How would you help a friend start learning Japanese?

I like to read pixiv and twitter comics and knowing the basics of kanji handwriting, especially common abbreviations of radicals makes things so much easier to read.

3 Likes

I don’t see handwriting as crucial, unless it helps with basic visually memorizing (which it does, at least minimally, perhaps up to word level). Otherwise, perhaps when learners see some fun in it (e.g. want to write some handwritten scribble or journal).

Time wasted or more time taken doesn’t matter much, as long as the person doesn’t stop (actively) learning first.

But I don’t think imitating font is the way. Perhaps much closer to basics first, then stroke order (and perhaps some additional details).

I was a little biased because I have been taught Chinese in a classroom before (but until now no classroom for Japanese). Then, I looked up some details that were useful for Kanji. (Perhaps can apply to Hanzi as well, but I forgot.) Kana are on a much less complex side regarding proportions. I didn’t actively study Chinese at the time of Kanji, so it didn’t matter about the differences.

About Katakana, I think it can be learnt early on, if the person is capable. For sounds of Kana, they were learnt by associating with sound of sentences and vocabularies; so hearing plays a big role. (Otherwise, imagining, so learn the sounds correctly first.) Katakana, however, were memorized well by vocabulary drilling. I don’t know of other good Katakana acquisition methods otherwise; perhaps some weird fully Katakana’d text?

My thought of Kanji is also biased. I am not afraid to look up Kanji on a mobile phone dictionary, at the very least; and I accept very well that Kanji vocabularies need to be memorized as a shorthand. Much of pronunciation isn’t written.

1 Like

The idea of neglecting Katakana is utterly absurd. It’s not just the menus, it’s also especially video games. I assume many learners in interested in games, well if you like RPGs be ready to scroll trough many many Katakana words. Lacking Kanji can be remedied by voice acted games or Furigana, but there is no cure for not knowing Katakana.

2 Likes

The guide doesn’t think kanji should be learned before katakana either, they even write it in bold.

BEGINNING KANJI & STOCKPILING KANJI KNOWLEDGE

Important note about this section: You should start to learn katakana (the next section) at the same time as this step.

3 Likes

There’s a lot of great advice on this thread, but it’s very tactical and the thing that’s missing for me is understanding the motivation behind wanting to learn (although @WaniTsunami did kind of mention it).

When learning other languages, the gap between actually wanted to learn the language and learning some phrases to be able to order some food and drink in a restaurant isn’t as far apart as it is in Japanese (at least in my experience) and moving from “Menu Spanish” to conversational Spanish, for example, is relatively straightforward for those who wish to advance their skills. I think “I’d like to learn Japanese” has to come from a very language-learning place for a lot of this advice to be useful to learners.

As a sort of “Step Zero” I would try to explain this a bit by showing them the tools I use to learn Japanese, flexing my current level in reading, speaking and map out my own journey as to where I expect to be in 2-3 years.

I think only if they understand what ‘Learning Japanese’ really entails it’s hard to quantify what they’ll get from whatever level of commitment they’re prepared to undertake.

Then you can go through these pieces of advice and explain how they’ll help.

There is a really good and comprehensive document written by a redditor here .

As for the main question : I’d tell them to start reading Graded Readers as soon as possible.

1 Like

I think it depends on if they had any prior knowledge, but I think step 0 is finding your interests and goals. Getting the big picture clear and maybe sharing some resources like the tofugu page which is also how I started.

After that step 1 is learning hiragana. How to pronounce it, how to recognize it, how to write it. This is already where you can build a habit. Some people learn it in a day and then forget about it, that’s why it is okay to take it slower. A week is what I usually recommend. Install a Japanese keyboard on your pc and phone. Tofugu guide really helps with the onboarding.

Then learn katakana, I see that as an extension of step 1. You can already replace the romaji with hiragana while learning katakana. That’s why I also think it’s good to take your time with it. Within two weeks or so you can learn both hiragana and katakana.

After that the world is your oyster, but I think it’s handy to get a basic grammar textbook and try the free levels of wanikani. You can think about graded readers, maybe you want to go to class or you’re interested in listening. Either way adding some more elements in your study along the way. Giving yourself a set amount of time you want to spend at minimum every day (30m - 1h) and also a maximum amount. Really depends on the person.

But yeah my advice is build slow and steady. I know people can be very excited about starting and then they do too much and get overwhelmed later. It is a marathon and you need the proper mindset and preparation to run it.

2 Likes

memorizing kata and kana for one week,

then the study begins with wanikani :smiley:

There are however quite neat handwriting fonts just like there are cursive handwriting fonts.

1 Like

I can only second the handwriting part. I remember things way better if I write them down and especially writing kanji really helped me with remembering them and being able to differentiate similar looking kanji.

I never really found handwritting skills to be a timesink. The kanas take a few days to memorize and you’ll use them so much it becomes second nature. For kanji, there comes a point that you can guess the stroke order by knowing the radicals’ stroke orders and the basic rules, so I don’t really have to look up or practice that.

In return, being able to write down notes, journals and do exercises by pencil is pretty fast (I can write down an answer of one sentence in around 20 seconds), and easier than organizing note apps. Plus, it’s an output that helps you remember things: my written notes and diary help me remember words and grammar.

I am biased to it though, since I am on a Japanese class, which requires handwritting to do exercises, assignments, notes, etc

3 Likes

I’m close to 5 years in, about N2, and I have never handwritten anything. Not even Hiragana. That’s something I am not really proud of :frowning: .

The funny thing is my handwriting of Hiragana and Katakana is actually good, because I learned those in class 15 years ago and it’s still muscle memory. I never got to that point with Kanji though and I don’t care.

1 Like

The time sink isn’t the stroke order though, it’s being able to recall a kanji from memory. What radicals is it made of to begin with? Being able to recognize a kanji when you see it and producing it from memory are two very different skills and being able to do so will need extra practice both to get there and to maintain said skill.
Same goes for vocabulary. Being able to recognize a word when you see it is very different from knowing which kanji it is composed of. (And doing so quickly instead of thinking about every word for 5 seconds)

1 Like

I didn’t struggle with that much, to be honest. Maybe because I started handwritting when I started the language so I had to look up things all the time anyway (and still have to for higher level concepts lol).

I just get a grasp of components pretty quickly, I guess. Usually takes writing it down 3 or 4 times, which I will have to do for homework whether I like it or not

Oh crap, I didn’t see that when I read that page yesterday. This is embarrassing.

I don’t know if it’ll help get across what I mean, but here are some typical practice scribblings of mine.

When I’m studying kanji, I write it repeatedly. I look at fonts to see how much “give” each stroke has and see what they’d look like in a shodo context.

When I’m studying sentences, I transcribe the sentence and circle the part I’m focusing on.


1 Like

Yeah, I imagine this would probably net you some of the extremely common words (試合, 選手, 挑戦者, 優勝, maybe even a ドロップキック or a タッチ), but lots of move names would get messed up, and names in general would be a mess, and the dictionaries probably wouldn’t recognize the wrestling meanings of a lot of words.

There’s also the issue that interviews and articles often use a lot of different language than, say, commentators and wrestlers during shows, and all that. So you could train yourself on this theoretical frequency list and still miss loads of common words, haha.

Because of that, with wrestling at least, to a certain extent, if you want comprehension while watching shows, your only real option is to just learn the language :sweat_smile:. There really aren’t shortcuts. Though, having access to show transcripts (not that this helps at all in the moment if you’re watching a live show) certainly gives you a huge leg up on being able to apply relatively normal learning tools.

I’m definitely recommending in my own guide that people get a subscription to the 週刊プロレス site, which has transcripts of many shows. Finding out about that is part of what inspired me to want to write my own guide to doing this, honestly, because that was a resource I wish I’d known about ages ago, and I also wish I’d known about Yomichan and ichi.moe even before I’d started seriously studying.

I feel like if more wrestling fans bothered to at least put sentences into ichi.moe in addition to DeepL, we’d have fewer people spreading false rumors about someone planning a “tournament” when the word in the interview was “大会” :sweat_smile:.

I actually can’t even remember if Tofugu’s guide mentions Yomichan or ichi.moe. I definitely found out about both of them from this forum.

I was saying that I think everyone should learn how to write the kana at bare minimum, even if people don’t think they’ll ever need to write anything in Japanese, and that I personally recommend learning it at the very beginning when you learn the kana initially. I followed Tofugu’s advice and put off learning to write when I first learned the kana, and I really regretted that because it made it a lot harder for me to motivate myself to learn after the fact.

With kanji, I’m not as insistent, though I do still strongly recommend people practice writing at least some kanji, even if you only learn to write a couple hundred and then stop there. Simple stuff like knowing how the 口 radical is constructed, the general order that individual components are written, etc. strongly boosts your ability to both recognize handwritten kanji as well as search for unknown kanji, and I think it’s easiest to develop this skill by practicing writing rather than trying to memorize a list of rules.

It’s something I have had three of my friends directly tell me that they regretted not learning because they saw what I was able to do with that knowledge even when I knew less overall Japanese than they did at the time. Two of them had the same issue, where they felt like they couldn’t justify spending the time on it, but then the longer they waited, the harder it was to start (the third person has chronic pain that can make writing difficult, which is one of the very few cases where I would tell someone that learning how to write is not worth it, haha).

Of course, if you truly read entirely digital text, it might not matter, but for people who like to read manga or print books, or for pro wrestling fans, who often have to deal with things like interviews in print-only magazines, typed text onscreen, handwritten text on signs onscreen, and text of both types on wrestlers’ Instagram stories, copying and pasting and/or Yomichan-ing kanji aren’t options, so kanji recognition skills really do matter.

3 Likes

I would recommend a few kana learning apps. Drilling kana with fun apps helped me make the transition from Korean to Japanese. I actually did use duolingo a little for this, and for that it was actually kinda helpful, but other apps were fine/better. I might recommend the Remembering the Kanji book at this time to help get them interested in the concept of kanji.

Personally, I would recommend Japanese from Zero or Japanese for Busy People to help someone get started at learning the very basics of grammar. I also might recommend an audio course fairly early on… just to mix up the routine and provide spoken input that encourages listening/speaking (for me, Pimsleur and an old Foreign Service course were useful (for pronunciation and some structure), and then the Michel Thomas Method course was marginally helpful (for structure not pronunciation)).

They should start doing WaniKani around this time… but it really is more helpful once one has a basic understanding of kana. WK improved my kana immensely, but the first couple months were a struggle… partially because of kana. I would recommend a comfortable pace for the person, but suggest aiming for about two weeks per level at the start. They could use synonyms if they had been working with RtK.

I would recommend that they switch over to Minna no Nihongo or Genki or beginner Tobira after they’ve made a fair amount of progress in the starter textbooks. Personally, I think MnN is the far superior textbook… but Genki was less intimidating/more inviting when I got started… I just think MnN generally is organized better. I’m not familiar with the beginner Tobira but it looks nice.

1 Like