Self study tips for intermediate japanese

Yayy. Just completed Level 10. WK was the best decision I made this year. But now I feel overwhelmed. I just finished Genki 1 and 2 with the help of a Japanese tutor. Had the opportunity to converse in japanese every day. But my program ended and I was able to score 80-90% in the N4 sample exams. I dont know where to go from here on :sweat: :sweat:
I need your suggestions on the below points. Ill keep it as short and direct as possible.

  • In the sample exams, my weakest section was listening and especially the informal conversations. I was barely able to get the right answer. Lot of guess work and less of understanding the conversation. How can I improve in this department?

  • I was lucky my company offered free Japanese lessons every day the past 3 months. Had the opportunity to talk as much as I could. Now I am left alone and I dont know where to start. I have gone through the community posts on Tobira, Kanzen series etc. My current goal is to get as fluent as possible and learn as much grammar as possible before I go to Japan. What learning path do you suggest? Learning >> Clearing the exams for now

  • How do you practice conversation while studying alone?


Lots of practice, such as listening to podcasts. Nihongo Con Teppei is fairly accessible at an intermediate or even upper beginner level.

The biggest increase in ability comes from self-study (you just need to put in so many hours you can hardly do it all with a tutor or in class). Set some goals to yourself and practice every day, even if it’s just 10-20 minutes. Here’s a somewhat lengthy video that I found very helpful that gives some advice how to approach this:

I found that first listening and then shadowing helps so much with the underlying skills that conversations automatically become easier and easier. Watch shows where Japanese people interact with each other in “natural” ways (i.e. not in dramatic dialogue) such as Terrace House. When you become able to, watch them only with Japanese subtitles, even if you don’t understand everything.

Of course, for actual practice, you can always hire a tutor. You can do it over Skype and there are websites where you can hire one, such as Italki.


Wow. That’s a nice podcast. Thanks for sharing.

Seems like quite a huge jump for now. But thanks for your suggestions. Will start setting some goals and listening to more Japanese media.

It might be easier than you think. Start out with something like Animelon where you can use both hiragana and kanji+hiragana for subtitles, use the built-in dictionary (usually, it’s best to click on “detailed” for more info), and follow the transcript with a tool like Rikaichamp.

Another way to make it more easier is to pick a show you like the most and are very familiar with, so you know what’s going on at all times. The context of the scenes will help a lot as well, especially when an object being spoken about is shown on screen.

But first the goal is to get your brain accustomed to Japanese (by not giving it an easy out in form of English subtitles) and it will start sorting it out by itself at a very basic level – like being able to grasp longer and longer fragments, getting familiar with the different patterns and the flow of the language, being able to distinguish where the boundaries lie between words, etc. Basically, your brain is built for seeking out patterns like this. Think of it less as watching a show in Japanese and more as practicing your listening skill with the aid of some visual context.

Also don’t worry if you don’t understand something or have a hard time figuring out what it means. Just move on. Quantity trumps quality in cases like these.

1 Like

this is all good advice but i’d be careful about posting sites like animelon. I couldn’t find anything saying that it was flat out illigal but they’ve faced legal repercussions before on their site and i know a lot of large language groups are heavily against supporting illegal ways to watch something (both to protect themselves and others)


After Genki 2 I started with AIATIJ and Tobira of which the second one is much more suitable for self study, I think. It also has a nice mix of formal and informal texts.
In addition I used the 新日本語500問 series to check my weakpoints, and the vocab book of the same series for the responding jlpt levels.
Those books were a game changer for me!

About speaking practice - you could try to search for a local tandem partner? Or register for Apps like Hello Talk etc where it is rather easy to find someone to practice with…

Listening practice is relatively easy through youtube or podcasts. I also like audiobooks (easiest to find are Harry Potter or 魔女の宅急便) and the occassional j-dorama on Netflix (without, or with japanese subtitles).

1 Like

Thanks you for the links! Very useful

@Starker already recommended the nihongo con teppei podcasts. He has an intermediate and a beginner series.

Two more recommendations:

  • JLPT stories: stories by Japanese people addressing an audience on a JLPT level NX where X is the number of the actual level. So you can try out their N5 and N4 series, if you like.
  • News in slow Japanese: they have short news snippets. They have ordinary speed version and slow version for each episode. ( they call it ordinary and fast version… but you get the idea:)

In case you can arrange yourself with anime: shirokuma cafe seems to be a beginner friendly one. They speak clearly and cover daily life topics. They also have lot’s of casual expressions.

In case you’d like to look up casual grammar points you can check out 絵でわかる日本語. They explain Japanese grammar points in Japanese. They also give example sentences how and when to use. In the 口語形 section they have a couple of casual patterns.

  • I would not go through their patterns by list. But you can use it to look up a pattern you’ve encountered during immersion and want to double check.

You may can also listen to the nihongo no mori youtube series. In that case you have both listening practice and (re) learning some grammar points. Their videos are labeled by JLPT level as well.

I don’t practice conversation right now so I can’t help you with that :slight_smile:
Good luck with your studies.

1 Like

If you have a problem with Animelon (because it is either gray area or illegal) there is a language learning extension for Netflix
They have japanese subtitles for a lot of shows. Just as the Netflix catalogues are very different for different countries, the language learning extension is also different. Depending on the country you life in this might be helpful or nearly useless because they only have ten shows (and of course you need Netflix).
Prime also offers japanese shows with japanese subtitles.


Disclaimer: I speak fluent Japanese and scored really well on the real EJU, and N1 practice tests. I lived in Japan, and am currently stuck in the US due to the dumb virus, so I’ve now brought it arrrrouuund town finding ways to practice when there’s no one to practice with.

Go on YouTube, find videos where people are speaking Japanese, whether it’s streamers, news, whatever. And just imitate them. Just copy what they say.

I had European friends who speak PERFECT English, and when I asked them how they practice, they all said they just watched and copied American/British YouTubers.

It’s kind of fun to try out different speaking styles and stuff. And when you’ve practiced saying something a lot, it’ll be easier to pull it out in conversation!

I used to teach kids, and I will say that most of language acquisition is just listening to other people and copying them. Little kids always repeat what their older siblings say. Kids without siblings repeat what they hear on tv or from their friends. That’s how you get your native language. It’s how you can get your second language.

I like to look up videos about stuff I’m particularly interested in, too, so I learn vocab and phrases related to my own interests. I really like space, so I watch videos from JAXA (the Japanese space agency.) You can also practice listening and writing by listening and trying to transcribe what they say.

Transcription is a great way to practice listening and writing at the same time. You can just listen to a YouTube video, song, podcast etc. and try to write down what they say.

Or you can look up the lyrics to a song you like and go line by line, and look up words until you understand the whole song. You’ll learn lots of uncommon words and phrasing that way.

If you find audio of speaking you like, just listen to it over and over, all the time. I used to listen to interviews of artists I liked and even though it just sounded like a flurry of words at first, after listening to something multiple times you’ll be able to understand so much better. And then when you listen to something new, you’ll recognize grammar patterns and phrases that you are now really familiar with. It trains your ears really well.

It’s hard to practice when you’re alone. I really empathize with that. I’m having to do that now.
But I know plenty of people who had to study alone and ended up sounding really natural, just because they found ways to make it fun. It’s honestly SO satisfying to say a whole string of things you’ve memorized, and once you’ve memorized it, it’s yours. And you can be confident that it’s natural. And before long, you’ll realize you’ve been watching something in Japanese and forgot to put on the subtitles. (first time I realized I was doing that I was shocked.)

As for book studying, I like the Try! N4 etc. books for grammar. The Kanzen master books are great and very thorough if you’re intending to take the JLPT further. (I’m gonna take N1 next.) For Kanji, honestly just writing and transcribing will be more memorable practice, as well as reading novels and just learning as you go. I don’t like kanji books much because I forget it all/go on auto-pilot.

Just make sure that books are supplementary, and not everything in your studies. You’ll end up hating studying if you make it boring. Learn some songs. Memorize videos. Pretend you’re a news anchor. Make a fake podcast. Pretend you’re a YouTuber in Japanese.

Good luck with your studies!! I


Personally, my answer is… go listen to informal conversations. A lot of them, especially because they’re not usually covered by textbooks for beginners. Two main sources that I’ve used:

  1. Tobira – yes, it’s a formal language textbook, but it covers quite a lot of informal speech, and even if it doesn’t get into the nitty-gritty of all the possible abbreviations, it does cover a few
  2. Anime – In my opinion, this is the best way to get used to informal conversations. Sure, they may not always be realistic, since some of the things said in anime wouldn’t make it into anything but the most casual of conversations, and some of it is downright rude. However, the fact that sentences get super abbreviated with tons of contractions and slang makes it all the more suitable – you get to see ‘informality’ in its most extreme form. The usefulness of anime isn’t limited to informal speech, however, since it often also contains lots of interesting vocabulary (to be transformed into its polite form, of course), and can also include different registers of speech (e.g. in The Rising of the Shield Hero, Raphtalia speaks almost exclusively in teineigo and keigo, while Naofumi speaks exclusively in – relatively masculine – tameguchi. Princess Melty speaks in teineigo and keigo, while Filo sticks to a very energetic, girlish tameguchi.)
    I see that someone mentioned Animelon. Legality aside, there’s another problem with it: there frankly aren’t that many shows on it, and unless I’m quite mistaken, it’s a nightmare if you want to copy some of the subtitle text to look it up somewhere else. In my experience, the best way to find out what’s being said in an anime is to visit reaction blogs, which frequently transcribe anything between 60% and 99% of the dialogue with screenshots (so you can’t get lost). The best one is Anicobin, because it includes very little analysis (just some Twitter reactions) and has almost all the dialogue. You can usually get these transcriptions by typing ‘[anime name] [episode number]話 感想’, adding ‘あにこびん’ if necessary to direct you straight to Anicobin. Another site I’ve come across a few times starts with ‘gno.’, but I can’t remember what it is, and I’ve only ever used it to help me fill in dialogue that isn’t transcribed on Anicobin. By the way, you can learn fun phrases from the reactions of Japanese viewers under each screenshot too! (N.B.: this approach only works on anime that were released after 2013. I haven’t found a single transcribed episode on Anicobin for anime released in or before 2013, like ‘Problem Children Are Coming from Another World?’ and season 1 of ‘Oregairu’. To find those, you have to be able to transcribe part of the dialogue yourself, type it into Google with quotes, and pray that someone else has put it up.)
    In order to see what the transcription means, you’re going to need some basic grammatical knowledge and a good dictionary like, which is helpful because it provides lots of example sentences with translations. If you don’t understand the grammar used in a phrase, try searching for what seems to be the ‘generic structure’ that you need to tackle e.g. ‘筆頭に meaning’ or ‘における grammar’.

For your other two questions, I do have a fluent friend studying in Japan as a foreign student, so I have someone to practise with if I want to (though I rarely do). Otherwise, what I usually do is… watch more anime and learn lines? Look up song lyrics? And study Tobira just so I have some structure. (Honestly though, I’m getting bored because I feel like the pay-off isn’t sufficient: so far, almost all the grammar in Tobira is stuff that I already know because of anime or stuff that is really obvious from context. I’ve just finished chapter 11 of 15, and I’ve finally seen a chapter that teaches me more than 3 structures that weren’t obvious from context or prior knowledge. I’m really just doing it to understand Japanese culture, pick up specialised vocabulary, and work on my reading speed. Guess that proves how much more anime with dictionary searching has taught me.) One other thing I do is randomly imagine myself in a conversation and try to construct Japanese sentences that fit. Plus, I’ve already written questions in Japanese to Maggie Sensei on Twitter or on her website in order to force myself to frame my problems in Japanese.

Full disclosure: I speak fluent Chinese, so kanji and the logic behind them are rarely a problem, so what works perfectly for me might be a little harder for you. You’ll have to experiment to see what works. However, what I do basically sounds like what @anon92537032 suggested. I second repeatedly listening to the same thing, by the way: sometimes I listen to a sentence repeatedly after reading the transcription until I reach the point where I can feel my brain following what’s being said in real time and identifying all the words. I think it’s helpful for future listening comprehension.

My friend studying in Japan knows a girl who taught herself Japanese and then went on Nico Nico as a streamer, where her viewers taught her everything else. She took the N1 3-4 years ago and got full marks. So if you’ve got the guts and something interesting to talk about, you might not want to pretend. Doing it for real works too! :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

PS: @anon92537032 I’ve been asking myself (and I put it on another thread) whether I should try to find a more systematic way to learn to speak with the proper pitch accent, but it seems that imitation has worked fine for you, so perhaps I shouldn’t bother? My friend who’s studying in Japan has the same cultural and linguistic background as me, and he said he just picked it up over time by listening (and speaking, of course). I’ve done quite a bit of the stuff you mentioned, just that I limit myself to anime, songs and reading the dictionary (both EN-JP and monolingual stuff like 大辞林). Should I go hunting for more complete pitch accent rules, or is it just a waste of time? I feel like most explanations are more of a ton of observations with little underlying logic – imitating native speakers phrase by phrase seems about as helpful, if not more so. I’m going to do a Waseda University course on edX about pronunciation, but I’m not sure if I should search for more information. What do you think?
(@SpagetBakemono Sorry for hijacking your thread. I don’t intend to ask more than this question. Hope you don’t mind. :pray: )


Mimicking native speakers while watching vids is the best advice I’ve read yet, thanks thread-folk!

I was in a similar situation to you about a year and a half ago, ie had finished genki 4 and 5 with a japanese teacher. I then continued to do about half of the intermediate Minna no nihongo textbook with the same teacher. From then I stopped using textbooks/lessons entirely and dived into listening to native materials.

The first two shows I watched were Shirokuma Cafe (on animeleon) and terrace house on netflix (with the netfllix language learning chrome extension). At first I was looking up tons of words and struggling (especially with terrace house). But you definitely get better and better really fast from engaging with native materials, and it’s good for your pronunciation to do that much listening.

Two additional ways to augment your listening could be to use anki and sentence mine or to do shadowing (or both). When you get to level 30+ on wankikani you can also start reading books (or even earlier). I started with harry potter when I was level 35 or so from memory.

1 Like

Thanks for the suggestions :star_struck:
I think I have enough resources for listening and speaking practice.
Also, its nice to know I am not the only who got stuck while learning a language.

I’m interested too. No probs.

1 Like

There are some tips and recommendations here if you’re interested. Listening Practice 🎧 What do you listen to for Japanese practice? People make use of different resources for listening practice. I recommend going with what you’re interested in. If you like anime, watch anime (with subs) but focus on the dialogue primarily while watching.

I recommend the many audio dramas produced in Japan, as that is a good way of getting experience listening to Japanese at a pace that isn’t quite normal conversation, but still pretty fast. Also, trained voice actors speak with a clarity of pronunciation that helps a lot (since you’re still gonna have a hard time not recognizing all the words).

Once you feel like you can listen in a more relaxed and less frantic way, I’d move on to podcasts, and natural speech conversations, since they will be faster and contain language errors that are normal in conversation (like restarting a sentence midway through, grammar mistakes etc). It requires a different type of focus I feel, from scripted dialogue.

Good luck with your studies! ^>^

1 Like

Look up Dogen on Youtube. He has a series of paid videos about pitch accent on Patreon, but a few of them are free and give a taste of what to expect. I know of no better resource.

There are a few patterns that are useful to know and knowing the theory (not just on pitch accent, but pronunciation generally) can make you able to notice things better, but yes, mostly it’s just practice. Most importantly, record your voice and compare. Anki makes it very easy, but you can also use something like Audacity.

1 Like

Hi, sorry for the late reply.

I’ve never liked any kind of books or articles that try to explain accent rules, and frankly Japanese people are bad at explaining it. I took Japanese classes in Japan, and accent and pitch is just something that’s best learned by listening closely, figuring out what physiologically you need to do to sound like that, and imitating it to the best of your ability, over and over, until you get it right. Record yourself talking, and don’t be afraid to feel like you sound stupid or over the top. Usually if you hold back, you get a foreign accent. That’s why that happens.

That Waseda course on pronunciation just sounds interesting! I don’t think you need to look up specific accent rules or anything. You’ll learn it by muscle memory if you practice enough, and build your intuition for new words. It’s like training your ear to music, kind of. Just keep training and testing yourself, and be honest about when you get it wrong or right.

I learned a lot of Japanese from anime before I ever moved to Japan, and it made it easier to understand things and get around, but I also got told I sounded like I watch too much anime, and I also accidentally told a man I’d just met to eat shit. At a restaurant. With his whole family there. I believe he offered me water. (I have no idea what I thought it meant, but it was a perfect case of nuance NOT being translated through subtitles. Maybe the context it was used in the anime had a totally different meaning???)

J-Dramas actually got me a tooooon of great vocab and phrases, though. Anime is fun to learn from because it’s easy to remember, because you get context in the show, and you’re emotionally involved, so you’re not gonna forget what you learn. But since dramas tend to have more natural speech, I switched to them for this. I usually start up a new drama and I just keep a notepad and pencil by me to write down anything I learn. I just pause, look up the phrase or ask a friend if Google doesn’t know, and write it down and remember it, and often make a game of trying to find opportunities to use new words or phrases I’ve learned the next day.

I’ll also just repeat what people say as I’m watching, even if it’s just a snippet of a sentence I caught. It’ll all piece together eventually. Obviously I watch alone, because I would be the WORST to sit and watch these shows with.


Reminds me of what I used to do when I learnt French, except that I usually did it for newspaper articles.

Separately, point taken about dramas vs anime: I figured that dramas would be closer to how people speak in real life, but I just don’t watch them as much. I was really intrigued by the series Signal when I saw it on a plane once, so I’ve watched a few episodes of that. I also quite liked Galileo, but again, I hardly watched any episodes. I guess I’ll look into finding dramas I like when I have more time to dedicate to Japanese media. For now though, anime is pretty fun and much easier to find (or so I feel), so I’ll stick with that and reading the occasional news article.

In any case, thanks for all the advice. I prefer to pick accents up through imitation anyway (for that matter, imitation is always a part of the process, no?), but I figured some formal explanation, at least to get an idea of recurring patterns, would be nice. All the best with getting back to Japan smoothly once you’re able to (I imagine it’s going to involve Covid tests and so on…), and I hope you’re not having too much trouble keeping up with classes from outside Japan. (I’m assuming you’re a student at a Japanese university since you mentioned the EJU. My apologies if I’ve made a mistake.)

Anime is definitely easier to find! I feel that. Not many dramas outside of sketch streaming sites.

I was living in Korea all last year (a bit in Japan), and then came back to the US in winter to work on a project while waiting to go back to Japan for school in February. Covid got me stuck here. Then my entire area got flattened in fires, so I’ve just been really busy working, and have put school on hold for an extra year. ): But yeah, hopefully by the time I do go back, it won’t be too difficult. Being completely blocked from going was really upsetting.

1 Like

頑張ってね。On my end, I’m in France and expecting a new lockdown to be announced tonight. Honestly, I don’t mind, because this year, I’ve got an apartment, so I don’t need to worry about leaving the student hostel at short notice. Still, the Covid case numbers are pretty concerning. I guess we all just need to keep hanging on until everything blows over.

1 Like