Before we get into this mammoth of a post I just want to point out the motivation for writing this.
Yes, the motivation for making this post was due to the “insane Japanese language hacks” post that you can find on “I will teach you a language” or when you type in nearly anything about learning Japanese into Google.
If you go and read that post you will notice a lot of contradictions and some bad advice (it is an old post so it’s probably just out of date).
So as a result, I thought I would 1 up Olly and make a better post that’s going to be wayyy more helpful for anyone who’s just starting to learn Japanese.
I’m not hating on that post or website, I just feel like I can make a better post that’s going to be more helpful.
I also wanted to share everything that I picked up along the way to learning Japanese to fluency in 18 months.
Here’s a video of me actually speaking some Japanese after 2 years of study.
Now that I’ve got that out-of-the-way, let’s get into this shall we?
Oh and just one more thing, this list is in no particular order. I literally just wrote down everything I could think of in one long post so I recommend having a good read through it to ensure that you don’t miss anything crucial.
1. Realize what you are getting yourself into and make sure that you are going to enjoy the process
- 1. Realize what you are getting yourself into and make sure that you are going to enjoy the process
- 2. Understand your goals and reasons for learning Japanese
- 3. Set long-term and short-term goals
- 4. Create habits
- 5. Remove English from your life as much as possible
- 6. Track your progress via a blog or vlog
- 7. Study Japanese with a flashcard software that uses Spaced Repetition
- 8. Use full sentences in your SRS flashcards over vocab cards – Sentence Mining / The 10,000 Sentences method
- 9. Don’t use cloze sentence flashcards in your SRS
- 10. Learn Kanji early on
- 11. Learn Kanji with Remembering the Kanji
- 12. Learn hiragana and katakana with mnemonics
- 13. Classes and University courses are a waste of time and money
- 14. Textbooks are a waste of time and money
- 15. Immerse yourself in as much Japanese as possible – Create a Japanese immersion environment
- 16. Too much reading can ruin your accent
- 17. Reading is great for improving your vocabulary quickly
- 18. Don’t study for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)
- 19. Language acquisition occurs when we understand messages – Comprehensible input
- 20. Create flashcards from anime, TV shows, films and even YouTube videos + Sentence Banks
- 21. Don’t use pre-made SRS flashcards
- 22. Don’t forget about pitch accent
- 23. Ask a native
- 24. Learn famous people’s names
- 25. Don’t learn grammar, acquire it
- 26. Treat grammar the same as words
- 27. Learn from anime
- 28. Learn from whatever you want
- 29. Check the news in Japanese
- 30. You can learn Japanese with music, but it’s not great idea
- 31. Get a Japanese dictionary or dictionary app
- 32. How to lookup kanji you don’t know
- 33. Don’t speak from day 1
- 34. If you want to sound REALLY good, don’t speak for a very long time
- 35. Go and get some Japanese books NOW
- 36. Get the right gear for the job
- 37. Context is key
- 38. Google images is your friend
- 39. Don’t worry too much about formal Japanese (Keigo)
- 40. Don’t use romaji
- 41. Start reading Japanese with easy texts
- 42. Use furigana until you are capable of reading without it
- 43. Subtitles DON’T WORK, kind of…
- 44. By natives for natives
- 45. When you eventually start to output, get it checked and corrected by a native speaker
- 46. Don’t worry about making mistakes
- 47. Look into making Anki more efficient
- 48. Use Time-boxing or the Pomodoro Technique
- 49. Do some research on successful language learners
- 50. Changing your language settings on your phone and computer
- 51. Install the Characterizer Google Chrome extension
- 52. Use video games!
- 53. Once you feel fluent, jump into random Skype calls with real natives for speaking practice
You could say this isn’t really a “hack” but it really is, after all a “hack” in this context is something that saves you time, right?
Well if you are new to language learning and aren’t aware of the amount of time that it takes to learn a new language then you could be in for a shock and end up quitting half way through, which would be a massive waste of your time.
If you are unsure as to how long it will take you to learn Japanese then I suggest that you check out my post on the subject: How Long Does it REALLY Take to Learn Japanese?
If you really want to learn Japanese and see yourself going all the way then you also need to make the process enjoyable.
The reason I say this is because learning a language is something that takes a tonne of time.
If you don’t enjoy the process then you will find that learning Japanese will be incredibly difficult.
Of course, it won’t be impossible, but it will be a lot easier for you if you actually enjoy the process of learning Japanese.
2. Understand your goals and reasons for learning Japanese
This is a lot more important than you may originally think.
Well believe it or not there are a lot of people out there that want to learn Japanese in order to understand Anime or Japanese Dramas.
So what do they do?
They go and take Japanese classes…
- Classes don’t really work that well in terms of getting you to fluency and
- even if they did get you to fluency, it’s kind of overkill to have to learn all the extra fluff about culture, grammar, and even kanji when all you want to do is enjoy your favorite TV show.
A lot of people end up not really thinking about their own personal goals and mindlessly follow someone else’s advice.
It’s all well and good following the advice of someone who’s gotten to native fluency in a 2nd language but if all you want to do is reach a conversational level then there is a lot that you can skip to save yourself time.
Understanding your own goals and reasons for learning the language helps you mold your own personal learning strategy.
3. Set long-term and short-term goals
It’s also good to have some form of motivation for wanting to learn the language. This can be as simple as “because I want to”, or “I want to live in Japan”.
If you have a long-term goal then you are more likely to stick at it.
On the other hand, a lot of people tend to worry a lot about long-term goals and tend to procrastinate because of this.
If you find yourself in this situation then it’s best to create smaller goals that are easy to complete and that provide some form of 達成感 (sense of accomplishment).
4. Create habits
If making small goals isn’t quite enough for your procrastination then making things habitual is something that can be incredibly powerful to your progress.
It’s said that on average it takes 22 days to create a new habit and with tools like habitica available it can be surprisingly easy to set yourself new daily habits.
Once you have set up habits to listen to Japanese everyday, use the Japanese version of YouTube, read Japanese books, review your flashcards etc, then learning Japanese becomes incredibly easy and will take little to no effort as you will be doing everything on autopilot.
5. Remove English from your life as much as possible
Learning Japanese is as simple as “more Japanese = better Japanese” so the best thing you can do for your Japanese ability is to remove any other languages from your life.
Now of course this is practically impossible to do and I’m not saying to literally cut ties with your family, friends or your job.
All I’m saying is that you should attempt to reduce exposure to English wherever you can.
This means favoring Japanese television over English television, or putting earphones in when other people are listening to the radio at work etc.
I also don’t think it’s a good idea to completely remove your family and friends either.
I know a few people who have done this, including myself, and it doesn’t have a positive impact on one’s life.
Doing this usually leads to depression due to the amount of time you spend alone and it’s really not healthy and not great for the other aspects of your life.
So sure, put a tonne of time into learning Japanese, but make sure you stay human as well.
6. Track your progress via a blog or vlog
This is something that I did and not only is it something that allows you to easily track your progress but by posting your progress online where others can see it, it gives you that sense of accountability therefore drumming into yourself that you can’t let the people watching down.
The main reason that this is great though is the fact that you have a log of your progress so that when you feel down about your progress (and this will happen on more than one occasion) and feel like you still suck, then you can go back and read a post you wrote or watch a video you made and you will realize just how far you’ve come since then.
7. Study Japanese with a flashcard software that uses Spaced Repetition
In essence it has everything your standard flashcard application would have but it schedules your reviews for you based on a Spaced Repetition algorithm.
Spaced repetition is a study method that’s been around for years and is incredibly efficient for 2 main reasons.
- Reviews are scheduled to be reviewed just before you forget the flashcard.
- Because of reason 1. and due to how our brain works, doing this actually improves retention of the information you are trying to remember.
Even without point 2., point 1 is obviously incredibly efficient.
Of course, there will be a few cards that you will forget but it’s much more efficient to schedule cards in this way and have less work to do each day than to study everything everyday or study certain topics every now and then and forget lots of information.
8. Use full sentences in your SRS flashcards over vocab cards – Sentence Mining / The 10,000 Sentences method
Sentence flashcards come with a variety of benefits over other types of flashcard layouts and are way more useful and efficient than your standard vocabulary cards.
The main reasons I advise using sentence flashcards over vocabulary cards is the fact that you get more bang for your buck.
This is because you not only get to see how different grammar constructs work but you also get to see how vocabulary is actually used, including difference nuances a word may have, as well as getting exposure to a fully grammatically correct Japanese sentence/phrase which you will then be able to use yourself when the time arises.
Vocab cards don’t really have much going for them.
All they do is teach you what word is translated to in English, and this might not even be correct as translations will change depending on how the word is used in a sentence.
The two languages are so different that unfortunately it’s not as simple as A = A, it’s more like A = A,B,C,D or A,B = A (where A,B,C,D are words in either language).
You see what I mean?
So having full sentence flashcards gives you this extra information that you need in order to get the full usage of a word and is why I highly recommend that you scrap vocab cards in favor for sentence cards.
But where do you get your sentence cards from?
Well there’s a thing called sentence mining which is basically just going out onto the Japanese side of the internet or by buying some Japanese books and taking real, native Japanese sentences that have 1 or 2 words in them that you don’t know, and adding these to your flashcard deck to learn.
If you gather a lot of these then you can drastically increase the rate at which you will reach fluency.
For more information I would check out these posts on sentence mining and the 10,000 sentence method:
- How to Make SRS Sentence Flashcards Quickly and Efficiently
- Making Sentence Mining Super Easy with Sentence Banks
- Matt’s take on 10,000 Sentences in a Month
9. Don’t use cloze sentence flashcards in your SRS
If you already know about flashcards and have been using Anki or a similar system for a long time then you may know of the flashcard type known as cloze flashcards.
To put it simply this is a type of card where a certain piece of information is missing and where you have to therefore fill in the missing information.
This can be useful for a variety of topics such as diagrams of the body for medical students or maybe when learning the prefectures of Japan, but when using it for sentence flashcards it’s really not as effective as a lot of people may think.
Lets take an example.
Front of card
Back of card
So your task is to guess the missing word but that defeats the point of it being a sentence flashcard.
The whole point of using sentence flashcards to learn a language is to reinforce previously learnt words, phrases and grammar as well as to understand how new language is used.
What happens when you use cloze sentence flashcards is that you end up not actually reading the entire sentence properly and focus mainly on the missing word but in most cases you will be lazy and won’t read the sentence, essentially cheating yourself.
If you can stop yourself cheating then I think cloze cards could be useful, but we know that sentence flashcards work as they’ve been tried and tested by plenty of other language learners in the community including myself, MattVSJapan and Khatzumoto.
10. Learn Kanji early on
If you can get kanji out-of-the-way nice and early then it will give you a head-start in your studies.
By knowing kanji, your ability to read Japanese text, and therefore become able to understand it, increases dramatically.
Each kanji has a meaning, so once you have the most common kanji down then you will find that you will start to become able to infer a lot of Japanese text.
With lots of exposure to Japanese text you will begin to join the dots and start to be able to make sense of written Japanese.
But how can you learn kanji so early into your studies?
11. Learn Kanji with Remembering the Kanji
The reason it doesn’t focus on kanji readings is because, quite simply, kanji readings are vast, complex and are better learnt when reading real Japanese.
If you where to search each kanji into jisho.org or any other dictionary then you would find certain kanji that have loads of readings.
A lot of the kanji readings in dictionaries are very rare readings that are either not in use in modern Japanese or that aren’t common enough to worth knowing.
In order to study efficiently and get into reading real Japanese as soon as possible, it’s best to learn what each kanji means so that you can produce the ability to infer Japanese text.
With this base knowledge you will find that reading Japanese becomes easier and given enough reading with texts that have furigana you will soon be able to read Japanese.
For a full guide on how to do this, check out this post: How to Learn Kanji Fast: The Ultimate Guide to Remembering the Kanji
12. Learn hiragana and katakana with mnemonics
When learning kana, or even kanji, invoking on the human imagination can be incredibly powerful and is very much recommended in order to learn these foreign squiggles in a short amount of time.
Mnemonics are particularly powerful and really play on the human memory.
I made use of a mobile app called Dr Moku which allowed me to learn both the kana’s, hiragana and katakana, within 2 weeks.
Even the technique I advise for learning kanji uses a similar method and it’s incredibly powerful as it allowed me to learn 3000 kanji in about 90 days.
You can learn kana before after learning kanji, it doesn’t matter too much, however you may find that you can use some kana to make stories in Remembering the Kanji so you might want to learn kana first.
13. Classes and University courses are a waste of time and money
I’m a software engineering student yet I barely know how to code and I’m in my final year as of writing this.
The funny thing is though is that my grades are actually pretty good.
University courses in general are a waste of time and money, if you are interested in using the language practically.
Different people go to university for different reasons but if you go with the intention of coming out “fluent” then you won’t only be thoroughly disappointed but you may even blame the fact that you don’t get fluent on yourself and not the system, when in reality it’s the system’s fault and you’ve effectively been scammed out of 50k.
This is the same as if you expect to take a computer science degree and expect to be a master in Java once you’ve finished.
Those few people who do come out of university fluent actually spend time out of classes studying like mad men to get to that level.
Unless you want to do a job that requires a Japanese degree then I wouldn’t bother with University.
— Dōgen (@Dogen) July 4, 2018
14. Textbooks are a waste of time and money
Textbooks are what most people go for when they first start to learn a language and I’ll be honest, they can be helpful but they aren’t going to get you to fluency.
They simply don’t have enough of the language in them for them to really make a difference to your level.
They also use really weird techniques in order to try to teach you the Japanese, a lot of these are not efficient.
You will often be working on very basic language and you won’t be exposed to anything that’s more difficult.
A lot of people end up stuck in the beginner language phase because of this and they end up moving from one textbook to the next.
Even if you do move up to harder textbooks, you are still only being exposed to a very limited amount of the Japanese language.
To really become able to understand and use Japanese you need to exposed to thousands of hours of listening content and millions of words of reading content.
Textbooks just don’t have that amount of content in them and so I would recommend not even bothering with them and to just dive straight into native content.
15. Immerse yourself in as much Japanese as possible – Create a Japanese immersion environment
Language learning takes time, a lot of it.
It takes more time than any other skill and the only way to really get better quicker is to stay immersed as much as possible.
The more you listen to Japanese, the more you read Japanese books, the quicker you will progress.
The more you are exposed to the language, the more about the language you will notice and the more your brain will subconsciously start to work out.
The majority of language acquisition happens on the subconscious level of the brain and it literally takes massive amounts of content to be poured into your brain for it to be able to start noticing patterns and to work out what this new mess of sounds and squiggly characters means.
So go get some listening material, fill up your iPhone, and get listening.
If you can’t find any listening content then check out this post: Free Japanese Listening Resources
16. Too much reading can ruin your accent
Reading is an interesting topic because a lot of people tend to use it as a tool straight from the beginning and most schools and universities teach languages from a text-based approach.
However this tactic is very much flawed for a few reasons, the main one being that too much reading and not enough listening will ruin your accent in the 2nd language.
To get a decent accent you need to first listen to a lot of the language to be able to understand how each letter, word, phrase is said.
In doing this you will be more likely to reproduce the correct sounds upon speaking in the future.
However, if you don’t do any listening and just do reading, how are you supposed to know how everything is said?
Sure your teacher may have said it once, or you may even have looked it up in forvo, but that’s not quite enough for your ears to fully know how it sounds and for your mouth to be able to reproduce the sound.
That Japanese Man Yuta is a great example.
According to his personal website, he learnt to read English fluently by reading and had very little listening input which has had quite an effect on his accent and way of speech.
17. Reading is great for improving your vocabulary quickly
If you aren’t worried about your accent being perfect then a little bit of reading from the start isn’t actually a huge deal and can rapidly improve the rate at which you can learn the language.
As recommended by Steve Kaufmann, reading has the huge potential to elevate your language ability.
Written texts tend to have a lot more variety in word choice and way of speech than day-to-day conversation.
This exposure to more unique language can really allow your brain to get a deeper understanding of the language while also drastically improving your vocabulary.
18. Don’t study for the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test)
The JLPT is the biggest and most well-known Japanese language test for foreigners and is definitely something worth considering to take if you are planning on working in a Japanese company or in Japan.
The only problem is that a lot of people tend to make their Japanese study strategy focused too heavily on passing the JLPT.
Here are the issues with this:
- JLPT N1 (the hardest level) isn’t particularly difficult Japanese
- If you study for a test, your language ability will be limited to what is in the test
Now I won’t go into point 1 too much, instead I want to draw your attention to point 2.
This is an issue with any subject matter and is something that a lot of people don’t tend to think about.
If you study to pass a specific test, then the subject matter that you are going to study is going to be out of the range of that test, meaning that you will be limited in your knowledge.
In the case of the JLPT this means that your Japanese will be limited to JLPT Japanese, and the Japanese that’s tested in the JLPT makes up only a small proportion of the entire Japanese language that you would come across when in Japan.
If you are studying Japanese just to pass the JLPT and for no other reason, then fine, ignore this advice, but if you are learning in order to understand the language, use the language or live in Japan then don’t settle just for JLPT level Japanese as that might not be good enough for your goals.
You are by far better off studying to become fluent, and then taking the JLPT once you have reached this level. Not only will you get a higher score, the entire process will be less stressful and more enjoyable for you. You will also attain a high language ability in Japanese which is what you are really after.
Basically don’t end up like Jeremy. ↓
19. Language acquisition occurs when we understand messages – Comprehensible input
Comprehensible input is the only thing that counts when it comes to language learning.
It doesn’t matter how many grammar exercises, vocab drills or how many times you repeat what your teacher says, if you don’t understand what’s being said, you wont acquire any language. I can understand that this may not make complete sense and if it doesn’t then I encourage you to watch the video below where Krashen gives a good example of this using German. You will be surprised as to how well you will understand him if you’ve had no or little exposure to the German language before.
This is something that Linguist Stephen Krashen has discussed in-depth in his various papers and books but it essentially means that to get better more quickly, we need to be focusing on language that is as comprehensible to us as possible.
This essentially means choosing compelling, interesting content that is slightly above our language level in order to make the most gains in our language learning.
There is of course one slight issue with this and that’s that it’s difficult to know how comprehensible a piece of content is before listening to, or reading, it. Your best bet though is to choose content that’s probably going to be slightly harder for you so that you get your best bang for your buck.
There’s no point go for something too easy as you wont make any progress and there’s no point in going for something way out of your comfort zone as again, you won’t understand a thing, and if you don’t understand the content you are consuming then you won’t progress either.
If you want to find content then check out the contents page of this site as I’ve discussed various resources and content for Japanese which could be helpful for you.
20. Create flashcards from anime, TV shows, films and even YouTube videos + Sentence Banks
Something that I found to be incredibly powerful for my flashcard studies was a program called Subs2SRS.
This is a small program that allows you to convert your favorite TV shows, anime, films and other videos in to Anki flashcard decks.
Using this program allowed me to create thousands of flashcards super quickly and made the process of sentence mining incredibly simple.
Not only that but the flashcards have the original sentence, a picture from the scene the sentence was said and also native audio from the actual show.
All this combined creates some incredibly rich flashcards that are fun, enjoyable to study and have a massive amount of context, which as we know from Stephen Krashen’s work on language acquisition means that we are more likely to acquire new language.
If you want to know exactly how to do this then check out the tutorial I wrote a while back: Making Sentence Mining Super Easy with Sentence Banks
If for whatever reason you are unable to make these decks yourself then I have uploaded all my decks to patreon and you can get access to them all for just $1 a month. The following post goes into these decks in more detail and also has a list of what decks I have in my Sentence Bank.
21. Don’t use pre-made SRS flashcards
However tempting it maybe to just hop onto Anki‘s shared deck page and download a deck, It’s really not a good idea.
The whole point of using an SRS is to allow you to notice language that you’ve come across in your immersion environment and to not forget that language.
So naturally learning someone else’s flashcards goes against this and will actually be harder work for you as you have to first understand the other persons’ flashcards.
The other issues with this is that you don’t know who made the deck and there’s a good chance that it was a fellow gaijin who’s learning Japanese and not a Japanese native.
This means that there are likely to be mistakes in the flashcards and due to the nature of Anki and spaced repetition systems it can be very easy to solidify these mistakes in long-term memory which makes it harder to fix later on.
Note that this is different from using the decks that I have created and put on patreon. Those decks are all automatically generated by correct subtitle files and not myself.
22. Don’t forget about pitch accent
Pitch accent is something that is often overlooked when it comes to learning Japanese.
The main reason for this is because it isn’t entirely needed in order to be able to speak the language and be understood.
Different prefectures in Japan use different pitch accent rules yet someone from Tokyo can still understand someone from Kansai and vice-versa.
However, if you really want to perfect your accent then pitch accent is something you should definitely be looking into as its something that you won’t naturally pick up from lots of input unless your mother language also has pitch accent in it.
For more resources on pitch accent, check out Dogen.
23. Ask a native
Having a close Japanese friend is always useful encase you ever have any questions about the language and culture. If you don’t know any real Japanese people though, you can always ask a native for free over at hinative.com
24. Learn famous people’s names
This is a tip that I got from MattVSJapan when interviewing him about learning Japanese, he has over 8 years of experience with learning Japanese and is the best Japanese speaking foreigner I’ve heard so far.
There are two reasons for doing this. One reason is that it teaches you how to read some Japanese names, and while Japanese names are particular obscure and very hard to read even for the Japanese themselves, learning how to read some of the more common names can be rather useful.
The other reason is that by learning who the “famous” people are in Japanese society, you will find yourself having an easier time in conversations with natives as you will know who they are talking about.
25. Don’t learn grammar, acquire it
Learning grammar rules and how to conjugate verbs is great for if you want to go into linguistics and study how languages come to be but it’s really not useful if you want to use Japanese in your daily life.
Speaking Japanese should just come naturally to you and it should be like a math equation where you have to work out first what you want to say, translate the words to Japanese and then work out the correct sentence structure for you to be understood. Not only does this take so much time and ruins the conversation you are having with a Japanese person but it opens you up to a lot of opportunity to make mistakes and therefore not be understood at all.
These mistakes can also often solidify if you are not given any feedback and you will attempt to use the same broken Japanese again and again until it becomes habit.
This is really bad.
26. Treat grammar the same as words
What do you do when you see a new word you don’t know?
You look it up in the dictionary.
This is what you should be doing with grammar.
If you come across a piece of grammar you don’t understand then simply look up the meaning online, in English if you’re a beginner or Japanese if you are able to, get a gist of what the grammar means and move on.
Instead of trying to completely understand the piece of grammar, which is impossible to do without seeing it used in various different contexts first, what you are doing by doing this is you are priming your brain in order to recognize the piece of grammar again when you see it.
If you’ve search the piece of grammar in a dictionary or a grammar guide then you will get a rough gist of what it means, from there you can add the definition on the back of a sentence flashcard so that you don’t forget it and continue on with reading or listening to Japanese.
As you can guess this is a lot easier and a lot less stressful than traditional grammar study.
27. Learn from anime
Okay, if you don’t like anime then don’t learn from anime, but if you do like anime then by all means learn from anime.
There’s nothing wrong with doing this.
I have no doubt that at some point you have been told by some random person in the comment section of some Japanese related YouTube video, or on /r/LearnJapanese that you can’t learn Japanese from anime.
That person doesn’t have the slightest clue as to what they are talking about.
Now that may come off strong, and if it does then I apologize, but seriously, the people telling you that you can’t learn from anime and that you should just buy genki and actually study are the ones that sound incredibly foreign in terms of accent and word choice. In most cases these people haven’t even reached fluency themselves yet so definitely don’t follow their advice.
Sure, if you watch nothing but shounen anime then your speech may lean towards a more “rude young boy” type style of Japanese, but that’s something that can be easily sorted with a little bit of exposure to other types of Japanese speech and it’s something that’s very unlikely to happen in the first place.
Because even shounen anime doesn’t just have 1 speech pattern for all their characters.
You get exposure to all sorts of Japanese, from everyday friendly conversation to work style keigo and even some crazy keigo that you would only use when talking to a member of the royal family.
And that will be in just one anime series of one genre.
Anime has TONNES of genres, in fact one of my favorite shows was シロバコ which is an anime about making anime! And guess what? It was full of incredibly useful Japanese that one could use in a real workplace.
To say that you can’t learn Japanese from anime or that “you would sound like a rude 9-year-old kid” is ridiculous and just not true.
You can learn Japanese from anime and anyone who tells you otherwise really doesn’t know what they are talking about.
28. Learn from whatever you want
Going on from the previous hack/tip, learn from whatever you want.
Honestly, there’s no perfect resource or content for learning any language, you have to go out and find what’s best for you.
I really don’t recommend textbooks, as you may have already seen from hack 14 but if using textbooks is your thing then good for you, go for it!
The same goes for content.
As long as it’s content that native Japanese speakers have created and it is aimed at a Japanese audience then anything goes.
I’ve had a few questions from people asking me what specific shows I watched to get good at Japanese and the answer is “I can’t remember.”
Sure, I remember the REALLY good shows I’ve watched, but I’ve consumed so much content in Japanese that I couldn’t possibly tell you every single show that I used to get to the level I am at now as I just can’t remember them all.
And it’s not like it matters anyway, what matters here is that you are consuming a lot of material and preferably that you enjoy the content you are consuming.
Language acquisition is a process that takes months to years, it’s not something that happens overnight, so making sure you enjoy the content or study material that you are using is incredibly important.
So use whatever you want!
29. Check the news in Japanese
Find yourself checking the news on a daily basis?
Do it in Japanese with these news sites:
30. You can learn Japanese with music, but it’s not great idea
I wrote about this in a bit more depth in Can You Learn Japanese with Music? but essentially it comes down to the fact that music is just too different from the speech you would hear in daily conversations and on TV shows.
Now, I’m not saying don’t use music, nor am I contradicting hack/tip 28, but I just want you to be aware that music isn’t as great as a TV show when it comes to improving your listening comprehension.
Music lyrics I think can be very useful for improving your reading, but even then I still think a book would be better.
But as I say, learn from whatever you want to, just be aware that music isn’t as “efficient” as other types of content.
If you are interested in Japanese music, which I still think you should be even if you I don’t think you should use music a lot, then I would recommend checking out my YouTube playlist of over 400 Japanese songs that I’ve accumulated over the years. It has music from all sorts of genres from J-POP to Trap to Rock to anime songs. You’ll probably find something you’ll enjoy!
And yes I started the playlist when I was going through a bit of a weeb phase so a lot of the stuff at the beginning is related to anime. Jump to about video 200 and on wards to find the good stuff.
31. Get a Japanese dictionary or dictionary app
When spending the majority of your day in a Japanese language environment you will find yourself bombarded with unknown words constantly which is why I recommend grabbing a Japanese dictionary as soon as possible.
Obviously apps are better as it means that you don’t have to carry a massive weight around all day, however, there is a specific dictionary that I think is useful for beginners of Japanese and that’s the 小学国語辞典 which is a dictionary designed for Japanese Elementary/Primary school students.
The reason it’s so great is that it has furigana on every kanji in the book, making it really easy to read and lookup words.
Here are some other dictionaries, both physical and digital which can be very useful throughout the whole process.
There’s a huge issue with Japanese and using dictionaries though which I will discuss in the next tip…
32. How to lookup kanji you don’t know
Due to kanji, if you don’t already know the reading of a word or a character then it’s very hard to look up words in a dictionary.
As you progress this obviously becomes easier but in the beginning it can be a huge barrier to your Japanese learning.
Your android or iOS phone will have a Japanese keyboard and they should have an option for writing Japanese characters (I’m not sure about iOS but android does), if iOS doesn’t have this option then you can install the Chinese hand written input keyboard which searches Japanese characters too.
For computers just install a Japanese IME (I recommend the Google IME) which allows you to type Japanese with an English keyboard.
The IME comes with an option that allows you to draw on a little pad and it will then work out what character you wrote based on stroke order.
33. Don’t speak from day 1
Despite what some self-proclaimed language guru’s say, speaking from day 1 can be quite detrimental to your output.
If you have just started learning the language then speaking has absolutely no benefits to you.
If you don’t yet know what Japanese sounds like, then you can’t possibly output it correctly and you will just make mistakes.
Now you may think, “but that’s fine, if I make mistakes that means I’m making progress!” and while for other skills I would totally agree with you and probably tell you to go out and fail lots, language learning is different.
The problem with language acquisition is that it’s all done subconsciously by your fabulous pattern solver, the human brain.
To become able to fully understand and use a foreign language, the brain has to have been exposed to thousands of sentences of the language in order to start understanding the patterns behind the language.
Without this input, your brain has nothing to go on to produce correct output which is why input > output is so important but it also means that if you produce incorrect Japanese by outputting it, there is actually a huge possibility that your brain will think that what you have said is “correct Japanese” and will take note of the “incorrect pattern” that you created.
This not only confuses your ability to learn more of the language as your knowledge of the language will clash with how the language actually works, the mistake you made also has a high chance of solidifying in long-term memory.
Fossilizing mistakes in this manner is really easy to do if you aren’t careful, so until you’ve heard a lot of the language, try not to output that much.
34. If you want to sound REALLY good, don’t speak for a very long time
Going on from this, if you want to sound like really native speaker then not speaking for a couple of years at least is highly recommended.
This will eliminate nearly all mistakes you could potentially make when outputting before you understand the language.
As a rule of thumb, don’t output until you understand 99.9% of Japanese if you’re going for full native level.
If you don’t care for a native like accent or way of speech then you don’t need to worry so much about this.
35. Go and get some Japanese books NOW
Having Japanese books in your immediate vicinity is a great motivator and works surprisingly well at getting you to read the language.
The more books you have lying around your house, the more chances you are giving yourself to learn new Japanese and learn the language.
Get some books and put them in every room of your house, yes even the toilet, and don’t forget to always have some reading material in your bag too.
Here’s a couple of guides and posts I’ve written on where to get books and some of my recommended reading:
- A Guide to Buying Books That Are Written in Japanese
- Where to Buy Japanese eBooks + Thousands of Free eBooks
- Best Japanese Books with Furigana | Japanese Book Reviews #3
36. Get the right gear for the job
Language learning takes up a tonne of time and to do immersion efficiently without any hiccups you are going to need a few tools.
I’ve written a more detailed post about this here but in general I would recommend the following gear to help you get the job done:
- Dedicated MP3 Player for immersion
- Extra Storage for your TV shows, anime, books, audiobooks etc.
- Bluetooth Shower Speaker to get the most out of time in the bathroom
- SoundPEATS Wireless Earbuds Bluetooth earphones to make immersion easier
- Bose QuietComfort 35 Headphones for those who want the full immersion experience
- CozyPhones to listen to Japanese before, during and after sleep but without causing pain to your ear lobes
- Dedicated Media Player/Computer to simulate the idea of a Japanese TV, making it more likely that you will stay immersed
- NENRENT S570 “stealth” earpiece in order to immerse in situations that you shouldn’t be (i.e. your boss/teachers doesn’t like you having earphones in)
37. Context is key
Naturally, consuming content that is aimed at your level is easier to do so than something that is incredibly hard.
There’s a reason you shouldn’t be reading medical journals if you’re not interested in the field of medicine.
Equally, something that is incredibly easy may not be that difficult to understand but you will find that you won’t make much progress by using it either.
The ideal is something in between, but that something also needs to have a good amount of “context” to come along with it, otherwise you will struggle to comprehend the setting of that content which makes it harder to understand the meaning of messages that are being told.
And as I mentioned earlier, we can only acquire language when we understand the message being told to us.
So what does this mean in terms of consuming certain types of content?
What it means is that, for any stage in your Japanese development, content with visual aids are going to be the most valuable content to us.
Now most of us aren’t going straight into random podcasts or audio-books so in general this isn’t a huge issue but it is something to be aware of.
TV shows, anime, films, dramas, manga/comics, picture books and other types of visual content are going to be particularly helpful for the early stages of your Japanese learning.
There’s also this resource sheet which also has a tonne of useful links too.
There I’ve listed a variety of websites that allow you to watch Japanese TV or that can help you to find other sites where you can watch Japanese TV.
38. Google images is your friend
There are going to be a lot of words that even if you look them up in a Japanese dictionary, you still may not fully understand.
As I just stated in the previous tip/hack, context is everything.
Googling image search can help you get that extra bit of context when you aren’t quite sure of a words meaning.
You also want to avoid English if possible but how are you supposed to understand words when you are avoiding English translations and you can’t reading a Japanese dictionary?
Google image search it!
Most of the time image search will help give you a bit more context and allow you to understand a words’ meaning so it’s worth giving it a shot.
There’s actually a really useful add-on for Anki that allows you to search google from Anki itself called “Search Google Images for selected words.”
39. Don’t worry too much about formal Japanese (Keigo)
Keigo is something that a lot of people see as a big deal and I’ve even heard people compare to learning another language within Japanese, which isn’t entirely true.
Provided you get a decent amount of exposure to a variety of different types of Japanese you will find that you will be able to speak a standard level of keigo as well.
The thing with keigo is that it’s a broad subject matter with many different levels of politeness depending on who you are talking to and the fact of the matter is, not many Japanese natives understand all these different levels.
Sure, some have studied keigo and know what to and what not to use, but if your standard Japanese native doesn’t know these rules that well then you too also don’t need to worry about it too much.
Once you’ve become a good enough at Japanese then you may want to expand out and read some books on 敬語 that are directly aimed at native Japanese speakers.
Here’s some books on Amazon that have good recommendations:
- 敬語「そのまま使える」ハンドブック: できる人の「この言葉づかい」「この話し方」 (知的生きかた文庫)
- 敬語の使い方が面白いほど身につく本ーーあなたの評価を下げている原因は「過剰」「マニュアル」「繰り返し」 (ビジネスベーシック「超解」シリーズ)
If you don’t know how to buy Japanese books from amazon.jp, check out this guide: A Guide to Buying Books That Are Written in Japanese
There are also some quite useful and interesting videos on YouTube on keigo as well so have a search around online too.
40. Don’t use romaji
I don’t care what anyone says, romaji is not helpful to anyone.
It makes your accent terrible as you attempt to read Japanese as if you where reading English.
Romaji is not real Japanese.
Even Japanese people would struggle reading entire paragraphs of it so I wouldn’t even bother using it.
If you want to be able to read Japanese, learn to read real Japanese.
If you don’t care about learning to read Japanese, simply don’t read Japanese, including romaji.
Despite what people may think, you can learn a language entirely by listening to it. That’s what you did as a child right?
Romaji has no use in the realm of learning Japanese.
41. Start reading Japanese with easy texts
Don’t be cruel to yourself.
I know what I said earlier about using what you want to when it comes to immersion but when you start to read Japanese it’s pretty damn difficult to decipher even the most basic of paragraphs let alone computer science journals.
When reading, start off easy, go with a manga or a kids book so that you have context to help you get through it while still enjoying it, and don’t panic if you don’t understand a lot.
If you go over the same book enough times you will eventually understand the story and you will also gain a lot of Japanese from it.
In my Japanese Reading List I also recommend a few books that have English translations for the Japanese too.
I think that these types of books can be particularly useful for the beginner but they are definitely not something you should be using often as it can be too easy to get distracted by the English translation and you may be tempted to translate between the two languages.
The 3 books I’ve found that I think could be helpful are:
- Read Real Japanese Fiction – Has furigana, intermediate difficulty.
- Read Real Japanese Essays – Has furigana, lower-intermediate difficulty.
- Breaking into Japanese Literature – Has furigana, higher-intermediate difficulty.
42. Use furigana until you are capable of reading without it
Without furigana and Japanese subtitles I don’t think I would be able to read standard, adult Japanese right now.
In case you don’t know what furigana is, it’s basically a way of writing how a word is pronounced by putting the kana above the kanji in texts.
This is often done in texts that are aimed at younger audiences but you can also use programs to generate furigana for you.
For example if you download the Japanese Support Plugin and install it on Anki, you can include furigana readings to the backs of Japanese sentence cards in order to show you how a sentence is read.
You can also use websites such as ひらがなめがね which adds furigana to websites that you put into it.
You’ll often find that manga will also have furigana and some books will too.
It is often hard to find books with furigana though so I’d recommend reading this post I made on the subject in order to help you find these books: Best Japanese Books with Furigana | Japanese Book Reviews #3
Furigana is great and a really powerful tool when it comes to learning to read Japanese.
Extensive use of furigana when reading Japanese naturally leads to fluent Japanese reading ability.
You will eventually reach a point where you won’t need furigana anymore and you will be able to move on to books targeted at adults, which in general have little to no furigana.
Using furigana is by no means a bad thing, in fact it’s one of the tools that we can use to dramatically increase our reading ability so definitely make use of it.
43. Subtitles DON’T WORK, kind of…
Subtitles are also one of the biggest reasons that my reading ability skyrocketed.
But how could subtitles possible help my Japanese ability?
Well of course, I am not talking about English subtitles, I am talking about Japanese subtitles.
What I mean is watching a Japanese TV show whilst having the correctly timed subtitles on-screen at the same time.
This practice drastically helps improve your reading comprehension, however, it does take away from your listening.
If you use subtitles then be aware that your listening skills aren’t being tested as much as if you weren’t using subtitles.
We all know people who’ve watched tonnes of anime with English subtitles right?
It’s the same thing, only this time you’re using Japanese subtitles.
Of course, you’re reading skills will improve but your listening ability won’t.
However, due to TV shows being a great type of content, as you have tonnes of context, I do recommend watching things with Japanese subtitles too in order to give your reading skills a boost.
44. By natives for natives
This is more of a standard rule that you ought to stick to when it comes to choosing content.
It’s less of a tip and more of a caution I guess.
I’ve mentioned before about accidentally fossilizing mistakes in the early stages of learning a language and how these are particularly difficult to notice and fix later on.
Well another way you can drastically ruin your Japanese output is by consuming content that is made by, and made for, Japanese native speakers.
This is a good rule of thumb to keep in mind when consuming content.
You can’t watch foreigners on YouTube speak Japanese and honestly expect you to get a good accent.
Unless those foreigners are somehow at a perfectly native level, which I have yet to see online, then you will only be hurting your output and accent.
Now of course some exposure to Japanese spoken by foreigners isn’t going to drastically affect your Japanese ability, this is more of an issue of prolonged exposure and in particularly at the early stages of learning the language.
If you’ve already got a good base and are fluent in Japanese then listening to foreigners isn’t going to impact your ability quite as much as someone who started learning the language yesterday.
Anyway, just stay away from Japanese speaking gaijin if you want to sound decent at speaking.
45. When you eventually start to output, get it checked and corrected by a native speaker
There are times you may want to write or say something in Japanese before you are fluent.
While I recommend reducing this activity to a minimum, I think that sometimes it is pretty inevitable and everyone will do it at some point.
If you are aiming for perfect native-like output too then you should also be wary when you first start outputting after you have reached “basic fluency” too, as you can still make mistakes without knowing.
There are ways to go about outputting that can mitigate these risks though.
- Get a native to correct your written text and add the corrected text to Anki.
- Ask natives to correct your speech on the spot when conversing with them and if possible get them to write the corrections down so that you can put them into Anki.
Both of these things allow you to not only notice where you’ve made a mistake but also what the correct Japanese is and by putting the correct Japanese in Anki you will be very unlikely to forget the fact that you made this mistake and thus more likely to use the correct Japanese in the future.
You can find language partners on a variety of different sites on the internet and you can also get your written Japanese corrected on services like HiNative.
46. Don’t worry about making mistakes
Despite what I may have told you throughout this post, making mistakes is by no means the end of the world.
What I really want to get across to people is the danger of making lots of mistakes in the early stages of learning a language as this can cause serious implications on your output in the future which could lead to you literally being incomprehensible when talking to native speakers, and no body wants that.
If you keep quiet for a good 6 months to a year then you will still produce good enough output to have conversations with native speakers, without them giving you a funny look.
So if you are someone who is more out going or you are quiet have to speak Japanese because you are currently in Japan then don’t feel bad for speaking and making mistakes, just make sure that you are slow, precise and get corrections.
Make do with the situation you have and don’t be afraid to really enjoy yourself.
I think that if you are in Japan then you are going to have a much better experience speaking and using broken Japanese than if you where to sit in your room all day studying like a mad man so that in 2 years you could sound practically perfect.
Do what’s right for you.
47. Look into making Anki more efficient
Spaced repetition systems/software like Anki are great and they are probably one of the most powerful tools for studying that are currently out there, however, they are not without their drawbacks.
Anki, for example, has some drawbacks which means that it actually over-tests you.
For more detail check out the blog post below (if you are new to Anki then don’t worry about this right now as it might be too complex).
I will also be looking into spaced repetition algorithms and software over the next few months for my final year project at University so expect some research backed advice coming soon (If you want to stay up-to-date then follow me on twitter or sign up to my newsletter and I’ll keep you informed!)
There are also a variety of extensions that you can use to make Anki easier to use as well. Here’s a post on my favorite 20 add-ons.
48. Use Time-boxing or the Pomodoro Technique
Time boxing is one of those things that if everyone did, the world would be a much better place, but unfortunately barely anyone knows of its existence.
It’s essentially turning your everyday boring work into small segmented games by timing yourself against the clock.
The way I use time-boxing with Japanese is by setting a timer for 10 minutes and to then see how many reviews I can do in that time-frame.
Timing yourself against the clock is a powerful technique as it induces incredibly amounts of concentration.
I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve gotten into flow due to use time-boxing.
If you’re not sold yet, try it for a day or two and you will see how you can take 2 hours worth of studying down to an hour or less.
It has allowed me to dramatically reduce my study time for university and SRSing which in turn meant more time for watching shows in Japanese and doing things like writing this blog and making YouTube videos.
I’ve also talked about time-boxing in a bit more detail in a video on my patreon here.
49. Do some research on successful language learners
Success can be a lot easier if you already have a tried method to follow that you know already works.
The only issue is finding such a method.
Just make sure that whatever method you follow, you verify it first.
If you blindly follow someone’s advice on the internet, you will quite probably not make as much progress as you potentially could.
So if there’s but one thing you take away from this post, let it be this, look into the reasons why people are creating content and look into and verify the skill level of the craft they are discussing. Once you have found someone whose skill level matches what you want then follow their method/advice and no one else’s.
Learn from those that have already gone through the process, but don’t fall to the tricks of those out there just to make money out of you.
Plenty of the big blogs and websites on language learning exist to make a profit. They hire writers, talk about strategies that don’t work and in some cases even outright lie, so think about that before following someone’s advice.
50. Changing your language settings on your phone and computer
This is something that can do from day 1 and will have a huge benefit to your language level.
When it comes to devices that we use daily, we don’t actually need to know a lot of written language to actually use them.
This is simply because we’ve got so used to performing the same tasks everyday that we know where everything is.
So unless you aren’t that confident with technology, then you shouldn’t definitely change your operating system’s language into Japanese.
To find out how to do it just click on the links below for your operating system or mobile device.
51. Install the Characterizer Google Chrome extension
This nifty little extension, which you can add to chrome for free here, takes the English text that’s written on a website and, where a word in the text matches a kanji’s keyword in Remembering the Kanji, either replaces the first letter of a word by the words corresponding kanji or it can replace the entire word by the kanji.
I used this awesome tool and it really helped cement a lot of the keywords and meant that I was still learning Japanese even when I had to read English.
It’s really not that difficult to read with it on either so I would definitely recommend it.
52. Use video games!
Video games can be pretty useful when learning a language due to their inherent nature to be incredibly addictive.
Any type of content that keeps you drawn in and constantly wanting more, whether it be video games or something else, is all good stuff in my books.
Now of course some video games are better than others. Some have more speech and some have plenty of text, others have very little of each.
It’s best to therefore analyse the games you are playing and consider just how much Japanese they are exposing you to.
Something like Skyrim is going to help your Japanese much better than PUBG, so take a look at the games you love and see if they can help you learn Japanese while trying to stay clear of those games that won’t help so much.
If you are looking to get games in Japanese then I’ve actually written a very detailed guide on how to do this here: Where to Buy Japanese Import Games | 8 Sites For Buying Import Japanese Games
53. Once you feel fluent, jump into random Skype calls with real natives for speaking practice
There’s a great website in Japan called スカイプちゃんねる or “Skype Channel” which is basically just a place for people to post their Skype usernames and create group chats on similar interests.
Once you feel like you’ve got what it takes then I would highly recommend jumping into one of these Skype chats to really test your abilities.
The reason why I recommend doing this over say getting a tutor at italki or talking with a language partner is because those people will mostly likely judge your ability to comprehend and speak Japanese before you even open your mouth, but by jumping into a random Skype call with random Japanese strangers you will find that they will be less likely to go easy on you.
This will be the ultimate test on your abilities.
And that’s it for this post guys, it was definitely longer than I expected it to be but it covers a lot of the main important parts of learning Japanese and has plenty of links and information for you to go off and learn more so hopefully it’s been a really useful post for you! If it has then let me know in the comments! 🙂
Thanks for reading!
マットBy Matthew Hawkins 2018/10/19 Massive thanks to Diederik, Eric and everyone else supporting me on Patreon. You guys are awesome! 🙂 Follow me on Twitter Support me on Patreon to get early access to posts and exclusive content
Undergraduate Software Engineer and Language Enthusiast.