This is a common question I’m sure, and sorry if it’s an annoying one! I’ve definitely seen it around on other forums, but the mixed answers almost always lead me to want to make my first post here! I’ve been on WaniKani for maybe two months now? Possibly a little less. Just began my first subscription, actually!
The language learning has been wonderful. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and so along with WaniKani I have been teaching myself with online resources as well as textbooks (Genki for now and a Kanji-learning one that I will bust out when I’m more secure with my lesson planning).
I’m curious what some people here, whether you be new or, hopefully, those with experience, think about Japanese learning as a solo project. At least in the early stages. Of course I will want to talk with natives, I will want a certain level of fluency if possible for me down the line, but in these phases to become … I don’t know, somewhat intermediate at the language, what kind of damage can I do as a self-learner?
I know this depends on a lot of factors. Some people raise goals as a factor–I for one have a mismatch of goals. My only real clarity is that this is something I feel I want to do more than most other things in my life. Some people don’t enjoy the idea of learning a language for the sake of travel, while I am kind of leaning towards this. While of course, if I could, I may enjoy living there! But that’s more of a … venting tangent.
So, yeah, what do you think? Happy to be a part of this great community and I’d love to hear back from anyone with insights into this! Go easy on me I know this is a common question, but I for one have not seen such a positive forum in a while and feel like WaniKani members have more to say about this.
I’m not at all an experienced Japanese learner but I’ve been living in Japan for about 2 and a half months now and the biggest thing I’ve noticed from learning on my own before moving, versus learning with others is how much of a difference speaking makes to my understanding. I would of course try saying things aloud on my own but for me speaking with others in my classes with other students makes a huge difference to my understanding and how quickly I grasp things.
I think this is one of those things that is really going to depend on how you learn, and your level of commitment etc. I’m definitely a visual/practical learner. I need to do things and see/hear things to learn it effectively so that may be why I find the group learning/class environment beneficial.
No clue if I’ve said anything helpful, but I wish you luck with your learning!
You’ve been very helpful! Hope Japan has been fun! I have to admit it’s been on my mind a lot. Even been looking into the Jet program. I graduated recently and so a classroom setting/studying abroad is basically out the window. Reading through textbooks make me wish I had taken advantage, though!
What you’re saying makes sense. I can’t say for certain what kind of learner I am. From how I HAVE been learning, I’m quite happy that I can make any kind of progress on my own. I did figure one day, if I make it far enough (which I want to), using services like Italki and what not at least. But I can’t say for certain what kind of learner I am. Though I do often do much of my learning on my own. Phonetics and listening is definitely something I want to impliment.
This is probably the best place to ask since the people here skew heavily towards self learners.
The main thing to keep in mind is that pushing your progress and measuring your progress is all on you. So while you can learn at whatever pace you like, there will always be overhead involved with the planning part of it.
I’ve personally been almost 100% WK with a little bit of Bunpro up to N4 on their track. Otherwise, it’s mostly reading and watching anime. But the latter I enjoy so it’s hard to quantify progress there.
Once I hit level 60, I’ll spend more time looking at grammar.
This is what works for me so ymmv
People can and have gotten fluent through self study. The main variable is going to be time.
I have a 5-year plan and WK is year 1-2. Year 3 will be almost all grammar on Bunpro then 4-5 just reading and watching.
I’ve been steadily studying Japanese on my own for 3 years and counting (also with no particular goal in mind), and if there’s a ceiling to how far you can get that way, I haven’t hit it and don’t think I will for quite a while yet.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the separate skills that go into “knowing a language” are just that - separate skills! (Even though they’re obviously related and can reinforce each other)
You can definitely study reading and listening on your own without learning to converse in the language too (after all, Latin still exists), and vice versa. It’s all about what your resources are and what you’re interested in.
So for example:
Can I read Japanese?
Sure! I pretty much can! At least in the sense that I AM reading Japanese, every day, for fun not for study. And that’s incredibly rewarding!
Can I understand spoken Japanese?
eehh… sorta. I can feel that slowly improving, and I turned off the subtitles on Dragon Ball so… there’s that.
Can I write Japanese?
No, not really. I wrote an online comment that got a lot of likes once and people seemed to understand what I was saying, but I’m confident my reach exceeds my grasp “correct usage of grammar”-wise… Mistake-riddled for sure.
Can I speak Japanese?
Absolutely not. I would instantly freeze up.
So the general pattern is - if the thing you want to do involves other people… you’re probably gonna need to practice with other people!
But if not, you can definitely get far enough to get a lot out of it, and I believe you’ll only be making things easier for yourself when you do shoot for the more… social kind of learning.
I could be wrong (in which case, uh oh) but as long as you don’t get overconfident I don’t think studying alone is going to like, make you internalize a bunch of bad habits you won’t be able to shake later or anything like that, so if you’re interested, I say go for it! At the very least, it’s surely better than nothing! Especially if you enjoy doing it.
On the other hand I’ve heard of outgoing people who self-studied in a way by immediately talking with as many people online as possible. I’m not sure if that’s still the kind of “on your own” you mean but I know I’d probably die (or at the very least, stop!) if I were to try that approach, yet for some it could work great. So whatever works for you!
For me, probably someday I’ll get embarrassed enough about being able to read but not speak that I’ll refocus and try to fix that… but for now I’m learning (and enjoying it) just fine as is.
Welcome to the forums, we’re glad to have you here and I hope it continues to be a place where you feel comfortable asking questions during your Japanese language learning journey!
I’ve been studying Japanese independently on and off for several years. I started back when Wanikani was still in paid beta. Made it to the high 20’s or low 30’s before running into issues with the app’s stability. I had faith that the devs would improve things, so I bought a lifetime subscription and put my account in vacation mode. I reset my account around the end of 2018, and gradually got back into studying Japanese. Over the years, I have developed enough fluency to travel to Japan and backpack across the country, making a lot of fun memories with locals in the various cities I visited. I’ve also been able to use my language skills in a professional capacity in the company I currently work for. I can read manga, watch anime, etc., and understand most of what’s going on without too much effort.
Overall, studying on my own hasn’t kept me from making progress. That said, I have spent time talking with natives off and on throughout much of my journey. I do believe having people to talk to has helped me. Of course, everyone’s mileage will vary, but I don’t think it hurts to give it a shot if it’s something you really want to do. Just keep it fun, pushing yourself occasionally, and you’ll probably get pretty far.
This is how it is for me: the fact is, learning Japanese isn’t just something I want to do, it’s something that’s a part of my life. It’s as much of a habit as making coffee in the morning or eating food. There are certain things I think some of us feel inexorably compelled to do. Speaking Japanese is one of those things for me. It doesn’t matter if I never get a job in Japan. It doesn’t matter if I never live in Japan. Speaking Japanese is something that I felt compelled to do, and so I structured my life in a way that made that possible. To me, it didn’t seem strange to learn this language, it felt like a foregone conclusion that I would learn this language. As you study the language, you’ll realize why you’re doing it and what you want the most from it. Listen to that voice and adjust your studying / practice to help you grow in that way.
I got all the way through 300-level Japanese in university almost 20 years ago.
I’m nowhere near fluent, but my Japanese is night and day better than it was after five years of official school book-learnin’.
Developing your Japanese involves the same three basic steps as learning every other skill: practice every day; focus on your weaknesses; try new things. At the end of the day, all schools can really do is provide you with structure, accountability, curation, a peer group, and a piece of paper that says you can learn (I’m a college professor, incidentally). Aside from the piece of paper, you can get all the rest on your own if you have the will!
Is Japanese your first acquired language? As I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, native speakers are like gold, if you can find one. Just so you can prepare for this upfront, here’s the most basic fact of learning a language: you are going to get laughed at. A lot.
I’ve been laughed at dozens of times. By some of the best and brightest minds in Japan. Every learner gets laughed at. It’s the circle of life. Whether you sink or swim depends on your ability to accept that.
The answer is, it depends on why you are learning the language.
If a person’s only goal is reading, they can probably easily do everything on their own. They may not pronounce things properly, but if they aren’t talking to people, not a problem.
If a person’s goal is speaking to people with a level of confidence, you can’t get that from time spent alone. You can build your confidence level with things like Pimsleur and other shadowing efforts but until you start forming your own sentences and answer other people’s questions, you won’t know what you don’t know.
I say this but here is the thing. I have mainly been a solo learner for 20 years. I can read some (working on that with WK now). I can understand a lot of spoken because I have an Anime obsession. I can barely put sentences together because my brain has never really needed to exercise that outside of parroting back Pimsleur or Rocket Languages.
There’s no limit on how far you can get on your own!
Of course you’ll want a partner for practicing communication (I use italki and have found some friends using hellotalk. I just use it for finding regular informal conversation partners, I haven’t seen the need to take formal lessons)
But apart from that I’m studying on my own and I’ve been making steady progress over the years. I’ve read books, played games and taken two trips to Japan where I’ve spent a few days with my hellotalk/italki friends speaking only Japanese etc.
I think self-study is great actually! You can set your own pace, choose your own methods, and change your routine as much as you need to keep yourself motivated and learning!
I’m unsure of what makes you formulate it this way.
I don’t think you studying on your own is detrimental to your goal of learning Japanese. In fact, many learn languages on their own. That being said, certain aspects of language learning (i.e. talking) will require you to seek help. But, there are plenty of options for that when you feel ready (like HelloTalk).
In the meantime, I would just build a routine around WK and do immersion learning on the side (reading, listening, watching, playing - whatever strikes your fancy), and enjoy being in charge of your own pace of learning.
Because, that’s something I truly feel is great about self-learning: having control of how much or little I wanna learn at any given time (so it’s less stressful).
I think that people’s approach to learning differs. I’ve just started my sixth language (Mandarin). Japanese was the fifth. Almost exclusively self taught, although I’m not claiming very good proficiency in any of the languages except German and that is only because we lived a long time in Switzerland where I was using it every day.
For speaking and understanding I think conversation is essential. I’ve managed that in the past by having native language friends or colleagues to practice with or for Japanese I’ve also paid for conversation classes.
I think having lessons would accelerate progress but I’ve found the rigid schedule of formal classroom teaching less easy to fit into my day. On the other hand, having weekly lessons with homework might stop me being a bit lazy!
Thanks for your response! I know I formulated some things weirdly. It’s mostly out of shyness being on a new forum. I’ve SEEN hostility towards self learning on other forums, and I know for Wanikani this may be a bit silly, but I was basically anticipating it and was trying to mince my words!
I definitely agree. The level of control one can have over their own learning is a wonderful thing it’s certainly less stressful!
I get what you mean! And, honestly, I think I can say that my goal is in the realm of actually speaking the language. However an all around grasp of the grammar for reading is also something I want to achieve. I guess this throws a wrench in complete solo-learning, but I was not necessarily discounting something like this either.
I think for me, either through services or online forums, I’ll try to find speakers/natives and do something about the actual speaking of it. I am not sure how easy that is, but I know things like that exist. I certainly can’t imagine myself getting overconfident! Hell, this is already thinking pretty far ahead. I’m in like, month three at the most, probably a little less, and I can basically just say things related to ordering food!
Really, that whole “immediately” approach, yeah, I’ll probably die myself! But uh, if I bide my time I can and want to work up to that. Just gotta figure out what my best bet is in that situation. Actually, I did find there’s a JP cultural center near my town. Could be a start. I have no idea why it’s here we really don’t … have much of a JP population here as far as I knew but I won’t look a gift horse in the mouth!
I guess, you’re not that far off. There is definitely a division between immersion learners and textbook/formal education learners. But, I haven’t experienced any hostility about it - having gone the immersion path - here on WK, which is really nice. I mean, I have no options to get a formal education in Japanese. I spend my money studying other things. So, WK has really been a blessing in getting me further along than I could on my own. Because kanji really is a mountain to climb and that is daunting when you go at it alone!