An accidental learner of Japanese

I seem to have become a learner of Japanese by accident!

My daughter (now 14) has always loved movies. My fault as I introduced them to her from a young age and it has always been something we shared, from watching at home to regular trips to the cinema. We discovered and loved the Ghibli films.

Just over a year ago she really got into anime. I think at first through Netflix then via the internet. Apart from Akira and Ghost in the Shell (the series) I hadn’t watched any anime but she got me watching Hunter X Hunter, then introduced me to Naruto and it sort of spiralled from there. I now watch more anime than my daughter as she has moved onto manga (in English)!

We are quite boring with our holidays and almost always go to Spain (I love the language, people are great and so is the food - plus the weather is slightly better than the UK!) As my daughter was so keen on anything Japanese I thought for once we would do a holiday this year in Japan. My wife was a bit concerned about going somewhere where she had heard they don’t speak English. She was wanting a personal guide! I wasn’t really into that so told her I would learn Japanese! Well I meant at the time some Japanese…

I started with Genki 1 with the intention of ignoring Kanji as was primarily focused on being able to speak and understand Japanese. However that was a decision from a position of ignorance. Once I got into my studies I’ve realised how important and useful Kanji is for understanding (and how it would be almost impossible to learn properly without it).

The more I have learnt the more my goals have changed.

I have been throwing myself into learning - much more intensively than for any of the other languages I’ve dabbled with in the past. I would think between one to two hours per day every day since when I started last August (not including the hundreds of hours watching anime!!)

I ended up taking a course at my local university, have been having private lessons and via the university have two language exchange partners (a PhD student and a postdoc). We meet once a week and do half an hour in English and half an hour in Japanese. Their English is of course on a whole different level to my Japanese!

With the help of WK my Japanese is slowly getting to the point that I can read the Japanese subtitles to anime on Netflix (what a brilliant resource that is). Although it is really hard going and a 20 minute episode takes over an hour to get through if I am properly diligent and try to read them all. I’ve also realised that watching anime with English subtitles is not that useful for learning.

Overall I am finding it harder to learn Japanese than anticipated. When I started I was overjoyed to realise that the sounds in Japanese are easy for English speakers (compared to say Hindi where the sounds are for me very difficult to make and the very similar Ds etc hard to distinguish). However I really struggle to understand spoken Japanese. I keep slogging away every day but I’m not sure how much I will be able to communicate when we go in August.

Oops. Has turned into a much longer post than planned.


All of us are learning at different rates, focusing on different aspects than each other. My main source of studying has been WaniKani, and I’ve only dabbled in other stuff over the past year of doing this. My primary strength is reading; I can read a lot. I can only speak a little and understand a bit, however, I watch so much anime that I’m slowly understanding more and more. It certainly is a lot longer process than most of us anticipated, but when I think about how much I’ve actually learned in a year, it’s crazy.


If you want to practice speaking then I’d recommend voice messages and/or calls through HelloTalk, there’s a never ending pool of native Japanese speakers on there who want to language exchange and can help with pronunciation etc. I’ve found trying to speak even just one sentence a day helps and if you use voice messages there’s no pressure to respond immediately, you can go study/practice first then record your message.

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I went to Tokyo last April and was also afraid of the language barrier. Back then I even didn’t know hiragana nor katakana…But don’t worry: the subway/train have lots of English signs; translations apps are very good, with google translate you can use your camera in the phone to translate entire pages or signs; also Japanese people are very nice and willing to help: when I was looking for my hotel, I went to the wrong place (a love hotel!) and some random strangers helped me find the right address. What I wish I knew was that most below average restaurants require reservations, before your trip starts, ask the concierge service of your hotel to do reservations to the restaurants you really want to go.


The first time I went to Japan, I didn’t know anything about japanese and japanese culture. I had no previous interest in manga or anime, and I didn’t even know what kanji were, and how the language sounded.

Just to say that Japan is an easy country. Very safe, very friendly people, images of food in any menu, transportation system that also uses English. Around temples and turistic spots you also find a lot of students giving tours for free just because they want to interact with foreigners and maybe practise a bit their English.

Of all the Asian countries, Japan is definitely the most tourist friendly, and since you have quite a lot of exposure to Japanese already you should have no worries at all.

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