So you’ve finally mustered up the will to learn Japanese, but…where do you start?
When I first decided to study Japanese, I felt confused and overwhelmed. I eventually figured out the resources and methods that work for me, but many other prospective learners give up before they’ve even begun. In this post, I hope to help any self-learners with the following questions.
- What should I begin learning first?
- Where should I learn it?
What should I begin learning first?
- Hiragana and katakana
- Core vocabulary
- Basic grammar
To avoid subjecting you to a painfully long post, I’ll only be writing about the first two in this post.
Hiragana and katakana
The order in which you should study these is flexible, but definitely learn hiragana and katakana first.
What are they?
Two of the three writing systems, hiragana and katakana are symbols representing all of the sounds found in Japanese. They both consist of the same 46 sounds.
Why do they need two systems to represent the same sounds?
Hiragana is used to spell out native Japanese words, to write words that don’t have kanji, to write particles, to write verb/adjective/noun/adverb inflections, etc.
Katakana, on the other hand, is used for foreign loanwords, emphasis, and onomatopoeia (boom, crash, crack).
You can read this page for more details, but my goal is just to let you know that hiragana and katakana exist and that you should learn to read them before you do much else. These are your fundamentals. If you don’t master them early on, it’ll slow you down later.
Where to learn it
I would recommend learning hiragana and katakana using those links, and practicing with these:
Or, for all you auditory learners, check out these videos.
Even if you don’t know how to piece them together just yet, absorbing as many vocabulary words as you can sets up your foundation.
Where and how to learn it
I’m not a fan of rote memorization. Studying random vocabulary lists you find on the internet is terribly boring, and there’s also no way to tell how the words are used or if they’re even used commonly.
To truly understand the words you memorize, you need to hear them in context. If you learn vocabulary through watching or listening to Japanese content, you can do the following:
- Hear how and when words are used
- There’s a lot that can’t be literally translated from English to Japanese. Through listening to real Japanese, it’s easier to notice nuances and sound more natural.
- Pick up words that are commonly used, as opposed to obscure words on a list
- Remember words more easily
- Avoid banging your head on a desk from boredom
I’m not trying to say lists are useless, but rather that you shouldn’t just memorize the lists other people make.
Do yourself a favor, and create your own vocabulary lists using the words from your favorite anime, dramas, variety shows, podcasts, YouTube channels, Netflix shows, etc.
I like to create my own lists and review using spaced repetition systems, which make you pay more attention to the words that need work and save the ones you know for later. To do this, you can use sites like Memrise and Quizlet.
When you hear unknown words in the wild, use Jisho as your dictionary. This website is especially useful because you can search in both English and Japanese and find the words most commonly used.
I hope this has been useful. Check back tomorrow for part two of this post!