How to Learn Japanese?
Japanese is a difficult language to learn for many of us. It has 3 different writing systems, a whole bunch of grammar rules and exceptions to those rules. To top it all off, there is so much KANJI.
Still, learning Japanese is not impossible. Contrary to some articles that tell you that you can't learn a language as an adult, some of us only started learning Japanese in our time at university.
Given the popularity of the language, there are plenty of resources and tools that you can use to pick up Japanese. We share some of them below.
Many of us have struggled on our paths to learning Japanese. As the adage goes, no pain, no gain. Adding "memorise 10 new verbs today" to your to-do list may seem daunting, but you can do it!
Is there a "best way" to learning Japanese? Between our members, we might have to say "no". Different people learn differently. For some of us, we can pick up words more easily through reading manga. But find what works for you.
That being said, we do have a bunch of useful guides that we picked up and used that we would love to recommend. Do check out:
Tofugu's comprehensive step by step guide on learning Japanese.
The "Anki" app. Anki uses the spaced repetition software (SRS) which can help with memorising new words. Anki may be hard to navigate if you are a first-time user. Because it can be customised in so many ways, you may not know where to start. There are many tutorials on Youtube you can follow, e.g. when you look up "setting up Anki for Japanese". If you don't want to create your own flashcards, you can also download those that have been shared with the internet community.
Reddit's r/LearnJapanese - if Reddit is your thing! We find that it can be helpful for recommendations, or if you're looking for a quick answer for some of your queries.
Hiragana & Katakana
The basic building block for learning Japanese has to be reading Hiragana and Katakana. You can treat it as a phonetic alphabet for the Japanese language. Learning characters using mnemonics has proven to be an easier way to remember Hiragana and Katakana than pure memorisation.
Again, Tofugu has a great guide for Hiragana and Katakana. (Yes, we recommend Tofugu a lot because their guides are well-written and easy to understand).
Learning Kanji is essential for reading and writing in Japanese.
Knowing the radicals (the building block of characters) are one way to make your learning journey easier. Again, spaced repetition methods like using flashcard apps such as Anki have proven to work well in helping you memorise things quickly.
We personally recommend Wanikani, it's a spaced repetition app made easy. The system automatically paces you, and slowly builds up your vocabulary based on the radicals you've learnt. It's a hassle-free way for the system to prompt you what to learn, and you just need to use the app 5-10 mins at the start or end of each day. It's a paid app, but if you email them, you may be able to get a student discount of up to 50%. The price may seem steep, but the app is well thought out and designed with examples, pronunciation guides, and you can really pick up kanji quickly and easily. The first three levels are free to try to give you a feel for it.
Grammar & Textbooks
Learning the vocabulary is one thing. Knowing how to form a sentence is another. Frankly, the best way to learn is to go to a language school. That is where you can attend structured lessons and get explanations and feedback from your teachers.
Alternatively, you can try to self-study through Youtube or textbooks, but you will need a great deal of self-discipline - scheduling a fixed time each week/day will help.
Ikoma is probably the most popular Japanese language school in Singapore, and they have had really good community buzz amongst Singaporeans who have studied there. Bunka has the benefit of using SkillsFuture credits if you are over 25 years old. There are also other cheaper options if you Google for classes.
The journey to learn Japanese isn't easy, but there is a strong sense of accomplishment when you can finally read your first Japanese manga, or watch a movie or anime without relying on subtitles.
We found that our biggest challenge was... self-discipline. Thus, we recommend either going to a language school or a using structured app that sends you daily notifications.