BEST WAYS TO LEARN JAPANESE ONLINE – TOP TIPS
Want to discover the best ways to learn Japanese online? You’re in the right place because we’ve got some killer tips to share with you here!
The Japanese language is often considered scary and foreign to many Westerners, who don’t have experience with foreign languages in general and Asian languages in particular.
Thankfully, as opposed to what many people think, Japanese is likely one of the easier languages to get a hang of, thanks to its easier pronunciation and lack of word-differentiating tones.
Nonetheless, as any language, it takes time and dedication to learn Japanese, as well as an understanding of its rules and grammar, plus lots and lots of practice and review.
To help with the process, we would like to give some of our top tips for learning and practicing Japanese to help you reach the next level faster:
How to Learn Japanese #1 – Focus on the Similar
How to Learn Japanese #2 – Expose Yourself to Japanese
How to Learn Japanese #3 – Listen Repeatedly
How to Learn Japanese #4 – Learn Hiragana & Katakana
How to Learn Japanese #5 – Research Kanji Meanings
Tip 1: Focus on the Similarities not the Differences
There is a video created by the Irish Polyglot Benny Lewis, where he and a few other friends sing the Animaniacs Country Song, changing the names of countries to foreign-loan words in Japanese (see it below).
This is a great way to see how many loanwords there are in Japanese.
While the majority of the language is still comprised of authentic Japanese words, as well as those coming from Chinese, Japanese also has a history of loanwords from English, Portuguese, German, Dutch and others.
This is a great way to overcome the Fear of the Unknown and the bad reputation Asian languages get for “sounding foreign and mysterious”.
Want two examples from Japanese to English and vice-versa?
- Emoji 絵文字 (えもじ) – doesn’t get more 21st century than that!
- Terayaki 照り焼き (てりやき) – because we’ve all gone to Subway and ordered a Chicken Terayaki sub once in our lives!
- Enjin エンジン – this means Engine. Sounds exactly the same right?
- Baa バー – not the noise a sheep makes but a Bar where you drink. Easy as you like!
It is always a great way to play around with the language and really enjoy the process, whilst not just focusing on the end destination.
Likewise, it is a great way to easily acquire lots of vocabulary from the start, even before you begin with the first grammar point.
Tip 2: Expose Yourself to Japanese as much as you can
As with any language, listening is key if you want to advance to speaking.
Even at the start when you barely know any words or sentences, it is important to start listening to as much of the language as possible to get familiar with the sounds and the flow.
Specifically Podcasts and Audiobooks are a great way to do so, as it can be done while doing the dishes, laundry and other chores.
Apps like Audible and Spotify are a great source to find listening material for Japanese, or even YouTube if you have a way to put it in the background.
Listen and absorb as much as you can, wherever you are. Commuting is a great example of this.
Resources such as Japanesepod101 have created lots and lots of video materials that you can listen to for FREE (see the video below).
At this stage, I would normally not recommend actively watching materials in Japanese without subtitles. The process of actively listening and not understanding anything can be quite demotivating and push you to give up out of feeling of helplessness.
Japanesepod101 do a great job in subtitling their videos clearly and explaining meanings behind words and Japanese characters.
There is no doubt this channel is one of the best ways to learn Japanese online for beginners but also intermediate students.
It’s important to keep your motivation and interest to be able to continue long term!
Tip 3: Listen Repeatedly
Aside from the materials above for general listening to the sounds of the language, it is a good idea also to listen and repeat materials that you have heard before.
Repetition is extremely important when learning a language, and Japanese is no exception.
Listening over and over to the same material will help you naturalize the phrases and words, so that they become part of you and you think about them without effort.
Specifically for Anki, the Core 6000 Deck with sentences and audio is a great deck to start with.
Tip 4: Learn The Alphabet
A lot of students whose aim is mainly to speak the language tend to skip on the reading and writing and go directly to practicing speaking.
This is generally not a great idea. The more you advance in the language, the more you will be expected to at least be able to read the phonetic Japanese writing, the Hiragana and Katakana writing system.
It is best to do so early on and is extremely important if you wish to be able to learn Japanese by using Japanese in the more advanced stages.
Mnemonics are a great way to learn them more quickly. You can create them yourself, or maybe better still, you can use other materials such as Dr. Moku´s Mnemonics Flashcards.
Tip 5: Research Kanji Meanings
Even if your aim is strictly speaking, learning the Kanji is a great way to acquire more vocabulary.
This is done by understanding what each Kanji character means, and then find more words that use the same character.
Through this method of breaking up words and linking them to other words, you can rapidly increase your total vocabulary intake with ease.
For learning Kanji, Remembering the Kanji by James W. Heisig remains one of the top resources until today and is a fascinating way of teaching.
DID YOU KNOW – Kanji and Chinese characters are directly linked! If you know some Mandarin you’re in luck.
Tip 6: Use Multiple Resources
Learning a language often works like making and eating a salad.
You combine a bunch of materials together, and your body slowly breaks the different materials apart, making order in the mess you created.
Likewise, learning a language works best when you are obsessed with it and try to find as much about it as possible.
As such, my recommendation would be the explore the internet and find lots of materials, such as the ones I recommended above and others.
Thanks to the Soft Power of Japan for many years due to its unique culture and the media empire it created, there is no shortage of materials.
Whether that be for reading, listening and watching, whether you are into various genres of music, Anime, culture or history.
Do some Google searches, find what you like and combine it with Japanese.
Tip 8: Find the Perfect Teacher
One (very important) way to learn Japanese online is to hire a teacher to help you recall words, grammar and more importantly, prompt you to use more complicated language in your speaking.
Quite simply this is probably the best way to learn Japanese online in fact. This is something that good teachers are specifically trained to do, nothing beats native contact.
A teacher will specifically guide you to speak in a way that sounds more natural and use grammar patterns that you need, allowing you to really bring your Japanese to the next level.
Luckily for you, that’s exactly what we specialise in!
We have a number of top-class native speaking Japanese teachers who offer individual and group courses.
Tip 7: Speak to Yourself
This one is often neglected as a lot of people find this habit awkward, especially when in public places.
Speaking a language is a challenge in. This means that when you are listening to Japanese materials, do not just sit and listen, but also move your lips in the manner of the sounds and try to do so out loud.
Likewise, take 5-10 minutes out of your day to talk to yourself, either out loud or quietly. Shower conversations are a great way to do this.
The important thing to remember here is that before you are able to speak with natives in their own speed and with their vocabulary, you need to be able to bring the words out of your mouth in a semi-fluent speed.
Otherwise, your language exchange and practice sessions won’t work so well long term.
Speaking to yourself will help you recall vocabulary and grammar, as well as increase the speed with which you can build sentences and actually communicate.
Tip 9: Speak with Japanese People
After having done lots of listening, vocabulary acquisition and enough speaking with yourself and a teacher, it is time to start having regular conversations with native speakers and test your skills out.
Having done the above, you should already be able to have semi-fluent conversations.
This is the stage where your language will not just become more fluent, but also more natural and native-like.
You will be recognizing patterns you already know, but also start copying your Japanese friends’ manners of speed, slang and other mannerisms.
For finding native speakers and entering their discussions, Clubhouse is a great app if you do not have Japanese circles around your area.
Tip 10: COME TO JAPAN
Last but not least, be it whether you want to advance quickly in the language from the start or you want to reach a more advanced level, moving to Japan for at least a few weeks will be super helpful with your Japanese.
This will allow you to find more professional teachers, more easily get in contact with Japanese locals (especially those that do not speak English, and will not revert to it to make it easier for you but worse for your language learning journey), and even give you more appreciation for the culture and greater motivation for for continuing to study and advance in the language.
We have always been of the belief that Immersion is the best way to learn any language (LTL stands for Live The Language after all), and despite all the great things we can do online these days, nothing quite beats genuine language immersion like throwing yourself in at the deep end!
NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR – Alex, our language expert (he speaks well over 10 languages, very well)!
I have been studying Japanese since 2004. I started originally from an interest in Anime and Manga, and later found that I was interested in learning Japanese purely for the interest in the language.
During this long journey, I have used loads of materials, watched and listened to thousands of hours of Japanese materials.
I’ve also made many friends along the journey, both in my home country, as well as in Japan.
I genuinely believe these are the best ways to learn Japanese online. Thanks to these methods and tricks, I can confidently say that I am a fluent speaker of Japanese and happily continue to study and discover new things about the language and the country of Japan. If you do the same, you can get there too! Good luck.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is Hiragana?
Hiragana is one part of the three Japanese alphabets (which also include Katakana and Kanji).
Hiragana is the basic Japanese phonetic alphabet and it represents every sound in the Japanese language.
In total there are 46 hiragana characters in Japanese, each with a particular sound but not a meaning in itself.
How is the Japanese alphabet formed?
Japanese is formed of 3 different alphabets.
Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji.
Kanji is the oldest of the three. It is a picture-based system from Chinese which are characters that represent whole words.
This means if you indeed know some Mandarin, you will recognise some Kanji. Although the meanings are the same, the pronunciation is not.
Hiragana came about because, long story short, Kanji proved difficult to learn. Hiragana brings forward individual sounds, meaning if you know the alphabet, you can read extracts of text. With Kanji you need to memorise the character from scratch.
Katakana likewise is a native alphabet based on sounds, but this focuses more on foreign and new words.
Two examples are Katakana are:
アメリカ means America and is pronounced amerika
クリスマス means Christmas and is pronounced kurisumasu
This is a deep topic which requires much more research and reading but that’s the jist of it without trying to add too much confusion at these stages!
Can I learn Japanese online with LTL?
You can indeed.
We have classes for small groups, or individual if you prefer, which are taught by fantastic native Japanese teachers.
Getting a Japanese teacher certainly ranks as one of the best ways to learn Japanese online, without any doubt.
What is Katakana?
Katakana is one part of the three Japanese alphabets (which also include Hiragana and Kanji).
Katakana is used for transcriptions of loan words from foreign languages like English.
This means when you see Katakana you can generally assume the word is a foreign one simply translated. These often sound quite similar to the English equivalent.
ヒューマン means human and is pronounced hyūman
アメリカ means America and is pronounced amerika
クリスマス means Christmas and is pronounced kurisumasu
How many people worldwide speak Japanese?
It’s estimated over 130 million people speak Japanese worldwide.
This is near enough 2% of the worlds population.
With the increasing rise in popularity of Manga and Anime this number if growing with many more westerners now verse to studying at least basic Japanese.
Do many Japanese speak English?
In short, the answer is no.
If you go to Japan do not expect to be able to use English.
A basic handle of Japanese will help greatly on a trip to Japan.
Rough estimates show less than 8% and even as little as 2% speak English fluently, with around 30% having some basic knowledge of English.