Going to Japan, I need your advice to better my Japanese skills!

I have only ever seen the distant land of Japan through the screen or on the pages of a book. Now, I might actually get to see it myself.
Recently, I’ve been accepted to travel to Japan as an Foreign Exchange student this summer!
Whatever journeys I experience there, I want to make sure I’m as linguistically prepared as I can be. This is where I need your help.

I know only ~400 kanji, and bits and pieces of basic Grammar. I fear that won’t be enough to effectively communicate with those whom I meet. I would certainly like to better my grammar skills, and I also want to pick up some Japanese books I can try to read.
And so I ask you, the community of WK, for help. Where can I go to better my Grammar? Where can I go to find Japanese Books? Do you know of anything that can help me attain my goals? Thank you. :slight_smile:


If you haven’t looked at this thread yet, you might want to check it out. :slight_smile:


Listening practice, listening practice, listening practice. Then more listening practice. After that, practice listening.


If your main goal is communication, then you should focus on practicing communicating. For instance, shadowing, listening, and speaking with a language partner.

There are many Japanese people who are willing to talk to you over video (assuming you’re willing to meet them halfway and spend some time speaking your native language as well). If you just want to speak Japanese with them, you might have a tougher time finding people for free, since that’s more like being a teacher.

If you know 400 kanji then you have a good start there, but you will rapidly face diminishing returns if you really just want to get ready for going there in a few months. I’m not trying to say you shouldn’t study kanji, but it won’t be the best bang for your buck if talking with people is your main objective.


I’ve been studying Japanese for over 15 years and I’ve come across a lot of study material. Maybe I can give you advice on what worked/works for me. But definitely check out many peoples advices, that’s what I did to optimize what works for me :slight_smile:

The most essential knowledge you’ll get from the Genki I/II books. Alternatively, you can use Minna no Nihongo, but I didn’t use that one. From what I hear they give you an equally as good introduction to Japanese, though.

On top of that, I recommend WK (which I only recently started, as you can tell by my level). I’ve done the RTK way before using Anki. If you don’t know what RTK is, it’s a book teaching you to remember ALL Joyo Kanji and you can, if you are very diligent, learn their meanings in as little as 30 days, using Anki for example as an SRS approach. Why I stopped used this system after reaching 1100 Kanji was because I decided I wanted to know the reading to and felt that learning compound works and vocab alongside studying the Kanji helped me retain them much better. One example now is 少年 (しょうねん). I could never retain the meaning of ‘boy’ because ‘a few’ nand ‘year’ in my head didn’t make it logic. But I knew, as probably everyone who knows even a tiny bit of Japanese, that shounen means boy. And since WK teaches you the Kanji reading and the meaning, I can finally remember this word. (I am sure that there will be many more to come for me). That being said, RTK was definitely worth if for me, as I am having a fairly easy start with WK with almost no problems on the Kanji meanings, and thus, as I can focus on the reading, also little reading problems so far.

To study grammar, I’ve recently started using Bunpro. I need to make up my mind about it, but to me, this is really the only available option for SRS (if you don’t want to use Anki). i’ve heard a lot of good things about it and currently I am using it alongside revising the Genki books with 1 chapter per day and doing the lessons on Bunpro, that you can sort by Genki order (or the order of other books!).

To cram vocab I am using Torii. Pretty self explanatory, workds like WK but with the japanese most common 10k words. it’s a good addition.

I also generally recommend Anki. There are tons of decks available online and I’ve only recently started making my own deck with vocab I come across while studying with books.

Now to books (aside from Genki + workbooks). I can recommend the books Nihongo soumatome and the accompanying small book (don’t know the name, but they have 4 weeks of quizzes, each day a specific amount of questions cover reading vocab and grammar). I also really like the TRY books. Additionally, I use the official JLPT books, old and new version to study for JLPT.

This sounds like a lot, and my study schedule takes around 3 hours a day in total. I do my revisions and (all available) lessons on WK, Torii (20 per day) and Bunpro (all the ones for the Genki chapter I’m studying). Then I usually work though one daily lesson of Nihongo soumatome and read a whole chapter of Genki (I have studied this previously already). Some days I don’t do either of the books, or do TRY instead or work on the Genki workbook.
I usually stick to the “recommended” WK schedule of 3x per day and additionally study the rest every evening after work.

Finally, welcome to Japan! I am also freshly living here and trying to fix to my lack of communication skills :smiley:

edit: grammar


IMO, if you’re trying to focus on speaking, the best way is just to practice talking to a native speaker. If you haven’t tried it, HelloTalk is a phone application that allows you to talk to, in this case, a native Japanese speaker (while giving a bit of your time to speak English to them as well). Think about what you want to say in English and then try translate it yourself into Japanese. If you don’t know how, look it up. :smile:


What are your best suggestions for resources? I’m trying to learn this language inside and out. I have studied reading most in my studies but now its time to start actually communicating. I’ve actually sought out a tutor in my area, but I want to get even ahead on that.

I don’t mind paying. English (US) is my native language. italki is where I’m looking at. I was just curious if you had other suggestions. I shy away from hellotalk because I don’t want to communicate on my phone. Why is it phone based only anyway? I (and every human ever) can type way faster on a keyboard. I don’t get it.

Also, just a random thanks. I’ve been around for a lil bit now and I really respect everything you do / say for everyone here if it means anything.


Shadowing and listening really come down to your own preferences. It’s hard to recommend things for other people to shadow or listen to, unless you have a good feel for what they like / what their level is.

Youtube is a pretty good source of things to shadow and listen to.

If you want something very simple, that will also teach grammar at the same time, I suggest the channel Sambon Juku.


I would recommend as a possible method, starting with some foundational textbooks like Genki or Minna Nihongo. Then when you can, dive into native materials; ie just watch heaps of TV and read. If as you mentioned, communication is your main goal while you’re there, and if you think you’ll probably be communicating with Japanese people your own age; I’d recommend watching reality TV [due to its unscripted nature], eg Terrace House; and do a mix of watching with no subtitles or watching with Japanese subtitles intermittently and mining the sentences your hear into Anki. But just in general I’d say try and get as much listening practice as you absolutely can.

I’ll start off by saying that with the amount of kanji you know right now, you’ll be fine just to survive on your own. If you want to have meaningful conversations and experiences though, you’ll definitely want to try and learn as much as you can! I think my main piece of advice is to stay away from textbooks as your main form of study. I was just recently in Japan for the first time last summer, and I met someone there who now defines the way I think/talk about my Japanese skills. It was this Indian man who ran a restaurant in a little abandoned mall, and he has to be one of the nicest people in the world. We chatted for a while, and I realized that he had never picked up a textbook, or looked at any other forms of formal learning and practice, but instead learned all his Japanese from talking to people. I on the other hand, learned all my Japanese from textbooks and formal learning. He can speak fluently with natives, and is comfortable living in Japan, but struggles to read basic signs, books, and other things compared to what he is able to talk about/listen to. I can read and write fairly well (for what my skill level is), but the moment I try to talk to someone all my vocab suddenly vanishes and I start to seriously miss subtitles.

Anyways, what I’m trying to say is that unless you are taking the JLPT, or want to spend the entire trip at libraries and confined to a Japanese book 24/7, you should really learn by talking to other people. I’d recommend things like Hello talk, or probably even the forums on here. I also enjoy some of Dogen’s strategies.
1)find an online community that you fit into, but make sure that it has absolutely no English whatsoever. This could be something like a discord gaming group, a Japanese community about your favorite hobby, or just something where you feel comfortable, but there is no compromise for understanding; no matter where you go it’s all in Japanese.
2) (and this one is a bit more of a radical way of learning) Find a Japanese film that you enjoy, and watch it on repeat day after day for a month or so. As you watch it, start to recite the script until you have it all memorized. By the end of the month, you’ll probably have leveled up your pronunciation and listening skills so much that you’ll laugh at how terrible you were before.

Of course, that last one isn’t for everyone, but something for the strong willed to try if they aren’t so impressed with their speaking lol.

Anyways, I’m happy to hear that you’ll be going to Japan, and really hope that you’ll have a great time!! Just make sure not to wear yourself out in studying, and really, don’t worry about being unprepared. Have fun, not stress!


I’m living in Japan and, as well as using Wanikani for kanji and Genki for grammar, I’m using Memrise as a kind of phrase book and vocab booster. It’s been really useful. The courses I’m doing are Japanese 1-7 and Core Japanese Vocab. Japanese 1-7 is great for practicing your kanji as it doesn’t rely on romaji or furigana. It’s also a brilliant way to practice your listening and pronunciation.

Wanikani hasn’t helped me much with my communication skills so far but I’ve found it great for reading signs, notices and menu items. It’s also super useful to be able to write the kanji you need in day to day life, like your address.

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watch it on repeat day after day for a month or so

Omg, this made my day. I mean, at first I laughed. But then I realized that I need to hear a phrase at least ten times in order to understand it on the go and really conprehend it by sound alone. So yeah, this advise seams reasonable and I might actually try it out.

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You’re getting some really good advice here, but I thought I’d chip in with this:

I went to Japan last year* for the first time since I started learning Japanese (I had been before but couldn’t even say こんにちは). Although I have a moderate grasp on the language having studied WK, textbook etc. I hadn’t really prepared myself for being a tourist in Japan. What I found myself doing whilst I was there and in the moment was trying to figure out how to ask for things, directions, check if things were ok, which had mixed results.

What I’d wished I’d done beforehand was write down some phrases to get me through the first few hours/days of just being in Japan and practice the heck out of those before I went.

So, I recommend you do that; get a list of phrases and questions and practice them until you know them by heart - ask if this is the train to Kyoto, ask if it isn’t, where is the platform for the Kyoto train, ask if this seat is taken, ask for directions to Senso Ji, say that no, actually you booked a no-smoking room, ask for pork ramen, a beer and a lemonade…

You can do this easily at home I’m sure with your level of Japanese, but with jet lag, no sleep and being about to miss the train while being hungry can seriously deplete your language skills.

Have a great time!

Edit: * we’re in 2020 now so it was actually 一昨年!


Alright, thank you all so much for the advice, I’m very grateful!
I have about 5 months until I leave, so whatever my plan from here is, it will need to fit into this time frame.
I’m generally seeing recommendation for focusing on speech and memorization of spoken phrases. Some of the methods of improving upon such are watching and shadowing people speaking via videos, or taking lessons from people on websites.
I’m unsure how much money I would be able to spend in this time period, however, I would prepare it to be little of amount (since the trip already costs so much money). If I were to shadow videos and learn phrases, where would you recommend I go to do so? What would you recommend I watch? What films or videos would benefit me with colloquial phrases? Once again, much thanks! :slight_smile:

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