This is a step-by-step guide from complete beginners who want to challenge themselves to speaking fluently within 1 year.
This is aimed at beginners but these techniques can be picked up by anyone who wants to speak Japanese fluently.
These tips and tricks focus on speaking only although knowing how to at least read hiragana and katakana is necessary.
NOTE: This guide is broken down into 4 parts for every 3 months of studying!
Here’s the challenge: to be able to speak Japanese fluently in 1 year!
Ok… but what do you mean by fluent?
I mean be able to hold a conversation with a Japanese person without consciously thinking about translating English into Japanese.
I don’t know any Japanese! How am I supposed to do that?
Well, let me tell you….
Some Things You Need to be Willing to Do
If this is something you want to be able to achieve then you have to be willing to put the time and effort in. You also have to be willing to step outside your comfort zone.
- Talk to strangers.
- Go outside your comfort zone.
- Willing to make mistakes.
- Study AND practice (they are NOT mutually exclusive)
You can do this entire challenge without spending a penny! But I have included some paid for suggestions to help give you a boost!
Break Down the 1 Year into Smaller Goals
Our ultimate goal is to be able to hold a conversation with a native Japanese person without thinking about it. Specifically a conversation that you would have in daily life, not anything complicated (like politics – unless you want to focus on that!)
But that’s not all. By the end of the year you should also:
- Know (at least) hiragana and katakana.
- Have a good base of vocabulary (about 3000+).
- Understand common (mostly informal) grammar.
The easiest thing to do is to break this 1 year down into 3 month goals, and those 3 months into smaller monthly and weekly goals.
So here are your goals and how to achieve them:
Note: I’ve made the goals achievable for those with not a lot of free time. But the more you work at it the better you’ll get!
Month 1 Week 1-2: Learn hiragana and basic vocabulary
Why learn the Japanese alphabet when you only want to speak? Knowing hiragana and katakana is incredibly important for learning correct pronunciation, and for opening more study materials to you.
[Memrise] Learn Hiragana Through Vocabulary – comes with audio for each character and word. Make sure you practice speaking these right away! Parrot the characters and words you hear.
Use other study methods that help you learn i.e writing words/characters on paper; write them on labels and stick them on the wall/objects.
Month 1 Week 3: Learn katakana and basic vocabulary
Katakana is important because this will teach you how foregin words in Japanese are pronounced. I.e hamburger is “hamba-ga-“.
[Memrise] Learn Katakana Through Vocabulary – Again, practice speaking as you study. Write things down, put them in places you’ll see them.
TIP: When you see an object you learned the Japanese for, try to remember the word and say it out loud. This will help concrete the vocabulary in your mind so you don’t have to consciously remember the Japanese in the future.
Month 1 Week 4: Basic vocabulary and grammar ①
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 1-7) – This first week of vocabulary will teach you 117 words, including some simple adjectives, verbs and nouns.
[Article] How to Make Simple Japanese Sentences – This article will show you how sentences are constructed.
[Task] Use the vocabulary you’ve learned in the first week of Memrise vocabulary to make sentences using the article as a guide.
TIP: Begin to write down sentences which are relevant to you. I.e about you, your family, your home.
TIP: Practice saying these sentences out loud. Not just when you’re studying, but when you’re out and about.
Month 2 Week 1: Basic vocabulary and grammar ② + Arrange a speaking partner!
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 8-19) – The second week introduces kanji. Learning some basic kanji is very, very helpful in the long run, but you can skip the kanji if you want.
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 1-6) – These first few levels will teach you how to make polite verb forms in present, past and negative.
[Article] Speak Japanese as a Beginner – Tips and tricks for starting to speak Japanese.
[Speaking] iTalki.com – Sign up to iTalki (it’s free!) and find a speaking partner. Arrange a time to skype AT THE END OF THE WEEK!
$ OPTION: Buy some credits on iTalki and find a teacher to start working with. Make sure you emphasize you want to practice speaking! (You should still arrange to meet a speaking partner.)
One month down and you should know about 300 vocabulary (from the kana courses and first week), as well as some very, very basic sentence structures.
Not only that but you should have written down a whole bunch of short sentences about yourself.
You can also write down questions to ask your speaking partner(s).
ARRANGE YOUR SPEAKING PARTNER/TEACHER!
When you arrange to meet your speaking partner for the first time (and when you actually meet them) let them know:
- You’re a beginner and would like to practice Japanese sentences you’ve been practicing.
- Ask them to speak slowly.
- If you ask them to repeat a sentence ask them to NOT change what they said the first time.
- That you will BOTH talk for 10-15 mins in Japanese, then 10-15 minutes in English. (Stick to these times!)
- Pick a topic to talk about beforehand (I’ll suggest some topics for each week but you can deviate, see how things go.)
Month 2 Week 2: Basic vocabulary and grammar ③ + More speaking!
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 20-31) – You should be getting lots of vocabulary under your belt and be able to write more
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 7-11)
[Memrise] Beginners Particles 1 (Levels 11-17)
[Speaking] Now you need to keep up the speaking sessions! It doesn’t have to be with the same person but if possible try and arrange at least 2 sessions a week with a speaking partner and/or a teacher.
Suggested Topic: Introductions (じこしょうかい) – Talk about yourself, your family, where you’re from. Ask your speaking partner.
[Article] How to Use Skype to Learn Another Language – Great article which covers speaking partner sessions in more detail.
SPEAKING PARTNER/TEACHER TIME!
YOU ARE JUST AS NERVOUS AS THEY ARE! It WILL get easier the more you do it!
TIP: Talk for 10-15 minutes ONLY in Japanese (even if you’re slow and unsure and struggle). Then 10-15 minutes ONLY in English.
TIP: Write down questions, sentences etc that are likely to come up/that you want to talk about. (Don’t be afraid to keep things simple!)
At this level it’s ok to read your notes as you talk and to look up words!
TIP: Make notes of what your speaking partner says. Make sure you refer to them later (make your own Memrise deck of new vocabulary!)
TIP: You WILL make mistakes. Don’t be afraid to, everyone does! A good partner/teacher will let you take your time. You also learn better from making mistakes. Take your time and DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH (when you’re supposed to speak Japanese)
TIP: Pick a topic of each speaking session!
Month 2 Week 3
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 32 – 43)
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 12 – 19)
[Memrise] Beginners Particles 1 (Levels 21 – 27) At this point I suggest skipping 18-21 because they’re verb forms that haven’t been covered in the basic vocabulary yet!
[Speaking] Keep it up! Skyping Japanese people for at least 15-30 minuets a few times a week is HUGE help.
Suggested Topic: More About Yourself. Where you are from, your family (anything you missed last time).
BUT you keep to keep studying AND practicing! Don’t put off talking because “I don’t know enough Japanese”. You’ll never start speaking if you keep saying that.
TIP: Record yourself speaking Japanese. Play it back to yourself and see if there’s anything you can improve. (Keeping a record helps show you how you’ve improved over time)
Month 2 Week 4
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 44 – 54)
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 20 – 29)
[Memrise] Beginners Particles 1 (Levels 28 – 32)
[Speaking] Practice with your partner(s)/teacher – Don’t worry if you’re still saying very basic sentences right now. Trying to create something too complicated can confuse your speaking partner as you may be translating the Japanese incorrectly. It’s important to get a strong foundation of the basics!
Suggested Topic: Food. Food is a GREAT subject to talk about! Prepare to talk about your favorite foods or what you dislike.
You’ve reached the end of the second month and have probably learned a LOT in that time! Give yourself a pat on the back.
Month 3 Week 1
At this point you might find yourself slipping. Which is understandable, it’s hard to keep yourself motivated sometimes.
So this week is a chance to take a step back. Review what you’ve learned; catch up on places you’ve slipped.
[Article / Videos] Videos About Learning Languages – You still have homework for this week though! Read this article and watch the videos about studying languages.
They’re aimed at inspiring you and re-motivating you. You may even pick up some extra tips you didn’t think about before!
[Speaking] You should still meet with teachers/speaking partners though!
Suggested Topic: Family. More about your family. What do they do? What do they like?
Month 3 Week 2
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 55 – 63)
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 30 – 39)
[Memrise] Beginners Particles 1 (Levels 18 – 21) – The end of Particles 1! (If you’re still confused about particles Tae Kim explain more grammar and particles but he uses a LOT of non-beginner kanji.)
[Speaking] Practice with your partner(s)/teacher
Suggested Topic: Travel. Where would you like to travel? Where have you been?
Month 3 Week 3
[Memrise] JLPT N5 Vocabulary & Kanji (Levels 64 – 75) – THE END OF BEGINNERS VOCAB 1! Congratulations! You just learned over 800 basic vocabulary in 2 months!
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 40 – 49)
[Speaking] Practice with your partner(s)/teacher
Suggested Topic: Hobbies. Japanese people don’t really talk about their hobbies but you can talk about yours. Discuss what you do in your free time. [Article] How to Talk About Hobbies
Month 3 Week 4
[Memrise] JLPT N4 Vocabulary (Levels 1 – 7) – This is the start of the next level of beginners vocabulary.
Unlike the N5 course this one has NO kanji. It focuses on learning words without relying on recognizing their kanji. (If you’d like to learn the kanji as well try JLPT N4 Kanji)
[Memrise] Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (Levels 50 – 59) – BASIC GRAMMAR 1 COMPLETE!
[Speaking] Practice with your partner(s)/teacher
Suggested Topic: Weather. What’s the weather like right now? What’s it like in Japan? What seasons/holidays do you like?
3 MONTHS COMPLETE!!!
So at the end of 3 months you should now know very beginners grammar and vocabulary, and be able to use them comfortably with native Japanese people!
But we’re not done yet! It’s time to ramp up the game with months 4-6 in How to Speak Japanese Fluently in Just 1 Year (Part 2) [coming soon].