3 Practices to Strengthen Your Japanese Writing Skills

3 Practices to Strengthen Your Japanese Writing Skills

Sadly, many Japanese language learners neglect to practice their writing skill. That is, if they even care about how to write in Japanese in the first place! If you want to be a Japanese master, then you need to get serious about your Japanese writing skills.

  1. I have to write?!
  2. The 3 Japanese Writing Skills
  3. QUIZ: Which Japanese writing skill should you focus on?
  4. Japanese Handwriting
  5. Casual Japanese Writing
  6. Formal Japanese Writing
  7. But what if…? Doubts and Concerns
  8. Tweet me!

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I have to write what?!

Learning how to write in Japanese is one skill that most Japanese learners never develop.

I remember my own Japanese classes, when the teacher would collect our quizzes, and the moaning would start.

“Ugh, I didn’t know any of those kanji…”

“They’re so hard! I just can’t write them.”

“Who needs those, anyway? Jeez…”

It didn’t stop there.

Whenever it was time for our next speech, you could tell the people who weren’t very good at writing in Japanese. Their sentences didn’t flow quite right. They didn’t have a well-written structure. They rambled on and on until the teacher said their time was up. Could you please sit down now? Next…

Writing is a tough skill. Writing is even tougher than reading. If you had to order the language skills from easiest to hardest, it would go like this: listening > speaking > reading > writing.

What is “writing” though? The 3 Japanese Writing Skills

By “writing” I’m referring to many different skills: handwriting, casual writing and formal writing.

I’m willing to give you a pass on two of these.

Why? Because you’ll probably never need them.

You’ll rarely need to hand write anything in Japanese.

In today’s tech-based world, you’ll hardly ever need to actually write a kanji out by hand.

In fact, I’ve heard through the grapevine that many native Japanese speakers are slowly losing their kanji writing skills because of the ease of technology. (I’ll have to do some more research to discover the truth, but it sure is a comforting thought!)

Why learn how to write the kanji when you can literally whip out your phone and google it? What purpose would that serve for the three times a year when you actually have to physically write something down by hand? How could you convince yourself to study stroke order when you’re just going to type everything out on a keyboard anyway?

So if you’re not that interested in remembering how to write the kanji by hand, I understand.

You probably won’t need to know how to write formally in Japanese.

If your Japanese goal is to immerse yourself in the language and culture, then writing probably isn’t on your list of priorities.

And that’s okay; reading, speaking and listening will get you through most things. Formal writing is a skill that the majority of people fail to develop in their own native language. It’s a craft that takes years to cultivate, and usually requires the guidance of a teacher to help nurture you through the process.

Writing does not come easy. It’s a learned practice.

If you’re not looking to get a job with a Japanese company, or go to a Japanese university, or express yourself clearly in a second language, then formal writing is not for you.

But you DO need to know how to write casually.

You need to know kanji well enough to choose the correct one to use on your phone. You need to know the basics of how to string together a well-written Japanese sentence so that you don’t look like an idiot on social media.

Between LINE, Facebook, Skype, Chatpad, email, YouTube, text, Instagram and any other social media outlet you can think of, you might actually be writing more Japanese than you thought.

QUIZ: Which one should I choose?

You should! If you want to get good at Japanese, then you have to focus on developing mastery of all the language skills. While you can function in just a few, knowing all of them will give you a much more well-rounded command of the language.

Still, I understand that writing can be a daunting task, and can seem downright unnecessary to some. So here’s a QUIZ to help you determine which writing practice you should focus on.

After you’ve determined your result, click below to jump to the corresponding section and view the best resources for you!

Japanese Handwriting

Casual Japanese Writing

Formal Japanese Writing


you should practice japanese handwriting to strengthen your japanese writing skills

Handwriting in Japanese means being able to write the kanji from memory. The best way to learn how to write kanji by hand is to do it over and over again: kanji drills.

You can drill the kanji on your own using an Anki deck. You can use apps, buy textbooks, or download PDFs offline and print them to practice. Here is a list of some of the various resources you can try.

Apps

There are several web-based and mobile apps that can help you practice writing kanji. Here are few that I’ve found.

Anki

I practice reading and writing together. When I add a new kanji to my reading deck, I also create an entry in a separate vocab deck. I use jisho.org to find a sentence where the kanji is used. I make a flashcard with that sentence on the front. The kanji I want to learn how to write is in kana and underlined so I know it’s the target.

how i use anki to practice my japanese writing skills

My goal is to be able to write the kanji and guess at its general meaning. If I can do this, then I pass the card. This works as a great supplement to my kanji study method, because each kanji I learn is given a meaningful sentence for me to practice with.

Kanji alive

This web application allows you to search for around 1200 kanji. It offers kanji animation in handwritten style to help you produce the kanji on your own. You can pause the animation and follow along with the stroke order. Lists can be sorted by textbook, or even by Japanese exam, so you can practice writing for the things you need the most.

Skritter

Skritter teaches you how to write kanji characters in their touchscreen app. It offers lots of additional functions, but the most basic function is to teach you how to write kanji using proper stroke order. The browser app can be used best with a touchscreen laptop, and you can also download their app on your phone. It costs $14.99 a month.

Books

If you love school structure, then working through a textbook may be very useful, even for Japanese self-study. Here are some awesome Japanese kanji drill workbooks that I’ve found. They might be a bit hard to get your hands on if you’re not in Japan, but don’t despair! Search hard until you find one.

Japanese Kanji Power

I love this book because it helps you write the kanji in the context of meaningful sentences. It gives you the kanji, several readings, several meanings, and several sentences—in Japanese, romaji AND English. Perfect for beginners looking to practice their kanji skills!

At the end of each section there is an exercise where you have to give the readings and write the kanji for the characters you’ve just learned. These little sections alone make me recommend this book over several others that are available. Unfortunately, from what I’ve found this book only covers the kanji for JLPT N5 and N4. If you’re looking for something more advanced than that, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

うんこ漢字

Very popular in Japan! “Poop kanji” teaches you how to write each kanji individually and gives several practice sentences that use the kanji as well. This may be impossible to get if you’re not in Japan, but it’s worth a try if you like cutesy, fun textbooks like me! Search “unko drill,” “poop kanji” or “kanji drill poo-ken” to see if you can find the books in your country.

practice your japanese writing skills with poop kanji drills

社会人の常識漢字ドリル

If poo kanji is a little too silly for you, then here is a workbook for the more まじめ  among us. This book is probably best suited for advanced learners who are serious about developing their kanji writing skills. It covers topics such as business, everyday life, sports, email and news. It gets straight into the kanji practice, so if you need to learn any of these kanji, you might want to use Anki to practice first. This book is best found in Japan, but search to see if you can get it in your country as well.

PDF Drill Sheets

If you can’t afford books or expensive apps, then printing off kanji practice sheets from the internet is a great way to get some free practice. You can search 漢字書き取りドリル無料 and see what you come up with. Jakka was the website I used before, but I’ve since found a better site that I absolutely adore.

ちびむすドリル

I love this site! It has dozens of kanji tests that you can print out and use to practice. They have drills covering all 6 grades of elementary school, and drills that go into middle and high school. Most of the jouyou kanji are covered on this site.

You can print out study sheets, practice sheets, and test sheets. They even have answer sheets for you to check and make sure that you’re writing the correct kanji. The site is entirely in Japanese so be sure you’re comfortable navigating the Japanese web to use this site.

 

you should practice casual japanese writing to strengthen your japanese writing skills

If you’re only interested in writing well enough to be able to communicate via email and messaging, then casual writing practice is the method for you.

Make some Japanese speaking friends

If there is a local Japanese community in your area, then go out and meet people! Talk to them, hang out, and then get their phone number or LINE ID. Once you have that, you can practice messaging them to hone your casual writing skills. Just be sure not to spam them—you don’t want to them to feel like you’re using them for Japanese practice. Be sure to be a genuinely good friend.

Language Exchange

If you don’t have access to native Japanese speakers in person, you’re going to have to find Japanese speakers online to trade words with. There are several ways to do this, but the most efficient method will probably be to find a language exchange partner who is also interested in writing English. See if you can set up a system where you both write to each other in your target language. Then help each other to correct any mistakes or oddly-phrased sentences.

Facebook

Everyone and their grandmother is on Facebook, so there should be no shortage of people who would be interested in helping you with your Japanese. You can search language exchange groups, or if you want to meet people who might be less likely to use English, search 外国人 and look for groups that say 友達作り. Be careful, though; there can be some pretty weird people hanging around on these groups. Stay safe, and have fun!

iTalki

This is explicitly a language-exchange website. You can search the listings for people looking for language exchange, or post your own listing.

MyLanguageExchange

This site tends to have people who are more serious about their language exchange. I’ve found great penpals on this site. Because it is a paid site, that means you are going to get people who are serious about language exchange. You have much higher odds of finding a good partner at this site than any other sites. It’s only $6 a month to be able to send exchange requests to potential partners. The more months you buy, the cheaper it gets; a 12-month membership is only $24 (only $2/month!).

However, you don’t have to pay. You can put up a profile and wait for others to contact you. Not the best method if you’re super selective about who you want to talk to, but the only free option. Highly recommended.

Start a Japanese Blog

Blogs are a great way to get some informal writing practice. For a personal blog, you can talk about literally anything and everything. You can also include a note at the top of your blog posts asking Japanese speakers to leave comments or email you with corrections and grammar tips to help improve your writing. See if you can grow a genuine Japanese speaking audience!

If you’re going to start a Japanese blog, then you need to do it the Japanese way. The blogging platforms you know (WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, etc.) are not necessarily the same ones that are popular in Japan. Some of the top Japanese blog platforms are Hatena, Seesa and Ameba. If you want a “real” Japanese blog, then set it up with one of these platforms. You can use this list (Japanese only) to see a quick list of other free Japanese blog providers. Choose one and get to writing!

 

you should practice formal japanese writing to strengthen your japanese writing skills

If you’re more serious about mastering Japanese writing, then you’re going to need some serious instruction. This is true even in English. If you want to get really good at writing, it’s important to take courses and talk to teachers and read books. This is how you improve your craft.

The same thing goes for Japanese. Formal English writing is nothing like speaking English. And formal Japanese writing similarly needs explicit instruction.

Academic Writing

If you’re writing for school or university, then you probably already work on your Japanese writing skills through your classes. There are several Japanese-language books that you can purchase to help walk you through the steps of structuring and writing your assignments.

留学生のための論理的な文章の書き方

This book can be purchased from White Rabbit Japan. This Japanese-only book guides you through the structure of writing an essay in Japanese. It offers instruction on which expressions to use in your papers, and includes several assignments for you to practice with.

これだけは知っておきたい「作文」「小論文」の書き方

You can find this book on Amazon Kindle. The book was written by and for native Japanese speakers, so it’s best suited for advanced learners of Japanese. It aims to teach not only writing but also the critical thinking skills needed to construct an argument.

小論文・レポートの書き方

This book is also available on Amazon Kindle. Again, this Japanese-only book is best suited for advanced learners of Japanese. It’s targeted towards Japanese-speaking university and graduate level students, as well as working adults who find writing skills necessary in their professions.

Professional Writing

This includes anything from resumes to cover letters, as well as business emails. If this is the kind of writing practice you need, the best thing to do would be to sign up with a recruiting company like Interesse International Careers or PASONA. This is what I did when I was looking for Japanese-related jobs in the States. They may assist you with writing your resume and cover letters when applying to Japanese companies.

これだけは知っておきたい「履歴書」「職務経歴書」の書き方

If you’re not too sure about working with a recruiting company, then this book may help you. Part of the これだけは知っておきたいシリーズ, it aims to help you learn how to write a stunning resume or CV. Available on Amazon Kindle.

Creative Writing

Develop your Japanese imagination! This is what I want to be able to do someday: write stories in Japanese. Before you can get any good at writing Japanese stories, you have to love to read them. You need to get a feel for the archetypes, clichés and structure of Japanese literature. If you haven’t already, check out the Guide to Japanese Reading Practice to learn ways to get your hands on some Japanese reading material.

Once you’re ready, there’s nothing like researching the writing process to hone your craft. Please note, all resources in this section are in Japanese only. If you’re not at the level where you’re comfortable reading in Japanese, then you shouldn’t be trying to write it. Sorry not sorry.

If you search 小説 書き方 on the Amazon Kindle store you’ll get dozens of results. Here are a few of the books you can find:

売れる小説の書き方

Search the Amazon Kindle store for How to Write A Novel That Sells Disclosed by a Winner of Original Work Development Project Contest. Whew! Gotta love those long-ass Japanese titles. SAKURAZAWA Yu has written several works over the last 20 years. This book was selected as the winning title for the 2015 Yoshimoto/Amazon Original Project Development Contest. It’s a guide to other aspiring writers who want to turn their dreams into a reality.

小説を書きたい!でも何を書けばいいのか分からないときに読みたい19のヒント

Again with the titles! My god. Find it in the Kindle store under I want to write a novel: but I don’t know where to start (Japanese Edition). This short guide book is, in the author’s words, “a book I wrote for a slightly younger version of myself.” It’s for people who know they want to write a novel, but aren’t quite sure where to start. 19 tricks to help guide you on the path to getting started.

主人公の魅力を描くためのストーリー創作フレームワーク集

This book is absolutely amazing! Story creation framework collection (monogatarigakakitaibunko) (Japanese Edition) is the Kindle search term. This is a guide to building your story before you start to write it. It’s heavily focused on creating compelling characters, which all writers learn is at the heart of a good story.

The book goes through main character development, supporting character development, as well as creating mystery, suspense and plot twists. There’s an extremely detailed outline of the contents in the description box. Definitely worth getting!

How to Write Novels (Japanese Edition)

This book takes you through the entire process of creating your novel. It discusses how to find ideas, how to settle on a theme, how to choose between a happily ever after or a bad end, and whether to write in first or third person.

The author has worked as an animator and manga artist, and studied screenplays before setting out to write a novel. Discover the lessons the author learned about Story from these varied disciplines over the years.

Free Resources

If you’re not ready to purchase a book just yet, you can find writing guides online. These are two “how to write fiction” guides that I found on the fanfiction and original fiction site Syosetu. Japanese only, of course.

Personal Writing

I added this section specifically for this book I found, and really wanted to include it!

あらゆるケースに対応!気持ちが伝わる手紙・はがきの書き方全集

Search that title on Amazon Kindle and you’ll find this cute book to help you write letters in Japanese! For those who spend all day writing on their phones and tablets, and get stuck when it’s finally time to put pen to paper. This book teaches you to smoothly write messages of congratulations, thanks, requests, invitations and more. Dozens of sample sentences are included in this little book. Extremely helpful for all your everyday writing needs.

But what if…? Doubts and Concerns

There are a lot of people who have a lot of opinions about how to strengthen Japanese writing skills. More accurately, a lot of people have a lot of opinions on anything Japanese related! They’ll tell you what you should and shouldn’t use to study, and whether you should practice with non-native speakers.

I’m no different. This entire site is dedicated to telling you what to do to improve your Japanese.

But my advice remains the same:

Ignore it. Ignore ALL of it.

Ignore ME if you have to. No one else can tell you what to do on your Japanese language journey. You are the captain of that ship. We can tell you where the rocks are going to be, but if you think you can swiftly navigate them—if your boat is small and fast enough—then go for it. Only you know for sure that you can make it.

Should you get a native check? Only if you want to.

One thing people will tell you is to always make sure that you have a native Japanese speaker check your work.

This is a great practice, and honestly it makes complete sense. You write something in Japanese and then ask a native speaker to look through it. The native speaker will be able to catch things that don’t make sense, or turns of phrase that aren’t quite natural.

But what if you can’t find a native speaker to check you? Or what if you have three different native speakers giving you conflicting information?

My advice? IGNORE THEM.

Believe in yourself

You don’t always need a native speaker going behind you to tell you what’s right or what you should change.

Why? Here are three simple reasons.

You’ll lose all confidence if you do.

How are you ever going to be confident in your Japanese abilities if you always need someone to check over your shoulder to make sure you’re doing it right? At some point you’re just going to have to trust yourself and believe that you know enough Japanese to get by.

Native speakers don’t always know what they’re talking about.

Language is an extremely personal thing, as common as it is. What sounds wrong to someone in Tokyo may sound perfectly fine to someone from Nagoya. Just like some things I say sound super weird to pretty much anyone born outside of the southeast. Does that make me wrong? No. It just makes my language different.

You’ll be understood, and that’s all that matters.

Even if your Japanese isn’t “perfect” or native level, that doesn’t mean you can’t write stories in Japanese. That doesn’t mean you can’t start a Japanese blog. It just means that you’re going to stand out a little bit, much like you would if you were speaking Japanese and had a clearly non-native accent.

But that’s okay!

Do your readers understand what you’re trying to say? Are you getting your story and message across? If those answers are yes, then you’re perfectly fine. Stop worrying about your Japanese level and just start doing something in Japanese. After all, that’s truly the only way you’ll get any good.

A perfect example

This woman has been living in Japan for 16 years. She’s married with two kids and is raising her family in Japan. She blogs in English and Japanese.

Her Japanese isn’t perfect. I can tell when a different grammar pattern would have suited the sentence better. But she’s making herself understood. Her Japanese-speaking readers, they know what she’s trying to say, and they’re connecting with her through her writing. It may not be perfect, but it’s good enough. And more importantly, it’s something.

You don’t need to be N1 to be able to write in Japanese.

You just need to believe in your abilities and put them to the language test. Go out and interact with some actual Japanese speakers and see how you do.

Whether you’re chatting casually over LINE or drafting your submission for your local Japanese speech contest, believe in yourself and take your Japanese writing skills seriously!

Remember, no one else is going to make sure that you get good at Japanese. You have to take your language learning into your own hands.

Where them blogs at?!

Alrighty then, I want to see some Japanese language blogs up in here! Whether it’s mostly English with some Japanese, a bilingual mish-mash, or a complete Japanese-language description of your everyday life, send it my way! Tweet me a link to your blog so I can read your latest post and leave a comment 😊

Here is a link to my #japaneseblog {INSERT} Click To Tweet

 

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