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Introduction to learning Japanese

This page will list the most important steps anyone who wishes to learn Japanese needs to take and how to go about tackling them. All steps are divided into 3 major sections:


1. First Steps

Learn Hiragana and Katakana

As you know, the Japanese language has a total of three writing scripts, which are all actively used. Fortunately, two of these can be learned in a week or less, and that should be your first priority. Whether you use mnemonics, Anki or try to remember them by brute force isn't as important as not wasting too much time on this step. Many people get stuck here thinking they need perfection, when in reality they simply need to move on. Remember that Hiragana and Katakana will be reinforced whenever you interact with written Japanese in any form and true mastery only comes after many hours of interacting with them in meaningful contexts.

Recommended tools:

  1. A simple kana recognition tool on the itazura site. Be sure to listen to the audio to get the correct pronunciation.
  2. A kana recognition Anki deck with mnemonics. If you don't know what Anki is or how to set it up take a look at the Anki section. If you also want to have writing cards you can create a new card type for that.
Japanese writing systems.

Maximum time for this section: 1 week


2. Building the foundation

All steps in this section should be done in parallel. Don't get stuck on doing one thing, neglecting the others.

Work through a core vocabulary Anki deck

It makes sense to go through a core deck to get the most important words of the language out of the way. There are many options and what you pick isn't that important as most core decks share many similarities, but you should pay attention to two things:

  • No more than a few thousand cards. It is critical to not spend too much time on core decks and move on to mining (explained in detail on this site). That is not happening any time soon if you are doing Core30k.
  • Cards should be voiced. Make no mistake; you are still mostly incapable of correctly perceiving Japanese sounds and only thousands of hours of auditory input will fix that. A core deck with audio by native Japanese is a good way to start.

Recommendations:

  1. Improved Core 2.3K. This is a modified version for the popular Core6k deck with quite a number of improvements. For a full descriptions of the changes see this page.
  2. Open to suggestions for more, although most decks I have seen have a big issue in one way or another which prevents me from recommending them.
Cards in a core deck. word / translation, reading and example

Gain an understanding of basic Japanese grammar

The only way to really learn grammar is by reading and listening, seeing the grammar being used and that happening so often that it becomes second nature to you. That also means grammar is never the issue long term, as you will acquire it inevitably by simply consuming more content. However, don't make the mistake of thinking that by only consuming content you will learn the language. A constant effort from you is required in the form of actively paying attention and look-ups in order to make things comprehensible. Therefore, it makes sense to prime yourself on Japanese grammar with simple sentences and explanations. Don't bother doing boring conjugation exercises and memorizing every function of every grammar point mentioned; you will only waste your time.

Recommendations:

  1. DoJG Deck. This deck covers the grammar points covered in the dictionary of Japanese grammar (reference). It may be called "dictionary" but make no mistake: it doesn't cover any grammar that is particularly rare or belongs to classical Japanese. In other words it is all worth learning at some point. Styling recommendation: Core Sentence

  2. Tae Kim grammar guide. Mostly praised for it's simplicity. Don't bother with the exercises and just read and understand it. The author himself has a questionable Japanese level and sometimes includes slightly unnatural sentences, but it's fine for a mere primer on grammar.

  3. Imabi grammar guide. Suffers from the exact opposite problem of Tae Kim. The author is very knowledgeable about Japanese grammar and verifies the correctness of all information on the site, but it is too heavy in terms of linguistics and way too big in volume with too much redundant information to serve as a primer to Japanese grammar. Feel free to use it as a reference, although you will likely be able to research most things in Japanese very soon.

(Optional) Isolated kanji studies

By doing a core deck, consuming Japanese content, doing look-ups and mining, you will learn to read Japanese. However, many people find it difficult to learn Japanese words with kanji right away. Isolated kanji study refers to associating kanji with English meanings through mnemonics. By doing this you can make it easier to remember the meaning of Japanese words, as you will have a grasp of the semantic hint of the kanji right away. However, you are investing many hours into memorising information that is essentially not relevant to knowing Japanese in any capacity. Whether this is worth the time investment is something everyone has to decide for themselves.

Possible resources:

  1. KKLC (Kodansha kanji learner's course) (find it here). It has mnemonics for all kanji and the meanings are closer to the original Japanese ones than RTK's are. Don't bother remembering the vocabulary (do that with core and mining), only the keyword and don't rate yourself harshly. A complementary Anki deck can be found here. If it gets frustrating to do at any point feel free to drop it in favor of prioritizing the other points.
  2. RTK (Remembering the Kanji) (also here). Outdated and esoteric keywords. Doesn't have mnemonics for all kanji, which are however supplemented by the community around it. More questionable ordering than in KKLC. I don't recommend it in particular it but it's popular.
RTK mnemonic

No matter what you do: Don't bother writing at this stage. There are better ways to learn writing. See the writing section of this site.

Regularly consume Japanese content

The only way to learn a language is to get a massive amount of input. There are of course many ways to go about getting that input, you will get it every single time you interact with the language in any form, but the most efficient is media consumption. Whether it's watching anime, Youtube, listening to audiobooks or podcasts or reading books, if you put in the hours you will see results. However it is important to make an effort to make as much of the content as possible comprehensible to you (lookups). Listening to what is essentially white noise all day while playing with your phone won't lead to improvement. Start consuming Japanese content at this stage and try to find a balance between looking things up and ignoring them, so you do end up learning a fair amount of new things but don't get frustrated having to look something up every line.

My personal recommendation for easy content at this stage is anime with Japanese subtitles. See the Yomichan and anime section on ways to easily look things up and possibly mine.

Watch anime.

Recommended time for this section: 6-12 months


3. Finale

Create your own mining deck

A mining deck is a custom Anki deck created by you, utilizing the Japanese you encounter in your day to day life. Moving on from pre-made decks to custom Anki decks is vital. I can't stress how important not getting stuck on pre-made decks is. At this point you are learning directly from material relevant to you and purposefully targeting gaps in your knowledge. For a complete guide on mining look at the next sections of this site.

Interact with Japanese as much as you can

There are no limits to what you can do. Do whatever you want with Japanese as much as you possibly can. If you at some point feel you are good enough, you can also stop doing the mining deck.