All you need to learn Japanese is an internet connection
Learning a language can be incredibly expensive and I still don’t understand why some people would pay ridiculous amounts of money to take language courses and come out without even reaching a basic level of fluency.
University courses are probably the worst culprits.
I don’t really know how university works in the US but I can only assume it’s just as expensive as it is here in the UK. Why would anyone put themselves through that kind of debt when what they are getting out of their course is a textbook, a useless teacher who doesn’t understand how to learn language, they might not even be a native Japanese person either, and a small Japanese trip which would have been a hell of a lot cheaper if you’d have saved up and gone by your own accord!
— Dōgen (@Dogen) July 4, 2018
Learning a language doesn’t even benefit your life. The best thing it can do is open up some job opportunities in another country, but you honestly don’t need to learn a language.
Everyone else is coping fine living all their lives getting by in their home country so why on earth would anyone put themselves in over 50k’s worth of debt, and waste 3-4 years, just to “get (badly) conversational at Japanese.”
The world’s gone mad.
I think a lot of people have started to realize this though and are starting to go towards online courses instead.
And if I’m honest, I think unless I discovered AJATT then I probably would have gone down this road too.
The thing is though, I was poor when I first decided to learn Japanese.
I also had some thoughts about how one should go about learning a language and not a lot of these courses aligned with my ideas on how to learn a language.
So what did I have left to work with?
Well if I’m honest, just our best friend Google.
I started learning the basic two “Japanese alphabets” if you will, hiragana and katakana, while spending a large amount of my free time for a good month researching and looking up “ways to learn languages”.
I watched almost all the videos of every polyglot YouTuber and read countless articles but nothing really stuck out, everything was just a mess.
Most of the information out there was just your standard advice that anyone would tell you and a lot of it contracted depending on where you went so it was really hard to get an idea as to what I actually should be doing.
That is until one day I stumbled upon a website that literally changed my life, alljapaneseallthetime.com
AJATT is a website that has been around for ages now and as the writer Khatzumoto appears to not bother looking into SEO (Search Engine Optimization), is a site that is quite hard to find if you simply google “How to Learn Japanese” (in fact, according to serprobot it’s not even the top 100 search results for that keyword.)
This is a huge shame as this site is a super valuable collection of blog posts explaining how to learn Japanese based on Khatzumoto’s very own experiences, not some company or entrepreneur trying to make a profit of you.
What’s more amazing is that Khatzumoto went from knowing no Japanese to becoming “fluent in 18 months”.
Now, a lot of people have different ideas as to what fluency is, however I think we can all agree that 18 months is pretty impressive.
If anyone says that they managed it in anything less than a year then they are quite probably lying or pushing the boundaries of the definition of the word “fluency”.
I’m not going to say names here but anyone who preaches 3 months for fluency is just a fraud and out for your money. There are lots of people on the internet trying to make money so do be careful. (あのベニー野郎、お金儲けのためだけにサイトをやってんじゃん。三ヶ月間でペラペラになれるって？あれは完全に詐欺だよ。)
As I read more of the AJATT site, the more I began to understand about language learning and realized that in reality the core key to learning a language was quite simply lots of input.
What does this mean?
Well we use the word “input” to mean content that you listen to and read in the language.
Output means speaking and writing and is the direct opposite of input.
Depending on the person, one may wish to output really early on and in some rare cases may have to due to their situation.
However, you should always remember that the core to learning a language is getting lots of input and that input is always more important that output.
Without input, we can’t learn to understand the language.
Without understanding the language, learning to output becomes meaningless.
There’s no point in being able to speak Japanese when you can’t understand a native speaker right?
It’s all well and good studying with a Genki textbook, but next time you’re in Japan and you try to ask for directions, you better hope that someone speaks English because you ain’t going to understand a word they say.
Okay okay okay, but Matt, where does this leave me? What do I need to do now?
What I would recommend you do is head over to the AJATT site and have a quick read through to get an idea of how the method works. While you’re at it, take a look at the other posts on this site, and my videos on YouTube, where I also discuss my experience using AJATT to learn Japanese to fluency as this will give you a good picture as to how the process works.
Spend sometime getting an idea as to what the whole method is about and what you have to do.
When you feel like you are ready, get started by following my ultimate guide to 3000 kanji in 3 months and by reading this article on listening content so you can start listening to some native Japanese content and get your immersion going ASAP.
If you really struggle finding listening content when starting off then there’s also this video that I made a while back which should solve all your issues without costing you a single penny.
It’s not money you need, it’s the right approach, lots of content, some time, and a little bit of elbow grease
Courses are a waste of time, whether they be online or at an actual university.
I’m not saying that they don’t bring results at all, they do, it’s just that these results are nothing compared to what you could be getting if you followed the advice shared on AJATT, this site and by MattVSJapan.
Courses don’t work well as they are flawed from word go.
They merely provide you language content structured in a particular way and they are designed to get you to pass some form of test or exam.
What they don’t provide you is an approach to how you should actually learn Japanese which is what you actually need when trying to learn a language.
They attempt to teach you about the Japanese language, instead of how to teach yourself it which makes them useless.
No one can teach you a language, only you can.
However, you can certainly learn how to learn a language.
Now, as courses don’t teach you how to learn a language, it’s obvious why most people come out of university still not fluent in their target languages.
Instead of wasting 3 years of your life at university trying to get decent enough at Japanese in order to pass the JLPT N2 (which isn’t really that difficult), you could quite easily spend that time getting insanely good at the language.
3 years with the right approach could bring huge results.
Now, as I said earlier, I highly recommend you go check out AJATT and MattVSJapan in order to get a better idea as to what to do and what kind of approach to take, however, here is a very quick and rough run down as to what I would do with that time instead.
Tonnes of listening is the real key to fluency
So the first thing you are going to want to do is decide that once you start this you will attempt to listen to as much Japanese as humanely possible throughout your daily life.
This can be a difficult habit to build but it is essential to the whole process.
When looking at other foreigners that speak Japanese pretty well online you find that they all have one thing in common.
They’ve all had tens of thousands of hours worth of listening to the language.
It took me about 9000-10,000 hours before I could finally start to understand almost the entirety of the Japanese I listened to.
This included not only anime and TV, but audiobooks, podcasts, the news etc.
And this is the same no matter what language you are wanting to learn.
You WILL need a lot of listening to become able to comprehend the language and understand natives.
This is the core, most important thing to remember, everything else I am telling you can essentially be ignored if you don’t want to do it but without immersion you won’t make any progress.
So get a tonne of listening content on your MP3 player and get listening to Japanese, right now.
If you follow the instructions in the video I linked above then you can get more than enough listening content for free.
Get Kanji out of the way first
Kanji are probably the main reason why Japanese is seen as such a hard language by foreigners.
And to be fair I can understand that.
A lot of people come into Japanese from various backgrounds but most of us didn’t know much about the language when first starting out so when you read up about it online and find out that they have an alphabet of over 2000 characters, it’s inevitable for you to second guess your motivation to learn the language.
However, when it comes to learning just about anything, there’s always certain methods that are much better than others.
When it comes to kanji, the “best method so far” has to be Remembering the Kanji, originally created and written by James Heisig.
The method is completely different to what you would probably be used to if you’ve followed nothing but classes or textbooks so far and so you may wonder if it actually works.
I could go on about RTK here for ages but I’ve already written a massive guide on using it to learn kanji super quickly so I would recommend checking that out: How to Learn Kanji Fast: The Ultimate Guide to Remembering the Kanji.
While I do recommend buying the books, you can get away with doing RTK for free by following the above guide.
You can complete RTK in a mere 2-3 months if you have the time available which will allow you to get started with reading real Japanese material.
Anki + Sentence Mining: The glue that holds everything together
If I were to explain Anki in one sentence then it would be something like this.
Probably the most efficient flashcard scheduling software, and therefore study tool, currently available.
This means you will focus on the stuff that really matters while also keeping the stuff you do know in long-term memory.
For a clearer picture as to just how amazing spaced repetition is I would check this video out.
Sentence mining is just what it sounds like.
It’s the process of going out and finding sentences that you want to learn from native material.
In doing so you should pick sentences that aren’t too difficult nor too easy.
Sentence mining is better than standard vocabulary flashcards as learning words in the context of sentences gives you a better understanding of not only the use and nuances of words but also how Japanese sentence structure works.
You can sentence mine literally any type of text so you don’t need to buy anything, all you need is the internet to find content.
If you want to find out how to make sentence mining even easier, then I’d check out my guide on creating a Sentence Bank using Anki: Making Sentence Mining Super Easy with Sentence Banks.
Tonnes of reading is the key to expanding your vocabulary
Once you’ve learnt 2000-3000 kanji using RTK and have gotten used to Sentence Mining, you will want to start getting into reading real Japanese.
While listening is more important and you should be getting more listening in than you do reading, reading is also quite important in terms of getting to a high level of Japanese quickly.
Once you’ve finished RTK I would recommend going for some basic manga, like the ones I’ve introduced here, and once you progress a bit then you can start moving on to slightly harder content that has furigana, like the books I’ve recommended here.
At this stage using Japanese subtitles can also be a great way of getting yourself exposed to more written Japanese.
If you have access to netflix, (you can trial it for 30 days for free) then you can find content that’s in Japanese by doing the following:
First you will need to go to account information -> my profile -> language and then change it to Japanese/日本語 in order to find shows in Japanese.
There are some western shows that have Japanese subtitles but the audio is in English so we want to search for shows that have Japanese audio.
To find these shows, scroll down to the bottom of the page and find the link that says: 言語別:字幕・音声. Here’s where you can find it:
You’ll be taken to this page where you are going to want to click on the drop down menu and make sure it’s set to 音声 to find shows with Japanese audio.
Find a show you want to watch, open up the first episode and from there you can check to see if there are Japanese subtitles by clicking on the speech bubble button on the bottom right hand side of the video player.
You can also use a specific VPN which will allow you to view netflix as if you lived in Japan.
A lot of people used VPNs a while back to watch shows that don’t exist in their countries version of netflix, however netflix quickly caught on and started banning the use of VPNs.
As a result a lot of mainstream VPNs don’t work, but for some reason VPN Gate does and it’s completely free as well.
Here’s a video that shows you how to use it.
As you get better and better you will find yourself able to read content without furigana or audio to aid you in reading kanji readings.
You will of course still find words that you don’t know, or don’t know how to read, and will therefore have to look some things up but by this point you can easily move on to proper books and novels.
Finding content for free
Providing you have access to the internet, you can reach fluency in Japanese.
There’s so much reading and listening material out there for free, you just have to go out and find it.
To do this you want to go to jisho.org, search for keywords that interest you, for example “football”, “science”, “comedy” etc.
Take the Japanese equivalents and chuck them into google or youtube and you’ve got access to a tonne of content.
Now of course, you won’t understand a lot at first but that’s perfectly fine.
Searching for content in Japanese may sound scary but it’s not that hard and the process of searching for content, while it may be tedious at times, will also help you improve as you will be exposed to natural Japanese and you will start to pick up random things here and there.
If you stick with a topic you are already really interested in then you are less likely to get bored and give up, so have a search around and see if you can find content that you really enjoy even if you can’t fully understand what’s going on.
If you’re really struggling to find content then I would recommend that you check out the “Language Resources” page of this site which contains a large list of resources.
If you head down to the reading and listening sections, you will find a variety of sites that you can make use of, the majority of which are free.
There’s also this resource sheet (not mine) that contains a lot of other links for learning Japanese in general as well as a lot of other sites where you can get tonnes of reading and listening content for free as well so definitely check them out.
I also have a few other posts on resources that you can use that are either free or dirt cheap. You can check out these posts from the links below:
Anyway, I hope that you’ve found this post helpful!
Thanks for reading!
マットBy Matthew Hawkins 2018/08/28 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.