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Japanese Study Advice

There’s a lot of information online to help you with your Japanese studies. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out where to start and what to prioritize. Having studied Japanese for a long time, I have a good idea of what worked and didn’t work for me as a student. I’m also aware of which things I should have spent more time with as a beginner, and where I’m having to play catch-up now as a high-intermediate, low-advanced level student. I hope my advice proves useful to you as you work towards speaking, reading, and writing like a champ.

General Advice

  1. Learn the hiragana and katakana alphabets as soon as physically possible! Romaji will ultimately hold you back not just from reading and writing, but may also contribute to bad pronunciation.
  2. Repeat words and phrases to practice pronunciation. It's good practice to record the audio of one of your favorite Japanese movies or TV episodes (even anime is fine!) and listen to, then repeat back words and phrases wholesale. Listen to the vowels, consonants, and pitches of the syllables. You don't even have to know what these words mean! At the beginning you're just trying to understand how the language sounds. When you look at how these words are spelled later, you'll have a more intuitive understanding of things like doubled vowels and doubled consonants.
  3. Mix kanji study in from the beginning. Don't be like me and speak at an advanced level while reading like a kindergartener. There are many apps to help you study kanji nowadays. I pay the yearly fee for WaniKani, which works well for me. (Discount codes are plentiful; try looking at old Reddit posts.) Another popular, non-app method is the book Remembering the Kanji. Either way, get started early!
  4. Don't be afraid to be a Japanese pre-schooler. Learn a bunch of children's songs. Watch Japanese language shows made for infants. Buy a picture book and look up words in the dictionary as you go. Have fun with it, and don't get down on yourself for not being able to read and write novels in your second language. Think of it as an excuse to be silly and youthful! If you’re young, you'll likely appreciate the opportunity to act like a little kid more and more as you get older.
  5. Mostly, have fun! I love songs, and a lot of my study comes from translating song lyrics and having others tell me how wrong I am! When speaking with my own teacher, I try to use Japanese for as long as possible without switching over to English. If you have friends who speak Japanese well, try holding extended conversations with them. If you don’t have anyone to speak with, try keeping a journal in Japanese. Even if you can’t think of exactly what you want to say or write, sometimes describing things using words you already know will allow the other person to grasp your meaning. Have fun failing, and then celebrate when you succeed! Everyone starts somewhere, and with language learning there's never a finish line. The journey towards competence is literally the destination.

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