With 127 million speakers, Japanese is the 9th biggest language in the world and is just ahead of French in terms of native speakers. While Japanese isn’t spoken in many places outside of Japan, there are plenty of people who want to take Japanese lessons because they’re interested in the language itself and the culture of Japan.
Thus, learning Japanese is key to getting the most out of any trip to Japan. If you want to make your way from the airport to your hotel in Shibuya, you’re going to have to know how to read some of the Japanese characters.
Just like if you want to learn Chinese, Arabic, or Korean, you’re going to have to get to grips with a new way of writing as the Japanese writing system doesn't contain many words written using the Latin Alphabet.
If you’re teaching yourself basic Japanese before a trip, you should aim to:
Learn and study how to read and write: Look at Kanji, Hiragana, Katakana, and Romaji
Familiarize yourself with Japanese pronunciation
Learn how to read, write, and pronounce Japanese characters.
Memorize Japanese vocabulary
Learn the grammatical structures used in Japanese
Learn Japanese manners which originated in the Shinto religion.
Learning Japanese in Japan is one of the best ways to become bilingual and speak Japanese like a native speaker. So without further ado, here are Superprof’s tips and tricks for learning to speak Japanese.
What Are the Best Books to Learn Japanese?
There are plenty of great resources for learning Japanese. Whether you use a website for learning Japanese online, study it at school or college, or work with a Japanese native speaker, you need to carefully choose the right method for you.
For any beginner who wants to learn Japanese in their free time and at their own pace, getting hold of one of the many textbooks available is a great way to start.
Here’s an overview of some of the best books on the market you’ll be able to start speaking the language the second you get off the plane.
GENKI I: An Integrated Course in Elementary Japanese
This is considered to be one of the best books for beginners when it comes to Japanese learning. It covers every aspect of the language: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The series is very complete and this is a book you’ll be working through for a while. It’s recommended both for independent learning, and those studying alongside a private Japanese teacher.
The book is split into two main sections: “conversation/grammar” and “reading/writing”. In short:
The book avoids using rōmaji, and has you using real Japanese writing systems from the start.
It is generally affordable, and you can especially find some good details on the internet for second hand versions.
Minni no Nihongo
This is one of the most popular methods taught in schools. Japanese is a syllabary language with vocabulary borrowed from Chinese (Kanji, in particular) whose vowels are very similar to ones found in the English language. There are several books on this syllabary system, its consonants, the grammar rules (verbs, personal pronouns, adjectives, etc.) and manners (adding “gozaimasu” after words, for example.). You can learn from the comfort of your own home with these books.
NB: To use this method, you need to be familiar with Kanji characters. This means it’s mainly for false beginners or intermediate students, as a new learner first needs to master with the symbols.
There are plenty of other books you could use to study Japanese:
Japanese from Zero!
A Guide to Japanese Grammar
Remembering the Kanji 1: A Complete Course
Japanese for Busy People I: Kana Version 1
Living Japanese Language
All of the above have their own merits but are perhaps less well known than the books stated above. One thing is for sure however, and that is if you are planning a trip to Japan, buying a book is a good way to reach a very basic conversational level before you arrive. If you do this, you will be able to learn more about things like:
Finding work in Japan
Can English Speakers Learn to Speak Japanese Fluently?
It’s great being able to speak to people in their native language, especially when you’re trying to look for a job in a country that doesn’t speak your mother tongue. The same can be said for those wanting to go to the best colleges.
According to Alexia, one of the editors at Superprof, speaking a foreign language fluently means that you’re completely comfortable with all aspects of the language: “It means you can speak to your colleagues, customers, friends, etc. on a daily basis.”
You’ll need to learn about a thousand Japanese words before you’d be able to participate in conversations. When most employers say they want “fluent” Japanese, they’re referring to N2 or N1 in the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
This isn’t as difficult as you might think since the test only includes listening and writing, not speaking. There’s one myth we need to bust; speaking Japanese isn’t any more difficult than learning any other language. People often look at Japanese with it's Chinese characters and immediately wonder if it is even possible for an English speaker to learn Japanese.
And although European languages such as French, Spanish, and Portuguese use the Latin alphabet, Japanese language learning isn't too dissimilar to these more popular options.
Try not to worry too much. If you want to learn more about Japanese literature, use a few common expressions, chat with friends, or just order something to eat, you’ll first need to learn how to speak. Learning to write will come later.
Here are five basic rules for learning Japanese:
Immerse yourself as much as possible in the language
Find a native Japanese speaker to practice with (over Skype or Facebook, for example).
Speak, study, repeat, study, speak, and speak. Speak some more! Learn from your errors!
Learn the kana by heart.
Motivating yourself to take a Japanese course, or even worse, learning on your own, can be difficult. But the end rewards will be great, and you will end up with an enhanced understanding of a new language and culture.
And while you can make a good start on your own, you might want to look up Japanese lessons London, Manchester or Glasgow to help you with your pronunciation.
Our Tips for Learning Japanese Easily
Are you trying to learn Japanese but getting nowhere?
Here’s some advice for learning Japanese from Superprof. Even if you’re really motivated, there will be times when your goals seem unreachable.
Perhaps your struggling to get your head around Japanese Kanji, or it could be that you simply can't remember key words and phrases. Your first year will probably have moments where you just want to give up and you feel like you’re getting nowhere. However, after a year of hard work, you’ll be so surprised at how much progress you’ve made.
Passion, knowing how to recover from failures, and perseverance are imperative when it comes to learning foreign languages, and getting them right.
Here are some tips and tricks for making things easier.
Learn like a child would
Learn the kana by heart
Practice every day
Speak Japanese with a native speaker
Learning a new language puts us in the same situation as a baby when they learn a language. We repeat simple expressions like “hello”, “I want...”, and “thank you”, and learn colors, numbers, etc. When a child is first learning how to socialize, they have to learn the values of their family and peers in order to integrate themselves into society.
A child repeats the same process as a student learning a foreign language; they listen and repeat what they hear. Listening to the radio or Japanese podcasts, watching Japanese films, following the news in Japanese, and listening to Japanese music are all great ways of speeding up the learning process.
If you want to become bilingual, you have to learn how to write in Japanese. In order to do this, you’ll need to study the Japanese writing systems: Kana, kanji, and romaji. You’ll first have to look at kana writing systems, which include hiragana and katagana, and function like our alphabet.
Here are a few steps you should follow in order to learn them:
Learn kana in the same way a musician would learn to read music
Create a system of flashcards to help you memorize them
Create a revision plan to make sure you’re getting the most out of your learning.
Create a positive routine for studying that you’re able to follow
Find a Japanese speaking native to practice with - you can look up Japanese lessons online for a tutor to help you!
The Best Way to Learn Japanese on your Own: Immersion
Immersing yourself in Japanese is by far the best way to be successful at learning the language. This could mean listening to Japanese music, and watching Japanese films and television.
However, going to Japan is arguably the best way to learn Japanese. However, this can take a lot of planning. Firstly, you’ll need to make sure you have the appropriate visa. Depending on your passport, you’re normally not allowed to stay in Japan for more than 90-days without a visa. If you are planning on staying longer, you’ll need to look at getting a work or student visa.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs deals with all visa and entry requirements for citizens of every country in the world, so make sure you check out what you need to do (if anything) before you travel.
While it might seem scary being in a place where you don’t speak a language, it’s actually the best way to learn a language.
Here are a few examples of places where you can take language lessons in Japan so that you don’t end up like Bill Murray in the film Lost in Translation:
Shinjuku Japanese Language Institute (Shinjuku Nihongo Gakko)
These are just a few examples of the many language schools in Tokyo and there are even more around the country in places such as Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima.
Working in Japan is a great way to learn specialized vocabulary, too. Unfortunately, finding work in Japan isn’t as easy as that. Nevertheless, it’s not impossible.
There are opportunities for those who speak English. You could become an English language assistant or an English teacher, for example. You could teach private classes to Japanese students or do language exchanges where they teach you Japanese for half the lesson and you return the favor for the other half.
Finally, two more ways to come back home being able to honestly say “I can speak Japanese”:
Share an apartment with a Japanese speaker.
Hang out with as many Japanese people as you can.
Hanging out with Japanese people is a great way to learn a different type of Japanese to that you’d learn in traditional classes. It’ll also help you learn to speak like a native and learn much more about Japanese culture. You'll pick up a diverse range of Japanese phrases without really realising it. Every conversation that you have will act as Japanese lesson so you will learn to communicate quite quickly.
The main thing is to enjoy it. Japanese culture is different to western cultures, and the language can be tricky at times. One thing that is guaranteed is the incredible learning experience that you will have by choosing to learn Japanese in Japan.