How much Japanese can you learn in 6 months or a year?
When we told friends and family that we were planning to live in Japan for a working holiday, some assumed that we’d come back fluent.
My own Japanese learning goals were/are also admittedly pretty lofty – one of the main reasons I wanted to do a working holiday in a different country was so that I could learn the language, so I’ve set my goal to be conversational in Japanese before I return home.
That gives us 6 – 12 months to achieve fluency – a sizeable achievement!
Now that we’ve been in Japan for about 4 months, I feel like fluency may be hard to achieve, given my current level of Japanese, which I’d say is probably upper-beginner.
I’ll probably give more updates on my language-learning progress in future posts, but the purpose of this post is to list down some of the best Japanese learning resources that I’ve come across so far.
Most of these are free resources where possible, but some are paid (as indicated).
Below are my favorite website resources for drilling and practicing hiragana and katakana characters. There are a lot of these practice tools online, but I found a lot of them to be too slow and I prefer speed-drills.
- Type Kana – Select either hiragana or katakana, and type the romanji pronounciation of the characters you see as fast as you can. It can be quite addictive once you get some speed up.
- Real Kana Study – Type the romanisation of characters one after the other. You can select which character sets you will be quizzed on by selecting the groups under the ‘Hiragana’ or ‘Katakana’ tabs.
- Kana Teacher – With this tool can choose the relevant groups you want to be drilled on (similar to Real Kana Study above), but I do find it a little annoying that you have to hit the ‘enter’ key after each romanji answer you input.
You will get a lot of exposure to both katakana and hiragana if you are in Japan, so dedicated study is only really required when you are just beginning.
You wouldn’t think it, but seeing kana often really does help with speed of recognizing the characters. I often try to read everything I see on signs etc., even if I can’t understand the meaning.
Puni Puni Youtube Channel (Free)
PuniPuni is based off some cute cartoon characters and can feel a little childish, but the content is good. It really breaks down concepts and grammar points into easy-to-understand short videos which are great for beginners.
Japanese From Zero Youtube Channel (Free)
Japanese From Zero (JFZ) is an online resource, but recently the author George has put out a whole series of video lessons based on his course (a link to the course is under the ‘websites’ section later in this post)- and all the videos are available on youtube for free. Watch them in order to achieve a good fundamental understanding of Japanese.
Pimsleur’s Japanese Courses (Paid)
While they can be quite expensive, I was able to borrow some Pimsleur Japanese courses (levels 1, 2 and 3) from a friend. I’ve found them to be very useful – there are constant prompts to ask and reply to questions in Japanese, and it’s repetitive enough (while not being too boring) to ensure it gets into your brain.
I’ve not tried any of the conversational packages, but the teaching style is one that really seems to work, so I’d recommend any of the following products based on that:
Yes Japan! (Japanese From Zero) (Free, After book 1 is paid)
This is the website for Japanese From Zero, the youtube videos mentioned previously. The first textbook is available for free online, simply sign up an account. It’s a great resource for beginners as it truly teaches you from zero if you are starting from scratch.
Nihongo Shark (Free content, Some paid content)
If nothing else, head over to Nihongo Shark and sign up for the daily email Japanese lessons which are free and very valuable. They include heaps of casual, daily-use example sentences, broken down word for word. The emails are sent every day to your inbox and actually form part of a paid-for service (you can access all previous daily lessons for a fee), so the sooner you sign up, the less you’ll miss out on.
The site’s author Niko has published seriously useful material on learning Japanese and the methods he teaches in his Hacking Japanese Supercourse form the basis of my current Japanese study routine.
Tae Kim’s Guide To Japanese (Free)
This is another free guide to learning Japanese available online and includes free videos so you can get audio/listening practice in too. In particular Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide section has been such a popular resource that it has been converted to a mobile phone App and even a paperback.
The Dirty Guide To Japanese (Free)
This guide is for those who would like to get it done quick and dirty. It’s a relatively short yet good guide that is worth going over (even if you don’t understand all of it in detail) just to get an overview of what you’re in for if you plan on learning Japanese.
JapanesePod101 (Free week trial, after that is paid)
This is a huge online resource for Japanese lesson podcasts, in a variety of difficulty levels (absolute beginner, beginner, intermediate, and more). They also have a corresponding App so you can search for and listen to lessons from your smartphone. It’s a paid service, but you can get the first week as a free trial when you sign up an account.
Anki (Free, paid for Apple devices)
You will want to get yourself a spaced repetition system (SRS) for helping memorize things. This is basically a flashcard-based system, but cards which you have trouble with are shown more regularly than those you remember well. Anki is one of the most well-known SRS’s and it’s free. I use it every day from my computer. You can also get an App version for your smartphone, although you’ll need to pay if you’re using an Apple (I believe the android app version is free).
Duolingo (Free, Ad free is paid)
Duolingo released their Japanese language course this year, which was long awaited for! This app is perfect for studying on your smartphone whenever you have some free time.
Memrise (Free, Premium is paid)
Memrise is another SRS flashcard system, but it’s much easier to use on your smartphone than Anki (in my opinon). Again, I just fire it up whenever I have some free time.
There are heaps of free courses you can sign up to on your Memrise account. I’ve been doing the Japanese N5 vocab with good success.
HelloTalk (Free, Premium features are paid)
An app that allows you to connect with native speakers of your target language for text and verbal language exchange. It’s a great way to meet new friends and practice your target language.
Tandem (Free, Premium features are paid)
Like HelloTalk, Tandem lets you connect to others for language exchange. If you happen to be in Japan, it’s a good way to meet new friends who might even want to meet up in person.
My Kikitori (Free)
Created by a university student, My Kikitori offers free listening practice conversations and quizzes based on the Genki series workbooks.
Podcasts in Japanese (Free)
I’ll often stream podcasts/talk shows like the ones found at the above link in Japanese in the background while I’m working. Although I don’t understand what’s being said, my brain can often pick out words here and there which I think helps reinforce prior learning.
Books A to Z (Free)
This streaming channel is basically a Japanese woman reading books in Japanese. Even though I can’t fully understand what’s being said, I like putting this on as listening material in the background.
Genki Textbooks (Paid)
The Genki series of textbooks are commonly recommended by multiple sources.
Japanese For Busy People Textbooks (Paid)
Similar to Genki, Japanese For Busy People is also a textbook resource that I commonly see recommended.
Heisig’s Remembering The Kanji (RTK) (Paid)
Remembering The Kanji is a resource specifically for learning Kanji characters in a particular order that makes them easier to memorize.
If you follow the guidelines described on Nihongo Shark’s How to Remember all 2,200 Joyo Kanji, you will essentially follow the RTK material for free using the free Anki Decks. I’ve been doing this for the past 4 months now and know about 1,700 of the Kanji, so it’s been working for me! The original textbook may be of interest to some who want to have a physical copy as a reference though.
I haven’t yet gotten up to conjugation practice, but here are some resources I’ve come across so far and will probably be using in the future:
Steven Kraft’s Japanese Conjugation Practice
Ultra Handy Japanese Verb Conjugator
If you have any other Japanese learning resources that you like that I’ve missed out of this list, please let me know in the comments below!
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