How to learn Japanese

A while back, I wrote a pretty blunt post about Motivation and what it means when you’re tackling a monster like Japanese.

When people say they’re going to learn Japanese, it’s usually due to anime.

I was lucky enough to befriend several Japanese exchange students for a few weeks in middle school. From there, I had no idea how to continue learning this beast.

Fear not, there is a way. And I hope that my learning can benefit you.


This series of Learning Japanese won’t end with this post. This is going to be a journey for me and all of you. After all, you can’t learn a language in a fortnight, no matter how many ads tell you.

You should congratulate yourself if you decide, “You know what, I guess I will learn Japanese!”

Learning any language is going to take considerable time and effort. It doesn’t matter how many people proclaim the difficulty of Japanese or Chinese. In the end, you’re learning a new language. Of course that’s going to be hard.

You just have to have the motivation and passion to keep going.

Look at your motivation(s) before we proceed. I’ll share some of mine:


My Japanese friends and I still keep in contact after all these years. I want to reunite with them one day and be able to speak their language.



I love reading. ANYTHING. Doing so in another language will be a huge eye-opener. And plus, it’s more reading 😉


A movie for book lovers and romance. One of my favorites.


I want to play more Otome games because it’s very rare if we get them in English. It’s basically a book with choices that lead the MC to a romantic ending or bad end, and there’s always a bigger story to it than that. Code Realize is a fantastic title available in English for the Vita.

Now that you’ve gotten some things to keep you going, get yourself a notebook.

There are 3 “alphabets” in Japanese. Japan adapted the Chinese writing system (called kanji) to fit their own needs, and while it looks the same, it’s not.

There are 2 kana.

The first is hiragana:


These tell you how to pronounce kanji but serves other purposes. Learning how to read hiragana will enable you to read books, ads, pretty much anything straight away.

The other is katakana:


Katakana is used for foreign and loan words, emphasis (kind of like italics), sound effects, and more.

Kanji is the final and main writing system. And is the reason why Japanese gets it’s reputation for being one of the most difficult languages to learn.

As complex as these babies look, they’re easier to read than long strings of hiragana. At the moment, that sounds absurd, but let me explain.

Kanji represent an idea. Kind of like a stop sign. This kanji


means “dream”, though there are several other meanings. Unlike hiragana, kanji explicitly tell you what is trying to be conveyed.

For instance, if you’ve tried to play the Pokemon games in Japanese, you’ll reach a point where you don’t know which word they’re going for. I came across this very issue.


While this isn’t an example from what I was playing, this still illustrates the point.

Japanese has a ton of homographs-meaning they’re spelled the same but mean many different things.

Yes, you may be able to do fine with just kana. But you’re going to hit a wall. Hard.

Kanji remedy this problem by going, “Ok this is what you want!” and then you catch some shiny Pokemon.

Don’t worry about kanji just yet. Right now, you want to focus on learning the kana.

They’re easy to learn and you MUST learn their stroke order. Japanese isn’t like English where you can write however you like.

It might seem like there are a lot of kana but compared to kanji, this is nothing.

Here’s a look at my little journal when I started learning them:


I went overboard, so don’t freak out lol. Writing just two lines of each kana should suffice. However, you don’t want to do all of them in one sitting.

You need to space it out-SRS anyone? 😉

For now, before we proceed in the next part of learning this language, there are two things you need to do.

  1. Focus on memorizing these kana.
  2. Buy Genki 1 and the Workbook

To make this process go smoothly, look up hiragana and katakana charts with stroke orders.

Do each row a day and review throughout. For example, I learned a, i, u, e, and o on day 1. Then I did ka, ki, ku, ke, and ko the next day. And etc.

Doing this allow you to soak in this new writing system and not overwhelm you. If you feel that you’d do fine doing more than one row at a time, go ahead. Just find a system that works for you.

You’re going to want to buy the texts. They come with CDs and honestly, if you’re like me, you’re a procrastinator. You’ll get all ready to learn and then after a few days….you say,”Nah, I’ll practice tomorrow.” -_-

Get that book. Put it on your shelf. Look at it and know you got this for a reason. You’re committed. You spent money!


But, Leaf, what if I just want to learn how to speak Japanese?

Well, my dear friend….

You’re going to still have to learn this.


The reason is simply that you can’t rely on romaji all the time. Your pronunciation will suffer, you’re going to be like a lost kid if you wish to go to Japan when you can’t read anything. Not even hiragana.

“But the Olympics are making them put English everywhere!”


Eventually your going to get to the point where you simply can’t continue like this because you’re going to feel stupid not knowing how to read the world around you. You’re going to be stuck in this weird phase of somewhat-fluent and not-fluent. And to make matters worse, there will be situations where you’ll have to read the language.

Honestly, it’s easier to just get down hiragana if you only want to learn how to speak Japanese.

So, if you’re sure you’re ready, go do your homework. Get those kana down, buy those texts, and look forward to the next post.

In this future post, you should already know how to read the kana, but it’s fine if you’re not perfect with them. It takes a while.


Are you learning a language? Are you learning Japanese? Have any questions?

If you like what you see please follow or share. Thank you!

41 thoughts on “How to learn Japanese

  1. Annesthesya says:

    Good post! Actually, it’s not even ~that~ difficult to learn kana. It took me less than 1 week to masterize all the hiragana, but of course people have their own pace.
    For all the people who are learning japanese, I would like to scream: FORGET ABOUT ROMAJI. DON’T LEARN ROMAJI. THERE’S NO ROMAJI IN JAPAN. SAY NO TO ROMAJI! Seriously I know some people who say they ‘know japanese just a little’, and then start writing romaji. Sure go to Japan and see what you can understand with romaji.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thayane Brownie says:

    I’m learning French!!!

    The post was very great. I would love too read a manga or play a otome in native language, but learn the language is too much for me. >.< (don't think i'll try to learn japanese – don't have this kind of motivation)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. sindyblue10 says:

    I’m planning on learning Japanese once I graduate high school, I really enjoyed it in primary school, it was compulsory so I’ve learnt it for 5 years and I already know all (most in case I’ve forgotten some) hiragana and other simple words. But once I got into high school, I started taking Chinese instead of Japanese. My goal is to make sure I can read Chinese more fluently during high school, before learning Japanese. Even though I prefer to learn Japanese, to me, Chinese takes priority since it’s my culture. =)
    Perhaps I found the hiragana easy to learn back in primary school was because Chinese is basically all kanji.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Retsuyachan says:

    Great post! And omg yes pls just throw away romaji once you’re over it. Also lol about the example that japan is putting out more eng but they can’t even get some of the ‘english’ on their ads right so you’re really better off learning the language. I would give tips but I started out really differently than most and most of my initial learning was a blur hahaha i just got hold of everything fast and having chinese as a mother tongue helped.

    I think getting grammar down works really well with convo, so get actual and proper convo down first, i find a lot of people who start out from anime begin speaking like anime, which if applied in real life is total hazukashit hahaha p.s. grammar is impt

    Liked by 2 people

    • Leafさんの夢が。。。 says:

      Hello Retsuyachan!

      Wow, that’s so cool! I always hear that people who know Chinese or Korean really helps to learn Japanese. I wonder why that is true for Korean, if Japan adopted Chinese into their language?
      Haha oh the ads are the best over there!! XD
      And YAS don’t rely on anime. There are at least 3 people in my class right now who are “learning from anime” and they sound really bad. They pronounce all the U’s in DESU but insist they’re not….

      Liked by 1 person

      • Retsuyachan says:

        For korean it’s the structure and some words actually sound the same haha. I think for me it’s just the writing of kanji bc i’ve gotten so daft lazy using keyboard. Oh ew people who do the DESU that is so annoying they’ll never get anywhere with learning like that lol. Seeing people struggle with hiragana and kanji i get amused and perplexed how i learnt and the worst is i can’t remember(i think i plucked out hiragana from lyrics and if it sounds like that it must be that! Much child approach)

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Lia Figueiredo says:

    It’s funny how in a few minutes I’m having japanese classes. I’m halfway done with Genki 1, it’s wonderful, even if it’s not in my native language. My problem with japanese is that sometimes I don’t get slangs and metaphors or I take things too literally.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Leafさんの夢が。。。 says:

      Hi, Lia!

      I hear you on the slang. To be honest, if you’re done with Genki 1, you should get Genki 2 and Tobira. Right now you can actually start considering manga to read-get shojo because they’re easier to read atm than other manga, and they have a lot of words you’ve learned.
      You’re only going to learn slang through media. I highly recommend paying close attention to dramas as well.
      Orange Days is a PERFECT one to study from. It’s an older series but uses real “every day” Japanese compared to the usual stuff we watch, and the slang is used as you would irl.
      I’d also pick up Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication.
      If you have a Vita, I honestly think it would do well to pick up an otome game. They have voices (usually not the MC) but they have a lot of slang.
      Also, try listening more to music and try and find a meetup for Japanese in your area.

      Hope that helped and if you’ve any more questions/concerns, please let me know! ^^

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Lehst says:

    Some tips from my own experience:

    It is also incredibly important to practice regularly, so you don’t forget what you’ve learned. Trying to read stuff you can barely read is a good method for me since it seriously gets me thinking. Or there has been a few times I’ve encountered a Japanese person (online or offline), and you have a limited time to think “omg ok how do I tell them such and such?” The pressure to recall what I know quickly is a good mental exercise, and one time I was surprised at how much I knew!

    Learning a laguage is also learning a culture. It isn’t simple word substitution. There are phrases in other languages that don’t tell us what they mean only using a literal and direct translation. And due to cultural difference, some phrases come off with a completely different feeling. It can be hard not to get overwhelmed, but if you are learning because you read and listen to a lot of Japanese media, you probably learned a little about this already. Although you do need to look up how normal people talk if you only watch anime and actors, since cartoons are not real life lol.

    I’m still a novice because I haven’t taken a serious stab at vocabulary, but after listening to it, and half reading the kana sets, for many years, I feel a bit immersed with the language and I definitely understand more than when I started. I really want to take a class though, so I can get used to saying the words to other people. Plus since I have so much background knowledge I feel like I will remember more new words, more easily.

    Getting started is one of the hardest parts of learning new things. It’s kind of like exercise, but for your brain. Make a simple schedule with light exercises, and go from there. : )

    Liked by 2 people

    • Leafさんの夢が。。。 says:

      Thanks so much for reading and your input, Lehst!
      I completely agree. Just watching anime will NOT get you anywhere.
      I’m glad I was able to befriend many Japanese people and keep in contact with them, because with out that, my speaking skills would be so bad.
      I also agree with constantly reviewing the material and recalling them. Practice truly does help, though perfecting it comes with years of practice.
      For me, the most difficulty I have atm, is forming complex sentences and understanding raw dramas.
      I know what I need to do to improve, but it takes a long time.
      And also, as you said, learning a language means learning a culture. This is something a lot of beginners neglect, because they’re so excited to use this for anime or games, when in fact, they miss out on so many helpful nuances from the culture.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. HijackedCat says:

    This is a good series you’ve started here~!
    Tho I’m learning Kanji already…I’ll admit to have bypassed grammar in an effort to get to understand most of the sentences/what they say, so I’m really behind in it :’D
    But then my frustration when trying to read otoges/manga in JP is those blasted kanjis xD;;; Plus knowing the kanji means I just have to dictionary it with the verb/grammar junction, but hey, each person have their own approach~
    Tho rn my goal is learning the Joyo kanji/2k/required by the Japanese government, I’ll start studying grammar seriously, tho it’ll be hard. Textbooks, or even Tae Kim’s website, are tedious for me because my eyes glaze over rules :’D
    I’m looking forward to part 2 of this series~!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Leafさんの夢が。。。 says:

      Hi Cat and glad you like my new series!
      OOOO kanji 😛 I’ve been looking into many different study methods, and I’ll go into detail when I get to that post, but I’ve seen several discussions about not studying kanji, but a different approach.
      I really found it helpful and would love to share and expand upon this later.
      Good luck with everything, and remember, those things you struggle with now will later become your strengths. Just focus on learning them and then you won’t have to worry so much as often.

      Liked by 1 person

      • HijackedCat says:

        There’s so many different study methods, it gets overwhelming :’D
        I’ve read the best way to learn kanji is in words/vocabulary way, and not them alone, which is what I try to do, but whichever way you go about it’s still a lot ;_;
        True, true, I have to make an effort for grammar!
        Looking forward to that future post then~!

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Lehst says:

    Oh and I forgot to add, that some apps and games out there can be helpful and fun too, like one that is a Hiragana matching game. You really need to find one that does NOT show romaji though, seeing Japanese words written with the English alphabet will only hinder your learning of the kana. Your brain will immediately soak in the romaji, and barely notice the kana. Like everyone said, it is a terrible crutch. You want your head to immediately associate the Japanese audio with the Japanese symbols.

    But games should really only be used in addition to a standard workbook, and you must practice writing the kana yourself. I think it can be kind of relaxing, writing the symbols over and over. : )

    Liked by 2 people

  9. yoyoyoshioka says:

    hey leaf!
    seeing u guys who are not Japanese but so interested in the language makes me motivate more becuz im japanese but what happend to my Japanese is a long history. so now im learning japanese from my mom (my sensai) so if u want to learn how to make sentences,etc in japanese i have lots of resources and easy way to understand and learn taught by my mom so ill be posting blogs whatever my mom teaches me and i found useful. Do follow me for update 🙂
    you must be wondering how idk my national language well, when we dont revise and use it in everyday life we tend to forget.
    so now that i have realised about a month ago (lol finally im awake :p) im working hard on it.
    吉岡 ナディアで <3

    Liked by 1 person

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