If you follow the instructions in this over the top, step-by-step guide, you will reach your goal of Japanese fluency.
This method for learning Japanese starts at the very beginning. We assume you have zero knowledge of the Japanese language and guide you through each step. We’ll cover reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
And we explain what you should use, when, and why. Our goal is to reach Japanese fluency as directly as possible.
Welcome to learning Japanese! This section is for the true beginner. You know little-to-no Japanese. Maybe a “Konnichiwa” here and a “Arigatoo Gozaimasu ” there. These first steps you take are especially important because they’re going to set a foundation you can build off of.
The more deliberate your steps, the easier everything that follows will be.
Carefully completing this section is going to be necessary if you want to avoid the thing that takes down most learners: the intermediate wall. Instead, take your time on these foundational steps. What feels slow now is actually speed later on.
LEARN TO READ HIRAGANA
Hiragana is Japan’s version of the alphabet. It is one of three Japanese writing systems you need to learn to be able to read. The other two are katakana and kanji, but hiragana is where everything starts. The ability to read hiragana is going to be a prerequisite for most beginner Japanese textbooks and resources. It’s the first thing you learn in a traditional classroom.
BASIC JAPANESE PRONUNCIATION
Good pronunciation starts with hiragana. While hiragana alone won’t teach you everything, it is the key to understanding how and why Japanese words sound the way they do. It will also help you get the foundation you need for a native-sounding accent. At the very least, hiragana will get you 80% of the way there. For the remaining 20%, we wrote a guide covering the basics of Japanese pronunciation. Before you begin learning how to read hiragana, you should read up to the “Japanese Sounds and Your Mouth” section.
LEARN TO READ KATAKANA
Katakana is a phonetic alphabet – each letter represents the sound of a syllable (like English ABC). Letter itself has no meaning. Katakana and Hiragana represent exactly the same set of sounds.
Katakana was developed in the 8th century by simplifying the form of Kanji symbols. Many Katakana letters look exactly the same as a part of its original Kanji. In modern Japanese, there are 46 basic Katakana letters. In addition to these 46 basic letters called gojūon, there are modified forms to describe more sounds -dakuon, handakuon, yōon, sokuon and additional letters.
Since 1945, katakana have been used, like italics in English, for the transcription of unfamiliar loanwords and for emphasis; they were also used for writing telegram forms and are still seen in certain kinds of computer output.
UNDERSTANDING THE CONCEPT OF “KANJI”
In our Japanese learning method, you’re going to learn to read kanji characters very early. As soon as you can read and write hiragana it’s time to start tackling kanji. Kanji (漢字), one of the three scripts used in the Japanese language, are Chinese characters, which were first introduced to Japan in the 5th century via Korea.
Kanji are ideograms, i.e. each character has its own meaning and corresponds to a word. By combining characters, more words can be created. For example, the combination of “electricity” with “car” means “train”. There are tens of thousands of characters, of which 2000 to 3000 are required to understand newspapers. A set of 2136 characters has been officially declared as the “kanji for everyday use”.
LEARN TO READ KANJI
Think of kanji like a little puzzle; they’re made out of pieces, and each piece has a specific place where it fits in. As an example, let’s take a look at the kanji 海, or うみ (umi). If we take it apart, we can get a hint on what it means.
THE TRANSFORMATION OF RADICALS IN KANJI
But hang on a second… We already know from our previous example that 水 means water, so what’s going on? Why do these two look different when they mean the same thing? This piece of kanji that gets tacked on to a bigger kanji is called a radical, and radicals change shape when you put them onto another kanji. There are 214 radicals in Japanese and these are the base characters from which all other more advanced characters are built.