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Great Resources for Learning Japanese

Updated on October 5, 2015

New Language = New Perspective of Life

The great Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini once said, “a different language is a different vision of life.” Learning a new language can open a person’s mind to a variety of perspectives and interpretations of reality. The structure of a language affects the way we perceive the world. That is just one of many reasons for studying a foreign language. Learning a new language can also keep the brain young and quick. Furthermore, to truly understand another culture, one must understand the language. For those interested in learning Japanese language and broadening their understanding of Japanese culture, here are some suggestions for study materials.


Why Do You Want to Study Japanese?

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Japanese For Busy People I

Japanese for Busy People is one of the best-selling books for independent learners. This is the “Kana” version so it is necessary to learn Hiragana and Katakana. Although there is a Romanized edition of the book, it is best to learn the Kana syllabary for developing more advanced Japanese language skills.

The best attribute of this book is that it focuses on developing basic conversation ability in daily situations. The first unit teaches introductions and exchanging business cards. Gradually, the units become more challenging while introducing essential vocabulary and useful sentence structures. Other units include common settings such as shopping, visiting a company, traveling on a weekend excursion and dining at a restaurant. Since the book encourages conversation practice in office situations it could have been called, Japanese for Business People.

The book includes English translations of dialogues. It also has English explanations of grammar and other language features. The reference section provides answers for the exercises and quizzes. It comes with a free audio CD to practice listening and pronunciation skills. One negative point (perhaps some students would consider a positive point) is that the book does not use or teach Kanji. However, the second level of the book does introduce Kanji. A workbook is also available.

Learning Hiragana and Katakana

Flash cards are the way to go to learn the Kana Syllabary. It is possible to memorize the Kana Syllabary in a week or less using flash cards and studying a couple of hours a day.

Cherry Blossoms In Yokohama

Spring is a beautiful season in Japan when the Sakura are in full bloom.
Spring is a beautiful season in Japan when the Sakura are in full bloom. | Source

A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters

This is an excellent book and is exactly what the title says. Beginning with the easiest Kanji characters, the book explains the origins of and provides mnemonic hints for memorizing the 1,942 most commonly used characters. It is written in English and uses Roman letters for pronunciation. One example the book uses for a mnemonic hint would be to explain the Kanji for spring: 春. This character in made up of 人, which means person; 三, which means three and 日, which means sun. From that…three people in the sun means spring. Everybody likes to hang out with a couple of friends in the warm spring sun. That is easy to remember. This book makes it possible to memorize up to 20 Kanji a day. The book facilitates a student’s ability to remember both the meaning and even how to write the characters. It is also a great reference book as a kanji dictionary.

101 Japanese Idioms with MP3 Disc

Memorize a few of these and you can be the life your next international get-together. The book explains the idioms in the context of mini-dialogues. The dialogues are written in Roman letters as well as Kana/Kanji. The authors use wit to entertain the reader. Even if you do not memorize the idioms, knowledge of these expressions is a window into the Japanese mind. This book may be a perfect example either of how language shapes culture or of how culture shapes language. The book also contains great drawings that etch the idiomatic meanings in your memory.

Making Out in Japanese

Some of the phrases in this are probably out of date so the reader should choose carefully which to use in mixed company. The outstanding feature of the book is that it presents numerous colloquial expressions that are not in the average textbook. Slang, love talk, fighting words and useful idioms are listed by category. Try to memorize a phase a day to use with friends. Phases and idioms are in Roman letters, Kana and Kanji with English translations. In addition to the phases, this book explains how the average Japanese person speaks in regards to gender and social class. It is a fun book with useful communication tips.

Wicked Japanese For The Business Traveler

A slightly dated sardonic guidebook for the Western business traveler going to Japan. It is a better tool for enlightening the reader about cultural differences than teaching useful language. It is great plane reading and pocket-sized so you can pull it out at the bar for some cross-cultural laughs with your Japanese colleagues. Although most of the phases in the book would sound odd if you tried to use them at a business meeting, the book itself could be a life vest that saves you from the lost-in-translation vortex. It’s cheap. It’s funny. Buy it.

A Good Electronic Dictionary Is Essential

Writing Letters in Japanese

This book is for more advanced Japanese language learners. It details differences between writing letters in English and writing letters in Japanese and includes typical expressions for opening and closing letters. The text provides numerous examples (models) of letters such as seasonal greetings, congratulations, condolences and requests. Explanations and translations are in English. This book is an essential reference book for any non-native Japanese speaker who needs to write letters in Japanese.

Hydrangea Flowers in the Rainy Season

Even the Rainy Season Has Its Beauty
Even the Rainy Season Has Its Beauty | Source

On-Line Resources

There are also numerous online resources for learning Japanese. Some of these are free while others have fees. Here is a short list of some online resources:

"Easy Japanese" is an excellent FREE collection of Japanese language lessons produced by Japan's public broadcaster, NHK WORLD RADIO JAPAN. You can learn basic grammar and useful expressions through lessons designed in audio-drama style and updated every week. You can download audio and texts for the lessons FREE. NHK offers the lessons in 17 languages. Just select the language of your choice, and start learning!

Nihongo o Narau/Learn Japanese – A lot of material that is free and Romanized. It might be a good site for a beginner, but it is print heavy and slightly difficult to navigate.

Japanese Free Lessons – 10 free lessons to get started. Membership is required after that.

CosCom is a pay site with some free material. It is mostly Romanized.

Learn How to Introduce Yourself in 4 Minutes

Hiragana and Katakana


For about $1.00 and great for a tablet or phone

Japanese Verbs ~te Form

Good Luck with Your Language Learning

I hope you find these resources not only useful, but fun as well. Learning even the basics of a foreign language can broaden a person’s global perspective and cultural understanding. Knowing a few words in a foreign language may open the doors to a new relationship, a new road of travel, a new way of viewing the world or maybe just be the key to bring a smile to a stranger’s face.

If you have any ideas from your own language learning experience or if you have any suggestions for Japanese language resources, please let me know in the comment section.


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    • JasmenVilando profile image

      Jasmen Vilando 2 years ago from Yokohama

      Thank you Stephanie! Are you studying Japanese or any other languages? Do you have any ideas for resources to add to the list? Add them here if you do. Have a great week.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 2 years ago from New Jersey

      This is a great resource for being informed about diverse ways to learn Japanese. Thanks for writing this hub!