How I'm Learning Japanese (+ JLPT)
I’ve now been living in Japan for a year and a half and I have yet to write anything about learning Japanese. Shameful!
The truth is, my Japanese ability is pretty embarrassing. When I thought I was leaving last March I stopped studying over the winter, thinking it wouldn’t matter, and ever since it’s been hard to pick it back up. But many of my friends are starting to take the JLPT and I’ve decided to challenge myself and join in the weekly study parties to attempt either the N4 or N5. We’ll see how crazy I get (aka how convincing my friends are)!
The JLPT is an exam for non-native speakers to test their level. It’s administered both in Japan and many other countries around the world once or twice a year, in July and/or December. The N5 is the lowest level you can take--many people call it useless in fact. But I say, attempting the test at all is admirable and we all need to start somewhere!
From various online resources I’ve gathered that N4 and N5 both cover what people call “classroom” Japanese, the N3 is a conversational Japanese level, and the N2 is advanced so you can survive and thrive in Japan at that level. And everyone seems to agree the N1 is just madness created to torture us language learners to our breaking point. The N2 or N1 are usually required by companies here in Japan for new hires to prove you can succeed in the Japanese workforce. Anything below that and you’re usually just testing yourself to determine your level or give yourself motivation to study (*cough* me *cough*).
So I thought I’d come on here and share some resources that have been working well for me and other people I know. I go to a class in my town once a week for in-person Japanese lessons but that only goes so far. I’d say 95% of the stuff I know I self taught online and with textbooks or picked up in the world around me. So here are some of my favorite and most-used resources! I’ll try to keep this updated as much as possible:
READING AND WRITING
Hiragana and Katakana (Phonetic Alphabets)
Waaay back before I moved here I used a hiragana and katakana chart and handmade flashcards to learn these two alphabets. I also used this hiragana pronunciation video to help with the sounds. And this is the hiragana/katakana song to make things fun!
UPDATE 2019: Now I also like this video teaching you how to write each character the nice, correct way and not my scribbly gibberish way. Helpful!
Kanji (Chinese characters)
WaniKani– Fresh out of Beta and my #1 most used resource (explaining my complete lack of grammar) WaniKani uses an SRS system to teach you kanji and vocabulary with some really awesome mnemonics. It’s crazy slow at first but keep at it and you’ll be like me, skipping Silver Week to come back to over 300 reviews… But I can actually read the kanji I see everyday now, versus only knowing the meanings. Excitement! The community is really great and encouraging too.
Anki– An SRS self-make flashcard system. You can also download decks other users have made. I recommend the Common 2000 vocabulary decks and the JLPT by level kanji decks with audio. If you really want to go crazy go to NihongoShark and read up on his method of learning over 2,000 kanji in a matter of days!
NHK News Web Easy– Great for reading practice and Japanese current events at the same time! Just be sure to keep a dictionary on hand.
ChokoChoko– This blog has reading material sorted into JLPT skill levels. Thank you for not making me feel too bad about myself!
UPDATE 2019: I'll also recommend book clubs through the Wani Kani site. You don't even have to be a paying member to join! They have an absolute beginner to beginner to intermediate and on up in the forums with vocab spreadsheets and all the answers you want for all your grammar and other questions. A good way to connect with other Japanese language learners too for some much needed motivation!
VOCABULARY AND GRAMMAR
Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide– Easy to understand explanations of a lot of basic grammar. I have issues with conjugations a lot and always come back to read up on them again!
Genki I– The textbook I got before coming to Japan. Great with the workbook for the grammar I lack. It also teaches kanji and vocabulary with writing practice that sticks it in my brain. There’s also a Genki 2 but I don’t have that one (yet)!
Minna no Nihongo– This is the textbook I got for my Japanese class here. It’s completely in Japanese (good reading practice!) but they do have another book in my class that is the English grammar notes and is really helpful. I like using this book for language use and structure as well as some grammar Genki doesn’t have. The books are available in many languages, my study partner has a Vietnamese one!
Jisho.org– My go-to online dictionary.
PuniPuniJapan– Forgive me the cuteness of these aliens trying to learn Japanese! They have good information, some colloquilalisms, phrases, fun videos and cultural information as well. Learning is always fun on this site!
LISTENING AND SPEAKING
Shadowing: Let’s Speak Japanese!– My friend SeiraInJapan first showed me this one. It’s a CD and textbook set you repeat after. Awesome for me--I drive a lot! It’s helped me a ton with my pronunciation and speaking confidence. I absolutely love this resource!
Japanese Pod 101 Podcasts- I paid for this for awhile but now I just do the free stuff. Also good for people who drive a lot and are in short, convenient segments.
Music and Anime- Nothing beats Japanese spoken by actual Japanese people for actual Japanese people. YouTube channels in Japanese are another good option. There are weekly playlists for the top J-Pop songs of the week on YouTube and a bunch of anime in the same place and on Netflix. Crunchyroll happens to be my favorite anime subscription though.
JLPT SPECIFIC PREP
Official Practice Workbooks– These are basically practice tests for each level with some statistics about pass rates and whatnot in the back (in Japanese). Translating them after you’ve taken them is really good practice!
*Get them for free here: JLPT Bootcamp (this is the N5 page, but all are available).
Sample Questions for each JLPT level– The JLPT people give you sample questions to test your level. Show us your skill!
J-CAT (Japanese Computerized Adaptive Test)– A full-length test online that can show you where your weaknesses lie. This is great for testing your level and figuring out what areas to study the most. The more questions you answer right, the harder they get.
JLPT Study Page– Unofficial lists of all the kanji, vocabulary, grammar and phrases you need to know for each level. It’s a great study guideline and it comes with a countdown to the next test! Talk about motivation!
JLPT Bootcamp-As well as a prep program you can pay for, there’s also a lot of useful free stuff like that link to the free version of the practice books earlier in this post.
I also use this ASMR of a Library (along with headphones and coffee) because I’m odd and need to feel like I’m in a public place surrounded by other studying people in order to concentrate.
*TAKE THE TEST WITH ME! The official JLPT website is also available in English and Chinese. Sign up online on the My JLPT website (JEES website) until September 30th, 2015! The test is ¥5,500 and you can pay at a konbini. How convenient is that?! The test will be on December 6th this year and administered in 45 out of 47 prefectures. We can do it!
The test is also offered internationally, check the website for your area!
Have you ever used any of these resources? What did you think? How do you study Japanese? I want to know!
*NOTE: I’m not getting paid for any of this. These are genuinely what I use to study. Enjoy!