5 Tips for Studying Japanese


Now that I’m out of school and in the working world, I feel like I need to study again. Although that’s how I ended up back at grad school in the first place, no I’m not going back to school again. Instead, I’m going to brush up on my Japanese.

When you don’t have class to keep you in line, it can be difficult to keep up a good study schedule. So, how can you keep up with your study of Japanese? I’ve come up with 5 study tips to help you (and myself) get inspired.

1. Study every day!

Japanese classes are held every day, and there’s a reason for that. You learned your first language by using it every day, and that’s how you will master Japanese. Set aside time each day to practice speaking, listening, reading or writing. If you can only devote 20 minutes each day, that’s still 20 minutes you will immerse yourself in Japanese. Until there’s a chip that downloads information directly into your brain, there isn’t really a shortcut to learning Japanese other than time and effort!

2. Kanji is your friend

Learning to read and write kanji (or Chinese characters) is probably the most unattractive part of studying Japanese. When I was a TA for Japanese class, most complaints were about how hard it was to remember kanji. But learning kanji is essential for living in Japan or for reading anything in Japanese. I’ve been studying Japanese for half of my life, but I still haven’t mastered kanji. As daunting as that sounds, it’s important to remember that learning kanji will be tough but that it will improve your ability to communicate in Japanese.

3. Write in Japanese by hand

Technology has made international communication easier than ever, and that means communicating in Japanese is easier too. On your computer or on your phone, you can type in Japanese without having to remember kanji stroke order or whether that’s a こ ko or a こう kou in 最高 saikou. If you can recognize the kanji, you can select it from a list rather than remember how to write it. In short, you can get by without remembering how to write kanji perfectly, but you still have to have some knowledge in order to recognize the kanji you want to send.

If you want to become proficient in Japanese, you must learn to write kanji by hand. You need to learn how to write it so that you can read it. Recent studies suggest that technology doesn’t necessarily equal results in retention or academic performance (see Technology doesn’t make school pupils smarter: study), so that means that you won’t become proficient in Japanese without some analogue study (pen & paper!).

4. Practice Japanese with other people

I know, interacting with real people can be scary. Especially in a different language. But this is the best way to improve your listening and speaking skills. Finding someone to practice Japanese with is the first hurdle, but there are many ways to go about doing this (check out ideas for how to find language partners). Having a language partner can also keep you accountable for your daily Japanese practice – quiz each other on the latest kanji you’ve studied, or practice grammar patterns that give you trouble.

5. Try a different approach

Are you tired of staring at the same 10 kanji that you just can’t remember? Do vocabulary words leave your head every time you blink? Did your language partner abandon you for greener fields? If you feel like you are stuck in a Japanese rut, try something new to get out of it!

Find a website in Japanese about your favorite hobby and practice reading. Read the news in Japanese to get a new perspective. Even if you can’t read every character, try to see if you can get the general idea by reading headlines, or the first and last paragraphs for starters.

Watch Japanese movies, drama, or anime without the subtitles. Challenge yourself to see how much you can understand without the crutch of subtitles. Watch an episode twice: once in Japanese only, and add subtitles the second time through. How much did you understand? This will be more difficult if you are just starting out, but if you have a favorite show you could rewatch it without the subtitles and pay attention to the flow of the conversations and pick out any phrases you do know.

One more thing: make mistakes! You can’t improve unless you make mistakes. Most people will not think poorly of you if you use the wrong word or the wrong grammar construction – unless they are jerks. Even if you’re terrified of making mistakes (like I was when I first arrived in Japan to study abroad), put that fear aside and give it your best shot. You will realize that you know more than you think you do!

What study tips do you have for studying Japanese (or another foreign language)? How do you improve your language skills on a daily basis? Let me know in the comments!

8 thoughts on “5 Tips for Studying Japanese

  1. Nice post. When I found out we were moving to Japan for a few years I immediate said I would jump in and learn the language. Wanting to be fluent as quickly as possible but man that did not happen. I started using software and books but I just got distracted and now I know a very bare minimum and we are about to pack up and leave this amazing country.

    I still have the urge to learn it and may jump back in but if I do it will have to be full on. I am still hopeful but it is a difficult language to tackle…for me.


    • I think that taking a language class that forces you to put a ton of time into learning a new language is one of the best ways to learn. Having to start from nothing on your own is really hard! In Hawaii you can still use Japanese, because of the high tourism rates there. ABC stores have English & Japanese labels!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Nice article! However I disagree that learning Kanji is one of the worst parts of Japanese, actually I enjoy it for whatever crazy reason (:

    I think writing in Japanese is much more boring because I don’t really have any use for it. I’ve forced myself to learn Hiragana and Katakana, but hard to keep a good memory of hundreds of Kanji without actually having a need to write.


    • I’m glad you enjoy kanji! Most of my classmates and the students I TA’d always complained most about the kanji because it was the hardest part. Do you use kanji mostly when reading then, since you don’t write much?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, I have practiced learning a few hundred(?) Kanji several years ago, but forgot most of them. I don’t mind learning to write them, but without any real interesting application in my day-to-day studies I don’t have much motivation to maintain that knowledge.

        I agree that learning to write Kanji does help to memorize it, but isn’t strictly necessary, especially since if you are unsure between a handful of options you can usually guess from context.


  3. Ana

    Hello! I’m studying english and japanese by myself. I agree pretty much with all your advices. I’ll add to point 5: music! Listening to new music from the country of the language that you are learning, I think it can be very motivating and you can learn a new thing of that culture, nevermind if its pop/rock music or traditional national music.

    For me it has been a really slow with japanese because I’m not very exposed to it, but with english is everywhere, so I’ve learned it pretty fast.


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