DrDru’s highly opinionated Japanese learning path

I’ve been learning Japanese for about 5 years now and have finally decided writing down some reflexions on my journey. It takes the form of what would have been the best learning path for me given the resource currently available out there. It is close to the one I have followed with the stuff that have not worked left out.

It contains links to my site. One can consider it shameless promotion. An other way to see it is that I have created the resource I wish existed when I started. I guess it’s a little bit of both :slight_smile:

DrDru’s highly opinionated Japanese learning path

This learning path is not made for everyone. It’s made for people who enjoy reading, are happy to skip writing Japanese and enjoy learning with Comprehensible Input much more than Spaced Recognition Systems (SRS). It is organised such that you get multiple exposure to vocabulary in at least two different contexts.

This path is focused on the core steps. The more you do in addition the better : hiring a tutor, listening podcasts, using a textbook, learning Kanji with Wanikani…

All resources mentioned are free.


  1. Learn Katakana and Hiragana
  2. Interact with the language using Lingodeer or Duolingo
  3. Read Sakubi
  4. Start reading Dr Dru’s Main Experiment
  5. Read as any Graded readers as you can
  6. Confront yourself to native content
  7. Use an SRS and premade N5 deck
  8. Start reading NH News web easy
  9. Read a more in-depth grammar book

1-A Learn Katakana : they’re a pain, as a new starter highly motivated you want to use your positive energy to learn them. Read this page about Katakana to understand they are used esssentially for loan words. Then go to H&M Japan and make an image search in your favourite search engine using the following keyword イタリアンレストランメニュー (Italian restaurant menu).
Start reading and realize how much you understand.

1-B Learn hiragana

2 - Interact with the language using Lingodeer or Duolingo. These apps will teach you basic grammar and vocabulary in a gamified way which is ideal to get you started.

3 - Read Sakubi : a concise introduction to Japanese grammar that will gives you the minimum of theory you need to start with. Its philosophy talks to me.

“This grammar guide does its best to give you some basic exposure to japanese grammar. It can’t teach you it. It can only expose you to it. Your job is to turn that exposure into acquisition. The exposure is just a foot in the door.”

4 - Start reading Dr Dru’s Main Experiment : I have spent the past few years creating comprehensible input for people who just started their Japanese learning journey. It will soon be 100 pages long. Assuming an average page introduces 3 words, that will expose you to 300 words within a very short time frame.

5 - Read as many Graded readers as you can : Ariane from Dokushoclub keeps an exhaustive list of the free ones. In these you will have the chance to encounter words learnt in DrDru’s experiment and in Duolingo/Lingodeer once more.

6 - Confront yourself to native content like this free relatively easy comic book and realise how hard it is. Keep coming at it to measure progress.

7 - Use an SRS with a premade N5 deck. It will consolidate all the vocabulary you’ve learnt so far along with a few new words. By then you should know most of the words so don’t be afraid to add a lot of cards per day. Once you know reasonably well 90%+ of the deck, stop SRSing (I personally think SRS is busy work that wastes precious time which could be used doing something productive or rest). To do that you can use the web version of Memrise. It is free and ad free.

At this point you should be around the N5 level.

8-A Start reading NH News web easy : here : it is a bit overwhelming at first but keep at it for a few weeks and it will become easier and easier. At some point you’ll find yourself turning the furigana off. When reading it becomes boring, you’re ready to move to something else.

Reading NHK easy news daily is so efficient that at this point you don’t really need an to consolidate your vocabulary knowledge with an N4 premade deck.

In parallel :

8-B Read a more in-depth grammar book : such as the popular Tae Kim grammar guide.

By now your level should be around the N4 level.

Congratulations ! You just got out of the beginner level, you can now confront yourself to native content. From here onwards you’re on your own. Welcome to the Intermediate Plateau™.

Some suggestions :

  • Read the Tile world Chronicles : these are N4+ short illustrated stories I write that will get you used to the vocab used in JRPG.

  • Sign up to Wanikani forum and join one of their bookclubs

A Final Word

Creating short stories in Easy Japanese has helped me a lot. I’d recommend doing the same sooner than later. I also encourage you to get them proofread and to publish them in a friendly format (bonus point if you can add illustrations) to help future learners. If every learner was to write just one and make it public, acquisition of the Japanese language would be a solved problem.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I have been taking a strict textbook/SRS path and am frustrated by my progress. Your post has validated a lot of my own suspicions about a more effective self-study method. I can’t wait to try some of your suggestions.

1 Like

This post reminds me I should do something similar in June when I hit the 6 year anniversary of my language learning journey. It was the anniversary of D-Day, wasn’t on purpose though.

1 Like

What happened?


What do you mean ?

There was an error 406. It’s fine now.

1 Like