10 Steps for Learning Japanese: your ultimate guide to learning Japanese. Or well, some help, in case you aren’t quite sure how to start. 

10 Steps for Learning Japanese

Japanese can be an intimidating language to tackle, but it really doesn’t have to be. Here’s how I broke down learning Japanese into some more bite-sized portions.

1. Hiragana

Start with hiragana! At my university, we started by learning katakana, and I never liked it. Luckily, I had studied hiragana on my own before starting formal classes, and in my opinion, it was much easier. 

Learning hiragana will help you understand the limited number of sounds in Japanese, and you’ll be able to pick up pronunciation early. It will also help you know how to spell words when you hear them for the first time. I promise that if you take the time to learn hiragana first, it will make learning Japanese so much easier from here on out.

2. Katakana

Once you get hiragana down, go ahead and tackle katakana. It will be easier because you already know all the sounds. You might think katakana is less important because it’s only used for borrowed words, but it’s used all the time in Japanese.

Once you have both syllabries down, practice reading and writing every day. Write random English words in katakana, write your vocab words in hiragana. If you want, look up Japanese Pokemon names and practice reading katakana with them. Just keep up your skills until you can read and write all kana without even thinking about it.

3. Find Something to Listen To 

Pronunciation is one of the hardest parts for foreigners to get right. Start early! Find something in Japanese to listen to, whether it’s a show, music, a podcast, anything where you can listen to a native speaker. Mimic what they say, even if you don’t understand it. Just focus on getting the vowel sounds right.

4. Basic Conversation 

Learn greetings, how to give a self introduction, and how to ask basic questions (What is your name? Where are you from? etc.). Write out your self introduction in Japanese, first in romaji and then in kana. Memorize it. Self introductions will give you a surprising amount of vocabulary.

5. Useful Conversation 

If you have a specific reason for learning Japanese, learn the conversation you will need every day. Learn how to ask for directions and order at restaurants if you plan to be in the country at all. If you’re learning for business, start learning basic business conversation. If you’re doing a study abroad or teaching, it would probably help to learn school-related vocabulary. Whatever you need, focus on learning it first. 

6. Basic Kanji

Once you can actually manage basic conversations in Japanese, you can focus more on learning kanji. You’ve probably already picked up a few basic ones by this point (maybe numbers or things like that). If you need a guide, the JLPT lists are pretty good. Start with the N5 and work your way up. 

Like conversation, it’s good to start with the kanji that will be most useful to you. Being able to write your address, your business or school name, and maybe the names of people working closely with you will all be helpful. 

7. Find Someone To Talk To

You might not feel ready to engage in actual conversation yet, but that’s okay. Try to find someone who speaks Japanese (preferably a native speaker), and talk to them. This will help you hone your listening and speaking skills at the same time. If you can, ask them to correct you or offer advice with your language. A lot of Japanese people are too polite to correct you when you say something weird, so if you find one that will, take advantage of it and let them correct you.

You’re going to make a lot of mistakes. It’s okay. They understand. And most of the Japanese people I’ve met were just really excited I knew any Japanese at all. If you can’t find a native speaker, try to find someone who speaks Japanese anyways. You can practice together and both improve your language skills.

8. More Complex Conversation 

As you talk with people, you’ll hear words you don’t know. Write them down and find excuses to use them. I learned the word “sasaeru” (支える: to support) because I heard someone say it. I wrote it down, looked it up, and then used it the next day when talking to someone else. 

Writing down words you hear will help you learn what native speakers actually say, and you’ll be able to pick up natural-sounding, modern Japanese. You don’t always get that from thumbing through the dictionary. Always be looking to improve your vocabulary

9. More Complex Kanji

Once you have the more practical kanji down, don’t stop. Keep working up through the JLPT levels. Take notice of kanji around you, if you’re in Japan, and look them up. Add them to your study list. Flash cards will be your best friend. Start picking up books to read so you can practice reading kanji

10. Practice Every Single Day

You’re not going to learn Japanese overnight. Keep at it every day, and you’ll be surprised by how much you can learn. If you’re feeling bummed out or discouraged, look back through your old study notes to see how far you’ve come.

Also, this list is just what I recommend from my own Japanese learning experience. The list can shift around or overlap depending on why you are learning Japanese. I learned to speak way before learning to read or write just because I needed to speak Japanese more than write it while I lived there. If you’re learning Japanese to do written translations, you might focus on writing more than conversation as you learn. 

If you put in the time and effort, you can do it. There are a ton of resources to help you learn、especially here, with all the lessons and articles explaining language concepts. So がんばれ〜

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