Holistic Japanese Learning Advice Thread

Please help out us beginners and post your personal story for how you have gone/plan to go about mastering the Japanese language.


My story/plea:

I have lived here for years, but only recently really committed to leaving a job that was English-centric and learning the language so i can move into my industry of study. I’m finding it next to impossible. I feel like i have huge gaps in my process - I do paid Wanikani, Duolingo, for hours every day, and I’m still not feeling any progress.

I don’t have many friends to practice with, nor time to make them, but i know my Japanese wife will happily switch to Japanese once I can maintain a conversation - indeed she tries her best to help, but she’s hugely busy herself and there’s only so much we can do.

I’ve bought an おしりたんて book with Hiragana subtitles for all the kanji but this is already full of words I’ve never encountered, and it makes me feel like I’m dumber than a kindergarten student.

I tried listening to Japanese radio to “build mental recognition” but just zoned out at the ocean of mystifying gibberish.

I’ve been told to memorize oceans of vocab - I’m at level 4 in wanikani (tofugu says level 10 is the starting point) and all I’m doing is learning new stuff while forgetting the level 1-3 stuff. I have no hope whatsoever of remembering whether a pink 北 is kita or hoku, or why it’s pink.

I’ve been told Japanese grammar is really easy - again i just feel stupid.

I’m desperate to learn this language and just join in with society but i simply can’t. Please help!

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I don’t live in Japan, but like you I spent a long time with resources like Duolingo not feeling like I was getting anywhere. Now, I’m still a long way from speaking fluent Japanese, but I am at least making forward progress. You might already be past my level, but here’s what worked for me in case it helps…

The thing that got me from Day 1 of learning Japanese to Day 2 was finding ways for Japanese to not sound like complete gibberish to me. Some things that helped with that were:

  • Spotting kanji that I’ve seen in my WaniKani lessons. I don’t mean “wow I can read this sentence now because I’ve learned all the kanji”, I mean “oh hey that looks like a 本”. (Heck, half the time I’m pretty sure I was feeling proud of myself for spotting kanji in Chinese text.)
  • Watching YouTube videos with English subtitles, and trying to listen for specific words I know. “Hey, I’m pretty sure she just said 魚!”
  • Reading some LVL 0 stories from https://www.reddit.com/r/LearnJapanese/comments/o7x7ha/

Objectively speaking, these activities probably don’t do a whole lot to enhance my knowledge of Japanese, and they’re definitely not a replacement for actual studying. But they helped get me into more of a growth mindset. Instead of thinking, “geez, I have no idea what any of this means, I’m so dumb,” I was thinking, “hooray, I’m pretty sure I know what one of these kanjis are!”

(Sure, you might be worse at this stuff than a Japanese toddler, but Japanese toddlers have pretty much dedicated their entire lives to learning Japanese. It’s not a fair fight.)

In WaniKani, the background of the review interface is pink for “kanji” items and purple for “vocabulary” items. You don’t need to remember which color is which; the grey bar right underneath will say either “Kanji Reading” or “Vocabulary Reading”. (“Kanji” items ask for the reading/meaning the kanji usually has when it’s part of a bigger word; “vocabulary” items ask about the meaning/reading the kanji has when used as a word on its own.)

You also shouldn’t worry too much about putting the right reading into the right box. If the item is 北, and you type きた, but WaniKani wanted ほく, you’ll get a little shake animation and it’ll ask you to enter the other reading. They won’t penalize you if this happens.

There are some resources out there specifically aimed at people who want that kind of basic-life-skill stuff in Japanese. I have not personally used any, but https://www.irodori-online.jpf.go.jp is free and I think the Tofugu blog recommended it once.

Honestly, from reading your post, I wonder if the problem you’re facing has more to do with you feeling dumb and bad at Japanese than anything else. Learning any language is really hard – when people say that Japanese grammar is “easy”, they don’t actually mean it’s easy, they mean it’s easier than learning some other nightmare monstrosity language that’s even harder than Japanese. It’ll take a long time, and a lot of work, and that shouldn’t discourage you.

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The trick is perseverance. I started learning on Duolingo but after reaching the end I quit because it was too easy. I really like Wanikani and recommend it to anybody learning Japanese. Its a wonderful tool to effectively learn large amounts of kanji and vocab.

I am going on a exchange year to Japan this year and my host brother recommended watching anime for listening practise. Watching anime has the benefit of having subtitles so you can just read the subtitles if you do not understand.

Have you tried reading? Read childrens books with very easy kanji its good when just starting. I recommend this Natively.

The easiest way to learn is to go to japan to immerse yourself in Japanese. If that’s not possible try to speak only in Japanese with your wife, translate whatever you hear in English to Japanese and listen to Japanese music. It will take some time but you will get there.

諦めないで

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I highly recommend starting with youtube Japanese lessons (my favorite for beginners being Japanese Ammo with Misa). Do one grammer point a day, and use it with your wife whenever possible!

Stay with wanikani. Pink is the chinese pronounciation for words (onyomi), and purple is the Japanese pronounciation for words (kunyomi).

You may be confused because an application like Duolingo is great for travelers to Japan who want to learn a few phrases, but it’s not ideal for people who want to learn Japanese to live and work there. It doesn’t teach -why- things are that way (there’s a history and reason for nearly everything in Japanese!).

Being overwhelmed by the radio and feeling worse off than a kindergardener… Saying horribly embarrassing things in front of your partner’s parents/bosses… Failing a test that everyone says is “easy” three times…

I got–You’ll get used to it! And i personally take this frustration as reason to keep going. A little bit everyday adds up. Time makes a big difference.

Four years later everyone will think you’re so amazingly talented (but you’ll know there’s still room to grow), and you’ll be chatting/reading/getting by in Japan. Everyone starts where you are, and you can definitely get to where you want to go!

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The only advice I can give you is just to just keep on studying. If you can’t motivate yourself, just watch some Japanese show with English (or whatever) subtitles. You will still be subconsciously picking up Japanese (though at a slow rate).

I know that it feels that you are not making progress for the longest time, but sooner or later, things will just “click” and you will start seeing progress.

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Unfortunately it sounds like you’re just starting out, so I feel like I am pretty unqualified to give any specific advice for what you should do. I just don’t really remember what it was like. It sounds like you want to be able to use japanese on a day to day basis though, and I take it speaking is the most important thing to you right now.

With that being the case, the general advice I can give you is your studies should be focused around understanding the things said around you and copying those things yourself. Rather than radio, try watching a show with japanese subtitles that you have already seen with english subtitles. Try to understand the sentences that seem simple and within reach. Then think about how you might be able to use that same exact sentence. Think about how you might change a single noun or verb in that sentence, perhaps, to make it more relevant to you.

And, if you’re in Japan then I would ask people around you who are able to what you want to be able to do how they got to where they are and what advice they have. You won’t be able to perfectly assess them, but it will be some gauge to tell how credible someone is. Maybe even your wife will be able to tell you how good they really are. The reason for this, as cynical as it may sound, is that theres a lot of people who have very lackluster ability who are very eager to try and help and give advice that ends up being bad. Not calling out anyone in this thread, since quite frankly a lot of the advice seems fine so far, but at the end of the day its going to be hard for you to gauge what advice to follow from the internet since you don’t know whos giving it usually. Even level 60 doesn’t really mean shit, and I say that as someone who got it. Take everyones suggestions with a grain of salt (including mine) and see if you cant find someone irl who you can not only assess, but be assessed by. They are probably gonna be much better equipped to give advice to your specific life situation.

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Hello! I have also lived in Japan for a few years now and everything seemed like gibberish to me as well when I arrived, even having studied for a few years in university.

The things that have helped me the most is trying to understand basic things I hear and see every day. For example, when the people speak to me in the convenience store or grocery store, what are they asking me exactly? Or listening to the announcements on the train when I commute. I also watch TV in the morning before work or after work. It helps with basic information and understanding and I can follow along with the images on the screen. The radio is a bit more challenging, not only because they speak faster, but there are no Japanese subtitles to follow along with.

There are a few websites I would recommend if you are uncomfortable having simple conversations. Some of these have been shared in other beginner pages and maybe some have not, but I find them useful because I can follow along and some of the websites are specifically designed for foreign nationals in particular to learn Japanese.

https://tsunagarujp.bunka.go.jp/ Connect and enhance your life in Japanese
(take the test to check your level first!)

https://www.mykikitori.com/ Practice your Japanese listening skills (12 Lessons)

"Erin's Challenge! I Can Speak Japanese." Contents Library | The Japan Foundation Erin’s Challenge! I can Speak Japanese. (maybe more for students, but I used this when I first came and it was helpful)

I also watch some Japanese youtubers or twitch streamers sometimes just to hear Japanese in a more casual way. Cure Dolly videos have helped me understand some grammar points I struggled with.

Other things you can do besides study on the internet is try to find some language exchange groups or Japanese classes in your area. I know where I live, there are some chat groups that get together on the weekends occasionally and speak Japanese/English. You could also search for culture workshops for foreigners taught in Japanese. They are usually a bit slower paced and easier to understand. Japanese lessons are held in some places, but those depend on your level.

I didn’t see you mention what area of study you are in, but you could also try finding people that are also interested in that to help you get better at understanding. I think it is much easier to talk about things you are interested in than spouting random topics that can easily diverge into vocabulary or language you don’t know.

As an English teacher, I follow along in my students’ textbooks and try to understand the grammar points from the Japanese side, so I can explain it easily to them using simple Japanese. But I’m also not very good at Japanese grammar too. I am getting back into using Bunpro (https://www.bunpro.jp) and studying with textbooks again now that I have a bit of downtime. If you are in this same situation, you might be able to ask students to explain grammar points to you in Japanese. :smiley:

But you will get better, I promise!! Let us know what you struggle with the most and we can try our best to help you!!

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This is a dangerous oversimplification! Sometimes the kanji reading they give you is kunyomi, and for vocabulary, even when it’s a single-kanji word, sometimes it’s onyomi.

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It’s true! But I didn’t want to over complicated it for him, since he’s confused by the colour alone.

He can do research and learn based on the information I gave him (that’s how I started, and I’m still fine)! Or maybe he can read more from you if he’s feeling more confident?

In any case, good looking out @ioric :slight_smile:

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Since you live in Japan, I would see if there is an international center near you. I get free weekly Japanese lessons from my local international center, and they also probably have resources for other classes in the area. The most effective thing for me so far has been srs (I do wanikani, kitsun, and bunpro) but most important has been the direct weekly practice I get with my teacher, because i can actually try out real conversation in a forgiving non-stressful environment.

I would say if you’re motivated, just keep at it. We all have those times when we feel stupid, and we feel like the goal is just impossible. But if you keep at it, you improve and sometimes don’t even notice. Then one day, you realize you understood everything in that advertisement, or you were able to read the entire NHK easy news article, etc. Slow and steady, keep chipping away at it.

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Hello. I’m so pleased that you want to learn! I am conversational in Japanese. I don’t know exactly where your Japanese is at, but what I have personally found most useful is:

  • first, understanding useful, core grammar, i.e. verb conjugations (dictionary/casual form → present -masu form and past tense -mashita)
    For example, たべる(to eat) becomes たべます(I eat/ will eat) or たべました(I ate).
    Also, having a vague idea what different grammar particles are used for (e.g. は, を, に, etc.).
    For this, I had a tutor who used the Genki textbooks, though I believe there are some good YouTube videos for this too. (maybe italki.com is an option?)
  • the other thing I did was use a dictionary A LOT (just a free app on my phone). Whenever I didn’t know how to say something (and couldn’t describe it using the words I did know) I would look up the word. You might forget it straight away, but if it’s a word you use a lot it will eventually stick and you’ll notice others using it too. If you don’t have someone to practise with, you can talk/write to yourself!
    I also use a dictionary when I come across a new word.

I hope this helped a little. Just keep at it! Building vocabulary takes patience. Best of luck!

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It takes time. Everyday over a long period to get better. There are no shortcuts, but there are ways to make it smoother so you don’t burn yourself out. Consistency is key for wanikani. Clear your reviews everyday at least once. Do some lessons everyday and keep a min/max amount of lessons in mind.

It’s also good to know what wanikani can help you with. This is for being able to know kanji to some extent, being able to read them and some vocab to reinforce that. Before wanikani kanji was frightening for me, now it’s a tool I can use to learn Japanese from native content. The frightening part is knowing how much you don’t know, but it is reachable.

That said, Japanese is not an easy language. If it was, nobody would be here. The start can be overwhelming, so it might be more benefical to pick where you want to focus your studies on than try to juggle everything. In your case it might be better to learn basic grammar from a beginner textbook, so then you’re aware of it.

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You really should look into Human Japanese and Human Japanese Intermediate, which is for iOS, Android, and Windows. They are a single purchases of $10 each. These are way more grammar focused than Kanji focused, so combining that with all the Kanji you’re learning here, you’ll be getting the whole package. I learned more from Human Japanese than actual Japanese classes. If you like those, then they have a subscription service called Satori Reader for level appropriate reading material. If you have questions, you type them in the comments of an article and Brian will answer them within 1-2 days. They have spaced repetition flashcards for any word or phrase you want to commit to memory… You can sync the Kanji learned here with Satori Reader, so your knowledge carries over. Satori Reader is the same price as this.

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I lived in Japan for a couple of years many years ago. By the time I left, I was still only able to have the simplest conversations, and muddle my way around a grocery store and take home the correct items about half the time.

On the other hand, my husband learned much more quickly and he passed the N3 exam before we left. I think the main difference between us was that I was extremely self-conscious and hated looking like an idiot, so I would avoid speaking and would depend on my relationships with English-speaking Japanese people to get by. If there’s one thing I’d do differently now, it would be to try to enjoy making mistakes, and get out there and take lots of risks.

The main thing that helped me most was having a regular one-on-one teacher (a native speaker). I was only able to do that for a short time. She wasn’t even a trained teacher, just a friend. If I had my time back, I would hire a private tutor to meet with at least once a week (more if I could afford it). I’d make notes about my Japanese bungles and efforts during the week, and about upcoming language challenges, and would run scenarios with my teacher. If I couldn’t afford a private tutor, I’d at least try to find a class. Having some structured learning with someone who can coach you makes a world of difference.

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Hey @Tschumi :blush:

There is loads of really good advice from everyone above, so I’ll try to add different things rather than echo their points.

My first piece of advice would be to quit Duolingo. I used it for a loooong time, for various languages, and as an avid language learner (I speak 3 languages fluently and 3 others to varying levels of beginner/intermediate) it is my opinion (and personal experience) that Duolingo mainly gives the illusion of making progress in a language, rather than providing the reality of actually learning a language. As someone above mentioned, it is very useful for basic phrases for holidays or simple conversations. It should not be used as a core study resource if your goal is to thoroughly, actually learn a language.

My second piece of advice is to stick with audio immersion (radio, TV, youtube, whatever sources you like) - even if you zone out and don’t understand anything they are saying, even if it is just gibberish Japanese sounds in the background. Because that is the only difference between us and those Japanese toddlers who are better at Japanese than us - they have spent their entire lives just swimming in that ocean of Japanese sounds, receiving thousands of hours of input, gradually deciphering more and more of it, until the pieces all start to have meanings, and they then start to produce those sounds for themselves :slight_smile:
Sure, it is definitely frustrating to not understand things in the meantime, but over time you will find yourself recognising more words, and more phrases, and one beautiful day you will find yourself understanding a whole conversation!!! (I am still at the “some words and maybe a phrase here or there” stage :sweat_smile: )

I wish you the very best of luck on this journey! :green_heart:

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I was going to advise them to ditch Duolingo as well from what I’ve heard of it. I just didn’t want to say anything because I myself never used it.

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I have to say that I do use Duolingo, but as a familiarization tool rather than a learning tool. It gives me familiarity with a bunch of vocab, kanji, grammar etc. that I can then study in other ways (WK, classes, reading etc.) I have found I make much faster progress with other resources because concepts and vocab click faster because I already recognize them from my Duolingo practice.

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Cure dolly is better for grammar

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There’s only one thing you can do. Persevere. If you are genuinely dedicated to learning the language, you will sit down and grind through the textbooks with or without a teacher, and complete that anki deck after work, or complete that 200 review pile or whatever it is. I’m not gonna give specific advice because everyone else has already done that and said what I wanted, but just keep at it!

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I love Cure Dolly’s content as well! To be honest, I watched so many channels while learning. Personal opinion, I don’t think you have to, or even should, learn from just one teacher.
I miss them all and I often go back just to enjoy the YouTuber and brush up on the fundamentals. There’s no one else like Cure Dolly out there, and no hope for her making N2 material now that she’s passed. I’m gutted :disappointed:

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