On the Kitsun Discord.
To all the excellent advice here, I would add: find actual humans who speak Japanese. Preferably in person. If you’re in a major city, there’s probably a Japanese community of some kind. If it’s big enough, there will be seasonal festivals where various cultural groups give demonstrations. There might even be a school for Japanese kids. Not only can these groups give you a lot of practice now, they can help connect you to friends and family back in Japan, which will be hugely useful if you actually go there.
Please check the Kitsun thread. I’ve just made the announcement about MaruMori!
@Wildstern Awesome to hear you’re happy with Kitsun! Thank you so much!
Just gonna clarify that some people find that Assimil doesn’t explain grammar in enough detail. I personally felt like most of it was enough. At the very worst, you can use Google or ask questions on these forums. Still, I’d really encourage everyone still in the beginner/lower intermediate stages to check it out since it basically goes up to the level of Genki/Minna no Nihongo volume 2, and I feel it provides a lot more exposure to the language (along with listening practice) than most beginners’ courses.
With all due respect, you can self-study with a textbook, and using one can make it easier to acquire a foundation quickly. I will agree that not all textbooks are equally helpful though, and my general impression of language schools – especially for Japanese – is that they’re relatively slow. (If we’re talking about experience, I pass for native in at least one language other than English – French – and outscore natives on essay subjects.) My point here is that textbooks aren’t necessarily bad or worse than looking for material entirely on your own, and I’m living proof that they can help, at least at the lower levels. (The highest levels are always going to be 99-100% self-study because no one else can cover everything for you.) If you’re enjoying how you’re studying, great, but ‘don’t buy a textbook’ can also lead to a lot of unnecessary struggling for people who aren’t as sure about how to find themselves resources. Let everyone discover their preferences is what I’d say.
This though, I agree with. A lot of my knowledge comes from anime, and I learnt a lot of French through the news and television shows back when I was still learning to use it. You don’t feel the effort as much when you’re enjoying yourself.
I think that falls pretty heavily into the “it depends” category. If you do, say, one evening a week classes then you’re going to progress slowly, but that’s a “time spent studying” issue as much as anything else (though there is also an element of “class will go at the expected rate of a student who isn’t doing too much out of class study”). If you are studying full time five days a week at a language school then you’ll progress quite quickly. In both cases there’s a lot of difference between “turn up at class and do a fairly minimal amount outside of it” and “use the classes as structure and do self-study in conjunction with them”.
I’ve had a lot of fun in the classes I’ve taken over the years, and the 9 months I spent in a language school in Japan were definitely what got me from “just-out-of beginner” to a solid upper intermediate. Some people like the class environment. Some people like the structure the course provides. Some people find the “you have to turn up” aspect is a useful way of imposing accountability and nudging them to actually do some study. Classes are one of the ways of getting practice and a bit of confidence in actually speaking the language. If you want to spend more than 3 months at a time in Japan, you can get a student visa for attending a language school and you can’t get a visa for self-study.
Different approaches work for different people; regardless of study method, it’s probably going to work best if you go into it with a clear idea what you want to get out of it, and you supplement it as appropriate to compensate for its weaknesses.
Yeah, I guess you have a point there. Something might be ‘slow’ if you’re using ‘class (or no class) + studying outside class’ as a standard, or if you’re comparing one class a week to several sessions a week.
The classes at my school aren’t meant for me (at best, I least some everyday vocab that I wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise), but I have to say that I enjoy having a teacher with whom to discuss things or whom I can ask questions, even if she can’t tailor the lessons to me. As such, I can see where you’re coming from, even if I haven’t had many teachers (for anything really, not just Japanese) who’ve made a positive impact on my life. It can provide an environment and a block of time for focusing on Japanese, at the least. And yes, 1-2 people I talk to over Discord, I wouldn’t have much speaking or writing practice otherwise.
Ultimately, I guess this is it.
I haven’t used Genki myself, but I’ve been asked to teach a mini-lesson using Minna no Nihongo. I think textbooks aren’t wrong per se, but they do tend to atomise things? Grammar, for example, tends to get chopped up into lots of little ideas you ‘just’ need to memorise instead of being explained as a system full of (generally quite logical) links. My textbook (from Assimil, mentioned above) tended not to break things up quite as rigidly – a big part of why was simply that there were very few long-winded, isolated grammar lessons – but didn’t always go into the links either. No textbook covers that though (except maybe this one really technical tome I know), so ultimately that’s just how things are. The fact is that the ideas involved require introducing a different structure altogether, and while it’s not hard, I think most teachers don’t want to have to go into all that right from the start.
If we’re talking about language use, yes, I’ve been told that Japanese textbooks are a little too polite for real everyday Japanese, but I think all language textbooks (even the ones for native speakers) tend to present ‘standard’ language use first, and I mean, at least you won’t go wrong following that as a model either. Some stuff is weird, yes (e.g. I’ve never heard a Japanese person introduce themselves with 私の名前は〜です), but overall it’s just a bit too cautiously polite. Still, I guess I don’t see it as something too serious. I think we all speak a little differently depending on whom we’re with, and we tend to fall back on some sort of ‘standard’ when we’re expected to be ‘proper’. Learning what’s situationally appropriate can come a little later, I think, because it really depends on your social circle.
Kinda sorry about this, but I’ve only just decided to take a look at the OP. Hello! While this isn’t directly related to Japanese, it is related to going to college in Japan. I’d strongly suggest you see if the MEXT scholarship is available in your country. The downside is that you’ll have to do an additional prep year in Japan if you become a MEXT scholar at the bachelor’s level (master’s and PhD scholars don’t have such a prep year); the upside is that that prep year will teach you more Japanese (they sort you according to Japanese level, and even my friend who did Japanese for six years and had an N1 had something to learn), let you get an idea of what university is like in Japan (it happens at a Japanese university, and you do a variety of foundational classes), and help you with university applications (some prestigious universities even accept scores from the prep year for admission). To boot, you get a monthly stipend and all school fees are waived. I mean, of course, you’re free to apply via other means of admission if that extra year doesn’t sound appealing, and Japanese universities aren’t expensive compared to, say, UK and US universities, but I think the scholarship (provided by the Japanese government) is pretty great!
I think that’s pretty understandable, especially if you’re 13 and you haven’t done a lot of self-learning (no criticism intended, it’s normal – I was 13 once). Now, I’m not saying this is the best way, but one way of finding a path is just getting a textbook. My favourite? This one:
Why? The short version (I’ve repeated the long version many, many times on these forums; just search ‘@jonapedia assimil’ and something should come up) is that their entire approach is about exposure with full translations (literal and natural), so you know what everything means and how it comes together, supplemented with comments on important stuff. There’s a focused lesson every seven lessons to explain the final points and summarise things. In short… it’s just guided immersion. It’s basically exactly how (in my opinion) you would work out chunks of Japanese text on your own, except that all the basic searching is done for you. All you need to do is read, think and understand. Also, exercises are really short, so you don’t have to burn much time on them if they aren’t your thing. (They certainly aren’t mine.)
List of resources (if you need them; see next section for why you might not)
More generally though, I think the overall progression (up to the point I’m at, which is roughly a C1 on the CEFR scale) is something like this:
- Hiragana & katakana
- Basic vocabulary, grammar & kanji (you need to recognise them at least, even if you can’t write them)
- Intermediate vocabulary, grammar & kanji
- Advanced vocabulary, some grammar, kanji if you feel like it
I’ll admit that steps 2-4 sound uselessly vague, but that’s because I don’t know how to describe them without a textbook or other resource containing a compilation. Basic stuff is everyday life stuff – food, drink, telling the time, simple feelings, coming, going, travelling around, identifying objects. Intermediate stuff involves more nuance and specifics – explaining how you feel in more detail, identifying rarer objects, describing more detailed actions, talking about abstract things, reading simple texts, getting the general idea of what’s going on. Advanced stuff is mainly technical – knowing language that’s only used in writing or to be very polite, knowing relatively rare grammar that’s more common in books, using very specific terms to express ideas, especially abstract ones. If you want to go for a college course entirely in Japanese, of course, you’ll need to get to advanced at some point.
How to get there? Most textbooks only go up to intermediate at best. There are basically only 2-3 textbooks written for the advanced level, and two of them are from the University of Tokyo, mostly written in Japanese. Therefore, textbooks won’t be the full answer. Other stuff you can use:
- https://kana.pro is a good quiz site. Also, if you’ve got a smartphone, put a kana keyboard on it once you’ve learnt hiragana and use it to type Japanese. You can’t be lazy and avoid kana if it’s all you’ve got to type Japanese!
For the rest, I wouldn’t recommend following JLPT standards strictly, but they can be a guide. First up, two dictionaries: Jisho.org and https://ejje.weblio.jp. I think Weblio is slightly better, but Jisho is easier to use. As for the categories I mentioned:
- WK (here), Remembering the Kanji (I don’t like it too much because there are no readings, but it’s helped some people)… whatever kanji course you want. Is a kanji course necessary? No. A dictionary is enough. But you’ll need some way to revise unless you’re consuming lots of Japanese text all the time.
- Kotoba bot (practice menu is here) for quizzing yourself on kanji – it’s better to learn kanji in context, but this is a decent revision and learning tool if you’re not reading that much
- Some people love Core [I don’t know how many]K Anki decks for this. I think Core 6K is a common example. I don’t use any sort of SRS because I don’t like enforced repetition. You might enjoy the regular revision. Up to you.
- JLPT prep sites (really, just any one you like)
- Grammar sites: Maggie Sensei, WasabiJpn, Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese (some weird terms here and there, and some mistakes, but apparently good overall), Imabi (super technical at times, and sources aren’t cited, but otherwise OK)
- YouTube channels: Japanese Ammo with Misa, Real Japanese with Miku, Cure Dolly (some people love her, others hate her; I find her voice effects super jarring, but her explanations can be very intuitive and helpful… just kinda controversial and elitist at times)
Other stuff? Uh… I won’t cite because it’s all in Japanese. However, so…
How I actually learnt Japanese (and why the whole list might not be helpful)
WARNING: I’m a Chinese speaker, so I didn’t need to study kanji very much. Japanese kanji and Chinese hanzi are the same writing system, with just a few differences.
If you really want to know what my Japanese learning actually, looked like, here:
The long story as year-by-year breakdown from Year 1 to Year 5. (We're currently at 4 years and 5 months, if you're wondering.)
- Assimil Japanese, 21 of 98 lessons done within 3 days (instead of 3 weeks, which is what the book said) because I was rushing before a family trip to Tokyo
- Spent the rest of the year in a busy uni course where I continued Assimil whenever I could
- Started messaging my friend in Japanese for practice while queuing for meals about 5 months in
- Watch Konosuba Season 1 and Season 2 over and over before bed for six months at least because that was my nighttime entertainment
- Start Tobira (an intermediate textbook) after 7-8 months because I was done with Assimil Japanese
- Half-heartedly do Tobira whenever I was free
- Watch The Rising of the Shield Hero at various points, Quintessential Quintuplets over the summer, try to get through the free preview of The Rising of the Shield Hero Volume 18 on Bookwalker using a dictionary
- Do Tobira on and off throughout the entire year while suffering through my uni course (don’t mean to complain, but it burnt a lot of time and I generally wasn’t happy)
- Watch anime a lot and constantly stop and look things up (I think I rewatched The Rising of the Shield Hero a lot, honestly), sometimes with a friend’s help
- Bring over an advanced textbook (Images of Japan, 2nd edition) on my friend’s recommendation, but hardly ever use it
- Join WK forums on someone else’s request and participate in manga study-by-translation
- Towards the end of the year, start reading Japanese sites a lot more when looking for answers to my questions; also use JP-JP dictionaries
- Finish Tobira over the summer up to Chapter 10 or so
- Just watch lots of anime and look things up, and occasionally study from Tobira (I stopped at Chapter 13 because I couldn’t be bothered beyond that – I got bored, and I had already learnt most of the grammar from anime)
- Read a lot of sites on Japanese grammar and keigo when I looked things up, mostly in Japanese
- Use JP-JP dictionaries even more
- Very occasionally look at news articles?
- Answer lots and lots of questions on the WK forums by using Japanese-only resources and translating them in my answers
- Finally go for Japanese classes, but find that they’re below my level (I’m not bragging or complaining – my teacher was awesome, but she couldn’t tailor the classes to me because I’m not the only student in my uni, and most people aren’t at the same level)
- Watch… more anime? And read more random articles, news or keigo/business or otherwise
- Become an ad-hoc live translator for VTuber streams to get listening practice (and help everyone else understand)
- Go out to JP bookstores in my city of residence and buy (a) a keigo manual, (b) a guide to job hunting for foreigners in Japan, (c) a book on nuances in Japanese and (d) a book on writing techniques for composing readable essays and texts in Japanese.
- Register for the N1, get prep books mailed to me, hardly touch them, rush to study them one month before the N1
- Get worried one week before the N1 because of my listening and reading skills, hunt down Japanese news channels on YouTube, start watching them while studying more
- Take and (as it turned out) pass the N1
Year 5 (right now, we’re 4-5 months in)
- Take a Japanese class where I’m allowed to study at my level (still no lessons, but my teacher gives me editorials to summarise, or lets me read Japanese books in class, and I can ask questions in class or by email)
- Watch… even more anime and look things up
- Randomly translate VTuber streams when necessary
- Read more news articles because that’s the sort of language that gave me trouble during the N1
Next up: force myself to be more diligent with those news articles and videos so I actually become fluent in technical language as well.
What I actually used (and my actual point)
To sum that up in terms of resources, I used
- Assimil Japanese (& some anime, mostly EN-JP dictionary, some JP grammar websites in English, especially Maggie Sensei)
- Tobira (& lots of anime, some EN-JP dictionary, some JP-JP dictionary, JP grammar websites in English & in Japanese)
- Tons more anime & websites/articles written in Japanese, mostly JP-JP dictionary, JP grammar websites in Japanese
- JLPT N1 Shin Kanzen Master books (and only the grammar volume to a significant extent)
- JP books, anime & websites, almost >90% JP-JP dictionaries (yes, now plural because I bought three more)
In terms of overall progression, the point is this: move to JP-JP resources as quickly as possible. Gradually increase how much you rely on them until you no longer need English. That’s the goal.
Sorry for how long that got, but basically, I wanted to illustrate one important contrast: I (and many others) may give you a ton of resources that might serve you. Use them as you see fit. However, notice that I only used two textbooks before basically moving over to 70-80% Japanese. The long lists of resources are just options. You don’t need to use all of them. Only use what helps you, and use as much as you need. The rest? Don’t bother.
@matskje put together a cool thread on monolingual dictionary use which is worth a read if you missed it when it was first posted – as well as a lot of info on specific dictionaries there are some hints and suggestions on how to best use them.
That’s more or less what I did. However, so… what I also try to do is to allow for a chain for searches? That’s much easier if the dictionary has hyperlinks. In other words, I try to go at least one layer deeper: I identify the words I don’t understand in the definition, and then I try to see if I can understand the definitions for those. I either repeat that until I get to definitions I understand, or stop somewhere and just check English definitions. The other thing I try to do is to ask myself what exactly the Japanese definition means? I aim to visualise it or understand it bit by bit and get a feel for what’s going on, as opposed to simply accepting it, which is what tends to happen when I use English definitions (which are usually translations). The final thing I’d suggest you try is comparing English definitions and Japanese definitions. Even if you understand the Japanese definition, it might be worthwhile seeing if you feel like the nuances mentioned in Japanese line up with the words suggested in English. That way, you also learn to seek out the gist of a word’s meaning from English definitions (and should gain a better grasp of untranslated nuances).
Started studying by learning hiragana and katakana. After that, I spent the majority of my time on Wanikani, learning kanji and infrequently reading some news articles as well as watching anime.
I never focused much on grammar beyond the basics early on; only occasionally searching up how certain structures worked. Once I got to level 40, I went to Bunpro and began to proactively study grammar - this was the point where I started to see Japanese as a language, rather than characters I had to memorize weekly. I began to read books, take lessons on iTalki to practice my speaking and watch TV series - note that even if you don’t understand everything being said, there is still value to listening and watching content in Japanese. It will familiarize you with the tones, pacing and general sound of the language.
There comes a point where you transition from learning, to living with Japanese. I found that once you lay down the foundations in your mind through memorization, you can eventually let go and just experience the language for what it is.
Some sites/channels which helped me along the way:
https://www.youtube.com/@organicjapanesewithcuredol49 (Wish I found this channel when I started, best explanations of Japanese grammar by far.)
(Yomichan - Chrome Web Store)
How did you go about choosing your language school?
Would you recommend the one you attended?
I went to Yamasa in Okazaki. This was back in 2004 or thereabouts, and at the time a lot of language schools had not yet made a decent website and Yamasa was ahead of their competition on that front. Since I was applying from a foreign country and I’d never been to Japan, being able to get a detailed idea of what I was getting into from the website was very appealing. They also could provide student housing, in walking distance from the school. I would recommend Yamasa, yes, though since my experiences there are now 15+ years ago it’s possible they’ve gone downhill since I was there.
@GrumpyPanda used Jalup for this.
I’m honestly starting to believe that the switch to J-J is the holy grail of language-learning.
In my opinion it isn’t really. I think it’s more that as you get better in Japanese that you find it more useful to look at the more detailed Japanese definitions, and you’re also better able to read those definitions and make sense of them without it being a huge slog. So beginners aren’t going to be using J-J dictionaries and most advanced learners are, but that doesn’t mean that using J-J dictionaries causes improvement in ability, or that learners are learning in order to be able to read J-J dictionary entries…
I don’t entirely agree with this in the sense that if you start using J-J definitions, you end up reading more stuff in Japanese (extra practice) and seeing how things are explained in Japanese, which is something you might not get from other Japanese resources (depending on what you read). I’m pretty sure the stuff I learnt from dictionaries’ writing style helped me. Also, of course, dictionaries explain Japanese in terms of other Japanese that ‘most (Japanese) people’ probably know, so that also helps with seeing links between words you already know and new words you’re learning. (I mean, you might understand the entire definition easily, but also see certain expressions in it for the first time, meaning you learn a new way of putting words you know together.) One last thing to consider is something you mentioned, actually:
Part of that usefulness comes from the fact that some nuances just don’t get explained in English. They can be, but most J-E definitions aren’t detailed enough because of the translation focus. In that sense, reading J-J definitions can teach you nuances of usage you wouldn’t learn with J-E definitions, making your language use more precise.
However, do you have to read J-J dictionaries to get that improvement? Probably not. That aside, yeah, J-J resources aren’t useful (or perhaps useful without being extremely frustrating) at every level.
I switch to using monolingual reference sources ASAP purely based on past success: I want extra practice, and I want to see the links dictionaries draw and the expressions they use, along with the nuances (basically everything I listed earlier). I feel like it’s very efficient for such exposure, though the switch can (and probably should?) be gradual. However, again, it’s not the only way to gain that knowledge. Also, not everyone feels the need to gain such knowledge: I’ve got a friend who can use Japanese just fine and feel when something is weird, but he usually can’t explain why. I’m the opposite – I have to be able to explain why, otherwise I won’t be satisfied I’m using something properly, or I’ll be really pensive at any rate. That’s why I use dictionaries a lot, whereas my friend tends to learn mainly through experience and by feel.
do you intend to be a MEXT student?
if so japanese is not mandatory, even undergraduation or graduation. I studied there in 2010 and then 2014 and I had abysmal knowledge in japanese back then All classes were in English.
Only kyodai is the only one I know of that take only n2-n1 students (they demand certificate). All the others are a breeze for foreign students.
only in 2020 I started WK here and took it seriously this time.
Yes, and he also considers himself to be far superior than anybody else studying Japanese. I haven’t seen him recently, but I’d assume he can no longer get through the door now… (because his head is too big).
I don’t recall any occurrences of him considering himself superior. BTW, you can check out the Refold YouTube channel where he posts Q&A sessions every week. In one of his last videos, he mentioned about the plans to return to video publishing in his MattvsJapan channel, but for now his focus is still on different areas. Most likely the future content will consist in various interviews with experienced language learners.
Although you’re probably right in that he doesn’t study Japanese in such a hard-core mode as when he had been doing it for 5 years non-stop. But I don’t believe it’s still necessary to keep such a pace. He reached the point when he understands majority of Japanese a long time ago, so now he simply uses it almost the same way we use our native languages.
does marumori cover n2 and n1 grammar? I am seeing the pre-n5 adventure and it looks fun.
I dropped bunpro in n1 because it was overwhelming and not working for me anymore with its review system.
MM is in beta, expected but not yet.
I had to drop BP too for the same reasons, the synonym nightmare and using English as a bridge for exercises N3-1 does not work well in my opinion…I’ve tried many times and applaud their content development recently, they have done alot to improve but until the main exercise gets updated, I just can’t use their system any more. I keep trying periodically, same outcome unfortunately.
My personal resolve has been the Kitsun Grammar Deck N5-N1, which is a comprehension deck I posted for both reading and listening which is really all I want for later levels particularly, just to keep the exercise in Japanese only and actually have some grammar ear training. Plus the sentence are a bit more straight forward to keep a grammar focus. I’ve used for almost a year now and it’s improved my grammar with alot less frustration.