How to improve my Japanese language skills?
Japanese is an East Asian language spoken by about 128 million people, primarily in Japan, where it is the national language. It is a member of the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, and its relation to other languages such as Korean is debated. Japonic languages have been grouped with other language families such as Ainu, Austroasiatic, and the now-discredited Altaic, but none of these proposals has gained widespread acceptance. Japanese is the de facto language of Japan, and it’s also the only place where Japanese is the official language. Japanese is one of the most fast-paced spoken languages in the world.
How hard is it to learn Japanese? Many language learners believe that learning Japanese is significantly more difficult than learning any other language. In fact, every language learning journey takes a lot of effort and hard work on your part. But it doesn’t mean that you have to give up mastering your skills as learning a new language opens up opportunities for both your personal and professional growth. And learning Japanese is not an exception.
In this article, we’re going to provide you with some helpful tools and resources that will definitely help you learn Japanese in a fun and effective way. Just follow these simple steps, and you’ll surely reach your goal of Japanese fluency or improve your Japanese language.
11 Simple Steps to Improve Japanese language skills
To make quick progress with your Japanese, start focusing on the core pillars of language learning. These include learning the basics, establishing a regular study routine, and (the fun part) immersing yourself in the culture.
Take a look at our 11 simple ways you can cover these bases, and start your Japanese learning journey.
1. Learn the Japanese alphabet
The best way to learn Japanese is to start with the basics: learning the alphabet. There are 3 basic writing systems you need to learn to be able to read Japanese: Higarana, Katakana, and Kanji.
The ability to read Higarana is crucial for all beginners. Higarana is primarily used for native Japanese words and consists of 46 characters or 51 phonetic characters. It’s the key to understanding how and why Japanese words sound the way they do. Because most of the characters have only one pronunciation, Hiragana is quite easy to learn. No doubt, once you learn Hiragana, you’ll create a firm foundation needed for a native-sounding accent.
Сompared to Higarana, Katakana is used for non-Japanese or loanwords: a word adopted from a foreign language. These include technical and scientific terms, as well as the names of some plants and animals.. Katakana can give you more trouble than Hiragana as it won’t be so frequently used, especially at the very beginning of your language learning journey. As your level increases, Katakana will appear more regularly. However, just being able to read Katakana is enough for a beginner.
Many learners believe that learning Kanji is the most challenging part of the process. On the other hand, it’s one of the most critical aspects of learning Japanese. Knowing very basic Kanji will enable you to understand, speak and write simple Japanese. Kanji consists of thousands of Chinese symbols that represent entire words, ideas or phrases.
Kanji comes with many complexities, as English meanings can’t always be directly translated from Japanese words. That’s why there can be many correct English meanings for a single Kanji word. We never said learning Japanese would be easy, but learning Kanji will give you a huge amount of ways to express yourself.
2. Practice grammar
How do you learn Japanese grammar? If you want to master it perfectly, you have to forget everything you know about English grammar as they differ dramatically. Unlike many romance languages, Japanese has only two tenses: past and non-past (present and future). However, there are two forms: polite and plain. The last one is used for casual speech.
We recommend that you start to learn Japanese grammar with the help of textbooks. The best books to learn Japanese grammar are:
- Practice Makes Perfect: Basic Japanese;
- A Guide to Japanese Grammar by Tae Kim;
- Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners.
It’s also important to mention that Japanese has an entirely different writing system: from right to left, from top to bottom. In these textbooks, you’ll find a lot of practical lessons that will help you get a sense of Japanese writing.
3. Learn some key phrases
How to learn Japanese fast? Start with the list of the most common words and expressions. Knowing basic phrases like “Hello”, “How do you do?”, and “Nice to meet you” allows you to begin speaking Japanese and quickly join conversations with native speakers.
4. Set up a schedule
How long does it take to learn Japanese? It’s probably one of the most popular questions many people have about this language. The truth is that it depends on the efforts you’re going to make to boost your level of Japanese.
The truth is, to see fast progress you need to start practising every day! There are hundreds of useful apps and learning strategies to help you schedule daily lessons and find a learning pace that suits them. Ready to kick start a learning process with hourly lessons? Go for it! Can you only spend 15 minutes a day learning Japanese? No problem! Just make the most of this time.
5. Use apps to get started
Language learning applications will come in very handy when you start learning Japanese. Multibhashi, Duolingo, Memrise, or Rosetta Stone are very simple apps for beginners to start learning basic Japanese phrases and vocabulary. Apps like these allow you to study wherever and whenever you want.
However, most language-learning apps are great for a quick boost to your Japanese language skills. But they shouldn’t be the only resource that you use. If you’re only studying an app for 10 minutes a day, you won’t experience quick progress. No app is a substitute for real-world interaction! Instead, try to find a language learning partner or online tutor to help you speak on a regular basis.
6. Pay attention to flashcards
Flashcards are perfect for language learners. It’s a card with information on it that you need to remember. To memorize a particular word in Japanese, you can use a flashcard with this word on it. When you flip the card over, you’ll see a translation into your native language.
If you’ve never tried flashcards, you should make them a part of your learning journey. With flashcards, you can:
- label items in your home with their Japanese names to see them every day;
- regularly repeat new words and quiz yourself;
- ask a friend to quiz you to see if you remember the words correctly.
The best part about flashcards is that you can purchase them online or even make them yourself. Whether you’re mastering skills in Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji, flashcards can be a great way to strengthen your vocabulary in all three systems.
7. Chat online with native speakers or other learners
The best way to learn to speak Japanese and strengthen what you’ve already learned is to practice regularly with others. Even if you don’t have a native Japanese friend, you have various options to put your knowledge into practice these days.
For example, you can opt for 1-on-1 video chats to find a language partner who speaks Japanese. Using your smartphone or computer, you’ll be able to talk or write online to native speakers or learners from all around the globe.
8. Read manga
It’s time to start immersing yourself in Japanese culture! Apart from Japanese books and newspapers, learn to read Japanese with manga. Manga is a crucial part of Japanese culture with a long history. Today, it’s at the heart of Japanese pop culture and is also widely known outside of the country.
Manga is art in the form of comics or graphic novels, and can be especially helpful for language learners. These comics are full of contextual clues so that you can easily understand the meaning of the written words. Sailor Moon would be a great starting point for a beginner.
9. Watch anime
If you want to be entertained while you study, try to learn Japanese with anime!. Anime is a unique style of Japanese animation, and for decades, anime was produced only by Japan. Today, it has become an international phenomenon, attracting millions of fans.
Spending your free time watching anime will help you learn a batch of new words, including slang, and improve your listening skills.
10. Listen to podcasts
If you want to learn Japanese, podcasts are an excellent way to add some extra listening practice to your daily routine and find out more about Japanese culture. Here are two podcasts that are great for beginners:
- Learn Japanese Pod Podcasts. Various episodes cover all sort of topics: from travelling tips to drinking etiquette in Japan. Each episode comes with the script in Japanese and a translated transcript.
- NHK. Each episode of this podcast for beginners tells the story of Anna, a fictional character who comes to Japan to study Japanese. The brief lessons provide scripts with an English translation.
11. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
When you start to practice Japanese, you are always going to make mistakes. But if you don’t put a foot wrong, you won’t grow! Making mistakes and receiving feedback from others is the most effective way to learn a language. However, keep in mind that native Japanese speakers may not want to correct you out of respect, so make it clear that you’d appreciate some guidance.
Japanese has so many hidden treasures to offer learners. Not only does it offer deeper knowledge of Japan and its culture, it also provides possibilities for broadening your own horizons through travel and employment opportunities.
Even more so, learning Japanese will improve you as a person. It will expand your perspective on language, challenge the way you think about your own native language, test your memory and self-discipline, and make you think about things in ways you never have before!
And if you can learn Japanese, you can learn almost any other language! You’ll also have a significant advantage in learning other East Asian languages such as Chinese or Korean. As you can see, learning Japanese comes with plenty of benefits and ways to enrich your life as a whole.
Japanese may seem like an impossible task at first, but I hope you can see that it’s not as hard as you might have thought.
The truth is that you don’t have to be a genius to learn Japanese—you just have to stay motivated, challenge yourself, and practice every day! Time will take care of the rest.
I hope you’ve found this post helpful!
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