Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Learning Japanese

Many people have asked me a variety of questions about Japanese language so I hope I can answer some of them in this post.

Do you speak Japanese and how did you learn?

I don't speak fluent Japanese by any means but it's more than enough to get by in Japan.  I'm still learning so much every day and have gotten so much better since moving to Japan.  I think that my listening skills are best and speaking skills are worst but everything has improved a lot lately.

I started learning Japanese in high school and took 3 years of courses.  But I definitely did not do my best work in class.  I kind of tuned out when kanji became difficult for me because I couldn't find a way to learn them well and became frustrated.  Looking back on it, I regret taking my high school courses for granted.

And then I honestly dissociated from a lot of Japanese / kawaii things for a few years of college for a bunch of reasons.  My school didn't have Japanese courses either so I didn't have any practice until I went abroad to Kyoto for 5 weeks and took an intermediate language course.  Then I took one semester of Japanese at a university close to mine.  That was basically it before I moved to Japan about 2 years after.

How can I start learning Japanese?

I recommend taking a course if it's available to you.  Japanese is a lot different than English and it helps to have a teacher to put it all into context.  But if you don't have that option, there are still many ways for you to learn on your own!  In fact, I think most language learning takes place outside of the classroom.

There are 3 alphabets in Japanese, but first step is definitely learning the hiragana characters.  It's easy to find flashcards of them online.  I also practiced a lot with filling out blank charts because writing helps my memory personally.  It's important to know how to read hiragana before learning other aspects of the language.  I recommend using the textbook series called Genki.  You can read a thorough review of it here.

Can I learn from watching anime?

You can certainly learn a lot from anime.  I learned my first Japanese words from watching subbed episodes of Sailor Moon as a child.  I think it's good for learning vocabulary and grammar in a context that helps you remember it.  However, there are many levels of formality in Japanese and sometimes if a person learns most of their Japanese from anime, they end up speaking too informally in the wrong context so that's something to be careful with.  My friend suggested watching dramas is better for learning conversational Japanese, but I am personally more of a fan of animation.

Is studying or working in Japan helpful?

Yes yes yes!  Overall, being in Japan in any capacity is good for language learning because it's immersion.  However, I would highly recommend working in Japan over studying here.  When you are a student or in some kind of educational program, you are going to make friends with many other English speakers.  Although you will meet Japanese students too, you are more often going to be around foreign students.  But if you work in Japan, depending on the job, you will probably be working in a Japanese work environment.

In my experience, when I studied abroad, I had a lot of fun and practiced speaking and reading when I was out, but most students on my program didn't know much Japanese.  So when we were with the Japanese students, English was the language of choice.  My language skills didn't improve very much.  In my current job, I am the only foreigner in each of the 4 Japanese public schools I work in.  While I speak English to most of the English teachers, to communicate with almost everyone else, I have to use Japanese.  And everyone around me speaks Japanese too so I'm fully immersed.  Even at my part-time job it's pretty much the same thing.  The 3 and 4 year-old students don't know much English at all so I usually have to speak Japanese with them too.  Another nice thing about working in Japan is that you will learn more professional and polite ways of speaking.

If you are curious about my job in Japan, check out this post here.

How do you study now?

I have found that the textbooks really don't do it for me anymore because it's difficult for me to retain information without context.  This is why living in Japan has been so helpful to me personally- everything is within the context of my daily life!

There are a couple other things that have been helpful to me lately besides what I mentioned earlier about my job and watching anime.  Japanese music has been really helpful for me to learn kanji and new vocabulary as well.  You can find karaoke versions of most songs online with all the lyrics too!  I learn a lot of those and sing them when I go out with my friends.  I think it has helped both my reading and vocabulary a lot.  I also find that writing in Japanese, even if it's not 100% perfect, helps me practice grammar points and learn new vocabulary, especially because I can take my time in doing it whereas I find that speaking is more rushed.

As I mentioned before, I work in Japanese public schools and when I don't have class, I sit in the 職員室 (teacher's room) and listen to conversations happening around me.  If I hear a word that I don't recognize, I look it up in a dictionary.  I have noticed that the more Japanese I learn, the more obvious it becomes when there is a word I don't understand because it sticks out in the conversation.

I was going to write some more about this but Sharla made a great video of ways she studies Japanese and I happen to have found that all of them work well for me too!  She's really great so please check out her video!

I hope that some of this information has been helpful to you.  Please comment below if you have any helpful study tips too!



  1. Yes I have one recommended online course to learn Japanese online i.e Yomuzoku. Check it out on the web now.