About Me

I'm Phil! American living in Japan. Teacher. Ex-independent professional wrestler. Student of Japanese. Traveler. Article writer for Mythic Scribes. Also written four manga, novels, and various short stories and poems. For my fantasy-related blog, check out http://www.philipoverbyfantasy.blogspot.jp/.


Drill Bits: random thoughts, bloggy stuff
Japan Hammer: topics about Japan
Story Time: stories I felt like posting

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Japan Hammer: Top 5 Ways to Learn Japanese

Thought I would blog a bit about a popular subject: how to learn Japanese. Being a high-level beginner of sorts, I could suggest techniques that have helped me learn Japanese while living in Japan. These are also suggestions that other people have given me or ways that even Japanese have told me help. While these methods may not work for everyone, they worked for me so far.

1. Buy some flashcards

To learn hiragana, katakana, and kanji there is no better way than using flash cards in my opinion. White Rabbit has a good series you can find on Amazon or elsewhere. Use the flash cards daily to keep yourself on the up and up and also write down what you learn in a notebook of sorts. I learned most of the kana (hiragana and katakana) within about a month of studying them everyday.

There are also tons of websites to get flash cards online. I won't list them here as you can find all that pretty easily with a search.

2. Make Japanese friends

I'm not listing these in order, but making Japanese friends would probably be number 1 in my book. In my case, my wife is Japanese so it makes learning certain words and phrases a lot easier for me. However, be careful when learning from people. If you're a man, try not to learn too much Japanese from women because then you'll sound like a woman. Vice versa for women.

This has been one of the top ways friends have said that they've learned tons of Japanese in shorter amounts of time. Plus, it's a good way to learn slang and phrases you won't learn from textbooks. There are resources and such for slang online, but finding a good book couldn't hurt either. I have a book called Dirty Japanese which is helpful for certain things, but I wouldn't recommend using it unless amongst friends you're comfortable with.

3. Buy a good text book

A lot of people say "Japanese for Busy People" and "Genki" are both nice books to use. I personally haven't used either one. I have several books myself, but I can't think of any that have been really mind blowing or that I can recommend. The guy who runs YesJapan.com has a series called Japanese From Zero which I would recommend without even reading it, because his info and videos on his website is excellent in my opinion.

4. Study everyday in some capacity and immerse yourself whenever possible

Watch Japanese shows. Read Japanese books. Talk with Japanese people. And study. At least for 30 minutes to an hour everyday. I fall in and out of my study habits and have had mixed results with my improvement. I don't speak to my wife in Japanese often (not as much as I should) but I do pick up things by constantly going to restaurants, stores, and being around Japanese people at almost all times.

If you can get the ratio of Native Language: Japanese to 50:50 or even higher in the Japanese range, you will see a noticeable improvement in a quick amount of time.

5. Don't give up

Seems simple enough. Just be consistent and steady with your studies and you'll get better over time. A good solution for doing anything.

And below, here are some resources and such I use:

www.livemocha.com (good for language exchange and learning)

www.textfugu.com (good resource for everything)

Youtube videos where they speak Japanese (I like Japanese for Morons channel)

Tae Kim's Japanese Grammer guide (www.guidetojapanese.org)

White Rabbit flash cards

Minna no Nihongo text book

Other books people have recommended: Japanese From Zero, Genki Japanese, Japanese for Busy People, Barron's Japanese Grammar/Barron's Japanese Vocabulary)

Other text recommendations here: http://thejapanesepage.com/w/index.php?title=Selecting_a_Japanese_Textbook


  1. I am beyond excited about this post! I didn't know there wer different types of Japanese language (excuse my western ignorance). I thought there was just Japanese, just as there is English. I've never heard of hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Is there a specific style you would recommend a beginner to start with?

  2. I learned hiragana and katakana in about a month of studying everyday and writing them. I'd recommend learning katakana first, so at least then you can read certain foreign words or spell your name. For instance コーヒ is ko-hi or coffee. These kind of things are extremely helpful when first moving here to get basic stuff that you may want.

  3. I'm glad you mentioned the part about learning Japanese from someone of the same gender. Since the differences aren't as important in Japanese as they are in a language like Thai, they might be easily overlooked. It made me laugh though, to think of an American man who speaks like a Japanese woman.

    I'll have a bachelor's degree in the spring and am interested in teaching English in Japan. Do you know of any good ESL programs?

    1. CELTA seems to be a popular certification to get. I don't know much about those because I just have a high school teaching license. I'd recommend checking out sites like Dave's ESL Cafe, Gaijin Pot, and O-hayou Sensei for job listings. They usually have good stuff. You can also find lots of information from people that know about programs there.