There is a lot of information online about learning Japanese. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. Good, because there’re a lot of resources and study methods available! Bad, because it can be incredibly overwhelming.

Here’s a guide on how to learn Japanese as a beginner.

Everything from what you need to know to how to learn it all!

 

The Japanese You Need to Know (To Start With)

A strong foundation is vital to learning Japanese. To start with you should learn (roughly):

  • Hiragana and katakana,
  • 284 kanji,
  • 1,500 vocabulary,
  • 80 beginner-level grammar patterns.

How long will this take? Well, that depends on you. If you have a lot of time and energy, and study diligently every single day, then it might only take you a year. If you have a full-time job and/or family obligations and can only spare 10 minutes a day, then you might be looking at two to three years.

Either way, it’s important to remember that a lot of people might spend anywhere up to three years just learning the basics. Learning Japanese can take a long time and that’s okay! It’s a marathon, not a race.

 

So how exactly do you learn hiragana, katakana, 1,500 vocabulary, 284 kanji, and all that grammar? Well, read on!

 

【Tip!】Some advice before we get started.

I list a lot of resources you can use to study Japanese. Do not buy them all! I’m not saying go pirate them (support educators!), but you shouldn’t buy every single textbook just because someone recommends them.

There’s no point buying two different beginner level vocabulary books because they will cover the same information! The difference is how they present the information. It’s important to pick the resources that you think will work for your learning style.

I provide the following lists to present you with options to explore.

Don’t be like me with a mountain of unused textbooks!

 

The Alphabets: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji

Japanese has three alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

 

This might seem like a lot, but it’s surprisingly easy and you don’t have to learn all of them at once!

 

1. Hiragana and Katakana

Most people start by learning the hiragana, then the katakana. The magic of these is (unlike English or French) they are entirely phonetical, meaning you pronounce them how you read them, every time you see them!

Learning hiragana and katakana (also called “kana”) will give you access to the majority of materials for learning Japanese.

 

There are a lot of resources that will teach you kana by themselves or through basic vocabulary. Some teach you just how to read them while others will teach you how to write them as well.

I highly recommend the following resources which will teach you how to write the kana alongside basic vocabulary, and teach you the pronunciation as well.

 

Learning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana: A Workbook for Self-Study

Teaches you: hiragana and katakana, writing, vocabulary, pronunciation
Teaching style: textbook, exercises, audio
Great for learners who like: writing, audio, learning with examples

This small textbook from Tuttle is a fantastic place to start! It teaches you how to write and read hiragana and katakana, with plenty of space to practice. Alongside the kana you’ll find beginner vocabulary that uses the characters you’re learning as well as space to practice writing them. You can also access audio tracks online for free so you can practice your listening and pronunciation!

 

Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners: First Steps to Mastering the Japanese Writing System

Teaches you: hiragana and katakana, writing, vocabulary, pronunciation
Teaching style: textbook, exercises, audio, flashcards
Great for learners who like: writing, audio, learning with examples, exercises, flashcards

This is another textbook that teaches you hiragana and katakana with plenty of space to practice writing, vocabulary that uses the alphabets and space to practice.

This book also comes with flashcards you can use to practice and even additional writing practice sheets and quizzes to test yourself.

However, the difference between this book and the above book is it has a lot more illustrations to give you a visual understanding of the language. I highly recommend this book if you are a visual learner!

 

Tofugu’s Learn Hiragana / Learn Katakana (Free PDFs)

Teaches you: hiragana and katakana, writing, vocabulary
Teaching style: online PDFs, exercises
Great for learners who like: writing, mnemonics, exercises

If you prefer a free option, then Tofugu offers two free PDFs which teach you hiragana and katakana using mnemonics and vocabulary exercises.

This is another one that’s great for visual learners.

 

Lingodeer (Android and iOS)

Teaches you: hiragana and katakana, writing, vocabulary, pronunciation
Teaching style: writing, audio, quizzes
Great for learners who like: writing, audio, apps

Lingodeer is a paid for app, but the beginner levels and hiragana and katakana are free! They have a great breakdown of the alphabets and teach them to you in a clear and logical way. You can even practice writing on their app! (Although it’s good to practice with a pen or pencil too.)

Lingodeer also has a great course on beginners grammar!

 

 

There are also a lot of other apps out there that will teach you hiragana and katakana, but these mostly focus on recognizing the letters and sounds and don’t give you space to practice writing them yourself.

I suggest you don’t use Duolingo and Memrise apps to learn hiragana and katakana. They are not as effective as the above methods.

 

What If I Don’t Want to Learn Hiragana and Katakana Right Now?

If you want to start learning how to speak Japanese before you learn the alphabets, then you can start with these resources written in “romaji” (Japanese written in the roman alphabet.)

(See “Vocabulary” for more details on these resources.)

  • Speak Japanese in 90 Days: A Self Study Guide to Becoming Fluent
  • My first 1000 Japanese Words
  • Minna no Nihongo: Romanized Version

(I highly recommend you study hiragana and katakana first, though. It really does make learning the rest so much easier.)

 

2. Kanji

Once you’ve learned the kana you can start learning kanji and vocabulary. (You can learn kanji before kana, but knowing the kana makes kanji a lot easier.)

 

How Many Kanji Do I Need to Know?

Yes, there are almost 2,200 commonly used kanji*, and each kanji can have multiple readings, but you don’t need to know them all! And you don’t need to learn them all right away!
(*A large portion of these “commonly used kanji” are mainly used in formal written texts, so they’re not that common. These are the ones you learn in the advanced levels.)

 

The first level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT)* expects you to know about 103 kanji, while the next level expects you to know about 284 (an additional 181 kanji). This is a really good place to start and this foundation will help you understand a lot of Japanese.
(*See below for more information on the JLPT.)

Here is how many kanji each level of the JLPT expects you to know:

JLPT N5: 103 kanji
JLPT N4: 181 kanji (total of 284 kanji)
JLPT N3: 324 kanji (total of 527 kanji)
JLPT N2: 415 kanji (total of 987 kanji)
JLPT N1: 1207 kanji (total of 2194 kanji)

Notice how each level of the exam practically doubles how much kanji you need to know? This is why it can take a long time to get to the advanced levels of Japanese, but even just learning 15%, roughly 284 kanji, will open so much of the language to you!

See The Minimum Japanese You Need to Know for more of a breakdown.

 

How Do I Study Kanji?

There are a couple of ways you can approach kanji and a lot of materials you can use.

Kanji have meanings, readings, radicals, and stroke order. It might seem like a lot at first, but kanji is surprisingly simple!

First, the meanings. There are a few meanings for each kanji but you don’t need to learn every single one. I find it helps to pick just one meaning to associate with the kanji. (Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji and WaniKani are both good tools for easily learning kanji meanings.)

Secondly, the readings. Most kanji have on-yomi (Chinese readings) and kun-yomi (Japanese readings). More often than not a kanji will use its on-yomi reading when used in a kanji compound (a word that uses multiple kanji) and kun-yomi reading when combined with hiragana. I find the easiest ways to remember the readings is by studying kanji in the context of vocabulary.

 

Thirdly, each kanji is made up of parts called radicals, which are kanji building blocks. These radicals can hint what a kanji means, how it’s read, and how to write it. (Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji is a great resource for learning radicals.)

And finally, you have the stroke order, or how to write the kanji. Learning the correct order will help you when you write similar kanji and can help you memorize the radicals and meaning. Be careful, because learning the incorrect stroke order will show! A native Japanese speaker and advanced Japanese learners can tell when the incorrect order is being used.

Studying the different elements for kanji is not all that difficult. It can be a lot, but there are lots of useful materials to help you learn everything! Read on for just a few of them, what they cover, and why they’re good.

 

What Can I Use to Learn Kanji?

Remembering the Kanji

Teaches you: kanji meanings, writing
Teaching style: mnemonics
Great for learners who like: reading, mnemonics

This is a popular book that breaks down kanji by their radicals and uses mnemonic stories to help you remember them long-term. Heisig argues that if you learn the meaning and stroke order for kanji before you learn the readings, it will help you in the long-run.

This book does not include how to read the kanji or any vocabulary. It also doesn’t have space to practice writing but you can combine it with notebooks to practice the writing and SRS (Space repetition system) flashcard apps (like Anki) to memorize the meanings.

All 2200 commonly used kanji are included in this book, but keep in mind that you don’t need to learn the meanings for all of them in one go.

 

WaniKani

Teaches you: kanji meaning, reading, vocabulary
Teaching style: SRS flashcards, mnemonics, quizzes
Great for learners who like: mnemonics, quizzes, flashcards, structure

This is another popular resource WaniKani is an online platform (there is no mobile app) that also teaches you kanji through mnemonics. Each radical, kanji, and vocabulary word has a mnemonic story to help you remember them long-term. It also allows you to practice them using their SRS flashcards!

WaniKani offers about 2,000 kanji and 6,000 kanji-based vocabulary. The beginner levels are free and the advanced levels are available through subscription.

 

Kanji Study (Android Only)

Teaches you: kanji meaning, reading, writing, vocabulary
Teaching style: flashcards, quizzes (vocabulary, writing, and sentence comprehension)
Great for learners who like: flexibility, writing, reading, flashcards, quizzes

Kanji Study offers free beginner levels (kana and JLPT N5 kanji) and then charges a one-time fee of about $10 to unlock the higher levels. SRS flashcards are available for an additional $30.

Kanji Study is my go-to app for studying kanji because of how versatile it is. It’s hard to explain all the features of this app here, but if you’re interested you can check out these three articles:

  1. Review of Japanese Kanji Study Android App
  2. The New Japanese Kanji Study App SRS Expansion—Guided Study
  3. Tips and Tricks for the Japanese Kanji Study App

One of my favorite features of Kanji Study is how you can add kanji, vocabulary, and example sentences to Anki for additional SRS flashcard practice. I also love how you can also practice and test your writing skills with writing quizzes.

Top 10 Japanese Language Android Apps kanji study app

 

KanjiBox (iOS and PC/Mac)

Teaches you: kanji meaning, reading, writing
Teaching Style: flashcards, quizzes
Great for learners who like: flashcards, quizzes

This app is the go-to kanji app for iOS users and also offers an online platform. It divides the kanji by JLPT level and is very clear about how much of each level you know and how well you know them. You can test yourself on the kanji readings, meaning, similar kanji, and even pick out the correct kanji missing from a sentence.

 

Kanji Learner’s Course

Teaches you: kanji meaning, reading, vocabulary
Teaching style: textbook, companion graded readers
Great for learners who like: reading

This textbook published by Kondansha is designed to be used by people teaching themselves Japanese. It contains 2,300 kanji and 4,400 core vocabulary.

This textbook has a lot of information and can be very dense and overwhelming. There’s no space to practice writing or any practice questions to test your knowledge, so you need to combine it with Anki flashcards or another app and/or practice with paper or a teacher.

(Kanji Study on Android can be used in combination with the textbook as they have custom lists and graded reading tests to match the Kanji Learners Course.)

Kondansha have also released graded readers to accompany the kanji books so you can learn kanji in the context of written materials.

 

Basic Kanji Book

Teaches you: kanji meaning, reading, writing, vocabulary
Teaching style: textbook, writing exercises
Great for learners who like: writing, examples, quizzes

I used this textbook when I started learning kanji. The first volume only has 250 kanji (the second volume has another 250 kanji) but that’s more than enough to start with, and a lot less overwhelming than the Kanji Learners Course.

There is lots of space to practice writing the kanji and a few questions to quiz you, but not many. You should combine these books with own flashcards or use their official companion app, Basic Kanji Plus on Android or iOS.

 

3. Vocabulary

Kanji is important but I would argue that vocabulary is even more important. Vocabulary is the bricks of a language—the more bricks you have, the more impressive you can make your house.

 

How Much Vocabulary Do I Need to Know?

As a beginner you should aim to learn about 1,500 basic words. This will give you a very strong foundation to build from. And, similar to kanji, this covers the material you need to know for first two levels of the JLPT.

Here is roughly* how much vocabulary each level of the JLPT expects you to know:

JLPT N5: 800 words
JLPT N4: 700 words (total of 1,500 words)
JLPT N3: 1,500 words (total of 3,000 words)
JLPT N2: 3,000 words (total of 6,000 words)
JLPT N1: 4,000 words (total of 10,000 words)

*This is a rough estimate because the JLPT does not have a set list of vocabulary or kanji you need to know. But most study resources provide you with the core vocabulary for the beginner and intermediate levels.

 

How Do I Study Vocabulary?

Because there is so much vocabulary it’s best to learn it through a couple of different methods. This way you’re exposed to vocabulary in different formats (like reading, listening, etc.) which will make remembering the vocabulary easier. What methods specifically you should use depends on you and your learning style. (If you don’t know how you learn, don’t worry, you’ll find out as you go along.)

 

Flashcards and SRS

I mentioned these a few times, but flashcards with space repetition software (SRS) are good for drilling vocabulary and remembering it long-term.

The must-have go-to program for SRS flashcards is Anki. You can either make your own flashcard decks or use decks made by other users that they’ve uploaded to the database. There are also apps (like Kanji Study on Android) that integrate with Anki, so you can easily create new flashcard decks for vocabulary and kanji.

This is open-source software, which means there’s no company looking to get your money, and it’s completely free and versatile in how you use it!

On the negative side, it can be hard to first learn how to use it. There are lots of guides online to help you and I promise you, once you start using it, you won’t want to go back!

You can start with this article on how to use Anki to study Japanese.

 

Graded Readers

Graded readers are books that are written for beginners of a language. They’re great for learning and practicing vocabulary in context and for learning how vocabulary is used in combination with grammar patterns.

See this article for more information on graded readers.

 

Writing and Speaking

Writing and speaking are good methods to make your brain get used to using vocabulary (and grammar patterns) and not relying on visual clues to assist your understanding.

Writing can be a good solo activity (e.g. write a diary), whether writing by hand and/or typing on a computer. If you have a teacher they can help correct what you’ve written.

Speaking is best done with a partner, and trained teachers will help correct your mistakes so you don’t build bad habits*. (*See below for more information on teachers.) But you can also practice speaking by yourself! A Simple Way to Start Speaking Japanese has some tricks you can use for practicing speaking.

 

Quizzes and Drill Books

Quizzes and drill books are great for reviewing the vocabulary you’ve already learned, rather than learning new words. Even if you don’t plan to take any Japanese language exams, practice books for the JLPT are a great way to review your memory and understanding of vocabulary.

 

See these articles on more tips for how to study vocabulary:

  1. 10 Tricks to Improve Japanese Vocabulary – For ALL Levels!
  2. How to Remember Japanese Vocabulary
  3. Turn Passive Learning into Active Use!

 

What Can I Use to Learn Vocabulary?

Speak Japanese in 90 Days: A Self Study Guide to Becoming Fluent

Teaches you: vocabulary, grammar, simple sentences, speaking
Teaching style: textbook, speaking exercises
Great for learners who like: speaking, structure

This book focuses on teaching you how to speak Japanese. It teaches you 10 words and 1 grammar pattern a day for 90 days (so 900 vocabulary and 90 useful grammar patterns) alongside example sentences and phrases.

The book uses romaji, kana, and kanji, so you can use it no matter how familiar you are with the alphabets.

 

 

My First Thousand Words in Japanese

Teaches you: vocabulary
Teaching style: picture book
Great for learners who like: pictures

Do you remember the “Find the Duck” children’s book series? This is the Japanese version!

This book presents you with a number of different scenes with the Japanese words for the objects and people in the scene listed around the border of the page. Each word is provided in romaji as well as hiragana and katakana.

Note, that these are all nouns, so you will be missing a lot of vocabulary such as verbs and adjectives. And, of course, there’s no grammar. It’s just good for identifying everyday objects.

However, this is another great tool for visual learners. It doesn’t come with any practice exercises, but can be a useful tool for labelling objects around your home with their Japanese terms!

 

Nihongo Tango Speed Master

Teaches you: vocabulary, sentences
Teaching style: textbook
Great for learners who like: examples, reading

These books are fantastic! Each book is chock-full of vocabulary presented in a clear and easy-to-read font. The first volume has 1,800 basic words (which covers JLPT N5 and N4 vocabulary), carefully arranged for first time learners. Vocabulary is grouped together by topic and each word comes with example sentences.

These books also come with a red see-through card which you can use to test yourself on the vocabulary. (Which is a very Japanese way of studying.)

They do not come with practice questions so you will need to combine them with a study method like flashcards.

See my review on these books here: Review of Nihongo Tango Speed Master for JLPT Vocabulary

 

1000 Essential Vocabulary for the JLPT N5 / 1500 Essential Vocabulary for the JLPT N4

Teaches you: vocabulary, sentences, grammar
Teaching style: textbook
Great for learners who like: examples, reading, exercises, illustrations

This is great series of books for studying Japanese vocabulary. Unlike the first volume of Nihongo Tango Speed Master, these books are split by JLPT level, but combined they offer a total of 2,500 words for beginners. (Again, grouped by topic.)

Each word comes with an example sentence to help you understand it in context. These books also come with a red card so you can hide the vocabulary and test yourself.

Unlike Nihongo Tango Speed Master, these books also contain practice questions and illustrations which make them great for visual and kinesthetic learners.

They even have short summaries of some basic grammar patterns to help you understand the examples and practice questions!

 

4. Grammar

If vocabulary is the bricks, then grammar is the mortar. If you try to build your house without grammar, it’s going to fall apart pretty quickly.

 

One thing to know about learning Japanese grammar is that there are different levels of politeness depending on who you’re talking to.

Most textbooks and resources made by Japanese teachers will start by teaching you basic polite grammar. This is because polite grammar is incredibly easy to conjugate, and it’s the form of Japanese you use most when talking with teachers or strangers. This is the best one to start with if you want to visit Japan for travel.

But most forms of Japanese media use a more casual grammar style, so some online resources will teach you casual speech before polite grammar. Casual speech is a little harder to conjugate and is commonly used when speaking with close friends and family.

It helps to be aware of which form of grammar you want to start with and pick a resource to match that. Although all of these will eventually teach you polite, casual, and honorific grammar.

 

How Can I Study Grammar?

There are a few ways you can study grammar, and just like vocabulary, it helps to mix and match how you study to strengthen the knowledge in your brain.

 

Textbooks

Textbooks will teach you core grammar patterns with example sentences to help you understand how each pattern works. Some also include practice questions and/or additional workbooks to help you practice. (See below for some recommendations.)

 

Grammar Drills and Quizzes

As mentioned, many grammar textbooks will include practice questions, but there are also additional books available offering solely practice questions. These are mostly for the JLPT and will match the exam’s testing format.

(See below for some drill book recommendations.)

 

Writing and Speaking

Just like with vocabulary, writing and speaking are great ways to become familiar with using Japanese grammar in context.

 

Teachers

Teachers can help a lot with grammar as they can provide additional explanations and examples. They can also help you practice grammar patterns through written and spoken exercises.

 

Flashcards

Many people make flashcards to help them review grammar. You can either create cards that only have the grammar patterns, or ones that use example sentences and you must know the correct grammar pattern.

Again, you can make these using SRS flashcard programs like Anki, or hand-make them. (I like to use Anki for vocabulary and physical flashcards for grammar.)

 

What Can I Use to Learn Grammar?

Tae Kim’s A Guide to Japanese Grammar

Teaches you: grammar (casual first)
Teaching style: online, textbook, exercises
Great for learners who like: reading

This is a free online textbook that covers detailed explanations of almost all the core grammar patterns.

It has clear explanations and includes kanji and their readings in hiragana. Each lesson includes exercises at the end. And, if you prefer a physical book, then you can buy the textbook version! (The book and online editions have the same information so you’re not missing out by using either one.)

Tae Kim’s Guide starts with casual grammar, which is great if you want to be able to understand a lot of media. But if your goal is to take the JLPT N5 or visit Japan or study at school any time soon, then you might want to find something that starts with polite grammar. (It will eventually teach you polite grammar too.)

 

Genki

Teaches you: kanji, vocabulary, grammar (polite first)
Teaching style: textbooks, workbooks, exercises
Great for learners who like: reading, writing, listening, exercises

Genki is a textbook that was originally designed to be used with a teacher, but many people use it to teach themselves Japanese.

There are two books and two workbooks which will cover everything you need to know for beginner level Japanese. Both books combined teach you about 1,700 words, 317 kanji, and all the beginner grammar. They teach you through audio, writing, reading, and speaking exercises.

This is a great book to work through with a teacher as there are a lot of partner exercises, but if you’re teaching yourself they also offer additional online resources for self-study.

There are also a lot of other resources to make using Genki easier, such as this YouTube series which breaks down and clearly explains the grammar in each chapter.

 

Minna no Nihongo

Teaches you: kanji, vocabulary, grammar (polite first)
Teaching style: textbooks, workbooks, exercises
Great for learners who like: reading, writing, listening, exercises

The other widely used textbook that you’ve probably heard of is Minna no Nihongo. Just like Genki, this series has a few volumes that teach you the core grammar along with vocabulary and kanji. It also has separate workbooks that you can use for additional practice.

Minna no Nihongo potentially teaches you more than Genki with about 2,100 words and more upper-beginner grammar, but this book is a little harder to use for someone teaching themselves.

The books do not have explanations for grammar patterns so you either have to use their English translation and explanations book or look up grammar guides online or on YouTube.

This is a great book to use with a teacher though!

 

Japanese for Busy People

Teaches you: kanji, vocabulary, grammar (polite first)
Teaching style: textbooks, workbooks, exercises
Great for learners who like: reading, writing, listening, exercises

Japanese for Busy People is split into three textbooks (Genki and Minna no Nihongo are both split into two), which cover all the core beginner grammar patterns. You can also purchase additional workbooks (just like Genki and Minna).

The first book contains 25 short lessons that each teach you 1-2 grammar patterns along with about 30 words. (Although volumes II and III ramp up in intensity.)

These books are more self-study friendly with English explanations for the grammar patterns. Although you can also use this series with a teacher.

 

Try! Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 / N4

Teaches you: grammar (polite first)
Teaching style: textbook, exercises
Great for learners who like: reading, exercises

Unlike the above textbooks, the Try! series focuses only on grammar. There are five books, one for each level of the JLPT. Each one covers all the grammar patterns you need to know for that level and include practice questions.

Many people have said they used these books alongside other books like Genki as they can be more useful as supplemental material rather than as main grammar textbooks.

 

Japanese Grammar for Beginners Textbook & Workbook Included: Read, Speak, and Write Japanese

Teaches you: grammar for speaking
Teaching style: textbook, workbook, exercises
Great for learners who like: reading, writing, speaking, listening, exercises

If you’re looking for something not quite so heavy or academic, this textbook offers a great alternative resource for beginners! The book focuses on helping you learn grammar with the intent to use it through reading, speaking, and writing.

The book has 17 chapters which focus on different situations that you might find yourself in (like meeting someone for the first time) and explains the key grammar to use in those situations. Each lesson takes just around 30 minutes to an hour of study.

You can also download the audio for free online to help with your pronunciation and to practice listening.

 

LingoDeer (Android and iOS)

Teaches you: grammar for speaking, vocabulary
Teaching style: app, flashcards, quizzes, writing
Great for learners who like: reading, writing, speaking, listening, exercises

Lingodeer is a great alternative if you’d rather use an app to learn beginner Japanese. I mentioned they have a good course for learning the kana, but their grammar lessons are really great too!

Unlike other apps (like Duolingo and Memrise), Lingodeer actually knows how to teach you Japanese in an effective way. It explains grammar points, kanji, and vocabulary in a clear, easy to understand way.

Each lesson is based on a specific subject and they teach you related vocabulary and grammar patterns. You can review with quizzes and flashcards or download their other app LingoDeer Plus for additional games to practice with.

 

Additional Resources for Practicing Beginner Japanese

As I mentioned above, there are books and other resources that quiz you on your Japanese knowledge. Quizzes are a brilliant way to move your knowledge into long-term memory, so these are particularly good for people self-studying!

Note: You don’t have to take the JLPT to take advantage of the study materials made for it.

 

New Japanese 500 Questions N4-N5

This drill book for the JLPT contains 500 questions covering kanji, vocabulary, and grammar! Each question also comes with an explanation to help you understand why a answer was right or wrong. As N5 and N4 questions are mixed together this can be a difficult option for new beginners.

 

Drill & Drill JLPT N5 / Drill & Drill JLPT N4

These books cover materials used in the JLPT and offer 250 questions (500 over both books) on kanji, vocabulary, grammar, reading and listening!

Be aware that the listening tests are provided on CD, so you’ll need a CD player or CD drive on your computer to take full advantage of what these books offer.

 

The Best Complete Workbook for the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test N5 / N4

These books are split into 9 weeks with 25 questions per day. The first 3 weeks cover vocabulary and grammar, the middle 3 weeks cover reading, and the last 3 weeks cover listening.

The listening section is offered via a special app, which makes it more accessible to those who don’t have a CD player. They also offer downloadable commentary in with further advice on studying for the higher levels of the JLPT.

 

JPDrills

This is an online platform for practicing JLPT questions for kanji, vocabulary, and grammar. You can either use the app for free or pay for a subscription.

See my review here: Japanese Practice Questions Online – JPDrills Review

 

But you don’t only have to practice your Japanese with JLPT drill books! If you don’t like quizzes or prefer more natural materials to practice with, then you can try these graded readers and podcasts instead!

 

Graded Readers

Graded Readers are books with stories in that are written specifically for certain reading levels. Anything from complete beginner to intermediate level. You can buy these books or find free ones available legally online! You probably grew up reading some in your native language, and you can also find those written specifically for Japanese learners!

See Japanese Graded Readers for JLPT N5 and N4 Learners for more information on graded readers.

 

Podcasts for Beginners

I love podcasts, I think they’re great for learning new things. But did you know that besides Japanese lessons, you can get podcasts made specifically for people learning Japanese?

Most of these are only accessible once you’ve mastered beginner (JLPT N5/N4) level Japanese there are some for learners around N4 level as well.

Check out some of them here: Recommended Podcasts for Japanese Learners

 

What About…?

What about Apps like Duolingo and Memrise?

I do not recommend Duolingo or Memrise for complete beginners. Although the UI is cute and fun, and the app itself helps motivate you to study every day, they are not designed to teach you Japanese.

The Japanese courses on both apps are designed using methods for teaching European languages to native English speakers, where you are already familiar with the alphabet and similar grammar. Duolingo and Memrise push you right into kanji and grammar without any explanation or context.

They might be useful for reviewing and practicing what you already know once you’ve learned beginner level Japanese.

I recommend Lingodeer instead if you want a structured app to teach you Japanese.

 

What about Dictionaries like A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar?

Paper dictionaries were really popular when I was starting to learn Japanese 17 years ago, but they’re no longer all that useful. Dictionaries are not designed to teach you anything new, but to be used as reference materials instead. Even then, you can easily find the definitions for Japanese vocabulary and grammar online, making paper dictionaries defunct.

(This is coming from someone who has spent a lot of money on dictionaries only to give them away after never using them.)

Unless you know for sure you will use a paper dictionary, there’s no point getting one.

 

What about Working with a Japanese Teacher?

Japanese teachers are great! Whether you’re teaching yourself or studying Japanese at school, I highly recommend getting a one-on-one teacher to practice with at least once a week.

Japanese teachers can help get you comfortable with speaking, correct your pronunciation, help you learn vocabulary and grammar faster (compared to just studying), and teach you things you wouldn’t find in a textbook.

With the power of the internet you can easily find reasonably priced teachers online! iTalki is a great website for finding teachers and speaking partners that fit your learning style and goals. (I’ve been using it for years!)

You might also be able to find group classes at your local college. If you prefer group learning then explore what’s available in your area or even online!

 

What about The Japanese Language Proficiency Test?

European languages are often measured with A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2 (“A” being beginner level). But because the JLPT is the most popular exam for Japanese, JLPT N5, N4, N3, N2, N1 are normally used to measure one’s Japanese fluency (“N5” being beginner level, and “N1” being advanced).

The JLPT is held either twice or once a year depending on country.

Do know that you don’t have to take the exams. Some people find them to be really useful goals and help with their motivation. While other people find studying and taking the exams demotivating.

Many Japanese companies require a certain level of the JLPT, so it’s worth exploring if you want to live and work in Japan. But if you want to just make friends online and read manga, then the exam isn’t so important. It’s up to you if you want to explore taking the JLPT.

See All About The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) on more details on the exams.

 

How to Learn Japanese

Japanese is a fun, but challenging language to learn. It might seem like a lot, but if you start small with the goal of learning beginner Japanese then you’ll be well on your way to fluency!

Studying hiragana and katakana, and roughly 284 kanji, 1,500 vocabulary, and 80 beginner grammar patterns (to start with), is an achievable goal and (as you can see) there are a lot of resources to help you study!

Once you’ve laid a strong foundation, you can move on to building your knowledge and tackling intermediate level Japanese! Which (if you’re curious) is an additional 324 kanji (total of 527 kanji), 1,500 words (total of 3,000 words), and another 80 grammar patterns.

But remember, the most important thing when learning Japanese, is to have fun!