How to Teach Yourself Japanese: 21 Ways to Skyrocket Your Japanese Skills in Just 1 Year

How to Teach Yourself Japanese: 21 Ways to Skyrocket Your Japanese Skills in Just 1 Year

Want to know how to make learning Japanese easy and fun? This is it: how to teach yourself Japanese! Spend your Japanese study time learning the things YOU want to learn. If you stick with it, your Japanese skills will skyrocket in just 1 year. Here’s how.

  1. Should I teach myself Japanese?
    1. Do I need a Japanese Teacher?
    2. Do you have what it takes?
  2. How to Teach Yourself Japanese: 3 First Steps
    1. Determine Your Level
    2. Choose Your Method
    3. Focus on a Skill
  3. 21 Easy Ways to Teach Yourself Japanese
  4. Get obsessed
  5. Tweet Me!
  6. Take This Post To Go

Should I teach myself Japanese?

I taught myself Japanese and passed N2.

And I had never even been to Japan at the time. I just showed up that Sunday in December and pretty much yolo’d my way through the whole thing.

And I passed.

When people ask me how I studied for N2, they’re extremely surprised when I say that I didn’t. They want to know where I took Japanese classes, who my Japanese teacher was, and what textbooks I used. I feel bad when I can’t give them those answers.

While I did take some Japanese classes, I dropped out of most of them and fell asleep during others. While I did have some Japanese teachers, most of my “teachers” I never met with in person. While I did use some textbooks, most of my study materials were real, native Japanese language media.

You don’t have to learn the traditional way.

If you really want to learn Japanese, then you don’t have to spend tons of money on textbooks, classes or teachers.

You have everything you need to teach yourself Japanese right at your fingertips.

All it takes is a quick Google search to find online guides to Japanese grammar, or any number of books that will teach you how to write Japanese kanji. And the more comfortable you get interacting with native Japanese, then the more study material you’ll have: the entire Japanese web—every video on NicoDouga, every blog on Ameba—opens up to you.

Japan becomes your Teacher.

Caveat: There are some aspects of Japanese that I think are best learned in a structured classroom setting—like advanced Japanese writing. But, for the most part, while there are many benefits to having a Japanese teacher or taking Japanese classes, they are not an absolute necessity.

Do I need a Japanese Teacher?

Teachers are very skilled at breaking down difficult Japanese concepts and explaining them clearly. However, if you join a Japanese language learning community, other learners of Japanese will be happy to explain concepts that you don’t quite get.

A teacher also gives you a guaranteed speaking partner, but you can find people to talk to online. Or, you can always just talk to yourself! That’s what I did for a long time 😊

Teachers know how to develop a curriculum and lesson plans that teach you what you need to know. Unfortunately, what the “curriculum” says you need to know may not reflect how Japanese speakers are actually using Japanese right now. So if you want to interact with Japanese people in an everyday setting, then learning from native Japanese material will get you to your goal much faster.

And sometimes, the teacher’s methods just don’t work for you. Even if you take Japanese classes, you might find that you learn some concepts better on your own.

Chart explaining the pros and cons of having a Japanese teacher

Discovering how to teach yourself Japanese can be fun! But if you want to learn the traditional way, that’s okay, too.

Ideally, everyone would teach themselves Japanese. That’s my dream, because as a teacher, I encourage my students to solve problems on their own, and to take control of their own learning.

However, teaching yourself anything is not an easy feat. And it might not be the best course of action for some. You might have some trouble teaching yourself Japanese if:

You have trouble with self-management.

You only accomplish tasks if someone tells you exactly what to do and when to do it. You have trouble setting your own goals and, more importantly, sticking to them.

You need explicit instruction.

You have trouble figuring things out on your own. You almost always need someone to explain things to you very clearly before you get them.

You don’t really “care” about learning Japanese.

You’re taking it as an elective, or because it will make your resume look better. You’re going to have trouble finding the internal motivation necessary to succeed at teaching yourself.

This doesn’t mean you can’t teach yourself Japanese! It just means you might need to take traditional classes and teach yourself on the side. That’s perfectly fine. Most of us will take Japanese classes at some point.

But for some of us, Japanese class just isn’t where it’s at.

Decide for yourself if you need a Teacher, of if you will be your own Teacher.

The ultimate choice of whether or not to get a Japanese teacher, to take Japanese classes, or to use traditional Japanese textbooks is entirely up to you.

Weigh the pros and cons carefully before making your decision. You can always add or remove something from your study routine.

For me, I started out teaching myself Japanese, then took some classes, but dropped out and self-studied for most of the next 5 years.

Then I placed into Intermediate Japanese at university and took Japanese classes to secure an East Asian Studies major, but the majority of my study time was spent teaching myself after class.

I’ve used both methods throughout my Japanese learning career, but I have found that teaching myself always got me the results I was looking for.

Do what works for you.

How to teach yourself Japanese: 3 First Steps

The point of teaching yourself Japanese is that you get to decide where to start and what to do. Still, it’s important to know where you’re starting from before you decide where to go. Here are 3 starting steps.

1-Determine Your Level

Have you already taken Japanese classes before? Then you might want to go ahead and dive in to some native Japanese material and see what you can wrap your head around.

If you’re looking for more structure, textbooks like An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese and Tobira are great places to start for intermediate and upper-intermediate/advanced learners.

But if you don’t know any Japanese at all, you’ve never taken a class and you can’t manage to find a Japanese teacher, you can still teach yourself Japanese. You’ll just have to start from the ground up.

There are many wonderful online resources that will give you an intro to basic Japanese grammar. Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese is a great place to start. If you want a physical textbook, the Genki series is widely used by Japanese learners everywhere.

If you’re not sure what level you’re at, the JALUP Level Guide is a pretty fun way to test yourself! There are three stages. I recommend starting with the first one and seeing how far you can get:

JALUP Level Guide Stage 1 JALUP Level Guide Stage 2 JALUP Level Guide Stage 3

 

You can also use other indicators, such as the JLPT test or your class level at university, to determine your level.

2-Choose Your Method

The way I see it, there are two different methods you can use to learn Japanese.

Language Transfer

This is where you use your background knowledge of English to help you learn Japanese. There’s a lot of translation going on with this method: subtitles, parallel texts or even having someone else interpret for you.

Since we’re adults, we’ve already learned a language. So we don’t need to struggle so hard or for so long to do it again. We can use what we already know to add a new tongue to our inventory.

Some people disagree with this method, and that’s because using English as a background to Japanese can actually hurt your Japanese skills.

Have you ever seen someone who uses 私は way too much? Or have you been told that YOU use it too much? This is just one well-known example. In English, it’s mandatory that you say who the sentence is about (I, me, you, Ari-chan). But in Japanese, you don’t have to do this. A lot of Japanese sentences don’t even say who the sentence is about! So using 私は constantly is an example of what’s called negative language transfer from English to Japanese.

Immersion

If the language transfer method sounds too much like using English as a crutch, then you might want to try the immersion method instead.

The immersion method basically means surrounding yourself in Japanese as much as possible, and doing your best to learn Japanese without the “crutch” of English.

Now, I use a combination of both methods. In the beginning, I used language transfer to quickly level-up my Japanese. Then, once I was comfortable enough, I slowly switched over to immersing myself in more native Japanese material.

Even now, though, as I work through advanced Japanese, I still use tools such as Rikaikun and subtitles to quickly transfer my English knowledge to Japanese. Once I get more comfortable, I can move into the immersion method later.

Whether you use just one or both of these methods, make sure that whatever you choose is the right decision for you.

3-Focus on a Skill

Alright, now that you know what level you’re at and which method you’d like to use to learn Japanese, a good third step is to focus on a specific skill.

To become fluent in Japanese, you have to master the four skills of language: listening, speaking, reading and writing.

Chart detailing the four skills of Japanese

Listening and Speaking are the most natural skills to focus on because this is how we all learn our first languages: we listen to the people around us, and we learn how to speak to them.

It isn’t until later that we are taught how to read and write; and many people never develop these skills.

It’s natural for most people to start with the Listening skill, and then move on to the other ones.

Choose your skill

For me, I started focusing on the Listening skill. If your Japanese is already pretty advanced, you might choose to focus on Reading, or maybe even Writing.

Choose one skill or to focus on for a certain period of time. Maybe 3 months, or just 1 month, or even just today. When you’re ready, move on to the next one. Make sure to double back and level-up your earlier skills as you progress in teaching yourself Japanese.

Master all four, and you will become fluent.

[Want to know how to skyrocket each of the four Japanese language skills? Take a look at these guides to Japanese practice.]

 

21 Easy Ways to Teach Yourself Japanese

Alright! Now that you know what level you’re at, and which skill(s) you’d like to focus on, here are 21 easy ways to teach yourself Japanese that will skyrocket your Japanese skills in the next year.

1-Listen to the news in slow Japanese

An easy thing to try no matter your Japanese level! There is a podcast whose title delivers on just that: News in Slow Japanese. This is a great tool for beginners to practice their listening skills, and even for advanced learners who are trying to grasp the vocabulary of a new industry.

2-Sign up for NicoDouga

This is the Japanese YouTube. Getting a NicoDouga account was one of the first things I did when I started learning Japanese. I wanted to watch my favorite visual kei bands talk live, and this was the only place online where I could do that! The most popular content seems to skew towards the gamer demographic, but almost anyone can find something interesting to watch here.

3-Watch Japanese anime/dorama/movies, with or without English subtitles

Either way you’ll learn something. Watch with Japanese subtitles to quickly see the kanji of that word you just heard. Watch with English subtitles to get an understanding of new words and phrases. Watch without any subtitles to see just how much you can understand on your own!

4-Dive into Japanese fanfiction

A great way to fast-track your Japanese reading skills, especially if you’re as obsessive about reading it as I am! I could spend hours on FF.net and Tumblr and AO3, and I’m finding that I spend just as much time on Pixiv, Novelist and Syosetu. You’ll learn so much flowery language (or downright filth, depending on what you’re reading).

5-Study what interests you

One of the main reasons you decide to teach yourself Japanese is so that you can study whatever you want! When I started teaching myself Japanese, I started learning words by reading the lyrics to my favorite songs. I wanted to understand what my favorite vocalists were singing, so I built up a store of vocabulary through music!

6-Go at your own pace

Don’t try to follow someone else’s guidelines for how fast you should be learning Japanese. When teaching yourself, follow your own pace for what feels right. If that’s learning 5 kanji a day, then do that. If it’s 35 kanji a day—or 75—then do that! No matter how quickly or slowly you proceed, you’ll always learn faster in the end, because you’ll be moving at a pace that feels right for you.

7-Join a Japanese language group, or start your own

Whether you just got back from Japan, won’t be back for a while, or don’t ever plan on going, a Japanese language group is a great way to maintain your speaking skills. Go to Meetup.com to find a Japanese group near you. If you don’t see one, start your own! You’d be surprised how many people are just waiting for you to take the lead and bring a Japanese language group to your area.

8-Find a Skype partner

Don’t feel like going out in public? No worries! You can still teach yourself Japanese right from the comfort of your own home. Go to iTalki or My Language Exchange to find someone who’s willing to speak Japanese with you over Skype. Be generous, and help them learn your language, too!

9-Watch music videos with subtitles, in Japanese or English

I learned my first hundred or so Japanese words from watching Alice Nine music videos. I was always so thankful of the people who would post videos with both the Japanese subs and the English translations. Music is a great way to learn words and phrases through repetitive exposure, and the subtitles help give written structure to vocals that might be hard to understand just by ear.

10-Binge the JapanesePod101 YouTube Channel

You can subscribe to them here. They have scores of videos on Japanese vocab, grammar, kanji and culture, as well as fun little quizzes you can use to assess your Japanese listening skills. If you can afford to, sign up for their podcast and binge-listen in the car.

11-Drop out of your Japanese class

The few times I’ve taken Japanese classes, I’ve always realized that they were actually holding back my Japanese progress. I wasn’t learning what I was interested in, and the pace didn’t match my learning speed. I was constantly dropping out to teach myself. If you’ve felt something similar, maybe stop taking Japanese classes for a while and see if teaching yourself invigorates your study. (Of course, if you’re working to get a degree, you can’t drop your classes! But you can focus your energy and efforts on self-study. It will pay off when you DO go to class, I promise.)

12-Remember the Kanji in 30 days

You’ll have to learn the kanji eventually. Why not get it out of the way as fast as you can? Grab the Joyo list or Heisig’s list and get started. To finish it in 30 days you’ll need to learn 70 kanji a day. That sounds monstrous, and it is. But just think! After a few short weeks of pain will come a lifetime of easy kanji review. Reviewing what you already know is so much better than learning it the first time around. This may not seem easy at first glance, but I promise you when you look back on yourself a year from now you’ll see just how easy it was to skyrocket your Japanese skills by knocking 2,000 kanji out of the way up front.

13-Go through Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese

Tae Kim’s Guide was my official Japanese textbook for a long time. It’s got super detailed explanations of Japanese grammar points that are very easy to understand. You can read Tae Kim’s Guide right on the site, download the PDF, buy the paperback or get the app.

14-Read some Ameblogs, or start your own

A fun way to fast-track your Japanese reading skills! Follow some blogs written by real, live, native speakers of Japanese. You’ll get practice reading about everything from daily life to philosophy. Here’s an entire list of topics to sort through to get started. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, you can sign up for Ameba and start your own blog about your favorite topics in Japanese!

15-Buy Japanese books on BookLive.jp

BookLive is a great site to get digital copies of Japanese language books, manga, light novels, magazines and more. They accept foreign credit cards and you can read the books right in your browser! This is a super affordable way to level-up your Japanese reading skills. How many books can you read this year?

16-Expand your music library

Music is the reason why I started learning Japanese, and continues to be one of the main ways I practice speaking. Look on iTunes and Amazon, or sign up for OTOTOY and get the latest releases for your favorite artists. Need someone new to listen to? Check out JRock247 or NekoPOP for j-pop and j-rock news.

17-Try extensive reading

This will skyrocket your Japanese reading skills like nothing else. 多読(たどく・tadoku) is a technique where the goal is to read as many things in Japanese as fast as you can. You don’t worry about using a dictionary or getting every single kanji reading right; just get out there and get your eyes used to scanning Japanese text! Learn more about how to do tadoku here.

18-Go All Japanese All the Time

If you’re super hardcore, then this is the trick for you. Khatzumoto of All Japanese All the Time claimed that this practice got him to Japanese “fluency” in just 18 short months. Pretty much take a nuke to English in your life: drop your English-speaking friends (or your family…!), switch all devices to display Japanese, only read Japanese books, watch Japanese TV, listen to Japanese music… You get the drill. Learn more at his blog. Can you imagine where you’ll be a year from now if you try this for 365 days in a row?

19-Download Anki

Anki is your portable second brain. It’s where you put all the things you want to store into your long-term memory. This SRS (spaced-repetition software) is designed to show you things you want to remember right when you’re about to forget them, thereby solidifying them in your head. Use it to remember kanji, vocabulary, phrases, dirty words, people’s names, the prefectures—literally anything!

20-Spend some time in the Koohii Forums

Heisig’s book Remember the Kanji was groundbreaking in its method, but didn’t quite “fit” with every Japanese learner. Luckily, the Koohii Forums were created which allowed other Japanese learners to share their modified methods to help remember the kanji. But not only that, some of the veteran members of the Koohii Forums shared a lot of other tips as well, like how to stream Japanese TV and the best places to find speaking partners. There’s a treasure trove of information there, so dig deep.

21-Fall in love with Japanese

This is both the easiest and the hardest tip to master.

You don’t learn a language; you live it. It’s either constantly surrounding you, or it’s not. You’re either interacting with it, or you’re ignoring it.

It’s hard to ignore something you’re in love with.

The easiest way to skyrocket your Japanese skills, no matter how long you’ve been studying for, is to fall in love.

Fall in love with a Japanese boy. Fall in love with a Japanese girl. Fall in love with two Japanese boys and three Japanese girls and work your way out of the ensuing love hexagon. Fall in love with a visual kei band and follow them around the world. Fall in love with an anime series and immerse yourself in the fanfiction. Fall in love with the Japanese language so hard that you can’t help but have the words flow off your tongue.

Two women talk about studying Japanese outside of class

If falling in love doesn’t resonate with you, then here’s another one.

Get obsessed.

The easiest way to skyrocket your Japanese skills is to get obsessed with Japanese.

That’s the only way to ensure you’ll do it, day in and day out, no matter how hard it gets. Call yourself an otaku. Call yourself a weeaboo. Call yourself a Japanophile. Call yourself whatever you damn well please, just know this: Japanese is your new obsession.

And that’s how you’ll skyrocket to mastery.

You’d be surprised how many people you’ll come into contact with who aren’t obsessed with—or even remotely in love with—anything Japanese.

You see, to me, there was never any question that one would immerse themselves in the Japanese language as much as possible. I started to teach myself Japanese because I wanted to DO things in Japanese.

Do something different

I think this is one of the biggest difference between those who teach themselves and those who try to get others to teach them. Taking a Japanese class is fine and all; it will teach you the basics and may even get you to a pretty advanced level of Japanese. But classes alone won’t help. In fact, someone who teaches themselves Japanese might get farther than those who only take classes, because the person who is teaching themselves loves the Japanese language enough to try and learn it, no matter what.

And the person who takes classes and teaches themselves? Well, they just blow all the rest of us out the water.

So get started! Go teach yourself Japanese!

You don’t need to pay money for expensive classes or pricey teachers to learn Japanese. Thanks to the wonder that is the World Wide Web, you have everything you could possibly need to teach yourself Japanese right at your very fingertips.

Your world of study is pretty much limitless. Anything that is made by Japanese-speaking people for Japanese-speaking people becomes material for you to learn from.

The entire country of Japan is your “teacher.” Read blogs, watch YouTube videos, tweet at people and make some friends. Teach yourself Japanese by USING it on a daily basis. Make it your second mother tongue.

Take your language learning into your own hands. After all, it’s your responsibility. No one else is going to make sure that you become fluent in Japanese. That’s up to you.

Power through, and you’ll be a master at Japanese.

Declare this as the day you start taking your Japanese language learning career into your own hands!

Which of these 21 tricks are you going to try? Tweet #imteachingmyselfjapanese and declare your journey to your fellow Japanophiles!

This is how #imteachingmyselfjapanese {INSERT} Click To Tweet

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