Teach Yourself Japanese in 9 Steps: The Beginner’s Guide

When you first begin studying Japanese through self-study, it is easy to feel directionless. Where and how should I start? Kana? Grammar? Or perhaps, Kanji?” may come to mind.

The question may also arise: “Can you learn a language like Japanese by yourself?”.

 The answer is yes, it is possible. Follow these steps step-by-step to learn:

This article aims to help you set up your learning course properly so that you can learn Japanese efficiently and follow the Beginner’s Guide through self-study by setting up your own learning system.

There will be a detailed explanation of each step as I guide you through the process. What are your plans for the future? The time has come for us to get started!

How should a beginner start learning Japanese?

The best way to exercise your brain is to learn a new language, and Japanese is the perfect place to start! Thankfully, learning Japanese can be broken down into manageable steps, and if you enjoy Japanese culture, it can even be a lot of fun!

What is the best way to learn Japanese step-by-step? Beginners’ guide to learning Japanese

  • Research Japanese Culture
  • Practice Japanese Pronunciations
  • Learn Hiragana
  • Explore Kanji
  • Learn Katakana
  • Practice typing both Hiragana and Katakana
  • Start Learning Basic Vocabulary
  • Add in Japanese Grammar
  • Find a Good Textbook or Program
  • Keep Pushing Through
  • Let’s Learn Japanese

Before you get started on the steps to learning Japanese, it’s essential to approach the process with the correct mindset. Japanese differs from English and other Western languages in many different ways, and Japanese uses an entirely different set of letters that look nothing like the English alphabet. There are three writing systems that you’ll need to learn. Don’t be surprised when you struggle with basic lettering.

If you’re ready to go, then strap in. It’s time to learn Japanese!

1. Study Japanese Culture

You might not think this is the best place to start when learning a language, but it’s the most crucial step. You know how important this step is. Languages tend to reflect the culture of the area it’s spoken in; this is why people often talk about languages as living. If you want to learn a language, it’s difficult to do if you don’t understand the ‘why’ behind things like sentence structures and Grammar.

 It would help if you did this before and during your study of Japanese. Immersing yourself as much as possible is the best idea when you’re learning any language, and pop culture things like movies, small books, and music can help you out.

2. Practice Japanese Pronunciations

In various ways, Japanese sounds differ from English sounds, and understanding them before diving into the language’s nuts and bolts is crucial.

For instance, some people get tripped up by the fact that Japanese characters represented in English by one letter sound like a completely different letter (like ‘r’ and ‘d’). Japanese can also be confusing because letters don’t fit together with consonants and vowels the same way that they do in English.

There are several sounds in Japanese that don’t exist in English. You’ll have to learn these sounds, and you’ll need to give your mouth and vocal region time to get used to making the noises. It’s not something you can do in 10 minutes—at least give yourself a few days before moving on to more complicated sounds.

3. Learn Hiragana

Hiragana can be thought of as the Japanese alphabet. Even though there are three writing systems, Hiragana is the best place to start, and you will need it before studying from any textbook or online resource. You can choose what you want to learn instead of spending months learning how to read and write Hiragana. Learning to write Hiragana can be strange, and it’ll be difficult for your hands to get used to writing such different letters. Some people find it easier to wait until later to start practicing writing; besides, once you can read a language, the report becomes much more accessible. Again, learning how to type Hiragana is more beneficial than writing it.

While it’s a good idea to think about how professionals teach Japanese, remember that you’re not sitting at a desk in a classroom. You can set your own pace as long as you’re honest with yourself about your process, and Instead of spending months learning Hiragana, you can choose what you want to know.

4. Explore Kanji

Among all the parts of learning Japanese, learning kanji is the most challenging. Many kanjis have multiple definitions, and most native Japanese speakers don’t know all of them. The history and uses of Kanji can be found here.

Here, you’ll spend a lot of time building your kanji vocabulary. For everyday use, there are 2,136 kanji characters. No worries; you don’t need to master all of these before you deepen your studies, but you’ll want to start strong.

5. Learn Katakana

In this final lesson, we will learn how to write Japanese using Katakana! You’ll likely have an easy time deciphering these characters, and the process will be quicker than at the beginning. It’s progress! This is the perfect thing to do while you’re learning kanji characters. As you progress in your Japanese language study, you will be able to learn kanji characters more quickly at this stage.

6. Practice Typing Both Hiragana and Katakana

Practicing your typing skills is the next step! Using this method, your knowledge of both Hiragana and Katakana will sink in, and you will understand Japanese more practically. Fortunately, a Japanese keyboard program allows you to practice typing on any keyboard. Choose one that you like, and start going.

You’ll have a tough time learning both writing systems at once, but it’ll push you to remember and cement each system in your mind. This will also stretch those brain muscles more and differently than learning.

7. Start Learning Basic Vocabulary

You’ve been learning Japanese vocabulary this whole time if you’ve followed steps one through six! After learning every Japanese writing system, it’s time to devote more time to learning vocabulary.

Learning how to use a Japanese sentence involves three steps:

Now you can begin learning Japanese Grammar. To do that, you must know the words in each sentence. Try figuring out how nouns and verbs fit together without knowing the meaning of each word!

8. Add in Japanese Grammar

Having mastered Hiragana, Kanji, Katakana, and Japanese vocabulary, you’re finally ready to learn how to construct sentences! You’ll see what you’ve accomplished and how far you’ve come here.

Your studies in this area will be the most satisfying. You’ll need a serotonin boost shortly after understanding and crafting simple Japanese sentences; remember that feeling of accomplishment.

As with any other language, Japanese Grammar can be confusing. There are a lot of rules and a lot of things that break them. Understanding Japanese Grammar is complex, and it will take time.

9. Find a Good Textbook or Program

Congratulations, you’ve finally arrived at the point where you’ve taught yourself as much as possible! If you’re ready to go further in your Japanese language studies, you will have to invest in a language learning tool.

Luckily, there are plenty of resources out there to help you. We’ve compiled a list of some of the best Japanese textbooks and programs you can get—check these out if you’re ready to move forward.

  • JapanesePod101

It’s no surprise that JapanesePod101 teaches primarily through podcasts. The JapanesePod101 website offers thousands of podcasts for download, and topics and language levels are categorized and structured in the lessons. 

In addition to audio podcasts, lesson notes, grammar explanations, and interactive quizzes, the courses also include audio podcasts. Videos and lessons are posted regularly. 

The following textbooks will help you prepare for your exams. The following are some of the best books you should read when planning to write JLPT N5:

  1. Nihongo So-matome: Essential Practice for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Level N5 Kanji, Vocabulary, Grammar, Reading Comprehension, Listening Comprehension
  2. 1000 Essential Vocabulary for the JLPT N5 (Trilingue en Japonais – Anglais – Chinois)
  3. Kanji Master JLPT N5
  4. Japanese Vocabulary for JLPT N5: Master the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5
  5. Learning Japanese Kanji Practice Book Volume 1: (JLPT Level N5 & AP Exam) The Quick and Easy Way to Learn the Basic Japanese Kanji

Is Japanese hard to learn?

Foreigners often wonder, “Why is Japanese so difficult?” They may also be curious about how much Japanese they currently understand. The purpose of this column is to explain why foreigners find Japanese difficult. In addition, we will introduce sentences that test your ability to read Kanji and examples of sentences that are hard to understand because there is no subject or object, so you may find them helpful as you study Japanese.

In addition, Japanese is considered one of the most challenging languages to learn. The writing system and grammar structure are entirely different from English, and it relies heavily on cultural context and understanding. According to legend, foreigners find Japanese difficult because of on-Yomi and Kun-Yomi in Kanji, the omission of subject and object, and the number of vocabulary words necessary for daily life. Due to this fact, I have difficulty applying onomatopoeias, dialects, mimetic words, and onomatopoeic words to my speech, and I have difficulty using onomatopoeias often.

What is it that makes the Japanese language so difficult?

Due to on-Yomi and Kun-Yomi in Kanji, omission of subject and object, and the number of vocabulary words necessary for daily life, foreigners find Japanese difficult. My speech is difficult to use onomatopoeias, dialects, mimetic words, and onomatopoeic words. Often, I have difficulty using onomatopoeias.

  • Different readings of Kanji are complex.

Foreigners find it challenging to understand the Japanese sentences listed below. Find out how many meanings and readings you can comprehend.

Example With Kanji 

1.私は日本語が好きです。

2.以下の情報にて承知いたしました。

3.先生は昼ごはんを食べましたか。

Example Without Kanji 

1.わたしはにほんごがすきです。

2.いかのじょうほうにてしょうちいたしました。

3.せんせいはひるごはんをたべましたか。

Kanji should be read differently depending on the combination of characters before and after it.

  • The meaning is unclear due to multiple uses.

One word can be used in multiple ways in Japanese, which can be challenging to understand. There are common ones: 「すみません」. Take a look at the following sentences.

Example for すみません。

  1. 大事な資料をなくしてしまい、すみませんでした。
  2. すみません。メニューをください。

In the above, (1) the intention of apologizing is conveyed, and (2) the voice is used as a way of communicating. Japanese people often use “すみません。” to avoid friction with others, even if they don’t mean it.

  • The meaning is different depending on the Particle.

One letter can change the meaning of a word in Japanese. In addition, it may have a completely different sense depending on the presence or absence of long vowels, short vowels, and dakuten. Here is a sample sentence.

For example, for 「は」and「が」

  • 山田さんは先生です。
  • 山田さんが先生です。

“N は” is generally used when there is nothing compared to others, and “Nが” is usually used to refer to one person (one) among multiple people.

For example for「に」and「へ」

This is the one I have to spend a lot of hours to explain my students.

・明日、どこに行きますか?

・明日、どこへ行きますか?

“Place に” is used to indicate a specific place, and “Placeへ” is used to indicate a wide range. However, even if you make a mistake using “” and “,” the meaning does not differ significantly. Also, in everyday conversation, some Japanese people say, “Where are you going tomorrow?”

What are the pros and cons of learning Japanese?

“I need to do something, but why should I learn Japanese?” “Why should I learn Japanese in the first place?” Are you of the same opinion? Though I wonder if learning Japanese is necessary, if you are born and live outside japan, perhaps you should reconsider the benefits of learning Japanese.

So let’s start 

Five reasons Why should you learn Japanese?

1. Study abroad as an exchange student or attend university in Japan

It is good to attend a famous university, but if you are proficient in Japanese, you can hear a Japanese university, which will broaden your career options. Japan’s universities are comparable to those in the United States and Canada, so you can attend university and gain access to cutting-edge technology and knowledge.

2. Scholarships will be easier to get

When attending a Japanese university, you will need a large amount of money, but if you are proficient in Japanese, you may be able to receive a scholarship that doesn’t require repayment.

The Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) offers scholarships that do not require repayment to students who have met the Japanese proficiency standards and cleared them. Is there a system in place? I would appreciate it if you could take a look.

3. Make yourself attractive to employers

Japanese-speaking human resources can appeal to their abilities when seeking employment. The appeal will be strong, especially for global companies.

Additionally, some companies require Japanese proficiency before applying, or a specific Japanese ability is required before joining.

Rakuten’s new graduate recruitment site, a well-known company, requires candidates to obtain a Japanese Language Proficiency Test N2 before joining the company, which is typical for the application conditions for cabin attendants, a popular profession. Based on the description, it can be said that you must study the Japanese Language Proficiency Test if you want these jobs.

4. The scope of work is broader

It is possible to join more companies if you speak Japanese. If you are unable to speak Japanese, you may not even qualify for interviews with some domestic companies.

Choosing a company to join is essential in your life, so you want to work for the company you want to join. As a result, when you consider your career, studying Japanese will help you develop it more concretely. Even if they don’t get a job in a company, Japanese skills are also valuable for guides, interpreters, and hotel receptionists.

5. No subtitles are needed

Studying Japanese will allow you to watch movies without subtitles, which is the seventh benefit.

It will be easier to understand parts that Japanese subtitles or translations cannot convey since Japanese has phrases and nuances that English doesn’t.

Especially Japanese jokes are difficult to convey with subtitles, so that you can enjoy movies more without them. In addition, listening to the movie instead of watching subtitles will help you understand it.

Even if you watch Western movies, you still want to understand them in Japanese!

Three reasons Why should you not learn Japanese?

1. The learning process takes time

The disadvantage of studying Japanese is that it takes time to learn.

From the stage of passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N1 for about 1,000 hours, you will need to study an additional “about 2,000 hours” to reach the level where you can have complicated discussions in Japanese.

If you study six hours a day for 2,000 hours, it will take 333 days to complete the course. The study period will last 666 days if you learn 3 hours daily. Approximately two years are needed.

Nevertheless, if you have simple conversations with Japanese people in Japanese, you can learn it in a shorter period. 

As a result, it depends on what level you want to achieve. Just by working hard for half a year or a year, you may be able to communicate with local people in Japanese, find a job, change jobs, or use Japanese in your career.

2. It’s easy to get frustrated on the way

A disadvantage to learning Japanese is that you are likely to get frustrated along the way. Learning Japanese is hard to feel, and on the way, some people get bored and frustrated.

Despite this, studying even a little every day with the correct study method will ensure that your Japanese will improve steadily. In addition, if you are serious about learning Japanese, some schools offer a personal coach who can track your progress daily.

3. There is no job in Japan itself

In addition to teaching or translating Japanese, there are a few instances in which Japanese itself becomes a job.

Learning Japanese will not lead to income from the Japanese themselves, no matter how hard you try.

Speaking Japanese, however, will significantly increase the range of work that can be done.

Learning Japanese as a weapon can help you broaden your range of work and career options, so if you want to expand your scope of work and career with Japanese as a weapon, learning Japanese can be very beneficial. In my opinion, that’s the case.

Can you teach yourself Japanese?

Is it possible to learn Japanese yourself? Yes, tens of millions of people do that around the world. Japanese progress can be made with a little effort.

Taking the first step and searching for “How to self-study Japanese.”

The following is a guide on how to self-learn Japanese.

1. Set study goals

Before embarking on this learning journey, I believe you already had goals that would motivate you. You still have time to set some goals if you don’t. You look forward to achieving these long-term or short-term goals during language learning. As long as you have some set goals to strive for, you can handle all the difficulties and hurdles that come with studying on your own and look beyond the hassles for a better outcome. Setting short-term study goals are essential for someone learning Japanese on their own. Later, you can make long-term goals.

2. Develop good study habits

It’s great to set goals, but how do you stay motivated? You should study between 3 and 5 hours a week for self-study to maintain an effective study routine and remember what you’ve learned. You can schedule a specific time to study each day, and in no time, it will become a habit that you enjoy without feeling stressed. Study at a slow pace and remove all distractions before you begin.

3. Learn to manage your time effectively

Learning a language on your own is usually fraught with this problem. You shouldn’t spend 30 minutes of your study time doing something else if you decide to study for an hour. Do not use study time to run errands, learn new skills, or engage in other activities. The best results can be obtained by prioritizing your study.

4. Study outside the textbook

 To learn the Japanese language, you should focus on real-life situations, and since you will be studying on your own, you should look beyond textbooks. Engage in language exchange programs, watch Japanese movies, and talk to natives. Make sure you do not solely rely on books to learn Japanese. 

5. Focus on speaking

You should learn to talk loudly to yourself. Even if your family and friends don’t understand you, read out loud and speak Japanese to them. It’s easier to think you know something than to do it. Speaking out loud builds your confidence and helps you pronounce things correctly and better than before.

6. Review and test yourself

How will you know your strengths and weaknesses if you don’t test yourself? Make sure you review everything you have learned and memorized. Identify the ones you have trouble remembering or understanding, spend more time teaching them, and recheck them. You should test yourself every two months. You can use this to stay on track and boost your confidence if you take any Japanese language proficiency tests.

7. Hard work

Learning the Japanese language can be tricky until you decide not to let any distractions keep you away from it. The results correlate with the amount of effort you put into your studies. You get what you put in. It’s not always necessary to sit down to study. You can learn some parts of the Japanese language while doing your home chores, lying on the bed, walking on the street, and even when watching your entertainment series. To achieve this, you need to get the suitable materials, including podcasts, flashcards, etc. 

8. Commitment, motivation, and consistency

To succeed, you must be consistent and committed. Leaving your lessons now and then won’t work. Taking long breaks between study times may not benefit your study life as you would like. You should take breaks in between so you can recharge, refresh, and assimilate what you have learned, but these breaks should not extend longer than they should. For instance, a two-day break from the study is reasonable, but a three-week break may cause you to forget more than 20% of what you have learned, so you may have to spend more time revising and memorizing them again than proceeding to the next level.

My Recommendations for your Japanese learning

  • Japanese Pod 101 Learn Japanese fast for beginner Read more

Krisada Hemsoe

I'm Krisada, the creator of JLPT TUTOR. I created this site to share the path of my Japanese learning That I achieved my JLPT N1. You may struggle with Kanji , Grammar , Listening, reading and fail again and again. I know how you feel when you see "Not Pass" I want to share what I learnt in this past through this website. Hope you enjoy

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