Opinion on plans to learn japanese

So, I have a rough idea of a plan for learning Japanese, and I know there are a lot of strong opinion on this, but I’m curious what you all think for this route. My goals for learning Japanese are to be able to read most Japanese, for the purpose of understanding native Japanese internet content, for getting around easily on future trips to japan (Making plans for one this summer) and so I can communicate with my girlfriend (Japanese but has been in the US for about a year and a half now) over text in her native language. I also want to be able to speak and understand Japanese for the same reasons. I place a large importance on speed in reaching all of these goals (I dont have a timeline in mind, it takes how long it takes, but I dont want to be inefficient or slouch through getting these things done) Here is what I have done so far, and what I am currently doing:

  • Learned Hiragana and Katana to a point of reading (still a little slowly) and typing
  • Begun WaniKani, about to finish level 3
  • Begun the WK anki 10k core deck https://community.wanikani.com/t/so-much-vocab/12050
  • Read through the first two chapter of Genki 1
  • Begun reading Tae Kims guide to Japanese Grammar

My plan is this, I want to finish WaniKani asap, as well as the first 6k of the core 10k deck. From what I understand, the last 4k are all only kind of useful, and that going beyond the 6k usually isnt worth it. When I am close to done with the 6k, I intend to begin sentence mining to create a deck of my own with words that I will actually, and then use that to study further vocab. I also want to get through the genkis, as well as Tae Kims guide in the next few months, which from what I’ve read is doable, especially because they cover the same stuff. The reason I want to read both is because Tae Kim explains things in ways that I find better than genki, but the practice in genki gets me to internalize the concepts more than the few exercises in Tae Kims guide. I also will need to begin output practice, but I’m fortunate to have a cheat code in the way of a Japanese girlfriend who I can do the genki exercises with, talk to in Japanese, and text at any time with questions.

My current day looks like doing all the wanikani I have in the morning, and then again later at night, same goes for anki (Currently I’m trying 32 cards a day, but my reviews could very well pile up and this could go down) And then on weekends or when I have time, I’m studying grammar with tae kim or genki.

This is my plan to reach my goals, I’m curious anyone and everyones thoughts on if this is efficient, if this will be enough, and if the speed at which I am going is reasonable. I’m also curious what people think of other options, I was looking into burnpro and it seemed like I would be able to eliminate anki (until I begin sentence mining) and grammer study? is this the case or do I misunderstand? are there other programs/software/methods that would help me obtain my goals any sooner? Thanks for anyone willing to read the overly long post, I’m eager to hear what people think

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There are a million ways to learn Japanese, and for every one of them you’ll find people online telling you why it sucks.

What’s important is to find a study routine that you manage to stick to in the long term. What’s in the routine is frankly secondary IMO, at least within reason.

My plan is this, I want to finish WaniKani asap,

I’d recommend finishing WaniKani’s first ~25levels ASAP and then reevaluate where you’re going. By the time you’re there you may realize that you should refocus your efforts elsewhere and slow down on WK.

Also per what I said above: it’s not a good idea IMO to finish off one thing and then move on to the next, it’s better to have your methods overlap in my experience. If you manage to build a good habit doing WK every day, then use that habit to start a new one before dropping WK completely. Maybe by the time you’re at level 30 your routine could be doing your WK reviews and then reading Japanese for 20 minutes every day for instance.

You can easily find stories of people in these forums who restart WaniKani from level 1 because they went through the 60 levels once a few years ago, then didn’t know what to do and ended up dropping Japanese completely and forgetting most of what they had learned. You don’t want to make this mistake!

as well as the first 6k of the core 10k deck.

I never recommend frequency-based decks for beginners. They teach you vocab in an order that doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense at this point, and they’re always biased depending on where the data was sampled from. They’re good for building up vocab and plugging holes when you’re early-intermediate IMO, not when you’re starting from scratch.

My personal recommendation would be this Anki deck that contains vocab and grammar in an N+1 fashion (every card introduces one new concept) in context: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/911122782

There are also the Tango decks that are decent but they’re very kanji-heavy: https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/866090213

But again, if you enjoy doing the Core 10k then by all means go for it.

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Alright this is all super useful advice, and exactly what I was looking for, thank you. I’ll have to do some more deliberation on what deck to use because frankly, I dont love what im learning in the core 10k, but I do love how its organized, and the wanikani style of the cards, so I might struggle to switch.

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I think going through a deck like that usually makes a lot of sense once you have the basics of the grammar under your belt and you can deal with the example sentences etc…

The big issue for me with decks like those (and keep in mind that I don’t have any personal experience with this particular deck, so I could be wrong) is that they start a bit rough with super-high frequency vocab that doesn’t really make a lot of sense on its own.

Like imagine a core 10k for English, it’d start with “the”, “be”, “to”, “of”, “and”, “a”, “in”, “that”, “have”, “I”, “it”…

But it doesn’t really make sense to memorize that stuff in isolation. You probably want to teach “the” and “a” together when you introduce articles. “to be” and “to have” have many many different uses in English and it makes sense to go over them in details. “That” should probably taught alongside “this” and also contrasted with “here/there”. “I” and “it” should probably be taught with the other pronouns etc…

These high frequency words are as much grammar as their are vocabulary, and just memorizing them with some arbitrary definition is not going to be super helpful on its own. That’s why I don’t recommend them for beginners.

An other issue is that, depending on what corpus was used to generate the frequency list, the deck will be biased towards certain types of words. For instance a deck based on newspaper frequency will bias heavily towards political terms, something based off Wikipedia will have a lot of technical/formal lingo but no familiar/slang vocabulary etc…

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First, I think that wanting to learn Japanese to communitcate with your girlfriend is adorable :blush: And it looks like your goals are giving you a well rounded approach, with reading, speaking and writing. While this will cause you to progress a little slower than someone focusing on reading or listening, I think learning the language as a whole is overall more effective and more enjoyable.

Basically everything @simias said. While you can speed run Wanikani, you can’t speed run learning Japanese.

It’s good that you’re starting grammar early! Tofugu still recommends starting grammar at level 10 but everyone here generally regards that as bad advice. Once you finish Genki 1 you can start reading easy manga like 小さな森のオオカミちゃん, and sometime during Genki 2 you can start Satori Reader.

Sentence mining is a good idea, but if you’d rather, jpdb has decks curated specifically for books and anime, so it will teach you all the vocab you need for a certain series. Sentence mining is still an effective option though.

Finally, are you doing anything for listening? Genki includes listening practice, and if you want to add more, Comprehensible Japanese has an absolute beginner playlist that I think would be helpful.

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I am using RocketLanguages along with WK. Rocket usually has a sale around Valentine’s Day. Rocket has speaking, reading, writing, listenning, grammar and culture. This is a good way to get the grammar along with the conversation. I haver really improved with Rocket. It covers pretty much everything, and added to WK, it covers pretty much everything, and has lots of reinforcement activities. You can try the program out for three lessons for free. The site is RocketLanguages.com.

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I completely agree here, although I’d go to level 35 or so. And I won’t recommend doing levels after 50 at all because they mostly have niche kanji that you’ll rarely see in the wild and as a consequence you’ll forget soon after you stop doing reviews.

To be able to chat with your girlfriend or any Japanese person for that matter you’ll need to learn grammar (more like expression patterns). I think it’s fine to use JLPT grammar guides. You’ll need all the grammar up to N3, and most of the N2. You can train the grammar with apps similar to WK, such as Bunpo, Bunpro, perhaps others (I haven’t been focusing on grammar for a few years now, maybe there are better recommendations today).

Grammar is a way to construct sentences and convey nuance. But of course you’ll need vocab. I think you’re good with doing the 10k most common words deck. It’s a start. Over time you’ll learn vocab naturally through situations you’re exposed to.

As for textbooks, I tried Genki and Minna no nihongo. They didn’t work for me, it was super boring and I didn’t stick with them. I think they could work in a classroom setting but for self study not so much.

And most importantly, you will get good at what you practice. If you don’t actually practice speaking/writing (production) you won’t get much better at it through improving your reading.

Personally I’ve been practicing without a tutor in 1:1 lessons. But nowadays you can even practice by talking to chat gpt for free. Try asking it questions and making a conversation in japanese. You can prompt it in English first to act as a language study partner and to use simpler language and point out your mistakes.

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Your study method is completely based on explicit instruction, which leads to explicit knowledge which is slower in recall when compared to implicitly obtained knowledge (see Lichtman and VanPatten 2020, which I based this text on). Explicit knowledge is the knowledge we gain by intentional learning and explicit instructions on rules and patterns. Implicit knowledge is the knowledge we gain through a complex, rule‐governed stimulus environment without intending to and without becoming aware of the knowledge that we gain (Reber 1967).

Relying on explicit knowledge is detrimental in contexts where language is used under time pressure, which is how we dominantly tend to use language. For example: when you hear Japanese you have to understand the language in real-time, and when speaking you have to be able to produce Japanese within almost real-time. Acquiring implicit knowledge about Japanese (or any language) is thus important. Quoting Ellis (2011): ''there has been a growing consensus over the last twenty or thirty years that the vast majority of our linguistic processing is unconscious, its operations tuned by the products of our implicit learning” (p. 39). There is also a growing consensus that you cannot turn explicit knowledge into implicit knowledge (again, see Lichtman and Vanpatten 2020 as they provide an excellent literature review on the subject).

For this reason, I would suggest you both incorporate and rely heavily on methods which give implicit knowledge as soon as possible. Watch shows, listen to your girlfriend and other speakers, and most importantly; read. In regards to difficulty, Hu et al. (2000) provide a guideline and suggest you should understand at least 95% of the vocabulary. I personally ignore this guideline and read and watch whatever I find interesting and as far as I know there is no empirical evidence that determined an optimal percentage. The more things you read and listen to the more intuitive and logical Japanese will become. You will not know why you conjugate or use some expressions, you will only know they sound correct and feel natural. This is implicit knowledge at work.

What I said is in line with some posters said before me, but I really want to emphasize the importance of focusing and making implicit learning your main mode of learning as soon as possible. In theory, the only thing you have to explicitly learn is the Japanese script.

I do heavily disagree with some of the things people suggested before; do not use an anki deck with Latin script transcriptions of Japanese text. Rely on the Japanese script, and if you want to improve your accent, the IPA alphabet. Do not skip Wanikani levels because you think they have “obscure” characters, later levels might have some characters which you will not encounter daily. But I can say from personal experience I encounter characters from the last 10 levels daily. Reading a lot will improve your writing and listening, do not worry too much about having to practice every element of the language separately. Do not use ChatGPT, in my experience it fails at producing correct Japanese at times and this might teach you bad habits.

(Side note; I am not a linguist but a physicist, so take my personal takes with a grain of salt as I received no formal training in linguistic theory. There also seems to be a great disagreement between linguists on second language acquisition, at least from what I have seen in literature and lectures.)

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How would you suggest to learn the initial vocab and grammar?

I don’t have access to the article full text, so I can’t see what the authors were saying exactly. But it sounds like the implicit learning is the way children learn languages. In my experience as an adult I can be far more efficient than spending hundreds of hours listening to japanese tv in hopes of learning something. As far as I’m aware some linguists say that we lose the ability to learn easily acquire languages as we grow up, so as adults we need to be smarter about it.

What you said about not being able to use explicitly learnt language that’s only partially true in my experience. Sure, I don’t expect to learn some vocab with flashcards and be able to use it well. But imo the problem is with of context. Knowing an english translation is not giving you enough context to understand how a word is used by the natives, what the nuance is.

To be able to express a thought in a foreign language you first need to hear it from a native (or somebody fluent).

That’s where practice comes in. The more times you say something the easier it comes out the next time. The useful language patterns become ingrained in your brain.

The goals can be different for each language learner. Being able to order food at a restaurant and get around the city doesn’t require one to be fluent. It’s okay to take pauses to think and make mistakes.

And cut those who want to let’s say work with japanese customers in a business setting a far different level of fluency and cultural understanding is required. It takes far longer to get there too.

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This exactly

You could do the most efficient method possible and have it still not be worth it if you give up in a month

I agree with @Ciox about implicit knowledge/learning being useful, but personally I would also make sure to get a good helping of explicit knowledge on grammar just cause it helps you be more understandable speaking slowly/writing before you can do it automatically + it helps to have some sort of framework to understand why the speech you’re producing might sound unnatural and to catch errors (like, at this point I no longer have to think about conjugating into 〜て 99% of the time, but b/c I learned the rule behind it I could recognize that my senses said 伝えば when it should have been 伝えれば). There are also just aspects of Japanese which have to be learned explicitly even by natives like sonkeigo and kenjyougo. Plus kinda, long-term it’s helpful to have an implicit feel for Japanese, but I think trying to only do implicit from the start is a good way to get frustrated b/c it takes a long time to be able to say what you want + because you barely know any vocab it’s difficult to find stuff you can actually interact with. It seems more helpful as a tool to be used along with explicit instruction and then whenever you’ve gotten skilled enough to have sth you enjoy engaging with (although everyone has different tolerances and preferences so ik some people just jump in and can endure the hours needed to see some progress). Learning sth explicitly is convenient in that you can learn to say something more broadly applicable within the time to read an article or two, whereas you could read for twice that time as an absolute beginner and still not know how to say anything (not that I know how you would be reading w/o knowing much grammar or vocab in the first place)

Altho also, ideas for how to read a little bit when you’re just starting out:

  • example sentences
  • graded readers
  • picture books (altho these often have kiddy words)
  • slice-of-life manga (there are free apps for these)
  • searching random words on Yahoo!知恵袋 (altho this can be a very mixed bag in terms of understandability)
  • games aimed at elementary schoolers, free games, retro games (this is honestly just my hobby)
  • on-vocal karaoke (could help with reading speed)
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additional note: this was essentially my experience learning Mandarin

like reading alone was just very taxing because even tho I thought it would teach me to have a sense of what to say eventually, it didn’t do any good when what I needed was to be able to write something then to want to go on with it. Didn’t help either that it’s kind of… not super visible what effect it has to the person doing it. Like, you memorize a flashcard and you do know the word in a way, or you can read about an expression and learn how to use it and feel like you’re getting some progress, but it’s a lot more difficult to feel tangible progress reading

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Most wonderfully written, everything in there is right and up with current research (at least as far as I’m aware). Though sadly it’s nigh impossible to get people to stop using Anki, bunpro and all these great memorization techniques, cause while it is very logical when you think about how much you would have to learn explicitly to actually be “fluent” in a language, what school and many resources online teach people from the get go is how you learn to be tested and corrected.
I’m so glad there are still people in this community who give that kind of advice and take the time to explain. :slight_smile: :heart:

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If you do not have academic access you can put the DOI or article name in sci-hub.se, this should work for most papers. The paper from Lichtman and VanPatten (2020) does give some suggestions on how to incorporate implicit learning within a classroom setting but it is lacking in my opinion, and outside the scope of their paper. Implicit learning is indeed how children learn languages. Linguists denote the period where humans are especially adept at learning languages the “critical period”. It’s implications, duration, and even its existence all seem to be subject of debate. Dr. Ojima has some nice videos about it. In one of his videos he comments on the phenomenon that you referenced.

As adults we can use our L1 (our first language) as a base to expedite the process at which we learn a L2 (second language). This is why adults learn languages far faster at first. We have a language base to reference to. However, eventually children outpace adults in language acquisition. Dr. Ojima states that the difference might be that children do something that adults do not do, which is exactly the thing which you said; spend tens of thousands of hours with the language. This might be the reason why children become natives and adults are stuck with broken grammar and lack of fluency (The word “native speaker” is a meaningless term and also subject to debate, but it is often used and clarifies my point).

If your goal is to go to restaurants and get around in a city it is of course perfectly fine to rely on your L1 and use explicit knowledge. The goals of the OP are however far more broad, and they seem to want to be able to get around in a wide array of situations, like L1 speakers. For this reason I suggested a focus on implicit learning, as it emulates how L1 speakers learn their language.

I cannot comment on how to learn the initial vocabulary and grammar. Like I said, I am not a linguist and as far I know there are no educational programs which focus on fully implicit learning for adults. I am also not aware of any literature on this matter, except for Dr. Krashen’s Monitor Theory (I forgot if he did indeed advocate for fully implicit learning however). I do not think any of the papers I referenced, or papers they reference, suggest a fully implicit mode of learning either. For this reason I did not say that the OP had to stop with their explicit learning methods. Only that they should have an increased focus on implicit knowledge.

For brevity, I omitted some interesting aspects which further establish a link between the language acquisition of children and adults like Chomsky’s universal grammar theory and morpheme studies. This can give clues on how to best learn grammar in the beginning. Lichtman and VanPatten (2010) references morpheme studies explicitly in this regard.

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I need to work on my reading comp man, sorry about that

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If you want to be able to speak basic japanese as a tourist this summer, it’s more efficient to use an app that teaches you to do so, like pimsleur.
You don’t have to have a deep understanding of grammar in order to learn how to speak, and being able to do so will eventually click with the grammar you’re going to learn.

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All of this advice is super useful, and you clearly tackle problems like this in a similar way I do (I work as a software engineer). I think we are on the same page and I maybe should’ve been more clear in my original post in that I’m doing explicit learning to get to a point where implicit learning does not deter me. If I tried to play a game I like or watch a show I like in Japanese without english text right now I would likely get bored and stop progressing. My plan is that when I have a understanding of grammar and common voacb, that I can begin immersing and sentence mining, and the only reason I care to sentence mine is because I know it will help me to internalize what it is I’m learning in my immersion.

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What I did personally is that I found a game I already knew and wanted to replay in Japanese (it could also be a manga or anime I presume) and from basically the very beginning of my Japanese studies I would regularly boot it up and try to play through the first screens.

Of course at first you don’t understand anything but you can practice reading the hiragana and decode English words in katakana (I played Final Fantasy VII which is loaded with those). You will also see common kanji that you learn in the very few levels of WaniKani. This screen is actually fully understandable even with extremely basic knowledge, although I failed to understand the いれた part without looking it up the first time:

Translation
  • ポーション is simply “potion”. Getting used to the weird respelling of English terms in katakana takes a while. I’m a lot better at it now, but it still usually takes me a while to decypher unknown katakana words.

  • is of course the kanji for “hand”

  • に indicates the direction, so it’s “in the hand”

  • いれた is 入れた from 入れる, “to put in” in the past tense

So in summary it’s “[potion] put in the hand”, except of course 手に入れる is better translated as something like “obtain” or “acquire” in English, so it’s just “[potion] acquired”.

Also you may also find that when you go kanji first with WaniKani those words spelled in hiragana like いれる here are frustrating because you are unable to read them using your kanji knowledge, but that’s part of the process. Eventually it gets easier.

You can’t really understand anything at first of course, but you can look up unknown words and kanji to try and follow along, and if you already know the story you can fill the gaps. I found that looking up unknown kanji on wanikani and figuring out at which level I would get to learn them was a great motivation to keep on pushing on leveling up as fast as I could.

Every other week you can give it an other try and you’ll probably find that you understand a whole lot more. Also eventually if you focus on WaniKani you should find that kanji are no longer the biggest issue for understanding, rather you fail to understand the kana vocabulary and the grammar. If that happens it’s a good sign that you should probably start thinking about slowing down on WaniKani and focusing more on vocab and grammar.

And eventually you’ll get to the point where you understand well enough that you won’t want to reset to the start of the game for every attempt and you’ll just keep going. That’s when you know that it’s time to get serious about actually reading Japanese content!

I actually did some stats on the kanji in the first section of Final Fantasy VII if you want to have a look:

https://community.wanikani.com/t/video-game-thread-what-are-you-playing/13837/6104?u=simias

That a lot of work, dang. And this is a good point. I have been wanting to play twilight princess in Japanese as I have played that game ~20 times or so. On another note, the other thing I want to do is watch the ghibli movies in Japanese, without the english subtitles and with Japanese subtitles, Me and my girlfriend have watched through a bunch of them recently in japanese with english subtitles, and I’d love to go back and use them for immersion, but I cannot, for the life of me, find them. I can only find them in english, or in japanese with the subtitles as part of the actual visuals in the files data, so if anyone has any tips on getting a hold of those apparently lost media movies it would be greatly appreciated :sweat_smile:

I suggest looking into the Japanese language learning video games in development: Wagotabi, Nihongo Quest N5, Koe, and Shujinkou.

Usually you have to learn all hiragana and katakana first, but in Wagotabi you don’t. They slowly teach you the kana, but you learn just enough to get into immersion pretty quickly.

Crystal Hunters is a manga that teaches you Japanese so you read their guide first then their manga.

MaruMori has very clear detailed grammar blogs and they have an SRS system too for vocabulary and grammar so I highly recommend them.

Game Gengo on youtube teaches Japanese through video games and he has genki grammar videos he explains using video games as well.

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