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.