For me, Japanese is at its own level in terms of language learning. It took my brain forever to realize that this was actually a language. Somehow I struggled to make out individual words in the beginning. I tried out many resources and always find it hard to answer what was the absolute best. This is like looking for the magic pill that works for everyone and everything.
Most resources will cater to a particular skill of language learning: listening, speaking, writing, or reading. Others will cater to learners who learn by rote learning, auditory learning, drills, movies etc.…
I started my whole Japanese journey when living in Japan, which will be different from most learners. The first place I studied at was ‘Kumon’ – a cram school. I learned to write hiragana and katakana there as well as some simple sentences and grammar. I did not have a teacher; rather, I got CDs with audio files and worksheets that I worked through. That was a helpful method for me in the beginning as I like learning through writing and reading/seeing the words and characters in front of my eyes.
Later, I decided to take the help of the endless resources out there. In 2016, there were considerably fewer resources than these days, especially in terms of YouTubers who teach on YouTube – you have such great content these days that I wish I had at the time.
Below are some resources I’ve used over the years. If you’re a complete beginner and want to self-study, your best bet might be Duolingo or textbooks that teach you Kana (hiragana and katakana), as you’ll need this as a base for your Japanese study.
The resources below start just after you learned the very basics.
I’ll start with my preferred way of studying these days: YouTube. I find it the most entertaining way and very good for finding good grammar explanations, which the other resources lack.
My favorite YouTubers:
Japanese Ammo with Misa – the most detailed grammar explanations I’ve ever come across. Long videos, so take your time for them 🙂 You’ll also find videos on vocabulary, conversations to practice your listening to and more.
Miku Real Japanese – very clear grammar videos – teaches a lot through skits that are entertaining to watch! Clear structure of the videos in ‘example’, ‘grammar’ and ‘practice’. Also many conversational videos for listening practice such as interviews with other YouTubers in Japanese
Japanese with Yuka 101 – lots of Live classes that go through topics in detail and also prepare you for Japanese tests
Onomappu – really great channel to learn Japanese onomatopoeia
Learn Japanese From Zero! – channel by an author of Japanese study books. Shorter videos that focus on small nuances and details of a word, Kanji, or grammar point
The following are the apps I mostly use.
I have tried dozens and these are the ones I keep coming back to.
Anki – my favorite flashcard app
This is a more time-intensive way of studying as you have to manually enter the flashcards you want to review (or you can download or purchase sets from different sources). It’s highly effective thanks to its space-repetition system, which will show you words repeatedly until you know them.
This is an app that teaches you how to read vocabulary step by step. You learn the words in the context of a sentence and have different ways of learning it, either by writing out the reading or selecting the meaning….
The words are categorized in JLPT levels and get repeated while you’re studying.
I found it helpful for learning how to read Kanji in context as well as learning vocabulary.
Japanese dictionary Takoboto
This is my dictionary of choice. You can search by typing in Romaji (Roman alphabet) or Japanese or English. There is also a function to look up the Kanji per radical. It’s very extensive, and you get example sentences, stroke order, and radicals for Kanji. You can bookmark words and export them into an Anki deck.
If you’re using a desktop computer, then Jisho is the place for you!
If you’re all about learning Kanji after Kanji, this is your app. It beautifully shows you the stroke order, lets you practice drawing the Kanji itself on the app, and quizzes you on pronunciation and meaning. I love that it has a chart that shows you how much you’ve studied, so it helps to keep you accountable for your progress.
Easy Japanese news
This app lets you read Japanese news in an easier version. It highlights vocabulary that a Japanese learner might not know, shows you the translations, and even tells you which JLPT (the Japanese Language Proficiency Test) level belongs.
Another app that helps you learn how to read. Just like the news app, you will get help with reading kanji and the respective translations. There are articles, books, and stories for each level, and you can adjust the amount of Kanji and furigana shown.
If you live in Japan, of course, you should find someone to regularly practice speaking with.
In my case, I registered with our local city hall to get matched with a volunteer ‘teacher,’ a person who had no teaching experience but who was willing to help a foreigner for free. I’d write a diary in Japanese and get it corrected every week. This would also serve as a base for our conversation. On top of that, I’d take note of issues related to the language that I came across in daily life. I’d ask my teacher about those points in the lesson, and we’d go through example sentences of a certain word or grammar structure. I want to stress that if you’re practicing a language with someone who isn’t a teacher, don’t expect them to know ‘WHY’ something is said the way it is (e.g. ‘Why do you say ‘x’ in this case?). Native speakers are used to their language and don’t necessarily think about its grammatical structure the way a language learner or teacher does. Therefore, it’s more useful to get example sentences from a native conversation partner, than grammar rules.
You always have the opportunity to find a teacher/tutor on italki or through apps like Hello Talk and Tandem (see my previous post on how to find someone to practice speaking with)
I hope this can give you an idea where to start or continue your Japanese practice.