42 Insane Japanese Language Learning Hacks!

olly learn japanese cultureThis is a collection of good old-fashioned hacks, where you’ll discover how to learn Japanese fast.

They range from the down-to-earth, to the insane!

I started this post with over 100 entries, but I’ve whittled them down to only 42. I’ve aimed for variety and a bit of provocation.

My favourite tip is at the end, but be warned – it’s only for the brave!


1. Listen to 10,000 hours of Japanese over the next 18 months

Just keep listening until you understand! How is this possible? Khatzumoto explains himself: “One of the more apparently “controversial” pieces of advice I’ve offered is to simply immerse in audio – keep listening whether or not you understand the target language. It’ll all just start to make sense. No doubt I am not the first person to have suggested this. At best I simply pushed the idea to its logical extreme…”

2. Get your daily news fix from a Japanese source

NHK News Web Easy is the kind of site that the internet was made for. Up-to-date news made easier for Japanese learners, with audio recording and accompanying text (complete with furigana, definitions and some word filtering tools). Once you’ve mastered the easy version, you can click on the link to view the original full-length news report in black-belt level Japanese. Amazing stuff!

3. Don’t go to school

John Fotheringham from Language Mastery got in touch with this interesting take on Japanese learning and motivation:

“Today’s Japanese learner has unprecedented access to high quality teachers and resources, but it is critical to understand that no book, course, or teacher can ever get the language into your head for you. This is not The Matrix, Neo. Languages are acquired, not taught, meaning that fluency rests not on how many hours your butt has been in a classroom, but by how much meaningful exposure and practice you’ve had. Fortunately, the Internet allows you to find interesting listening and reading input and opportunities to practice speaking and writing output no matter where in the world you live or how little money you have. The limiting factor is no longer access, but motivation.”

John’s written a guide on how to learn Japanese that is essential reading for anyone learning the language – click here to check it out.

4. Avoid Kanji

Benny Lewis from fluentin3months.com sent me this contribution:

“Controversial as this may be, and as much as others will definitely disagree with me, I highly recommend avoiding learning Kanji for the initial months (not always) if your goals in the language are more spoken based. If you are more focused on reading, ignore this tip, but working through just Kana (and Romaji) means that I have almost the same amount of work I’d have to learn a non-related European language to get to the same spoken level.”


5. Speak every day

He adds: “Also, speak with a real native every single day! Private tutors who live in Japan on iTalki are only $5/hour – and you thought everything in Japan was expensive!”

6. You must enjoy the learning process.

The secret is to use things or do things that you already like. Khatzumoto gives more detail: “If you lack certain strengths or have a lot of weaknesses, then exploit your weaknesses for the purpose of learning Japanese. If you like playing video games, watching movies or even playing sports, simply make sure you do all those things in Japanese and/or with Japanese people (I played with a soccer team made up entirely of Japanese students plus me; too bad I don’t like soccer). You could go running and play Japanese music while you do it…there’s enough stuff out there for all your tastes.”

7. Relax in Japanese

Once you’ve finished the last season of Breaking Bad, start getting your daily TV fix with Japanese dramas. If you’ve been studying with text books, this approach will give you some valuable exposure to less formal, everyday language. Gooddrama.net is your one-stop-shop.

8. Avoid burn-out

Japanese can fry your brain. Judith Meyer got in touch to offer some ideas for what to do when that happens:

“If you’re having an off day or if your brain is already tired of studying, see if you might be able to watch Japanese videos, for example your favourite anime. This is a way to keep Japanese active in your brain without the strain of studying a textbook or doing Anki. Some recommended video resources: For absolute beginners: Let’s Learn Japanese. For upper beginners: Erin’s Challenge. For everyone: Understand Your Favourite TV Series in 30 days.”

Judith’s put down 71 other ideas for learning Japanese in a an e-book.

9. Free Q&A

Get your Japanese questions answered for free at stackexchange.com.

EXTRA: Learn these 28 insane Japanese conversation starters to start talking with anyone! 

Japanese Culture

[Useful post: Japanese Culture for Foreigners: 19 Insider Secrets You Need To Know] 

10. Don’t blame the Japanese for speaking to you in English!

lanterns japan

“Whether it be your significant other who won’t speak to you in Japanese, or the cashier at the store who insists on practicing his 6th grade-level English despite the obvious fact that your Japanese is waaaaaaaaay better, never forget that you — and only you — are in charge of your language learning. If you need to enroll in Japanese classes or private lessons to get the practice necessary, then do so. If you need to immerse yourself in a Japanese-only environment, then go for it. But blaming others for not speaking Japanese with you is unfair,” says Amy Chavez.

11. Don’t worry about being formal or polite in Japan

William Peregoy wrote this piece of advice: “The Japanese don’t like speaking formally…Drop the textbook formality, drop the complexity of polite forms, focus on the dictionary forms of the verbs first, speak casually, and make friends. That way, you can start having fun in the language quicker, and not worry so much about being formal and polite.”

12. Be formal and polite in Japan

André Pinto wrote to me from Japan with a different point of view: “Learn the -masu and polite forms before the casual ones otherwise you may end up like some people in here who speak to the university teachers like they do with their friends.”

[Which of these two views do you agree with? I have a very clear opinion on this…!]

13. Don’t learn from (some) anime

James explains: “A lot of Japanese learners get quite shockingly embarrassed when they find out that the line they just repeated from Dragonball Z in the middle of the civilised dinner is the equivalent of shouting out “you motherf*****”. Some popular anime (popular in America at least, and mostly reserved for little boys in Japan) uses the kind of language which is in the real world almost exclusively reserved for Yakuza. Using that in polite company will make you look like a big foreign jerk.”

14. There’s a lot more to learning songs than just the words

As a way into a Japanese community, focus on learning songs that are relevant to your age group. “Karaoke is basically the unofficial national sport,” says Jessica Aves. “Japanese people love when foreigners can belt out their songs (the older it is, the louder they’ll react) so get your practice in early. Karaoke groups are also a great way to make friends.” She tells you exactly which bands to listen to!

[Note: Get your Japanese song lyrics from utamap.com]

15. Join activities organised by a Japanese association

Whenever people ask me how to learn Japanese, I always recommend doing this as early as possible.

A great idea from learn-japanese-adventure.com. They say: “The association normally holds many activities to help the locals to learn to speak Japanese. These activities include dialogue sessions with native Japanese, speech contests, Japanese language courses and other cultural activities, aiming to foster the relationship with the local people, as well as helping the locals to appreciate the beauty of the language.” A quick Google search revealed well over 7 such groups in New York, for example.

How To Learn Japanese Words

[Useful post: How to write in Japanese  – A beginner’s guide] 

old japanese writing

16. Find out how to use a word naturally

Tatoeba has an extensive resource of sample sentences.

17. Exploit Romaji before going on to learn Kana

Benny Lewis describes his dilemma in the early stages of learning Japanese:  “I would recommend you learn lots of words and phrases first in Romaji, and when you have just enough to introduce yourself and ask the person to repeat themselves and keep some kind of basic flow, then transition to Kana only mode.”

18. Start reading Japanese with graded readers

These are short stories written entirely in Japanese. Find out more from Wired in Japan.

19. Use Google Image Search to check the meaning of Japanese words

Tofugu.com explains this neat trick: “If you don’t know what a Japanese word means, or if you just aren’t sure about the translation you’re getting, put it into Google Image search and see what pops up. Searching for images in Japanese will also tell you a lot about the Japanese society as a whole. The results will be different from your language’s search because that culture will be reflected.” Nice!

20. Don’t study the written basics without some supervision

Why not? The Matador Network says: “Although it’s pretty easy to teach yourself the finite syllabaries of hiragana and katakana, the essential stroke order is often casually discarded by language learning newbies. In English, writing your letters oddly is just a character quirk; in Japan it will be assumed that you couldn’t be bothered to learn it correctly. This assumption of laziness can also be attributed to you if you don’t learn to hold your chopsticks properly. There is a difference between finishing a pen stroke with a sudden stop or with a swoosh. Stroke order is an essential of learning the basics of kanji, so don’t skip it!”

Note from Olly: Kickstart your Japanese by learning hiragana in just a few hours. Click here to find out how.

Study Techniques for Japanese

21. Don’t use SRS to learn Kanji!

japanese hot spring monkey

Instead, bombard yourself with as much reading material as possible. Tae Kim says: “I personally recommend the “deluge” method of dumping your brain with TONS of interesting content. This means ploughing through pages of books and manga, hours of dialogue, and conversation practice forgetting more words than remembering them. Don’t sit around wasting time entering and reviewing what you’ve already seen, just get more, more, and MORE STUFF!!! You’ll be surprised at how much just seems to stick somehow like osmosis. Some people feel this is not effective because they end up forgetting so much stuff. They don’t realise that the fact that they even remember forgetting it means they’re learning it.”

22. Use full sentences in your flashcards

Japanese Lingualift says: “The first pillar of intensive language learning is an SRS system such as Anki or Kleio and a good deck of sentences. Learning from sentences instead of individual words or characters will let you learn more efficiently, force you to learn in balanced manner, and motivate you as the additional context often makes the process more interesting and many of the sentences are readily usable. What’s good about sentences is that you not only learn new words and Kanji, but also understand how to use them in context, and what their nuance is depending on how they are used.”

He goes on to say: “As you have no time to waste, it’s probably best to use a precompiled sentence deck shared by other users.”

Interesting – do you agree?

23. Use cloze sentences on your SRS flashcards

Instead of having single words on your flashcards, or even complete sentences, challenge yourself by having the target language as a blank in the middle of a sentence. Khatzumoto gives this example:

 Front of card:


I shall come with you.

Back of card:

I shall come with you.

He goes on to talk about monolingual or bilingual flashcards: “Bilingual [flashcards] are good for when you lack the knowledge — or the context — to happily handle monolingual cards. Beginners, noobs and nervous nellies should focus just on bilingual cards. Just as with old skool sentence cards, don’t go writing your own translations. If you’re noob enough to need a translation, ya shouldn’t be rolling your own.”

24. Get the Japanese App for iPhone

“Every time you hear a word you don’t know, you look up it in the dictionary and then put it in the memory. Now when you have 10 minutes spare on the train or whatever, you simply call up the words and test yourself…this is great in itself for learning both vocab and kanji,” explains Richard from genkienglish.net.

25. Write in Japanese and have it corrected by a native speaker

Guidetojapanese.org says: “In the past, it’s been fairly difficult to find Japanese speakers to correct your writing. Fortunately, there is now a social networking site built exclusively for this purpose with an excellent community: Lang-8.”

26. Learn “sound effects” in Japanese

Why? “Unlike in English, where sound effects are only found in comic books and cartoons, Japanese sound effects are part of daily speech and your speech sounds more natural if you learn them. Peko peko is how the Japanese describe a stomach growling, and adding desu (is/am) on the end turns the phrase into “I’m hungry.” Did you know that there are at least four ways of describing the sound of rain in Japanese? They even have a sound to describe silence,” explains Jessica Aves.

27. Improve your reading speed with songs

The Matador Network says this: “Following lyrics will help you recognize kana and kanji, increase your reading speeds and, of course, teach you how Japanese should really sound. This is also important because in Japan.

Olly’s tip:

japanese ninja

Japanese Grammar

Take your pick from four different perspectives on approching Japanese grammar!

28. Think in patterns

We can look at Japanese grammar in a different way to other languages, according to Steve Kaufmann, who sent me this fascinating perspective on the language: “Some languages have lots of details, case or verb endings, and rules. Unlike these languages, Japanese has patterns that we just need to get used to. This takes time and a lot of listening and reading.”

And there’s no better place to do this than at LingQ.

29. From the start

Don’t ignore Japanese grammar – it’s worth studying from the start, says this article at tofugu.com. “Trust me, studying the grammar now will help you learn faster in the long run, since you don’t have to always stop and wonder why this particle was used here instead of that one, or what the heck is this verb form I’ve never seen it before.”

30. Bit by bit

Alternatively, take a step-by-step approach to grammar rules. Jorge Manoel explains: “When learning Japanese, the best thing to do is to learn grammar patterns little by little. Having a knowledge of them, making phrases will become easier.”

31. Understand it, then move on 

Jan van der Aa took time out of his +1challenge to write: “Japanese is a not an easy language, with complex grammar. Don’t focus too much on the grammar rules in the beginning, just make sure you understand the structure, learn words, and try to make simple sentences by yourself”


Tools and Resources for Japanese Learners

32. Set up Japanese on Windows 8

Follow these simple steps from Japanese Lingualift

33. Set up Japanese on your Mac

Christopher Bolton explains how.

34. Install Rikaichan 

…on Google Chrome to instantly look up Kanji just by hovering the mouse over it. Get it here. The Firefox version can be found here. Try it now with this Kanji: 憂鬱

35. Learn how to look up Kanji that you’ve never seen before

From guidetojapanese.org:  “If you’re trying to find a word with Kanji you’ve never seen before, you need to find each one and stitch the word together using copy+paste. The multi-radical Kanji search is one of the easiest ways to find Kanji. You may also want to try http://jisho.org/kanji/radicals/. It has a nicer interface and offers real-time search results.”

36. Invest in some quality learning material

“Invest in a solid dictionary that has Kanji, the Hiragana for each Kanji and an English definition. Also, pick up Barron’s Japanese Grammar book immediately. Wait on purchasing a Kanji dictionary or cards until later in your studies,” says Jessica Aves

37. Use a good online dictionary
But which one? “Weblio is the best dictionary I’ve ever seen, with English-Japanese and Japanese-English translations,” says Jorge Manoel.

38. Use Memrise to learn to read the Kana writing system

“I dove straight into learning Kana [and] I found the system on Memrise to present it very well,” explains Benny Lewis.

39. Find an online tutor

“If you are learning Japanese outside of Japan, finding an online tutor or a language partner that you enjoy learning and speaking Japanese with makes a huge difference and can also be a lot more fun,” says Brian Kwong. “You can also find a free language partner with this step by step video, or if you want to save time, you can get quality and affordable tutor from iTalki.com.”

40. Take time to find the tutor that’s right for you

Benny describes his recent experience looking for a tutor on iTalki.com:

“Another thing I’ve been doing this week is alternating between different teachers on iTalki to decide who I would learn the most with. Sometimes they use way too much English, despite me insisting on Japanese, and if they keep it up then I don’t request future sessions. One or two teachers showed good initiative and themselves were insisting on Japanese only before I could mention that I’d prefer this, so I’ll be sticking with them, even though (and precisely because) those are the sessions that absolutely exhaust me the most.”

Benny’s got very specific criteria for choosing a tutor. What would be yours?

41. Learn key phrases

Learn phrases to keep the conversation in Japanese during a language exchange. You could do a lot worse than this list, courtesy of guidetojapanese.org:

  1. 意味】 – meaning
  2. なに/なん】 – what
  3. 日本語 【ほん】 – Japanese (language)
  4. う – how
  5. う 【・う】 (u-verb) – to say
  6. 一度う・いち】 – one more time
  7. ゆっくり – slowly
  8. 正しいただしい】 (i-adj) – correct
  9. [X]の意味はなんですか
    What is the meaning of [X]?
  10. [X]は日本でどいいますか
    How do you say [X] in Japanese?
  11. 一度ゆっくりいってください
    Please say it one more time slowly.
  12. [X]と言のは正しいですか
    Is saying [X] correct?

42.  Ready for some serious speaking practice?

Lindie Botes is a brave woman:

“My tips are quite odd and daring but they work for me. I use a phone application called Saito San (also known as “Mr and Mrs Smith”) to literally phone random people. It connects you via a phone call to someone in Japan. Through this I force myself to practice conversational Japanese and put myself in a situation where I can’t use English. After all, immersion and speaking the language is how a child learns to speak, right?”

See a video of her trying out this app here.



I hope you found some inspiration amongst these tips. But remember, that’s all they are – tips. Whilst they can help you in your search for fresh ideas from day to day, keeping going for the length of time it takes to learn a language requires you to keep your eye on the bigger picture.

In that spirit, I’ll leave you with these little gems from Khatzumoto (@ajatt):

@ajatt: It is more important to know more Japanese at lunchtime than you did at breakfast…than it is to have a good plan.

@ajatt: Somewhere between “give up completely” and “do it all 100% perfectly” is the level where things actually get done.

@ajatt: Don’t read a book once carefully. Read it 10 times, 100 times, sloppily.

@ajatt: Don’t try to improve your technique. Improve your practice (volume, depth, frequency). Your technique will improve on its own.

@ajatt: Do NOT get it right the first time, or even the first 9999 times. Get it GOING the first time. Get it right later.

Enjoy this post? Let others know by sharing this post using the buttons around you. Then leave me a comment below with your best Japanese hack!

Japanese script: nihongo; Monkeys: wikipedia; Warrior: wikipedia

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  • Kevin Richardson

    There’s so many tips that I agree with here … but today, I think number 26 it pointed out one my favourite things about learning Japanese … the onomatopoeia makes me smile.

    Also on the weekend, learning ベビーカー means stroller (as in ‘baby car’ … a little car especially for babies) also never fails to keep me finding delightful images in this language.

    • Hey Kevin, thanks for stopping by. I love that stuff, too!

  • While I don’t learn Japanese, these advice can certainly apply to many languages.

    To be honest, I have always wondered whether simply listening to Japanese is enough to learn the language. It’s what kids do of course, but they see what happens as they listen. Someone listening to radio or music won’t have that privilege.

    Here is my own piece of advice :

    Immerse yourself in a Japanese learning environment in your own country. Find Japanese people to hang out with, go out to Japanese events etc. It’s even better if your Japanese friend don’t speak your language. As hard as it may be at first, it’s fun and effective.

    • Hi Ben. That’s a quality piece of advice, thanks! Immersion is something that I think a lot of people would advocate, and I wrote a post about it here.

      I think you’re right that you won’t learn Japanese (or any other language) simply by listening, however I think it would be very good preparation for someone who perhaps isn’t comfortable speaking from the start. It’s also something to think about for people like me who tend to be in such a rush to start speaking that they neglect listening and end up not being able to understand anything people say to them! 🙂

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  • dave

    There is a lot of solid advice here: number 2 especially. Simply reading the news with rikai-chan enabled has been the best thing I’ve done studywise in the past few years. A quick and significant improvement with material that is engaging.

    I disagree strongly with tip number one: simply being surrounded by the language does nothing for adults. Children can simply absorb language until the age of seven, but that is the cutoff point.

    I lived here in Japan for a long time before I got serious and made real improvement.

    • Thanks, Dave. I think my problem with #1 is just that I’d get bored and wouldn’t be able to keep up an intense diet of listening. I would disagree with you that it “does nothing for adults” – I think getting a lot of random input is important – but I certainly don’t think it’s enough on it’s own.

      An example I always think of is movies. Many people spend countless hours watching movies in the target language because they’re told it’s a good way to learn, but I’ve not found it to be beneficial at all as a “learning strategy”. On the contrary, watching loads of movies can even distract you from more involved studying. However, when combined with a proper study programme, movies do help to consolidate the words and phrases you’ve been learning. So, as ever, I think it’s about having a balanced approach.

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  • Kichijen

    10,000 hours in 18 months? So that’s about 547 days, right?

    10,000 hours/547 days= more than 18 hours a day. That means listening to Japanese, without pause, every waking second for a year and a half, leaving six hours a night for sleep. No silence, no conversations/movies/music/communication in your native language. Nothing.

    Is that really a suggested language hack? Olly, have you ever met anyone that’s done it? I wonder if it can legitimately be called a ‘hack’ if it is so incredibly difficult to do.

    I think a lot of these ideas are really good and I like that there’s a variety of different methodologies introduced, but I can’t help but wonder what on Earth #1 is all about. Did you mean 1000 hours in 18 months?

    I’m sure immersive audio helps, probably a lot, I’m just really confused by these numbers.

    • Hi Kichijen, thanks for your comment, and it’s a fair point! Here’s what I’d say.

      Firstly, 10,000 hours has become a buzz-word since Malcom Gladwell’s seminal book Outliers: The Story of Success
      , and since then people have been using it as the requisite amount of time needed to become world-class at any skill. Therefore, in theory, if you can get 10,000 hours of listening under your belt, you’re in a good place.

      Secondly, 18 months… well, yes. It’s a tall order. In his original post (which is definitely worth reading), Khatz talks about how he says he fit 10,000 hours listening into 18 months, so I won’t go over that again. But, of course, you don’t have to be quite as intense as him! 🙂

      Thirdly, I think the broader point is an important one, and probably the very opposite of a ‘hack’. That is, you’ve got to do a huge amount of listening in the target language if you’re really going to make massive progress. You can do that in many ways (slowly over time or crazy-intense, listening to CDs or hanging out with friends etc), but there’s no escaping the fact that you have to put the hours in.

      I think that’s what he’s really getting at, and what the takeaway should be! 🙂

    • Hi Kichijen, in his original post, Khatz talks about the practicalities of how he says he fitted all that listening into 18 months, so I won’t repeat that here, but I think there are a few points to make.

      Firstly, 10,000 hours has become bit of a “buzz number” since Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which you might be familiar with, in which he said that in order to become world-class in any discipline, you need to do around 10,000 hours of work. I don’t know whether there’s a link between Outliers and Khatz’s choice of 10,000 hours of Japanese listening, but nevertheless, it’s a good place to start for goal setting if you were really serious about your Japanese.

      Secondly, if you accept that after 10,000 hours of immersion in Japanese you’d pretty much have earned your black belt, then the next question is really: how quickly can I get that 10,000 hours in? I agree that 18 months is pretty insane, and doubt that he was able to do that in reality, but some people can really achieve amazing things when they put their mind to it. You could just as easily take 4-5 years over it, if you want.

      Thirdly, I think the broad point he’s trying to get across is that it’s vital to get enough exposure to the language. I can tell you that a lot of people underestimate how important this is, and if you neglect it continuously over time you’re building a glass ceiling for yourself. Immersion is also a really easy win these days. Just with your iPhone you really make use of your downtime to fit in hours of listening everyday. I’ve written a post on the blog about this – just search “immersion” in the sidebar.

      I hope that helps a bit!


      • Kichijen

        Thanks a lot for your reply, looking through Khatz’s website more I can see that even he admits it’s impossible to do this,

        ‘(1) yes, there are more than 10,000 hours in 18 months: it’s called an estimate; (2) sleeping hours count, but obviously you’re going to want tons of waking hours, too — in any case, go for 24 hours a day; (3) this figure allows for those occasions when you perhaps can’t listen to Japanese, but even in these cases, turn that Japanese right back on ASAP’.

        And obviously it simply won’t work in anything like that time frame for anyone like me who has a typical job where headphones/music are totally unacceptable.

        Having just done RTK in 3 months I understand and totally agree with your point about people underestimating how much effort and sacrifice is required to really advance linguistically. This has definitely made me think more about trying to fit in some passive exposure to Japanese, even if I think I’d drive myself crazy by trying to sleep with audio playing in my room! I guess I’ll try a different variation of it.

        Thanks again.

        • You’re welcome. I appreciate your engagement with it!

    • The American

      Yeah, these don’t sound like “hacks”, they sound like trolls.

      I’ve been studying Japanese intensely for years, and am not fluent. If I just listened all day, I would learn absolutely nothing.

      If you can learn a language just by listening, why don’t any of my landscapers speak English?

      • Vitor Souza

        It actually works pretty well, if you’re processing the information, the problem is that all blogs and materials focus on what you are doing (the method) and forget that is in the brain that the learning happens, if you brain is just ignoring the information then it’s almost useless. That’s why we got some “I’v been studying for years and still…” and some “I was doing this and that and before I could realized it I was fluent”.
        ‘Hard’ study isn’t necessarily learning, one can study at high levels of stress while his brain interact with the material just at a minimal level

        • I think that’s a great point Vitor! Blog and materials in general face a challenge, because it’s difficult to bring about the brain processing and engagement that’s required from a language learner through instruction alone.

          I’ve experimented with this a lot here on the blog. When I go back and read my earlier posts, I see that I was focusing a lot more on conceptual side of learning, the “mindset” that brings about real learning.

          Over time, however, that’s changed, and I now tend to focus much more on the behavioural side of things, which of course leaves me open to accusations of just focusing on the “method”.

          The reason I’ve made this change, though, is that although a focus on method is not really getting to the heart of learning, I’ve found that it has a much higher chance of actually getting through to people and bringing about the kind of behavioural change that might result in real learning.

          Writing about the process of learning alone, and how it happens, simply doesn’t seem to make for very engaging reading in a medium where people have a short attention span to begin with (blogging)! 🙂

          Thanks again for your thoughtful comment.

          • Vitor Souza

            I understand your position, and if someone is able to tune himself towards a better mindset by just changing his action that’s great, but I feel that those who didn’t ‘get it’ are being left behind in the dust.

            We can’t do any miracle about that, but we can help people to raise their awareness about how they think. There are 2 keypoints that I think it’s the fundamental difference between the good (‘gifted’) learners and the others:

            1- Seeing forms through meanings not meaning through forms

            2-Seeing the forms of the language as wholes that can be break down not as parts that can be build up

            That’s how people naturally process language by the way, those two skills may look unimportant due to my attempt to express them using as few words as possible but they have so many implications, I go as far as saying that everyone that is really fluent in a very different language (one that you can’t fake it by ‘speaking English with foreigner words’) NEED those 2 skills.

            How many learners we see that follow master Khatz, use Anki, learn a lot but still have the following complains:

            – I fall off the chair every time I encounter a sentence full of unknown words (I can’t figure out things on the spot)

            – I may understand all words but still don’t get the big picture

            – I can’t say something if I don’t have the exact words to describe it

            – I can speak but reluctantly (the language doesn’t come naturally and unconsciously)

            – I feel like I’m able to see the phrases being formed in front of my eyes (self-conscious about the language production, same as before)

            – I use grammatically correct sentences that nobody uses and I sound unnatural (using generative speech from pure grammar rather than fixed and semi-fixed expressions I saw before)

            All those things boils down to mindset, no new Anki deck or ‘revolutionary’ method will resolve those problems. And practically all Japanese learners have those same problems. I read hundreds of pages filled with good intended advice and yet struggled with those exactly same problems until recently when things ‘clicked’ and I finally understood what really made people fluent, NOBODY had told me about it before.

            The general mentality going on actually delayed fluency for me, I sincerely thought that human speech was generative and if the particles and conjugations were second nature to me and I had lots of vocab I would be fluent. Not could be further from the truth.

            After the deception I started to ask questions, looking back to the way I learned my two other languages and the way people naturally process their speech, I also encounter a gentleman famous for turning Chinese bookworms into people who could actually use the English language and a ESL classroom theory that was older than me and starting putting the pieces of the puzzle together. I remember seeing people who have been learning Japanese for 3, 5 or even 8 years and still don’t feel really fluent, now I know why. I can’t help them but you can, learning a language doesn’t need to be a lifelong struggle it can be something you do for 5 months or a year and then move on with life.

          • Leo Martinez

            Victor, I just joined disqus so I could send you this message. I would like to ask you to expand on the couple of skills you me mentioned.

            Also, what are the epiphanies or discoveries that you alluded to at the end of your post.

            If you could please expand on your posts and be more specific, I would really love to hear your thoughts.

          • Vitor Souza

            Let’s start with some theory. Human speech is about reacting to stimuli, you see, hear or thought something and then you react to it with some sound. Sounds simple enough.

            Those stimuli are the meanings, it’s important to be able to see past the words and get to the real meanings, when I hear “dog” I feel affection, fluffy little happy things, the sound of the barking; when I say “and once again…” I feel disappointment, some anger perhaps, boredom – the feeling of being stuck, socially-wise perhaps I also feel being superior by being the one judging other people’s action. As you can see “meaning” is a combination of several stimuli.

            Just look around to what people say and ask yourself what connotation does a given phrase has? What’s the intention behind it? What feeling it contains? Does it have some social function? (calling attention, reducing the intensity of the statement to make it less rude, making something sound more cool/casual etc).

            The point here is not to analyze things to the last detail but to create an awareness, with that realization comes a multitude of feelings and connotations that would pass unnoticed otherwise.

            Primarily the skill of “thinking in meanings” serves the goal of telling you what a given lexicon reacts to, because since in real life there’re no pictures to click on or blanks to fill, you gotta to train yourself to react naturally and instinctively to the “real thing”. It also enhances your ability to understand the language around you.
            There’s also the skill of breaking down sentences and building them up again to form complete ideas. That’s important, real language is basically a bunch of expressions filled with words to give those expressions context. If you see Japanese (or whatever) as single words followed by particles then your dreams of fluency are already gone.

            Here’s an example:



            Parts: SCP-1048 (topic);

            Full meaning: “The SCP-1048…”


            P: dangerness (quality) there’s not



            P: interection made staff (attribute)

            F: “interacting staff’s…. ”


            P: spirit (action) greatly raise (turn into noun) (attribute)

            F: “…spirit greatly increase…”


            P: observed it was (turn into noun) since

            F: “…since it was observed…”


            P: current, site24 (action) freely walk around

            F: “currently it can walk around freely on the site24”

            and the meaning of the phrase would be “SCP-1048 is dangerless and since it was observed a great increase in the staff’s motivation due to its presence it is currently wandering freely on site 24”.

            Another way you can do that is just to grab any text and remove all the contextual words letting just the expressions and the ‘slots’ that fill them:

            “(personal name),”
            “I just (first action) so I could (second action)”
            ” I would like to ask you to (request)”
            “Also, what are (the (things) that you (action performed to the things in the past)).”
            “If you could please (request), I would really love to (future action).”

            Hopefully you can see the feeling and intentions behinds those expressions since you wrote them. Also notice how expressions can be filled in with collocations or other expressions.

            That’s exactly what that teacher in Taiwan did, he saw that the Chinese students already knew thousands of words they accumulated through their life so he research the bulk of expressions used in English to react to all thoughts and life situations and taught them to those students.

            Some proponents of the “sentence approach” teach full sentences by saying “blablablablabla means ‘I want to buy coffee'” that’s terrible, it makes the students ignorant about what’s actually going on making the sentence difficult to memorize and use, the goal here is to use full expressions and sentences as a whole WHILE at the same time knowing what the individual words and grammar means.
            Having your own ‘vocabulary’ of meanings that you can use as a framework and seeing them both at the micro and macro level is great but doesn’t actually guarantee you’ll actually learn the material, there’re still the need to connect the sounds with the meanings. There’s no single formula that will always work for that, but there are several skills and approaches that you can use.

            – Understanding sound changes in and out the language:

            ‘Like how Korean /yanghua/ is the same as Japanese /eiga/ with the /e/ changed into /ia/ (because /e/ is right in the middle of /i/ and /a/) and the long vowel becoming the long consonant “ng” and /g/ becoming /hu/ (because they are both very similar sounds) which also happens in Mandarin.

            ‘Or like Portuguese words with F- becoming H- in Spanish (because both sounds are breathy fricatives) which also happens in Cantonese.

            ‘Japanese /hanabira/ meaning “petal”, /hira/ is a plain, pad-like thingy, /hana/ is “flower”; the /h/ turns into /b/ when the word gets connected so its intuitive to imagine the meaning of /hanabira/ as a “flower pad”.

            – Sound symbolism, sounds do have their own hazy meanings:

            ‘English words ending in k can indicate a sudden movement stop like the word /klɔk/ which is an obvious imitation of the sound made by a clock.

            ‘Languages wordwide have m-p-b for words relationed to mouth and speech because they are the first sounds one makes when he’s opening his mouth like /kamu/ /parlar/ /mauθ/ /spɪt/.

            It’s fun to come up with different reasons as to why different languages have different words, Japanese /taberu/ “to eat” has /ta/ instead of m-p-b but since so many verbs with /ta/ seems be to related with grinding I probably think they were trying to describe the process of chomping here.

            – Relationships between words:

            ‘An example with German is [Lieblings-] “favorite” which is related to [lieben] “love”, or [farbe] “color” which to me seems related to Italian/Latin [fabro] so I imagine that this word approaches the idea of color by making reference to the industrial material used to paint stuff, just like in the “flower pad” example those perceptions stimulate my imagination and makes the words crystal clear.

            ‘Another relationship can be seem in the Japanese words /hana/ “flower” /haru/ “spring” /hareru/ “clean weather” /haeru/ “to grow”

            – Good ol’ menmonics:

            If everything else fails I just use menmonics, but I always try to resort to “natural” connections first because that way I can discover things that will help me not only learn one word but several words.

            ‘An example would be Korean /nore/ “music” which remembers me of Japanese /nore/ “vibe, mood”, and /budoo/ “grape” which’s similar to /puto/ “motherfucker”.

            Just convince yourself that all words have a reason to be the way they are and it’s up to you to find it out. The more of those word relationships, patterns and lines of logic you ‘discover’ along the way the more intuitive and obvious the words in the language feel. They just “click” and make sense, allowing to to devour hundreds of words and expressions in one sitting.
            All the three metaskills above are just simple habits that you can practice anywhere. It may look effortful but once internalize all those processes happen internally in your mind in just some seconds. I also have to say that this is not some munbo jumbo coming from gut feeling, this is basically how event interpreters, field linguists, communication experts working for the military and other language badasses operate.

          • Leo Martinez

            I would like to also ask you what these gentleman had to teach to turn bookworms into effective language communicator.

      • Kiki Koibito

        If they were trolls why would they add in REAL resources and sites to help with the learning process? Maybe the math was wrong but certainly everything else seems quite properly researched. Especially since he’s getting his tips from Tae Kim, who is an exceptional Japanese teacher and slowly becoming quite well known over the world for it.

  • Cat Ramos キャット ラモス

    Great list! I love Jdorama and while I watch it mainly for entertainment, it certainly doesn’t hurt that I learn a lot of Japanese from watching. 🙂

  • James Lowrey

    It’s my understanding that [X]はどういう意味ですか sounds more native than [X]の意味はなんですか; although they will still understand.

  • Yasuaki

    Just from my own personal experiences of Japanese (I self-taught for 5
    years, then went on to do classical and modern Japanese at university
    level, which means my vocabulary for food words is hopeless but my
    knowledge of random warrior ranks, weaponry and superstitious beliefs is
    awesome xD)…

    I would adamantly speak against learning Japanese
    without bothering with kana or kanji. If you want to just speak the
    language, then you can get away with it, but you are effectively
    illiterate if you only stick to romaji and that means that half of the
    meaning of the words passes you by. That in turn makes it harder to
    remember vocabulary.

    When I first began learning, I was fully in
    favour of the “Japanese don’t need kanji'” mentality, but as time went
    on I realised why so many people then told me kanji makes reading
    Japanese a ton easier.

    First and foremost, radicals convey a
    particular meaning to the character. If you don’t know the character,
    but see, for example, the radical relating to water, you know it’s
    something to do with liquid and you can get an in-context assumption as
    to the word. You can figure out many words from knowing kanji even if
    you aren’t familiar with the words. Japanese in writing is also not
    punctuated with spaces. It’s all very well talking about sticking to
    kana, but in reality, try reading several lines of hiragana or katakana
    together without a single space. With kanji included it is easier to
    read the grammar structure of the sentence. And, also, Japanese has a
    lot of homonyms and similar sounding words with very different meanings.
    Knowing the kanji tells you if the kami you’re talking about is a god,
    someone’s hair or a piece of paper. Yes, you can do this from context,
    but that requires your vocabulary to be up to reading that context.

    relying only on romaji is very dangerous. Romanisations sometimes don’t
    bother writing in the long vowel properly which means you can make two
    words (eg snow, 雪, which is yuki ゆき, and courage 勇気, which is yuuki ゆうき)
    appear to be the same word.

    In short, avoiding the basic and
    complex scripts from the start ultimately gives you more work if you
    decide to go on. It seems easier at first, but it’s not something you
    can avoid. And relying on romaji, with the plethora of romanisation
    systems and general inconsistency in how even the Japanese romanise
    their words means you’re going to build both bad habits and get very
    confused very easily. A lot of people I know who tried beginning
    Japanese gave up because they thought they could take the easy route and
    avoid the character systems – and because they did, they got muddled
    and couldn’t get beyond basics.

    On other things – anime is great
    for listening practice, and so are live events or interviews WITHOUT
    subtitles. I do believe when you reach a certain point you do start to
    hear Japanese rather than translate it…just yeah, you learn the whole
    range of tenses and from polite to slang to offensive from anime and
    drama. So it’s a good idea to know what is what before you say it to a
    Japanese person xD.

    • I agree with you about the fundamental importance of kanji. I think it really comes down to the question of “how to get started”, and it’s certainly true that learning Chinese characters slows you down at the beginning. I’ve found that not only with Japanese but with Cantonese as well. However, as you mention, you have to be careful, and sooner or later you are shooting yourself in the foot if you don’t start taking literacy seriously.

  • Great ideas! I avoided kanji for a long time when I first started out, but I do regret it a bit now. Like a few others have mentioned, it does leave you effectively illiterate. It might be more difficult to learn both at the same time, but I’m finding now that they both go hand in hand (as with all speech and writing systems).

    • Hi Lou! It’s never a good thing to be illiterate in the language you’re learning so learning kanji will be important sooner or later! Not an easy task, though! 🙂

  • Somerandomweirdo

    “@ajatt: Don’t read a book once carefully. Read it 10 times, 100 times, sloppily.”
    I cant really say about the other advices, but this one is what finally made me learn english 😉

    • Yeah, it’s a great piece of advice! I also apply this to watching TV series! 🙂

  • Ronald McCoy

    Lot’s of great ideas. My experience learning other languages confirms many of these techniques. However, as Japanese is so different from other languages that I have learned, I find these tips especially useful, a many are particular to the Japanese . Thank you so much!

  • Tatiana Alexeeva

    I’d like to share a link to this new free online phonetic converter of Japanese text (furigana, kana or romaji):


    Unlike other converters that just add
    furigana to Japanese text, this converter also displays the pitch
    accent in Japanese words.

    Best regards, Tatiana

  • Kanrei

    I think avoiding Kanji is no good idea. You don’t need to learn actively, but writing it down your flash cards while learning words, is sure no bad idea, because you see the shape always when seeing the word and so maybe you will recognize it, when meeting in texts. (I mean like writing on the front Hiragana and the Kanji and on the backside the meaning. Or if you want learn them somewhat more actively, you write only Kanji in the front and Hiragana on the back, so that you are forced to learn the reading of the kanji. Anyway with the first version, you don’t actually are focused on Kanji, but still see them, and they may stuck in your head.)

    I even learn Korean with Hanja, because I can remember the words easier. (Ok since I have already learnt lot of Kanji in japanese, so maybe no surprise this helps me.)

  • Kanrei

    About learning words in Romaji, I think this idea is stupid too. I don’t think it takes that much time to learn Kana. There is also a risk if you learn with Romaji, you may try to put sounds of a european language to it. (For example German seeing ei, will speak it as ai, because they think in German then…)
    (Ok maybe I should mention, that my focus is strongly on reading, but still why learning a language, if you not want to enjoy it fully? Also you can learn twice if you first learn just saying words and later add the kanji and kana to it.)

  • Kanrei

    I think you really should Kana and Kanji anyway, because there is not so much Japanese learning material in Romaji anyway. So you even if you want just speaking, you will stay stuck because of lack of learning material. So no reason here to delay learning Kana and Kanji.

  • Bernhardt Le Mechant

    Dude, quoting Benny Lewis… probably not the best person to quote about learning Japanese….Considering his attempt.

  • Isaac

    I think that there aren’t really tricks to learning Japanese. The important things are taking things slowly and step by step, and it works the same way for any language, for that matter.

    The one thing I do think is really helpful is radicals, and I’m not just talking about simple “tree” or “water” radicals, I’m talking complex kanji that are parts of other complex kanji by themselves. You see, as a beginner you will most likely come across kanji which look incredibely complex, and you’ll think it’s a nightmare to learn how to write and read them. You are correct, but fortunately you can find a way to avoid this. You need to learn the kanji that create those complex kanji in the first place, before trying to learn them. Even if they are the most useful kanji, it’s just unnecessarily difficult to learn them from the start. All those things that look like chicken doodles are not really chicken doodles, you know. They are radicals, and exist in other kanji. All these weird shapes you see when looking at kanji, almost all of them exist in other kanji as well. The problem is that books and teachers won’t tell you this, and won’t teach you by radicals. They’ll teach you the orthodox radicals like “tree”, “small”, “water” etc. but they won’t teach you the small kanji or shapes that hide within the most complex kanji, and that’s a damn shame. For example, they will let you learn the kanji for the word “nose” right at the beginning of your studies, even though it has several other kanji and radicals within it that you should have learned before, and that’s Just because it’s a useful kanji.

    For those reasons, I recommend learning kanji via radicals, and the site I’m using is Kanjidamage. They offer all radicals of all important kanji, and if you learn it like that, you’ll be able to see from which other kanji/radicals the kanji you are learning are made of. It can make your life much easier, because kanji is such an important part of it all.

    This is as far as I can give for advice, but really, the best thing would be to take it slow and proceed at your own level. Don’t jump to complex grammer or complex kanji without learning the basics first. In time you’ll see improvements, and eventually you’ll see results. Just don’t rush things, and don’t get scared when you see something that looks hopelessly complex and can’t understand shit. Eventually you’ll get there, trust me.

  • Pingback: Resuming my Japanese study | Allegro Digital:()

  • Bambi Dersosiers

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    • Yaeko Won

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  • Hey,
    Wow what a good collection.Thanks for sharing this with us.

    learn Japanese Online Course

  • your tips is very effective .
    thanks for such suggestions…
    someone refer me the best IELTS coaching center in Kerala

  • shweta Kadu

    If you really wants to learn Japanese a good, start with greetings. You start to greet all the way to you & others too. Means start wishing like Good Morning= Ohayou Gozaimasu, Good Afternoon = konnichiwa.
    Then you start Learning Hiragana & Katakana simultaneously. At the same moment you can start simple sentence making like saying your name ” Watashi ha ………….. desu.”

    Once you are able to make a simple sentence then you will start to love a Language as like your native language. And you will start to go ahead.

    All the best for the learners.

    Thanks & Regard

  • shaurya

    BS. You first tell us not to use SRS, then tell us to use cloze cards with SRS. -_-

    • That’s the point… it’s a variety of opinions, not my advice. Please read the article more closely.

    • Robert C. Mustain

      Skim reading the article is not a good sign. Don’t skim-read while trying to JP.

  • Blastervla

    Really liked the post. It helps quite a lot as I’ve been trying to learn the language for half a year now and I find it really difficult (with the grammar, particularly, vocabulary is fine I guess). So I wanted to thank you for taking the time to put this all together. ありがとうございます!!

  • Tung Nobi

    I know a useful web to do japanese exercises. Japanesequizzes.com you can take an JLPT exam (mock).

  • Megumi Parker

    I know how 10,000 hours sounds ALOT.
    Using websites such as https://www.kanshudo.com/ will definitely shorten the time you have to spend hitting books. A great way to learn Kanji fast and fun!


  • Morgan Watson

    I’m teen girl and trying so hard to learn japanese and need hacks! I have no one to communicate with. I need answers on what to do! Thx.

    • Did any of the ideas from this post jump out at you?

      • Morgan Watson

        There is a lot more to learning songs than just the words

  • Nicole Breaker

    Thank you very much for showing me the Rikai chan add-on for fire fox!
    This will be very useful in my on and off studies, lol!