How do you study Japanese?

By Donald Ash | Articles

I had no prior experience with Japanese before coming here (save a few Japanese CDs a month or two in advance). I came knowing absolutely nothing about how the language worked. But, once here, I went to my local bookstore and got my hands on a few books that taught me the basic rules. This allowed me to do some very rough communication. My Japanese skills are still quite rough around the edges, and I know just enough Japanese to get me into trouble. I try my best to be realistic about studying, though. I don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and instantly know how to speak fluently, or know all my kanji, it’s a process.

When I study Japanese, I just try to be thorough. I know that grammar, listening, speaking, reading, vocabulary and writing are all important factors for good Japanese. I have a textbook that teaches me the essential grammatical basics that I need to create basic Japanese sentences. Without understanding general grammar (subject object verb vs. subject verb object) the other factors become markedly more difficult for me. If your grammar is sound, I believe you can learn the other elements far more quickly. Though grammar is the foundation of Japanese study, I try not to neglect the other aspects.

When I study, I start by warming up: I review my kana (hiragana & katakana) and as many kanji as I can think of. This helps to switch my brain to Japanese mode. My personal study then begins with learning new grammar structures using a well-respected, beginner’s textbook. This usually takes between 10 and 30 minutes depending on how challenging the grammar concept is. From here I like to move on to move on to some workbook/writing practice for 10 to 20 minutes. Next it’s time for the listening. I’ve got loads of Japanese to choose from, but usually I used the Genki CDs because I think they get progressively more challenging. I finish up the study session by trying to learn 2-3 new kanji and their respective meanings. As far as speaking goes…I’m in Japan, so I try to make sure that I engage in at least one conversation (even if it’s short) per day. I try to make sure I use some of the more difficult concepts that I’ve practiced. If I screw up, I screw up. The alternative, not practicing because I’m to scared to make mistakes, won’t help me to become any better at speaking.

This is my method for studying. Sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it’s not. But I know if I’m consistent, I will get better.

How about you? What methods do you use for learning Japanese? Any special tips or advice?


About the Author

Donald Ash is an Atlanta, Georgia-born, American expat who has been living in a Japanese time warp for the last eleven years. While in that time warp, he discovered that he absolutely loves writing, blogging, and sharing. Donald is the creator of blog. Wanna know more about this guy? Check out his "What's Your Story" page.

  • Joshua Kramer says:

    I use Rosetta Stone. That is so I can communicate with native Japanese people online.(I don’t want to go to japan and pronounce my words like a Japanese girl.) If you live there the best thing you can you use to Intensely study grammar is TELL ME MORE JAPANESE levels 1-3. It is $250. This is what Japanese college teachers use in Charlotte to teach English students. I would imagine that even if you lived there, the best possible way to have solid social skills is by studying hardcore with software. All you have to do is try.

    • Donald Ash says:

      I used Rosetta Stone a bit when I first got here, but I don’t use it so much anymore (just being honest). It’s good software, but I actually use Japanese textbooks now (books that young Japanese children use to learn Japanese). I’ve actually never heard of TELL ME MORE JAPANESE and that price seems reasonable. My biggest recommendation is to choose a software or text that you like and stick to it.

      Good advice, Josh.

  • Joshua Kramer says:

    My lessons are for speaking, but should I be looking at my lessons in kanji or hiragana & katakana? or kanji & furigana?

    • Donald Ash says:

      I’d say it depends on where you are in your reading in writing. If you’re shaky using hiragana and katakana, but you know them, I would use hirgana and katakana until you become comfortable. Kanji and furigana are more difficult, but knowing kanji is the ultimate goal. So once you know your hiragana and katakana well, push yourself just a bit more and try the kanji & furigana. It will help you to enhance your reading & writing skills. Good luck!

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