Learning Japanese The “Shut Up And Do It Already” Way – Common Questions Answered

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All these questions…

You should be really learning Japanese instead of worrying about the small details. So here. I’ll help you get it over with. Learn Japanese The “Shut Up And Do It Already” Way and get Common Questions Answered.


1. Do I Learn Hiragana, Katakana and Kanji? Oh, and Romanji?? Which comes first? And WHY?

It’s romaji. No romanji. And which should you learn first? Learn both, Katakana and Hiragana first. It’s NOT hard and if you’re partially sane, you could learn them in a week. The only difference is Katakana is used for foreign words, academic terms and sciency words. But mostly, foreign words.

Do you need romaji? No. I suggest you quit it as soon as possible and start relying on Hiragana and Katakana if you actually want to get better at reading Japanese.

And Kanji? Why do we need it? Well… Japanese sentences have no spaces, so reading something like にほんごあまりわからないけどひらがながよめる becomes extremely painful. Also, many words have the same hiragana spelling. So, this is where Kanji comes in. You read a lot faster because you know the characters, and you don’t mix up meanings because the kanji characters vary.

2. OK, I learned Hiragana and Katakana and can read but I don’t understand anything! What do I do?

Two things. Grammar and Vocabulary. Start familiarizing yourself with common sentence patterns like…

  • AはBです。
  • Meaning:A is B.

And start learning vocabulary alongside. Grab a dictionary or use an online one like Jisho.org and start putting the pieces of the puzzle together. Then, you’ll start understanding.

Textbook learners typically don’t have this problem because a textbook introduces them to beginner grammar and vocabulary so that they can start reading Japanese and understanding. This is a common problem with self learners that are using websites with no structure.

Best advice? Get a textbook and a dictionary.

3. Can I learn Japanese by myself in a year? Online?

I don’t like saying no to people wanting to do crazy things. Can you? Yes… if you tried hard enough, you probably could. And by hard enough I mean 6:30AM wake-ups, 8 hour daily studies, where you actually had Japanese speakers available to Skype with at any time.

That being said, most people are lazy… so the realistic answer is No. Or, more so, several parts of your Japanese will suffer… and most likely it’ll be speaking. You NEED living, breathing Japanese speakers to interact with. Fact. No arguments. End of story.

At best, you, like most Japanese learners, can develop a good ear through audio lessons, dramas, music, anime, and you can learn to read and write with all that’s out there. This is possible in a year. But if you’re planning on doing an hour here, an hour there, taking a day off… and then just passively learning by watching anime and not seriously taking notes on new words… you’re out of luck.

4. How should I start learning Japanese?

Don’t read advice articles. Don’t read “how to learn Japanese” tips. Stop beating around the bush and start in any way possible. Get a book. Buy an online course. Take a class. Just don’t fill up your head with do’s and don’t before you’ve actually started.

5. Can i learn Japanese by watching anime?

Go for something… ninja-free… and a little more to the realistic side please.

But you can you? You can get several things out of anime:

  • you develop an ear for Japanese and boost your listening skills.
  • you can pick up new words and grammar
  • you can understand conversational style instead of learning textbook Japanese

But, it’s very passive. You won’t learn to talk. You need real and unpredictable conversations to hone your speaking. You won’t learn to read. And you definitely won’t learn to write. So, the answer is yes… but consider it something to do on your downtime as passive learning as about as effective as learning Japanese by playing language tapes while you sleep… LOL. See relevant Dexter’s Lab French learning episode for reference.

If you do consider the option and want to get the best results out of it…

  • get a pen and a paper ready.
  • write down unknown words and grammar.
  • research them after you’re done watching.
  • re-play to hear it again.

6. How do I start speaking Japanese well?

Well…you need to speak… first… and open your mouth.

But I know what you mean.

You mean… fast… natural… and plenty of words to spew out like there’s no tomorrow! A confident Japanese chatterbox if you may. Do substitution drills for every grammar you come across.

  • Find a sentence. “I have to go to the bathroom”
  • Substitute “go” with other verbs. “I have to clean“, “I have to inspect“, etc.
  • Change the subject. “He has to go”, “we have to go”, etc.
  • What else can you change? “I should…“, “I want to…“, etc.
  • What can you add? “I have to study new words”, “I want to see inspect your bathroom for scientific purposes”, etc.

Say these things out loud as a drill. Stick to the first two points in the beginning, get some sample sentences, write down like 5 more and say them out loud. Soon, you’ll be able to spit these out rapid-fire.

Anything else? Read, read, read for more vocabulary. Word lists and Anki are great…but you need some context to see how these words are used. Pick up a Japanese book or manga.

7. What’s the difference between は and が?

Both are topic markers. The basic rule you should remember for now is… is general and is specific. Very similar to “a” and “the” in terms of “this is a pen” and “this is the pen (that we were talking about). “

For example

  • 私は大学生です meaning.. I am a college student. Just a general introduction of fact.
  • 私が大学生です is you distinctly pointing out that you’re the college student. Perhaps someone wants to know who’s a college student in a room you’re in. Or… maybe someone’s mistaken you for a janitor at your community college and you must clarify that “uhh, dude, actually, 私が大学生です .”

8. How can I bloody tell the difference between Shi/Tsu (シ/ツ) and So/N (ン/ソ)?

Easy! Do what I did. Shi and So’s squiggly lines up top… consider them purely horizontal. ン. See? They both go to the left when you mark them down from right to left.

So and N’s little dots, or lines or whatever, ン/ソ, go straight down. Just remember them as that and with enough reading, you’ll see the slight angle difference between the two?

Now, is it correct to consider one purely horizontal and the other purely vertical? Is that the honest Japanese way? Don’t know, don’t care. All I know is that using this little hack helped me see the difference between these kanas.

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