1yr Studying Japanese - Resources Used and A Love Letter to Japan

Hi fellow Japanese students. I’m Gabriel from Portugal and this is my story:

Today, August 1 2019, marks one year since I started studying Japanese. It has been a fantastic journey, without a single day off, with lots of new things learned, not just the language but also many things about the Japanese culture. I feel like a whole new person from a year ago. This is also the first time I’m learning a language actively and not passively like I did for English and Spanish, which I’ve been acquiring for years.

Even though I started studying the language a year ago, my love for Japan started way before that. I always liked Anime, ever since I was a kid. Several years ago, back in 2009-10, I started watching NHK World regularly and seeing all those shows about Japanese culture really started to resonate with me. I began to see the real Japan, not just through Anime, but from real people as well. You see, if Japan was a woman, it would be my soul mate, because we have so many things in common. I love its culture, its food, its values, its language, its Women… Anyway, I feel like I was born in the wrong country…

Before starting my learning journey, I had no previous Japanese knowledge. I mean, I couldn’t even count to ten and only knew a handful of words. This is what I recommend for absolute beginners: before starting with any other resources, spend some time learning Hiragana and Katakana. With effort, you can learn them in a couple of weeks.

For me, everything started with the Duolingo app, and even though I don’t like to praise this app that much, because in my opinion is a waste of time in the long run, I do have to give it credit for being a starting point in my journey and for getting me interested in learning this incredible language, and not just be a consumer of their products. Other than that, I don’t recommend it, simply because it explains you nothing. It’s sort of like a watered down version of Rosetta Stone, yet another useless app. Also, be careful of the streak feature. It can be a motivator, but if you fail to keep that streak going it can crush you and with it, your desire to continue your studies.

About a month after starting with Duolingo and doing my daily routine, I got my first textbook (Japanese From Zero 1), and that’s when things got really going in a steady pace.

Below is a list of some of the best resources I used and a brief note about them. Please note that many of these resources are geared towards reading, which is my main goal. Reading Manga. I’ve used other resources along the way, but they’re not worth mentioning. I believe there’s no such thing as a bad resource (unless it gives you false information), because in the end, you were exposed to the language, and that’s the whole point. There’s just better resources than others that will be more useful and make a better use of your time.

Japanese From Zero

Without these books I probably wouldn’t be still studying Japanese today. They helped me keep a steady pace everyday, but more importantly, they felt accessible for a total beginner like myself. The lessons start really easy and simple, without kanji and introducing Kana gradually and in small batches. To some, this may seem like a slow pace, but trust me, this was perfect. You don’t want to start full force and then be overwhelmed. I got through all four books in about six months and I loved everything about them. The way the books are structured and how the workbook is included with the main textbook is very convenient and overall cheaper than other alternatives. It’s a perfect resource for self-study. Also recommended, the author’s Youtube channel, where you can follow the lessons from the book with the corresponding videos and other grammar videos he continues to upload.

WaniKani

Right after JFZ books, WK was and still is one of the best resources I’ve been using. Studying Kanji is the most intimidating part of the Japanese language and the reason why I hadn’t started sooner. One word of advice is that you should only start WK when you have memorized both Kana, otherwise it will be very difficult. Also, if you’re unsure of the plan to subscribe, personally I would suggest to pay for one year and not the lifetime subscription. The reason is that when you pay for lifetime you don’t need to rush and you’ll have a tendency to slack off and lose your rhythm. However, the key to succeed with WK is consistency, having a steady pace from start to finish. It’s very easy to fall into a mindset of taking a break, but it’s very difficult to get that momentum again.

WK was my first experience with SRS, and together with the JFZ books, it helped me to keep a daily routine. When done right, it will be a godsend for Kanji study. Even though I like the SRS system, I think if you only rely on those timings, it might not be enough to memorize everything. I started to use a self-study script, which you can use to cram unlocked items whenever you want, and my Kanji recognition skyrocketed since then. I usually do batches of five levels at a time for Kanji, and this proved to be a very effective way to really learn to distinguish between similar Kanji.

Overall, WK exceeded my expectations. I’m currently on level 47, and I plan to reach level 60 by mid September.

Japanese - The Manga Way

Probably my all-time favorite textbook, ever. This was such a great book to follow. I started it early on in my studies, and I’m glad I did it, because it tackles complex topics in a simple and fun way. The grammar is very well organized and it starts real simple. The different Manga strips make this book shine and it’s such a joy to read. I have many of those Manga books in my wish list. Since then, I have gone through the entire book 3 times, which allowed me to get a better understanding of its contents each time.

Tae Kim - A guide to Japanese Grammar

This book is highly recommend among Japanese language students, and with good reason. The book explains really well a wide range of beginner Japanese Grammar, and even more advance topics later on. I also went through it a couple of times already, and I find it to be a great way to review grammar, because it’s very well structured. It can be used as a stand-alone textbook without any need for other equivalent books. One of the things that I liked about it was the vocab lists at the beginning of each chapter. Very convenient to learn large quantities of vocab in context.

Dictionary of Basic/Intermediate Japanese Grammar

I got both dictionaries, and if I could sum up in one short sentence what I think of them, it would just be: Get them! They’re that good!

If you’re serious about your Japanese studies, don’t even hesitate. You’ll be constantly using them. At least I did. It has a thorough explanation of each grammar point, with lots of example sentences and notes, and it always points you to similar topics for comparison. I like how it is structured, it has a clean and simple layout, and it’s very easy to consult. It also has a very useful introductory section in both books, full of information and tips.

Essential Japanese Expressions

This has been my second Bible, after DoJG. This book was a very pleasant surprise. I bough it on a whim, just thinking of using it for occasional reading, but it proved to be much more useful. It has a ton of expressions, each classified with the correspondent N5 through N1, and lots of example sentences for each topic. I’ve gone through all N5 and N4 content, each time carefully taking notes and writing example sentences by hand. Now, I’m currently doing the same for N3. It’s a book that will provide me with content for years to come, and a great way to enrich my reading skills, vocab and grammar. Very underrated book that I hardly ever see mentioned. For me, it has been one of the most important books in my studies.

The Handbook of Japanese Verbs & The Handbook of Japanese Adj. and Adv.

IMG_20190731_170937

I grouped these two books in one section since they’re both similar and by the same author. These were also two of the most important books that I studied. The first deals with verbs and all their many conjugation forms and lots of examples in context. At the end of each chapter you’ll be presented with a brief exercise to test your knowledge. The second, is a bit more simple, but not less important, since it tackles two important parts of the language, adjectives and adverbs. It’s also presented in the same format, with exercises at the end of each chapter. Both these books can and should be used regularly to review what you learned and use as a reference.

Shin Nihongo 500 Mondai

IMG_20190731_170955 IMG_20190731_171103

If you want to test your N5 and N4 knowledge, this is a great way to do it. It’s very well structured with multiple choice questions on Kanji, Vocab and Grammar. One thing that I liked is that is has translations, which is rare to find in this type of exercises, especially with online quizzes. It also has brief explanations on each grammar topic it covers. I’m thinking of getting the N3 version soon.

Learn to Read in Japanese

IMG_20190731_171331

This was one of the first resources I used, because I wanted to read as soon as possible. The book starts with easy sentences with simple kanji and builds on previous knowledge as you progress, introducing you to about 10 new kanji in each chapter. One thing that I disliked about the book is that the author chose to have just a literal translation instead of a more natural one. I sometimes couldn’t understand the Japanese sentence, much less its translation, which made little sense and felt a bit frustrating. Still, overall, a very easy to read book with the occasional cryptic sentence.

Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication

IMG_20190731_171603 IMG_20190731_171708

Another important book with a large number of sentence patterns to increase your reading skills. Each sentence pattern is followed by a few example sentences and a practice section. It’s a big book with over 300 pages that covers a lot of different grammar, whether it’s for study or just to review. I really liked to read this one and plan to review it again soon.

Common Japanese Collocations

IMG_20190731_171736 IMG_20190731_171801

I’m not sure which one is more important, this one or the one above, about the sentence patterns. If you can, get them both.

Japanese collocations are word pairings that frequently appear together and by studying them you’ll begin to notice these patterns that will help you have a better understanding of the language and how those words are used. Even though the book has about 250 pages, it has a lot of content. The translations are spot on, which is quite helpful.

The Ultimate Japanese Phrasebook

IMG_20190731_171830 IMG_20190731_171900

Now, you might think this is a book more geared toward tourists, but it’s been actually a great read. It uses fairly casual language, which is great for a change, since most textbooks use polite language. It’s nice to have a contrast, because if you aim at reading Manga, for example, you’ll encounter similar language, and with this book you have plenty of examples to study in a variety of topics from daily life… 1800, to be more precise.

New Kanzen Master JLPT N4: Reading

IMG_20190731_171357 IMG_20190731_171514

I loved this book. Since my primary goal is to read, I chose this one and it exceeded my expectations. The texts are interesting to read with some peculiar stories, but fun nonetheless. It has different types of texts, from e-mail to essays and leaflets. I liked the variety of content and ultimately, it felt really great to understand what was written, since I did it when I was well along in my N4 studies. It includes a section with tips and exercises on how to read complex sentences. Will also consider buying the N3 version very soon.

BunPro

Bunpro is a great tool to learn or review grammar from N5 to N1. I’ve been using it for almost 9 months and got through all N5, N4 and N3 grammar. I like that it has many example sentences and I use the Cram feature a lot, which is like a self-study script found in other apps. I find it an indispensable tool in my studies and use it everyday.

It’s best to use it with other resources. For example, I used both dictionaries of Japanese Grammar to have a deeper understanding of each grammar point. Just be careful not to overdo it. Four or five points per day is enough. More than that and your reviews are going to pile up. Moreover, the more you do per day, the harder it is for the grammar to stick.

Kitsun

Kitsun is similar to WK, but has a more broader use. You can import your own decks or use many of the ones already offered. Currently, I’m building my own deck using the dictionary feature and adding new words I encounter while reading. It’s very convenient. Using the SRS system and self-study feature, it’s a great way to build your vocabulary.

ClozeMaster

Even though ClozeMaster is from the creators of Duolingo, don’t underestimate it. It’s miles ahead from Duolingo and much more efficient for learning sentence patterns. You can do it in different ways, like multiple choice questions, where one word is missing from the sentence and you choose which one is correct. You can also type the correct answer, which is more challenging. And, yet another way is to listen to the sentence and choose the correct answer. This app has been a great help for my reading skills. You can do just a little bit everyday, and the added gamification will make it fun to use. Forget Duolingo, this will actually be helpful for your studies.

Takoboto: Japanese Dictionary

This has been my go to app, and my companion for my Manga reading sessions. It has a fast and clean interface, and you can add words to a list, which you can then export to other apps. Other features include a real-time results page as you type, recognition of conjugated verbs and adjectives, kanji info and example sentences. I’ve been using this for Android, but there are also an online and Windows versions.

Besides all these resources, I also watch a lot of Japanese drama and movies. It’s a great feeling to see my progress when I recognize words I’ve studied. I can gradually pick up more and more words, even though the listening part is one of the most difficult aspects of the language.

So, how far did I get in one year? I’d say I’m about N3 level. I probably could’ve been more productive and reach N2, or even N1, as I have an average of about 5 hours of study per day. But since this is my first time learning a language actively, there were times when I felt I could’ve spent my time better or by using other resources. But I still learned. I got this far, and I’m happy with my progress. I can already read Manga at a reasonable pace, although still needing to consult the dictionary a few times (okay, several times), but not to a degree that feels frustrating anymore, and that’s an achievement in my book.

Of all the Manga I’ve been reading, Yotsuba is my absolute favorite. It’s impossible to feel down after reading a chapter of this charming little girl. At first it was difficult to read, even with the help of the dictionary (started in February, and currently reading vol.13). But now, it’s a joy to read, and I don’t have to check the dictionary that often. I plan on starting from vol.1 again as soon as I’m finished with vol.14.

I’m also reading the original Dragon Ball series, and that’s a step up from Yotsuba. There’s a lot more slang and contracted words that you need to know, but it’s still an enjoyable read. Other than that, I’m also reading Barakamon, and it’s a fun read as well. A little challenging at times, but not frustrating. The easiest read so far was My Neighbor Totoro, a series of 4 volumes. There’s not many difficult words or grammar, and it’s totally worth it, if just for the artwork alone. Definitely recommended.

To this day, I have never visited Japan. It’s sort of like being in love, but being apart from your beloved. I do plan to visit in the near future, though. It’s painful to see all of Japan’s beauty through a screen, so I will make all efforts to finally meet this great country very soon.

Finally, as a word of encouragement for newcomers, never give up! If you take the challenge of learning this great language, don’t take your time as wasted. There are two main things you need, persistence and exposure. If you keep these two things and have a little patience (ok, that’s three things), you will most certainly learn. Your brain works wonders when exposed to patterns, and if you keep studying, just a little everyday, even for 10 minutes, you’ll eventually get where you need to. I promise you that. Just don’t give up! It will be worth it :wink:

70 Likes

I like it as well. Once my level has gone up I’d like to purchase the next ones.
My comprehension level isn’t where it should be and 心完全showed me that quite clearly.
頑張って!

1 Like

Excellent post, thanks for the great descriptions of resources - definitely a few new things for my shopping list. If I do as well as you have, I’ll be very happy.

Also, visit Japan!

2 Likes

Thank you for this post. Congratulations, in a year you’ve done almost more than I have done in three years! Keep up the great work.
I love the 500 mondai series - helped me pass the N4, I picked up the N3 one I was so impressed.

Re: Bunpro

Yeah, I tried to catch up on this and tried to go through all of the N5 and N4 grammar points that I wasn’t full 100% on in a space of a few days. 0/10 would not recommend. Now I don’t know whether to use ~はいけない、~ちゃいけない or whatever, because they all smushed together. Yikes @ me.

3 Likes

@Shandapanda

Indeed. These books are a great way to see where you’re at. I have to get the N3 version to see how my comprehension is going. Hopefully, reading Manga has helped in that department :stuck_out_tongue:

@timh

Thanks for reading. I’m glad I could help a bit. I’m hoping to visit Japan in the next couple of years. But only after the Olympics. Next year is going to be crazy over there.

@Airdramon

Thank you :wink:
I’ve been guilty of this as well. I did 6 a day for N5 and N4 and it was too much. I reduced to 4 with N3, but when I start N2 grammar I’ll be doing just 3 a day. Better take a little more time than rush it and get overwhelmed.

2 Likes

Crazy due to the Olympics? I don’t think it’ll make a massive difference, I was living in London in 2012 and barely noticed any impact; Tokyo’s bigger and much better organised!

1 Like

Congratulation! Good luck in the journey ahead.

P.S. Thanks for the resources, I’ll have to check them out :smiley:

1 Like

@timh

Well, the way I see it is that Japan has so many interesting places to visit, I would be happy just to visit any other city, not just Tokyo :smiley:

@wtran03

Thank you :wink:
The resources mentioned really helped me to have a good reading ability, at least what you would expect for N3. Many of them I discovered here in the WK forum mentioned by other users. I could say that the WK forum is itself a great resource :smile:

1 Like

This was very inspirational! I just started learning Japanese (dabbling last year) and really went full force into it about 2 months ago with grammar, kanji, study group, italki and stuff! I thought it was interesting that Duolingo got you started sort of, but at least now they have updated the app to where there are lessons at the beginning of each section so you can read about what you are going to learn, a vast improvement from what it was when it seems you were using it, so it is not totally useless anymore =D

Thanks for making such a great post! I am going to have to check out some of your resources! It is really great to see someone make such progress in only a year!!

2 Likes

EXTREMELY helpful post!

Thank you so much for sharing!

1 Like

@PortCityBricks

Thank you very much! Well, I think I could’ve been more productive and made more progress, but as long as you’re happy with your results it doesn’t matter. I’m still here and will keep going in my own pacing.

Good to hear that they changed the Duolingo app. It seems they realized that the app in its current shape wasn’t that helpful. Nevertheless, I don’t use many phone apps these days.

@sayguh

Thank you so much! I’m glad my ramblings were somewhat helpful :laughing:

1 Like

That’s amazing. Congratulations. :slight_smile: I’ve been studying for a year a half and I’m only at N4, but I’m also studying a lot less currently. It goes to show that the more you put into studying the quicker you can learn.

1 Like

Thank you!
What matters is that as long as we keep studying, and never give up, we all eventually get fluent. It’s just that some folks get there quicker than others. I know there are people who can reach N1 in one year, but for that you need a great study plan and probably a tutor. I had neither of those things. It’s purely self-study done by a newbie who’s studying a language actively for the first time :smile:

1 Like

Thanks for sharing! I LOVE it! I want to comment more but this is all I can type for the sake of my insert unnecessary paws here.

I saw a post from The Crabigator that all sentence examples in WK were made by native Japanese. How can I know or where can I find resources that explained that sentences in Clozemaster were made by native Japanese?

So far I like Clozemaster. Been playing it for two days. Only multiple choices and typed it myself in IME. Like multiple choices better than typing it myself. I gave “plan” in Japanese and all I gave was wrong and it demanded “that plan” after I hit question mark to get hints after I typed about three different plans in Japanese.

1 Like

It’s funny because I’m Gabe but from Florida. I’ve been super into anime since I was young. The first shows I saw were Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. I’ve been watching ever since. but I am very confident in my English and I spend some free time tutoring others. Spanish is a different story since I passively learned also. I had to work very hard to pass Spanish 2 as a result. I also love the ideals behind the culture and tradition. I have done a lot of research outside of anime and I do know that it has flaws just like any place in the world. I like the use of Futons and Bento boxes, the yukatas and kimonos during ceremonies and events are so pretty, I love the hospitality they give to customers and Foreigners and I really like their work ethic (not the labor issue part) but the determination and such and the fact that they hold themselves to a high standard. So much more but I don’t wanna type forever. And I’m not the type of person who thinks oh cool animeland happy go lucky fun perfect paradise. I genuinely want to visit some time in my life. It’s so beautiful as well. But I was doing a ton of thinking about what I want to learn next. And just a bit ago I finally decided I wanted to learn Japanese. So I got the Japanese from Zero book and I got Duolingo and I just started learning yesterday. Quite the timing for your post lol. So I’m you a year ago I guess you could say. Thanks for the post, it is always inspiring seeing people set the same language goals and reach them. I read your advice and such in the post but what are some of your biggest mistakes when first starting. Is there anything that seriously set you back or maybe you thought “yeah I shouldn’t have been focusing on that” other than kanji.

2 Likes

Damn… pretty close to my own experience! I started at the end of August with Duolingo.

I haven’t bought as many books as you, and so would say I am around N4… but I feel you :slight_smile:

1 Like

Thank you for sharing your stories, guys. It’s reading other people’s experiences with Japanese here in the forum that inspired me to write my own. And what better way to do that than celebrating a year of study.

@Oshin

I’m not sure if sentences in ClozeMaster are done by natives, but when you choose “Listening” from the options there’s a native female voice. And from what I could experience, the sentences are usually much better structured than what I found in Duolingo. I do find the ocasional odd sentence, but that’s part of the experience. You won’t always be reading poetry and pretty sentences. You need a balance, so I’m happy with it. I’ve been using ClozeMaster since November last year, been through over 1000 sentences. I highly recommend it.

@GabeR

It’s nice to read your experience, Gabe. Hang in there. And even if you don’t feel like you’re making much progress sometimes, just keep going. Consume media, read a lot. The more you immerse yourself in the language the better.

To answer your questions. Yes, there were times I did felt like I wasted my time. In the first month I played around with lots of different apps, and I could’ve started right away with JFZ. I also spent more time than I should have writing Kanji by hand, thinking it would help me better memorize them. It’s fun, but not that practical. I found that the self-study script for WK worked best for memorization. So yeah, shouldn’t have been focusing so much on writing Kanji in the beginning. But I’ll say this, I did like it. It was fun and it was a way to escape from the more serious daily study. My advice to you is that you should find a balance between fun and study. There’s this post in WK where many people shared what they did to keep their studies fun and more interesting. Read it. Maybe you can find some inspiration for your studies :wink:

@emucat

Another Duolingo Alumni :smile:
Duolingo may not be the best app for learning, but damn has it contributed for the higher number of Japanese language students. I wonder how many of us are out there…
Also, doesn’t matter where you are in your studies. What matters is that you’re still here, like me. It’s so important to keep studying. We all have different lives and so, some can dedicate more time for study than others and some people have a different pacing. But as long as we keep studying we will eventually get to the finish line.

5 Likes

Yes. I’ve been studying every single day, first with Duolinguo with its strike (which I did for more than 100 days) and with Wanikani. I’ve gone on vacation, have a kid, gone to funerals… but still here every single day :stuck_out_tongue:

5 Likes

I was poking around earlier and realised their sentences come from https://tatoeba.org which has some native Japanese contributors although it looks like sentences can be created/translated by anyone. (Not trying to pick on that particular user, I can’t tell if any sentence is native quality or not!)

However they do offer a download of a list of user-reported skill levels per language, so I would hope ClozeMaster uses that to filter out sentences by users who rate themselves as having imperfect Japanese ability. Not the same thing as a native speaker, obviously, but it might be good enough.

1 Like

Wow, just wow. That is hardcore diligence. I’m amazed some people can actually pull this off.
Keep going! :slightly_smiling_face:

2 Likes