Seven resources for beginners learning Japanese
After a month of trying different resources to learn Japanese, I thought I’d write about the resources that worked for me. As a super beginner in Japanese, it’s important to find content and resources that are engaging and challenging enough to encourage more learning.
Anime (without subtitles)
This is easily my most used resource. Perhaps I’m just looking for an excuse to watch more anime without feeling too guilty about the amount of time I spend watching anime. Yes, I’m a weeb. Once I decided to get more serious about learning Japanese, I started to watch anime without English subtitles, and with Japanese subtitles instead. The objective here was to train my brain to get familiar with listening to the language. I was amazed at how much of the context I could gather. The visual content, the actions, emotions, tone of voice of the characters, and the setting helps to provide the context of what’s happening. I, largely, did not need English subtitles to understand the anime.
Drops for Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji
I highly recommend the language learning app Drops to learn the Japanese alphabet: Hiragana (ひらがな), Katakana (カタカナ), and Kanji (漢字). The best thing about using Drops is that it teaches you to write the Japanese alphabet with the correct stroke order. You use your finger to swipe on the screen and write out the alphabet. Before I knew it, I was able to write in the Japanese alphabet with the correct stroke order. I’m still using it to practice Kanji. I must admit, I tried using Drops to learn vocabulary and grammar but I found that it did not work so well. For now, I’m only using it to practice the alphabet.
Drops has a free version and a premium version. I have the free version of the app which allows me to use it for only 5 minutes every day. I thought that this was sufficient for learning the alphabet. If I find myself using it more and more, I will probably get the premium version.
I’m currently listening to two podcasts, the Tofugu Podcast, and The Konnichiwa Podcast. I’m hoping to listen to more podcasts as I get familiar with the language. I find that these two podcasts each have their own charm and a great for beginners with the language.
The Tofugu Podcast is a conversational podcast in English. The hosts talk about different aspects of the Japanese language and how different words are used in different contexts. They use easy-to-understand examples. They always refer to articles as a follow-up for listeners who want to learn more. I genuinely love this podcast.
The Konnichiwa Podcast is a bilingual, conversational podcast. The hosts speak with a mix of Japanese and English. They talk about news and other things related to Japan and Japanese culture. Each episode is about 20 minutes long. It’s perfect for my bicycle commute to work.
Youtube is my go-to resource for everything under the sun. I found videos by Japanese Ammo with Misa, Dogen, and Alivia’s Japanese Nook really interesting to watch and listen to that supported my Japanese learning. I particularly enjoy Japanese Ammo with Misa because she uses color-coded subtitles in Japanese and English. This is helpful for me as a beginner learning to read.
Books and other reading material
I read a lot in English. I read faster than I listen or watch. It made sense for me to try to find reading material in Japanese. Once I got the hang of Hiragana and Katakana, I wanted to challenge myself to read out loud. It took a while to find reading material that I was comfortable with at my level. Eventually, after much trial and error, I found some. Here they are:
- The Book of The Animals — Episode 2 (Bilingual English-Japanese)
- Momotaro Japanese Fairy Tale (Children books)
- Japanese Kana Workbook (Hiragana and Katakana)
- Bunsuke’s Newsletter
- Japanese Short Stories for Beginners: 20 Captivating Short Stories to Learn Japanese & Grow Your Vocabulary the Fun Way! (Easy Japanese Stories)
- Tadoku: Free PDF books for all levels
I have a small disclaimer about Bunsuke’s Newsletter. This is an email subscription that provides a short text, usually a sentence or two, daily. It’s fantastic but I’m still not able to successfully read the text directly. It’s a lot harder than it looks. However, the daily newsletter also provides the Hiragana for the Kanji in the text with their meaning. It also includes a translation of the text. I found that I quite liked the style of this newsletter and it’s challenging enough to keep me engaged every day.
Other people have recommended LingQ and the Satori Reader. I think I would like to work my way up to using these but at the moment, I think I haven’t made sufficient progress with Japanese to be able to use these.
Busuu for grammar
I haven’t had the best luck with language learning apps (I’m looking at you, Duolingo!). Inevitably, I stop using them for one reason or another. Having said that, I really like Busuu. It has not deterred or inhibited my learning in any way. What I like most about it is how it allows you to interact with other people, native speakers as well as other learners. It allows you to correct other learner's sentences and vice versa i.e. have other people correct your sentences. It does this in an easy and not too cumbersome way. It follows a pattern of practice, quiz, dialogue, and conversation. When it came to Japanese grammar, I found that receiving input from other Japanese speakers was very useful. I think it’s good for my motivation — it doesn’t hurt my ego either — when another Japanese speaker tells me I’ve done a good job. There is also the option to book a live lesson. I have not tried it yet but I’m expecting to try it soon. Perhaps I’ll update this section once I’ve tried it out.
Anki is a flashcard platform that many people have recommended for learning Japanese. I started with Anki last week after watching one of Alivia’s videos. I’m not going to get into the details of Anki; for that, I recommend Alivia’s video. She’s done a great job explaining what Anki is and how to best utilize it. I’d recommend starting with Anki after completing Hiragana and Katakana. After a week, I’m already learning to recognize Kanji from the flashcards.
There you have it! Seven resources for learning Japanese from one beginner to another.