How To Self-Study Japanese

Learning Japanese is no easy feat. It requires dedication and hard work, especially if you have decided to self-study. If you are absolutely brand new to Japanese, here are some fast facts about the language to get you started:

* Contains two alphabets: Hiragana and Katakana

* Each alphabet has 46 phonetic characters (72 in total)

* Kanji is a Chinese based script that has thousands of characters

* You’ll need to know about 2000-3000 characters to be considered fluent inn Japanese writing (according to the JLPT)

* Japanese is an SOV language (Subject – Object – Verb)

* There are no tones in Japanese, but there are intonations (yukuri vs yukkuri)

* There are 4 politeness levels

* Japanese uses verb conjugations like European languages

* Japanese uses particles to mark parts of speech (example:



* Often times the subject is omitted in sentences if the subject is clear based on the context

*Pronunciation in Japanese is perhaps the easiest part of learning the language

* It typically takes 5-6 years to gain fluency in Japanese


So now that you have the absolute basics of the language, here is the best way, I have found after 7 years of language study, to learn Japanese.

1. Begin Learning Hiragana and Katakana (in that order)

First thing you want to do is begin learning Hiragana. It’s the most basic script you can learn and is learned by children first in grade school. Katakana is for foreign words like English cognates. I used Kodansha’s Hiragana workbook and I highly recommend it. After you’ve grasped Hiragana, you can begin learning Katakana. Fortunately, they follow the same phonetic order making memorization just a tad easier (example: Ka, ki, ku, ke, ko). As you learn the writing, begin to remove your dependence on the English alphabet and begin writing everything in Hiragana or Katakana. I used Kodansha’s Katana Workbook as well and I recommend that book as well.


 2. Begin Learning Easy Phrases and Words Through Children Songs

Whenever I begin learning a new language, I try to get a feel for the basic vocabulary by memorizing children’s songs. It’s a great way to create a visual and auditory connection with the new words. I know it’s a little childish, but it was very effective for me! I have never forgotten a single word from those songs and they helped me cement the essentials and that is very very important. The songs are usually in Hiragana and Katakana, so that’s good practice for remembering the those alphabets too! Here’s a Genki Japan playlist with songs for the weather, numbers, colors, etc:


3. Download or Buy Tae Kim’s Japanese Grammar Guide

I don’t recommend any other textbook more than I recommend Tae Kim’s grammar guide. It’s incredibly well written and it goes against the norm a little bit. It encourages you to begin learning Japanese from the lowest politeness form and work your way up, since it makes WAY more since to do that. He goes from the plain form and then teaches you to add the politeness levels and conjugations to them. Traditionally, textbooks teach the polite forms first and then ask you to go backwards in a way. So counter intuitive, but the reason they do that is so that you can begin speaking immediately to adults. That’s all fine and dandy, but you aren’t learning the language properly. Period.


4. Begin Learning Kanji with WaniKani

I’ve heard people sing praises about WaniKani, so I’ll keep this short because you can read about how awesome it is all over the web. In short, it’s a free website that helps you learn around 2000 essential Kanji. It uses the spaced repetition method meaning after you’ve learned around 20 or so kanji/radicals, it will move those to the “to be reviewed” so that you can come back to them later. You will have to keep reviewing them until they’ve been moved to the ‘burned’ section. In other words, it’s burned in your mind and properly memorized. I highly recommend it.


5. Use Fluent-U for Immersion

At some point you’ll need to know how Japanese sounds and how to understand it. That’s where Fluent-U comes in. It uses modern media to help you learn Japanese. You learn through studying anime, tv shows, music videos, commercials, and popular Youtube videos. It is also uses space repetition, but most importantly every vocabulary word is taught with real world examples from real movies, tv shows, etc.

6. Take it Slow in the Beginning
The key to learning Japanese is to master, nay, DOMINATE the essentials. Take your time while learning the basic grammar points and practice, practice, practice them. Use your new vocabulary to make new sentences with your new grammar and do whatever you can to practice.

7. Create a Schedule and Stick To It
If you haven’t already, go check out my post about creating a self-study schedule. It will get you what you need to create your own self-study schedule to learn language intensively. Once you have created a self-study schedule, do what it takes to stick to it. You only become fluent in a language with hard work, not good intentions alone. So get it done! I also like to use an app called Habatica. It makes a game out of getting into getting daily tasks accomplished and crossing stuff off your to-do list. You level up, get armor and rewards and pets. It’s so cool! You can turn language learning into a game with this app! Hope that helps! 🙂


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