Guide to Japanese Study Tips
By Lauren Sodabanh | Created November 18th, 2020
This article serves as a guide on Japanese study tips for both formal and fun study methods. This article is a part of our extensive series of guides on Studying Japanese.
Interested in Japanese and don’t know where to start? Are you tired of learning Japanese through traditional textbook methods? Looking for hacks to advance your Japanese level? Or maybe just trying to see the best way to start learning Japanese? You have come to the right place!
This article compiles 20 different study tips for learning or improving your Japanese in both formal and non-traditional ways! There are tips for all levels of Japanese learners. Learning a new language can be difficult especially without guidance or without knowing the right resources. From free digital apps to in-person classes, we list out different tips for learning Japanese that could be useful to you! Keep reading for some tips that you can use now!
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Why Should I Learn Japanese?
Why not? Japanese is the primary language of Japan. Whether you are visiting Japan or looking to live there, Japanese will be super helpful in navigating the streets, finding hidden gems, and making friends with Japanese people! Learning Japanese can expand your mind to a new world of different cultures, food, literature, games, anime, and so much more! It can also provide you with job opportunities either in Japan or help set you apart from other candidates during your job search in your own home country!
While learning a new language can be intimidating, this guide can provide some tips in starting or advancing your Japanese in interesting ways! We divided the 20 tips based on your level of Japanese and have included some tips to accommodate different modes of learning: Visualizing, Listening, Speaking, or Writing.
What Level of Japanese Do I Have?
Unsure about what level of Japanese you have? Our tips are broken down based on whether you identify yourself in the Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced level. However, many textbooks will often reference the Common European Framework scale which breaks language learning into 6 different levels: A1 and A2 which are in the beginner level, B1 and B2 which are known as Intermediate, and C1 and C2 which are known as the advanced, fluent level. While these tips are not directly aimed toward the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), these tips will be very helpful in solidifying your Japanese studies by providing alternate ways to practice the concepts focused on the test.
If you are unsure to what level you’re in and have previous knowledge in Japanese, feel free to take this test from Marugoto to measure what level of Japanese you’re at exactly. It’s best to use the tips that best apply to your level of Japanese so you can get the most out of these studying tips!
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Top 10 Japanese Study Tips for Beginners
Japanese Study Tip 1 | Start and Master the Basics!
There are 3 different alphabets in the Japanese language: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Mastering both Hiragana and Katakana is an important first step in fully reading and writing in Japanese and will be the baseline knowledge needed to continue advancing on your Japanese language level.
While it may be daunting, taking this first step will help you learn vocabulary more easily. Hiragana and Katakana can be easily learned through flashcards and can be memorized within a couple of days depending on how much time you take to remember each character! I definitely suggest not only recognizing the characters but also writing them to memorize through motor memory.
Learning Kanji as a beginner is totally up to you and up to what you feel most comfortable doing. Learning some of the basic ones will definitely be needed as you progress onto the next level of Japanese and so we suggest that you learn a few after mastering both hiragana and Katakana. We created a guide that goes more in-depth on how you should properly start learning Japanese as a beginner.
Japanese Study Tip 2 | Set Goals!
Establishing goals for language learning is necessary for you to keep yourself on track and continuously motivated. It can be really easy to give up on your studies when not sticking to personal goals that you have set for learning a new language.
Coming from personal experience, if you outline concepts, vocabulary, and grammar points to learn throughout the months in a calendar (Try Google Calendars) it makes it easy to know what exactly you need to master within the week or month. By setting a deadline you are more likely to be determined to work towards studying before that set time. Otherwise, it is very easy to procrastinate and drag on a certain topic or concept for months.
As a beginner, I suggest breaking up each week by first learning Hiragana, then Katakana the next week. Afterward, if using a textbook, try breaking every two weeks by each lesson so you can have time to master vocabulary and basic grammar points that will be essential building blocks for advancing your Japanese as you progress through each lesson. By doing so, you are able to see which lessons and grammar points you have learned over time which makes it easier for you to go back and review.
The best part about having textbooks to guide your learning is that they will often feature a kanji section for each lesson’s vocabulary. This makes it easier for you to plan out what kanji to learn and the time frame in which you will be able to memorize it.
Japanese Study Tip 3 | Use Official Japanese Language Textbooks
For beginners, I recommend this textbook called Survival Japanese Conversation for Beginners. This textbook is an easily accessible and affordable option that can be found on Amazon for about 2090 yen. The text has two series which cover interesting topics that help you through casual conversations within real-life scenarios. It also covers grammar and vocabulary that are used most frequently which gives you insight into how to speak like a native. This is perfect for beginners as it covers some of the basic conversations and grammar points that are essential as a foundation for learning Japanese. Give it a try if you are looking for a fun and easy way to learn essential Japanese that will be important for daily scenarios.
Genki is another popular textbook for learning elementary level Japanese and has about 4 different series to build your Japanese vocabulary through reading, writing, and listening through the CD provided with each textbook. This is a textbook that is widely used in formal Japanese classes in universities. You can find this textbook on Amazon and in select book stores for about $44 USD. It is an awesome textbook for self-teaching yourself Japanese as it breaks vocabulary and important grammar points into comprehensive lessons and is the perfect resource to use if looking for a more formal approach to learning Japanese.
Japanese Study Tip 4 | Use Interactive Language Learning Apps - Duolingo
There are so many different apps on the app store that help you learn different languages either through traditional flashcards, or interactive games that help you build vocabulary on the go!
Duolingo is a popular app that helps you learn a new language through gamified learning. For Japanese in particular, they break lessons up by category and have you start off by learning Hiragana and Katakana through flashcards and multiple choice answers that helps you in both reading and listening to how each character is pronounced.
Each lesson is unlocked by mastering the previous one, which allows you a holistic and balanced approach to learning Japanese. You learn a lot of vocabulary ranging from basic terms like food to more advanced terms like health and government. And the best part about it is that you can use the app and learn Japanese wherever and whenever you like! This is a perfect solution for language learners who are busy, constantly on the go and like to learn new languages during their free time either on the train or before going to bed.
Some of the exercises that they cover help you in listening, reading, and writing Japanese. Some examples of their exercises are matching vocab words to their translation, typing the missing word to a sentence, listening to Japanese words and clicking on the right transcription, and plenty more! For a more in-depth list of apps to use for learning Japanese, check out our Ultimate Guide to Japanese Learning Apps.
Japanese Study Tip 5 | Learn Vocabulary and Pronunciation Through Japanese Anime or Music
Japanese Anime and Music is a fun way to learn Japanese words without having to read or write anything! But, notice how I mentioned pronunciation and vocabulary rather than actually learning Japanese. While you can learn common phrases and vocabulary from anime and music, it is not the best way to learn complete Japanese like grammar or sentence structure. It is easy to be reliant and caught up in reading the subtitles without retaining any of the Japanese used. Also, a lot of the vocabulary used is informal or slang vocabulary which could be misleading.
On the positive side, you are still able to learn through listening and being able to pick up certain words in your vocabulary. At the same time, you could also learn a lot about Japanese culture and traditions. Start off with an anime that piques your interest and you can easily pick up on common words and how they’re pronounced or carried.
As you watch anime or listen to music there are some helpful extensions where you can see the hiragana or kanji translation for your native language subtitles. Some good examples for these extensions are Anki Integration and Learning with Language Learning with Netflix.
For more recommendations on listening methods of learning Japanese, check out our Top 15 Japanese Listening Tips!
Japanese Study Tip 6 | Learn Japanese Through YouTube Videos
Learning a language is much easier when you are learning about something that interests you. An example of how you can learn through your interests is by watching YouTube videos of things that interest you, in Japanese. For example, if you enjoy cooking, find a YouTube video on Japanese cuisine where the chef is speaking in Japanese, and read the subtitles in your language. You could also learn by watching Japanese Youtubers who also have subtitles available in your language.
YouTube also has a variety of formal Japanese tutorials that teach you important terms, phrases, and sentence structures. There are also many videos featuring songs or graphics that make it easier to remember Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Check out our guide to learning Japanese through YouTube if you are a more visual learner.
Japanese Study Tip 7 | Take An In-Person or Online Japanese Class
Formal class settings are perfect for people who enjoy and thrive in the classroom and want teacher instruction and guidance when learning Japanese. While paying for language classes may take a chunk out of your wallet, there are many affordable options either online or face-to-face.
Japan Switch is an affordable Japanese language school that provides private lessons for about 3000 yen for 50 minutes, while private tutors can cost from 4000 yen to 6000 yen an hour. We also have group lessons for 1500 yen for 50 minutes! We use textbooks that are fun and easy to comprehend. Classes can be either online or in-person in our Shinjuku office. This is also a great way to meet fellow Japanese learners who are in the same boat as you and enjoy learning about Japanese culture! You are also able to interact with our friendly teachers who enjoy working with foreigners and are passionate about what they do.
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Japanese Study Tip 8 | Learn By Hovering Over Words Online - Rikaikun or Yomichan
Want to be able to visit Japanese websites and be able to read what’s written on it? Yomichan and Rikaikun are browser extensions for either Chrome or Firefox that work as a pop-up dictionary or on-spot translation system. When hovering over unfamiliar Kanji you are able to get the reading in Hiragana and the translation of the word or phrase. There is also a lookup function where you can find a specific character and it will show you its stroke order, meanings, or readings of the character. It is an easy way to learn and familiarize yourself with unfamiliar Kanji, especially when you’re in the process of memorizing all 2,136 of them.
I definitely suggest this when first learning hiragana and katakana so it can help you in reading and recognizing the characters at a faster pace. This is also a really great resource if you’re looking to immerse yourself in Japanese as it allows you to pick up on the characters very easily with instant translation!
Japanese Study Tip 9 | Study Through Gamified Learning - Quizlet
Quizlet has thousands of different flashcards containing Japanese vocabulary, words, and sentence structures with picture cards to enhance learning through reading, writing, and listening.
Aside from their online flashcards, which by no means is also a great study method, there are also interactive games like ‘Gravity’ where you are typing in answers to asteroids to destroy them before they reach the bottom and ‘Match’ which sets a timer for how fast you can match a word to its correct hiragana spelling. Gravity is my personal favorite as I try to beat my high score and play around with the level of difficulty while at the same time, memorizing vocabulary at a fast pace.
Give one of these games a try, create your own deck of flashcards or find a Quizlet deck of Kanji or vocabulary that you are trying to remember. I’m sure you will get hooked and shock yourself at how quickly you were able to memorize a whole set of Kanji or vocabulary through a couple of rounds. Quizlet is also easily accessible both through their website and app which makes it an easy way for you to study Japanese during your free time. Quizlet will become your studying bestie.
Japanese Study Tip 10 | Review!!
While you have packed on a ton load of Japanese vocabulary, grammar, Kanji, and sentence structure, it is easy to forget them when you’re not constantly using them or reviewing them in some way. Try keeping track of all of the concepts and vocabulary and take an hour or two once a week to review them. Don’t forget about previous lessons that you think you have nailed down as well! While it may still be fresh in your mind, you can solidify your knowledge by reviewing it quickly, making it more likely to be ingrained in your memory.
Kanji is also something that I find the most likely to be forgotten since I’m not using Japanese on a regular basis. A good tip would be to review Kanji and how to write by strokes to kick in your motor memory!
Some of the study tips here can be used as ways to continuously review your Japanese. Whether you prefer reviewing through a textbook or through an interactive game, as long as you are exposing yourself to Japanese characters and consistently using it you will be able to improve your Japanese onwards!
Top 5 Japanese Study Tips for Intermediate Level
Japanese Study Tip 1 | Find the Right Textbooks
For Intermediate to High-Intermediate learners, I recommend Minna No Nihongo 1 & 2. This textbook includes translation and grammatical notes which makes it easier to comprehend the material and reduces misunderstandings by including detailed explanations. It is also available in 14 different languages and reflects real-life situations and social conditions between Japanese and foreign characters.
Another honorable mention for both Intermediate to High-Intermediate Learners is An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. The textbook goes in-depth on vocabulary, reading, conversation, kanji, grammar, cultural notes, dialogue, and listening throughout each lesson. There is a wide range of topics that will improve your Japanese for both casual conversations and for better understanding certain everyday situations. This is definitely a good textbook option if you are looking for a thorough book with detailed conversations that would advance your Japanese level even further.
Japanese Study Tip 2 | HelloTalk
HelloTalk is a great study resource for Intermediate level learners to talk to native Japanese speakers who are also looking to learn another language (typically your native language). It is a free app that makes befriending people from different countries easy!
The app itself has a built-in pronunciation, transliteration, corrections, and voice calling functionality, making it easy to learn and understand what your partner is saying while also improving your grammar or vocabulary. The app does a great job at ironing the complications that come from language barriers by having these capabilities available to both parties. What’s better than having a native speaker help you with your language studies?
The app also features a ‘Moments’ section where anyone can post pictures, or a short message either describing their day or asking a question for anyone to see and answer. It provides an opportunity for people to help correct their spelling or grammar while also becoming a place for sharing each other's cultures and everyday lives.
There is also another functionality where users can learn Japanese vocabulary which is divided into different topics like food, emotions, relations, shopping, hotel, makeup, health, and many more! The app includes both listening and reading exercises with pictures in a flashcard manner.
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Japanese Study Tip 3 | Glossika
Glossika is a perfect language learning software for studying Japanese that is used in everyday conversations. The AI Software helps you learn Japanese by introducing you to thousands of sentences that are used in everyday situations. The sentences are spaced in spaced repetition sequences which is another term for hacking your brain to effectively memorize words and phrases.
This Japanese study tip works similarly to how we memorize things from flashcards but through software. The software is perfect for teaching you relevant vocabulary and sentences that are actually by native speakers. Glossika is a perfect resource for those who don’t prefer textbooks and would rather learn from a resource with more practical Japanese that can be used in casual conversations with native speakers.
Japanese Study Tip 4 | Join a Language Community
No, you don’t have to move to Japan in order to make friends with native Japanese people! Being able to actually converse with people is one of the most effective methods of using the Japanese you have learned up until this point.
Whether online or in-person, there are many groups of people looking to make friends and conversate in Japanese. The best part about this method is that you’ll be able to meet and befriend people who have the same interests in you, which happens to be Japanese and Japanese culture! Everyone will also not come from the same background as you which may be interesting to share each other’s cultures and lifestyles with one another. Learn more about language communities and how you can join one today!
Nihongo Master is a great resource for finding Japanese Language Communities. They have communities ranging from different levels (N1-N5 for those who are planning to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test) to interests like manga and anime. It’s a non-exclusive group forum where many people who are learning Japanese can find study tips for the test or where they can find others to practice their Japanese with based on their common interests. It is a fun way to interact with others online and get to know one another through a common interest.
Japanese Study Tip 5 | Study with Interactive Subtitles
Like watching Netflix or YouTube videos during your free time? Why not learn a language at the same time! Fluent U is a perfect platform to help you study Japanese through videos. The platform categorizes YouTube videos in Japanese based on your level of Japanese, topics, or your interests.
The platform has a feature where you are able to read subtitles in your target language and enables you to hover over the subtitles to see the translation of it in your native language. This method of studying allows you to engage your reading and listening skills with Japanese from native Japanese speakers. This study tip is the perfect way to coincide your interests with your studies and is a great alternative to traditional studying!
For Netflix, there is a chrome extension for your browser called Language Learning with Netflix which makes it easy to learn a language as you watch your favorite show or movie! The extension shows two different subtitles, one in your target language and your native language. There is also a pop-up dictionary that allows you to instantly look up words that you are unfamiliar with. This is another great way to put both entertainment and your studies together! Give it a try for the next show you plan to watch.
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Top 5 Japanese Study Tips for Advanced Level
Study Tip 1 | Master all 2,136 Joyo Kanji!
Kanji is one of the hardest parts of the Japanese language. Did you know that there are well over 50,000 kanji? Only a small percentage of native Japanese speakers are able to read and write all kanji. Don’t let this intimidate you! To be considered a fluent speaker, one must be able to recognize the 2,136 Joyo Kanji which pushes you to a 99% literacy rate! However, recognizing these characters is just the first step since there are many ways to read a single kanji which also may produce different words depending on how it is combined.
The more kanji you are able to memorize, the less you will have to stop in the middle of a sentence or skip a character just because you don’t understand it! If you are looking to advance your Japanese to be that of a native’s, then learning the 2,136 is essential.
Kanji Study Tips
Assuming you have a solid understanding of about 1,000 kanji looking for a textbook, I recommend getting the Kanji Dictionary. This dictionary has a total of 2,500 kanji, including the 2,136 Joyo Kanji, which are all essential characters used in everyday instances. This dictionary will improve your reading skills as they review kanji that is essential to reading journals, newspapers, and novels. Mastering all 2,136 kanji and more will improve your overall comprehension of Japanese literature.
To summarize, the kanji are sorted by the frequency of each character in everyday life so that students are able to grasp practical Japanese before learning the more difficult, less used Kanji. Each section is divided in a way where you can learn its stroke order, different meanings, and examples of them in sentences through readings. It is an awesome resource for those who are looking to quickly try to master the most frequently used Kanji. If you are looking for more textbook recommendations for kanji check out our in-depth guide to learning kanji.
Want a fun alternative to learning Kanji? There is a fun interactive app called The Flashcard Fiend: Anki which allows you to master kanji through flashcards. The app allows you to import kanji and vocabulary from textbooks and JLPT lists to convert them into flashcards. In addition to creating your own flashcards, there are also some features where you are able to flip the card to reveal the meaning or practice your writing within a specified time limit. You can access Anki through both their app and website, making kanji learning much easier on the go whenever you have free time! Check out our Top 15 Japanese Kanji Tips!
Study Tip 2 | Focus on Mastering Grammar
Grammar can be easily forgotten when not putting it into practice through conversations. When mastering grammar, you can also improve your speaking and translation accuracy. Instead of spending countless hours going through textbooks for specific rules and particles, I recommend actually reaching out to a Japanese teacher or native and conversing with them to ensure that you are understanding the full picture rather than a small portion of it.
There is also an awesome group of teachers at Coto Academy which is an affordable option for intensive Japanese language courses. They offer both online and in-person classes during the evenings and weekends. This is a perfect alternative for those who are looking to improve their Japanese and are trying to learn Japanese business etiquette.
Not to mention, they can also help you in developing the grammar in your translations by working with you and making recommendations based on their observations on your level of Japanese. Above all, this is a great way to get in touch with a native Japanese speaker and enhance your practical Japanese skills!
Study Tip 3 | Write Essays, Letters, or Stories in Japanese
Whether you enjoy writing essays or not, this is an awesome way for you to put your Japanese skills to the test! By writing essays, letters, or stories in Japanese, you can practice and project your Japanese level through your vocabulary, spelling, kanji, grammar, and sentence structures. This is a great way to refresh your memory of the Japanese you have accumulated and put it all together into a short essay or letter. The context can be to your liking!
You can have a native Japanese speaker review your writing and have them correct it to further improve your Japanese. I recommend going to HiNative or LangCorrect to have a native Japanese speaker to review your work and give you comments or corrections.
To emphasize, these two great Japanese study tips for you to ask questions or get feedback from native speakers. The people on this app are willing to read and help you improve your language skill, so don’t worry! Some people like to use the app for journaling purposes and keep online diaries for others to comment on for corrections and such. This is good practice for constantly enhancing your writing skills.
Study Tip 4 | Learn Japanese Slang to Advance Your Conversation Skills
Are you looking to enhance your friendship with a Japanese friend? Learning Japanese slang is a great way to be able to friendly approach another person and get to comprehend the conversations that go on around you! Mastering or comprehending slang words will also help you become more casual and relaxed when speaking to Japanese friends!
Check out our Top 40 Japanese Slang to Know. This is an awesome resource for someone looking for commonly used slang words in everyday Japanese situations. The article breaks up slang words based on your Japanese skill level, the regions you plan to stay in, and different social situations. Furthermore, they review the most widely used slang words that you will see come up in everyday conversations with native Japanese speakers! Studying these will be key to establishing that close connection to a Japanese person and comprehending casual Japanese.
There are also a lot of YouTube videos that cover some of the most frequently used slang words! Watch this 5-minute video to learn 10 slang words you can use in your next conversation with a Japanese speaker.
Study Tip 5 | Find a Native Japanese Person to Practice Conversational Japanese
Being able to conversate with a native Japanese speaker can help you improve both your listening, speaking, and writing skills. I recommend using HelloTalk to find multiple language partners who are looking to also learn your native language so that there is a mutual benefit for both parties when practicing your speaking skills. I find the voice call functionality being the most effective in improving my Japanese since you are able to directly speak to someone over the phone. When speaking, you are practicing your Japanese through a flowing conversation and you are able to change the subject of the conversation to touch on vocabulary that you don’t get to use as often.
And on top of that, you are able to befriend a Japanese speaker! This is a great opportunity to learn more about Japanese culture and customs that would otherwise be unknown to you. If you plan on going to Japan you can also have the chance to meet up with a friend and be able to find the best local spots that are valuable hidden gems.
It takes a couple of conversation partners to find the right one that matches your personality. Also, it might be difficult to find someone who is active at the same times as you are. Sometimes the time difference can become a barrier to conversing with someone in a different country. But, there are some natives who may be living near you or in a country with a time zone that works best for your schedule! Don’t be discouraged if the timing doesn’t work out. Keep trying your best to reach out and I’m sure you will find the right partner for you!
Good luck with your studies! I know that learning a new language comes with some roadblocks when you find something difficult to understand. But, don’t give up! My best advice to you is to try one of these Japanese study tips. Whether it is through websites, apps, videos, or games, there are so many different ways to absorb Japanese without actually studying!
Also, if you study better either through visuals, listening, or speaking, definitely try to find a study method that best accommodates your way of learning! All of the Japanese study tips listed in this article accommodates each of these different modes of learning. If you made it to the end, I hope these tips help you succeed in your studies!
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