The Best Way to Learn Japanese | Most detailed answer for 2023

The Best Way to Learn Japanese

After reading a bunch of articles related to learning Japanese, you may still be puzzled and have no idea what is the best way to learn Japanese. It may be hard to decide which way to go in the beginning. But no worries — it’s not your fault if you are perplexed because most articles present too much information for a beginner. For most situations, all we need is just a few specific and feasible pieces of advice.

Therefore, my commitment is to offer an appropriate guideline to the self-taught Japanese learner starting their language acquisition from scratch. I promise this article is just like a packet of space food — there are no bells or whistles, but it’s just what you need for your interstellar voyage. Now, please ready your notebook, so we can blast off!

Kickoff: Learn the Japanese alphabet A.S.A.P

Let me begin by reminding you that the Japanese language has three writing systems — Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Among them, Hiragana and Katakana are viewed as the Japanese alphabet.

Hiragana and Katakana correspond to one another exactly — the two alphabets have the same pronunciation for each syllable they represent but differ in writing. Think of them for now as similar to uppercase and lowercase letters in English (although the difference between the Hiragana and Katakana is much greater than this.)

In a few hours, you can figure out these alphabets and utilize them within several weeks. Although many paid courses may suggest that you need to spend a month to comprehend them, I think it’d be better for you to speed up and shrink the alphabet learning stage as much as possible. But why? Come on. They are just alphabets, and you will find them extremely easy to knockout after confronting the Ruined Dragon of Japanese — Kanji.

Relaxed. We can leave the Dragon for later. Now let’s continue to the alphabets. Indeed, there are plenty of diverse resources available for learning the Japanese alphabet. However, as mentioned previously, I will only offer you specific study plans. Ready? Here you go.

  1. Print the alphabet sheet issued by the Japanese Foundation.
  2. Follow the recording on the LingoDeer app and practice pronunciations.
  3. Combine transcription and other methods for effective memorization.

The above solutions are totally free. If you are not an “on-paper” kind of person, you can go through the alphabet on the website or just ignore Step 1. It’s also worth mentioning that LingoDeer is probably the only language app that teaches the Japanese alphabet. Moreover, all the recordings available on LingoDeer are made by native speakers while many other apps utilize robotic voices.

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Forgetting Curve: unlock your memory potential

You need to pay attention to picking up an effective method for memorizing the Japanese alphabet and vocabulary. I highly recommend learning Japanese or other subjects using the Forgetting Curve.

how long does it take to learn japanese

According to the University of Waterloo, this Curve shows how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it. In other words, it would be much better if 100 words were spread out over 20 days to be memorized on a regular basis, rather than being learned in one day and then never returned to them.

Are you suitable for self-study

Now, we need to make some choices. Undoubtedly, everyone has a unique personality and is suited to different learning styles. It’s hard for me to design a learning plan tailored specifically to you. But we can at least make a simple classification in a general way. Please think about the below questions and note your answers.

  1. When reading a book, do you do intense research related to the subject matter?
  2. When watching a movie, do you eagerly drag the video scrubber to preview the ending?
  3. When preparing for a final exam, do you make a clear-cut revision planner and execute it well?
  4. Do you take notes on what you have learned and check them regularly?
  5. Do you know the Cornell Notes system? If yes, have you ever tried it?

Sorting ceremony! If you got more “yes” than “no,” then it means you are more likely a “self-taught” learner. Perhaps you are of two minds now and are wondering, “I’m almost fifty-fifty. Which one am I supposed to be grouped with?” Of course, you can modify the plan depending on the situation, and you won’t have to stick to your guns even after relatively extended study.

Learning Japanese in school vs on your own

There are certain advantages that come with learning Japanese in school. However, likewise, there are also certain advantages that come with learning Japanese on your own. Learning Japanese in school will provide you with a more systematic way to learn the language, a certain bonus for first-time students who don’t know where to start.

However, after students pass the learning curve associated with Japanese, some students may find it easier to study on their own since they can go at a faster pace than compared to a classroom setting.

Especially now thanks to online Japanese courses like the ones offered at LingoDeer, it’s much easier to learn Japanese from the very beginning. You can have a detailed guide on where to start and what to learn the entire way. 

A cost-effective way

Welcome to Gryffindor! I guess you are the kind of learner who has a robust self-driven personality and is eager to explore more things at your own pace. The self-taught way has pros and cons. If you can make the best use of its strengths, the studying style will be much more effective than that of the traditional learner. Here’s the ace in your sleeve:

  1. whole period: follow a textbook’s teaching system.
  2. sporadic time: using an online learning app to boost learning.
  3. magic weapon: some effective memory apps.


Whether you are a complete beginner or an intermediate learner, the book Minna no Nihongo is highly recommended. Disclaimer: I have never been paid by its publisher (everything is based on my own experience in this article.)

how to learn japanese

Minna no Nihongo is a very classic set of Japanese language books. It is divided into four levels:

shokyu1 (Beginner)

shokyu2 (Elementary)

chukyu1 (Lower intermediate)

chukyu2 (Higher intermediate)

The difference between this series and other books is that Japanese professors developed this set of textbooks, meaning you can interact with the original and authentic Japanese. Its grammar teaching is very systematic, and all you need to do is follow along. Meanwhile, because of all the contents being written in 100% in Japanese, you will be able to enjoy the immersive experience of the Japanese language. Don’t worry about semantic questions because each textbook of Minna no Nihongo has a companion translation&grammatical notes. Using these, you can easily solve any comprehension problems you may come across.

Online Japanese learning apps

As suggested before, the textbook is something that you use for a considerably longer time (at least one hour). Nevertheless, some people, especially wage workers, don’t have this much time to study at once. As a result, an online app that can be used whenever and wherever is essential for learning Japanese.

LingoDeer is a very professional app in the field of learning languages. Its Japanese language courses are designed systematically and are visually pleasing. Like Prof. Hagrid, Coach Deer is glad to help you snowball from a muggle to a wizard!

During the Gojuon (the Japanese alphabet) phase, you can take LingoDeer’s free lessons to learn authentic pronunciations. An oak is not felled at one stroke. Learning how to read and distinguish each Hiragana and Katakana is your first step. After a period of memorization (within one week, ideally), you can finally read all of them, and the next step for you is to learn how to write. LingoDeer presents each alphabet’s strokes and formal writing animatedly, which you can imitate in a straightforward way.

As you move to higher levels of learning, LingoDeer also offers systematic lessons, such as an honorific system of Japanese (Keigo), suffixes, and particles. It could be said that it’s also a perfect substitute for the book Minna no Nihongo if you don’t have a lot of time for daily study. The conversations recorded by native speakers will create real-life scenes for your spoken Japanese practice.

what is the best way to learn japanese


I’m a strong advocate of online tools, especially when it comes to heavy, thick dictionaries. Once you get to the advanced level of learning, you’re bound to run into unknown words that need to be looked up. 

Jisho is a free online Japanese dictionary with standard definitions and applications in English. Furthermore, Jisho also links to related content such as analogs and idioms for each word. For example, if you want to look up the word “高い (high),” you will find a link to Wikipedia for the word “高い城の男” (the Japanese translation of sci-fi book title The Man in the High Castle) listed below.

If you want to stick to the print dictionaries, the Oxford Beginner’s Japanese Dictionary is recommended for the start of your journey. When you get to the advanced stage, maybe you can also buy some more complicated ones such as The Learner’s Japanese Kanji Dictionary.

Memory tool

According to the old proverb, what you already know is the key to learning new things. This tells us that reviewing promptly means a lot for the efficacy of your studies. Still remember the Forgetting Curve I mentioned before? After learning new words or grammar, you need to develop a review plan to convert short-term memory into long-term memory (that’s how you can say you’ve really mastered it.)

Anki is one such app, that helps you to memorize and review scientifically. Anki is a “self-expanding” word bank, where you input the words and their definitions manually on each card. In the coming days, Anki will present you with a set number of cards each day based on the rules of the forgetting curve. 

Trust me. It can help you review your learned knowledge significantly more effectively. You may find the manual input process bit annoying at first, but you’ll soon enjoy its benefits. Besides, the very act of inputting words also strengthens your memory.

Quick Q&A

Vocabulary or Grammar first?

First of all, if you use the book Minna no Nihongo or the app LingoDeer to learn the Japanese language, you don’t need to think about this question because both of them are systematic and offer feasible solutions.

Second, due to the vast differences between the English and Japanese languages, having a certain vocabulary base can help you understand grammar better. Grammar is the trunk, and vocabulary is the leaves.

How many Japanese words do you need to know?

Again, it depends. How proficient do you need to be in Japanese? For the JLPT-N5 test, the simplest proficiency test available, you’ll need to know at least 100 kanji and 800 vocabulary. For the JLPT-N1 test, the most advanced proficiency test available, you’ll need to know at least 2,000 kanji and 10,000 vocabulary. 

We can also look at it from another angle. According to Japanese tactics, the range of words known for a Japanese native adult is between 25,000-30,000. For polyglots, it is between 1,000-2,000 words. That being said, Japanese tactics expects that to be fluent in Japanese, you’ll need to know a minimum of 3,000-5,000 Japanese words. 

What is Kanji? Do I Need to Learn Kanji?

Kanji is a system of Japanese writing that uses adopted Chinese characters. One of three writing systems in Japan, Kanji is usually used to write nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Each Kanji symbol can represent a word or an idea, but these same Kanji symbols can have different meanings and pronunciations depending on the other symbols they’re matched with. 

The Kanji alphabet has 216 radicals which combine together to make the structure of each kanji. This makes Kanji arguably the hardest part of learning Japanese because learning Kanji requires a great deal of memorization and practice.

If you’re just looking to learn Japanese recreationally, then you won’t be required to learn Kanji. However, for those who want to be fluent, they’ll be required to learn Kanji, especially if they’re going to take any JLPT test, and N1 requires testers to know 2,000+ kanji

How to Learn Japanese On Your Own

If you don’t have a teacher who can teach you Japanese, you can always learn Japanese on your own.  It may sound daunting to conquer a difficult language like Japanese on your own, but many have done it, including myself, so don’t let anyone discourage you from trying to self study Japanese. You can also find some more useful tips in this essential guide written by another fellow learner. Of course, immersing yourself in manga and anime alone is far from sufficient. The best way to learn Japanese on your own is to follow a structured learning program with good explanations and exercises. 


Check out LingoDeer now to learn Japanese on your own today!

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Do you have any tips for self-learning Japanese? Leave a comment!


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