This page is a work in progress. Please feel free to suggest resources that have worked for you in the comments.
I have not yet started to study Japanese, but it’s next on my list of languages to learn. In anticipation of my future studies, I’ve assembled this guide to share some of the books and language learning materials I have used and found to be effective.
The Japanese Language
So why would you want to learn Japanese? Well, that’s entirely up to you. I believe don’t that choosing languages for “practical” reasons is as effective for learning as choosing a language because you want to learn it. I suggest the same for you. For me, Japanese is a culture that created many of the things that I enjoy – particularly Japanese cuisine and Nintendo.
Hear the Japanese Language
So, let’s look at a few resources you can use to help learn Japanese.
How to Decide Which Japanese Language Resources to Pick
Language learning texts and resources can get real expensive real quick. So rather than going at it randomly or by trial and error (which you’ll probably have to do some of anyway), I’d like to make a suggestion first.
The ability to use and understand a language is based upon four basic abilities: reading, writing, speaking, and comprehension. Depending on what your goals are, all four may not be necessary.
Let’s say, for example, you hope to take a trip to Tokyo or Okinawa in six months. What language skills will you need? Basic communication and comprehension and basic reading (street signs, etc). You probably won’t ever have to write in the language. So, in this case, you might focus on developing your speaking and listening skills. If this sounds like you, I suggest checking out the audio or audio/text resources and the online resources below.
On the other hand, maybe your goal is to read Japanese literature or read anime comic books. In that case, learning to speak and understand the spoken language aren’t necessary and you can dedicate your energy to text. If this describes you, I suggest checking out the text and online resources below.
Ideally, you should probably develop some skill in each area, but the areas you focus on need to align with your goals regarding the language and how you plan to use it. I highly suggest picking resources based on this alone. Don’t get distracted with the temptation of shiny, new books (like me) and only buy materials you think you’ll actually use. You’ll save yourself a headache and a lot of money. Money that you can put aside for a trip to Japan!
A Few Things To Consider Before Taking on Any Language
- What is your motivation behind learning Japanese? Take a moment to write down your language learning goals. It increases the odds of you achieving them. You can also join us as part of our Clear the List goal setting linkup!
- How many hours a day are you willing to study a language? Set realistic expectations for your progress.
- How do you plan on studying Japanese? Are the methods that work for you available?
- You should setup up the Japanese language keyboard on both your computer and your phone. It will help you with spelling and make chat easier on Skype/HelloTalk/etc.
- Be accountable. I keep my blog to help me be more accountable and use AskMeEvery to keep track of my daily study.
- Pimsleur Japanese // try a free lesson
- Librivox // get audiobooks read to you in your target language for free!
- InTune // Japanese language radio
Audio & Text Resources
- How to Learn 2K Kanji in 3 Months
- Master Japanese // This is a fantastic book from John Fotheringham and it includes a ton of fantastic ways to study Japanese.
- Lang-8 // Get your writing in your target language corrected by native speakers.
- The Add1Challenge // The last few years, I’ve done the Add1Challenge for every new language I’ve studied. I’ve also participated for several of my other languages. It’s a 90-day challenge that helps you get to a 15-minute conversation in your new language as a part of a community.
- FluentU // Read our review here.
- Speak in a Week // Another great resource from Benny Lewis that gets you speaking your target language quickly.
- iTalki // A great site where you can find language tutors or language exchange partners.
- Drops // Interactive, visual language learning with tons of fantastic, well-curated vocabulary lists.
- Clozemaster // A fun game where you use cloze, or fill-in-the-blank, to learn new vocabulary.
- Memrise // My favorite flashcard app.
- Children’s Library
- Watch Japanese TV
- Tatoeba // sentences translated from any language in Japanese
- MIT Open Courseware // Japanese at several levels as well as culture classes.
- Learn with Oliver (formerly Antosch & Lin) // A flashcard based system with audio and a variety of exercises to help you learn your target language.
One of the best ways to learn a language is to listen to music in the language. It not only helps with improving one’s accent, but it also can increase overall comprehension. Plus it’s fun to translate the lyrics of your favorite songs. Here are a few artists I enjoy.
- Foreign Language Music Blog // a great blog with music in various foreign languages with lyrics and their translations
Learning about the culture that is tied to the language you’re learning is so important – the more you love the culture, the more you’ll love the language and vice versa. Discovering a new culture also enriches your life, particularly if it’s one quite different than your own. I highly recommend it if you haven’t started already!
Here are a few books on the history of Japan and it’s culture. You can also check out television shows or movies. I don’t suggest cartoons or films for kids because a lot of the language is often invented and you won’t get as much from it as you might from a drama geared towards an older audience. But if cartoons are your thing, go for it!
- Culture Smart! // A great series with introductions to various cultures around the world. For Japanese, you can get started with Japan.
- A No Pork and No Cabbage Okonomiyaki Recipe
- Teppanyaki Vegetables, Shrimp, Beef & Chicken
A Quick Note
If you’ve been learning Japanese, I’d love to hear about your experience and some of the language learning tools you’ve found helpful. Please leave me a note in the comments! The same goes for if you have any questions. I will be more than happy to respond and I look forward to hearing from you!