The fastest/best way to learn japanese

I reached roughly N3 in seven months with a very busy schedule (28-30h of university classes/week not related to Japanese, unless you count Chinese + the work associated with those classes). That’s not all that fast, I’ll admit, since some people get to N2 within that time, and I’m honestly not very proud of how long I took, but I’ll give myself a pass since I had so many other things to do and say it was a decent rate of progress for the amount of time I was able to invest.

One caveat: I’m a native Chinese speaker with English as his main language, so kanji were never a problem for me. I certainly have opinions on how to learn kanji faster, but I don’t know if they’ll help you. Anyway, here’s what I did:

  • Assimil’s Japanese with Ease, which is supposed to bring you up to B2 on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) for languages. (In truth, it probably only gets you to the threshold of B2, which is perhaps N3 moving towards N2, but that’s very good compared to most other beginners’ courses on the market)
    (Note: based on your comma placement and grammar, I suspect that your native language is German, and so if you want to get this textbook in German – I really recommend it, but you might not like the short grammatical explanations – then you need to look for “Japanisch ohne Mühe” and make sure you get books 1 and 2=“Band 1” and “Band 2”.)
  • Watch Konosuba Season 1 and Season 2 on repeat the entire time – I found it amusing – and look up words I didn’t know when I could catch them
  • Check the dictionary a lot when talking to my friend in order to find out how to say things that I couldn’t yet express in Japanese, and attempt to use the words I had learnt to communicate with him (practice helps with memorisation)

That’s what I did to get to a rough N3 level, and it took about seven months. I could have gone faster, but I had other things to do.

After that, to continue onwards towards N2/N1 (I think I’m at N2 + 50% of N1 right now):

  • Tobira up to chapter 12 (I got bored around chapter 13, but I guess I should still try to absorb what’s in the remaining chapters)
  • Watch various other anime, especially The Rising of the Shield Hero, while looking up new words that I heard or that I found in transcriptions on Anicobin
  • Read lots of random articles in Japanese about Japanese grammar and usage, including studies from Japanese universities, sometimes with the help of a dictionary
  • Read dictionary definitions from both EN-JP and JP-JP dictionaries, especially those from JP-JP dictionaries

All this is, in my opinion, approximately the fastest way, provided you have regular study sessions. That should help you avoid spending nearly another 2 years or so (like me) crawling to N2/N1 – I’ve only studied on and off while using anime and dictionary checking to maintain my level – because of a busy schedule outside of Japanese and a general lack of motivation in life. If you have a lot of grammar knowledge, kanji knowledge – or at least very good kanji learning skills – and tons of motivation, Tobira can theoretically be finished within 15 days, at the rate of one day per chapter, provided you skip all the class activities like comprehension questions, preliminary questions and pair/group work. (To anyone who thinks I’m just boasting, it is possible: I literally did one chapter a day over the summer, and might have gone faster if I hadn’t been running around with friends.) If you have less grammar knowledge, less kanji knowledge or less familiarity with learning new kanji on your own, then at the quickest, you’ll probably need at least 1-2 months to finish Tobira, because thinking through and absorbing all the new kanji and grammar will probably require a lot more effort. The reason I was able to go at the rate of one chapter per day is that I skipped a lot of the exercises that I couldn’t do as a self-learner and that I knew almost all the grammar points already from watching anime and checking the dictionary over and over (so yes, you can learn grammar through anime). Finishing Tobira should bring you to about a mid-N2 level.

To get to a solid full N2, and then head for N1 and beyond… you’ll probably have to read lots of newspapers and consume lots of native entertainment, or get an advanced textbook that will load you with new words at a very high rate. Immersion is much more important to reach this level, but the truth is that a good textbook can still accelerate your learning by gathering large amounts of new information in one place. For examples of textbooks that do this, look here:

I’d recommend these two^. The second is probably more accessible to someone starting it after Tobira, and is what I have. For me, every single sentence of the first chapter reading passage contains about 3 new words, so I know it’ll teach me a lot.

I guess that based on all that, you have a timeline for reaching N1 in about 1-1.5 years:
7 months for beginners’ content
2 months for Tobira and crossing the intermediate plateau
3 months (or much more) for finishing N2-N1 textbook (with very consistent study, otherwise it’ll take a much longer time)

I’m saying that this should be theoretically possible. I’m not saying that it will be easy or that everyone can do this. It will take a lot of effort. I think a more realistic timeline for reaching N1, especially if you have a lot to do aside from Japanese, is 2 years at the least. I don’t know where exactly you should put WK on this timeline, but I think that your kanji knowledge should be at least around Level 45 when you start N2-N1. (I’ll let someone else who actually uses the SRS confirm this, because I just run on my Chinese knowledge for almost everything.) I think you should be doing WK at the same time as you study grammar and learn new words, not separately, but that’s up to you. I personally think that it’s faster to learn everything at once because related knowledge will reinforce other new information, but some people find it hard to handle everything at one go. In summary, my strategy is this:

  • Use textbooks to structure and accelerate your learning, because they gather lots of essential information in one place.
  • Use good dictionaries to help you understand what you learn and what you come across when consuming native content, and read example sentences if you have the time in order to learn how a word is actually used (and not just a translation that might not explain everything).
  • Move from an EN-JP dictionary to a JP-JP dictionary as soon as possible. Even if you can’t read all definitions in Japanese, just making the effort to read and understand a few once in a while will benefit you.
  • Immerse yourself in native content all the time as early as possible. You don’t need to understand everything, but you should aim to understand more and more over time. Do this with content that you enjoy (in my case, anime) and look for transcriptions if they exist so you can search new words more easily.
  • (For the higher levels, if you’re sufficiently motivated) look for really complex things like newspaper articles related to areas that interest you, look up every single word you don’t know and learn how to use each one. This will help you advance faster and reach native-level fluency as quickly as possible.

Ultimately, keep this in mind: this is what I think is fastest for me. It might not be the fastest way for you, and that’s why it’s important that you always consider whether or not a given strategy is suitable for you. All this is just one really long suggestion, but how you apply it is up to you.