How to Learn Japanese Fast – 15 Learning Strategies + Tips
Are you interested in learning the Japanese language, but it seems overwhelming? You look up “the Japanese language” online, and it pulls 3 alphabets, innumerable kanji characters, pages of different methods and sources, grammar lessons, and expert advice from every angle.
It can be an extremely intimidating experience, and finding the right place to begin can sometimes be disheartening. However, don’t worry – there is hope. Millions of people every year, with a bit of guidance, some imagination, and a systematic and steady approach that fits their schedule and study style, learn Japanese every year. It can actually be a lot less daunting than you might believe.
How to Learn Japanese Fast – Overview
This practical guide provides helpful tips and tricks on how to learn Japanese more quickly and as effectively as possible. From exploring the fundamentals of the Japanese language to building a foundation in grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation, we will try to provide you with some basic tools and “tried and true” methods you can utilize to create an attack plan for studying the Japanese language.
One thing to consider is that even with a structured study plan, learning Japanese ultimately comes down to your personality, interests, and lifestyle. Often, we start out studying and a nuance that is intrinsically intertwined with the culture grabs our attention.
It could be colloquial dialects, or Japanese poetry (Haiku), or a facet of history. I encourage you to follow that instinct and attempt to learn Japanese through a path or channel that aligns with your personal hobbies or interests. I personally, was fascinated by set phrases, “sayings”, and the stark differences in their English translations. It gave me an inside look into Japanese society and how the Japanese interpret the world around them.
So, if you’re ready to take on this challenge, let’s begin with the core necessities and tips and techniques you can apply to get started on your path. Below are four core concepts to help you learn Japanese (fast).
1. Understanding the Basics: The 3 Building Blocks of the Japanese Language
The building blocks of any language are its “alphabets”, I put this in quotations because alphabets come in a multitude of forms. Some examples of just a few of them are the Cyrillic alphabet used in Russian, Bulgarian, or Ukrainian languages, the Devanagari, used in Indian Hindi languages, and Hangul, used in the Korean Language.
Unique to Japanese, there are 3 components to the language: Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Kanji, while not technically defined as an ‘alphabet’ per se, refers to Chinese characters or the Chinese writing system, which was first introduced to Japan in the 5th century via the Korean peninsula.
It is estimated that there are around 50,000 kanji characters that are used in written Japanese; each corresponds to a meaning, and when used in conjunction with each other take on completely different connotations relative to how they are combined.
While there is an endless number of kanji that you can memorize, in order to read the words in the world around you in Japan, you may only need about 1,000 kanji under your belt. Although, it is suggested you know about 2,000 to 3,000 kanji in order to read short novels or articles in Japanese fluidly.
Some people choose to start studying kanji right away, while others learn the first two writing systems first, as they are much easier to learn, write, and read. Whatever you choose to do is truly up to you.
What helped me greatly was a platform called WaniKani; it helped me learn and memorize kanji in an organized way at my own pace from level 1 to level 60 in about 4 years-time (roughly 3,000 kanji). Helpful sources: WaniKani – 1 | Tofugu – 2
Hiragana are the set of syllabaries that are used in written Japanese. More than this though it is a phonetic letter system, that when written out and practiced can help Japanese learners pronounce the Japanese language.
All kanji is comprised of hiragana letters. On’yomi represents the Chinese pronunciations, while Kun’yomi represents the original Japanese pronunciations. I highly recommend the Tofugu website to deepen your understanding with a more complete explanation.
It is worth noting that, Children’s books are always written in hiragana, so after you learn the 46 hiragana and how to practice how they sound out loud, you can immediately start reading Japanese! A simple google search will bring up a number of handy charts you can study from, and it shouldn’t take you more than 2-3 weeks to memorize the chart.
Similar to hiragana characters, katakana characters are also made up of a series of curved lines that are connected together and there are also 46 characters. The difference in appearance is that these characters are made up of straight horizontal and vertical lines.
Katakana characters are mainly used to write out foreign and borrowed words in the Japanese language, and they are used quite often in written texts, on TV, on business signs, and in daily life.
For instance, if you are a non-Japanese person, your name would be written in Katakana. This would allow your name to be pronounced for Japanese people to understand. There is no doubt that you will be surprised by how useful it is to be able to read Katakana, and how many foreign words are actually integrated into the Japanese language.
Tip: Ready to learn a language? Browse our lists of best Italian courses or German courses or English courses or French classes or Portuguese classes or Mandarin classes or Japanese courses or Spanish classes online.
2. The Glue and the Study Attack Plan (Nouns, Verbs, Adjectives, Adverbs, Grammar Points)
There is a Japanese expression “Gakumon ni oudou nashi”, it literally translates to English as “there is no royal road to learning”, but it is more accurately expressed as, “there is no shortcut when trying to truly learn/master something new”.
In many ways this holds true for learning Japanese – the longer the length of time you spend, the more your learning will advance, and the better at it you will become. This being said that doesn’t mean that approaches that speed up the process do not exist.
Now that you have familiarized yourself with the 3 writing systems, it is time to dissect the language and find out what it is composed of piece by piece. A great place to start is the elementary Japanese Genki series of textbooks; it is where I started 11 years ago, and it has a reputation for being a useful resource.
To accompany this, and complement your study, there is also a wonderful phone app called Japanese (the dark red app is available on both android and iPhone app stores), it is a completely free, comprehensive dictionary with built-in flashcards functionality and level-specific categories. Even after years of studying, it is the only app I use for new word lists and example sentences; I can say that I still use it on a daily basis.
Here is where the discipline and systematic approach comes into play. A popular strategy is to buy multiple notebooks, label each with a particular part of the language (for example, one book for nouns, one book for adjectives, one for grammar points, etc.).
Every day you will want to spend an hour or so building lists; after each word, you write be sure to copy a few example sentences. The idea behind this method is at one point after you have created multiple books of different parts of the language, they will all converge into one compendium of knowledge.
You will have written so many example sentences, that when you are focusing on studying nouns, passively you will be studying grammar or verb conjugation, or adverbial phrases; month by month developing your Japanese.
Before you even realize it, you will find that your overall comprehension of Japanese will start to come together. Your efforts will also bring new confidence – both to apply your new language skills in public and the renewed confidence to continue to the intermediate level.
Tip: Here is a general guide on how to learn a language fast. You can also dive into our guides of How to Learn Spanish Fast or How to Learn Italian or How to Learn English or How to Learn German Fast.
3. Improve your Japanese Listening Skills: Learning to Understand what you Hear
The complexity of the Japanese language, in particular the grammatical order of the sentence in comparison to English, makes it a challenge to comprehend conversations.
While English is an “SVO” language, meaning the order of a sentence follows S (subject),V(verb), and O(object), Japanese is an “SOV” language, meaning that a sentence follows the pattern S(subject), O (object), and V (verb).
You might wonder what this difference in sentence structure means for you as a listener. In short, because you are waiting for the verb at the end of the sentence, by default, you become a more patient listener.
In the Japanese sentence, the verb, and how that verb is conjugated holds great deal of importance. Not to mention, the subject pronoun (I, they, him, her, you, etc.) is often omitted from spoken language and assumed in the context of the conversation.
Simply listening to spoken Japanese can be quite the hurdle. The intonation and pronunciation of words can vary from speaker to speaker, making it difficult to distinguish between different words and phrases. The speed of conversation is often fast, and regional dialects can be confusing to beginner learners of Japanese.
Luckily you have the technology at your fingertips to help you practice listening at your own convenience. Two resources I used early in my Japanese study path were:
In order to make listening to Japanese easier, it is important to start by focusing on certain aspects of the conversation. Listening to segmented podcasts in both Japanese and English that are focused on a particular topic (for example, making a transaction at the register, asking about the weather, understanding a train announcement, etc.) help greatly in the real world to understand what is happening around you.
An even easier way is simply looking up Japanese content on YouTube and using the automated subtitle function; you can even slow down the speed of the video to hear each word or phrase pronounced clearly. I wouldn’t stop there though.
A vast array of Japanese movies and tv shows are accessible by a number of streaming platforms (take your pick), and most offer subtitles in English for you to follow along. Music is also a great source of listening practice because the lyrics and hooks for many songs are repeated over and over, allowing you to practice listening with repetition alongside both rhythms and melody.
4. Japanese Crash Training for Travelling to Japan
If you’re just too busy to invest hours in systematic study, and you’re planning to travel to Japan, all hope isn’t lost for you to at least have basic communication skills. Before your trip, I highly suggest a phrase book, or at least a crash course overnight study session of the top 100 phrases you will absolutely need for your survival.
Eurolinguiste (view) offers an online comprehensive list of some phrases. If you put a few hours into practicing these and maybe write them down in an easy-to-access place for traveling, they will be invaluable.
Mind you this is the bare-bones basics of the Japanese language – enough to say “hello”, “goodbye”, and “thank you”, and as essential as these phrases are to upholding common courtesies in any language, they won’t allow you to have a conversation.
However, I did notice one phrase that was not on this list; something that goes without saying should be part of your top 100.
The word is “osusume”, and it means in English “what do you recommend”. The handiness of this expression is not to be taken lightly. In Japanese society, whether at a restaurant or anywhere where you are faced with a decision on what to buy, where to go, what to choose, etc. Simply asking “osusume” will steer you in the right direction.
In my experience, there are very few “scams”, very few ill-intentioned people, that will want to take advantage or deceive a foreign traveler visiting Japan for the first time. At many stores, restaurants, and tourist spots you visit, you will find people who want to make sure your experience in Japan is memorable and enjoyable.
11 Additional Tips for Learning Japanese (Fast)
-Set a clear daily goal for yourself. Decide how much time you want to dedicate to learning Japanese each day, and develop a plan for achieving that goal. Track your progress regularly to stay motivated and keep yourself on track. Your brain is like a muscle that you need to work out as frequently as you can.
1. Start with the basics of Japanese. Focus on mastering the basics before moving on to more difficult topics. Although this seems like common sense, remember not to bite off more than you can chew.
2. Find a study buddy, someone with the same interest and passion to learn the Japanese language. You can practice speaking with them regularly, and because you are both beginners, you won’t have any feelings of embarrassment for making a mistake.
3. Use flashcards to learn Japanese, make your own set if you have to. Flashcards are a great way to learn Japanese vocabulary quickly. These pre-made sets will help you remember new words and Japanese phrases.
4. Take some time to learn about Japanese culture. It could be a blog that you find on the internet or a book that on Japanese history. Discovering different aspects of culture will give you beneficial insight into the Japanese language.
5. Mix up your media with content in Japanese and English. Watching Japanese content is a great way to passively learn phrases and improve your listening skills.
6. Read level-appropriate books in Japanese. If you just learned the hiragana and katakana alphabets, read children’s books. If you are advancing into simple kanji, find resources that will allow you to practice reading comprehension in different contexts.
7. Practice repetitive writing in Japanese. Devote a memo pad to practice how to write as many words as you can. You can copy the words from vocabulary lists, or from wherever you are able to find them. Writing in Japanese is a great way to practice your skills and become more familiar with the Japanese language.
8. Participate in online forums or social media threads with Japanese language themes. Participating in online forums about the Japanese language and culture is a great way to connect with other Japanese language learners and share tips and advice. Reddit offers many free subeditors for anyone who has questions about learning Japanese.
9. Enroll in a language course. Look for resources that focus on conversational Japanese and include lots of practice speaking activities. I will suggest a few examples below.
10. Download and use a language learning app. Those are great ways to practice Japanese on the go. Look for apps that offer interactive activities and practice quizzes by smartphone that will help you practice no matter what setting that you are in.
11. Visit Japan for a short or long period of time. Visiting Japan is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and culture. Talk to locals and practice your language skills in real-world situations. You’ll be surprised at how much you can absorb in just a few days just from trial-and-error practice.
Learn Japanese – Consider Online Lessons
Here is a list of the best Japanese classes online. The following 3 are great for beginners.
Rocket Languages Japanese
With an easy-to-understand course structure and a reasonable price, it is a useful solution for anyone wanting to learn the basics of Japanese. The program structure consists of bite-sized lessons that are easy to understand and remember.
Each lesson covers a different topic, from basic Japanese grammar and Japanese vocabulary to more in-depth conversation topics. There are also quizzes and tests to help the learner track their progress.
Udemy offers Japanese for beginners, kanji courses, speaking courses, and tiered courses that follow material covered on the Japanese proficiency exam. The classes also give you the ability to learn at your own pace, with unlimited access, and provide a variety of teaching materials ranging from videos, textbooks, worksheets, and articles.
This subscription mnemonic learning system can help you practice and learn Japanese grammar by repeating example sentences. It is intuitive and will repeat the questions you get wrong. But more importantly, it tracks what Japanese grammar you have already memorized so you can see your progress.
A series of books that stood out for me as I studied Japanese was the Power Japanese series. These books are mostly from the mid-late 1990s and can be tricky to get your hands on, but the information they contain, and the variety of passionate writers who have invested their knowledge into creating them have been invaluable.
I have found them all in one place on a thrift bookstore site and linked it below. These books capture the nuance that other textbooks do not and offer this “inside knowledge” in comprehendible English explanations. For example, “Love, Hate and Everything in Between” teaches you how to express your feelings in Japanese like a native speaker.
How To Learn Japanese Fast – Conclusion
Wrapping up our guide on how to learn Japanese fast.
As you learn Japanese, you will discover how truly beautiful and expressive this language can be. It is by no means perfect or easy, but with a bit of practice, study, and patience, you can tackle virtually any Japanese grammar point.
While the Japanese language has a plethora of words of which you will never see in day-to-day life, familiarizing yourself with them will only deepen your understanding of the language as a whole. Good luck on your language journey, and I hope that you find this article useful as you look to take your first step.
Good luck and enjoy learning Japanese!
How To Learn Japanese Fast – Tips
- Understand the Basics: Learn the building blocks of the Japanese language.
- Create a study plan – Learn nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, grammar.
- Improve your Japanese listening skills: Learn to understand what you hear.
- Build your Japanese speaking skills: Learn to say what you think and feel.
- Consider a Japanese crash training for travelling to Japan.
- Immerse yourself into Japanese culture, art, music and society.
- Find a study buddy to learnb Japanese.
- Use flashcards to learn Japanese.
- Read level-appropriate books in Japanese.
- Practice repetitive writing in Japanese.
- Participate in online forums, or social media threads with Japanese language themes.
- Visit Japan for a short or long period of time.
Resources to Learn Japanese Fast
- How To Learn Japanese – Japanese with Tanaka san – YouTube – View
- Learn Japanese Grammar – Japanese Ammo with Misa YouTube – View
- Learn Japanese Pronunciation – YouTube – View
What is your learning experience? Have you got any additional practical tips on how to learn Japanese fast?´ Please let us know or contact us via email if you have questions.
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