If you’re wondering how to learn Japanese or what’s the best way to learn it, you might be interested in exploring your language learning style.
Language learning styles are part of a larger category known as ‘Learning Styles’ which are divided into four major groups: visual, auditory (also called ‘verbal’), kinesthetic (also called ‘tactile’) and reading/writing.
Learning styles are kind of a touchy topic. Currently, there is no research-based evidence to support them, which is why you will find mixed views from teachers, language educators and psychologists.
But something educators and psychologists would agree on is that students learn more when information is presented in a variety of ways compared to when only a single method is used.
And let’s be honest, how many of us feel like we learn more Japanese when watching TV shows with subtitles than when memorising grammar rules? While they both have their place in language learning, many people would agree that how well we absorb a language depends on the person and the way we learn it!
Language learning styles can be particularly useful when you’re starting out learning Japanese on your own. You can use them as a guide to help you select language learning activities that you not only learn best from, but enjoy doing!
We’re going to break down the four major language learning styles today so you can decide which ones might help you learn Japanese better.
You guessed it – learners who vibe with the visual learning style prefer to see the language written down.
You might be thinking uh… who doesn’t need to see how a language is written when learning it? Especially Japanese, because it’s totally different to English!
Well, it’s not just the seeing that visual learners need to help them understand and learn the language.
It’s the presentation of the language in different visual formats like diagrams, lists and tables that helps visual learners to memorise and process information.
This could be anything from using a timeline when teaching the tenses (past, present and future) to making tables and flowcharts when teaching vocabulary and grammar.
How to learn Japanese as a visual learner?
Japanese is a very visual language, with three different writing systems and all that kanji, so if you’re a visual learner, you’ll never be short of methods to help you learn it!
Vocabulary and grammar are key starting points for any language learner, but for visual language learners, focusing on them more intensely and developing strategies for memorisation can help them store language in their long-term memory. This then helps them when practising their listening and speaking skills.
If you’re a beginner to Japanese and you’re learning hiragana, katakana and your first 100 kanji, there are tons of materials available online and exercise books you can order. These will show you how the characters look and include dotted diagrams you can trace to memorise them.
If you’re a bit further along in your Japanese, YouTube is another great resource for the visual language learner. Many YouTubers teaching Japanese set up their videos just like a language classroom, with an actual whiteboard or a virtual whiteboard behind them. They explain different vocabulary and grammar points and ask the viewers questions or have them repeat words and phrases which come up on the screen.
YouTube is useful for beginners learning Japanese characters too, because you can follow along with instructional videos that demonstrate the stroke order and shapes of each character.
A great site for learning Japanese watching YouTube videos with interactive subtitles and a picture dictionary is FluentU.
Visual matching activities
Another method that works well for visual learners are picture and vocabulary matching activities. Different images will be presented with a list of vocabulary that you’ve learned and your job is to match the correct word with the correct picture. This can be great for people with a photographic memory, who will easily remember those image-word associations.
Visual activities are a no-brainer for learning vocab. But the same also goes for learning grammar, which can be boring for some language learners. If it’s presented in an engaging way, learning grammar can also come faster for visual language learners. Once again, YouTube and apps like FluentU are awesome for learning grammar rules in a more practical and interesting way.
Other things that can help visual language learners are charts and tables for listing word families such as verbs, adjectives, nouns and using timelines as visual representations of the past, present and future tenses.
Grammar lessons on topics like prepositions can be made fun and interesting given a visual twist, such as using a map to label and give directions like behind, next to, in between, in front of, straight ahead.
Best Japanese resources for visual learners
- List of best YouTube channels to learn Japanese
- FluentU (paid tool to learn Japanese from YouTube videos with bilingual captions, visual dictionary and visual flashcards. 14 days free.)
- Free printable visual flashcards
- Free printable kana workbook
- Free kanji workbook
- Free visual vocabulary cheat sheets
- Anki (flashcard app)
- Memrise (flashcard app)
If you’re the type of person who prefers hearing information rather than reading it, or you find that you memorise things you’ve heard from listening to podcasts or watching a TV show/movie, you might be an auditory learner.
The auditory learning style is also called ‘verbal’ because people who identify with this category find that they learn a language better when it’s spoken rather than written down.
Simple preferences like listening to the news rather than reading it can be a sign you’re more of an auditory learner.
You’re likely a good listener who might also enjoy talking and maybe even debates. Auditory/verbal learners tend to enjoy language learning activities that incorporate a mixture of both listening and speaking because they learn best with sound.
How to learn Japanese as an auditory learner?
You’re in luck! Listening is one of the most important skills involved in learning a language.
There is numerous evidence to show that listening is critical in the acquisition of a foreign or second language.
If you think about it, listening is the first skill we actually use when learning language as a baby! We hear our parents speaking to us and we start to familiarise ourselves with the sounds of our first language until we eventually try to pronounce words ourselves!
Listening is important for everyone but you’ve got an advantage as an auditory/verbal learner. You can use audiobooks and podcasts, as well as programs like Pimsleur, which offer a lot of help with vocabulary through audio learning to help you reach your language learning goals faster.
Whether you’re an auditory learner or not, listening is an excellent way to get accustomed to learning Japanese and can even help you with pronunciation and pitch (which is quite important in Japanese).
As an auditory learner, don’t forget that it’s still important to practice other skills like reading, writing and speaking. You will need to set aside time to study vocabulary and grammar so that you recognize words and sentence patterns and are able to apply them when speaking.
There are language learning apps that can be helpful for auditory learners who need to practice their vocabulary and grammar. For example Duolingo has games and activities that help you to learn vocabulary and grammar through listening to words or sentences and writing them, or rearranging incorrect sentences or words and having an automated voice pronounce them for you.
You can also do matching games where you listen to words or sentences and match them with their written equivalent.
The cool thing about language apps like this is that they often come with in-built spaced repetition notifications, which get you into the habit of practising regularly and learning just the right amount of words or grammar forms with the exact time intervals between sessions which help you store language in your long-term memory.
For audio based lessons with a lot of other resources like transcripts, flashcards and interactive activities, JapanesePod101 is an auditory learner’s dream!
If you’re more a fan of the classic listen and repeat course, then Pimsleur offers great audio-based classes.
Best Japanese resources for auditory learners
- JapanesePod101 (try free lessons)
- Pimsleur Japanese (one week free)
- List of Japanese podcasts
- Listen to Japanese radio online
- Japanese audiobooks
The world is your oyster if you’re a kinesthetic/tactile language learner!
You like to be fully involved with the language, which means you probably have a lot of confidence and enjoy the interactive part of language learning – partner and group activities anyone?
The kinesthetic/tactile language learning style is all about being immersed in the target language. Kinesthetic/tactile learners prefer hands-on experiences and tend to dislike traditional classroom environments where you sit down and listen for 45 minutes straight.
They enjoy participating in the experience of using the language or creating something themselves with it, and can sometimes be prone to losing concentration easily.
How to learn Japanese as a kinesthetic/tactile learner?
The good news for kinesthetic and tactile learners is that learning Japanese is going to be super fun for you!
As someone who likes a hands-on approach to learning, you’re going to benefit from activities that combine a mixture of all language skills: reading, writing, listening and speaking.
The focus for kinesthetic/tactile learners should be on meaning over form – that’s just a technical way of saying that expressing yourself with the amount of Japanese you already know is more important for your learning than making the perfect sentence.
Talk to real people
An approach that works well with kinesthetic/tactile learners is one that involves communication. It’s good to find a language learning buddy, or better, an interactive language class where you use the language and apply it in different situations.
If you’re more of the shy type of kinesthetic learner, you might benefit from one-on-one tutoring with a native Japanese speaker.
HelloTalk is a cool app that brings the language to life by connecting you with native speakers who want to learn your language. Make Japanese friends and communicate by text, voice and video.
Games and communication-based activities like role plays and skits will be activities you enjoy. These activities fall into the language learning strategy known as task-based learning and are part of the communicative approach to language learning.
Learners are given a task to complete with features from the target language, usually with another person or as a group. Then the instructor sets a timer and students have to solve the task before time is up.
The target language is taught through interaction and forces students to apply their knowledge of the language and use it to complete the task.
Language school or conversation classes
Attending a language school is another great option for kinesthetic learners because you get to interact with people.
If it’s difficult to do that in your area or too expensive, you can even make your own conversation class with other people who are also learning Japanese.
It’s recommended to have at least one native speaker or an advanced learner to help direct the conversation and point out any key language points if need be.
You could also look for Japanese conversation or cultural events on Meetup, local Facebook groups or other community resources in your area.
Go to Japan
And the best way to learn Japanese as a kinesthetic learner? Go to Japan!
It’s easier said than done, we know, but immersion is a great language learning strategy and most kinesthetic learners will find they pick up languages quickly in an immersive environment. You get to actually hear the real language spoken by native speakers and use it yourself – what better way to learn a language?
For some this can seem scary, but chances are if you’re a tactile learner, you’ll thrive when thrown in the deep end.
Create an immersion environment at home
If going to Japan isn’t possible right now, you can still create a Japanese bubble at home to bring the language to life.
Switch your phone and computer language to Japanese, stick Japanese posters on your walls, play Japanese music in the background. Try to involve as many senses as possible to really engage in the language.
Japanese video games are another great way to feel fully immersed!
Best Japanese resources for kinesthetic learners
Reading / Writing
Last but not least are our studious bookworms who gravitate toward the reading/writing learning style. Reading/writing learners absorb and remember information best when it’s on paper.
Before communicative approaches to learning languages came about, the reading/writing learning style was the main method used by teachers and students (and still is, in some countries today!)
Taking notes, reading textbooks and any kind of writing activity are ideal for reading/writing learners. They prefer to have words written down rather than spoken, and have no problem with doing repetitive writing or reading exercises where they get to practice a specific language feature.
This can be especially beneficial for learning grammar, which is one of the more difficult parts of learning a language.
How to learn Japanese as a reading/writing learner?
Something cool to know as a reader/writing learner is that the way Japanese (and often English as well) is taught in schools to native speakers in Japan is through the reading/writing learning style.
As mentioned earlier, Japanese is a very visual language because of its unique writing systems. Learning the characters and then mastering vocabulary and grammar takes a lot of practice in reading and writing.
Kanji, for example, is all about memorising stroke order and radicals, which can feel like a headache for most people but reading/writing learners will most likely find it therapeutic!
Reading/writing learners therefore have a huge advantage when it comes to memorising Japanese characters, vocabulary and an upper hand with grammar which tends to be text-book heavy.
Reading/writing learners learn well with traditional methods such as studying from textbooks and taking notes. You’re in luck, because there is no shortage of excellent textbooks out there! Here’s our pick of the best books to learn Japanese.
It goes without saying that reading/writing learners learn well from reading! You probably learn vocabulary well through reading it in context, and you naturally develop a feel for sentence structure and grammatical constructs through reading example sentences.
So, try to read as much as possible – but don’t be limited to the passages in your textbooks. Look for authentic Japanese materials that you’ll enjoy reading, whether that’s manga, novels, blogs, or even following Japanese social media accounts.
Here’s a big list of free Japanese reading resources for every level. Yes, there are even Japanese books you can read as a beginner!
Worksheets and writing activities
If you feel that your learning style is reading/writing, you will enjoy language learning activities that come in the form of handouts which you can work on by yourself.
At the beginner level, make use of activities such as these free worksheets where you can copy out common words and phrases. It serves as writing practise and vocabulary drills in one!
You’ll also probably get the most out of your language learning if you are able to study alone in a quiet area without distractions.
Reading/writing learners enjoy using lists, headings, bullet points and other types of annotations which are organised in a way that they can read over and over again to help retain information and store it in their long-term memory.
Using apps is a great way for reading/writing learners to embrace their learning style. Vocabulary apps and language learning apps mentioned earlier like Duolingo, Memrise and Anki let you use and recycle language that you’ve learned and even allow you to take quizzes and tests.
Don’t neglect speaking
Just be careful to balance your language learning program if you tend towards the reading/writing learning style. It can be easy to hide in the corner and do your rote-learning exercises without ever speaking a word of Japanese!
Find opportunities to actually use what you’ve learned in a real-life situation. Thankfully, you’ll have a ton of language already stored in your memory, so now you just need to try applying what you know!
If you feel intimidated by speaking or conversation classes, one-on-one tutoring with a native Japanese speaker (find affordable online tutors here) is a more comfortable way to get some speaking experience as a reader/writer learner.
Resources to learn Japanese for reading/writing learners
- Free vocabulary/phrases writing worksheets
- Free kana writing workbook
- Free kanji book
- List of websites for free reading practise
Francesca is a freelance copywriter and teacher, who moved to Tokyo from New Zealand at age 24. A linguistics and ESL major, she spent 3 years teaching at an all-boys high school. Now based in France, she remains a self-confessed Japanophile who loves kanji, cooking, cats and the outdoors.