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Easiest way to learn Japanese

Japanese is an old and complex language, requiring around 2200 hours of study in order to become fluent. That’s a big time commitment, and you’re going to want to get the most out of your study time as possible. So what are the easiest ways to learn this fascinating language?

1. Mimic natives

Japanese pronunciation and intonation can be quite difficult to learn. There are very specific tones to the language, which can impact how natural your speech sounds.

The easiest way to train your ear and learn to pronounce Japanese words correctly is to listen to natives. For this, you might want to give Pimsleur’s Japanese course a try. Pimsleur Japanese uses files of native speakers saying words (syllable by syllable to start with) which you repeat. As you work through the course, you combine these repetitions into complete phrases. The course draws your attention to any sounds that are different or similar to those made in English. By mimicking native speakers, you will easily learn how to make the most difficult Japanese sounds and begin sounding fluent in no time.

2. Immerse yourself in Japanese language and culture.

One of the easiest ways to learn a language is to surround yourself with it. If you have the means, you might consider studying abroad in Japan or taking an extended holiday of months (rather than weeks) for a full immersion experience.

If spending time in Japan is not practical for you, there are multiple ways to immerse yourself in Japanese from the comfort of your own home.

The StoryLearning site uses stories to teach conversational Japanese. Right from the beginning of the course, Story Learning uses engaging stories to teach Japanese at a variety of levels (from A1 – Total Beginner to B2 – Advanced). While the idea of reading stories might be intimidating if you’ve never studied any of the Japanese alphabets, you don’t need to worry as the reading courses make use of both Japanese script and romaji (Japanese written in the Latin alphabet) to have you reading and understanding Japanese from the moment you log in. There are seven different courses for you to choose from (and a seven-day free trial) which makes Story Learning an entertaining way to immerse yourself in the Japanese language.

3. Listen to Japanese language podcasts

Podcasts are great tools for language learning because, depending on your level, you don’t need to engage actively in order to get something out of them. Similar to listening to TV and music, having a podcast on in the background can help you get used to the rhythm and cadence of Japanese, without having to give it your full focus.

If you’re taking this absorption approach, then it’s best to find podcasts aimed at native speakers. It won’t matter if you don’t understand every word (and chances are you won’t) because the focus is on familiarising yourself with the rhythms and cadence of the Japanese language.

However, actively engaging with podcasts aimed at learners is also a good, easy way to learn Japanese. It requires more effort than just letting the sounds wash over you, but it will help you to learn Japanese faster.

Japanesepod101 is one such podcast aimed at learners of all levels. Each episode consists of a 10-15 minute Japanese lesson, based around a real conversation between a native Japanese host and a native English host to teach both grammar and vocabulary. There is a backlist of episodes, with difficulty ratings from absolute beginner to advanced learners.  

The early levels use English to explain the context of the conversations and break down any new words or grammar rules. As you progress through the podcast, less and less English is used until the episodes are completely in Japanese. Each lesson includes full transcripts in English and Japanese. This is a great resource for learners of all levels as it helps you read along with the dialogue and again after the lesson.

While the bulk of the podcast episodes on Japanesepod101 are only available through a paid subscription, the company also gives away some of their lessons to help you learn Japanese for free. You can access these by signing up for a free trial account.

4. Watch Japanese television and listen to Japanese music

Watching TV and listening to music can be an easy way to learn Japanese because you become familiar with the language being spoken at a natural speed and with a variety of accents, vocabulary, and idioms. Osaka-ben (the Japanese spoken in Osaka) sounds quite different to the language you typically get in Tokyo, for example.

It can also provide context and cultural cues that can help you understand the language better. Additionally, watching TV can be an enjoyable and engaging way to learn, which can help you stay motivated and interested in the language.

However, it is important to note that watching TV alone is not typically sufficient for learning a language. It is best to combine watching TV with other language learning activities, such as studying grammar, vocabulary, and listening comprehension, as well as practising speaking and writing the language. This can help you develop a more well-rounded understanding of the language and make progress more quickly.

5. Focus on learning hiragana and katakana, rather than kanji

Japanese kanji (symbols or pairs of symbols representing an entire word, such as 月 meaning ‘moon’) are fascinating and intimidating in equal measure for many learners. While they are important for improving your Japanese fluency, the easiest way to learn to read and write is to focus on hiragana and katakana, the two alphabets. This is because each kanji can also be spelled out using the appropriate alphabet (月, for example, can also be spelled つき) and focussing on the hiragana and katakana means you only have to learn approximately 142 characters rather than the tens of thousands of kanji that exist.

Flashcards are a useful tool for learning hiragana and katakana. You can make flashcards with the hiragana character on one side and the corresponding English syllable on the other. Then, you can test yourself by looking at the hiragana character and trying to say the English word. Flashcards can also be carried with you when you’re out-and-about and referred to during dead time, such as when you’re waiting for a bus.

But don’t just stick to reading them. Constant practice of writing the hiragana and katakana characters will help commit them to memory, in the same way we practised roman letters as young children. You can start by tracing over hiragana writing guides or worksheets, and then move on to writing the characters on your own. There are also multiple videos on Youtube which demonstrate the correct stroke order, so you can ensure your writing is legible.

Mnemonics (associating the character with a picture) are also an easy way to remember which sound is made by which character. For example, の is pronounced ‘no’ and looks like a pig’s nose, or き is pronounced ‘ki’ and looks like a key.

Japanese is not an easy language to learn, but using these hints and tips will make your journey to fluency much easier.



Good luck!

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