Learning Japanese. Where to start?

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odinsmana

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So I have wanted to learn Japanese for a long time. So much of the media I consume comes from Japan and I would like to be able to experience it in it`s original form (there`s also all the stuff that is never localized into English, I`m looking at you Yakuza Spin offs.) Until now the extreme complexity of the language and the amount of time it seems it will take to learn it has scared me off, but now I have decided to really give it a try. So now I am wondering were to begin? Do you fellow bombers have any recommendations for techniques, services, tools etc. or just generally were to begin? And also if you guys have any tips for stuff that helped you guys learn.

Thanks in advance!

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macghille

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#2  Edited By macghille

I was a linguist for the Army, and as such studied Japanese for several years, as well as Serbo-Croatian, Swahili and Nepalese. I will be brief.

The most important element is repetition. You have to touch the language in some way every day, even if it's a small way (run through some vocabulary, do some flash cards). You are literally creating alternate pathways between meanings in your brain, and if you don't reinforce that daily, it quickly dissipates.

As for Japanese specifics, you're going to find that there are technically three writing systems. Kanji are the classic, complex characters that were adopted and adapted from Chinese. Katakana and Hiragana are the phonetic systems, similar to our own alphabet in that each symbol represents a sound, with no inherent meaning. Katakana and Hiragana are almost entirely the same sound system, (a, i, u, e, o...ka, ki, ku, ke, ko etc.) but they are frequently very different in appearance. Hiragana are used for the ends of japanese words and to indicate grammar, while katakana are generally used for scientific names or cognates (words directly borrowed from other languages, for example, McDonald's is pronounced makudonarudo, and is written with katakana).

So your first step would be to memorize the hiragana and katakana and practice them until you can read and write them almost as easily as our alphabet. This will make your future efforts much easier. You should also look for audible resources to ensure you are pronouncing the sounds correctly, even if only in your own head.

The next step requires you to know how much time/money you can spend on this. If time and money aer no object, obviously you could take classes at a local school or purchase rosetta stone. Otherwise, you can try and learn with a coursebook (preferably one with an audio component) and supplement with studies in ancillary texts. An excellent coursebook is Genki 1: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese. You should try to acquire a teacher's edition so that you will have the answers. There is also a very good workbook companion that is sort of essential for driving concepts home.

Supplemental books I also recommend are: A Dictionary of Japanese Particles by Sue A. Kawashima as well as A Guide To Remembering Japanese Characters by Kenneth G. Henshell

Finally, you should also regularly leave japanese-language movies running in the background while you do other things. This helps you familiarize yourself with intonation and the flow of the language. After learning your first 50 words, you will absolutely start picking up small phrases in these films, and hearing the subsequent words -even though you don't understand them- will greatly ease your understanding as you study, because you will be encountering familiar sounds and their associated intent. (Which is how we learn our native language as children...we keep hearing how it SHOULD sound and flow, which eases us into future concepts.)

Learning the language solo is a huge task. The written part is easier to accomplish alone, and listening you can grasp if you surround yourself with audible Japanese as much as possible both while studying and just existing. Speaking, however, will require interacting with native-speakers at some point. Best of luck!

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Belegorm

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As someone who attempted several times to pick up Japanese and doesn't see myself getting back into it too soon, I can say how I'd do it. I'd look into getting James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji. Consistently, what you always hear from Japanese learners is that the major roadblock isn't the confusing grammar, the massive number of homonyms, or multiple different syllabaries (basically alphabets but based on syllables). It's trying to memorise 2,000 ancient Chinese characters. What Heisig realised was that Chinese students learning Japanese had a much easier time because they already knew all of those characters. So in his system you cheat and find ways to memorise the kanji and associate them with meanings close to what they usually mean in Japanese. It's a kind of short-hand for remembering what a given kanji means.

In practice this lets you much more easily figure out what a word you don't remember means from context, and lets you more easily memorise the different readings and meanings of a given word. From there it's mostly learning grammar, and your vocab is incredibly easy since you have a basic understanding of kanji meaning which is the root of most Japanese words.

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matoya

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Kvel2D

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#5  Edited By Kvel2D

Here's how I did it.

As already mentioned Heisig is good. I did it for 3 months before I got sick of it but it was a great time investment in retrospect. Meanwhile you should also read some grammar guide, Tae Kim's is pretty good.

Now, after that you have to stop learning and start reading anything. You really just have to dive right into it. It will be painfully slow at first: you'll have to look up every single word and will probably read 1-2 sentences per minute, but it gradually gets better ... until you can read Japanese.

The biggest thing is to pick a reading method that minimizes the time spent looking up words. For example, a physical book is the worst possible option, since you either have to spend hours looking through a dictionary comparing characters or you have to use some OCR app on your phone, which is not that much better. Your best bet is to read something on a computer, where you can use hooking software to see everything about a word by hovering your mouse over it. I read a ton of visual novels and I think it is THE thing to use as a studying material. They have a voice track, the language is a combination of simple dialogue and complex narration, it lets you use the hooking software and there's a nice range of extremely easy to literature level visual novels. You might not be into visual novels, but I honestly think I would give up were I to read anything else.

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macghille

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Also, there are some pretty decent apps that can assist. Tae Kim's Learning Japanese, Obenkyo, Human Japanese and TenguGo.

And seriously, if you can find it, My Japanese Coach on the Nintendo DS is an excellent resource. That sounds like a joke, but it is structured incredibly well and interacts with you audibly, (recording you so you can hear how close you get to the required sound). It sounds ridiculous, but I used it to brush up after my courses were finished, and it was highly impressive.

Again though, learning a language is hard work, and it is easy to get discouraged. But once you start hearing phrases in japanese movies that you understand, the feeling is incredible. Then you start repeating things you say in your native languae in your head in the NEW language, and the feeling of success becomes addictive. You just have to get past that first month or two.

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Shivoa

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#7  Edited By Shivoa

I never became fluent but the advice above is exactly how I got beyond having no clue at all to just being really bad at anything that's not the absolute simplest while being incredibly slow doing so (but hey, it could be worse; we did something like six years of French at school and I'm not significantly better at that language either).

Just wanted to add that if you're planning on getting to the point of just diving into Japanese games then at some point (reasonably early) you'll want to jump into more casual reading. The internet in general is a great source of reading material but if you're into comics (and less dense text is good if you're still very slow and referencing to get through stuff) then free [legal] comics are easily available. Stuff like MangaBox and ComicWalker have endless new stuff and you can flip over to the English version for checking the official translations (saving on buying comics in both languages or the issues that lots of stuff isn't available at all untranslated without finding cash for import/shipping costs). The stuff above first but when you're starting to get it and want to mix leisure and working on your skills then comic books are not a bad way to go. My parents used to buy me comic books as a kid as long as they weren't in a language I already knew (this was the only exception to the no comics rule). It sounds like you probably already read and watch translated stuff so that should act as a good way of immersion.

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monkeyking1969

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Practice practice practice...
The tools you use depends on what tool you have in your area. Classes? Online lessons? Japanese conversation classes? Software, Cds, tapes, book you can loan from your local library?

I am a huge proponent of going to your local library to see what resources they have for free - like Mango; languages lessons on tape, dvd, books; software. If you have a local 'adult learning' school see if they offer Japanese. If you live close to a college or university see about auditing a class for a very small fee. Look into free online or Youtube classes too.

At the very least make some flashcards and practice with those, flash cards of common vocabulary with 'pronunciation'. If you live with people who will tolerate it, "tape" flash cards to objects in the house. If you decide you might want to look into local classes...fine...but don't wait around. Buy, borrrow, or make flash cards to start trying to pick up and practice as much as you can FOR FUN.

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kblosnack

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Some of my friends that are fluent in japanese told me to play some old RPG's like dragon quest, earthbound and final fantasy because they only used kana, not kanji, because of limitations on resolution

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whur

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realkana.com is amazing and will net you the hiragana and katakana within a week or two. Tofugu and wanikani are also amazing with incredibly generous free trials.

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2Mello

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odinsmana

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Thank you so much for all the advice guys! I think I will be taking a closer look at the Genki and Heisig books and trying out TextFugu and the Anki app. The Abroad in Japan videos were also really usefull! Kanji was the thing that was scaring me the most and with the Heisig book it seems like something I might (maybe) actually manage to learn in a somewhat reasonable amount of time (or at all really).

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Meorrow

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One other resource that has only briefly been mentioned is online lessons. I'm currently taking video lessons with a teacher through iTalki.com - $15/hr. I do it once a week (more would definitely be better, but that's what I have time for). That's cheaper than taking a class through a college or whatever, you never have to leave your house for it, and most importantly you get 1 on 1 attention.

I went into it already knowing kana, but we started right at the beginning of Genki I and it's helped tremendously having someone that's a native-speaker there to answer questions and generally make sure I'm doing things correctly.

I use Anki (the website, the desktop app and the phone app) for vocabulary, and wanikani.com for kanji.

If there's one main piece of advice I can give you though, it's to adopt a slogan similar to "every damn day." Nothing helps more than consistency. Taking that a step further, when you're just starting to learn, you're going to pick up some bad habits no matter what. When you mention how you're studying (RTK vs. WaniKani, Tae Kim vs Genki vs Japanese from Zero, etc), someone is going to tell you you're doing it wrong, and that you'll develop terrible habits with whatever resource you're using, and to use this other thing instead. The thing is, you will develop terrible habits with anything you use, but the worst habit is starting over with a different resource time and again. Make sure you're using something relatively well known, and dig in.

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bassman2112

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#15  Edited By bassman2112

I know that Reddit tends to be a bit of a taboo here; but /r/LearnJapanese has been an incredible resource for me. They constantly have people there to help, and even have a Discord server with people who are always willing to give a hand =)

I want to mirror what others have said, though - the Genki books are fantastic, and you can find them fairly inexpensively on Amazon.

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#17  Edited By Pepsiman

I know this only got bumped because of the spambot and has otherwise been flagged as answered, but I work as a Japanese game translator, so I'll throw my two cents on a particularly thorny issue for Western learners: kanji acquisition. Whatever resource you use, whether it's Remembering the Kanji or something online or something else altogether (I was lucky enough to major in it in uni, so it was classes and workbooks for me), don't feel like you have to rush yourself to learn all of them upfront within a compressed time frame. One of the biggest mistakes I've often seen new learners make is that some think they can get kanji out of the way by just sitting down and cramming something like Remembering the Kanji for a few months. In my mind, this is a really quick way to feel burnt out and the risk of that knowledge not even sticking anyway long term is pretty high because at least in my experience, kanji mastery primarily comes from a lot of application, not just in terms of writing them over and over again, but seeing how they're used to form words in conjunction with other kanji and internalizing their fundamental meanings that way so that eventually when you do encounter new words, you can often figure out what they mean at a glance without even needing to consult a dictionary.

Most natives learn kanji over the entire course of their core schooling from grade school to high school and even they're often quick to admit that it could still be hard at times even at that pace. As a non-native that can just focus on studying Japanese rather than a bunch of other subjects like they would've had to, you can compress this timeline to a somewhat significant degree (I myself was literate enough to be able to live more or less fully independently within Japan in about 3.5~4 years, but again, that was my degree), but in the end, it's not a race nor should it be, so don't feel ashamed to take your time picking kanji up no matter what pace you go with. The thing a lot of self-studiers don't know is that much like their native language, non-native Japanese speakers all have their own strengths and weaknesses with the language, especially with the language. Many very fluent foreigners who settle down there are primarily great at speaking and listening, while others like me are stronger in reading and writing (hence why I'm in translation and not interpretation specifically, even if I have some interpretation experience). You should work on all of these areas if you can to have a balanced understanding of how the language works from all of these angles, but just know that you're not a bad learning or "doing it wrong" if some areas take more time to really get down pat than others, especially kanji. Besides, it's 2016 and frankly, as other people have pointed out, there are very helpful resources to help you get a jump start with reading kanji online and elsewhere that, in a lot of ways, you can largely get away with predominantly being literate at reading kanji if you just find you can't develop the raw muscle memory for being able to write them by hand consistently, especially if your main end goal is becoming fluent enough to consume Japanese media like games. Definitely still try to master kanji from both a reading and writing perspective if you can, but I've known cases of non-natives living with reading disabilities and whatnot that have done very well for themselves in terms of their career and engaging with natives, so don't think it's the end of the world if kanji proves to be especially ornery. It may well just be a sign that your strengths in the language lie elsewhere, as is the case even for many natives.

Above all else, though, as a self-studier, take it one day at a time and don't pressure yourself to learn more and at a faster pace than what you're comfortable doing. Learning Japanese can be hugely rewarding and it definitely changed my life for the better, but everybody takes to different parts of the language differently and at different speeds, especially if they're learning it from scratch by themselves. Don't shy away from the tough parts, but don't get too hung up on them that it sucks your motivation to tackle other parts of the language in the meantime; it's important to try and stay productive so that you have the morale to keep this up for the long haul. In my experience, often the hardest aspects of Japanese can come naturally to you over time just by being exposed to them by osmosis, continuing to see examples of them while you focus your attention on other things. Nothing about the language is impossible, even for Westerners not lucky enough to grow up with a kanji-heavy language like Chinese from the outset. It's a journey above all else and you'll figure out how to make the language your own more and more over time as long as you stick with it. Even I still learn little new things about the language constantly for my job and I'm paid to know it, so don't put too much pressure on yourself to be great at any one aspect too fast. If you're that dedicated to it, it'll come to you in time.

Good luck, duder! I wish you well in your language travels! :D!