Learning Japanese is fun, awesome and rewarding!
But, it can also be hard…
Especially if you go about it in the wrong way.
You want to maximise your chances of success, and make learning Japanese as easy and exciting as possible. Do this by making sure you use the most effective methods right from the beginning.
Here are my top tips for learning Japanese for beginners:
1. Know the difference between the scripts
There are three character sets in the Japanese language: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.
(Well, there’s also romaji, but you don’t need to learn that – it means Latin letters, which is what you’re reading now!)
The three Japanese scripts can be off-putting when you start learning Japanese. But like it or not, they’re essential.
If you want to learn Japanese for beginners, you simply have to start here.
You will even come to love them once you appreciate their differences… Honest!
The most important thing for beginners is to understand what the three main scripts are and when each one is used in Japanese. For this, I recommend you check out my article on how to read Japanese.
Kanji can wait until you are comfortable with these first two.
2. Plan your learning around your goals
Why do you want to learn Japanese? Ok, there are loads of great reasons, but what does it mean to you? Really try to get clear on this goal.
Do you want to live in Japan, make international friends, learn for business, watch original anime?
Thinking about why you want to learn will help you create an action plan for learning effectively. It’s important to find the best way to learn Japanese for you.
If your goal is to enjoy Japanese pop culture, don’t pick a textbook aimed at business learners. You’ll only get bored and give up.
If you want to live and work in Japan, conversational skills will be very important. Pick a communicative course and make sure you practise speaking with language exchange partners.
Planning your learning around your goals will help you learn the things that are important to you. You’ll see faster progress, and you’ll be more likely to stick with it.
3. Do a little bit every day
If you’re serious about learning Japanese, you have to practise every day. A one-hour class per week just isn’t going to cut it.
There are two main reasons why you should be practising every day:
Firstly, you remember a language better when you are constantly using and reviewing it. If you only study once a week, you’ll spend the first half of the class feeling ‘rusty’ and trying to get back into the groove. Daily use keeps you in the habit and also helps new words stick into your long term memory.
Secondly, by making Japanese study a daily habit you’ll likely add up more hours than if you went for one monster study session once a week.
Ultimately, learning to speak a language well comes down to how many hours you spend on it. Estimates vary regarding how long it takes to get fluent, but realistically it will be several hundred hours. Start working on it today, study consistently, and you’ll get there!
With that said…
4. Learn to use dead time
Ok, you’re busy. We’re all busy. I know that. I’m not asking you to sit down for five hours every day and study Japanese chained to your desk.
Time management is one of the biggest difficulties for most language learners. Most likely, you have a job, or you’re attending school, or both.
Then you have to spend time with your family, walk the dog, do your chores… I get it.
One of the most effective ways to learn Japanese is to claw back dead time for language study. Look for little pockets of time where you’re not doing anything, or you’re doing something passive and could multi-task.
Why can’t you listen to a Japanese audio course while you’re walking to dog or driving to work? (Try JapanesePod101 or Pimsleur.) How about a Japanese vocabulary game on your phone while you’re on the train?
Finding just five minutes to study here and there throughout the day can really add up!
5. Look for shortcuts
When most people think about learning Japanese, it can seem like an impossible task.
The writing’s all squiggles and hieroglyphics! The sounds are weird! The words are completely different!
There’s a reason these people aren’t learning Japanese, and you are.
Instead of focusing on what’s different about Japanese, focus on the language’s similarities with English.
Start by reviewing the hundreds of English loan words used in Japanese (kamera, enjin, pantsu…). Remind yourself that a lot of Japanese words have made their way into English, too.
Language hacks like these can cut down your study time and help you feel more engaged with the language.
6. Surround yourself with Japanese
One of the most powerful things you can do when you’re learning a foreign language is to create an immersion environment.
Can’t travel to Japan just yet? No worries. Bring Japan to you.
You’ll learn more Japanese just by absorbing it, and you’ll also grow a greater appreciation and love for the culture.
7. Find a course you enjoy, and stick with it
There are a lot of different courses and textbooks out there. We know it can be overwhelming.
What’s important is that you just choose one, and stick with it! Don’t hoard piles of textbooks and start a new one each week. It’s more effective to work through a structured course.
It also goes without saying that you should choose something fun! You might find an online, interactive course more dynamic than a traditional textbook. If you enjoy it, you’ll be more likely to study regularly.
And that’s how you get fluent!
JapanesePod101 is my recommended course of Japanese for beginners. It’s audio-based and also very interactive, so you learn by speaking, listening, reading and writing.
You can access it from your computer or also via their mobile app. You can test out there free membership here, which gives you free lifetime access to most recent lessons, or read my full review here.