How can I learn Japanese?
December 11, 2003 3:31 PM   Subscribe

I've been studying Japanese at a college level for three years now and I think I have an intermediate knowledge of the language, sentence pattern and grammar wise, and an OK vocabulary, considering I don't speak it everyday. Aside from actually living in Japan, which isn't an option right now due to college and work commitments, what is the best way to learn Japanese, especially reading and writing Kanji?

I can read Katakana and Hiragana fine, and probably have like a 2nd grader's kanji knowledge, which is fine for the time being. But after college I plan on trying to either to find an entry level computer science job in Japan, or teach English through Nova. I'd like to be able to hit the ground running, and not be confounded by compound kanji.

Also, I've heard that the Japanese that's taught in the US has little to no resemblance to everyday real-world Japanese. I've heard that there is a lot of slang, and a lot of abbreviations.
posted by SweetJesus to Education (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I've been studying via private lessons for about 3 years, now, myself... I think I passed the JLPT at 3 kyuu level, though I'll know for sure when the grades go out in March. ^___^ As for learning to read and write the kanji, I try to do a lot of reading (both books/manga and class materials, for the latter a good Japanese reader helps) and writing drills. Also, I like the Slimeforest learning game for improving kanji recognition skills. It won't help you with readings (yet, it's still in development), but it's great for moving kanji from the "maybe I know it" pile to the "definitely know it" one.

IMHO the best practice is just doing it, though, so find something you like to read and work your way through it. Manga, magazines, short stories, and Japanese hobby websites are all great, and if you like news, you can read the Asahi shinbun for free online. You might have to look stuff up constantly, but if you like what you're reading, you'll learn a lot more than from some boring textbook. Also, email pen-pals is a good way to get practical reading and composition experience, and you'll also get plenty of practice with waapuro.

For reading stuff online, try, which lets you get pop-up info on unknown kanji. With that and an online dictionary, you should be able to read pretty much anything online. If you get a decent electronic dictionary, it can function as more-or-less the same thing for printed material, especially if there's furigana in whatever you're reading.

And for listening comprehension, lots of exposure to Japanese movies and/or music are good, but the very best is a one-on-one conversation class with a native speaker, if you can find one. That'll also help you with speaking, which is my biggest weakness (shaberu toki ni wa, itsumo hazukashikunarimasu.)

Anyway, hope these links will help. I managed to get around without using much English when I visited Tokyo, and that was almost a year ago, so I'm sure you'll fine when you get there. Lastly, here's a nice FAQ on living and teaching in Japan. ganbatte kudasai ne!
posted by vorfeed at 4:36 PM on December 11, 2003

vorfeed's recommendations are on the money.

I would add trying the moji extenstion for Mozilla or Mozilla Firebird, which allows you to check kanji on the fly in your browser.

But year, speaking it is critical. Find yourself a Japanese girlfriend? (Although the ones in the US usually dont want to be speaking Japanese...)
posted by gen at 5:16 PM on December 11, 2003

"year" was supposed to be "yeah"
posted by gen at 5:17 PM on December 11, 2003

My friend Jonathon Delacour talks frequently and eloquently about his love for Japanese at his site, and has many tips for software and such.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:03 PM on December 11, 2003

Good topic, I've been studying for a bit as well. What I do is, I go out drinking all the time, and always carry my notebook and calligraphy pen and kanji book, and drink Manhattans for hours and get good and soused and draw kanji over and over and over again. So much of it is rote and mechanical, and doing it at a casual rate and just having fun with it helps it stick in my mind.
posted by vito90 at 7:37 PM on December 11, 2003

It won't help with speaking skills, but go out there and find yourself a Japanese message board and start clicking away. Make sure your computer is configured with the correct keyboards then give it a whirl.

I'm having a similar problem studying Russian, so I've been trying to write more, read more, and communicate more in the target language.

Previous suggestions, as per usual (already!), are fabulous as well.
posted by somethingotherthan at 8:33 PM on December 11, 2003

A book you might want to give a shot to is "Remembering the Kanji" James Heisbig. Although its been a few years I found it quite helpful at the time.
posted by keithl at 10:00 PM on December 11, 2003

Honestly, back when I actually could read some, I'd practice with Dragon Ball manga books. Since they are geared towards kids, the kanji isn't too complex, and you can pretty figure out what is going on by the pictures, so even if you come across something you can't understand, you can pretty much figure it out.
posted by Hackworth at 10:20 PM on December 11, 2003

Wow, gen, that moji extension looks very cool! Thanks so much for the link, that'll cut out the "going to" step in my Japanese browsing. ^___^ *goes off to install it*
posted by vorfeed at 10:51 PM on December 11, 2003

I missed the JLPT this year but I took the 2002 test (at least the written parts) and I definitely got better than 80%. I think I would clean up on the listening comprehension, so I'm confident that I am at the "san kyu" level but ni kyu is a whole 'nother story.
posted by gen at 11:48 PM on December 11, 2003

I'm pretty confident that I passed 3 kyuu... I also had the test book from 2002, and got roughly a 70% on that, and this year's difficulty was comparable. The kanji/vocab were a little harder for me this year (mostly due to some vocab from the List Of Words That Vorfeed Does Not Know), but the grammar was all stuff that I had studied, and the listening was more-or-less doable as always. Ni kyuu is scary, though. I fear it.
posted by vorfeed at 12:59 AM on December 12, 2003

blargh, the moji extension doesn't seem to work for Mozilla (just for Firebird). Does anybody have it working for Mozilla Suite, and if so, how'd you do it?
posted by vorfeed at 1:11 AM on December 12, 2003

vorfeed: I know this isn't that helpful, but give Firebird a shot. It's remarkable, and the extensions library is vast and deep.
posted by bshort at 8:15 AM on December 12, 2003

bshort: I would, but I use and love the mail client in the suite version. I guess I could run just the mail client all by itself, and browse using Firebird, but I think it's easier just to wait until they merge them (supposedly Firebird will be the browser in the Mozilla suite, once it reaches its 1.0 release).
posted by vorfeed at 1:04 PM on December 12, 2003

I had a recommedation on this topic at my site: LEARNING FROM LUPIN.
posted by languagehat at 10:06 AM on December 18, 2003

« Older English-centric programming language   |   Seeking advice about Bernese Mountain Dogs Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.