JESSICA’S TOP 10 RESOURCES FOR LEARNING JAPANESE : Hey guys! My name is Jessica, and I’ve been studying Japanese for 8 years now. Here’s a list of my personal favorite resources for learning Japanese, both formally and informally. New study tips can always help if your study is starting to feel monotonous, so give some of these a try if you’d like.
10. NHK Easy (And Normal NHK)
NHK is one of Japan’s biggest broadcasting organizations, but did you know they have easy versions of top news articles on their website? A lot of Japanese people turn to NHK for local and world news, including those learning to read Japanese (whether they be children or foreigners). If you love reading the news and staying up-to-date with world events, these articles can be a really good study opportunity. I always try to practice my reading in Japanese with something I’m genuinely interested in, and the easy NHK articles helped me move up to reading regular articles on their website too.
If news articles aren’t your thing, Hukumusume is a website where you can read along with audio versions of children’s stories. The link I gave you takes you to a calendar where they have a story for every day of the year. It’s a perfect way to practice reading and listening every day. Sometimes they’ll even have the stories translated into other languages alongside the original Japanese, such as English or Chinese. Also, it has adorable illustrations for every story, and you really can’t beat that.
8. Anime and Movies
Ben mentioned watching anime and dramas in Japanese to help you pick up on how natives speak Japanese, and I’ll second that. I personally love watching movies in Japanese and would recommend literally anything by Studio Ghibli. Again, I think it’s important to be interested in whatever material you’re studying, so find something you like to watch and watch it in the original Japanese. If you’re looking to be more studious, trying to write down words or phrases you don’t understand and make guesses as to what they mean based on context, then look them up and add them to your vocabulary study.
My personal favorite Japanese reading material is manga. I think manga is fun to read because there are illustrations to help you figure out the meaning of new words from context, and kanji almost always has furigana alongside it to help you read. Manga can help you pick up good reading skills by getting you used to common kanji used in everyday life.
This is another source Ben also recommended, but I can’t emphasize enough how many lives Jisho.org has saved. Not only is it the best Japanese dictionary I’ve found online so far, it’s also the most detailed. It gives you all those normal dictionary things, including more nuanced definitions than Google could even dream of, but it also tells you JLPT levels for kanji and whether a word is common or not. This has helped me organize my studying a lot so I can focus on learning words I’ll actually use in the future. It also has entries for phrases which can be difficult to translate word by word.
If you have an iPhone or an iPad, Imiwa is one of the best apps you can download for it (I’m sorry Android users). I prefer Jisho.org when on the computer, but Imiwa is a great dictionary app to have on the go, and it’s free! I use it all the time for looking up kanji or trying to remember words. It also keeps a list of your recent searches, which is a feature I’ve used way more than I expected to. It has other fun study features you can check out, including a list of the kanji you need to know for each level of the JLPT.
4. Formal Classes
If you have the chance, taking formal classes will always help your Japanese, whether it’s in high school, college, online, or a community sort of thing. I took Japanese classes all through college, from first-year courses through senior-level courses, and I couldn’t replace them with anything. Formal classes give you the chance to learn from people who are native or near-native speakers, and they can give you so many insights on how to make your Japanese better. Studying for language classes can be a bear, but it’s always worth it in the end.
3. Travel to Japan or Make a Japanese Friend
Traveling to Japan isn’t something everyone can do, and I understand that. That being said, if you do have an opportunity (whether for a trip or a study abroad or something), I highly recommend you take it. I actually had the opportunity to live in Japan for over a year, and my Japanese language abilities went from basic conversation to political debates (no really, my friend was really into political debates). Speaking with native speakers, especially finding those who are willing to correct you (or at least make weird faces when you say something strange), will always help you improve your speaking and listening skills.
So, if you can’t travel to Japan, try to make a Japanese friend. A lot of major cities will have Japanese culture clubs, so look into attending one to see if it’s a good place for you to practice. If you’re still having a hard time finding someone to talk to, try visiting your local Japanese market. Every major city in the U.S. I’ve lived in has had one, and I always use my Japanese there. Try to put yourself in situations where you can use Japanese.
2. Grammar Books
The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar comes in at Number 2 on my list because I have had it since my first year of learning Japanese, and I have used it to the point that the yellow color has worn off the spine. Affectionately referred to by my friends as the “Pikachu” (due to its bright yellow color), this book is well worth the price. It’s definitely heavy on the grammar lingo, but it also has breakdowns of common grammar structures, example sentences that cover all the bases, and notes that tie together and distinguish similar phrases so you actually know how to use them the right way. If you’ve ever been confused by は and が (let’s be real, that’s everyone), this is a good book for you.
I would also recommend the intermediate book (the blue on my copy has also been worn down from years of use) when you get comfortable with the grammar in the basic book. As for the red “advanced” book, I think it’s unnecessary unless you’re studying formal, written Japanese.
Even if you don’t want this series in particular, I would recommend getting some sort of grammar book. Japanese grammar can be hard to understand without good explanations. This series is just my favorite.
And my last recommendation is our very own Bondlingo. Formal lessons were pretty high on my list, as was listening to native Japanese speakers, and you can do everything like that here without having to step foot in a classroom. You can also access all sorts of information to help you understand grammar, vocabulary, and culture all in one place. There’s native speakers and non-native speakers who have studied Japanese for years all here, all working to help you make your Japanese the best it can be.