What if I wanted to learn Japanese without learning how to read?

How feasible do you think this would be and what would you do? And if you learned just hiragana and katakana?

You can probably use Pimsleur to achieve this. It’s a series of CDs that you can listen to. They also have an app.

4 Likes

If I understand correctly, you want to be able to speak and understand Japanese with hearing, while omitting reading and writing.

If that’s the case, yes it’s possible, although you would be able to speak and understand the language at a much faster rate if you also included reading and writing in your study.

When learning a language the most beneficial thing you can do to improve your grammar, vocabulary and comprehension is to read. Take that out and you will improve at a much slower rate.
Reading is extremely beneficial simply because humans retain information better through sight than through hearing or other sensory organs.

Lastly, most learning resources are text-based with written explanations and example sentences that you have to read to comprehend certain grammar points. Audio-only resources are very limited.

10 Likes

I guess if you focus mainly on listening and talking material you could achieve some kind of conversational proficiency? To be honest this sounds very tough, as it would limit the number of resources you could use to do this. Maybe with a teacher?

1 Like

I use Pimsleur (app) which also gives you the romanji / hiragana and later on the kanji for every sentence. It also lets you view flashcards in hiragana / kanji to guess the English (though it is multiple choice) and other little skill tests.
I wanted to learn to speak without reading particularly but then realised (for me) that really wasn’t going to work.

2 Likes

It is pretty much doable. I know a woman who is married to a Japanese guy. She is speaking absolutely good Japanese but couldn’t read at all (maybe a little hiragana). And she was attending Japanese classes (intermediate level) to learn how to read and write. It’s easy if you have someone from who you can learn or you’re living in Japan.
Just by yourself, I believe it would be more difficult.
I don’t know why you want to do something like that (or maybe it’s just hypothetical question).

Learning just hiragana and katakana would be easier but you soon came up to that moment when reading without kanji would be very difficult as length and complexity will increase.
You can more less deal with it by implementing spaces between hiragana words.
It was done in early Japanese games (Pokémon red and green jp. version for example) as there were no kanji just hiragana and katakana with additional spaces but it was actually harder to read.

Anything is possible I think. At this point in history it seems like it would be more difficult than before because almost all learning aids other than Pimsleur or other CD/audio based only learning systems have reading involved. So if you didn’t use anything else like websites, apps, books, textbooks, etc then someone may be able to manage it. But it would almost be like avoiding any written Japanese.

Most children learn to speak before they can read, and back in the day there were spoken languages only, not written, or even only a couple hundred years (maybe more recent than that even) reading was only a higher learning type of thing and lots of people only spoke languages. Learning to read at that time was less common than it is today.

With all that being said, I think it would possible, but I feel like even looking up words or anything would be difficult because I feel like you would almost have to read something at some point. If you only learned hiragana and katakana you wouldn’t find a ton of media written out in that way, it would almost always use kanji as well. It is an interesting thing to think about though…but man it sounds really difficult and limiting, like I would only get to know a portion of what would be possible, or it would take a really long time…haha!

2 Likes

I imagine it’s possible. I’m currently working through a course called Assimil which has romaji (and kanji) the whole way through and covers about 2000 words and most of the basic grammar.

I’m on lesson 42 out of 98 and have been learning to write everything as I go and that’s what takes the bulk of my time. If I was just learning the grammar and vocab (or even just reading and not writing) I reckon it would be going a lot faster!

I sometimes wonder if it would have been more time efficient to to learn the most common two thousand words and get N4 grammar down before learning the Kanji and then to have come back and focused on Wanikani and audio immersion.

You can also try something like Glossika, it’s focused on speaking, though it’s much more useful once you’ve got a base in the language. I’ve used it for Cantonese (which is mostly a spoken language) and it worked well for me, but i had native speakers to practise with and ask questions.

Edit: Assimil is another option as @origamipaperclip mentioned, but in my experience their courses for Asian languages haven’t been as good as the European ones.

How has your experience been with assimil in terms of ease of speaking?

My advice is to at least learn hiragana, because it’ll help you understand the phonology of the Japanese language better, and the conjugations. For example take the word “tatsu” which means “to stand”. If you see that the polite version is “tachimasu” you might be confused how the “tsu” becomes “chi” if you don’t realize both of them are on the “T” row of the hiragana chart.

6 Likes

Well considering that every native Japanese speaker managed to learn Japanese without hiragana or katakana, it seems reasonable.

2 Likes

you should learn to read, otherwise knowing the language won’t be nearly as useful. think about it. you can’t go online and watch videos directly from japan (because you can’t write on the computer), going to the country you’d have a real issue understanding anything around you. although you’d be able to speak the language, it’d be of actual less use unless you’re planning to stay for long (in which case you’d already naturally learn). if you’d wanna work in japan (like an english teacher). what are you going to do when you would have gotten essays etc that are partly japanese. if you are going to be a teacher, for example, reading is not enough. being very proficient at writing is also necessary, and it’s not the same skill, especially when writing kanji by hand. anyways, it seems pretty pointless to me… you should learn both.

It’s mostly focused on comprehension. Each lesson is a conversation between two people which is written out in Kanji, romaji and English (though I’m using the French edition). They use footnotes to describe any new bits of grammar or culture.

So it’s pretty decent for building comprehension (they have recordings of each dialogue cut up into sentences which is useful if you want to make flashcards on a program like Anki) but won’t drill you on speaking.

Each lesson is usually about 15 sentences long. The English edition is older and I haven’t used it but I imagine it’s pretty similar.

The question here is why. Even if it’s because you’re not interested in reading, I still think reading practice (and even just being able to read) would help you tremendously with learning Japanese.

2 Likes

Of course it’s possible. But to get anywhere in a reasonable amount of time you probably have to watch 6 or so hours of TV every day.

1 Like

Apparently adult adoption is widespread in Japan. Perhaps one could replicate the experience of being raised as a child in a family for this purpose.

2 Likes

Just want to note that while it’s true that native speakers learned how to speak and listen without necessarily reading or writing, you also need to take into account the difference between their environment and yours. The sheer number of hours that a 5 year old child has spent immersed in Japanese likely towers over anything you could realistically expect if you don’t live in Japan.

I’m not saying it’s impossible or not to do it, just leaving it as something to consider.

6 Likes

Just so everyone knows, this was a purely hypothetical question. I’m obviously a wanikani learner, and I won’t stop, but I was mainly curious about how to go about this, since I was talking with one of my old professors who has learned many un-written languages (as they have no writing system). In my experience, learning kanji really helps me remember vocab, because otherwise the words sound too similar and look to similar for me (I’m a visual learner). Thanks for all your responses!

4 Likes

Live with a family of native speakers, preferably someone who has children. Get all-day immersion. Babysit the kids (or are they babysitting you?) and get them to teach you basic vocabulary and phrases while the adults are busy. If you’re a visual/writing learner, carry a notebook around everywhere and write things as phonetically as you can.

Then if you’re really serious about the language, go and write a textbook so your students have an easier time than you did.