Why learn Japanese?
The Japanese economy is undoubtedly a power, the third largest economic power in the world according to the World Bank. Such a prosperous country is a place of many opportunities, especially business ones. This alone seems good enough to look for tips on how to learn Japanese. The Land of the Rising Sun is a great place for development, especially for people with skills related to modern and well-paid areas, such as programming, artificial intelligence, robotics, or, for example, the chemical industry.
Why else should you learn Japanese? Mastering this language can be the basis for learning more Asian languages. After learning and understanding the characters of Japanese script, it will also be easier to master Chinese script, because the Japanese system is based on Chinese script, while Japanese grammar has many similarities to Korean. So, if you learn Japanese, the whole incredibly rich world of Asian culture can open up to you.
Before you start learning Japanese
At the start, it is worth determining what you need the language for. If you are planning a tourist trip to the Land of the Rising Sun and you just don’t want to feel lost in a maze of unfamiliar signs, you don’t have to spend years studying and mastering Japanese script. The basics are enough for you. It is also much easier to learn to speak Japanese (at least at a basic level) than it is to write and read it.
However, if your goal is to live and work in Japan, it will certainly take several years of hard work and learning how to write will be a necessity in this case.
Learning Japanese – where to start?
You can’t learn Japanese quickly without first learning the Japanese character systems. Japanese script consists of three types of characters. Those are:
We recommend hiragana for the start. Hiragana is a syllabary, i.e. a system in which single characters represent entire syllables. This Japanese script system consists of 46 basic characters which, however, have variations. If you want to speed up learning Japanese and hiragana, you can refer to YouTube resources, where you will find many videos on how to write and read hiragana characters.
The next Japanese character system that you should know is katakana. Like hiragana, it consists of the same number of characters, but although they correspond to the same syllables, they are completely different than in hiragana. The use of both syllabaries is also different. Katakana is mainly used to write Anglicisms and loanwords from Western languages, such as:
- ペ ン pen – pen,
- マ ク ド ナ ル ド makudonarudo – McDonald’s,
- ピ エ ロ piero – that is a clown from French,
- ア ル バ イ ト arubaito (which in Japanese means “part-time job” from the German word “arbeit” (work).
Katakana also acts as Caps Lock, so by using this type of Japanese script, you can underline certain words in your speech.
This is a system of logographic signs, which means that one character corresponds to a specific concept (not necessarily a single one, kanji characters have several meanings). Kanji has 50,000 characters in total, but a Japanese high school student is required to know 2,136 characters. Kanji is a system of Chinese origin, but in China individual characters usually carry different content.
If you want to get to know the three systems of Japanese writing, you can use YouTube’s help and learn on your own, or use the specialised SuperMemo course “Hello!日本語 ”for beginners. If you want to speed up learning Japanese, it is worth using several methods at the same time.
How to learn Japanese pronunciation
At the beginning of your adventure with learning Japanese, take time to practice your pronunciation. Forvo’s online dictionary will be helpful, offering translations into Japanese from English, German or Russian. On the website, you will not only translate words, but also listen to their pronunciation.
Once again, YouTube can help you learn pronunciation. It is full of content written by native speakers who tell you how to speak like a Japanese. And you must know that the pronunciation of some vowels is not obvious to foreigners. If you check out YouTube at an early stage of learning Japanese, you can try learning with the “Ignacy from Japan” channel, or the English-language channel “Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com”.
Learning Japanese words
When you start learning Japanese, you can’t skip working on expanding your vocabulary. Developing the dictionary will help you to read, speak, write, and understand Japanese correctly. By increasing your vocabulary, you are also putting into practice the knowledge of hiragana, katakana and kanji that you acquired in the earlier stages of learning Japanese. Of course, start with simple words that will help you communicate on a basic level.
When building your vocabulary, also add Japanese expressions that are useful every day. Below you will find some of them:
- お な ま え は な ん で す か。 (O-namae wa nan desu ka) – What’s your name?
- わ か り ま せ ん。 (Wakarimasen) – I don’t know / I don’t understand.
- お は よ う (Ohayō) – Good morning (informal phrase used in the morning).
- お は よ う ご ざ い ま す (Ohayō gozaimasu) – Good morning (formal phrase used in the morning).
- こ ん ば ん は (Konbanwa) – Good evening.
- さ よ う な ら (Sayōnara) – Goodbye.
- あ り が と う (Arigatō) – Thank you.
- お げ ん き で す か。 (O-genki desu ka) – How are you?
- わ た し は に ほ ん ご が す こ し し か は な せ ま せ ん。 (Watashi wa nihongo ga sukoshi shika hanasemasen) – I only speak a little Japanese.
What will speed up learning Japanese?
TV series and films produced in the Land of the Rising Sun will be very useful in learning Japanese. Hearing the language as it is used in modern Japan, rather than in the form of textbook phrases, will increase your listening and comprehension skills. Of course, podcasts will also be helpful in this, but at the beginning, the audiovisual form may be easier to assimilate.
However, if you are wondering how to learn Japanese as and when you’re able, with daily activities that don’t demand too much attention, then podcasts can be a great help. You can listen to them while cleaning or following your everyday jogging route, and improve your Japanese language skills. Podcasts will raise your listening comprehension skills and will also be helpful in learning pronunciation. One podcast that helps you learn Japanese faster is “Japanese podcast for beginners (Nihongo con Teppei)” available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
Many people who decide to learn Japanese are fascinated by the culture of this country. An indispensable element of this culture, which finds many fans in the west, is manga, i.e. Japanese comics. At the beginning, to speed up learning Japanese, we recommend reading comic books for children and teenagers. It will be much easier to understand them, and you will find a whole lot of commonly used Japanese words in them.
How to learn Japanese at home
There are many tools available to help you learn at home. At the beginning, it is worth using a structured course – SuperMemo is here to help. Only when you have mastered the basics can you start planning your own learning. What is important when learning Japanese at home?
- Start speaking and writing as soon as possible – a native speaker will help. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, you can find one without leaving your home.
- Learn while having fun – play Japanese games, say. If you are a Pokemon fan, play one of the many games in the series in the original language. You can also look for Japanese series on Netflix, the collection of which on this site is quite large. Recently, the series “Alice in Borderland” has gained considerable popularity. See if you like it.
Many people complain about lack of time to study. Sometimes, however, it is enough to change a few things to find that time. Instead of watching TV in Polish, watch it in Japanese. Do you spend a lot of time on Instagram? Start searching for Japanese hashtags and reading the content of the posts. Instead of listening to the radio, play a Japanese podcast or a J-Pop station.
How quickly can you learn Japanese?
There is no doubt that learning Japanese is a difficult task. According to data from the US Department of State, it takes an estimated 88 weeks, or 2,200 hours, to become fluent in Japanese. Thus, Japanese was placed in the group of the most difficult languages, next to Mandarin, Korean and Arabic. These calculations apply to English-speaking students, but the learning time for Japanese should be similar for most people who have to face the barrier of a completely new writing system.
In a Reddit thread about how long it takes to learn Japanese, users reported that around 800 hours of learning should be enough to fully understand anime. Others have argued that it takes 2 to 5 years of effort to achieve mastery. Although it must be admitted that all such calculations are only estimates, and each person’s abilities are different, no one can give you a precise answer to the question of how quickly you can learn Japanese. It depends on many factors, but the sooner you start, the sooner you will see the results.