Some friendly advice on studying Japanese


Hoping to learn to speak Japanese while you’re living in Japan? There are lots of methods you can use to help improve your abilities, but one thing’s for certain — one approach alone simply isn’t going to cut it. Hiroshima-ken JET Darren Carter weighs in on some of the methods that worked for him, and others that weren’t so helpful.

Minna no Nihongo – This is a basic textbook. I basically just went though it copying the example sentences. I ignored everything else. I used it when I was just start to learn Japanese, but now that I’ve been studying Japanese for a couple years I can’t recommend this book. The Japanese is stiff and you won’t actually hear it in real life. The explanations are decent, so it can be helpful when you’re trying to decipher Japanese, but there are much much better tools that are easier, more efficient, and a million times more useful.

Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese – This website is a really great resource. I only found it after I was already studying for a while, so it didn’t help me as much as it could have. I would recommend this way more than Minna no Nihongo, mainly because the examples are a lot closer to Japanese that you will encounter everyday.

Rikaichan – This Firefox plug-in is essential. You just hover your mouse over a Japanese character and it will show you the meaning and how to read it.

Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC online dictionary — This is easily the best dictionary for understanding Japanese. Nothing else compares. I make use of the example feature of this dictionary a lot. It helps me to understand a word by looking at it in context with many examples.

Remember the Kanji — This book is great. I used it to learn how to understand and how to write 2,000 kanji in a year. You can do it faster if you want. I slacked some. This makes it so much easier to learn to read.

Anki — This program will take care of memorization for you. It’s like a cheat for your memory. It uses a concept called “spaced repetition” to memorize. I doubt I could have learned Japanese without spaced repetition. I transferred the same concept to pen and paper for my studying. This is how I found it easy to learn 30 new kanji a day with only one hour of study while reviewing 200 other kanji. I just found out that might be the same thing. The website is certainly prettier, but it is more complicated than Anki.

All Japanese All The Time — This website offers lots of really great advice for learning Japanese if you dig around. I used a lot of this person’s techniques in my studying.

This is the most important advice I can give you: NEVER study just single Japanese words. ALWAYS study phrases and sentences. I almost always try to copy phrases that I hear in real life or from some real Japanese source made for Japanese people. The Japanese you see in textbooks or classes is worthless. I never did worksheets or fill-in-the-blank exercises or make-your-own-sentence stuff. I just copied sentences into Anki (or my paper version) and went through it and made an effort to understand the Japanese. I never studied English and tried to figure out the Japanese. I always start with Japanese. I never spent time on any phrase/sentence that took me longer than 25 or 30 seconds. I copied Japanese I heard in conversation with friends.

If you go around studying vocabulary lists and grammar rules trying build your own sentences by following rules, then Japanese is going to be difficult for you. I just copied Japanese that I heard and used Japanese that I had copied. Japanese was never “difficult” for me because I was just copying what I heard. If I couldn’t say something it was because I hadn’t heard/encountered it yet, not because I couldn’t figure out the grammar rules and how to piece together vocab and blah blah blah.

Grammar sucks, vocab sucks, worksheets suck, writing stuff over and over sucks. I never did any of them and I made great progress.

When using Remember the Kanji you should study the kanji using spaced repetition, but study it according to how the author tells you. This is separate from studying Japanese in context using phrases and sentences.

Learn hiragana and katakana first. NEVER use romanized Japanese when studying except MAYBE for the first month when you are learning to read Japanese.

Last – I studied during most of my free time at school. I studied at home once or twice over the course of two years. I never studied on weekends. Studying Japanese does not need to take much time out of your life. If you choose to study Japanese during your free time at home, you might be able to learn faster. That’s up to you. A lot of people complain that learning Japanese takes up all their time — that’s B.S., I think they’re just doing it wrong. If you have any questions, feel free to send me an email at darrencarter.ou (atto) gmail (dotto) com.


Want more information on some of the tools Darren mentioned? Check out these Wide Island View reviews:

All Japanese All the Time

Remembering the Kanji



  1. Some friendly advice on studying Japanese…

    Hoping to learn to speak Japanese while you’re living in Japan? There are lots of methods you can use to help improve your abilities, but one thing’s for certain — one approach alone simply isnâ……

  2. Hihi dumb question time. Where can we get Japanese decks to put in Anki? I downloaded the program to my iPhone but can not figure out a way to download a deck of anything. Can it only be done on my home PC?
    Also thanks for the great advice!

  3. Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese is great! I’m learning things I missed in my first year here in Japan. Thanks!

    Also, I downloaded the Rikaichan plug in. Another amazing resource I have wanted for awhile!

    Thanks again, Darren!

  4. Just started using Anki for vocab and it’s great!

    I found another set of online materials that are amazing for intermediate-level learning. Very focused on the fluency side of things rather than drilling grammar. Take a look:
    Intermediate Japanese

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