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So You Want to Study Japanese

Updated on December 4, 2013

Study Tips when Learning a Language

  • Make time to study each day.
  • Make flashcards.
  • Place labels around your house in the foreign language.
  • Learn "language chunks."
  • Study the culture of the language.
  • Learn some gestures from the native country.

Where to begin when studying Japanese

The best place to begin is setting up a few "rules" or "goals" for yourself. Ask yourself, "Why do I want to study Japanese?" Once you know your purpose, you can realize your starting point.

  1. For example, if you want to watch anime or J-drama in Japanese, you are probably more interested in listening skills.
  2. If you want to travel to Japan for a one or two week visit, you need basic Japanese skills that can be learned in short "language chunks" instead of actually understanding the in-depth linguistic rules of Japanese.
  3. Lastly, if you want to study in Japan or work in Japan, you should prepare to study the finer points of Japanese.

There are many other reasons someone might want to learn Japanese (it's cool; it's a challenge; a Japanese friend), so this article attempts to give some basic tips that anyone can use when beginning their journey studying nihongo (Japanese language). Hajimeyou! (Let's start!)

Previous Study Experience

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The Basics of Japanese

Here are some useful phrases you can start using right away. (They will be written in both romaji (the English alphabet) and hiragana (Japanese basic alphabet).

  • Ohayou gozaimasu. おはようございます。Good morning.
  • Konnichi wa. こんにちわ。 Hello./Good afternoon.
  • Konban wa. こんばんわ。Good evening.
  • Arigatou gozaimasu. ありがとうございます。Thank you.
  • Sumimasen. すみません。Excuse me./I'm sorry.
  • Onegaishimasu. おねがいします。Please.
  • Tabun. たぶん。Maybe.
  • Deshou... でしょう。。。Probably.../I think...
  • Nani... なに。。。 What...

Daily Study Routine

One thing you should not wait on is studying the Japanese alphabet hiragana. Japanese has three alphabets: hiragana, katakana, and kanji. For a beginner learning Japanese, hiragana is the most important. You can easily find a hiragana chart online with the stroke order. You should practice writing these characters, in the correct sequence, at least once a day.

To the right of this paragraph and below are two examples of hiragana charts that I have displayed in my apartment.

A Japanese "doll" and myself in the Harajuku train station.
A Japanese "doll" and myself in the Harajuku train station.

More about Purpose to Studying Japanese

Japanese is an enticing culture that many outsiders are fascinated by. Whether you're interested in the kawaii ("cute") culture, fashion, anime, or nature, Japanese has something to offer everyone.

You should remember that there are many levels to speaking Japanese. There's a very formal level that you use when meeting acquaintances or with someone above you in the social structure. These verb forms will end in -masu (present/future tense) or -mashita (past tense). This is the best form to study at first because it's used quite often. Once you feel like you have a decent understanding of these verb forms (they're all the same!) you can move onto the casual form of Japanese.

I recommend watching a J-drama or even an anime that interests you so that you can hear Japanese being used in everyday conversation. Listen for particular key words. For example, "Mitte!" or "Look!" is a common everyday word. You'll be surprised at how many language chunks you hear after only a short time.

An Example of a YouTube Japanese Lesson

Online Resources to Studying Japanese for FREE

Last but not least, use the Internet to help you study! You don't need to go out and buy Rosetta Stone for hundreds of dollars to learn Japanese. There are plenty of people just waiting on YouTube to teach you Japanese for FREE.

You can also use your iPhone to help you study Japanese. There are plenty of apps that will teach you the writing system. Also, you can download or subscribe to podcasts (even university classes) that teach Japanese...again, for FREE.

Remember, be resourceful and never pay for something you can find for free online!

The interior of a Japanese shrine in Tokyo.
The interior of a Japanese shrine in Tokyo.

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