Having an interest in learning the Japanese language is great and all, but how do you ACTUALLY get started? Given the fact that you need to learn Hiragana, Katakana, sentence structure, vocabulary words, kanji and more, it can be a daunting task. This is really a catch 22, if you don’t start somewhere, you won’t get anywhere, but you might be totally confused on where to start. This can lead to a very lengthy delay in when you had the initial idea of learning Japanese and when you actually started learning. There are many guides out there, and I’ve definitely done my fair share of reading through them, but I thought I’d give you my take on it as well. This is going to be geared more towards just starting out with Japanese, without any formal exposure to the language. Later on, there will also be a written series/guide which will be continuing on after you’ve mastered the basics.
The Kana (Hiragana/Katakana)
First things first, don’t use Romaji. Seriously. My passion for hating Romaji is not that I hate the idea of the Romanization of the Japanese language (In fact this principle is how you’ll be typing out Japanese on a keyboard anyway), it’s the fact of how Romanization is done. The most popular system is Hepburn Romanization which you can read up on here – Hepburn Romanization. Essentially I much prefer using the Nihon-Shiki Romanization, as it more accurately aligns with how Japanese words are actually spelled in Japanese, the Hepburn system gained a lot of popularity as it was geared towards western audiences in making Japanese words much easier to pronounce. I’ll be doing a video on why I think the Hepburn system is flawed, however this is still by far the most widely used Romanization scheme for Japanese in the English speaking world. This system was also the Romanization system the Elementary Standard Japanese language course at York University begins with (although we switch to fully using kana within a few weeks into the course). Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad system, however once you learn the kana, the Nihon-Shiki system will make far more sense than using Hepburn.
To learn the Kana, you can essentially use any study sheets. Basically any free online resource will work well for this, however I do have a few personal favourites.
York University Japanese Studies Program Kana Practice Sheets
Grammar and Basic Sentence Structure
Once you’ve started to gain mastery of the kana, it’s time to move on to learning about grammar and formulating basic sentences. Again, there are plenty of resources available, both free and paid. Again, a list of resources that I like has been included. The beauty of learning Japanese (at least from an English speakers perspective) is that it is a very well documented language. The dictionaries are there, learning materials are readily available and with platforms such as iTalki and Tandem, the platform for getting in touch with native or fluent Japanese speakers is present. One note I do want to add here is to always challenge yourself. I made the mistake of staying in a comfortable zone too long and not pushing the boundaries of my knowledge. When this happens, you end up in a situation worse than not starting at all, and that is stagnation. When you’re not learning anything new or practicing some element of the language that is already completely second nature and ingrained, it doesn’t add any value to your studying routine. This time could be better spent learning something new. Stagnation is your worst enemy. It’s very tempting to try to stay in our comfort zone since learning a new language is daunting and I know for some of you who may only speak one other language, this is an entirely new experience. Push yourself to explore the boundaries. Don’t speed through the books or other resources, take your time reading through and learning the content, however don’t stick with that content for an extended period of time, move on to more advanced materials as soon as you get familiar with the basics. It’ll keep you learning and while you will make mistakes, keep yourself motivated as learning a new language is a process of continuing growth, you will be continually getting closer to achieving that goal or dream.
Genki I + Workbook (Second Edition, 2011)
Genki II + Workbook (Second Edition, 2011)
Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar
What about Mobile Apps/Computer Programs?
There are ton of great apps or computer programs that you can use to assist in learning Japanese. However I did not include them here on purpose. I’ll be doing another post about which apps I’m using to help me learn Japanese and sharing some tips of what I found to be both efficient and effective. When starting out Japanese, it’s always good to stick with the basics first, hand write the kana and really grasp the core concepts. I would recommend doing this first before attempting to use mobile applications to help you study. They’re super effective! Although I believe starting out with the basics first will help you use these apps a little later on to augment your studying. So first things first! Get started with the basics and don’t worry too much about the mobile apps or computer programs/software as of yet. I’d say get through at least Genki partially through Genki I before getting into using apps to help you study.