A lot of people have asked me “How do I start learning Japanese?”. It’s not easy, as is well known. But it’s not hard either. I’ve been studying for over a year now, and though I’ve made mistakes in the learning process (and still make mistakes), here’s a guide on how to start learning Japanese.

First you need to ask yourself, why do you want to learn? This question is important, as you can allow yourself to focus more on the things that are essential to your learning.

“I want to travel to Japan for a few weeks. But I have no interest in staying.”, “I’m a weaboo [1] and I want to say random Japanese words and phrases to impress my otaku friends”

If this is the case, you’re better off with a good guidebook on common phrases, cultural notes, and social etiquette. You don’t necessarily need to know Kana[2] or the Kanji[3], but a knowledge of pronunciation will certainly help. There are plenty of cheap books on the iTunes store, Google Play, or at your local book store.

– *”I plan on transferring there for the military”, “I am interested in the JET[4] program.”, “I’ll be moving there with a spouse”. 

I highly suggest taking a class at your local community college to teach the basics. Knowing how to speak will be certainly helpful, as well as knowing the cultural differences. Knowing the Kana is very important as well as grasping an understanding on some basic Kanji. I suggest studying and taking at least the JLPT 4 and 5 exams [5], which will test you on the most basic knowledge that will help propel you on your career, as you’ll need that knowledge to navigate around town, figuring out signs, reading menus, and general basics.

– “I’m want to study just for fun. I want to be able to read and translate manga, import Japanese video games, and watch raw unsubbed anime.”, “I want to learn the language but don’t have the time or money to visit Japan or to take classes”

If this is you, then you’ll want to consider self-study. With the internet these days this is totally doable, but can be significantly more difficult since there’s things that books and audio clips can’t teach without being immersed in the culture. 

In a future article I’ll go over some of the various methods for self-study and what works for me.

[1] Obsessed Japanese fan. Wants to be Asian, but has no grasp of the culture or societal norms other than what they’ve seen on random JPop clips on YouTube.
[2] Kana is a syllabic alphabet system consisting of Hiragana and Katakana. Hiragana is used primarily for Japanese words, particles, and suffixes. Katakana is used mostly for Foreign words, names, and places. 
[3] Kanji is the Chinese-derived character system. Used both in conjunction and in place with hiragana. Comprised of two different reading systems: On’Yomi (Chinese) and Kun-Yomi (Japanese).
[4] Japanese Exchange and Teaching Program
[5] Japanese Language Proficiency Test. Ranges from JLPT level 5 (basic elementary skills) to JLPT level 1 (extremely advanced). Questions comprise of grammar, Kanji proficiency, readings, etc.

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