Always wanted to start learning Japanese but keep putting it off? Well, why not start now? Right now! Oh… you don’t know where to start? This is a quick guide to how to start studying Japanese for beginners.
First ask yourself why do I want to learn Japanese? Is it because you want to watch anime or read manga? To talk to people? To live in Japan? Write down all the reasons you want to learn and keep that as a goal that’s always in view. It will also help you focus your studies when you hit the intermediate level.
You need to realise that reaching that goal will take a few years, and that’s ok. You won’t learn Japanese in one week. There may be times when you stop studying for a while and then kick yourself (I’m guilty of this), but that’s ok too. Everyone does it, just accept that and pick it up again. You’ll find yourself getting better slowly and it’s amazing when you hit a new milestone.
Speaking of milestones, aim for and take the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests (JLPT). It doesn’t matter if you’re not going to have a career in Japanese, aiming for and taking the tests is a great way to set yourself goals. Take the exam even if you don’t think you’re ready, it’s good motivation, practice and will boost your Japanese.
So where should I start?
Well, it’s always good to start with the basics; the Japanese alphabets, hiragana and katanana (also known generally as kana). I always suggest learning these while studying basic vocabulary. Good resources for these:
- Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners: First Steps to Mastering the Japanese Writing System – Cheap, teaches you vocabulary as well, and comes with CD.
- Memrise JTalkOnline Learn Hiragana Using Vocabulary – Free flashcard program for PC and app, teaches vocabulary and has audio.
I know the kana, now what?
Now it’s time to aim for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) level N5. (Click here to find out more about the JLPT) Even if you don’t want to take the test getting materials on it is a good start. They cover basic vocabulary, kanji and grammar. A good foundation is extremely important when studying Japanese as it will make the more advanced materials easier.
Some good resources for JLPT N5:
- Memrise JTalkOnline – A number of courses that covers beginners grammar, vocabulary and kanji.
- Basic Kanji Book vol.1 – Helps you learn kanji and kanji vocabulary through writing.
- Try! Bunpou Kara Nobasu! JLPT N5 – Teaches you basic grammar through sentences and reading segments.
(Books like Genki or Japanese for Busy People are suggested by many people for beginners, but I disagree. Unless you’re in a class working with a Japanese teacher, it’ll be difficult to learn from these books. The above suggestions are good for self-study.)
Some other tips for studying Japanese as a beginner
I suggest trying to get at least an hour a week with a teacher. You can find local ones online, or have cheap skype lessons through websites like italki.com (I’ve used this myself and the teachers are very good at reasonable prices).
If you can, save up and take a holiday in Japan and attend a school there (they vary from 1 week to 3 months), it’s a great way to quickly boost your skills!
But also study outside of lessons regularly. Say it takes 140 hours to learn the basics of Japanese, if you study 1 hour a week it will take you 140 weeks (2.5 years), but if you study 1 hour a day it will take you 5 months. It’s better to do little and often, repetition and frequent learning are key to getting the Japanese solidified in your brain.
Aim to study everyday but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t, studying too much in one go can fry your brain, and turn Japanese into an unenjoyable chore.
Write down and read out loud. Don’t just use computer programs, when you’re learning something new and when you’re revising something, write it down and read it out loud. This will help you memorise the Japanese through muscle memory and help you get used to speaking it. It might be awkward at first but the more you do it, the better you get.
That was a very quick guide to learning Japanese as a beginner. I go over all of these suggestion in more detail and have lots more resources on the rest of this website, including advice for intermediate, advanced, using anime to study Japanese, and even how to translate manga.
My final suggestions for studying Japanese is to challenge yourself, make mistakes, and have fun! ^_^
Feel free to message me on the JTalkOnline Facebook Page if you have any questions!