The Best Ways to Learn Japanese

Writer's Profile
Writer’s Profile

Bryce was born in California, but raised from the age of 3 near Seattle, Washington. He’s been living in Tokyo for about 7 years, and graduated from Temple University, Japan with degrees in economics and international business. He loves traveling of course, but also cooking, snowboarding, some video games as well. His biggest interest is songwriting/music production, more specifically electronic music… (think Skrillex, Marshmello, Daft Punk, etc.) He also has terrible humor as you’ll notice, but he hopes you’ll enjoy it!

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It may sound daunting, but if you’re planning to spend a considerable amount of time in Japan, knowing the Japanese language will make your experience so much more fun and fascinating. Despite Japan’s presence on the international scene, the language barrier in this country is still very real. Just moving around town usually isn’t too difficult since most signs are also in English, but everything beyond that can impose a real challenge since a large number of people here speak Japanese only, and you won’t be able to communicate smoothly with them in any other language.

Since you’re reading this article, we are sure you’re already thinking that having some knowledge of the Japanese language would be beneficial to you and help you enjoy this amazing country even more, so without further ado, let’s talk about some of the most effective ways to learn Japanese!

1. Enroll in a Japanese Language School

(c) Tokyo Central Japanese Language School / TCJ

It probably goes without saying that a language school is one of the best places to acquire new skills, and that applies to learning the Japanese language too. Enrolling in a Japanese language school is without a doubt one of the best ways to study efficiently as the school will structure your curriculum and study pace, and the teachers know exactly how to best push and support you to maximize your learning abilities. And it’s fun, too, since you’ll be able to make friends with your classmates!

There are plenty of great Japanese language schools to choose from in Japan, making it easy to find one that suits your individual needs. Another benefit of enrolling in a language school is the fact that you’ll be able to apply for a student visa, which is probably one of the easiest ways to start your life in Japan.

Sign up now: Tokyo Central Japanese Language School Classes

If you’re not able to go to Japan to study long-term, it might be worth looking into language schools in the country where you’re residing, since many Japanese language courses can also be found abroad.

2. Watch Japanese Movies and TV Programs

totoro studio ghibli
ⓒStudio Ghibli

Compared to going to school, watching Japanese movies, series and TV programs is a more relaxing way to study the language, and you will often be able to pick up slang, dialects or language-specific gestures that are otherwise not usually taught in school. While this could enable you to sound more natural when communicating in Japanese, be aware that not all phrases or words that appear in anime or TV shows are used in everyday speech, so make sure to look it up before you start using it.

3. Immerse Yourself in Japanese Culture

Mizukake festival
Attending a local festival can be a fun way to challenge yourself to use more Japanese

Japanese movies and TV shows are just one very small part of the country’s culture, and immersing yourself, even more, will also enhance your language learning. Try going to a small, local restaurant, attending a festival or visiting the countryside – anything that gets you out of your comfort zone and limits your options to speak in English or your native language will be an effective way to challenge yourself to speak more Japanese.

4. Kanji, Kanji, and More Kanji

Kanji writing
Learning kanji is one of the keys to becoming proficient in Japanese

To many Westerners, kanji is probably the most intimidating part of learning Japanese. The English language has only 26 letters, and while some upper and lowercase letters might look different, it’s still a fairly low overall number of characters, with most of them being very simple and quick to write. Japanese, on the other hand, uses three different alphabets, including kanji (Chinese characters), which number more than 50,000 characters. Some of them are incredibly complicated and time consuming to write! You need to know around 2000 kanji characters to be considered even just relatively fluent, so the faster you start studying them, the faster you’ll be able to progress with the rest of your studies, too.

5. Study Every Day

Be consistent with your studies to achieve the best results

Practice makes perfect. No matter what skill you’re trying to acquire, if you don’t practice or work on it consistently, you’ll lose your progress. Language is a skill that is used every day, and therefore should be learned the same way. If you’re already living in Japan, this should be no problem for you, but it doesn’t happen automatically, and if you want to get better, you have to be consistent with your studies. Whether it’s just an hour of vocabulary flashcards every day, setting time aside to polish your speaking and listening skills, or diving into some facts and history behind the language, the key is to try to use Japanese as much as you would use your own native language, every day.

If you want to improve your Japanese language skills and want to do it with some help from professionals and other study fellows, take an online language course!
Go! Go! Nihon Japanese Crash Course is for beginners and includes basic Japanese lessons that help you have basic Japanese speaking skills and learn Japanese culture to survive in Japan. If you want to learn more than that, you can also take Akamonkai Japanese 12-Week Beginner Course to master JLPT N5 basics in around 150 hours of Japanese studies.

6. Make Friends With Native Japanese Speakers

Making new friends is not necessarily something you can just choose to do, but if you manage to make friends with native Japanese speakers, this will probably make a huge difference in your learning pace, and will be an enormous help when it comes to achieving fluency in speech. No matter how hard you study on your own, it can be difficult to evaluate your own usage of specific words or phrases, so having someone who can correct your Japanese in everyday situations, can be invaluable. However, the Japanese are very kind people who want to avoid making you feel bad, so you will very often hear the phrase “nihongo jōzu” (日本語上手 –  meaning “your Japanese is so good”) – don’t ever let that be reason enough to be satisfied with your efforts! Make sure that your Japanese friends know that you want to improve your language skills and that you will be happy if they help you achieve this goal by correcting your mistakes.

7. Set Up a Goal or Schedule

Setting goals is the best way to stay on track

As with any other type of learning and skill acquisition, being strict on yourself by setting goals and deadlines is a smart way to keep track of your progress and keep it steady. It’s important to be able to analyze and reflect on your strengths and weaknesses in order to make a schedule, so ask your teacher or Japanese friend what they think you need to work on, and use that to make a plan for your further studies.

8. Move to Japan

tokyo tower tokyo at night
Immerse yourself 100% in the language by moving to Japan

It probably goes without saying that the most efficient way to learn Japanese is to actually move to Japan. Immersing yourself in Japanese culture and making friends with native speakers can be almost impossible outside the country itself, and all the other points highlighted in this article will be much easier to follow while you’re in Japan. Besides, when you’re learning Japanese, the best reward is to actually put your studies to use as you explore this incredible country! Being in Japan will boost your progress considerably as you’ll subconsciously absorb all the Japanese words and phrases you’ll inevitably be hearing everyday, making your study efforts much easier to sustain.

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