One of my major goals for this year is to significantly improve my Japanese language ability. I have known extremely basic Japanese for a couple of years but have never put in the time to advance it further. To help with this, I have made my goal more specific this year. I want to be at least N5 level proficient, which includes knowing over 650 vocabulary and 100 kanji characters. Relatively speaking, taking a year to get to N5 is not a very ambitious goal, but I also wanted to be realistic, considering how little I have progressed since originally learning the hiragana. If I can do better than N5, that would be great, but having a realistic goal will keep me on track with studying on a regular basis.
I have done a lot of research on the best ways to study, and thought I should share what I am using. To learn what works best for me, I am using a bunch of different methods. At the end of the year (or whenever I out-learn these study tools) I will post an update on how things went and if I would still recommend everything I used or if I would change anything.
This software is very cheap compared to something like Rosetta Stone and is designed for beginners. It’s available for PC, Mac, iOS and Android. It is a similar experience you would get from studying out of a textbook, but it is a lot more interesting to read, has audio pronunciations, stroke order animations for writing the kana, and quizzes at the ends of chapters. When I say it’s like a textbook, that is because you can’t solely rely on reading this and doing the quizzes. You also need to practice writing the kana and vocabulary.
The next two tools I am using are called spaced repetition systems or SRS. This means that the interval of time between each time you review something is increased until it is completely memorized. These software tools track this automatically so you do not need to keep track yourself of when you last reviewed each word or character. The important thing is to use these tools every day, because if you go a week between reviews, you will not only find you have an overwhelming amount to study, but you will not remember what you learned from your last session and won’t make progress on learning anything new.
This is a very popular software program you may have heard of that can be used for many purposes, although language learning is its most popular use. It is essentially flashcards with SRS built in. There are many premade decks for Japanese and other topics, and you can also create your own decks. If you are starting Human Japanese and Anki at the same time, you could create decks to correspond to the chapters in Human Japanese.
This was actually the first spaced repetition tool I used for studying Japanese. It is similar to Anki in some ways, but it is web-based and also incorporates “mems”, or visual or text triggers to help you remember words or characters. I am still using Memrise alongside Anki, and there are many Japanese courses available. I recommend starting with Introduction to Japanese and then moving on to JLPT N5 Vocab, which is what I am working on now.
Manga (Japanese Comics)
To make studying a little more fun and because I love comics, I decided to order a few volumes of manga series that were recommended for Japanese beginners. The series I chose were Yotsuba!, Dragonball, and Shirokuma Café, based on these recommendations. You can also find links to purchase these books and other manga recommendations at that link. These series are all appropriate for children, and so have simple grammar and also have what are called furigana, which are small kana drawn above kanji characters to tell you how the character is pronounced. Of course I will need to learn these kanji eventually, but for just starting out, I think using furigana is perfectly fine. In the future I plan to read Akira, one of my favorite comic series that I have read in English.
One of the early reasons I became so interested in Japan was because of video games. It is no secret that I am a lifelong gamer and some of my favorite games came from Japan. There are many games that allow you to play in Japanese, but most would be too advanced for beginners to understand. A series I think is perfect for Japanese study is Pokemon. The series is aimed at children, so everything is written in kana rather than kanji, and when text appears on the screen, you have to press a button to advance the text, so this makes it perfect for stopping to look up words you don’t know. Pokemon X/Y, the latest games in the series, allow you to select Japanese (or other languages) in the English version, so you don’t have to have a Japanese system and game to do this.
With both of the above methods, I will probably have to look up most of the text with where I am at now, but I do not mind. I think it will be a lot more motivating to want to be able to read a comic, or play a game, in Japanese without having to look anything up, than more traditional study methods.
I hope the above resources help you achieve your goals with Japanese study. Let me know how it is going for you in the comments. よろしく！