How to learn Japanese

How to learn Japanese

15 September 2023
Posted in: Languages

Learning any language is never an easy task. Yet, being able to have a deeper connection with a culture makes it worthwhile. By studying Japanese, it can open the door to a fascinating world of cuisine, rich history, and iconic cinema.

Getting started learning Japanese

Set goals

The best way to learn Japanese is to set yourself specific goals. Are you looking to learn the basics for an upcoming trip? Or perhaps you’re looking to expand your professional opportunities? Identifying the purpose of learning the language will be a great starting point.

Read books

The best books to learn Japanese are those with a focus on reading the writing systems. Cultural expressions are also useful to learn. Familiarising yourself with these basics will help you understand how the language functions.   

Watch TV shows and movies

TV shows and movies can also give insight into cultural norms and speaking patterns, and of course the internet is an excellent resource too. Once you find a method for you, start looking into pronunciation and vocabulary. Native English speakers can often struggle with the pronunciation of Japanese syllables.

Learn the Japanese writing system

Beginner Japanese language learner writing Hello word in Japanese hiragana characters on a notebook close-up shotBeginner Japanese language learner writing Hello word in Japanese hiragana characters on a notebook close-up shot

Japanese can be a difficult language for a beginner. The writing system consists of three different alphabets:

Hiragana is the backbone to understand as a beginner. Words native to Japan use this alphabet.

Katakana uses words from other languages. An example of this is ‘cake’, which in Katakana is ‘ケーキ’ or ‘Ke-ki’.

Kanji - each character represents a name, word, or concept. Sometimes one Kanji character can have many meanings. 

With Kanji consisting of over 8,000 different characters, learning Japanese can seem daunting. Apps for understanding characters will help to break down a big challenge. Flashcards are also a valuable way to help with characters. You could even stick them up around the house to learn household items.

Immersion: experience Japanese culture

Tokyo, Japan - October 14, 2012: Woman walking on the street in Akihabara Tokyo past billboards on anime..Tokyo, Japan - October 14, 2012: Woman walking on the street in Akihabara Tokyo past billboards on anime..

It’s one thing to learn the alphabet, but immersing yourself in the culture is what will make you fall in love with the language. Surround yourself with Japanese literature or watch TV shows and movies. There are also plenty of content creators on TikTok and YouTube that share their day-to-day life.

Get into anime and manga

Japan is known for its animation, or ‘anime’, as well as graphic novels, known as ‘manga’. Both offer a broad range for all ages and interests. So, there’ll be an ‘anime’ or ‘manga’ series out there for you to get stuck into! If you want to know more about anime, our Introduction to Japanese anime course may be of interest.  

Discover JPOP

Japan has a diverse music scene. Gagaku is a style of classical music used for imperial court dances. The booming JPOP industry has roots in traditional Japanese music but also incorporates rock and modern pop. There are even virtual hologram singers known as ‘Vocaloids’, these are mascots with uniquely crafted sounds from various music producers.

Listen to podcasts

Podcasts can also offer tips on learning Japanese or educate on niche subcultures. There are many dedicated to beginners which help with understanding spoken Japanese. Most music and podcast apps like Spotify or Apple music will have a broad range to choose from.

Practice consistently

Find a partner or tutor

Practice makes perfect. Having a language partner helps with becoming more confident with talking. A tutor can make you more comfortable with pronouncing difficult syllables, as well as approaching common situations. For example, asking for directions or ordering at a restaurant. 

Use apps

Language learning apps are perfect for daily memorisation. These are great if you’re fitting in learning a new language alongside a busy schedule. Additionally, apps allow you to learn wherever you are, and more convenient than carrying textbooks. 

Be consistent

Organising time for practice is imperative for long term memorisation. Start by setting aside at least one hour of the day or dedicate one afternoon a week to practice. A weekly routine of practicing writing and reading will have you becoming a master in no time!  

Join a community

If you’re not taking a tutored Japanese class, the process of learning a language independently can be quite lonely. So, discovering local or online communities is a great way to meet other learners and build a support network.

Meet-up communities

There are even some language learning communities who meet up to practice while going to the gym, or while eating out together. Japanese-speaking events are also a brilliant way to practice your skills.

Online communities

Online forums are easy to discover and can cater to specific interests. They’re a quick way to help you improve, learn new things, and get more confident in your knowledge. Another advantage is being able to chat with people across the world who are also learning Japanese!

Japanese language students having a discussion in a classJapanese language students having a discussion in a class
A Japanese language class a City Lit

Cultural understanding

Understanding the cultural customs and traditions is good if you plan to visit. Politeness and respect are important. Bowing as a greeting or removing shoes inside is the norm.

This respect is also within the language. It is polite to say thank you, or ‘Itadakimasu’, before a meal to show appreciation for the food. Being polite when talking to an elder, or a teacher is important to not disrespect them. This is due to the language having a strong history with its Shinto religion. The religion has roots in most Japanese customs, with its ideology based in showing respect to ‘Kami’ or the Gods. This includes paying respect to the many shrines spotted across Japan. The philosophy is all about teaching good morals and can provide further context when learning about the culture.

Consistency is key

Unfortunately, mastering any language takes time. Getting into the rhythm of setting daily tasks and a weekly goal will improve studying. Try using a calendar to set dates for achievements you want to hit. Setting time in your day maintains consistent learning without it becoming overwhelming. Make learning the language a habit.

Learning Japanese means being patient. A study schedule and getting into the lifestyle will help with staying motivated. Feeling deflated? Meet other individuals who are also learning to support each other in your journeys.

It’s never been so accessible to learn Japanese; immersing yourself in the culture, looking into language books and using apps to memorize characters and understanding customs to be respectful. These are key steps to help you learn Japanese.

Start learning today by watching a YouTube video, or even listening to a Japanese song. A tutor can help you with the first steps, our beginner’s courses in Japanese are perfect if you’re looking to get started. Good luck on your language-learning journey!

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