Best Way to Learn Japanese – 10 Expert Tips

Photo of author
Written By Francesca Stephens

Founder of Linguatics. Passionate multilinguist.

We won’t lie to you: learning Japanese is not an easy task.

But it’s not as difficult as some people claim.

And it’s definitely interesting and rewarding!

Japan has a fascinating culture, history, and art. And taking Japanese lessons will allow you to learn all about it.

But what is the best way to learn Japanese?

Well, although you need to find a way that works best for you, there are some guidelines you can use to make your study routine more effective.

So, if you’re searching for the best method to learn Japanese, you’ve come to the right place.

10 Best Ways to Learn Japanese

The Japanese language has a reputation for being very hard to learn.

That might be true to some extent, especially for English speakers. The Japanese language has different writing systems and an opposite sentence structure to English.

But once you get into it, you will realize that Japanese grammar actually isn’t so complicated.

Even kanji characters aren’t as scary as they look. Technology made mastering Japanese writing systems a whole lot easier.

Best way to learn Japanese

However, it will probably take you a while to get a grasp of it. But once you do, you will fall in love with the Japanese language even more.

The important thing is to find a learning source that fits your goals and learning style. That might seem like common sense, but it’s easy to get lost among online resources and all those language-learning apps.

But a wide range of online resources is a good thing – it means you can learn Japanese in a rather quick and easy way.

1. Use a Japanese learning app

There’s no single easiest way to learn Japanese – different learners have different learning habits.

But using an app to learn Japanese seems to be a very effective and enjoyable method for many people. The best Japanese learning apps are practical, affordable, and immersive.

Rocket Japanese is a good example of a well-structured, versatile app.

It’s developed by Rocket Languages, a popular language-learning platform.

Rocket Japanese

The Rocket Japanese app will help you improve all the main language skills: speaking, listening, writing, and reading.

It combines audio tracks, video clips, culture lessons, and useful study tools to teach you everything you need to know to initiate a casual conversation in Japanese.

And it has speech recognition software so you’ll master Japanese pronunciation too.

All things considered, an app like Rocket Japanese is designed to provide you with useful knowledge in the most convenient way possible. You can learn anywhere and anytime, and you can focus on your specific goals.

Rocket Japanese lessons are linear, but you also jump back and forth. They are also bite-sized, so you won’t feel overwhelmed.

Best ways to learn Japanese at your own

There are also game-like Japanese apps that can help you learn Japanese in a fun and engaging way.

If you want to expand your vocabulary, you can use a flashcard app.

You can even study Japanese in virtual reality. Yes, some platforms have developed virtual reality language courses.

There are so many great options out there, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of them.

Some online resources won’t even cost you anything. So, if you want to know how to learn Japanese fast for free, online courses and apps would be a great choice for you.

Even if you decided to learn Japanese in another way, a Japanese app can be a nice supplemental learning resource. 

2. Find an online tutor

Some online courses and apps will give you a chance to get professional guidance.

In other words, you can get in touch with a real teacher and get valuable feedback, suggestions, and corrections.

But you can also find an online tutor and take one-on-one Japanese classes. This could be your primary learning source, or you take them from time to time.

Virtual Japanese lessons

Personalized guidance from an experienced and preferably native Japanese teacher is amazing. In fact, it’s arguably one of the best ways to learn Japanese.

The thing is, every learner has individual needs. And your online teacher will create a study plan adjusted to your level, abilities, and goals.

Plus, you will feel like you’re in a real online Japanese school. Just without stress and a lot of homework.

Online tutoring would help you stay on track and make progress.

And it would prepare you for real-life situations. You would have a chance to listen to a native accent as well as learn about Japanese culture and customs.

3. Learn the Japanese alphabet

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, mastering the Japanese alphabet is essential.

But if you’re not planning to visit Japan anytime soon, learning kanji, hiragana, and katakana will help you understand how the language works and allow you to read Japanese texts.

Yes, the Japanese alphabet actually consists of three writing systems.

Kanji characters are based on Chinese characters – they are symbols that represent words or ideas. They are used primarily for content words (nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs.)

They might be tricky for beginners because they can have different meanings and pronunciations depending on their context.

But the Japanese language can’t be written entirely in kanji.

Japanese writing systems

Hiragana and katakana (or kana) are phonetic letters – they don’t represent unique meanings as kanji do.

But what is the difference between hiragana and katakana?

Katakana is usually used in loan words, while hiragana is more frequently used for native words. Also, hiragana is a more basic and common way of writing.

If you want to get around Japan with confidence, you should learn both hiragana and katakana. Hiragana is considered a standard form of Japanese writing, but for example menus in restaurants are often written in katakana.

So, which one should you learn first, hiragana or katakana?

As we’ve already mentioned, hiragana is the most commonly-used writing system, and it’s usually taught first in schools. But starting with either one is totally fine.

Learning Japanese

Now, many online Japanese courses and apps use romaji.

Romaji is the romanization of the Japanese written language. So, it’s the use of Latin script to write the Japanese language which allows non-native speakers who can’t read kanji or kana to read the language.

In the beginning, you’ll probably use romaji. But that shouldn’t be your long-term solution.

Romaji should be a nice tool to gap the bridge between Japanese and your native language. But Japanese scripts are so much more complex than that.

By the way, don’t expect to see romaji all around Japan.

Sooner or later, you should definitely get to know katakana, hiragana, and kanji.

4. Focus on commonly-used words

Using a Japanese language app, finding an online tutor, or learning how to write in Japanese are great ways to begin your Japanese learning journey.

But you should also practice Japanese by yourself.

So, what is the best way to learn Japanese on your own?

Well, you can focus on commonly-used words and popular phrases first.

If you’re taking online classes, you can make your own word lists. Focus on what’s really important to you.

If you want to visit Japan, learn practical vocabulary useful for traveling. Learn how to order food, book a hotel, ask for directions, and so on.

As you progress, you will start expanding your vocabulary. But stick to useful words – you don’t have to learn words you won’t use at all. At least in the beginning.

There will be time for fancy words. For now, they might only overwhelm you.

5. Learn basic Japanese grammar

If you want to learn how to speak Japanese, you need to learn basic grammar rules.

Don’t worry – Japanese grammar really isn’t that complicated.

Japanese writing

There are no gendered nouns, for example.

On the other hand, the sentence structure is a bit different. In the Japanese language, the verb goes at the end of the sentence, and that may seem confusing to some learners.

You should also learn verb tenses and classes. An interesting fact is that the Japanese language doesn’t have future tenses. If you want to say that something will happen in the future, you just need to add time to your sentence.

Furthermore, you need to learn formal and informal speech, but that’s quite logical.

Once you master the basics, you’ll be able to express yourself and structure sentences in a clear way.

6. Listen to Japanese podcasts

When you reach the point in which you feel like you’ve acquired basic Japanese vocabulary, you should surround yourself with the language as much as you can.

One of the ways to immerse yourself in Japanese is by listening to Japanese podcasts.

You can find a simple, easy-going podcast focused on a topic you’re interested in.

Even passive listening will increase your comprehension and enhance your listening skills.

You’ll pick up new words, maybe learn the slang, and get used to the natural flow of the language.

You can also write down words. Even better, you can write down whole sentences and underline words you want to memorize.

Studying Japanese

Luckily, Japanese pronunciation is quite consistent.

In fact, Japanese is easier to pronounce than English.

And listening to native speakers will help you how it actually sounds in a conversation. 

7. Watch Japanese movies and TV shows

Another fun way to increase your comprehension is by watching Japanese films and TV shows.

Japanese TV will introduce you to different language styles and topics.

And maybe anime is the reason you want to learn Japanese in the first place.

Learning Japanese with anime

Either way, there’s a lot of Japanese content on Netflix and other streaming services.

And if you watch it with subtitles, you’ll expand your vocabulary as well.

When you feel confident enough, you can try to watch a Japanese movie without subtitles. This will also help you learn how to guess words from context.

And contextual learning is very important in learning any foreign language.

8. Read

Enhancing your reading skills should also be on your daily schedule.

Find online Japanese magazines, news, and articles.

You can also find manga releases online. The term manga covers a wide variety of comic books and graphic novels originally published in Japan.

So, besides working on your reading skills, you will get to know Japanese culture a little better.

You can also try to find a book you like in a Japanese translation.

Or explore original Japanese literature – reading Haruki Murakami’s books in Japanese is certainly a unique experience.

9. Find native speakers

Partaking in an immersion language program is arguably the most effective way to learn Japanese.

Immersion programs usually last for a few weeks. Japanese is the main language of instruction, so you’ll be forced to learn quickly and encouraged to speak Japanese right away.

There are great Japanese immersion programs both for adults and young people.

But if you currently don’t have a chance to partake in an immersion program, you can put yourself in a similar situation – you can find native speakers and talk to them.

If you’re planning to visit Japan, make sure you actively use the language.

The most effective way to learn Japanese

Even if the waiter speaks English, order your drink in Japanese.

If you see friendly local people in the cafe, try to initiate a conversation.

Meeting local people is probably the most interesting part of every trip. But it’s also very useful for your language skills.

And don’t be afraid to make a mistake. Just speak.

You can also find native speakers online.

Language exchange websites are a cool option. You get in touch with a native speaker who will teach you Japanese, and you can teach them your native language or English in exchange.

Also, many online platforms and apps have online communities and active forums. Besides native speakers, you can connect with fellow learners, join a conversation, and so on.

Learning Japanese by yourself can be a lonely process, and being a part of an online community or having a language partner can keep you motivated.

But even if you prefer to study on your own, occasionally talking to someone from Japan will improve your communication skills significantly.

That will also boost your confidence and prepare you for situations when it’s actually necessary to speak Japanese.

10. Study smart

If you want to find easy ways to learn Japanese, you need to learn how to study smarter.

That will allow you to learn quickly and effectively – and everything will seem much easier.

Plus, you will undoubtedly feel more organized and productive.

First of all, you need to create a good study environment. Even if you sometimes learn on the go, you need to have a place where you can focus on exercises and new material.

Try to get comfortable. But not too comfortable.

The important thing is to find a way that works for you. If you study better with music, listen to relaxing Japanese music during your writing practice.

If you require peace and quiet, find a study time and place where you won’t be interrupted.

Learning Japanese

Furthermore, use language hacks.

The good thing is that the best apps to learn Japanese feature very useful study tools.

Digital flashcards are very popular. You can download flashcards or create your own set of flashcards.

Many programs also use a spaced repetition technique. It’s a method of reviewing material at specific time intervals.

Another effective learning technique is mnemonics. This memory device can help you memorize important information.

But using hacks to learn a new language isn’t only about being familiar with memory techniques.

It’s about studying effectively and consistently.

Inner motivation also plays a vital role.

Keep your learning journey interesting and versatile. You can check if there’s a Japanese meetup in your town. You can play online games that will teach you Japanese or take part in an online challenge.

Also, when you feel discouraged, remind yourself of all the reasons why you want to learn Japanese.

Maybe you want better job opportunities.

Maybe there’s someone special in your life who speaks Japanese.

And maybe you’re fascinated by Japanese culture.

Best ways to learn Japanese

Whatever your reason is, learning Japanese is very rewarding.

It will attract new opportunities to your life.

And you’ll get a chance to meet new people and learn about a different way of life.

Final Thoughts

You never know where learning Japanese will take you.

But it’s also important to enjoy the process.

If you find a good learning source that fits your goals and learning style, that won’t be a problem.

Also, try to study smart to make the most of your lesson time.

Use language hacks and effective study tools.

And keep it interesting! Join an online community or a conversation club, play online games, talk to native speakers… Possibilities are endless.

Finally, mastering Japanese might be challenging, but it’s definitely not impossible. And it will undoubtedly be worthwhile!