The path of learning

For you more experienced people, what was your path with learning, over the next 2 years i would like to get to a point where i can read a decent amount, and have reasonable speaking skills.

For me being a beginner (about 3 months?) i can read hiragana/katakana and the kanji ive learned so far, im also using bunpro and have genki 1.
being a beginner though, is so daunting i know i cant have a conversation, or read 99% of the language, what was it like for you starting out, what helped you?

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Context: Don’t live in japan (yet) and just care about reading.

Started studying in 2015 but was pretty lazy and didn’t get much done. Level 17 on wk was where I stopped before quitting.

Aug 2017 started back up again. Full speed on wanikani and skimmed through tae kims guide

at level 30ish I started reading 星織ユメミライ which is a moderate difficulty VN. Added lots of words from this VN into houhou srs, looked up all the grammar I didn’t know, and tried by best to get through it.

Around level 35, realizing my terrible vocab, I learned like 1000+ words from the core deck.

Continued VNing and full speed wanikani until level 54. Learned only the kanji on WK after that and learned my 40 vocab a day from the anki deck again.

After level 60, I used koohi.cafe srs to learn words from a book I was reading. Would learn all words that appeared twice or more in the book or a word that appeared in any subsequent works I planned to read.

Did my darndest to understand everything in the books, and kept srsing. Did this for about 20 books and srsed maybe like…7000 words?

Moved over to watching shows for a few months with japanese subtitles to get a feel for how japanese people “actually spoke”. Not worth honestly.

Moved back to books. After about 30-35 books I started learning every word I came across.

After I got to the point where there were like 20-50 new words per book I didn’t know for familiar genres, I hopped off koohi and switched to anki for convinience.

And, now here I am.

I shaved out a lot of fluff that I don’t think really contributed anything, but thats the general idea.

From that list, I think the best things I did was really just stuff that involved me trying to actually read. I wouldn’t suggest trying to understand everything at the start like I did because I was just obsessive about it, and let yourself not get caught up on those i+20 sentences. Definitely supplement WK vocab early with like the core 2.3k. Definitely start trying to read early with the mindset of studying and looking for stuff to learn. Everytime you manage to understand a sentence thats a success. I found bunpro and genki to be a poor use of time and I thought the best understanding came from when you would just look up grammar as you go and get a feel for it. I just quickly skimmed over tae kims guide when I was starting out and called it there. Use VNs if thats something that interests you. By far the best medium to learn from and make cards for. Audio, visual aids, ability to hook text, ability to instantly repeat audio, and a good mix of literary and spoken language.

Most critical things to get good at reading imo:

  1. Read something you enjoy
  2. Punch above your weight; don’t get comfortable
  3. Learn to be ok with not knowing/being able to figure out something. Move on and look for a sentence that you can learn from.
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What helped me tremendously was learning vocabulary and grammar. For vocabulary I just started on the core 10k (not that I’m anywhere near having worked through it by now, I think I’m about 2500 words in?) and for grammar I just went by JLPT order, all the while just keeping WaniKani going at a steady pace, but not necessarily as my main focus.

Once you feel a bit comfortable with the language, start consuming. Read simple news articles and stuff. I watched subtitled VTuber clips and tried to catch streams where I could - even if you understand only a few words and grammatical constructs, that reinforces them, and you get more comfortable around hearing Japanese. The same goes for reading, really. I prefer manga over simple news articles, but use whatever keeps you interested and motivated.

Also, just try to write. We have a Japanese Sentence A Day Challenge thread where you can just write whatever you feel like and not worry about being judged for poor Japanese or anything. I spend quite some time in there just reading through stuff, and when I see something I can comment on I usually try to offer some suggestions (and end up typing out a small essay of explanations). It’s a good way to learn, and active use of a language also improves your passive language skills (i.e. reading and listening).

I’m now at a point where I can comfortably read shounen/shoujo manga as long as they have furigana (many do) and I have a dictionary, and I can catch the gist of what goes on in streams as long as the streamer doesn’t talk too fast and the vocab doesn’t get too complicated, as well as have some conversations in written Japanese in the aforementioned thread, and I’ve been at it seriously for… I think a year or so? So your two year goal seems very attainable depending on what you mean by “reasonable”.

EDIT: also

1000x this. You’ll find a bunch of stuff you don’t recognise and can’t make sense of, especially early on. That’s okay. Focus on the stuff you do understand and work from there to understand just a little bit more than before you started.

EDIT 2 - ELECTRIC BOOGALOO:

Also don’t be afraid to shift your focus every now and again. You may find you can look up words but don’t know grammatical constructs - that means it’s time to shift your focus from vocab to grammar. You may find the opposite, that you know how to recognise what function a word plays and where the word boundaries are, but you have to look up every other word - that means you know enough vocab to focus on grammar for a bit.

And honestly, don’t neglect kanji, but… especially early on it’s really not the most sensible focus to have for practical use, IMO. A lot of the resources useful to you are going to have furigana, and you’re going to recognise a lot of the words over time even if you don’t technically know the kanji separately. Feels weird to say that on the WaniKani forum, but… it is what it is.

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2 years sounds reasonable I think.

For me it looked more or less like this:

  • for years I’ve been watching anime with subs and managed to pick some very very basic vocab, but not much more.

  • mid last year I started teaching myself kana, N5 kanji and did 2 courses on JapanesePod101 (fun, but too slow)

  • mid Jan this year I joined WaniKani and continued doing it everyday until now. Alongside at that time I’ve been reading Tae Kim’s guide (helpful, but not as a standalone resource) and writing a lot.

  • in March I started Genki 1+2 which took me like 2-3 months to go through, but the exercises and extra vocab were worth it.

  • in June-August (I think, not sure) I started Tobira. Great for advanced grammar and lots of practice with native reading materials. That helped me the most so far.

  • in August I started reading a book casually, which I pushed a bit more with and finished today. Good for mining vocab, terrible for practicing reading, because it had almost no kanji. Alongside reading articles from NHK (Web Easy, but also trying regular ones).

From all of the above reading native material was probably the biggest help, but without decent grammar it would’ve been an absolute pain.

Oh also, a generally useful piece of advice - try to keep track of your progress and adjust your schedule accordingly, so that you for instance don’t overemphasize kanji or grammar, or only vocab.

I focused too much on grammar for too long and now my sentences feel a little simplistic, even if they’re okayish grammar wise.

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I used to use the usual path, textbook, and grammar. But I felt it was too slow. So I changed my strategy dramatically.

First of all, I speedrun the BunPro up to N3 then slow down after that. Second of all, focus on vocab. I found that WK vocab acquisition is way too slow and ineffective since it doesn’t have context (7x too slow according to my stats), so I skipped doing vocab on WK and using iKnow as my main vocab builder. Added Clozemaster two months ago too to get exposed to a more variety of sentences. After that, I only used WK to reinforce the recognizing and differentiating visually similar kanji.

Going full speed on WK since my kanji is way behind my vocab. I’m level 28 now, and I already got 6200+ on iKnow for vocab. Planning to get 10K as fast as I can. Getting to know the vocab would be the most important thing since it helped me tremendously with comprehension. I also started doing immersion, reading native material like, and watching tv shows daily. Not starting to speak, but I got a lot of shadowing daily through listening material on iKnow.

I think the most efficient thing for me was learning grammar and building vocab. Then when it was enough, move on to immersion.

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Context: I live in Japan. I started learning Japanese 3 years ago, like a 2 months before moving here. Obviously my path will be different from someone who doesn’t live in country, but I think there may still be useful things in there. I’m a huge believer in the importance of having balance between the 4 skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking). Also I hate flashcards and can’t manage an SRS other than WaniKani. I’m at about N2 level now.

General: I used Genki as my main base for grammar. I felt kind of lost after the first half, so I went back and did the first half of Minna no Nihongo to get more practice. After finishing Genki II, I moved on to the Quartet series, which I highly recommend. I’m currently working through Quartet 2. I started Wanikani pretty immediately, but have not been great about sticking with it.

Speaking: It honestly took me about a year to be able to have even a really basic conversation. I have no idea what kind of mental block I had, but I just couldn’t process fast enough to answer even a simple question without a solid 60 second pause to think. For some reason at the 1 year mark, everything just clicked and I started being able to say things. I think what helped was that I started going to a community class where I was forced to speak in a controlled environment. I wish I’d started going sooner. I recently started working with a tutor on iTalki and my speaking abilities have skyrocketed. Also wish I started that sooner. Thanks largely to my iTalki tutor, I can now comfortably discuss politics and current events.

A technique that really helps me is talking to yourself. Start with narrating simple actions, and build in complexity as your skills grow. Don’t worry too much about having perfect grammar. If you don’t know a word, see if you can say it another way. If it’s really tripping you up, skip it. Resist the urge to pull out your dictionary. You don’t want to be glued to your dictionary during a real conversation, so best not to get used to using it as a crutch.

Reading: I started pretty early with Kumon’s Kokugo course (ie the one made for small Japanese children). It was uh, rough, to say the least. Definitely trial by fire, don’t necessarily recommend starting as early as I did. The Kokugo course isn’t available outside of Japan, but I highly recommend using graded readers (which is basically what the course is). Try to read a little bit every day if you can. You’ll get better with time. I’m now at the 6th grade level in Kumon and can read a YA novel pretty easily.

Some people are super into to making flashcards out of every new word they see when reading. I don’t think it’s super necessary and don’t do it myself (but if you want to go ahead). Early on I looked up all the unknown words, but as time goes on, I don’t look them up and try to figure out the meaning from context.

Writing: I actually think the textbook activities are great writing practice. If you can get someone to check them for you, even better. Start small with simple sentences and work your way up complexity wise. Try not to translate in your head, but form the sentences directly in Japanese. I can now comfortably write a (handwritten) page long story.

Listening: Most of my listening practice has come from the people around me, which will of course be different if you don’t live in Japan. I think there are some really great resources on Youtube though, and also some really great beginners podcasts. I would recommend aiming for things that mimic natural Japanese rather than anime. I’ve recently gotten really into Japanese podcasts like Coten Radio.

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Definitely finding someone to speak with. I love using iTalki, there are great teachers on there if you’re willing to spend money. Otherwise HelloTalk and Tandem are great for free language exchange partners and people who can answer questions and correct writings and recordings (I prefer Tandem because you can filter to only see people of the same gender and then there’s no “this feels like a creepy dating app” vibe…). It really helps to get native-speaker feedback for me.

For reading, if you can find manga with furigana (I think Amazon America sells some Japanese manga), the sentences are short and the pictures help you follow the story.

For listening(/kanji?), if you have a VPN (or if GYAO works in America? I’m not sure about that), then watching Japanese shows with Japanese subtitles worked great for both my reading speed and listening comprehension. Also, Japanese YouTube.

But above all, the main thing is to keep going!
3 months in and able to read the kanas along with starting kanji, and doing Genki and bunpro is a great start! Go at a pace that makes you feel like you won’t get burned out. Marathon, not a sprint! You got this!

Like others here have said, the big thing is just consuming A TON of the language. For me that has meant a lot of reading, I’m still not anywhere close to where I want to be, but I’ve made a lot of progress as well. In order to really feel motivated you need to venture outside of studying, out of your comfort zone. Sticking with Wanikani, your textbooks, anki, etc. and not actually attempting to use it until you “feel you’re ready enough” is a big mistake many have made, one I feel I also did too. Learn to be uncomfortable, accept you’ll make many mistakes but through those you’ll learn much more than just not doing it.

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Seconded. The more I fall flat on my face, the more I learn. Because I care, I get back up and continue. Next time it’ll be something else I don’t get or don’t know, but that’s okay.

The curated environments of WK, bunpro and others are good to start with, but the kiddie wheels have got to come off at one point.

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I’ve been studying for 2 years now, and have reached the point where I can read simple manga without constantly having to look everything up, and can have simple conversations in Japanese (I don’t live in Japan and my main motivation is reading). Here’s my 2 cents if it helps:

  • First off - acknowledge to yourself that Japanese is a complex language and is not something that can be approached casually. Unless you’re a natural language genius, it’s going to take signficant time and effort (i.e. 1+ hrs/day).

  • Come up with a study plan that fits in with your lifestyle, and that you are confident that you can maintain for the long term and commit to it. There can be no skipping days, especially when it comes to SRS study methods. Even a week or two off from kanji will set you back months.

  • Your study plan should include grammar and vocab outside of WaniKani, asap. Don’t wait for level 10 as some suggest. Even if your focus is reading, I’d add listening and speaking practice to your routine if possible, there are aspects of the language that are very difficult to pick up purely from reading. If you can afford it, I highly recommend Italki, finding a good native speaker teacher on there has been the most beneficial thing for my studies so far.

  • Read. As much and as often as possible. Start now. It will be horrible slog to start with, it’ll take hours to get through a page of manga, but regular reading is the only way to reinforce the knowledge in your brain. Not everyone agrees with this, but my advice is: once you get to the point where you can understand ~75% of what you’re reading DONT LOOK STUFF UP. Just keep reading. You’ll enjoy it a lot more and at that point volume is the goal, not complete understanding.

  • Just to re-emphasize its going to be HAAARD. Accept that now and it’ll help you a lot further down the road.

I hope you find any of that useful. Learning Japanese is one of the most challenging things I’ve attempted, but it’s definitely been worth it.

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Reading is defo great. There is nothing like just getting in there and learning from actual language exposure.

@leo6701 You can start of with manga with furigana which should ease you into trying out stuff without them. It’s going to be a struggle, but if you can keep at it, that’s how you slowly get yourself to where you wanna be at.

@leo6701 You say you wanna improve with both reading and speaking. Those are very different skillsets and require different approaches. :eyes:

To tie into simply reading a lot, I suggest also listening a lot. Start with stuff with subtitles, they try watching without.

Finally, move over to audio only media that is quite different from visual media - it’s a better way to train your ears into picking up on vocab to be able to hold a conversation.

Speaking, or writing, is the hardest part. But, if you get enough practice on reading and listening, using Japanese will defo get much easier. But, in the end, you’ll also have to practice doing so.

Try to find forms for writing or places to practice your conversation skills.

As for what I did myself, we’ll it’s already listed in detail here: The long and winding immersion path to WaniKani level 60 - WaniKani - WaniKani Community ^^

This got really long, but maybe having an example of one person’s progression is helpful for someone.

False-Start Beginner Stage (2013): Studying Japanese at university as part of an English major

  • Formal classes based around Genki I (2 semesters)
  • Interested but struggling with classes, cramming kanji, being frustrated with learning
  • No real fluency, just a bit of linguistic knowledge that wasn’t helpful

True Beginner Stage (2015): Studying Japanese via a study-abroad program in Shiga Prefecture (1 semester)

  • Intensive classes reviewing Genki I while immersion-learning
  • Having a much better time with immersion-learning and more communicative classes
  • Actually putting serious effort into the academic portion of language learning
  • Finally gaining a basic ability to communicate by making Japanese friends, feeling highly motivated as a result

Low-Intermediate Stage (2015-2016): Back in the US finishing university

  • After studying abroad and getting to use Japanese in daily life, classes based around Genki II in the US become incredibly easy (2 semesters)
  • Keeping in contact with friends in Japan, having phone calls in Japanese to keep up, consuming more Japanese media but not really having the ability to watch/read media at an enjoyable rate
  • Still have really poor kanji knowledge. Realizing that classes are easy because I gained some basic fluency and can intuit the answers, but have low knowledge of kanji and grammar

Intermediate Stage (2016): Self-studying Japanese while working as an ALT (Assistant Language Teacher) on the JET Program (living in Japan)

  • Start serious self-study for the first time, find out I much prefer self-study to formal classes because I can tailor everything to my learning style
  • Start Wanikani and finally learn how to read
  • Self-study Tobira
  • Organize language exchanges with my friend who works at a bar, get conversation practice through that and making other friends
  • Spending all day at elementary and junior high schools where no one speaks English has a HUGE effect, constant immersion all day every day makes studying Japanese so much easier, in part because of the constant opportunity to learn/use JPN, but also because motivation is easy to keep up when Japanese is so central to your life.
  • Pass N3 in 2016, no targeted study materials though

Upper-Intermediate Phase (2017): Still on JET as an ALT

  • After passing N3, I decide to do more focused studying for N2, using the Shin Kanzen Master books (specifically, the Reading and Grammar books)
  • Getting to higher levels of Wanikani, having decent reading ability but still not really enjoying reading due to frequent pauses to look things up
  • Immersion is still nice, but becoming less useful: around this point, the scope of daily conversation is too small, like you don’t get as much exposure to new words and grammar etc. unless you get into deep conversation, and while I was comfortable with language that appears in spoken Japanese, written language can be very different, and I wasn’t comfortable enough with it.
  • Trying to just slog through reading
  • Start playing a lot of games in Japanese, liking that better
  • Start really getting into manga for reading practice, give up on novels for a bit and just focus on what I enjoy
  • Pass N2 2017

Advanced Phase (2018-2019): Continuing JET as an ALT

  • Using Shin Kanzen Master N1 books (grammar and reading)
  • Consuming a lot of Japanese media (games, manga, TV, short stories)
  • Same issues with immersion being very motivating but no longer enough
  • Fail N1 summer 2018, fail winter 2018
  • After failing, feeling frustrated and burnt out on textbooks and decide to just give them up and focus on consuming media.
  • At a fairly high level in Wanikani, but not progressing. Not feeling motivated to do reviews when I’d rather watch/read/play something.
  • Consume a ton of media and start actually enjoying reading and watching native material: this creates a feedback loop where as you learn it gets easier, so you can spend more time watching/reading and learn more, which makes it easier, etc.
  • Pass N1 summer 2019. Feel justified in quitting the textbooks and feeling it out with media

Fluency Phase (2019-Present): Switch job and become a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations)

  • Main work becomes translating, interpreting, and coordinating Japanese and English-speaking employees, meaning a whole new level of immersion and different context for language
  • Lot of emails and texts in Japanese for work
  • No more tests means I can just do whatever feels best
  • After a year or so I start coasting, can feel the plateau. Fluency is high, but I still feel like my literacy is lower than it could be.
  • Start using Wanikani and Anki while focusing on reading in order to prepare for the job search
  • Start job-searching in earnest, using recruiters who send me materials and communicate in Japanese, get Japanese friends to edit my resume/CV etc., get much better at writing but it’s still not enough, get an online Japanese tutor to help with that, do lots of interviews in Japanese, reading job info and company websites

TLDR: The Takeaways

  • Learning a language takes time, years and years, and it never really stops
  • I think the most important thing is to keep experimenting and changing up your approach until you find a way of learning that is easy for you. I think the only way to keep going indefinitely is to make learning Japanese something you enjoy. If there’s an aspect of study that is wearing you down, find a different way to do it.
  • For some people, including me, immersion can be extremely motivating and make your Japanese skyrocket. But it’s also important to be prepared for the immersion: I think I might have crashed and burned if I hadn’t already learned the basics when I went to study abroad, and even then I reviewed material so I could get a better foundation. Foundation is really essential.
  • WaniKani is really good for some, including me. No way was I gonna make myself brute force memorize everything without it, which means I definitely wouldn’t have the fluency or even the job I have today.
  • Once it becomes easy enough to not be painful, I think just getting as much native material as possible is the way to go. Even at a lower level, communication is really valuable: for me, probably more valuable than books.
  • Language learning, imo, is more about being consistent and working hard than about being clever. Time put in is more valuable than being “smart,” and even if you are conventionally smart, it won’t help if you don’t put in the time.

Thanks for reading this long boi of a post, if you did, and I hope your studies go well. As others have said, just keep going! Find a way that works for you.

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I’m envious: you’re path will be far easier than mine because you’re doing EXACTLY the right thing first (learning kanji with Wanikani).

I believe strongly that even the vocabulary you learn here will help you with your speaking, despite the fact that the vocabulary choices are primarily focused on teaching the main readings for a character.

So many great answers already in this thread. My only additional suggestion re: speaking is: “Find your inner child.”

Children learn to speak somewhat effortlessly because they find people to speak with and they only care about conversing and communicating. They couldn’t care less about mistakes. Grammar and word-choice don’t matter at all. And they converse constantly.

In other words: quantity trumps quality. Take advantage of every opportunity to converse in Japanese and don’t worry about mistakes.

One thing that helps a surprising amount to keep a conversation going is to work on your pronunciation and mannerisms. Mimicry is everything: try repeating sentences you hear on TV or whatever as closely as possible.

Whenever speaking to a live human in Japanese: lots of head-nodding and pretending to understand more than you do. Just keep the conversation going by hook or by crook.

Have fun!

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This is more of a general thing but

If a certain app/ book/ website isn’t working for you, like you find it difficult to use or you just don’t like it, find a different app/ book/ website! There are a ton of materials and everyone learns a different way, so what might work for other people may not work for you. There’s no shame in that!

Also think about different ways to challenge yourself to output Japanese. (Vocab study and grammar are input). Like try to narrate your day or try to think of how you could describe your favorite things in Japanese. There are several apps/sites available like hellotalk, italki, lang-8, etc. where you can have your output checked by native speakers.

Two years is a great time frame but its not a race! It really depends on why you’re learning. Learn for you and in a way that you can benefit from it best. As long as you know more today than yesterday, you are doing a great job. Consitency in studying will be your best friend.

Side note- Basics are really important. Make sure you make a good foundation first before worrying about more complex sentences/ words.

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Thanks for the motivation :slight_smile:

what mangas do you reccomend to read, and how would i go about it? literally just typing in words i dont understand (which would be like all of them)

thanks for your story, when im older and have the finances and ability to do so, i will certainly try to study IN japan for some period of time when im more comfortable with speaking it

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A really encouraging and inspiring post.

Thank you so much.

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Of course! And yes, I recommend studying in Japan if you can make it work!!

I was in debt paying for the 2015 study abroad until last year (the freeze on my other US student loans during Covid really helped). Studying abroad can be a big expense, but for me it was worth it as a step toward working in Japan. Eventually, it paid for itself.

Do you think you might like to work in Japan someday?

I’m so glad it meant something to you. You are very welcome.

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