Once you’ve set your mind on learning Japanese, you’ve already taken the first step. The first step of walking from Detroit to Moscow, but the first step nonetheless. And while you’ll be swimming for quite the big part, you shouldn’t forget that there’s always the lingering shark called “laziness” that will gratefully accept any limps you can offer and delay your journey further.
So, where do you start? There are many ways to learn blablabla, yadayadayada, I did the following. Oh, and don’t worry, I don’t earn one single buck from those suggestions. And Japanese is also neither my major, nor will I claim that this is the only valid way to learn it or that I’m all-knowing and a grandmaster of Japanese. I’m still learning, just like you all.
Step 1: The Basics | Kana & Elemental Grammar
Your first goal will be to be able to read “kana” and know some basic grammatical rules about Japanese. You still won’t be able to do anything after that, but the means by which you can acquire this basic knowledge are mostly free and before you sink more time into learning the language, you can check how much it tickles your fancy.
The basics of Japanese are well-introduced by guidetojapanese brought together by Tae Kim. There’s a free PDF for you to download which includes all the basic Japanese grammar knowledge and some advanced topics to get started with. Plus, there are apps for the major mobile OSes including Android and iOS; the apps are well-made, I’d like to add that. There are even some examples and tests included. The guide’s pretty compact, so if you need more detailed explanations, you’ll have to get some textbook.
As will be mentioned further below, StickyStudy Kana is an iOS app which allows you to learn the Hiragana and Katakana “syllable-alphabet” as you would if you weren’t so lazy to write your own flashcards. While I did learn them myself with this app, I wouldn’t really recommend this one as the price isn’t really worth it. You should have both Hiragana and Katakana down in about two days – if you set your mind on it – even if you use the above-mentioned free site/PDF/apps or simply Wikipedia. You’re paying for being lazy here. If you do have cash to spend though, the developer really deserves it. He’s a nice, diligent, and very communicative guy. #nohomo
It’s not really a site that you actively learn from, but rather the site to look up words and phrases that you don’t know and/or that puzzle you.
Step 2: Experience the Sisyphus | Kanji & Vocabulary
Now that you can say hello and ask where the toilet is, you’re diaper-free in Japan! But that’s likely not enough for you; and it shouldn’t be. So your next goal will be to acquire a solid amount of vocabulary and, of course, kanji. Both won’t any time soon and probably ever conclude. It’s an indefinite process just like you continue learning new words and expressions in your native language.
StickyStudy again. But this time it’s definitely worth it. It has literally thousands of kanji and vocabulary with readings, stroke order instructions, meaning, examples, and comes even with a dictionary function which, from time to time, returns even more out-of-the-ordinary and hence on-spot meanings than jisho.org iteself – curious. Alas, it’s not free and limited to iOS. and that’s about everything negative to say about it.
This applies to only volume 1, screw everything beyond that, they’re no good. The approach this book takes is to associate the kanji with stories and images. It works. Now don’t ask me whether that link’s legal; it’s just up there on the net for everyone to google, I won’t question it and neither should you. Of course there’s also a paperback version, which you can and should buy. Downside: no reading’s provided, and hence nor any associations with said readings.
The approach of WaniKani is pretty much the same as Heisig’s: associate abstract kanji and vocabulary with pictures and words. It works well and has a systematic approach too, as it wants you to interact and to repeat stuff in certain intervals. But there are a bunch of downsides to it. First, if I remember correctly, they want 7 dollar per month from you. So you better show some dedication or your money goes to naught. But speaking of dedication, downside two is that it forces you to wait until you may move on. Especially when you’ve just started and are all eager to learn new things, it drags you down with its internal egg timer. And the third small downside is, that it simply slams kanji and vocabulary together, it feels as if they emptied a box of Lego in front of you and then explain what’s what. It’s worth it if you’ve got bucks to spare and want to be lead by the hand. All these points are according to my beta participation which dates almost a year back.
The Japanese without SFX would be like the US of A without freedom. You’ll very likely find the SFX you don’t know in this database.
Step 3: Fine-tuning | Advanced Grammar
Now that you keep building your vocabulary and add to the amount of kanji you can read, you might also want to improve your grammatical knowledge. At least I hope you want to, ’cause you’ll need to. I’ll suggest a few means which could help you with that.
You’ll realize, the further you advance, the more expensive stuff gets. Nevertheless, this series contains quite the amount of helpful advanced grammar (yes, even the basic grammar version has grammar you probably haven’t seen yet) with cross references all over the place; you’ll need that on your journey.
Once you start actively looking up stuff even in Japanese, you’ll realize that every time you look for, “what does x mean in English?”, it’ll lead you to this site. The only thing it doesn’t know is really the worst slang among slang. Proverbs, figures of speech, you name it, it has them all.
Step 4: Even More Fine-Tuning | Slang, Nuances, Colloquialism
Lastly, there are many things you won’t get from textbooks. You pack them up as you go by, sometimes you hear it from your fellow Japanese speakers, sometimes you happen to read it on the internet by chance, sometimes it just jumps into your eyes in a normal book. It’s basically what you’d call experience. I’ll try and convey some stuff I know on the blog from time to time. I do hope they’ll be properly stated and explained but, of course, I can’t guarantee it.