how I study Japanese

A few weeks ago I wrote about some useful survival tools for anyone coming to Japan. All of those tools are, obviously, also very useful for Japanese study. Today I’m going to add more to that list, but under the specific title of “study.” Yes, I realize there are hundreds of blogs and blog posts and videos out there about the best way to learn Japanese, and I am not discounting any of them. We all learn in different ways. What I’ve listed here is what works best for me, as a highly visual learner who struggles with audio-type learning and prefers more interactive study.

*Please note I have not listed every possible source of study here, but only my recommendations. Hopefully you will find something useful in this list.

(My list of) tools for studying Japanese – A highly interactive flashcard type online program. You study material in sets and sessions, perfect even if you only have five or ten minutes. You can choose preset “goals” or create your own. The Japanese Core 2000 is a great place to start for vocab, but you may find something else that suits your needs better depending on your level. I’ve tried Anki and other flashcard based programs, that use that time-spacing technology, but I grow bored of all of them. is fun, engaging, and engages both visual and audio learning – perfect for me.

Read the Kanji – A more recent discovery, this online program allows you to simply practice reading kanji and compound words. Great for reinforcing the kanji you have learned, as well as the different readings. The colored stats grid is also pretty to look at. $6 (US) for 3 months.

 – You’ll see a box about this in the sidebar to the left of this post. I started using JapanesePod101 before coming to Japan and it really cemented the basics for me in addition to my Japanese classes. You can listen to recent podcasts for free, or sign up for different subscriptions for more tools and interactivity, such as PDFs for the podcasts, which are immeasurably helpful for visual learners. They also have all kinds of quizzes, tests, dictionaries, etc., available with subscriptions, which are useful if you remember to log in regularly. I can only subscribe for a month or so at a time, or else I lose focus and stop using it. So I alternate this with other things. Click the link to the left for more info, but it definitely has helped me.

Lang-8 – Though I haven’t used this recently, every once in awhile I’ll write something up in Japanese for native speakers to read and correct. I do the same for those learning English. It’s free to use, as it’s an exchange-based program, and great for any level. Though lately Twitter has been a lot easier for me to practice short paragraphs or sentences and receive instant feedback. Either way, they both work well.

iKanji – A great iPhone/iPod touch app for learning kanji. Test readings, meanings, compounds and stroke order at either JLPT or elementary school levels. My absolute favorite kanji app.


italki – a site for language learners to find language exchange partners. Lots of native Japanese speakers learning English use it (and other languages as well), so if you want to find someone to Skype with, this may be a good option. Speaking is what I struggle with the most, because I am a visual learner, but italki allowed an easy way to find a conversation partner.

TV/movies – I’m not an expert on this. I’m not really into anime or manga (did I hear a gasp?). However, I do enjoy some shows and I love a lot of movies (especially those by Ghibli studios). Usually I watch with subtitles on to check my level of understanding, but beware, as some translations aren’t very accurate. Although the more Japanese you learn the more you’ll catch on to this.

Books/CDs – I’ve used a few different kinds, though it’s hard to stay motivated for very long with books, so I try to look for resources that will hold my interest. Normally I switch between these and all of the above to create more variety and prevent burnout/boredom.

Internet – Doing as much research as I do, and since I was incapable of doing it when I first arrived in Japan, I was motivated to figure things out. It’s amazing that after two years, reading text online has become much easier and faster – even though I don’t understand all of it.

For other Japanese learners out there, what works for you? How do you study best?

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