- Introduction- You can learn Japanese by yourself! Why learning by yourself is faster.
- The general steps to learning Japanese and some resources to get you started.
- An important tip to memorizing vocabulary.
- Further tips on improving your Japanese fluency and refining your ability to process Japanese.
- How to read Visual Novels with much more ease using text extraction and dictionary programs that show word definitions with a simple click.
You can learn Japanese on your own, you don’t need a teacher, you don’t need to take classes. If you enjoy hobbies which consist of the Japanese language in common use, such as anime or manga, you already have an advantage.
So, you are sitting in Japanese class one day, and you think to yourself: “Wow this class is slow, everyone doesn’t seem to care… I wish I could learn something that I would actually find useful. It would be great if one day I could watch all that anime without subtitles, read Japanese and perhaps even speak it well.”
Well, whether or not you are currently taking Japanese language courses, or plan on taking them, the truth is, most Japanese teachers out there have a different agenda than your dream. One thing they care about is money, the next thing they would care about is that you can talk as good as a parrot so that Japanese people can say “Nihongo jouzu desu ne!” “Wow your Japanese is good!”— when really that is not the case… it is just simply that they are amazed you even speak a word. But you want to be different… no?
The truth is, you are in charge of your learning, because it is your brain, not your teachers. There are great resources out there, and so many low quality teachers. You need to learn to become your own teacher, and that so-called-teacher of yours needs to become recognized as a mere resource.
Set time aside every day, it’s time to be that A student you were always meant to be. The prize? A whole new language, culture, world, and most likely your hobby and interest made ten folds better; imagine watching anime in its own native language, reading all you can without having to wait for translations. It is do-able.
The problem with public Japanese language education:
- You are mixed in with people who don’t care, thus the class moves slow.
- In three years of college level Japanese you will only get as good as JLPT 3 level if you only focused on the classes, that is not even anywhere near even being near fluent. Is it possible to reach a near fluent level (JLPT2) in three years? YES, you can even do it by yourself. If you are driven and talented enough, JLPT1 is do-able in three years.
- High school Japanese is an utter joke, and should not be taken serious. For the love of Japanese if your goal is to learn, go beyond that silly high school class.
- The teachers have low standards for their students. The teachers can never picture you speaking fluent Japanese unless you are a genius or a super student at a university. This is a matter of human nature really, because they first meet you as someone incapable of speaking well, thus they form a subconscious image that you cannot speak their tongue. The only possible way to bypass this and convince a teacher you have talent is to have perfect pronunciation and a very favorable accent (from the start, or at least show it to them).
- Most teachers think that it is a good idea to teach Japanese to English students with an English style of thought. Ex: They teach phrases such as しなければならない as “must do,” when it literally means more like it “it must not become that…”
- Most Japanese native teachers don’t know how to teach Kanji because as far as they can remember they’ve been scribbling the bloody stuff since they were four and didn’t know any better in primary school. The kanji is even read in their own native tongue; what makes you think they know how to teach it to someone who is still learning that tongue?
- ULTIMATELY, a teacher’s job should not be to spoon feed, but to inspire the student to turn themselves into a beacon of learning, and that is what you need to become: your own teacher.
If you truly want to learn Japanese, here is how to do it independently step by step:
- Learn Hiragana and Katakana
- Find a good textbook. I recommend either Genki or Minna no Nihongo. The point is to find at least some structured approach because if you are learning alone then you will want some guidance. It is possible to learn Japanese without a textbook of course, but I just recommend having one in case you ever get lost on where to go or even start at.
- Begin learning Vocabulary- 10-20 a day minimum, up to 30 a day for beginners. Weigh it based on your time available. Flash cards are the best method. Context + Flash Card making immediately after viewing the context is even more effective as long as you keep the image of context. For flash card purposes, I recommend the program ANKI: http://ankisrs.net/. This program is also available on smartphones, so you can take it wherever you go, and study before you sleep while in bed as well. Here is a link to basic vocabulary starting from the JLPT 5 level: http://www.tanos.co.uk/jlpt/jlpt5/vocab/. This website also has vocabulary for the JLPT 4, 3, 2, and 1 levels. Work your way up past JLPT1! 10 a day = at least 10000 in 3 years; 20 a day = at least 10000 in a year and a half; 30 a day = at least 10000 in one year. Memorize 10000 of the most common vocab and you will be amazed at your ability, watching anime without subtitles will be a reality if you have good listening skills.
- Begin Learning grammar (through grammar guides such as linked below in this post) after you have least at least 100-200 vocabulary. It’s time to make put those words to work at building your foundation of Japanese.
- Kanji- You have two methods: The traditional or the Heisig method. The traditional method is perhaps the most brutally yet straightforward and immediately effective practical method. You can learn the traditional method from pretty much any standard kanji book. The newest, most upcoming and powerful method for foreigners to learn Kanji is the Heisig method. The Heisig method will NOT teach you how to read Kanji in Japanese. So what is the point of learning just meanings and symbols? The point is through Heisig’s method you use a method so powerful at allowing you to memorize the symbols based on their nuts and bolts. You have to try the Heisig method to know its usefulness. With the Heisig method learning the meanings and writings of 25 Kanji a day is a cakewalk, and within 3 months you will finish the first volume which is all you need- 2000 of the most basic kanji. You will not be able to read them, but you will know what they mean and know exactly what they look like- they won’t escape you, so learning the Japanese readings to them will be all too easy. More information about the Heisig method: http://kanji.koohii.com/
- Gaining further vocabulary words. Once you are out of vocabulary lists to pick from, it’s time to take words from experience. Don’t let any word you run into during your time using Japanese (whether it be reading, watching, or talking) get away. Look it up and put it in your vocabulary list. By this point vocabulary cards should be a habit.
- GO TO JAPAN. I can’t stress this enough, going to Japan is the best thing you can do. And when I mean going I mean living. There are plenty of ways if you are currently a college student, or a college graduate. There are foreign exchanges, look for them! If you are a college graduate you can still do a foreign exchange. You can work in Japan. Teaching English may not appeal to you, but it’s an easy ticket into Japan. As someone who learned Japanese, you NEED to go. With one year in Japan at the level of at least JLPT2, if you don’t slack and keep study habits and be sociable, you will become fluent and the JLPT 1 will probably look too easy by the end of the year.
Textbooks. I personally recommend Genki or Minna no Nihongo. Whatever works for you though.
Anki Flash Card System
Japanese Grammar Reference for Accelerated Learners.
This is a grammar guide I made which contains all the grammar you need to understand Japanese. Beginners may find this guide difficult. This guide should not be rushed, and learners should take their time as much as possible to complete the guide. Once completed, learners will have all the Japanese grammar they need to understand almost all Japanese conversations if they have the vocabulary to back it up.
Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide (For those who find my guide difficult)
These above resources are literally all you need to get yourself speaking fluent.
Heisig Method for Kanji
Jisho Comprehensive Online Dictionary
Lingoes Dictionary Program and Vicon Japanese-English Dictionary Add-on
A tip on memorizing vocabulary
Personally I think that the most important part to learning a language is understanding how your own brain works. This is especially true when it comes to vocabulary acquisition. The more naturally you can obtain vocabulary the easier it will be to use and recognize.
When using flashcards or a system such as Anki, imagine the word in your head. Do not correlate the Japanese word to the English translation. Create an image in your head, and from there on when the Japanese word is heard or seen you need to conjure an image instead of think of the English word. This gives you the ability to think in Japanese real-time and will be something you need as you get better at the language. The difference is this: Japanese > Accurate Image > Understanding…vs… Japanese > English > Translated Image> Less Accurate/Translated Understanding. You think about which sounds better…
So bottom line is, use your imagination to learn vocabulary, and form images. If the word is わるい (bad), be creative, think of a rotten apple. If it’s something simple like さかな (fish) then just imagine a fish. If it’s something more complex such as つつましい (humble) then think of a character in a movie or person you know that you think is humble. This is how you learned vocabulary in your own native tongue: through correlation. Imagination is a tool that allows you to correlate! What do I mean by this?
Daughter: Mommy, this apple looks funny.
Mother: It’s bad.
Mother: It’s not good.
Daughter forms image that ugly apple is not good, recognizes it as “Bad.”
This is correlation, and even as an adult you still have this ability. Use your imagination.
Let’s try a real test. I’m going to teach you a word in Japanese using context, acting like it is an English word.
Friend: Ugh dude this game is so futsuu.
You: Huh, what do you mean?
Friend: It’s just like all other games, what’s interesting about it?
So what does futsuu mean? Can you guess?
If you thought Normal, Plain, Average, or something of that sort, you hit the mark. Congratulations you just learned a new word naturally.
If you are like most Otakus, you probably know these words as well: Onii-chan, baka, hentai, ecchi.
Why do we call a tsunami a tsunami instead of a tidal wave often times? Who knows? Maybe because some Japanese dude was screaming “Tsunami” and pointing at one during a Godzilla movie and some fat white dude with his popcorn was like “Oh, that’s called a Tsunami?” Point is, if a person has any imagery to work with, it gets understood. Even a child doesn’t fully understand every single word they have heard and even use in daily life to an extremely precise level.
With cramming vocabulary you need to put some effort in making an image because you aren’t going to memorize massive amounts of vocabulary in short time without a more intuitive correlation, and even if you train yourself to know the answer to each flashcard, does it mean you will recognize it when it is said to you? Use- Your- Imagination- Every- Single– Flashcard.
Further tips to improve your Japanese fluency
Improving listening & conversation skills:
- Watch anime you have already seen without subtitles. You already know the plot and can easily predict what the characters are saying, therefore it is easy to follow the conversations and listen in. This also teaches you how the words you already know and can take from the conversations are used in their intonation and tones with the native accents, making it easier to listen and understand them in the future.
- Make Japanese Skype friends. There are plenty of Japanese people who are crazy about foreigners. Most of them are into learning English and may try to steer it that way, and some of them are well… quite into certain fetishes and fantasies about gaijin/foreigners (no joke, you could say the same that there are some westerners with their weird fetishes too after all).
Improving reading & conversation skills:
- Go chat with people online on random chat sites. If you are self-conscious of your bad Japanese there is no fear, anonymous chats exist. Go troll some people on http://chatpad.jp/ or any other anonymous chat site. It’s simple on this linked one, you just click and get paired up with some random person you don’t know.
Improving reading skills:
Many VN readers in the community can help you here. The problem I personally feel about focusing only on reading is that your Japanese conversational skills still suck and you may not be able to watch a complex anime without subtitles. However again, most people in this part of the community (and many VN translators as well) focus mostly on this. Keep in mind however that your reading can still be synergetic to your conversational and listening skills as the vocabulary you gain from reading is immense. I still highly recommend having some conversational practice as well. Many VN readers have excellent reading skills and vocabulary, but even in typed up Japanese I read every now and then they say some funny things even with their advanced vocabulary range. As a foreigner though, perfecting your foreign Japanese WILL take a long amount of time, possibly your entire lifetime. Fluency is reach-able in short time (3-5 years give or take), but native-like fluency is different. You lived and breathe English for a long time, to live and breathe Japanese you have to be utterly serious.
How to read Visual Novels in Japanese using ITH and Lingoes (or your choice of dictionary program).
Before you begin reading Visual Novels in Japanese, you should be at an intermediate level of Japanese. At least JLPT3 level so to say~ (about 3000 of the most common vocabulary with a strong grasp on Japanese grammar).
First, you have to download two programs:
You can find ITH on this forum at hongfire. Once you have the right one, unzip it onto your desktop.
Next, you need to download a dictionary program such as lingoes (I DO NOT recommend ATLAS. ATLAS is mostly a machine translation tool, not so much a dictionary program designed to help people learn… there is a difference between a machine translation tool and a dictionary).
Download lingoes: http://www.lingoes.net/
If you decide to use lingoes, you will also need to download the Vicon Japanese-English Dictionary: http://www.lingoes.net/en/dictionary/dict_down.php?id=7554E7109A40BE41987D0852111EDF4F
After installing lingoes, run this Japanese-English Dictionary to add it to your lingoes. Add it to the text-capture list and every other list just for the hell of it.
Using the tools.
- Now that you have these two programs, run any visual novel.
- Once the visual novel starts, open ITH (make sure to run as administrator on Windows Vista/7).
- Click on processes on ITH, and select the visual novel’s process, click attach then click ok.
- Once you have done this, the moment text appears on the visual novel, ITH will attempt to generate the text accurately, so start playing the game through.
- Click the dropdown box on ITH and select which one appears to have the text most accurate. If none of them are correct then you have an incompatible visual novel on your hand and will need to insert a manual hook which I will explain later. If this is the case, open another visual novel to test for now just so you can learn.
- Open lingoes (or your chosen program), and make sure that you have translate selected text turned on (you can check this at the toolbar on the bottom right of your screen).
- Try highlighting a word in your ITH, it should pop open the dictionary entry for that word.
- If you are successful up to this point, congratulations, you now have your crutch to help you learn to read Japanese better until you are confident enough to read Visual Novels without a constant need for a dictionary.
Some visual novels are harder to read, some are easier. This is important to remember.
As a general rule of thumb, most moege, high school comedies and slice of life visual novels are typically among the easiest to read. Personally the easiest VN I’ve probably read would be Hoshizora e kakaru hashi. It’s definitely an easy one. Some examples of VNs any beginner would feel demoralized from attempting to read are Oretachi ni tsubasa wa nai or Dies Irae. In this case you may not always know what is easy and what is hard, so don’t be afraid to ask another visual novel reader or even bug a translator at times. Some translators may be very busy, or even popular to bother with individuals but it doesn’t hurt to ask. Any person who spent hundreds of hours learning Japanese will definitely without a doubt be willing to spend time helping their juniors.