When studying Japanese the amount you need to learn can be really daunting but breaking it down into topics can make it so easier. It doesn’t make much sense to cram lists of vocabulary unless you’re using that vocabulary with a mix of other things. This is how Japanese text books work, they will give you some vocab along with grammar and then reading/listening/writing practice to enforce the two together before moving onto the next section. This gives you a steady stream of Japanese without overloading your brain.
I’ve put together some topics and examples you can cover as you start learning Japanese with the aim of building up layers of knowledge that compliments what you’ve already learnt. What’s really useful is have a goal for each section (i.e a certain number of vocabulary/particles/grammar) and then move onto the next section. If the vocabulary for one part is too large split it up and work what you missed back into what you learn later.
This does means you’ll have to go research the majority of the vocabulary that goes with these topics, but I plan to slowly work through them creating a vocabulary and grammar list for each section for people who don’t want to go away and do the research. These will come on separate blog posts.
But for now you can use and change around my suggestions bellow to build up your own study schedule that works for you using the topics you find most interesting and relevant to what you want to learn.
Practising what you learn daily (something small every day, even if it’s only 3 sentences) on a site like Lang-8 is great as natives will correct your mistakes, making your skills increase even faster!
Hiragana / Katakana
Step 1 is always hiragana and katakana with a mix of basic vocabulary. Kana workbooks are great for this as they mix basic vocabulary with the kanas as you work through them, giving you kana practice while building up your vocabulary!
(which I went over in this last post!) If you’re just starting out it’s good to practice just the standard sentences such as:
I am Niffer – わたしはNifferです
This is a cake – これはケーキです
That is a monkey – あれはさるです
I covered briefly in the tenses section of the basics grammar post, but what’s really great is learning new verbs while changing the tenses. Practising them together will make it easier to remember tenses and verb. You can start by writing a very basic daily diary with 3 things you did that day, 3 things you didn’t do and 3 thing’s you’ll do tomorrow.
NEW! J-Talk Online Memrise course for learning and practising beginners Japanese grammar (mostly verb tenses)
Why not start with your own family member? Learn how to say “I have a mum” “I have 2 sisters” “Fred is my cousin”. These sentences use simple grammar with です and います. It also gives you the opportunity to learn counters for people (にん) which is really useful for restaurants.
This can be done similarly to learning family with sentences like “I have a dog” using います. The counters for animals are different to people (ひき) but are very useful to learn.
(The above link is to a memrise course with 150 animals which you learn using katakana. It’s not one I made but is really, really good for beginners to learn their common and uncommon animals)
This is a fun one as you can practice by labelling everything in your room/house. Because these are inanimate objects you’d あります when practising sentences.
Counters for objects are the hardest counting system but the most useful.
The most obvious is learning buildings like bank, library, hospital, school, post office, but a great way to practice verbs with it is to say you “go” (いきます), “come” (きます) and “return” (かえります/もどります) to buildings. Note: かえります is only used when you return home/country and もどります is used when you return to a place (that’s not your home).
Counters for buildings (けん) and floors (かい)
Objects that you would buy like makeup, different clothes, shoes, games, music. You can apply a lot to this so you have to be careful not to overload with too much vocabulary and to learn what you gather in sections. This is a great topic to mix “this/that” (これ・それ・あれ) with “please” おねがいします and ください.
Hobbies and Verbs
A lot of hobbies are nouns that you would add します to, but a lot of them have some interesting verbs like ひきます to play a stringed instrument (including pianos!).
Money and Numbers
Numbers 1-10 are pretty easy, but you will find yourself using 1000s and 10000s a lot with Japanese because of the way yen works.
Great for reading recipes. (Click the link above to see blog post on cooking vocabulary and customs)
School items, classes, and people
Another big topic that can have a great mix of vocabulary, especially if you’re studying in Japan and mix it with times of day (for lesson times).
Time is great to learn, and you should always start with hours. Then half hours, then 5 and 10 mins, then individual mins. Time is broken down in this way in Japanese and it’s a lot easier then going from 1-60 in a circle. You can also include “from” (から) and “to” (まで) with time to describe lessons, or time it takes (かかります) to get to a pace. Time will always use the particle に (but remember, you never mix に with までから because in a way these are particles themselves).
New! Memrise JLPT N5 Vocabulary and Kanji – Vocabulary grouped together (just like the above) so you can learn 800 basic words in 2 months!
As I said I hope to go through each of these topics building up lessons for people to play with. But this will take time and it’s a great way to learn the language if you research words yourself. A good way to do this is to write down what you want to learn in English and find the words in a dictionary (such as http://www.nihongodict.com/) and practice them through flashcards and use. (If you prefer pre-structured lessons to teach yourself with then a text book is probably your best bet, although be warned, many of these are designed to be learnt with a teacher.)
If I’ve missed a topic you want to go over please tell me!