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Successful Learning: How To Self Study Japanese Alone.

Oh, hey there!

Learning Japanese by yourself?

Yes, it’s possible to do that – millions of people are doing it all over the world.

It takes a bit of work but you can truly make Japanese progress alone.

I trust you. You’re smart enough to do it since you already took the first step and went looking for “How to self study Japanese.”

So, here’s a how-to guide on how to self learn Japanese.

An 8-Step Guide on Learning By Yourself.

  • You’re going to learn the right mindset for learning
  • How to succeed and keep going
  • Why others fail
  • Some Japanese learning resources

Self Study Japanese

1) Learning Japanese Alone: Resources & First Steps

First, everyone wants to what resources they should get…

…And they want to know what steps they need to take right now. So, here you go.

A. The Basics:

Where should any beginner start?

Yes, with the Alphabet (Hiragana and Katakana).

Honestly, you can learn the Japanese alphabet online for free. Forget about kanji until you have these mastered. Or, you can get yourself a Japanese textbook to make life easier. (Keep reading for info about textbooks).

So, here’s what you should do ideally:

Learn Hiragana first and then Katakana.

Hiragana is one of three Japanese alphabets. How many Hiragana are there? There are 46 letters/characters in total.

Katakana is the second kind of alphabet; it has 46 characters and the same sounds as Hiragana. It just looks different. So why do you need Katakana? The Japanese use Katakana for scientific terms and foreign words that have been adopted into Japanese ( coffee: コーヒー, koohii ). So, that’s why you need to know it. No other reason.

Here, I have my own guide to learning Hiragana and Katakana.

What about Kanji? Learn Kanji after you’re done with Hiragana and Katakana.

Actually, you’ll learn Kanji with whatever textbook you go with so don’t worry about Kanji.

“If there’s the hiragana, why do we need Kanji?” 

Good question. There are 2 reasons.

1) Japanese writing has no spaces so imagine reading everything like this – canyoureadthisisitfunforyoudoyoulikeityousickpervert?

So, Kanji makes reading faster. With Hiragana alone, you’d have a hard time reading, telling the context and knowing where one word starts and the other ends.

  • No Kanji: わたしはがくせいでがっこうにまいにちいきます。Ouch.
  • With Kanji: 私は学生で学校に毎日に行きます。Much better!

2) There are tons of words that have the same spelling in Japanese. So, if we went with Hiragana, how would you tell the difference? You couldn’t. Kanji though has different symbols and that’s how you know which word is which.

Alright, so we covered the first steps. Now, what’s next?

B. Speaking & Listening: 

EVERY Japanese learner wants to speak and understand Japanese well. How do you do it on your own?

As a self-learner, there’s nothing better than Audio Lessons & Video Lessons – where you can hear, learn and master Japanese conversations.

You can re-listen as much as you want until you get better. Look for Online Japanese Courses that specialize in this. My suggestion is JapanesePod101.com. You get tons of lessons that get you speaking from Beginner Level and work your way up. JapanesePod101 offers a great way to learn at your pace.

C. Reading & Writing:

In order to get these next two skills down, just get a beginner Japanese textbook.

Don’t get an app or some program. Textbooks are organized to get you learning from knowing NOTHING to learning the alphabet, reading, writing, basic grammar, vocabulary and much more. Having one will be very useful and will serve as a friendly guide into the language.

Some suggestions are:

Genki: Recommended & used at most colleges/schools.

Genki Textbook
Genki: Elementary Japanese, Vol. 1

A learner favorite. This has great ratings on Amazon.
TextbookJapanese from Zero: Vol. 1

D. Supplemental Material: 

Alright, at this point, we’ve covered the majority of what you’ll need to learn at your pace.  Would you need anything else?

  • Grammar
  • Kanji

The truth is, no matter what textbook you go for, you will learn some grammar and kanji. So, you don’t need Grammar and Kanji books as a beginner. They’re more so for intermediate and advanced learners.

However, if you’re interested, there are excellent books dedicated to helping you master these. Here are some suggestions below. All are links for you to click.

But what if you already have some book, learning program or app that you bought? 

Good. Then use that.

Any start is a good start when you’re a beginner.

Worrying about “starting perfect with the BEST THING” and digging through all the available resources will kill your learning. I’ll say it now: anyone wanting to do things “perfectly” from the start is dangerously misguided and very, very stupid.

I’ll repeat that again for those in the back: anyone wanting to do things “perfectly” from the start is dangerously misguided and very, very stupid.

So, use what you have and don’t look at other material yet.

Too much choice is bad for you. It slows down decision making. It will slow down and stop your Japanese learning. You don’t need too many apps. You don’t need the next shiny program. Don’t worry about anything. Worry about things when they come around.

So, if you already have some book, program or app, stick with it. Keep reading to learn how to “stick” with things.

Again, don’t worry about having the BEST possible program or start. Only people looking to fail do that.

Next…

2) What is your reason for learning Japanese?

Now that you have the tools for studying Japanese by yourself, what’s next?

Well, why are you learning Japanese?

Some people want to live in Japan (strong motivator – needed for daily life). Others need it to speak with family (also very strong). Then, there are people that are simply interested in culture, manga, anime and drama.

And finally… those that do it just because they want to. Like me!

Some of these reasons are strong motivators. Some are weak.

But, don’t worry. People with weak reasons can and do succeed. People with “strong” reasons can and do fail. In fact, you can find people living in Japan for years who still can’t speak well. So, again, a strong reason does not guarantee success.

You’ll learn exactly why people quit/fail below.

But, knowing your reason will:

  • serve as motivation (always remember why you started)
  • serve as a benchmark (have you reached your goal yet?)
  • allow you to see progress (you started with nothing and where are you now?)
  • give you a clear purpose. (for family, friends, anime, personal goal, etc.)

To do now: Write down your reason. Or better yet, leave a comment down below! Keeping your reason in mind will motivate you to keep going. So now, you know how to stay motivated.

  • Next step: How do you avoid quitting? Keep reading.

3) Remember, consistency is important.

A lot of self-learners fail.

They start learning, they buy a book, they stick with it for a week… and they begin to fall off.

Why?

Many reasons. They get bored. Life gets busy and they stop. Or, they don’t see progress. Or, they get distracted. Excuse #4. Excuse #5. Whatever. These small reasons are not important. But the biggest reason they fail is that they don’t understand consistency.

Now, I warn you.

This part will sound like SELF-HELP preaching. And it is because…

 …there is no one, not me, not the words on this page, no book, no app, no article that will help save you. Only you can save yourself. I can’t do it for you.

If you truly want to succeed in Japanese, you need to brainwash yourself and understand that….

  • learning Japanese will take consistent time and consistent effort over a long period of time.

Learning Janese Guide: Linguajunkie

If you can’t, you’ll never get good at Japanese.

You need to be consistent with Japanese. Here, just think about it for a moment…

  • Why do athletes practice consistently?
    • It doesn’t take a day. It takes a long time to get good. Then you have to maintain skill.
  • Why do bodybuilders spend most of their time in the gym?
    • Same as athletes. Serious progress takes a long time.
  • Why is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson still in the gym and eating truck-tons of food?
    • Again, he needs consistency to keep his muscles (aside from the fact that the guy loves the Iron Temple (the gym)).
  • Why do people that eat burgers daily gain weight?
    • They eat burgers consistently.
  • Why do people that eat “okay” food but don’t move much… become skinny-fat?
    • They’re consistently inactive.
  • Why are people that started programming at the age of 14 (and never stopped) so good now?
    • They may not have realized it as kids, but because they kept at it, they became good.
  • Why is your favorite singer so good at singing?
    • They’ve been singing since they were 16 and never stopped!

Time. Effort. Over a long period of time.

Some people were lucky to develop consistency without thinking about it. This is the case with those that start young. For example, when parents that force their kids to learn piano. The kids keep it at because that’s all they know and they can easily continue. They don’t have to think about consistency. They were raised on it.

Others had to practice hard to become consistent with things.

So, how do YOU become consistent?  First, I’ll tell you a good Zen story.

A student came to a Zen Master and said “Please give some wisdom that will help me pay attention.” So, the old Master wrote “Attention” on a chalkboard.

“Is that it?” Asked the student.  So, the old Master wrote “Attention” again.

“But that’s not wise or profound. Give me something that will shake my mind” whined the student. Again, the old Master wrote “Attention” on a chalkboard.

Attention. Attention. Attention. The student demanded “What does this Attention mean??” “

Attention means attention” replied the master.

Moral: In order to pay attention, you must pay practice paying attention.

So, what’s the point of this story? It’s this.

In order to be consistent, you must be… consistent.

See, the student was looking for something “deeper” – that would shake his mind and stir his soul. Intellectual masturbation without any actual results. This is the mistake most learners make. This is the mistake people make when reading self-help books. We’re all looking for some wise, inspirational statement. And once we stumble upon and read this magical statement…  it will shake us to the core. Matrix code will drop down all around us. Our mind will suddenly become clear. Our vision will become 20/20. Our acne will clear up. Our sense of smell will become stronger… and we will be different. 

Except, no. It doesn’t work that way. That will never happen.

See, instead of practicing the damn thing, people go to read about the damn thing. Just like learning Japanese, same goes for acting classes, dancing classes, calligraphy classes, writing classes, practicing sports, learning marketing, learning cooking, or anything….

  • Rule of life: through physical practice, you develop the mental habits. Through the physical, you develop the mental.

So, to be consistent, you must practice being consistent. You must DO. You must make a habit of doing it every day or every 5 days out of the week. If you’re not actually doing the studying, the speaking practice, and the reviewing…. you’re never going to get it.

Okay, enough.

Let’s move on.

4) When is the Best Time to Start Learning Japanese?

Yesterday. Last year. Five years ago. And of course, right now.

Everyone that has succeeded, or has seen some Japanese progress, will tell you the same thing — “I wish I started earlier.” Why do they say that? Time. More time. That’s because they would have been tons better thanks to extra time. Yes, time — the thing that we waste by searching for “inspiration” and “the next best possible app” instead of doing the work now.

Remember:

  • learning Japanese will take consistent time and consistent effort over a long period of time.

So, the next best time to start learning is today. Here’s why. Imagine that learning Japanese is like rolling a snowball. Look at routine #1 and routine #2.

With #1, you skip a day. With #2, you keep on going.

Days Routine #1 Routine #2
Day 1 You roll it and it gets a little bigger – 3 inches in diameter. You roll it and it gets a little bigger – 3 inches in diameter.
Day 2 You roll it – now 3.2 inches in diameter You roll it – now 3.2 inches in diameter
Day 3 You skip this day. You roll it – now 3.4 inches in diameter
Day 4 You roll it – now it’s 3.4 inches in diameter. You roll it – now 3.6 inches in diameter

Do you see? If you rolled it on day 3 and continued on day 4, you’d be much further ahead.

But because you skipped it, you lost 2 things:

  1. you LOST day 3’s progress
  2. you lost future progress that is made possible by day 3.

When you skip a day… the problem is not just about skipping that day. The problem is, you lose future progress made possible by day 3. That’s something you can never gain back.

But you do gain something when you do skip it. You’re now rolling ANOTHER snowball. Instead of practicing Japanese learning and strengthening that habit, you’re now practicing LAZINESS and INCONSISTENCY and you’re getting better at ’em. Like muscles, when you skip your biceps, they will grow weak and what you focus on (doing nothing/being lazy) will get stronger.

Note: This is also a good lesson in consistency.

So, that’s why right now is the best time to start. You can make Japanese progress right now. Then, tomorrow. And if you keep that snowball rolling, the better you get. But, the more you put it off, the more you lose as shown by my sweet snowball example.

If you don’t start now — starting things is a skill to be learned too — you likely never will.

5) How Much Japanese Should You Learn a Day?

Okay, before you get excited, all “rah-rah” and try to spend the next 5 hours cramming, stop.

Do not overwhelm yourself. If you have an app or a learning program, do NOT do all the lessons right now.

  • Learners who steamroll through their first few days fail in the long run.

Let me say that again in another way…

  • People fail at goals because they do too much. More than they can handle. They overwhelm themselves with big goals and thinking that they must suffer and put in hours. Sure, you need to put in hours. But not now. Not tomorrow. Not any time soon. You can’t lift 200 pounds on your first day at the gym and you shouldn’t do too much right now. You’ll get to it eventually. Besides, cramming for 3 hours upfront is won’t help you remember anything in the long term.

Learn for just 5-10 minutes and that’s it. When you’re done, back off, back up and walk away.

You might not think that’s enough… but this is a marathon, not a race. Yes, 5 minutes of study won’t help you get fluent in the next 5 minutes but…

  • it will add up (see step 4) in the long run
  • it will help you become consistent
  • it will strengthen your learning habits (roll that snowball) and make it harder to quit
  • you will then be able to increase your study-time
    • just like in the gym, you start with 5 pound dumbbells, work your way up to 10, 15 and so on.

So, a learn a little bit. Let’s get specific now.

6) Set A Small & Easy Goal Every Month.

Another reason most learners fail — they aim for goals like “I want to be fluent.” Oh yeah? How soon? How will you get there? When they realize they set a goal that they don’t know if they’ll ever reach – because it’s so big and vague – they quit.

Here’s what you do. Set a goal for yourself that is:

  • Small & Easy – why? So you can easily achieve it.
    • example:  learn 100 Japanese words in 1 month.
  • Measurable – why? You’ll know how much you have left to go.
    • example: 100 words is measurable.
  • Has a Deadline – why? You’ll know when to reach it by. Otherwise, you’ll be forever wading through the same learning materials and never making progress.
    • example: if you set for 1 month, make the deadline the end of the month: December 31st.

Doing this will guarantee that 1) your goal is a lot more realistic, 2) you’ll know how much progress you’ve actually made and 3) you’ll be inspired to aim a little higher – and make more progress. In other words, you’ll become consistent.

To do now:

  • Write down your small Japanese goal for the month. Write it down in the comments!

7) What Next? Stay Focused & Finish.

Alright.

You have some material to get you going.

What’s next? Well, aside from starting to learn…

First of all, remember the steps and your success is guaranteed.

And just as importantly, stay focused on your learning material and finish it.

Finishing it is a good sign that if you can take down one textbook, you can definitely succeed with the language. If you call it quits on a piece of learning material, who’s to say you won’t quit on the language as well? Be a finisher.

Unless you have to, don’t quit one and jump to another because “you’re bored.”

Anyone can jump from one thing to the next.

Very few finish it to the end.

And those are the ones that tend to develop the learning habits to make good Japanese progress.

8) Bonus Learning Ideas

  • Subscribe to the Japanese Word of the Day
    • Write down the words in your notebook every day.
    • This is an easy way to drill some Japanese and keep your habit going.
  • Get Easy Japanese News by NHK
    • Read the same article 3x in a day for reading practice
    • Copy it out by hand to practice writing
    • Read it out lout for speaking practice
  • Copy out Japanese social media posts from Twitter or Facebook by hand
  • Watch 1 episode of a drama and force yourself to repeat every line

What do you think?

If you find this helpful, do print it out and keep it by your desk. Steps 1, 2, 3 and 5 are particularly important that most learners never grasp.

Be sure to leave a comment below!

– The Main Junkie

P.S. I highly recommend this for Japanese learners. If you REALLY want to learn to Japanese with effective lessons by real teachers – Sign up for free at JapanesePod101 (click here) and start learning!

 

15 Replies to “Successful Learning: How To Self Study Japanese Alone.”

  1. Great article! And great motivation! I’ve learned Japanese when I was a child but forgotten all of it because no one in my family speaks it. But now I want to gain back the language and be able to speak to my family in Japan!

  2. i really like your content is also help me on how to plan to learn japanese as a beginner. and as you said we do have a reason for learning japanses, and mine was aslo a weakness one. but i get a lot motivate from your topic, thank you and keep update more

  3. Just found this recently and I just want to say thank you. I really want to learn Japanese because I want to understand anime, manga and etc but I just don’t have that motivation to do so. But after reading this article, it help me realize that as long as I am consistent and motivated, I can do it. So thank you very much!

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  5. I’m learning Japanese, and I already know some Hiragana letters. My tip is to write the Japanese letters while writing on a piece of paper, and put the sounds too.

    Good luck

  6. so im really young (elementary) learning japanese. i wanted to learn japanese because i heard it was a really hard language. so i started to get a notebook. since i already knew the vowels in japanese, the next day i started to learn other words. after i read this article i felt inspired, so im now starting to learn katakana.

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  9. Yes, this did help to keep up the motivation. Also the tips are good. I’m actually using Japanesepod101 but I find myself wondering off to other stuff, installed a bunch of apps and do pretty much everything, except for the lessons I payed for ^^

  10. Honestly, this is such a good article! It gives you motivation and actually helps you understand what and when and how much you need to do in order to begin and not quit along the way. Thank you so much! This was really helpful and I hope I won’t be a lazy dog and finish what i’ve started.

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