Want to Learn Japanese? Here’s how I did it.

People often ask me how I learned Japanese.
First of all, let me tell you that there is no fast and easy way to do so.
If there are any books or websites that claim that, screw them!

You gotta put a lot of effort and time into this. There’s no way around it.
If you thought I’m going to show you some magic trick how to become fluent in Japanese quickly, then you might as well stop reading now.

I can’t tell you what you should do in order to be successful in your studies.
I won’t sit down next to you and hold your hand while you study. I wouldn’t be a good Japanese teacher anyway.
All I can do is share how I learned Japanese by telling you what worked for me and what didn’t.

Learn Japanese - How I did it


Learning Japanese: How it all started

I used to do Karate when I was in elementary school. Naturally I learned my first few Japanese words (e.g. greetings, how to count) that way. That was back in the 80s. emoticon
Of course, back then I never thought that one day I’d study Japanese or even move to Japan.

Much later, around 1998, when I was into anime and manga, I got motivated to learn a few basic things such as phrases, hiragana and katakana. I wasn’t all that serious, but I did learn a few things.

Fast forward – in university I took basic Japanese lessons for a year or so. That was in 2002. It was good to learn the basics from a native speaker, but I can’t really say that it got me very far. It’s probably an issue a lot of you have experienced. I was just too busy with my major to really focus on Japanese.

But I really wanted to become fluent in Japanese, so whenever I had some time, I browsed through the few books I had back then to study at least a bit.

Let me tell you that back in the days it was a lot harder to study Japanese, especially on your own! It’s become so much easier nowadays with all the great websites, programs and apps out there. A few of them I’ll introduce later.

Learn Japanese - How I did it

In 2007 I visited Japan for the first time. It was nice to see that I could handle some simple conversations, but that was about it.

In 2008 I finally moved to Japan and that’s when I also got extremely serious about becoming fluent. All the signs around me, all the letters in my mailbox … I didn’t want to depend on others forever. I wanted to understand this new world around me.

It goes without saying that you always should put effort into learning the language of the foreign country you chose to live in, but that wasn’t my motivation at all. Maybe I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off with a “weak motivation” like that. I truly just wanted to become fluent in Japanese.

By that time I could hold basic conversations, knew hiragana, katakana and maybe about 150 kanji – and some basic grammar. My listening skills were far beyond my other skills. I could understand random conversations, but I couldn’t yet respond to them properly.
My listening was already that good because I had been watching Japanese dramas, movies and anime and listened to Japanese music for about a decade by then.

I sat down every single day before and after work and studied like crazy. My original plan was to earn enough money in my full-time job so that I’d be able to eventually attend one of those language schools. That was my main goal back then, but I never went to such a school in the end.

So, that was my background story. Now, I want to tell you what I did, what worked and what didn’t. Please note that what worked for me might not work for you and vice versa. A lot of the methods others recommended, didn’t do anything for me.


Kanji / Reading

I think my biggest problem at the beginning were kanji. I’m sure I’m not the only one, right?
I tried so many different approaches.

First, I just sat down and tried to study them like I usually would study vocabulary.
That works for the simple kanji (and that’s how I remembered my first 150-ish kanji), but as soon as the more complex kanji popped up, it didn’t work out anymore.

Next, I tried paper flashcards. I used the “White Rabbit Press” ones. Don’t get me wrong, they’re really good …. that approach just wasn’t right for me.

Eventually I took the “Heisig” road. I know that it has always been discussed controversially, so I wasn’t sure about this method, either. But for me it worked WONDERS!

If you use Heisig, you’ll first learn the meaning (not the readings) and how to write a kanji. It’s splitting up the task of learning kanji. You won’t have to memorize everything at the same time. And it’s a lot of fun because you’re working with an imaginative memory technique. Basically you’re creating a story for each and every kanji. Ideally you should combine this with a SRS (space repetition system). I’ll explain what exactly that is later.


For me that was the best choice! I learned 2000 kanji in a bit more than 2 months (while working full-time)!!

The next step was to learn how to read the kanji I just memorized. Heisig offers a second book where you’ll learn the “on-yomi“, but I didn’t like that approach. Instead I tried something similar to book 1. Back then it was called “The Movie Method“.

It’s REALLY simple and very similar to the previous method. In fact, you can just upgrade your previous stories and that’s it! It’s wonderful!

For each on-yomi sound group (e.g. “KAN”) you choose a movie you associate with that sound and integrate that into your story. I didn’t work with movies, but with whatever came to my mind when I heard that sound. So, for “CHI” it was “Chili con carne” …. don’t even ask!


Here’s an example: 誓 (SEI) – swear

In this folded (折 = upper part of this kanji) letter I wrote down the words (言 = lower part of the kanji): I swear (meaning of the kanji) I’ll always love you (thus far Heisig book 1, my own story followed by adding a bit more to remember the on-yomi): Because love letters are still popular among teenagers (SEI = on-yomi of this kanji).
For the sound group “SEI” the first thing that popped up in my mind back then was “SEISHUN” (青春 = youth) and so I worked with that. *g*

I just added the “teenager / youth” part to all the stories concerning kanji with the on-yomi “SEI” (so also to 性、静 etc.).

Learn Japanese - How I did it

Here’s another example (sorry, it’s all in German, but just so you see how it would look) using Anki. I’ll introduce this awesome program further down.
Here’s a story for the same kanji by someone else. As you can see it’s not SO different from mine, but it doesn’t have anything added for the reading of the kanji yet.

My stories are all super embarrassing, but whatever works is great! It’s YOUR story! You need to make it about YOU! About your life! Because only then it will be effective. I sometimes noticed my stories weren’t effective, then tossed them and created a new one.

Learning the readings took me a bit longer, maybe half a year, but then I got the on-yomi for 2000 kanji down.


Next step was to memorize the “kun-yomi for all those kanji. That’s similar to studying vocabulary, but it would make no sense to study those words isolated. It’s important to study them IN CONTEXT!!

So, find sentences that aren’t too difficult for you to understand (no complicated grammar) and read them again and again. That way you’ll learn how to read certain kanji, you’ll also remember what the word means and in what kind of context it is used.

It doesn’t really matter where you get those sentences from. Just make sure it’s from a source that uses correct Japanese.

I started out with “KO2001 – Kanji Odyssey“. The sentences aren’t too difficult, but you can learn the reading of most of the 2000-ish joyo kanji. I see that the books aren’t available in print form anymore. If you prefer the print version, I found it on Amazon UK.

After that I continued with the sentences from “Kanji in Context“. I never worked through the whole book and gave up halfway because the sentences were just too boring for my taste, yet a great source for new kanji compounds and vocabulary!

Learn Japanese - How I did it
In the end I switched to reading Japanese novels and whenever I found a word I couldn’t understand, a kanji I couldn’t read or a grammar point I couldn’t figure out, I marked it. Every once in a while I put those sentences into Anki and thus had a new pool of sentences I could study.


I regularly checked my kanji knowledge. That screenshot is from May 2009. Unfortunately this particular website doesn’t seem to exist anymore.


You want to know what kind of novels I read?

Ok, I admit that I also kept reading manga. This is a good idea especially at the beginning as the pictures will give you a hint of what’s going on even if you have a hard time understanding what you’re reading. At first, you should pick manga that have furigana (hiragana above all kanji) or you will get frustrated. Easy manga to start with are Doraemon, Chi’s Sweet Home or generally various shojo manga (Marmalade Boy, Hana Yori Dango etc.). But make sure it’s something you’re interested in.

Learn Japanese - How I did it

As for novels I really enjoyed the books of Otsu Ichi (乙一) such as “Calling You” (きみにしか聞こえない). The stories are great and not too difficult to follow along.

Of course, you could also read books of stories you already know, e.g. the Japanese version of Harry Potter.


Listening / Speaking

Like mentioned earlier my listening skills were always far beyond my other skills. And yet I kept listening to Japanese media (music, movies, dramas) every day. This is especially important if you don’t live in Japan. You need to get as much Japanese input as you can.

“Immerse yourself in Japanese!”

If you want to boost your learning effect you could watch Japanese movies / dramas with Japanese subtitles!

At some point I watched things and noticed towards the end of a show that there were no subtitles at all and THEN I panicked. That means I was able to understand things without relying on subtitles before I knew it. That’s where you want to get eventually.

Of course, once you live in Japan, it gets easier. I learned so much every single day just by passively listening to people around me. In my case, I picked up weird expressions from my students, but who cares. *g*
But I also learned the infamous keigo (super polite language) by listening to my co-workers who were answering the phone or talking to customers.

If you don’t live in Japan, it might be difficult to practice speaking. But that’s also something you need to get used to, so find a language exchange partner. Nowadays with Skype and all, that’s not so difficult anymore.


Writing Japanese

If you study kanji you will have to write a lot. You need to learn how to write them and your hands need to remember that feeling as well.

Learn Japanese - How I did it

With the Heisig method I wrote so many kanji, I think by the end of book 1 I had over 10 notebooks full of kanji. emoticon

But you also should practice writing Japanese in general. You could have a Japanese diary and start with simple things.
Why? Well, it’s really difficult to remember how to write a word in kanji if you don’t practice it regularly. This even happens to Japanese people, especially in recent times with smartphones and all. They just type it in and will be given a choice of kanji compounds.

Learn Japanese - How I did it
A good practice is to get kanji drill books that are aimed at junior high (or even high school) students where you have to fill in the correct kanji. I used to copy worksheets of my students and sat down together with them to see who could finish the task first. *g*

I really hated my handwriting, so I had a Japanese co-worker correct it. Eventually I gave up. I just can’t have a beautiful Japanese handwriting it seems. It looks like it’s written by a Japanese boy in his teens. But who cares?

Digital writing is also a good way of practicing. Not so much for kanji, but for your general output. You could create a personal blog or journal in Japanese. If you want to communicate with Japanese people, then using a platform that Japanese people often use is a good idea such as Ameblo, Yahoo Japan, Yaplog, Mixi, etc.

Another great option is Lang-8. I’ll write more about this later.


Learning Japanese Grammar

Grammar has always been and is until now my biggest problem. emoticon
Learn Japanese - How I did it
As you might have noticed by now I studied Japanese on my own. Not having a teacher who can explain certain grammar rules to you certainly was an issue sometimes. When I decided to take 2kyuu (now N2) of the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test), I noticed that I could even pass 1kyuu – apart from the grammar section. I really had to work on my grammar.

For that, I just crammed. I used the Kanzen Master series (also for cramming the reading part). I picked the best example sentences and studied them again and again. Same as always, DON’T study grammar isolated, but in context.

Once you’ve seen enough sentences with a certain grammar point, you usually get how and when to use it. Sometimes I didn’t, so I just asked my Japanese friends to explain it to me. Most of the time that worked. Sometimes, though, I just got a “Just because!” – Yeah, native speakers often cannot explain grammar rules to others. I know that all too well.


Becoming Fluent in Japanese – How long did it take me?

Uhm, I wouldn’t say I’m fluent in Japanese. I wouldn’t even say I’m fluent in English!
I’m not even entirely sure I’m fluent in German! Go figure! emoticon

And please don’t think that you’ll ever “finish” to learn a language. Because you won’t.

It’s true that I stopped studying Japanese “actively” in 2010 / 2011. I passed N2 in 2010, wanted to take N1 next (mock tests already showed me that apart from the grammar I’m good to go), but then I somehow just lost interest. emoticon

Once you live in a foreign country and you notice that you can handle daily life just fine, that’s good enough, I guess. I didn’t want to become a professor for Japanese literature or something like that after all. I wanted to be able to understand the doctors, read any novel or watch any TV program I wanted to – and I managed to do those things just fine.

However, I learned so much more from 2011 until now nevertheless. Moving to Kansai was great, because I got to learn my favorite dialect of all times, Kansai-ben, without having to do anything! Just by listening to my students every day, I picked up everything I needed. And that’s just ONE example.

I also noticed a huge progress as we had to translate speeches our students had written (from Japanese into English). At the beginning (2008) I had a hard time, but towards the end (2011+) it was super easy. In the end, I got all the work, because among all my co-workers, Japanese and foreigners, I was the one who could do it the fastest (note that neither of those is my mother tongue). And it was a lot of fun, too. Although I had to haunt a few of my students when their handwriting was so ugly that I couldn’t read it at all. emoticon

Of course, I keep reading Japanese novels, listening to Japanese music and watching Japanese media. That’s even more important now that I have left Japan and suddenly in almost a decade I don’t use Japanese every single day anymore. It’s such a weird scenario!


Programs / Apps for learning Japanese:

Now, all of the above sounds nice and all, but I wouldn’t have been able to pull it off without certain little tools that helped me along the way.


The one thing you will DEFINITELY need no matter what kind of method you choose is Anki, a SRS (spaced repetition system) program.

I’ve been using Anki for as long as I can remember. I think I started using it right when it came out. You could even use it to study for tests. It’s not limited to studying languages. It’s really THE essential tool for studying Japanese. And the program has improved so much throughout the years. There’s also a mobile version. So you can sync all your decks on all your devices. As I haven’t used it in the past few years, I’m sure it became even more awesome.

What it does:
It’s like a digital flashcards system based on the famous Leitner system. You don’t have to worry about anything. The program does everything for you. Ok, you still have to study on your own, but you know what I mean. You’ll judge how well you knew what you just saw (a kanji, a grammar point) and the program will decide when to show it to you again. Simple as that. Works like magic!

Learn Japanese - How I did it

I put all of the sentences I found in novels and elsewhere into a deck, marking the thing I wanted to study. In the screenshot above it was the reading and meaning of the kanji in pink.

But don’t worry. You don’t have to put in everything manually. Back then there was nothing, but nowadays there are millions of shared decks you can choose from. JLPT vocabulary, kanji, grammar points, sentences …


Learn Japanese - How I did it

There are even awesome decks with pictures and sound!
By the time those came out, I didn’t need them anymore, but I’m sure it’s fun to study with them. I also remember seeing decks that featured anime screenshots with the translation of the subtitles. Great way to study if you like anime!


Anki – It’s free, it’s simple, it’s AWESOME! Go get it now! Period.

I tried out various programs and apps, but the only one I kept using was Anki. To be honest, Anki is all you need.



Learn Japanese - How I did it

Not a program to study Japanese, but an add-on for Firefox browsers that is EXTREMELY useful: Rikaichan. (For Chrome there seems to be something similar called “Rikaikun“.) You hover over a Japanese word / kanji and it tells you the meaning or how to read it. There’s a name dictionary as well which is what I use most often. Reading Japanese names, especially those that aren’t very common, can be a pain in the a** – even for Japanese people!


Websites for studying Japanese:

I know there are a lot of websites out there nowadays for studying Japanese. It’s difficult to choose. Don’t waste too much time finding the right one!


Lang-8 has been one of the most helpful websites ever. And although I can’t really remember my account name anymore, I remember having a low 4-digit member number on my first account which means I used it pretty much from the very beginning.
It’s such a great website and it’s free! They also added some premium features you can pay for.

You can write something in the language you want to study and native speakers will correct it for you.
The whole system works really well. You can save corrections, so you can review them later.
If there’s anything you don’t understand while studying, you can write about it there and they will not only correct what you wrote, but also help you figure out what you couldn’t on your own.

You can add friends and correct their articles as well. It’s a great platform to get to know (Japanese) people!


Kanji Koohi:

What I also really want to recommend is Kanji Koohi.

Especially if you use the “Heisig” approach, you’ll find a platform there to study, to check out the stories others have created and to add your own. I kept using Anki, but it was a great resource when I just couldn’t find a fitting story for a certain kanji. Browsing there helped me come up with ideas. I still think it’s very important to use your own stories or at least modify stories so that they have some connection with your life!

The most awesome part isn’t the platform, but the forum! This has always been the BEST forum I have come across when it comes to learning Japanese. I’ve never gotten better advice, material and motivation anywhere else. I highly recommend it!



Another website I used back in the days was called “smat.fm”. Later they changed their name to “iKnow“.

Learn Japanese - How I did it

I really liked it because they had all sorts of quizzes, progress charts etc. – creating a feeling of accomplishment.
Something like iKnow might help you to get your motivation back up.
I have no idea how much it has changed now, but maybe you want to have a look at it nevertheless. (*Looks like it’s not a free service anymore, but they offer free trials.)


Great Books for Learning Japanese:

Learn Japanese - How I did it

  • Kanji Odyssey – KO2001:
    Lots of great sentences to start out with in order to learn the reading of kanji (especially after using the Heisig method). I put the sentences into Anki and studied them. Ok, to be fair there was a pre-made deck with all the sentences for Anki, but you only could access that deck if you could prove you owned the books.
  • Kanji in Context:
    A great resource for a bit more challenging sentences. Good to use after you’ve finished KO2001 (or something similar). However, I found the sentences very boring after some time.
  • Kanzen Master Series:
    These books help you prepare for the JLPT, but you could also use them as “normal” study material. They’re also a great resource for more sentences.
  • Read Real Japanese:
    A great collection of novels and short stories from famous authors with English translations and explanations. An audio CD is included as well. I still have this book and some of the works are challenging to read! There’s also a fiction version.
  • Breaking Into Japanese Literature:
    It’s similar to “Read Real Japanese”. It features seven modern classics from authors such as Natsume Soseki. I think I liked this one even better than “Read Real Japanese”.
  • Japanese graded readers:
    When I just started out, I LOVED these. The stories were entertaining and I just worked my way up until I reached the highest level. Fun times!
  • Reibun de manabu kanji to kotoba:
    Another great resource for sentences (N2 level-ish). I liked that one a lot better than “Kanji in Context”, so I continued with that one in the end.
  • A Dictionary of ___ Japanese Grammar:
    I got the whole series from basic to advanced. They were great to look up grammar – and thus far those are the best grammar books I came across.

Before I moved to Japan, I used “Japanese for busy people“. That’s also the book series we used at university.
After arriving in Japan, I had a look at the “Minna no nihongo” books. These are good books to get the basics down. Just make sure you grab a book that already uses kana (hiragana, katakana, kanji) and not only romaji (alphabet). I know it’s easier to learn with romaji, but you won’t do yourself a favor if you stick around romaji for too long. (Although not everybody would agree, I guess. emoticon)


Some Advice on How to Learn Japanese:

Here’s some advice I want to give you. I don’t want to sound all high and mighty. Feel free to ignore what I have to say, but here goes:


Use ONLY Japanese:

Once you feel that you’re ready, stop using anything but Japanese in your decks. Look up a word you don’t know in a Japanese dictionary and put the Japanese definition into the answer field. That might be a bit challenging at first, but it will have a huge effect. You learn a new word by reading the explanation for it in Japanese.

Learn Japanese - How I did it


Use each and every opportunity to speak Japanese:

If you happen to come to Japan, USE that opportunity. Speak Japanese! Don’t hang around people who won’t speak Japanese with you at all. Don’t get discouraged when some people keep replying in English. Some Japanese people just tend to do that even if you’re fluent in Japanese. That’s such a great chance, don’t waste it. And don’t be afraid that you might mess up at first. You won’t learn anything unless you try. You’ll get better eventually for sure!


Keep challenging yourself:

I remember I was so busy with my full-time job and preparing for the N2, yet I signed up to take part in a prefectural speech contest. All the other participants were exchange students at universities and had teachers who practiced with them. I had to do it all by myself. I really thought I wouldn’t stand a chance, but it was such a great opportunity, so I took it.
I almost died of a heart attack on stage. I was so nervous! I don’t remember what I said or how I performed at all. But I actually won the first prize back then and that boosted my motivation up to 1000%.

Learn Japanese - How I did it

You could also try to take tests such as the earlier mentioned JLPT, or the Kanji Kentei. That’ll also give you a specific goal you can work towards.

Always keep challenging yourself even if you think you can’t do it!


Don’t get too many things:

At the beginning I made the mistake to buy too many books. I thought the more books I had the greater my chances of learning Japanese properly / quickly. I ended up selling most of them again without ever really using them. And by living in Japan I had access to so many books, it was insane. My advice is to focus on a few things you’re really interested in. You don’t need any textbooks (only in the very beginning you might). Choose books, manga … maybe even the blog of your favorite Japanese actor – and read, put it into Anki, study, repeat!
This will keep your motivation up a lot more than studying with boring textbooks that have nothing to do with your interests.

Learn Japanese - How I did it

If you have to invest in books, try to get those kanji drill books for jr. high students and a few notebooks in a 100 yen store for kanji writing practice.


Connect with others:

Especially if you study on your own, connect with others. Find language exchange partners. Join Lang-8. Create an Ameblo account. Follow your favorite idols on Facebook, Youtube or Twitter. It’s important to get a lot of input and the more you do, the more likely will you be able to have a proper conversation. It’s important that you get comfortable USING the language actively!



Ok, that was a super long blog post, but I hope it was somewhat helpful.

Feel free to ask away if there’s still anything you want to know.
But please keep in mind that I’m not fluent in Japanese myself and that I’m very bad at explaining or teaching Japanese to others. emoticon


  • Great post. I followed a surprisingly similar path to learning.

    That you went through Heisig in just 2 months is very impressive. My first time through I did the first 1000 kanji in about 5 weeks, but the reviews killed me (I used the Reviewing the Kanji website) and burn out followed. My second attempt took me all the way through the book, but to avoid burnout I went at a much slower pace, taking 6 months.

    Haha the buying too many books is a common problem. I was lucky to meet a 60 year old gaijin when I first came to Japan who had bought just about every beginner book made during the past 30 years but who had never actually used any of them for long and who still didn’t know the language. It was tempting to make use of his entire beginner Japanese library, but I limited myself to just borrowing a few books and making heavy use of them. That saved me some money in the beginning.

    • I think the reason why I could do Heisig so quickly was that I had REALLY struggled with kanji until then.
      Finally there was a method that was fun and I soon realized how much better I could understand my surroundings. My motivation went up like WOAH! ^__^

      1000 kanji in 5 weeks is good! :)
      Yes, you gotta keep up with the reviews, but as I went straight into learning the on-yomi I was automatically reviewing all the kanji while learning something new.

      Smart move and you were lucky to have such an awesome “library”. ;)

  • Thank you SOOOO much! This is exactly the article I have been looking for. I am sure Anki and Lang-8, as well as your inspiring words, will help me become more fluent at Japanese. Lately I have been low on motivation, making little progress and fearing that my methods have only wasted my time. My life has become more and more busy, stressful, and altogether dull. I hope that I will someday be guided to my dream: Moving to and living in Japan!
    Thanks! Thank you Thank you Thank you Thank you. May your days be blessed and bright. Live with happiness.

    • Hello Sayuri! ^__^
      You are very welcome. I know that it can be hard to keep up with your studies when life gets busy.
      But as long as you never lose your motivation completely, there’s still hope!
      It’s better to do a just a little every day than nothing at all for a long period of time.

      Ganbatte! d(@^∇゜)/♪

    • I second that.
      It’s hard, especially in the beginning when you want to say something, but it takes forever until the words come out of your mouth.
      Don’t think too much and just try, fail, learn something new, try again etc. ^___^

  • I loved Heisig too. It was a great method to learn to write Kanji and remember their meaning. But as you correctly said, without constantly actually writing stuff you forget it quite quickly. I couldn’t do handwritten Japanese nowadays even if I tried. On the computer it’s totally fine though.

    I used some of the Kanji learning programs for my Nintendo DS later on to get back into it. There’s quite a variety of them, some with vocabulary (= reading) as well. Switching between them when I got bored of one was a great way to stay focused. Sadly once again there was absolutely no need for me whatsoever to actually handwrite Japanese so it all went the way of the Dodo again. The programs were all in Japanese, so you need to be able to at least read basic Japanese.

    I also used the Kanzen Master books for the 2-kyuu. What really helped me prepare for the test though was reading and working through one of the 2-kyuu test books though. Actually seeing the test and seeing what I did and didn’t know and then only focusing on those parts helped me pass the 2-kyuu. Okay, I admit, I only opened it the evening before the test, but craming in what I didn’t know filled enough of my holes to pass the test :)

    • Exactly. I can write some really difficult kanji but only those that I had to use almost every day (e.g. those that were part of my address or those I needed when filling out official forms and stuff). I love writing kanji, it’s relaxing. But just like you, I’ve forgotten a lot. I can read just fine, but writing …. ^^;
      Of course, no issue using them on a computer. *g*

      If one wants to pass the JLPT it’s important to do a few mock tests. Even if you’re Japanese level is there, you gotta know how the test works. A lot of people (including me) struggled with the lack of time (especially for the reading part). ^^

  • Hi loved the article. I learn Japanese since 10 years and have a similar collection of text books.
    Anki is also so important to me. But I could only enter Kanji flash cards. How do you enter sentences with furigana above the kanji when writing the flash card? Thanks for any advice

  • I hope your tips would help me somehow.

    I’m kinda in a bind right now. I took up some basic Japanese courses couple of years back but that was in school and barely picked up anything. Then I went on to a proper Japanese language school (let’s call this school A) and covered the basics again, this time with a native Japanese teacher. However right after I have completed the basic courses, I had to give up learning Japanese because of university studies. There was NO TIME at all. Few years later I’m working now, and while I may have the time to pick up again, I am not sure whether I want to go through the whole basic courses again.

    I don’t think I have a strong fundamental in Japanese, I mean I still remember my hiragana, a bit of katakana, but that’s about it. I have long forgotten grammar as well as the use of particles (another one of my biggest nightmares). My friend recommended me the language school (let’s call this school B) she goes to because despite the fact that she only attended the first course (I think there are 3 courses in total for elementary?) her Japanese is… much better than me. And it shocked me. I went to google their website, and that’s how I found out that the pace is very important. The school A I attended is very popular among young people because of its intensive curriculum. The course I attended especially, is very popular with working adults, or simply people who just want to pick up very very basic Japanese. The reason for its popularity is because the school has multiple intakes per year for all their courses (Basic, Intermediate, Advanced) as compared to other schools that only have a maximum of two intakes per year. I recalled having a lesson per week of 3 hours each session. However when the teachers have difficulty finishing the syllabus, my 3-hour session will become 5 hours. After about 8 weeks, then we sit for the test, and that’s it. At that time when I was taking the course, I couldn’t helped but thought, “Omg this is.. too fast!” The pace was driving me crazy. On top of that I was doing several crash courses back in university as well, so the stress built up really quickly.

    As for my friend, she took up Japanese at school B and the pace is as normal as it could be. I think it spreads over 3 months for the 1st part of the course as compared to only 8-9 weeks for the one at school A.

    I learned my lesson that one cannot simply rush fundamentals. Anyway, the reason for this grandmother story is because… I don’t have that kind of interest in Japanese anymore, yet it frustrates me a lot because I abandoned learning it. It’s what we usually say 半途而废 in Chinese. I envy some of my peers who could speak, understand, and write/read Japanese like they never had a problem at all. How are they able to do it so effortlessly? From time to time, I still listen to Japanese music, try to read Japanese articles (but with a lot of difficulty), and I’m also a member of Lang-8 (just only recently).

    Due to time constraint now (work these days always demand 24/7 standby) I can only hope to continue learning Japanese in my own free time but it has been rather difficult. On top of that, my family isn’t very supportive when it comes to things like this because to them, if it’s something that isn’t going to help me in my job search or help me to earn money, it is not worthy of my time or money (I honestly hate it when my family tries to meddle with what I want to do in my free time and also where and how I should spend my hard-earned money lol) But somehow after reading what you have written here, it has sorta rekindled that ‘passion’ in me again. I seriously need to re-evaluate myself. lol

    • WOW!~
      But I hear you! In fact, it sounds a little bit like my story. I always picked up the basics and then had to toss Japanese completely because “life was in the way”.
      Once you pick it up again you have to start – not from zero – but almost from the beginning. It’s frustrating and your (maybe tiny) motivation will drop easily. I’ve been there.

      With language learning it’s not dirty and fast. It won’t work. I think it’s very important to be consistent. Do just a tiny little bit a few times each week, but never stop.
      That works much better.

      Schools can be nice if you lack motivation, but with languages in general you have to USE them actively. Just sitting around, staring into a textbook won’t help.
      The best example were some of my Japanese students who tried to learn English by learning grammar rules and vocabulary by heart – and ONLY that!

      Japanese takes a lot of effort and time to master. If you have the feeling that you can’t or don’t want to go through with it, then just don’t.
      Although I can understand you’re feeling frustrated when some of your friends seem to have mastered Japanese so easily. I’m sure they haven’t. They had to put a lot of time into that for sure.

      Oh, interesting. Maybe it’s similar to the Japanese word 中途半端? I love that word. :D

      Anyway, thank you so much for your comment! I’m sure a lot of people can relate to your story.
      All the best to you! ^____^

      • I realise these comments were from a while ago but I completely understand where you’re coming from. I only speak English and live in a multi-cultural society (New Zealand). My wife is Japanese as well but ever since I was young I always felt inferior since so many people speak multiple languages and I didn’t (still don’t). I think this response, in particular the statement “If you have the feeling that you can’t or don’t want to go through with it, then just don’t.” is very true. It’s a bit like exercising to me. It requires consistent study (or working out), I can workout three times a week because it is important to me, but for languages I just don’t have a ‘good’ motivator. Hard to accept I know.

  • Thank you so much for this! I can’t wait to try some of these suggestions. I can’t tell you enough how much I enjoy your blog…and I hope you’re doing well settling back into “non-Japan” life. :)

    • You’re very welcome and I hope some of my suggestions will help you! ^__^

      I’m doing fine so far, thanks for caring. :)

      P.S.: Is that Sunako in your avatar by any chance?

  • That was a very nice article. I also have the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and the one after that as well. How do you use those books to study? It doesn’t seem like the book is in a logical order for study.

    • Hi Jeremy! :)

      I haven’t touched the books in years, but I used them to look up grammar terms I didn’t understand.
      That happened either when I read novels or when I was studying for the JLPT and the Kanzen Master grammar books couldn’t explain it well enough. :D

      Those dictionaries are good for looking something up, they cannot replace a study / textbook. ;)

  • Thank you for this great article. I tried to learn japanese and i try again but not very easy for me. I will try some apps that you give in your article but i think that for me i should take japanese lesson in my country. If only there was a book for learning japanese for understand all words about japanese castles ;-)

    • If you haven’t tried it yet, definitely implement Anki into your studies.
      There are plenty of books like that. Just buy a Japanese book about castles! ;)
      I know it’s difficult at first, but you can get all the vocab you want and throw it into Anki, so you can study it.

      And when it’s something you’re passionate about, it’s a lot more fun! ^___^

  • I just discovered your blog and I love it! Your posts are so informative (especially this one). I can’t wait to try some of the things you wrote about.

    I’ve been studying Japanese for about a year now in college and very recently came back from a short trip to Japan. I can say without a doubt that immersion (in and out of Japan) is very important. It was odd because once I was actually in Japan, I started catching phrases and learning some kanji faster than I was in the classroom. Unlike you though, hearing is my worst ability, (I always gave a blank stare whenever employees would ask if I wanted a bag no matter how many times I had heard the phrase) but it got a little better as the week went on.

    Long story short, being in Japan and struggling to communicate and read has motivated me deeply, and I want to start studying harder to become “fluent”. I look forward to reading more of your blog posts!

    • Hi, Javier! :)

      I’m glad to hear that your motivation went up after your trip to Japan. That’s great!
      You should use that momentum and study a lot now. ^^

      I also suggest you listen a lot to Japanese media (whatever interests you the most) to boost your listening ability. That kind of immersion will DEFINITELY help you!~

      Good luck! :D

  • Hi there, you said that you read through all of the graded readers. I am doing level 0 right now. Did you buy all of them? It is quite expensive for all of the volumes and levels..

    Do you happen to know where I can find them for cheaper or to rent?

    • Yes, I did. Though I might have skipped the lowest / easiest level.
      I didn’t buy them all at once. Once I finished one level, I sold them again and bought the next level.
      If you’re in Japan you might find them in a second-hand bookstore, but I got mine from Amazon Japan back then. :)

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