What have been your most effective self-study methods?


I really like iKnow as well. It’s great for vocabulary, and it gives you example sentences with different verb conjugations so you can get a feel for them. When I use it alone at home I shadow the sentences, and then try to same them along with the recordings to work on speaking speed. The program tells you what you need to learn, which makes everything easier. It’s also a lot more pleasant to work through. Personally, as much as I want to love it, I just can’t get into Anki. iKnow is a lot easier for me to stick with.


okay, listening comprehension is a beast on it’s own. it’s hard at the beginning, takes time and gets better slowly. unlike reading, which is an intellectual skill, listening comprehension is a physical activity, you’re training your ears to parse streams of sounds, find the beginning and ending of words, identify them, connect them to words you already know. now, listening goes with speaking, it’s the perfect thing to pair up with. both are their own ability, both need training (not study). while japanese pronunciation is straight forward, speaking is not. even if you can pronounce short things, just following the hiragana, you will be severely tongue tied and, at the beginning, stutter a lot. here’s how it’s done:

how you do listening depends a bit on what you have available. thankfully there’s youtube these days :slight_smile:

i’d start out with shadowing. the two videos i would recommend are these:

go through them once, slowly, pausing, reading, trying to understand. understanding what you say is crucial, you’re not a parrot. you don’t want to be able to mirror, you want to be able to connect some sentence with it’s sounds, and you want to be able to produce them yourself.

these two videos have the text on screen simultaneously, so you can speak while reading (or just following the lines with your eyes - reading speed will come by doing the program above, but this here is native speaking speed, it will be too fast for a while).

pause the video at the beginning at every sentence and repeat. do it slowly. then start to speed up until you think you can match the speed of the natives. when you’re close, start to shadow: speak with them, simultaneously. listen while speaking, look out for mismatches, but don’t worry about them. repetition will fix the problem in time. shadowing would be the single best way to identify problems with your own pronunciation and intonation. it also engages both listening and speaking, which saves you time.

treat shadowing like singing: just repeat and try to match the lines as closely as you can. especially the female speaker here goes about the pitch in a way i can’t quite match as a male - which would be a problem in a song. but that’s not a problem for speech, males do sound naturally different. you’ll find though that the pitch is indeed the same no matter who speaks it.

these videos are from NHK by the way, recorded by professionals. they contain casual japanese, go at full speed (you won’t learn from dumbed down, slow speech) and the added text helps a lot. they contain a lot of useful short phrases you will hear and use a lot yourself.

this video here is @koichi , talking about the topic

his guide there is a bit more thorough than what i wrote.

please remember that shadowing (or listening/speaking in particular) is something that comes when you’re already able to read manga pretty comfortably.

another great tool for reading practice and shadowing are vdual novels. there’s a good one for beginners called japanese school life (steam link) - this one is actually made for japanese learners and lets you read in english, japanese with furigana or without. clannad (steam link) is also excellent, i’d follow the first one up with this, because it’s casual and formal everyday japanese.

here’s a “let’s play” of japanese school life with english text, i’m pretty sure steam lets you switch the language for most VNs, but this in particular should have a language switch option in game:

one big thing viual novels have is the ability to click on some icon to repeat all the phrases, often in the log, which you can access somehow. (some have it right in the text field, some in the backlog). being able to go back and forth through the lines and search for special lines and repeat is very useful.

this here is an example of what it looks like… click on the line you want to listen to again:

when you’re done with all this, you shouldn’t need any real studies and training anymore. just watch stuff, read stuff, have fun and pick up new things from sources you enjoy.


Thanks!! That was a great explanation. Actually it validates the plan I was thinking about speeding up listening and speaking.

Indeed reading can be more easily tracked down in terms of progress. There’s enough graded material both for japanese learners and for japanese audiences to make a clear path to progressively increase the difficulty of the material.

As for listening, for me it’s much harder to grade the content I’m using.
Some shows I’ve watched so many times, used as sentence mining material, and overall make it to the point that I’m quite familiar with those so I can listen those same shows in my mp3 player like if they were my daily soundtrack.

I think I’ll give it a go to the Shadowing book, I have the first one, but never went through it. Same for these Listening Training course and Speaking / Pronunciation course… It was hard to practice listening and shadowing when there was such a clear progress in reading skils, and the path was quite straightforward. Now I’m moving to Japan in about 4 months, so I think the benefits of actively practice this will be quite palpable this time :muscle:

So… I’ll try to work over my listening as much as possible, and leave the speaking for when in Japan.

Thanks again!

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i think the book is kind of nice to grade yourself on. it goes in short units and you can see some progress. it’s definitely worth it in my opinion to get both the books, then rip the cds and make MP3s out of them, so you can listen to them anywhere.

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I have been self-studying for about 3.5 years in my spare time now. I’ve never studied at a school. Here are the resources I’ve found to be most useful in my experience, going from knowing nothing, to N5, N4, and now N3 preparation:


N5 to N4 level: For self-studying the fundamentals of grammar, I found reading https://www.amazon.com/English-Grammar-Students-Japanese-Learning/dp/0934034168 to be irreplaceable. It explained various foundational grammatical concepts better than A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (whose explanations are often overly terse). It explained fundamental grammatical concepts that most other textbooks either forget to explain, or simply do not explain as well as this book. Despite the fact that it’s written in romaji, it has been tremendously helpful in giving me a good foundation in grammar.

N4 level and higher: I highly recommend 日本語文型辞典 英語版 ―A Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns for Teachers and Learners" as a great reference for self-studying grammar. It may take months, if not years, to read entirely and fully comprehend, but I think it’s totally worthwhile (or maybe I just like studying grammar too much). I wrote a lengthy review about it on its Amazon page at https://www.amazon.com/Handbook-Japanese-Patterns-Teachers-Learners/dp/4874246788 comparing it to the “A Dictionary of Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Japanese Grammar” books.

Although I also have copies of the “A Dictionary of Basic/Intermediate/Advanced Japanese Grammar” books, I feel that after mastering the majority of the “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar” book, the 日本語文型辞典 英語版 book does a far better job of giving many, many, many examples and different forms of usage for a particular grammar point (especially for common, “basic” grammar points, that may actually have many different usages that are considered to be more advanced).

I also have found the Kanzen Master books to be great for self-study because they have answer keys and get straight the point of quizzing the reader on specific grammar points. Their grammar explanations are weak and unreliable though. I just use them to test myself and help me choose what to read next from the “A Handbook of Japanese Grammar Patterns for Teachers and Learners” book.

Writing Kanji

The Kanji Study app on Android is by far the best app for this. It’s simply one of the most feature-filled and well-designed Android apps I have on my phone. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.mindtwisted.kanjistudy I import kanji lists from WaniKani by level and practice writing them each many, many, many times, while I’m sitting on the bus. I’m probably doing a bad job of explaining how good this app is. I refuse to buy an iPhone because this app is not available on iOS (amongst other reasons for not owning an iPhone).

General textbooks

N5-N4 level: I found the 80/20 Japanese (Kana and Kanji Edition) book to be really helpful for self-study when I was around the N5 level. It explains things from scratch, is written well, with good explanations, and good exercises (without having unnecessary cruft). I much preferred this book over the Genki books. It is also written by a nice Australian guy, who studied Japanese himself, passed N1, and works in Japan (as opposed to being written by a native Japanese professor), so he understands exactly the confusions or problems a native English-speaking learner might have, and provides crisp, useful explanations to address them, in a way that resembles a first-year university calculus class (i.e. always starting with the core concepts concisely explained or enumerated in a tidy table format, then elaborated on, with examples and exercises to follow).

Things that I have found to be NOT useful for self-study, despite other people’s raving reviews:

  • Genki books
  • Minna no Nihongo books
  • Japanese for Busy People books
  • Assimil books
  • Elementary Japanese books

Hiragana and Katakana

At the N5 level, for writing and reading hiragana and katakana (after you’ve tried all of the various tricks to try and learn them quickly, that ultimately failed to work for me because I never internalized them that way), I found that writing out the words in the book “Reading Japanese” - https://www.amazon.com/Reading-Japanese-Yale-Language-English/dp/0300019130 to be most effective.

This book assumes you know absolutely nothing, and then incrementally only adds more characters, and never shows you any characters unless you’ve previously already been introduced to it.

For remembering the correct hiragana and katakana stroke orders, I found these PDFs from NHK to be really useful:

Self-assessing Reading Level

https://www.amazon.com/Japanese-Reader-Lessons-Mastering-Language/dp/0804816476 – This book is legendary in terms of its range of difficulty (from ultra simple to ultra advanced).

It’s one of those books that I keep around, knowing that it’ll take me years to fully comprehend.

It contains graded reading passages from the pre-N5 level (i.e. passages containing simple sequences of kana, just to check if you can even recognize individual hiragana and katakana), N5-level passages, N4-level passages, N3-level passages, N2-level passages, N1-level passages, N1+ native adult level fiction (chapters from books by Japanese authors) and N1+ native adult level non-fiction (e.g. essays on capitalism, texts about foreign trade and financial terminology).

I highly recommend at least browsing the preview of it on Amazon. It’s a unique book, for sure. I have not encountered a book like it, amongst the ~300 books on Japanese that I’ve at least flipped through.


I have not found a good method for this, for self-study while being outside of Japan. The best method for speaking practice that I’ve found so far has been making friends with Japanese natives who don’t speak much English and chatting with them. (I guess that’s kinda obvious though…)

I have not found italki to be useful (but I haven’t used it that much).


Thanks a lot for this tip on the intensive/extensive reading. I’ve been trying that for the last few days since I’ve read your post and it’s helped a lot. Just reading through something the first time, either sentence by sentence, or the whole lot, grasping what I can without worrying about understand every word. I kindof get the gist of things, and then when I go back and read it looking up the words, the rest of the meaning falls into place, or I see what I was lacking. So it’s been a great help so far and I hope to take this forward.

I also plan to take on your advice and pick up the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar early in the new year (it seems cheaper for me to buy it from Japanese Amazon than my local one…) and also research into these graded readers. I’ve seen them mentioned a bunch so am sure that more searching through these forums I can find some more info and recommendations on them.



glad it was helpful. if you run into any trouble along the way, don’t worry. readers are not aligned with wanikani, but it shouldn’t be a big problem. maybe it’s even nice training, for when you’re 60 and the odd one not on wk pops up :slight_smile:

You can get the graded readers from Amazon. I love them and it is good practice. Also the books are fun and entertaining. They are for kids, but I am really enjoying them. The pictures are colorful and really relate to the text.

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I did some shadowing today and it is a lot of fun! Although occasionally harder than I expected. I’d go through like two or three entries fairly easily and then hit one that was just like :no_mouth:

I got really tripped up on お先に失礼しました. How are there so many consonants so close together??

EDIT: Oh and I also always feel like I’m yelling a bit when I’m shadowing Japanese, or at least speaking very loudly and enthusiastically…is that normal?


no worries, you won’t yell when speaking freely :wink:

That’s good to know :sweat_smile: I think I’m just overcorrecting to make sure I match the pitch. So when the pitch goes up I REALLY GO UP and when it goes down I REALLY GO DOWN. It’ll probably even out with time.

years ago when I was learning Mandarin Chinese (which I have since forgotten) my Chinese professor told me I was good at mimicking tones even though most of the time I had no idea what was happening. I pray that power is still with me

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exaggerating isn’t bad. it will level out over time, no big deal. by exaggerating, you really focus on the pitch, and that’s probably exactly what you need at this point in your program. i’d say you’re on the right track :slight_smile:

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Hey, thanks for mentioning Kanji Study! I had been looking for something like this, and I just got the app so I can practice during my commute. This might be a silly question, but how do you import kanji lists from WK? Do I have to use WK on my phone to be able to do that?

@HelixApothecari Great question. I wrote up a little tutorial for this, for you at How to add Wanikani data to Japanese Kanji Study (Android App) - #13 by normful

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Wow, thanks a lot! Just checked it out, and you put a lot of work into that “little” tutorial. I especially appreciate the pictures you added for every step. Now adding those kanji shouldn’t be a problem!

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Shadowing update: I think I hurt my throat yelling 銀行は何時から何時までですか! at my computer today :joy: Something about the repeated で really got me. These are fun! Thanks so much for sharing!

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there’s a line in a song ilike that goes 受け入れられたらそれでいいんじゃないか that took me a while to master, hehe. the inflections can get really bad :slight_smile: but it’s doable. just keep going :wink:

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First of all thanks for the great tips on how to approach the whole thing. I’ve been jumbling around a lot with different things not having gotten a clear path, because there is just an overwhelming amount of information and resources out there that you don’t even know where to go to.

I think I’ll stick with WK for Kanji, Bunpro for grammar repetition and get the Grammar Book you recommended. So that I’ll be able to try for the N5 test this coming summer.
Two questions:

  1. Do you have any recommendations on graded readers? Or just the white rabbit ones? Maybe the one that @normful recommended here: Self-assessing Reading Level
  2. Where to get the Vocab / Kana only words from that are not covered by WK?

Thanks for the great input. I hope that brings me into a straighter line of studying for my goals :slight_smile:

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you can use any kind of graded material. i don’t have a pc right now, so i can’t link, but there’s for example a series called 〜のふしぎ aimed at elementary students, a series イッキによめる, those work, too.
it’s generally easier to find this sort of stuff on japanese amazon, search for 1年生、2年生 and so on.
even books about subjects like biology, history, etc are fine, they only contain kanji for that grade and furigana for all advanced stuff.

that’s probably also the cheapest option.

if you live in japan, go to a BOOK-OFF and ask them for 小学生向けの教科書