If you want to start the adventure of self studying Japanese, keep reading. Let me start by saying that the most important thing is to actually want to learn. It doesn’t matter if you have the best resources, if you don’t put the effort it wont work. Here I’ll share with you the resources I use everyday while studying. I hope this information helps at least one person to feel motivated to start studying this amazing language.
I have to make a disclaimer here: I lived in Japan for one year. When I was 17 years old I did a non credited high school exchange to Japan. That means I had to pause my normal studies for my year abroad. My year consisted of participating in normal high school activities: listening to lessons, contributing to class activities, and socializing with classmates – just like any other Japanese high school student except I was not required to complete coursework, write exams, or even receive any sort of grading.
While I do have that advantage, I learned through practice and by talking with peers. Some days the international exchange students would have japanese lessons. But I struggled with kanji, remembering new vocabulary or even correct use of the grammar lessons. Since then its been nine years, I’m lucky to still have contact with my friends from Japan. But my language skills have surely dropped due to lack of practice. Since I never really knew what my level was, now I’ve made it a personal goal to finish the N4 JLPT exam. I’ve already enrolled, the test is waiting for me on december 2nd.
I started studying full on at the end of July. That means I have 4 months to study. I know it’s rushed. But that’s not going to stop me from trying. If I fail I can learn my weak points and try again next year. So I don’t feel like I have anything to lose.
I highly recommend you use Minna No Nihongo. It’s a very debated book, with people who love it and others that hate it. I am on the side that loves it. Here it’s why: A common misunderstanding of the Minna Books is that it’s only available in japanese with no grammatical explanations. I used to think that too. What most people don’t know is that the Minna Book Series have two books that work together: practical lessons in one with grammatical explanations on the other. And for that I think its the perfect book for self-studying.
A quick Minna No Nihongo for dummies:
- There are two levels of the Main Text Book:
- Shokyu 初級 (Elementary Level)
- Chukyu 中級 (Intermediate Level).
- Both levels have two books each:
- Chukyu I, II (with 12 lessons each).
- Finishing both Shokyu books is the equivalent of a N4 level.
- The Main Text Books have this resources:
- Examples of sentence pattern with each lesson
- Different practice exercises.
- Tests every 5 lessons.
- Answers to exercises and tests.
- CD for listening excercises
- An indexed vocabulary.
- There is a Teacher’s Manual book for each book, also called Translation and Grammar Notes.
- The Teacher’s Manual Book comes in a lot of languages: English, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, French, German, etc..
- The Teacher’s Manual Book has this resources:
- List of vocabulary for each lesson.
- Translations for the lesson
- Useful words and Information section
- Grammatical explanations
Here is the Official Q&A for the Minna Series.
Having finished already the Shokyu I book I’m currently using this two books:
- Minna no Nihongo Shokyu II Main Text Book Second Edition
- Minna no Nihongo Shokyu II Translation and Grammar Notes (English Version)
You can find them on amazon and even get them as a bundle.
The Minna Series is a great way to learn grammar but it doesn’t teach you kanji. Luckily for us there are a thousands of books dedicated to learning kanji. My recommended one is Nihongo Challenge Series. I’ve tried learning kanji many years after going to Japan and always failed or stopped practicing. This book has kept me engaged and its fun to use. While this book was meant for people who are preparing to take the JLPT test. I think anyone who wants to learn kanji could benefit from it. There are three books dedicated to the N4 level.
- Nihongo Challenge N5-N4 Kanji
- Nihongo Challenge Vocabulary
- Nihongo Challenge Grammar and Reading Practice
A method that has worked wonders without making my head hurt, is studying two lessons (each consists of 10 kanjis) every week. I used that method for August and now I’m starting to take 3 lessons every week. Only because I want to finish asap to start the Nihongo Challenge Vocabulary book.
This book has a little explanation for each kanji, useful vocabulary and exercises. I test myself practicing pasts lessons often, so I use a separate notebook to write all answers down.
While there are plenty of resources online for free to learn Japanese, nothing beats a book in my opinion. Its easier to track your progress, answer tests and program your study lessons. I use this in addition to my books. But they are awesome resources that more people should use!
This website is an entire library for learning japanese. They even have a program for a one to one japanese lesson with Japanese people. In addition to that they have a self-learners tab on their website. Sometimes if the grammatical explanation from the Minna Book isn’t enough I go to Wasabi for a new approach to a lesson. Head over to the Grammar Reference tab to find helpful material.
It’s an online verb conjugator that works in many languages. I use this website to learn the type of the verb I’m dealing with. It’s a helpful site with an easy to use interface.
I use this website for vocabulary lists on verbs, adjectives and a very helpful table for counting in Japanese.
According to their website Jisho is a powerful Japanese-English dictionary. It lets you find words, kanji, example sentences and more quickly and easily. And I agree. If I type a word, it not only shows the translation it separates the kanjis, shows me their meaning, their level, numbers of strokes and different pronunciations.
This is a flashcard app. You create your own flashcards for studying anything. I use it for vocabulary and kanjis. And I use it everyday, I’m logged in on my laptop, my tablet and my phone. Wherever I go I can find a moment to study a little. If you click here you can create your own account. If 5 people use my referal link I can get a free month of BrainScape pro, thank you in advance for helping me out. I hope you find the cards useful.
And that’s all I’m using at the moment. I take 5 Minna lessons and 3 kanji lessons a week. I make notes and transfer everything to Brainscape to be able to study everywhere I go. I take my tests on the weekend and re-study weak points. I stick to this schedule religiously. But that’s only because the JLPT test is two months away from now. You can take your time and go at your own peace. Don’t feel discouraged if it’s difficult at first. Remember it’s a new language and it will take you time to get used to it. Don’t lose hope! Thank you for reading, I hope you found this information helpful.
Good luck and Happy Benkyo!
5 replies on “How I’m self-studying Japanese”
Nice write up! Are you sitting for N 3
Are you sitting for N3 this year? Sorry I hit send before I finished my above comment.
Hello there! I won’t be taking the N3, this year I’ll be lucky if I can pass the N4. Last year I had to cancel my N4 exam because of work. I guess now I have more time to prepare.
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I see, 頑張って！
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