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.
UPDATE (Nov 2021)
I realised that if you don’t have the study stamina and amazing memory then this course was very difficult to do in the timeline I originally laid out. I have changed the dates so this guide is now broken down into 2 parts for every 6 months of studying. It’s still a challenge but I hope it’s a little more doable now.
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)
HOWEVER: IF you find there is too much studying every week for you -that’s fine! You don’t HAVE to stick with what I’ve laid out. With my methods you’ll be learning about 20 new things a day and that can be a lot. So find a pace that works for you, but keep studying!
What you DO have to do is practice speaking at least twice a week with a teacher. A teacher is important because they can go slowly and help you focus on improving Japanese speaking, listening and pronunciation.
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 monthly goals, and those months into smaller monthly and weekly goals.
Here’s an example:
- Month 1: Learn hiragana and katakana, learn basic vocab and grammar
- Month 2: Find a Japanese teacher, know 300 vocabulary and grammar
- Month 3: Start recording yourself speak on a regular basis
- Month 4: Review what you previously studied
- Month 5: Finish beginners vocabulary on Memrise
- Month 6: Finish beginners grammar on Memrise
Feel free to change these goals to suit you and try and make them as concrete as possible.
UPDATE – Feb 2018
I decided to update some of this challenge. After thinking about it I realized that getting a speaking partner would NOT help a brand new beginner. If you are serious about this challenge and about learning Japanese in a year you NEED a trained Japanese teacher.
A good Japanese teacher will help you practice your speaking, but also help you learn new things and practice what you’re studying. But a speaking partner won’t be able to provide that help.
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 3-4: 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 2 Week 1-2: 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 3-4: Basic vocabulary and grammar ② + Find a Teacher!
[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 and find a teacher. Arrange a test lesson via skype AT THE END OF THE WEEK!
Free Option: You can save money by getting just a speaking partner. However, as I mentioned, a speaking partner will NOT be able to help you as much with your Japanese. They are more useful towards the end of the year.
Two months 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.
ARRANGE YOUR TEACHER!
When you arrange to meet your teacher for the first time (and when you actually meet them) let them know:
- Emphasize that you want to ONLY practice speaking.
- Ask them to speak slowly.
- If you ask them to repeat a sentence ask them to NOT change what they said the first time.
- Pick a topic to talk about beforehand (I’ll suggest some topics for each week but you can deviate, see how things go.)
- Only have 30-40 minute lessons (1 hour lessons can be too much. You learn just the right amount in 30 minutes.)
Month 3 Week 1-2: Basic vocabulary and grammar ③ + Start 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.
Month 3 Week 3-4
[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 4 Week 1-2
[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 4 Week 3-4
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 5 Week 1-2
[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 5 Week 3-4
[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 6 Week 1-2
[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?
6 MONTHS COMPLETE!!!
So at the end of 6 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 in How to Speak Japanese Fluently in Just 1 Year (Part 2).