I thought I’d share my Japanese learning tool kit, or how you can end up spending about an hour every day studying Japanese without having to think too much about it!
- From the very start, when you even can’t tell apart your good-days from good-evenings, this audio and video lesson site is indispensable: https://www.japanesepod101.com/. They go from absolute beginner classes, all the way up to intermediate. The site has hours and hours of audio and video content, structured in short, 10-15 minute lessons, each focusing on a little bit of listening, little vocab, and a tiny bit of grammar. I’ve been using this site for three years now and there is still so much material to go through. I’m paying for the “Basic” account and finding it to be sufficient.
- Reading is the second thing you can start practicing from day zero – hiragana and katakana are the two alphabets that will come handy in no time. Both consist of 46 base symbols, and learning it feels like cracking a code – suddenly you can read some words in Japanese, and it feels very rewarding. I used the tofugu hiragana guide https://www.tofugu.com/japanese/learn-hiragana/ and learned about 5 characters a day. Being in no rush, I started to feel somewhat comfortable reading in both in about a month (being able to read, and being able to read fast is, of course, an entirely different matter)! I also coded up this little practice game http://tomstriker.org/kana/ as the tofugu guide links to a rather poor version of that game.
- After you have somewhat mastered hiragana, it’s time to go to the next level – kanji! https://www.wanikani.com/ is an online site where they teach you kanji and vocab at your pace. It works like this – first they show you a few kanji and explain how to read, memorise, and pronounce them. Then, during review, the site asks you for the English meaning, and it also asks you for the Japanese pronunciation. The review for each kanji goes in intervals – first it will ask you to review the kanji in a few hours, then after a day, then after a few days, a week, and so on (it’s called “spaced repetition system” and it works rather well https://ncase.me/remember/). This is where I spend about 20 minutes twice a day. While sometimes it’s bit hard, once you get the grip of it, it can be fun – like playing one of those candy crush games. While there is no official app, I’ve found that the site works perfectly fine on the mobile as well. The kanji are split in 60 levels, and my personal pace is about 15 days per level. You might find yourself going faster or slower, but the speed is not the important bit here – turning it into a habit is.
- While for me the next step happened 18 month later, there is no need to wait so long (I just didn’t know about it) – the next step is a face-to-face meetup with fellow learners and, most importantly, native speakers! Getting you all chitty-chatty will boost your confidence, validate your skill and it takes just a few times to get the grip of “hello” and “look at that cloud” and “isn’t this delicious?” and, frankly, that’s like 90% of what people talk about anyway, so, congrats, now you are a solid beginner, and it’s tons of fun.
- The next tool in the kit for me is an affordable online tutorship. https://www.verbling.com/ is a site that pairs tutors with students. These are qualified teachers, and a 1-on-1 one hour lesson costs roughly 13-17 pounds. You are in full control the schedule, you don’t have to commute anywhere, and you have a wide range of tutors to pick from to find your best match. While I do the 1-on-1 lessons twice a week, even once a week is more than enough. That then comes together to something like 60 pounds a month – not cheap, but hey, you are getting good fast!
- Another very useful tool, and this one’s a phone app and it’s free(!), is https://www.tandem.net/. It’s a language exchange app that matches native speakers of different languages, and you can practice, both, writing, and speaking. It takes a while to find good matches (the beginning is especially slow as you just keep reaching out to people and nobody’s responding), but after a while you should find a good match. I speak with two Japanese natives about an hour a week (so a total of 2 hours of focused, lightweight discussion). We go back and forth between English and Japanese without stressing too much about structure – the point is to have a good time and learn something new while doing it.
- On top of doing all of the above (and having a blast), at some point you should consider levelling up once more and bite that bullet of trying to actually understand larger portions of written Japanese text. I’ve found this site to be super useful: https://reajer.weebly.com/. With different skill levels to choose from, Reajer offers relatively small fragments of text, split into paragraphs, with added annotations and translations. The beginnings are tough, but cracking that code feels very rewarding.
- Finally, with all of the above going full steam, you might want to reinforce your understanding of the structure of the language. Grammar always sounds scary and finding the best way to think about a specific aspect of Japanese can take some time and googling, but there is one site that has done all the legwork so you don’t have to: https://www.bunpro.jp/. Bunpro is yet another spaced repetition system site. The interface is still rough around the edges, but the best part is that each grammar point comes with lots of example sentences, there is “further reading” section that points to established study resources on the web, and there is a “cram” mode where you can flex your grammar muscles till you have nailed them. I used this site to review all the grammar I’d need to even attempt the N3 test and it was very helpful. I’ve decided to skip this year’s JLPT, but I’ve all intentions to keep using this site to better my understanding.
So, I think, that’s about all the resources I use day-to-day. Oh, one more thing – https://jisho.org/ is an excellent online Japanese dictionary with even better kanji explanations.