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Mar 8, 2012

Where to Start in Learning Japanese

When it comes to learning a second language, the most difficult part is finding out where to start. The overview of the journey page provides a general outline for what you can do to get started, but I felt that a more detailed post may help people to get going. So, if you're struggling to find a place to begin, this is the post for you.

The first thing I would recommend doing is buying some Japanese media. The most essential tool to learning Japanese on your own is creating an immersion environment, and without Japanese media it is quite hard to do so. I especially recommend buying manga and novels of varying levels. Find some manga/novel series that you've already read translations for or new series that seem interesting to you and buy a nice variety of volumes. To get the most out of shipping, I'd say aim for at least ten or so volumes. Also, for this first shipment, make sure you get mostly media with furigana (kana reading guides for kanji), but get a few volumes without it.

Note: If you are not sure how to find interesting series, check the media section or browse MangaUpdates. If you don't know any sites to order Japanese media from, check out the store page.

Once you've ordered your media, it's time to start learning the kana. With cheaper air shipping, you'll probably be waiting at least a week or two for your Japanese media to arrive, and with shipping by sea you'll be waiting a good deal longer, so take advantage of this time to master the kana. You'll want to start getting acquainted with Anki as well, as it's your greatest tool for retaining what you've learned.

When your media arrives, go through it and get a taste for the varying levels of Japanese. Take note of manga that don't have furigana and those that do. Get excited about one day being able to read it all. If you've gone through all of the kana a few times, then try flipping through and reading some of the easier looking series. You don't have to understand any of it, just test to see how well you can read the kana, and perhaps look up a few words in a dictionary. Take a look at the post about Japanese media in the early phases.

At this point, even the easiest series will be daunting - that's why we're looking at them from the very beginning. It took me months to get beyond the first few pages of any manga, so keep that in mind. Aim to get comfortable with how the text looks on the pages and get some practice with looking words up in a dictionary.

Once you've got the kana down, you should move on to learning the kanji. This is one of the most controversial elements of learning Japanese, but I personally recommend using James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji to power through this phase. Remember that when it comes to learning kanji, retention is of the utmost importance. Be sure to read the post on reviewing the kanji. Aim to add new kanji each day, but always prioritize your reviewing.

After the kanji phase, or perhaps even later on during it, you'll want to start building a sentence/vocabulary deck in Anki. You should be going through the media you bought and looking up words, finding example sentences, and adding them to Anki. At this point, you've got the tools to really begin reading, so take a look at the posts for reading Japanese to get some tips. Remember that it's slow at first, but you'll begin to pick up speed the more you practice.

Once you've gone through the kanji and begun to read Japanese, it's all downhill. It's a tough climb to reach this point, but trust me, once you've done it Japanese is yours for the taking. Remember to have fun with it, and keep up with your reviewing. Find a pace that you're comfortable with and stick with it every day. Showing up to learn Japanese every day is the most important thing of all.

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  1. Ive been it at for approaching 6 months. Completed RTK in 3 months, did some sentence mining but college work got a bit much so I have just been reviewing what I learnt and watching anime.

    Even though I haven't really "made progress" the last couple of months my reading speed has shot up considerably.

    So yes, doing something...ANYTHING...every day is definately the key.

  2. For six years, everyday, I have exposed myself to the Japanese popular culture. Now it's time to take this seriously. I'm thankful for finding your blog!

  3. I already know my kana and I'm at 1030 kanji but I get frustrated because I can't still read crap.. *sigh* I was thinking of starting to take reading more seriously after I hot the 1.5k mark on my kanji.