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Sep 22, 2013

So you want to learn Japanese (Part 3)

Many of the people that I talk to about learning Japanese are in the earliest steps of the process. Unfortunately, most of them have some interesting notions for what is required in order to learn Japanese, and clearing up some of those excuses misconceptions will help the people that really want to learn. This was originally going to be a single post, but it's turned into a series. This is the third post in the series, click here for the first post or here for the second post.

I want to learn Japanese, but I don't know where to start...

This is a difficult hurdle in the language learning process: taking that first step. I've tried to make simplified pages and guides to give a step-by-step procedure for learning Japanese, but in reality everything tends to happen all at once. You'll be learning kanji as you learn vocab, and you'll likely have to relearn the kana a lot during the first few months. It's all connected, so it's hard to learn any one part separately.

However, I have found that one thing in particular is essential – the most important thing of all, and what you should do as your first step: Get started immediately. Right now. Just do something.

I think that most people believe that an ultimate method for learning Japanese exists, and if they just keep looking they'll find it eventually. They look and look, and look some more, but never find the ultimate method, and then they get distracted and forget about learning Japanese for a week or two. When they remember their desire to learn, they go back to the hunt. The same process happens again. It makes me sad. 

Some nights I just can't handle it...

What you should realize is that no ultimate method exists, and looking for it is just detracting from time that you could be using to learn. Let's face it, no single method will work for every person, so how could you ever know which one is best for you? Nobody can tell you what method is best for you; it's something you have to discover through trial and error. So how can you go about finding the method that will work for you? By just getting started with something, anything. Trust me, you'll know if the method isn't for you, and when you come to that realization you'll have new insight into what method is for you.

In my own case, I started learning Japanese with Rosetta Stone. I thought, “Hey, immersion, that sounds cool!” and went on my merry way in learning. But with the way the program worked, I couldn't remember most of the words for long – and I noticed that the program never went back to old material. I found myself repeatedly starting over and redoing lessons. I was getting nowhere. Then another realization hit me – I was learning Japanese in romaji, and a quick Google search informed me that real Japanese is never written in romaji.

"But EVERYONE loves the roman alphabet!"

After a solid month of studying in Rosetta Stone, I admitted that I was learning nothing and that I would start again – this time with the kana. So I found a website with a flashcard teaching system for kana and began learning. I discovered that I liked learning from flashcards and example sentences, but I had major doubts: “I spent an entire month learning with Rosetta Stone before I realized it was crap, so how can I be sure that this is real Japanese?”

It was this question that led me to begin reading manga in Japanese. Here was Japanese written by and for native Japanese speakers, so it had to be real. In reading manga, I found that kanji were way more important than my beginning Japanese websites had told me, so I looked for a focused method for learning them all. The Remembering the Kanji books by Heisig caught my eye, and I devoted myself to studying with that method. Ever since then, I have continued to learn by immersing in real Japanese, and I've always been guided to what I needed to know.

The kanji for kanji.

The point of that story is that just by attempting to learn Japanese and remaining open to new methods I was able to find the system that worked for me. That's the system I write about here, and hopefully some of the ideas will work for you as well. That's really all there is to it: just pick something and go with it. If you just keep going, you'll find that none of your effort is ever truly wasted. Improve your methods for learning as you improve your Japanese.

Photo credits: 
All rights reserved by tiffany michele
Some rights reserved by Zen Len
Some rights reserved by japanese-kanjisymbols


  1. Yes, this is very true. I believe most people get intimidated by the apparent difficulty of the language and don't really want to put the effort into learning Japanese. They start to avoid the main subject and rather waste time looking for a ''perfect method'' as you just said, or complaining about the difficulty of learning Japanese.

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