As most people would agree, Japanese is a very culturally relevant language to learn right now—especially since its pop culture shows no signs of leaving the spotlight anytime soon. Due to this, many fans of anime, manga, and J-pop have probably found themselves interested in the language at one point or another.
It was the same for me. I’ve always wanted to learn the language, yet I found it daunting to begin the process because I didn’t know where to start. It was only recently, when I finally sat down and compiled resources for learning Japanese, that I finally managed to make studying the language a daily habit.
Thus, I’d like to share with you the resources I’ve been using to make your journey less daunting than mine!
For Learning Hiragana and Katakana
The first step to learning Japanese is to understand the writing system. This consists of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana is used for native Japanese words, katakana is used for loan words of foreign origin, and kanji refers to Chinese characters.
Hiragana, katakana, and kanji should be learnt in that order. This is because hiragana is the easiest to start with, while kanji is the hardest. Hiragana is also the most useful for a beginner to learn first because it will help you read kanji later on.
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Tofugu is a website filled with various Japanese study resources. I use it to learn hiragana and katakana because it has a detailed step-by-step study guide that includes very useful mnemonic charts and links to pronunciation videos. It also has links to exercises you can do to practise your hiragana and katakana to make sure you retain your knowledge, and you’re not just skimming through the content.
I enjoyed using this resource a lot as the charts are very memorable, and the ridiculousness of some of them helped me to remember the different letters. It was also a relatively stress-free experience as all I had to do was follow the guide; I didn’t have to find separate hiragana and katakana exercises to test my knowledge as they were already provided.
For Learning Grammar
2. Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar
The writer created this grammar-centred guide on learning Japanese as he believes that many textbooks simply help you to know what to say in specific contexts, like when you have to introduce your name or ask where the toilet is, but won’t be able to help you truly understand and learn how to speak Japanese.
This guide is a very popular resource among Japanese learners because of its detailed explanations that factor in many things—such as context and the nuances behind different words. It is also very comprehensive, covering all the grammar rules and leaving virtually no stone unturned.
While this guide is definitely useful, the material could be considered dry. You can consider the Genki textbooks for people who want a more interactive and hands-on process of learning a language. They are more fun to work with, but you’ll need a conversation partner for some of the practice exercises!
For Learning Vocabulary
Anki is a flashcard application on the app store. I use it with the Japanese Core 2000 deck which lists the most common 2 thousand words used in conversation. This list originally came from a website called iKnow, which is another language-learning resource.
Studying Japanese vocabulary is easy; all you need to do is download the deck you want and it will automatically sync with the app. You can then access the flashcards and practise with them.
It works like this: The app will show you a card of the word in Japanese and you have to remember what it means in English. It also happens the reverse way where you see an English word and then you have to remember how to write and pronounce it in Japanese.
After that, you get to choose how easy it was for you to remember or if you want to try again. The app will use this knowledge to tailor your experience accordingly; the cards that you have more trouble with will pop up more.
I enjoy using Anki as the words are pronounced by a native and there are example sentences that help you to understand what contexts the words should be used in. It’s also a very intuitive tool that streamlines the vocabulary learning process a lot.
While resources are important, the one thing that will determine your success in learning a new language is definitely your self-discipline. When the road gets tougher, remember your motivations for wanting to learn Japanese and keep at it! We’ll all get there eventually. Happy learning!