick the language you want to study, and you are able to interact with native speakers of that language. I picked Japanese, obviously, and all I do is write a blog post in Japanese, and then native Japanese speakers (more often than not actually currently living in Japan) sign on and correct my Japanese. Lang-8 is awesome because the form it has for correcting someone's post is very intuitive. The site automatically separates and itemizes your sentences and allows the reader to comment and correct for any line they see an issue with. The site appears built on the idea of native speakers helping native speakers, so as others help your Japanese, you can help others with their English. It's simple, it's fun, and it's free.

6. Get a tutor. Talk with your University or consult Google. Wherever you live there should be a tutor of Japanese available. Check their background and make sure they know their stuff. If they do, together you can move forward in your Japanese language journey.


I looked out as I stepped out of the plane. My eyes jumped out of my sockets. I wanted to pinch myself. Was this real? I walk up to a vendor at the airport, opened my mouth and used what little Japanese I knew. Next thing I know, I pay the vendor about 200 yen, received my ice cream cone, then took a bite. It was true. I was in Japan.

When it comes to making progress in Japanese and becoming more fluent, there's only so much you can do in America. Honestly, to really improve and move towards fluency, the best thing to do is to go to Japan.

That's it, plain and simple.

If you're attending University, my recommendation would be to look into a study abroad program in Japan for at least a semester. There are a whole host of great universities you could study abroad in that your own University may have a relationship with. There are also programs where you can go and teach English in Japan, such as the JET Program.

All in all, just keep studying, practicing, and when possible go to Japan. You won't regret it.


Japanese, Language, Learning Japanese, Study Abroad, Study Habits, Studying

Meet the author

author avatar Robert M.
I'm a filmmaker finishing his degree in Asian History. I'm also studying Japanese and am a Vice-President in the Japanese National Honor Society at my University. My writing will relate to these.

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author avatar JapanesePod101
25th Mar 2015 (#)

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Hopefully these help and good luck with your Japanese studies!

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