Ultimate Guide to Beginner Japanese

By Kristine | January 24, 2022 

Are you overloaded with all the beginner Japanese resources out there? When you’re a complete beginner that has just started to learn Japanese but has no idea what to do and how to do it, it can be overwhelming and confusing. From familiarizing Japanese scripts to choosing which textbooks work best, we have compiled all the necessary information for beginners in Japanese. So whether you’re a complete beginner that has no knowledge of how the Japanese language works or simply a person who wants to get by in life in Japan, this guide will lead you to where you should start. Learning Japanese is certainly no walk in the park. Here is our ultimate guide to beginner Japanese. From tips to tricks, this guide will prepare you for a long grueling Japanese learning journey that will surely test your grit and wits!

This article is part of our extensive series on Learning Japanese through Online Japanese Lessons.

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    How long will it take me to learn Japanese? 

    The amount of time to learn Japanese, especially for beginner Japanese learners, will depend on one thing: kanji knowledge. This is terrifying. Also, many conversational Japanese speakers are terrible with kanji so I’d address that there are several factors but kanji is the one most people get caught up in. If you spend all your time in textbooks, you’ll find it’s harder to achieve communicative competence. On the other hand, if you mostly learn Japanese through conversations and social interactions, you might struggle with kanji and business Japanese.

    So, if the face you are making right now is a surprised look of excitement and disbelief, then a few steps might have already been made towards learning beginner Japanese. But don’t get too comfortable because there are other factors that can affect the learning progress. On the other hand, those that have their brows furrowed are probably still very confused. Let me enlighten that face with a tip: everyone has to start somewhere. 

    For a more detailed guide, check out:

     How Long Does It Take to Learn Japanese?

    What is the JLPT?

    foreigners taking the JLPT test

    The Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) is a standardized test to evaluate Japanese fluency. This test has five levels: N1, N2, N3, N4, and N5. Before sprinting to the hills, know that the easiest level is N5. Hence, beginners in Japanese should focus on clearing this level first. This means that it will take at least 325- 600 hours to learn Japanese. However, those that have prior knowledge of kanji will take at least 250- 450 hours. This might seem like a lot of hours, but there is no need to pull an all-nighter. The road to fluency will not happen overnight nor will it happen within a week. In short, the key is consistency. 

    First Timers: What to Expect When Learning Japanese

    Kanji, Kanji, Kanji

    Yes, I said it. Not once nor twice, but three times. The variety of strokes and the combination of lines are enough to know that learning kanji might take awhile. However, don’t be overwhelmed. It will certainly be hard, but it doesn’t have to be hard all the time. Kanji can be learned in a fun way. For instance, many beginners believe learning kanji with mnemonics makes it easier because it allows familiarization with how the kanji looks and their meanings! 

    Mnemonics uses imagery that helps associate things with one another. Take for example the kanji, 山 or yama which means mountain. When you look more closely, it actually looks like a mountain with the line at the center as the peak! However, there are also people who prefer to write down kanji characters multiple times to get it in their heads and it works just as fine! Either way, there are many ways to learn kanji and when you start to see it in this way, kanji won’t be too bad. 

    Ready to take on Japanese Kanji?

    Top 15 Japanese Kanji Tips

    It will take dedication

    Learning beginner Japanese will take dedication. That is to say, the earliest stage will certainly be a challenge. It is more than the Japanese words picked up occasionally from watching anime or the week-long streak in Duolingo (granted that you lasted a week). Most importantly, learning beginner Japanese is a process and it will require time. In other words, this means making time each day to learn something new. For instance, it can be learning a new Japanese word, a new grammar structure, or even anything about Japanese culture.

    For beginners to stay dedicated, variety and balance is everything. In other words, it’s not only about studying intensively on your desk. So don’t get holed up in your room for days! Rather, it’s also about making sure the commitment you pour on to learn Japanese is not taking away your motivation. Routines can be draining so switch it up sometimes! Make time for it but don’t let it take up all your time. 

    Everyone has a different learning style

    Oftentimes, beginner Japanese learners start to study Japanese the same way they have seen other successful Japanese learners have done. So when they come across a youtube video explaining that a book-focused routine is ideal, it will be no surprise that they will follow this advice. However, this isn’t saying that following suggestions is a bad thing. On the contrary, it is encouraged to explore many learning styles!

    In short, beginners have to realize that every person learns differently. In other words, there are people that learn best when they write down each new Japanese word that they have learned every day. And there are also people who learn best when they continually parrot their Japanese friends. So, there is no definite learning style that should be followed. More importantly, there shouldn’t be a learning style forced to be followed! So beginners should explore freely and find out which ones work the best!

    A Mini Guide to the Japanese Writing System

    The Japanese language has three writing scripts that work together. These are hiragana, katakana, and kanji. 


    Hiragana is the basic Japanese phonetic alphabet, and arguably the easiest to learn among the three writing systems so beginner Japanese learners should start with this script first. Unlike English, each character represents a single sound. For example, ‘a’ in English can have multiple pronunciations as in ‘apple,’ ‘table,’ or ‘car.’ In Japanese, however, あ (a) can only be pronounced as ‘ah.’ In short, one symbol = one sound and one sound only. 

    hiragana table in japanese for beginners

    The first column that needs to be remembered first is the あ (a) (i)(u)(e)(o) .From this column, familiarize your way to the left.  It’s common for many beginners to incorporate mnemonics when familiarizing this table. Since every letter can look different to a person, it’s best to see these characters the way you see them and not the way other people see them. There are some characters that are mistaken to be the same. Here are some of the characters that beginners should be careful:

    (a) and お (o)
    (sa) andち (chi)
    (so) andろ (ro)
    (ma) andも (mo)


    katakana table in japanese for beginners

    Katakana is also another Japanese script used to write words borrowed from other languages such as English. For instance, foreign names and places are written in katakana. Today, it is also widely used for emphasis which are shown in signs such as トイレ (toire) which means toilet. Together with hiragana, they are called kana.  Compared to the round edges of hiragana, katakana has an angular appearance and is characterized by short straight strokes. Likewise, start familiarizing the characters from the right to the left.


    overview of japanese kanji characters with hiragana

    Kanji is a set of Chinese characters. It is composed of symbols that represent words and ideas. However, the pronunciation varies from the original Chinese characters. So there are two ways of reading kanji: Onyomi and Kunyomi. Onyomi is the pronunciation of the derived Chinese characters. On the other hand, Kunyomi is the Japanese pronunciation. Kanji is made up of a system of around 216 radicals. In addition, these radicals are essentially the building blocks of kanji. This is because each kanji is made up of either a single or two and more radicals. When you think about it, it’s impressive. After that, it will dawn on you. “Do I have to memorize all 216 radicals?” No, you don’t. Often, there are common radicals that make up most of the kanji. However, rest assured. Beginners won’t be introduced to radicals anytime soon.

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    Romaji: A Rookie Mistake…?

    Romaji is the method used to write Japanese in the Roman alphabet. Non-Japanese speakers used this as a way into the Japanese language because they can’t read any of the three Japanese scripts. Beginners that study Japanese also often use this at the very start of their learning journey. But sometimes, many beginners fall into the trap of using Romaji constantly and end up relying on it too much. So, when they see either of the three scripts, it would be hard for them to read. Anyone studying beginner Japanese should understand that it only acts a guide for them to be able to read the Japanese scripts but shouldn’t be the foundation.

    japanese keyboard with romaji typing option for japanese beginners

    Moreover, given that Romaji is an option on keyboards, it’s definitely hard to resist typing using letters that non-native Japanese speakers are comfortable with. In addition, beginner-friendly Japanese textbooks and many dictionaries include Romaji translations. In other words, it’s clear that complete avoidance is impossible. But don’t get the wrong idea. Romaji is useful for beginners, but this shouldn’t be used constantly as the only and the primary way to learn Japanese.

    Not convinced? Read more about Romaji:

    Ultimate Guide to Japanese Romaji

    How to Introduce Yourself in Japanese (jikoshoukai)

    Hello, I’m [x].

    初めまして、私は [x] です。
    hajimemashite, watashi wa [x] desu.

    Insert your name into [x] to introduce yourself.

    hajimemashite, watashi ha maika desu.
    Hello, I’m Mica.

    However, there are also two other ways to express your name:

    私の名前は [x] です。
    watashi no namae wa [x] desu.
    My name is [x].

    [x] と呼んでください
    [x] to yonde kudasai
    Please call me [x].

    I’m from [x]

    私は [x] から来ました。
    watashi wa [x] kara kimashita.

    watashi wa amerika kara kimashita.
    I’m from the USA.

    Although the equivalent Japanese words for country names are usually straightforward, here are some exemptions:



















    Nice to meet you.

    yoroshiku onegai shimasu

    Note: This phrase can also be used when you ask for help from someone.

    Could you give this to Anna tomorrow? Thank you very much.

    In this case, ‘thank you very much’ can be replaced with よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegaishimasu) in Japanese.

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    Japanese Speaking

    Survive in Japan: Useful Japanese Words and Phrases

    Beginner Japanese Phrases to Get You Started







    Good morning


    ohayou gozaimasu

    Good evening






    Excuse me,






    Thank you very much


    arigatou gozaimasu

    Beginner Japanese Phrases [Convenience Stores]

    Can I have this please?
    kore wo kudasai

    This phrase can be used when the item the customer wants is near the cash register. In this case, it can be cigarettes, steam buns, and other food.

    Yes, I want it warmed up・ No, I don’t need it warmed up.
    Hai, atatamemasuiie, kekkou desu

    Before using this phrase, the staff will usually ask:
    atatamemasu ka?
    Would you like this heated?

    However, you can always use a simple yes (hai) or no (iie) when you’re in a rush!

    I want a plastic bag (sizes: S/M/L)
    SML saizu no fukuru kudasai

    In most cases, the staff will ask:
    Fukuru ni oiremasuka
    Would you like a bag?

    A simple yes (hai) or no (iie) as response will suffice, but sometimes they might ask a specific size to choose from.

    Can I charge my train card?
    Chaaji dekimasu ka?

    Sometimes, train stations don’t have a specific ticket machine for people that only have PASMO/Suica train cards (travel cards) in their iPhones. In this case, they can use this phrase to ask the cashier in convenience stores to charge money into their digital IC card.

    Beginner Japanese Phrases [Malls and Stores]

    How much is this?
    Ikura desu ka 

    Here are the common prices to remember in Japanese:


    go juu en


    sen go hyaku en


    hyaku en


    ni sen en


    hyaku go juu en


    san zen en


    go hyaku en


    go sen en


    sen en


    ichi man

    Learn more about Japanese numbers:

    Ultimate Guide to Counting in Japanese

    Is there a different size available?

    SML saizu ga arimasu ka?

    This phrase can be used to ask for a different size.
    In case when you want to try it on, you can ask:
    Shichaku shi te mo ii desu ka
    Can I try it on?

    I have / don’t have a point card.

    Motte imasumotte inai

    This phrase can be used to answer when the staff would ask:
    Pointo kado ha motte imasu ka
    Do you have a point card?

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    Beginner Japanese Phrases [Train Station]

    Where is [x] train line?
    [x] 線はどこですか
    [x] sen wa doko desu ka

    It can be overwhelming to navigate inside the train stations in Japan so it’s not uncommon to get lost or to get confused with the transfer. This phrase can be used to ask the train station staff to guide you.

    Here are some basic directions in Japanese that can help you in your next train ride:







    straight ahead




    Beginner Japanese Phrases [Restaurants]

    I would like [x] please

    Kore wo kudasai

    This phrase can be used while pointing to an item in the menu. When you want to order more than one (1) item, this phrase can be used instead:

    I would like [x] and [x] please.
    Kore to kore to kudasai

    In this case, ‘kore’ means ‘this’ and ‘to’ means ‘and’. Therefore, when you want to add more, you can always repeat these two words until every menu item has been decided.

    Can I have this to-go?

    Omochikaeri dekimasu ka

    This can be used when you order takeout in the cash register or when you want to take the leftovers home. However, take note that many restaurants in Japan don’t allow leftovers to be taken home so don’t get your hopes up! Either way, it doesn’t hurt to ask.

    Check, please
    Okaikei kudasai

    This phrase can be used when you want the check for the meal. But there are cases when customers have to go to the counter, instead. In this case, the staff will say:

    Kaunta de onegaishimasu

    This phrase implies that customers go to the counter to pay.

    (We) will pay separately.

    Betsu betsu ni haraimasu

    betsu betsu means ‘separately’ so when friends prefer to pay their own orders separate from the group, this phrase can be used. However, when the group wants to pay together, this phrase can be used instead:

    Issho ni haraimasu
    (We) will pay together.

    Didn't find the phrase you were looking for? Check out:

    Ultimate Guide to Useful Japanese Phrases

    Quick Guide to Beginner Japanese Grammar

    japanese grammar easy to understand for beginners

    Basic Grammar Structure

    N1 は N2です。

    This is the most basic and important grammar structure beginner Japanese learners should understand. The structure shows that the particle は (ha but pronounced as wa) indicates that N1 is the topic of the sentence. In addition, the sentence is fully formed when は (ha) is added and then statements are made after it (N2). At the end of the sentence, the です (desu) is added to show politeness towards the listener. However, it doesn’t translate to anything in English. So, beginners can think of it as a polite way to end a sentence.

    Ana wa daigakusei desu.
    Ana is a college student.

    This example shows that Ana is a college student. Ana is the topic (N1) and she is described as a college student (N2). However, there is no English equivalent that can be found for です (desu). This means that it is there to end the sentence. Without it, the sentence will be incomplete.

    Japanese Particles

    Japanese particles (助詞) or joshi are function words that give context to other words. However, this shouldn’t be learned as an English counterpart to linking verbs and prepositions because there is actually no equivalent of these particles to the English language. The challenge for learners, especially beginner Japanese learners, is to understand the context so that the right particle can be used. But don’t let out a sigh of defeat yet because only the basic uses of the particles will be introduced.

    は (ha)

    This is the topic marking particle. And it would mean that it follows the subject being talked about in the sentence. Another thing to note is that は (ha) is pronounced as ‘wa’.

    Ana wa kirei desu
    Ann is pretty

    In this case, は (wa) is talking about the subject, Ana. Ana is described as pretty.


    This has a similar function with は (wa). Because が (ga) shows the subject of the sentence, it is also a topic marker. However, the difference is that it is mostly used when the subject is a question word. This includes questions words such as who (だれーdare), what(なにーnani), and where(どこーdoko

    nani ga aru
    What is there?

    In this case, it’s clear that なに (nani) is the subject of this sentence. Because it is a question word, the particle が (ga) is used.

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    Despite its spelling,  を(wo) is pronounced as ‘o’. This describes the object of the verb in the sentence. Hence, it is always placed after the object in the sentence.

    Ana wa terebi wo mimashita
    Ana watched television.

    In this example, the particle を(wo) follows the object of the sentence. This means that the object is the thing being done by the verb. In this case, beginners should ask themselves: watched what? The answer is theテレビ or terebi. When beginners figure out what thing is being done by the action, they can pinpoint the object and know thatを(wo) will follow it.


    As beginners, it’s important to know that : で (de) has two uses: marking means and marking locations. In this part, the focus will center around marking locations. This particle is used to mark the location of where the action takes place. Hence, this is a location marker.

    Ana wa ie de terebi wo mimashita
    Ana watched television at home.

    In this example, the particle で (de) marked 家 (ie) or home as the location of where the action took place. Beginners should ask themselves: where did Ana watch television? The answer is at home.


    Just like the other particles, へ (he) has a different pronunciation from how it is spelled. In fact, it is pronounced as ‘e’. Simple enough, right? Not quite. This is where it gets a little tricky because this particle is also a location marker. However, へ (he) is used with verbs of motion. This means that when this particle is used, it indicates movement that the subject is heading towards somewhere, for example.

    Ana wa supa he ikimasu.
    Ana is going to the supermarket.

    In this example, it’s clear that there is movement involved. So it is not describing the current location of Ana. But rather, it is describing the location of where Ana is heading towards. In this case, to the supermarket.


    This particle has many uses but the focus here will be centered around marking locations. Yes, this is another location marker but hang in there! This is often confused with the particle, で (de) because they both mark the location of where the action takes place. However, the difference that should be noted is that に (ni) focuses more on verbs that show existence.

    Ana wa Kyoto ni sunde imasu.
    Ana is living in Kyoto.

    In this example, it certainly shows how the particle shows that Ana is living in Kyoto. She isn’t going to Kyoto nor is she simply in Kyoto. Ana is in that area because she lives there. Therefore, she is in Kyoto.

    Supplementary Help: Japanese for Beginners


    useful japanese books that are beginner-friendly

    Nihongo Fun & Easy: Survival Japanese Conversation for Beginners
    Nihongo Fun & Easy is best for beginner Japanese learners that want to focus more on conversational Japanese skills that are useful in everyday life. Moreover, this is also best for beginners that prefer a more relaxed pace. Above all, this includes useful vocabulary, grammar, and real-life situation sections that allow learners to learn relevant situations in their everyday life in Japan. As a result, many beginners come to learn casual natural expressions that other textbooks don’t offer.

    This textbook is a beginner-friendly textbook that many Japanese learners turn to. Most importantly, it is aimed at beginners learning practical Japanese for daily conversation. This can be bought online on sites such as Amazon and Rakuten. However, prices vary depending on which level of book is chosen. There are three levels: Beginner 1 (¥2,090), Beginner 2 (¥2,200), and Low Intermediate (¥3,300). However, beginner Japanese learners can also find these books at Japan Switch, a Japanese language school. 

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    Minna no Nihongo

    This is a widely known beginner-friendly textbook for beginner Japanese learners. Because of this, many Japanese teachers also use this textbook to help beginners. Additionally, this book can be bought in a set that includes books focusing on grammar, workbooks, and kanji. And because these books are all connected, buying the set is ideal than only choosing one book. Since this set of Japanese language books is popular, it can be bought in many bookstores in Japan and even in online sites such as Amazon. 

    Minna no Nihongo is aimed at anyone who needs to learn to communicate in Japanese urgently in any kind of situation. This includes at work, school, and even in their local community. This is definitely a book that serious beginner Japanese learners would want to look into because of the book’s way of teaching. It has two main levels: Beginner (Shokyu) and Intermediate (Chokyu). And it is further divided into two sub-levels for each main level. Actually, this is also recommended for university entrance courses and short-term intensive courses at universities. Hence, many international students in universities use this book.


    This is also good for beginner Japanese learners because it is a beginner-friendly textbook that many people used. In addition, it is a highly acclaimed series of integrated resources for learning elementary Japanese using a well-balanced approach. This includes speaking, listening, reading, and writing. This book can be bought in a set, as well so buying the set would make more sense. Like Minna no Nihongo, Genki is also available to buy in many bookstores in Japan and on online sites such as Amazon. In addition to this, it has practice slides and kanji cards that are available online.

    Genki is aimed at beginners at a more relaxed pace than Minna no Nihongo. So, this is good for beginner Japanese learners who self-studies and prefer learning to have more visual images and more exercises. Moreover, Genki has an English translation for instructions in the main book. Compared to Minna no Nihongo, the translation is found in another book. It is also divided into two levels: Beginner (Shokyu) and Intermediate (Chokyu). However, there are no sub-levels, and the intermediate level only contains one book.

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    Japan Switch

    Japan Switch is a Japanese language school that has affordable lessons in Tokyo. They offer both online and offline Japanese courses which students can choose from so it's very convenient. Moreover, they offer private and group lessons that enable them to achieve their individual language goals. There are three things that make Japan Switch unique from other Japanese language schools.

    First, the prices. Unlike other Japanese language schools where students pay a huge amount of money just for enrolling, with additional fees on other things, Japan Switch offers the most affordable lessons. 

    When you need more information about the prices, head over to the website and have your potential lessons fees calculated. Moreover, the contract runs monthly so students aren’t bound to long-term commitments that might not be helpful in their Japanese language journey.

    Second, the community. Classes are often opportunities for fellow beginner Japanese learners to make friends with. But Japan Switch takes it up a notch by having three different communities namely: learning, culture, and event. Consequently, students will belong in a community that resonates with their goals for learning Japanese. For instance, they participate in culture trips and large events. Moreover, there are many things that these learners will learn both about the language and the culture itself! This is probably the only language school that offers both lessons and a home to learners studying beginner Japanese!

    Last, the lessons. What good is a language school with horrible quality teaching? Japan Switch offers practical lessons that will surely be helpful in everyday life in Japan. In other words, its uniquely-made textbooks that were developed in-house, focus on relevant topics that will certainly get learners in beginner Japanese interested! Also, the incorporation of fun roleplays allows engaging and insightful interactions between learners that enable them to learn and at the same time, have fun while learning.

    3 Habits That Will Help Speed Up Your Japanese

    Make flashcards

    Using flashcards is a common learning strategy that many language learners believe to be effective. That is to say, it is actually a great way to track progress by recalling vocabulary and phrases. In addition, the consistent use of flashcards enables beginners to grasp concepts more easily and remember them. But making flashcards shouldn’t mean copying 50 new vocabulary words nor should it mean 50 new kanji characters everyday. This method is forceful and pushes learners to exhaust themselves and their minds. Hence, it won’t be long until they break apart. So in short, beginners should remember to do this consistently but within their own paces. 

    One good routine could be making flashcards for 5 new vocabulary words every day for a week and reviewing all of them by the end of the week. Since making flashcards can be handwritten or simply typed in a flashcard application such as Quizlet or Anki, beginners have options to explore which ones work best for them.

    habits that japanese beginners should develop to speed up progress

    Use Japanese everyday

    This might probably scare many people. Using Japanese everyday would seem like a very difficult thing to do, especially for beginners. Forgetting Japanese words, messing up pronunciation, and even simply not knowing how to construct simple sentences. Speaking Japanese can be a death sentence for many, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Beginners are beginners. They aren’t intermediate or advanced. They are beginners. This means that mistakes are understandable. Learning Japanese is difficult, and no one expects you to be fluent right off the bat. Beginners should continually use the words and phrases they learn and apply it everyday. When they allow themselves to make mistakes, they are allowing themselves to grow and to learn more. There’s no shame in speaking broken Japanese at all! Every time they use Japanese, it is a learning opportunity.  

    Watch Japanese movies/ anime

    Many people learn new things from watching movies. The visual supports such as facial expressions and gestures, together with situational context phrases allow viewers to enhance their understanding of the language. Watching Japanese movies or anime is one of the best ways that will speed up Japanese skills, especially in listening and in speaking. While there might be many beginners that think Japanese movies and anime are too advanced to watch, there are plenty of beginner-friendly movies that use simple Japanese phrases that learners can keep up to! Beginners can start watching children’s movies or anime such as Polar Bear Café and any Ghibli movie. Whether subtitles are turned on or off, there will be something to learn from. And imagine if this is done on many occasions? The amount of vocabulary and listening skills will be off the charts in no time!


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    How to Stay Motivated Studying Beginner Japanese?

    The first time you discovered Japanese, it resonated with you. Buying Japanese books and immersing oneself with Japanese movies, learning Japanese was exciting. Past tense. When learning a new language, it’s definitely exciting at first, but sometimes, routine makes it not-so special anymore. Imagine devoting six hours everyday studying Japanese. The effort is commendable, but it will be draining. Choosing to learn Japanese already makes it difficult, and yet making the language learning process too serious will probably kill the motivation altogether. There are plenty of ways to stay motivated while studying beginner Japanese. However, there are two things that will be focused on: having fun and remembering the goal.

    motivation to study japanese as a beginner

    First, having fun. It’s always important to make time for fun, especially when learning Japanese. Fun can be anything that means being happy and relaxed. For instance, it can be taking a day off and exploring Tokyo or it can simply be taking a nap. But one thing should be made clear: when having fun, always make sure to avoid thinking about your Japanese progress. So set a schedule for studying and make sure to stick with it. It’s never a bad thing to take a breather once in a while.

    Second, remembering the goal. Many people have various reasons to study Japanese. Some might be learning Japanese to be able to work in Japan in the near future. On the other hand, others might be learning to immerse themselves in the culture. And a few might be learning just because they want to. Nevertheless, everyone has different goals and it’s important to remember them. So write it down in a journal or anywhere that you can see them. In other words, It’s important to be reminded of where we see ourselves going. However, this doesn’t only mean remembering the goals of the future. But this also means remembering why you started to learn in the first place.


    In conclusion, learning beginner Japanese can be overwhelming. As a beginner, there will be many instances that you might question your ability and motivation. But while it won’t be an easy ride, it will be worth it in the end. With all the information laid out in the open, it’s time to start somewhere in learning Japanese.

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