Studying Japanese with Dyslexia

I am 25 years old (I’ll be 26 in May). I have gone through standard education and further education with a degree in Social Anthropology and am doing an MA in Japanese Translation.

I just found out that I am dyslexic.

I have gone through the entirety of my education without anyone picking up on it until my University lecturer did earlier this year. I had always had suspicions but when I had approached an adult in the past they just brushed it off.

Now that I have the knowledge that I am dyslexic it puts the last 9 years of studying Japanese into a whole new light. I’d like to share these with you in the hope that if you are dyslexic or think you might be, that this might help give insight into your own learning abilities, ways to get around them, and motivation to keep studying Japanese.

Studying Japanese with dyslexia
Japanese teacher from University in Japan…
yeah my teachers were weird


  • Studies on Learning Japanese with Dyslexia
  • My Experiences Learning Japanese with Dyslexia
  • Tips for Dealing with Dyslexia for Learning Japanese

Everyone’s dyslexia impacts them differently. These are just my experiences, opinions and suggestions.

Studies on Learning Japanese with Dyslexia

There haven’t been many studies on the impact of dyslexia on learning foreign languages, but there are still a few, and a number of which look at Japanese and dyslexia.

The Wall Street Journal posted this article: Unlocking Dyslexia in Japanese in 2011, which says how one 12 year old boy was made to learn Japanese in school but unlike his English he excelled in Japanese language, and learning Japanese might shed light on teaching methods for dyslexic children. Japanese is an easy language for dyslexic people to learn due to it’s phonetic alphabet, and the use of characters which are more like images.

(Actually many non-academic articles online seem to draw their information from this Wall Street Journal)

There are also more in-depth scholarly articles which you can access for free through Google Scholar.

My Experience Learning Japanese with Dyslexia

As I said, I didn’t know I had dyslexia until recently, and finding out has been a double edged sword. On the one hand a lot of my experiences learning Japanese language now make more sense, on the other hand I am stuck with the knowledge that my brain is different and isn’t like a disease which can be cured, it’s just… different. Which also isn’t a bad thing, and I will discuss this at the end.

Studying Japanese with dyslexia
Another teacher from University in Japan…
yeah my teachers were very weird

But first I want to go over my experience learning Japanese with dyslexia.

When I was in secondary school (middle school for non-UK people), I learnt French and Spanish. I hated French and Spanish! I just… didn’t get them. My teacher said I would fail and was incredibly un-helpful in helping me learn, thinking that me struggling in class was because I was lazy. When she told me I would fail I went and got some BBC teach yourself Spanish and French CDs and learnt enough to pass the exam. – I have since forgotten EVERYTHING.

So when I started college (high school) I noticed that a friend had began learning Japanese, I thought it looked fun and she introduced me to her teacher. Japanese clicked. It made SO MUCH more sense than French of Spanish, and there are a number of reasons why:

  1. It is a phonetic language. No more mixing vowels, everything was said as you read it.
  2. The grammar is like maths. subject wa object wo verb. Just input different vocabulary into the spaces and you have so many sentences!
  3. The characters are much easy to read and learn than Roman based language.

Japanese was the first hobby I’d picked up and hadn’t got bored of because it was too difficult. It was still hard to do, but it was something I could do!

However, these are some of the problems I did have, and still have though, which have become more prominent in the higher levels:

  1. It takes a while to remember vocabulary. I need a lot of repetition in different contexts to get it, but even then if I don’t use a word I will forget it.
  2. Complex grammar is hard. At first it was like a maths problem, but then we got the more complex abstract grammar which has no concrete meaning. I avoid grammar because I don’t understand it, but that just damages my learning.
  3. Comprehending texts is difficult. There are still many times when I don’t understand what something is saying, or I will mis-understand it and mess up a translation.
  4. Reading long texts is difficult and takes a while. 

  5. I get sounds mixed up. Just like in English there comes a time when words have similar sounds and meanings and these can get mixed up.


Studying Japanese with dyslexia
Vocab and Kanji Flashcards for N2…
before I knew Memrise was a thing ;_;

I am now in the advanced levels of Japanese language and training to be a translator. Dyslexia really doesn’t impact your life that much unless you’re working in linguistics and need to do things like produce well written English, be able to understand the text and be able to read long texts quickly.

HOWEVER, it seems that over the years I’ve subconsciously worked out methods to deal with dyslexia issues thanks to Japanese, and I think learning Japanese has actually improved my dyslexia a bit (which may explain why it never got picked up on before, I’m too good at adapting it).


Dealing with Dyslexia for Learning Japanese

You’re not competing with other people – Just yourself

Learning Japanese, I find, takes an extra 20%+ of study than other people. When my fience and I were studying for our JLPT N2 exam, I would constantly practice for hours on end, but he was able to go over the materials a few times and get. And that’s fine. People’s brains work different anyway, you’re not competing with other people, you’re competing with you, the you from the past who you’re trying to get better than.

Varied repetition

It’s not just a matter of drilling vocabulary until you remember it, because you’ll probably forget it in a few days. Studying through various methods (listening, reading, writing and drilling) helps to put that vocabulary into your memory easier.

Studying Japanese with dyslexia

If it weren’t for Japanese I wouldn’t have had so many experiences.




Make it fun

Kanji and vocabulary is fun because they’re concrete and you can set goals and reach them or surpass them. And with the help of Memrise (yay gamification of studying) I’ve been able to learn a lot. – Find what you enjoy the most and focus on that, whether it’s particular study methods or a particular part of the language (i.e being able to read manga, or watch anime). Keep doing the things you enjoy.


Don’t be afraid to get help

I learn best being taught and working with other people. I recently began getting skype lessons with a teacher through, and I’m seeing my lecturer (the one who found out I was dyslexic) to try and work out ways around it and how to improve.



I know that’s a bit obvious but there were times when I didn’t study for 6 months to almost a year, but I never gave up. I’m glad I didn’t give up studying Japanese as it really is fun and gives a great sense of achievement.

So as I said, finding out I have dyslexia was a doubled edged sword. My brain works different to other people and I have to try that little bit harder to get something right. But it’s worth it and over the years I’ve adjusted to it to the point where no one ever really noticed. It’s not a bad thing that my brain’s different and as a result of not being able to use “normal” study methods I’ve been able to develop techniques that work for me and for others (such as the Memrise courses having you learn the word and then the kanji reading, I can’t learn a word from just the English to kanji).

I hope that may have been useful to some people. Sorry if it wasn’t. Feel free to leave your own experience or advice in the comments section below.


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