Started learning on a whim. Am I doing this right?

I like languages and recently learned Italian. I wasn’t really sure where to go from there. I recently watched Tokyo Vice and thought Japanese seemed like a fun language. Maybe I can see if I can learn any. Well, I google “learn japanese” and found tofugu, which obviously led me here.

I have learned my hiragana and katakana and just started with my kanji. Honestly, I’m not sure how serious I am with this as I just started this weekend.

I suppose I am wandering if I am on the right track as far as learning? I feel like I don’t know any Japanese vocabulary. I’m not sure if I should be looking at that or just wait for it to come through here. I’m not trying to worry about grammar yet as what’s the point if I don’t know any words? Maybe I should just be reading stuff without knowing the meaning? Which reminds me I think my pronunciation may be awful as well. I’m not sure the best way to check that.

Any tips would be greatly appreciated. Again, I’m not sure how serious I am in becoming fluent, but that may be due to me not knowing what the hell I am doing lol.

ありがとう ございます

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Hey there!

You will definitely need to start learning grammar as soon as possible. You can pick up any beginning textbook and begin- the textbooks will give you vocabulary that is relevant for the grammar you’re learning.

The Genki textbook series is pretty popular, and has a lot of material made to go along with it, such as Tokini Andy’s Genki videos:

Once you have studied a few chapters, you can jump into graded readers like these from Tadoku.

One warning- Japanese has a lot of resources for beginners, which is great, but make sure not to spend too much time choosing between resources, as sticking with one will get you further than bouncing around.

Happy learning!

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Short answer: you’re doing it right as long as you’re happy with the way you’re doing it.

Longer answer: you already have experience learning a language, which is great! A lot of the hurdles that many students of Japanese face, like figuring out how the hell to learn a language in the first place, will not be an issue for you. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that learning Japanese is pretty different to learning a Romance language, for an English speaker. Trust me, I’ve been in the same situation—I learned Spanish 9-ish years ago now, and have been seriously learning Japanese since last year. The main difference is that similarities between English and Japanese just…aren’t there. Aside from some modern English vocabulary that has been borrowed into Japanese, the two languages have nothing to do with each other. This is as compared with Italian (or any European language, really), which has had 2,000+ years of mutual contact and influence with English, not to mention a shared cultural context and history.

I’ve sometimes said that learning a Romance language felt like learning to say things in a different way," whereas Japanese feels like learning to speak all over again. The most basic grammar patterns, like “this is an X,” “I am doing X with Y”, “I want to do X,” “A is more X than B”, etc, etc, all function totally differently in Japanese than in English, and have to be relearned essentially from scratch. When at the beginning stages of studying a Romance language you can often just translate literally, and even if the result isn’t totally correct, it will most of the time make sense. You can’t do that with Japanese. Literal translation just doesn’t exist.

However, this is part of what makes learning Japanese fun!

You will likely find it harder than Italian—but not impossibly hard, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The main difference I’ve found learning Japanese is that it requires a much greater activation energy than a comparably easier language. That is to say, the amount of effort required to get to the basic level where you can actually use the language in a meaningful way is higher. If you can get past this, it essentially has the same long tail as learning any language: acquiring lots and lots of new vocabulary and practice, practice, practice.

As for more specific learning advice, how did you learn Italian? A lot will depend on your own preferred way of learning languages. The one thing I would say is don’t expect to learn kanji before advancing to anything else. It will take you so long to learn “all” the kanji that you’ll want to also start on other things in the meantime.

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Thank you! Italian was pretty easy with an online course someone created. Every lesson was him speaking and all grammar concepts were explained in English. He would also have 25 vocabulary words a chapter, lots of immersion, and reading. Then I just watched A LOT of Italian TV. I found that easy though because I had one source for all my learning.

I think right now I’m not sure where to start as far as a source to learn from. Obviously, I am here for the kanji though.

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It sounds like you could benefit from the structure of a class (or recordings thereof). I’m not aware of anything that does exactly what you describe—an all-inclusive course—but I’m sure they exist.


Most people here have fairly fragmented study regimes by comparison. WaniKani is just one piece of the puzzle. I think most of us are using another online service or a textbook to learn grammar. I also don’t think that WaniKani will teach vocabulary in an order that is conducive to reading, speaking, or listening; the vocabulary here are included to reinforce the kanji. It’s not the vocabulary are useless, but that you probably don’t need to know how to say “caterpillar,” “table of contents,” or “hull” right away. I have seen others recommend vocabulary materials like “core 2,000” flashcard decks to learn some high-frequency vocabulary.

I agree that

and I think that’s a good way to put it. I think this is especially true of written Japanese. You won’t really be able to read anything (unless it’s specifically for beginners) until you have a solid foundation with kanji and grammar. You can’t sound out most words you don’t know; you just have to learn the (often arbitrary) shapes that are Chinese characters. There aren’t even spaces to help you tell where one word or particle ends and another begins. You will learn that with practice, but trying to read as a beginner is incredibly frustrating.


My personal recommendation is to either find a class or pick up another platform to learn some vocabulary and grammar alongside WaniKani (without overdoing it, though). You could also get some audio lessons or follow along with a textbook if you think either of those would work well for you.

There are endless discussions about which resources are best, but there are so many high-quality Japanese resources that it doesn’t really matter all that much, especially as a beginner. I’d say you would benefit from just picking one and sticking with it for a while to see how you like it; we can help you find alternatives if there are things you don’t like.

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As others already stated, the initial hurdle for japanese is a lot higher, but like with any language, not impossible. :slight_smile:
Despite not being a fan of grammar cramming, if you yet know nothing about sentence structure, I would at least get down the absolute basics of how sentence structuring works, how conjugation works and what kind of conjunctions are used to chain subsentences together. This will give you at least a rudimentary understanding of how the languagw “works” and how much it is different from any other you have learned before.
After that you seem to know how to learn a language, it will be just that but longer. Lots of immersion, lots of vocabulary and lots of reading practice.
By the way: You absolutely don’t need to cram all Kanji if it is boring to you, don’t let people tell you otherwise! You can absolutely learn “only” through vocab and immersion, the words will still get familiar und you will passively aquire them. Kanji learning absolutely helps, but it will be really helpful for writing and generally get an understanding of the building blocks and how they are composed / what specific readings they can have. In the long run it will help you to guess lots of readings from compositions of kanji and at times even the meaning of read words. But if Kanji learning starts to take up all your time, maybe you would have more success by skipping them at first and learn from actual words.
Just my 2 cents, keep at it no matter how you tackle this journey! :heart:

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Look here

Maybe something like JapanesePod or Irodori.

Kanji might be needed, but I would still put vocabularies and grammar first. Not necessarily learn all Kanji needed before vocabularies.

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I would do the free levels of Wanikani and Irodori (which is entirely free) at the same time. After you’re out of free trial Wanikani, you can decide if Irodori is doing enough for you, or if you want to pay to continue Wanikani as well. (I recommend it, but it does cost money). Irodori is going to balance vocabulary, grammar, listening, some kanji all together at a reasonable pace to get you quickly saying useful things. Wanikani is full-on kanji focus (which accidentally teaches you a fair amount of vocabulary and is way more useful for jump-starting your ability to read than it sounds)

And then if you really like it and want to go all in, there are plenty of things to spend money on later if you want, like books, italki, and other resources like bunpro.

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Just want to second this. I personally have moved on from WaniKani as a way of learning kanji. I think I benefited from it as a foundation, but past level 12 or so I felt like none of the vocabulary words or kanji were really “sticking” without the benefit of context. These days I just read and then add vocabulary words to Anki as needed and feel that’s advancing my level a lot more.

That’s not to say that WaniKani might not work great for you, OP. It very well may. Just to say that if you do find yourself frustrated with it as a way of learning to read, don’t let that discourage you, there are other options available.

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People like the app Drops for vocab, If you feel like you don’t know enough words, maybe that’s a good start?
Among the dozens of other good resources out there that have already been mentioned!

These might or might not be the right things for you, but I’ll link you some resources and tools I use/have used and found useful. Generally speaking, it seems like lots of Japanese learners take a piecemeal approach, using different resources for grammar, vocab, kanji, etc. There are ‘comprehensive’ textbooks (well, series of textbooks) out there, but I haven’t used them, so I’ll let others advise there!

  • WaniKani (for kanji). Obviously you know about this since you’re here.
  • Anki. You’re probably already aware of Anki if you’ve spent much time in language-learning circles. It’s the ‘standard’ spaced repetition flashcard software and very versatile. There’s also a wealth of premade decks.
  • Comprehensible Japanese Youtube. They have beginner and absolute beginner level videos that help get listening practice in at early levels.
  • あかね的日本語 is a good Japanese learner’s podcast that’s free and includes full transcripts. These aren’t lessons—other folks have already given JapanesePod as a recommendation for that—but good for reading and listening practice.
  • Jisho and JPDB are both good Japanese-English dictionaries.
  • Yomichan/Yomitan. This is a popup Japanese dictionary browser extension where you can hover over a word and get a translation. Learning to read in Japanese is a long journey, and this is a very helpful tool along the way. It also does neat things like Anki integration. Yomitan is the newest version, but it’s based on Yomichan, so you’ll often hear people refer to ‘Yomichan’ still. If you want something similar that works on mobile browsers including iOS then there’s 10ten.
  • Ttsu reader. This allows you to import ebooks in ePub format and read them in your browser, so you can read with the assistance of Yomichan or similar. Very useful if you want to read Japanese books as part of your learning.
  • Bunpro. This is a comprehensive grammar reference broken down by level, which also includes an SRS to drill each of the grammar patterns it introduces. The grammar reference is free, the SRS is a paid product. I personally used Bunpro’s SRS lessons to get a foothold into grammar—think I went somewhere into the N3 level, then stopped. Now I just look up grammar patterns as I find them.
  • JLPT Sensei. This is the grammar reference I personally use more often than not now. It’s explanations are very brief, useful if you need to quickly reference a grammar pattern you’ve just encountered, or forgotten, without getting too into the weeds. Not the best if you’re looking for an initial introduction to Japanese grammar, though.
  • Tofugu’s grammar reference is what I go to first when I want to dive into the finer points of something. I generally only reference this when I have to, since sometimes it can be way too verbose on (IMO) pretty simple things.
  • Japanese Stack Exchange. This is a Q&A site, you will often find really good answers to your most common questions/doubts here, e.g. は and が. You can also ask your own questions.
  • And speaking of a basic introduction to grammar, Japanese sentence structure started to make sense to me when I saw this infographic.

One piece of advice I would give is not to overdue it on SRS. If you haven’t already noticed from the list above, the median Japanese learner is very big on SRS and lots of learning tools include either an SRS of their own or integration into Anki. There’s a weird kind of min-maxing culture in the Japanese learning world.

But you cannot flashcard your way to fluency. SRS is just a tool—use it, don’t use it, up to you. I personally use Anki judiciously, adding just a few new words a day as I encounter them in my reading.

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You are amazing. Thank you!

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I dont know if you used SRS for italian, but for Japanese here at least what I recommend:

dont overwhelm yourself with many tools at once. You will burn out eventually.

When you feel you mastered the basic stuff then you go on and on with more advanced things like grammar in bunpro (which I recommend from N5 to N3).

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