A friend of mine who will be going to Japan on JET this summer recently asked me for help and advice on learning Japanese. Instead of just sharing things with her, I thought that I’d help other people reading this blog too!
I have absolutely no evidence to back this up, but it’s my feeling that Japanese is probably one of the most self-studied languages out there. With the popularity of anime and manga, and the lack of teachers out there in our home countries to teach us, the internet has become a great source for studying Japanese.
I was lucky enough to not only have a Japanese teacher available to me when I decided that I wanted to learn, but also that the teacher, Mary Grace Browning, is one of the most knowledgeable people in the UK on Japan. I started taking her classes when I was 16, though I didn’t take it seriously until I went to university and could dedicate all my time to learning the language.
But enough about me!
The first thing to do when starting to learn Japanese is to learn at least the hiragana alphabet (both to read and write) and if possible the katakana alphabet (at least to read). Japanese written out in the letters we use in English is called romaji and I would STRONGLY advise people to let go of this crutch as soon as possible when learning Japanese.
Learning the alphabets are pretty simple to do. Check out this link on hiragana. Take one row (starting with あ、い、う、え、お) and just write them over and over, saying them in your head as you write. You could even make flash cards. One row should take anything from a day to 4 days to memorise. Then just move on to the next and the next until you have them all down. Don’t forget to revisit previously learnt rows as you move on.
Now you have those down, let’s move on to some phrases. There are loads of lists of phrases on the internet. The BBC has a great site for Japanese, so starting there isn’t a bad idea. Another place you could go to is Tofugu’s Youtube channel (Tofugu’s website is also pretty awesome). Just type in “learn Japanese” into youtube and you’ll find so many videos.
Japanesepod101 is an AMAZING source of free podcasts that I used every day while at university. These really made a big difference to my level when I was starting out, and I still listen to them today as the highest levels are still very high for me sometimes.
For grammar, you can also find good resources online. This fast track website has it laid out really well. There are LOADS of other websites out there. This is just the first one I found that I liked.
Once you have some words and some grammar under your obi, it’s time to try it all out! Go to Lang-8 and write a diary with your new Japanese! Even if it’s just a sentence or so, people will read it and correct it and encourage you to keep going. I want to do a full post about Lang-8 because it really is great. But for now, I can just tell you that it is awesome.
With all of this, you should have a good foundation in Japanese on which you can start building to suit your needs. We like to keep this secret, but it’s actually not that hard to learn Japanese. It makes us look brainy but it’s actually a walk in the park compared to some other languages!!
And if all else fails, you can always learn Japanese while doing aerobics!!!