Learning Japanese

2022-04-05 09:12

I'm heading to Japan in two months time to study. Ahead of that time I'd like to lay the groundwork - basic vocab, sentence structure, reading etc.

I tried some of the go-to options for learning languages these days first - Duolingo and Memrise. They didn't work for me at all. To me it feels like you can really tell that they've been primarily designed for languages that have a Latin alphabet. Most of the things that have worked - in the list below - have been designed for Japanese.

Disclaimer - I'm not an expert, so this list might have stuff in it that feels like it's working but is actually teaching me lots of dumb mistakes.

#What worked for me for learning Japanese

#Hirigana and Katakana

The best way I found to learn Hirigana and Katakana is through mnemonics. The mnemonics that best lined up with my brain were from these two videos:

There were just a few in there that didn't work for me which I swapped out - for example the mnemonic for the hirigana 'Wo' is said to be a 'crack in the wall'. To me it makes much more sense as someone falling in a pond saying 'Whoa!'

I watched the videos once, did some practice, then made some flashcards watching it through on 2x speed. I've since found the app Kana Town which includes flashcards for all hirigana and katakana and a spaced repetition algorithm built in. This is much more effective than physical flash cards.


One of the places duolingo falls down is by trying to cram kanji into your brain with nothing to help you remember them. Wani Kani does a great job by hooking each Kanji to its radicals (kanji building blocks), pronunciation and meaning.

#Speaking and sentence structure

I bought the first Genki textbook, which I work through on my own first and then do again alongside these accompanying videos from ToKini Andy

I've tried a couple of audible audio books, so I can practice whilst cycling. The best by far is Learn Japanese with Paul Noble. From what I understand this used to be a 2 day course before the pandemic, which then got turned into an audio book.

It's devoid of any of the fluff you get in lots of other learn Japanese audio books - which all seem to want to tell you about sushi and kimono to pad out the runtime.

Like everything else above, this relies on spaced repetition to get stuff to go in your head. Topics are repeated and circled back on throughout the book.