Efficiently studying Japanese

In this article we’re going to talk about some resources you might find useful if you intent to study Japanese.

First of all, if you are interested in joining a Japanese company or school, you should know that the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is the most commonly used gauge employers and schools use to test your language skills. There are five levels, from N5 to N1, the former being the easiest and the latter the most difficult. Generally speaking, N2 is the minimum requirement to have access a decent number of jobs and courses, with some others requiring N1.

There are many Japanese schools you can find everywhere in Japan, though they are generally expensive (we’re talking over a million yen a year at least). There is a bit of a catch 22 in that if you don’t speak the language, chances are that you won’t be able to access higher positions, and so it will be difficult for you to afford to learn the language.

There are some ways to get out of this cycle. The first is going to some of the free or nearly free courses that many City Halls and Ward Offices offer. Here you’ll find many passionate people who teach Japanese as a hobby. They normally have different levels and offer classes weekly, and teach with widely used materials such as Minna No Nihongo. It’s also a good opportunity to meet other people who are studying the language.

Another way of learning the language without breaking the bank is technology. Thankfully we live in the era of the internet and smartphones, making learning Japanese much more accessible than even 20 years ago. There are some really good apps that will help you get started.

If you want to study kanji —and you should, as being able to read is an essential aspect of learning a language — I highly recommend the web app Wanikani and its (unofficial) companion iOS app Tsurukame. Keep at it every day and in a few months you’ll be able to read some basic texts. Learning over 2,000 kanji can be daunting, but keep in mind the first 1,000 are much more common than the second 1,000, and the first 500 much more so, so you can be a relatively competent reader within a year. You’ll be amazed at how much you can understand and it will change your life in Japan for the better.

Learning how to read is a good first step, but definitely not enough. You’ll have to study grammar, and for that there are many resources, ranging from textbooks like Shin Kanzen Master or the aforementioned Minna no Nihongo, to apps like Bunpo. Again, if you’d rather study at your on pace and at any time, Bunpo is a good resource that teaches grammar according to JLPT levels, making it valuable if you want to pass the test.

Once you’re comfortable enough with reading a few hundred kanji and some of the grammar basics, you should move on to consuming more Japanese media. Some manga or anime (subtitled in Japanese) aimed at kids would be a good place to start. Yotsubato is a good manga to start with, as it’s about the every day life of a small kid. Similarly, Crayon Shin-chan is not too complicated, funny, and available on Netflix. If you can read some kanji you’ll be able to enjoy these.

Last but most definitely not least, you’ll have to be able to speak the language, and this is where it can get more tricky. If you’ve ever studied a language you’ll know that recognition is much easier than recall, i.e. understanding it is much easier than using it. Even native Japanese speakers come across this problem, as they can easily read kanji, but might have trouble writing it. On top of this, it’s harder to practice speaking, as it is much easier to study a language an hour a day than to find a good excuse to use it an hour a day. Even having a Japanese partner might not be enough, if you’re used to using a different language at home. There is no magic button here, so you’ll have to find a good language exchange partner or make Japanese friends that don’t speak much English or are willing to put up with a beginner.
However you decide to study, don’t despair. A couple of years of study will go a long way to making your life in Japan less of a struggle and more of an enjoyable experience, and from that point on you’ll be able to perfect your language skills while making the most of your time here.

Hi, I’m Sergio.
I’m from Spain, lived in the UK for seven years and came to Japan in 2012.
I majored in journalism in London and have been teaching English in Tokyo.
I like traveling, cycling, photography, movies, and spending time with friends.
I wrote articles about life in Japan as a foreigner and anything that I might find interesting.
My email is ” “, by all means contact me about anything!


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