Top 10 tips for studying Japanese

Learn JapaneseOne of the most common questions I get is “I want to study Japanese but where should I start?”. The next most common question is “I’ve hit a wall with my Japanese and don’t seem to be improving, what should I do?”.

So, if you are a beginner, or have already started studying Japanese but got stuck, this podcast is for YOU! Asuka and I put our heads together and came up with our top 10 tips for studying Japanese more quickly and effectively. I also wanted to make this podcast to point out that, there aren’t any magical shortcuts or secret techniques for learning to speak perfect Japanese in only a few months. A lot of websites out there would have you believe otherwise!

Rather, it is more about discovering your “why” or motivation for studying Japanese. Then, you want to focus on a specific goal. In that way, you won’t waste your time studying non-essential topics and save a lot of time.

So listen to the podcast to hear about this in more detail below:

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Podcast Dialog

Japanese Pronunciation English
Asuka: おはようございます ohayō gozaimasu Good morning
Alex: おはようございます ohayō gozaimasu Good morning
Asuka: 昨日のパーティー楽しかったですね kinō no paatii tanoshikatta desu ne Yesterday’s party was fun
Alex: 楽しかったですね tanoshikatta desu ne It was fun wasn’t it?
Asuka: またやりましょう mata yarimashō Let’s do it again
Alex: ぜひ! zehi Absolutely!

Top 10 Tips for Studying Japanese

Tip # 1 – Set a clear goal

Hanging out at a matsuri

Me hanging out with some Matsuri goers

This one is pretty obvious. Before you start anything, you should set a clear goal, preferably with a deadline. This will help to really focus your studies. If you’re not sure what your goal is, simply ask yourself “why do I want to study Japanese?”

Do you want to visit Japan on holiday? Do you want to be able to read your favorite manga? Or perhaps you want to become a ninja. Depending on that answer, you can focus more effectively on a study plan.

That might be obvious to you but it is worth saying. And there is one more reason to have a clear goal that people sometimes forget about.

And that is, setting a goal avoids wasting time studying stuff you don’t need to know. If your goal is to visit Japan for a week on holiday, then you should just be studying simple phrases for booking tickets, asking directions and perhaps shopping. You don’t need waste your time studying 2500 kanji from a dusty textbook for that.

So, why do you want to study Japanese? Think about it and leave a comment below.

On to the next tip.

Tip # 2 – Know your everyday expressions

Enoshima Japan

Enoshima, Japan

For those of you who want to visit Japan, work here and be able to hold a conversation in Japanese, learning high frequency everyday expressions is a great place to start. You should know greetings for different times of day, asking how people are and how to say please and thank you.

For example:

おはようございます – ohayō gozaimasu – Good morning

こんにちは – Konnichi wa – Hello (Used around midday)

こんばんは– Konban wa – Good evening

お元気ですか – ogenki desu ka – How are you?

元気です – I’m fine

お願いします – onegai shimasu – Please (Could you do something for me?)

ありがとうございます – arigatō gozaimasu – Thank you

どういたしまして – dō itashi mashite – You’re welcome

Tip # 3 – Learn expressions that don’t translate easily into English

Traditional Japanese tea

Traditional Japanese tea house

After learning some basic daily expressions you should learn phrases that don’t easily translate into English. In other words, learn phrases that give you a deeper insight into Japanese culture. This also helps you to stop translating words from your own language into Japanese which wastes time and makes you sound unnatural. Here are some examples:

お先に失礼します – osaki ni shitsurei shimasu

This means something like, “I’m sorry for leaving before you”. You say this when you are the first person leaving work or some engagement with a group of people.

お疲れ様です – otsukare sama

This literally means, “you must be tired”. It is used in various situations but means something like good job, or well done. You use it to express your appreciation for someone after they have exerted a lot of effort for something. It can also be used when someone finishes work and goes home for the day.

You often hear the last two phrases together like this.

A: お先に失礼します – Right, I’m off (Excuse me for leaving first)

B: お疲れ様です – Bye (Good job)

これからよろしくお願いします – kore kara yoroshiku onegaishimasu

The word “yoroshiku” means something like good or please treat me well. So this phrase is could be used to mean “I look forward to working with you” or ” I look forward to doing something with you in the future”. It’s used a lot at the end of a self introduction.

いただきます – itadakimasu

The closest phrase I could think of would be “bon apetite”. You say it before eating, usually at home when someone has cooked for you. Itadakimasu literally means “I receive”. It’s not only used for food but 9 times out of 10 you’ll hear it before people eat.

ごちそうさまです – gochisō sama desu

This basically means “That was delicious”. You use it after you’ve eaten to show your appreciation for having received the food and that it was delicious.

All of these phrase teach you the deeper cultural values of the Japanese and give you a glimpse into the way they interact with each other. This isn’t a complete list but it’s a good place to start.

Learn these phrases well young Jedi.

Tip # 4 – Drill common speech patterns

Cat temple in Tokyo Japan

Gotokuji “Cat” Temple in Tokyo

If you only learn one thing this from this lesson, learn this: Drill, drill and drill again common speech patterns. This is perhaps the single most effective method I used to develop my own fluency in Japanese. It’s not rocket science or anything new, but it does work. You just have to do it.

It’s super simple. Just choose a phrase, say it over and over again and just change one word every time. In that way, you practice the pattern until you can say it without thinking and you also expand your vocabulary at the same time.

For example, let’s learn how to say “where is…” so and so in Japanese which is… “…はどこですか” ( …wa doko desu ka)

Now, let’s drill and change one word every time.

銀行はどこですか? – ginkō wa doko desu ka – Where is the bank?

郵便局はどこですか?- yūbinkyoku wa doko desu ka – Where is the post office?

はどこですか?eki wa doko desu ka – Where is the station?

コンビニはどこですか?konbini wa doko desu ka – Where is the convenience store?

ガンダムはどこですか?gandamu wa doko desu ka – Where is Gundam?

That’s it. You just gotta do it! You can drill phrases from whatever textbooks you are studying from, manga or even Learn Japanese Pod lesson notes which you can find on our podcast pages.

Tip # 5 – Know your Japanese adjectives

Tradition Japanese Festival

Kakegawa Festival in Shizuoka, Japan

One really good way to start having conversations quickly in Japanese is learning adjectives. Why? Japanese usually omits the subject of a sentence. So although you could say 今日は暑いですね Today is hot. You could just say, 暑いですね it is hot. Or even just 暑い! So you can simply say “hot” and it will make sense in Japanese. So by learning adjectives you are going to be able to say more with less.

This is because Japanese is what’s called a high context language. If you compare it with English, a low context language, you rely on the words in the sentence to convey all the meaning.

However with Japanese, you have to take into account the situation in which the word is being spoken. So, if you are standing outside in the park, sweating and fanning yourself and you just say 暑い atsui – hot, the person listening will fill in the blanks and understand that you are saying that you are hot now.

That means, on the plus side, Japanese can be extremely minimal and efficient in conveying what you want to say. On the minus side, it can sometimes lead to infuriatingly vague and confusing conversations. So when in Japan, it’s not what you say, it’s where, when and by whom it is being said by.

Here are some examples:

暑い – atsui – hot

寒い – Samui – cold

冷たい – Tsumetai – cold, used for things like liquids or solids

高い – takai – high or expensive

安い – yasui – cheap

楽しい – tanoshii – fun

Also, adjectives conjugate. For example, if you wanted to say, it was fun, you say:

楽しかった – tanoshikatta – it was fun

Tip # 6 – Know your basic Japanese verb conjugation

Carrying an omikoshi shrine in Japan

Festival in Jiyugaoka, Tokyo

Just like adjectives, you can use verbs to express more with less. Also, basic verb conjugation in Japanese is pretty simple. Just like adjectives, you can use single verbs on their own without a subject and sometime without an object. Check out this basic pattern:

行きます – ikimasu – to go (present)

行きません – ikimasen – not go (negative present)

行きました – ikimashita – went (past)

行きませんでした – ikimasen deshita – didn’t go(negative past)

Depending on the situation you could simply say 行きませんでした which could mean “I didn’t go” or if you raised your voice “Didn’t you go?”. It’s all pretty useful stuff so make sure to learn some basic verbs.

Tip # 7 – Supercharge your Japanese with sentence enders

Izakaya - Traditional Japanese pubs

Although there are many sentence ending particles, you won’t go far wrong if you start by learning “yo” and “ne”.

“ne” means something like “isn’t it” so for example:

楽しかった – tanoshikatta ne – it was fun wasn’t it

いい – ii ne – That’s good isn’t it (This is also used on facebook for the “like” button)

“yo” emphasizes the point you want to make. So you could say:

楽しかった – tanoshikatta yo – It really was fun

いい – ii yo – That’s fine. (That’s totally OK)

Using sentence enders like these make you sound a lot more natural so learn them!

Tip # 8 – Listen to Japanese language learning podcasts

Japanese Maple leaves in Autumn

Alex of Learn Japanese Pod fame

Me recording a Learn Japanese Podcast

OK, shameless self promotion here but you can listen to my Japanese language learning podcasts here.

You want to get as much listening practice as you can and these days there is a lot on line you can download and listen to. It’s important to find something that you find interesting and can engage in to increase the chances you will keep listening to it. You don’t have to limit yourself to podcasts. Check out Youtube videos, listen to the weather forecast on NHK news or perhaps watch anime online.

When I started studying Japanese a million years ago, I just bought a simple Japanese conversation textbook with a CD and listened to that religiously. It wasn’t the best textbook out there but it really helped with my listening and prepared me well for studying Japanese conversation.

Whatever you listen to, the point is to just listen, even if you don’t understand everything. The goal is to get used to the sounds, pace and intonation of Japanese. Trust me, it will really help with listening and building the base to develop your conversational skills. You can also listen to a repeat audio out loud which is called “shadowing”. It’s another great way to drill common sentence patterns as I talked about in point #4.

Tip # 9 – Learn Hiragana and Katakana and don’t use Romaji

Japanese temple

Just a quick tip here but try to learn Hiragana and Katakana as quickly as you can. Try to get away from using “romaji” to learn Japanese. This is because it’s somewhat confusing to read Japanese in romaji script. Also, being able to read Hiragana and Katakana helps a little with pronunciation as it forces you to speak using the basic sounds of Japanese.

And don’t be shy to start learning Kanji right from the start. But that’s another article for later…

Tip # 10 – Get out there and practice your Japanese

Okonomiyaki festival stall food in Japan

I was having a conversation with a well traveled multi-lingual friend of mine who said something very interesting. He said “if you can engage with the culture, you won’t need any language classes”.

In other words, if you can take part in something you enjoy with other people who speak the language you want to learn, then you’ll learn a lot faster. Of course, taking lessons is essential. However, it can be all too easy to get stuck learning kanji lists and grammar points and not get out there and actually practice speaking with Japanese people.

If you can create the opportunity to interact with Japanese people in real life situations outside of the classroom, that’s when you start to really internalise the language and really start communicating.

My own Japanese speaking skills really improved when I studied in Japan and lived in a dormitory of Japanese students who didn’t speak English very well. I was forced to used Japanese on a daily basis which really helped me improve. I also studied Aikido for a while which also really boosted my speaking and listening skills.

Also, just hanging out with my Japanese buddies and drinking with them in Izakayas was a great experience and a really fun was to consolidate everything I had learned in the classroom.

Even if you don’t live in Japan, you can create opportunities to speak with Japanese people. For example, joining a club, taking Japanese lessons or even speaking to people online.

Podcast Transcript

Alex: Hello, you’re listening to Learn Japanese Pod with me, Alex.
Asuka: And me, Asuka.
Alex: How’s it going, Asuka?
Asuka: I’m good! Alex, how about you?
Alex: 絶好調!絶好調かな。I’m fine. Hey everyone, welcome to Learn Japanese Pod. This is a podcast for learning—surprise, surprise!—Japanese, and today we’re gonna give you our top 10 tips for learning Japanese. So this podcast should be perfect for … Who should it be perfect for, Asuka?
Asuka: Uh, people coming to visit Japan, maybe on a holiday?
Alex: Yup, good. Or maybe students who are coming to Japan to study the language.
Asuka: Uh, people coming to live here for long-term work, like work-related business.
Alex: Or maybe you just wanna speak with your friends and family who are Japanese to understand them better?
Asuka: Or just generally interested in Japan and its culture.
Alex: So welcome, welcome. Oh and—
Asuka: Welcome!
Alex: And also maybe if you’ve already studied a little bit of Japanese but you haven’t studied in a while and you want to brush up, please continue listening to our humble podcast.
Asuka: So the top 10 tips for learning Japanese. Alex, what is the first tip?

Alex: The first top tip is, as with learning anything, motivation, and to find your motivation, you need to decide why you want to study Japanese. So why did you want to study Japanese? Why?
Asuka: Why?
Alex: Yes! Why?
Asuka: [Laughing] And not just why, but—you know—setting goals are really important, like “Oh, I really want to—I’m going to Japan in six months; I want to be able to communicate—you know—basic Japanese with people and just get around speaking Japanese and not trying to speak English.” Like that could be a really great motivation.
Alex: Yeah, absolutely. You know, you want to know enough Japanese to—you know—buy food in the convenience store or buy a ticket to a cool destination or maybe …
Asuka: You have a girlfriend or a boyfriend who is Japanese.
Alex: Exactly. You know, you just want to study casual Japanese then. In this podcast, we’ll mostly focus on conversational, daily, natural Japanese.
Asuka: Yeah.
Alex: That was a completely unnatural sentence. We’ll [laughing]—we’ll focus on natural, daily conversation.
Asuka: Right, thing that you really want to know and things that you can really use, not the ones that are in the textbooks or—you know—but things that can—that we find useful.
Alex: Right, exactly. So find out your “why;” find out your motivation. That’s number 1. Number 2. What did you do, Asuka?

Asuka: Learn useful, everyday expressions.
Alex: So—you know—just really simple stuff. You know, おはようございます.
Asuka: That’s “good morning.”
Alex: That’s “good morning.” How do you say “good evening”?
Asuka: こんばんは.
Alex: How do you say “I’m lost”?
Asuka: 迷子です.
Alex: 迷子です.
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: お道迷ってます。By the way, don’t—by the way, don’t worry. If we [laughter]—if we say some random stuff, we will put this all in the show next latest, so this will all be written down. Yeah, so just learn useful, everyday expressions. You know, “good morning,” “thank you,” “please”—all these kind of things. Pretty obvious, but it’s worth learning. Number 3 …
Asuka: Oh, wait. We forgot to say something that’s really important that you’re gonna want to—if you don’t know already, you should at least know this.
Alex: Yeah.
Asuka: ありがとうございます。
Alex: 、ありがとうございます。That means?
Asuka: “Thank you!”
Alex: Remember your pleases and your thank yous. Number 3—kind of related to number 2—is—this is a subtle one.

Alex: Learn Japanese expressions that don’t necessarily translate well into English and expressions that give you an insight to the culture. So for example—what’s—can you give me an example, Asuka?
Asuka: You know, there’s—there’s a ton of those. You know, people are like, “How do you translate that?” Uhm, よろしくお願いします.
Alex: Oh my gosh, that’s a hard one: よろしくお願いします. I mean, do you hear that a lot?
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: That could—that can mean many things. That can mean just the “nice to meet you.”
Asuka: “Pleased to do business with you.”
Alex: “Pleased to do business with you” or “I look forward”—or “I look forward to working with you in the future” or like “I count on your continued support” that—it sounds clunky in English, but you use it all the time.
Asuka: Yeah.
Alex: Now, another phrase that you heard at the beginning of the podcast was ぜひ, which means “by all means.” You know, it’s a very kind of Japanese thing they say every day. [Interrupted]
Asuka: You know what my favorite one is? And I have a hard time explaining this in English too. お疲れさま.
Alex: お疲れさま. So お疲れさま—a bad translation would be something like “good job” or “well done.”
Asuka: Yeah, “appreciating your good job” or—you know—“well done—a well done day’s job” or something to that … As you can tell, we’re struggling to translate it because it doesn’t translate well into English already.
Alex: And I should say kind of a 3.5 is try to understand Japanese in Japanese, if that makes sense. So you know, when I’m speaking Japanese I don’t realize I’m speaking Japanese; I’m just speaking the language and the words make sense in Japanese.
Asuka: Right.
Alex: They’re hard to translate.
Asuka: You’re not translating in English every time you’re speaking it, or you’re not translating from an English emotion or thought to Japanese.
Alex: Right, exactly. So for example—you know—ぜひ (“by all means”), お疲れさま and よろしくお願いします. But we’ll come back to those a bit later in the podcast. Number 4.

Asuka: Yes, number 4. So it’s learn basic survival sentence patterns and grammar, and then drill them with new vocabulary. So what is this, Alex?
Alex: So basically, what this is—this is kind of the Learn Japanese Pod method.
Asuka: Ooh! Learn Japanese Pod method!
Alex: The Learn Japanese Pod method. I mean, this isn’t rocket science and this isn’t breaking new scientific discoveries or anything, but basically what I’ve personally found is you have to drill stuff; you have to say things like a hundred times or hear them a thousand times so they really stick in your memory. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes people make with language learning; they don’t drill enough. So for example, I should do something really simple. I don’t know. Asuka, how would you say, “Where’s the bank?”
Asuka: 銀行はどこですか?
Alex: Okay, so how do you say, “Where’s the post office?”
Asuka: 郵便局はどこですか?
Alex: How would you say where’s the convenience store?
Asuka: コンビニはどこですか?
Alex: So what you want to do is isolate the grammar or the structure, as linguists say, and it’s 何々はどこですか (“Where is something?”), and then just learn a bunch of vocabulary. Just learn 10 words, like “bank,” “post office,” “department store” …
Asuka: “School” …
Alex: “School” …
Asuka: “Station” …
Alex: “Station,” “crazy,” “robot,” “dancing girl,” show in Shinjuku.
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: By the way, I’m going to see that.
Asuka: Oh wow, everybody’s been proposing that on Facebook.
Alex: I know. I can’t wait. I can’t wait to see it. So hey, Asuka, next time you’re in Tokyo let’s go see it.
Asuka: Absolutely!
Alex: So you could say はどこですか, はどこですか, はどこで—so you say it enough times so you can understand it if someone said—if someone says it to you and you can say it fluently.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: Then you just add on the words. So you know, as you’ve said—I don’t know—“bank” is 銀行, so 銀行はどこですか. “Post office” is 郵便局, so 郵便局はどこですか. So okay, let’s drill a couple. Asuka, how do you say, “AT—where’s the ATM?”
Asuka: ATMはどこですか?
Alex: How do you say, “Where’s the station?”
Asuka: 駅はどこですか?
Alex: How do you—how do you say, “Where’s Godzilla?”
Asuka: ゴジラはどこですか? However, I have to make a point though. You—because Godzilla is more of a person than a place—どこ is usually associated with a place—you have to say どこにいますか. Yeah, because they have to be somewhere. It’s not a place.
Alex: That’s a really good point. That’s another grammar structure you could drill. ゴジラはどこにいますか or アレックスはどこにいますか.
Asuka: 先生はどこにいますか?
Alex: 先生はどこにいますか? Okay! Number 5.

Asuka: Alright, so number 5 … are you guys excited about this? Are you excited about this, Alex?
Alex: You should be totally excited about this ‘cause number 5 is the super-duper-wooper secret trick to learning Japanese.
Asuka: And what’s that?
Alex: So this is learn a lot of adjectives. Tada!
Asuka: Okay?
Alex: You’re not amazed. Okay. So let me—let me—
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: Let me break this down.
Asuka: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s break it down.
Alex: Japanese is super minimal. It’s quite often that you don’t need a subject to a sentence and sometimes you don’t need an object, and so all that’s left is just the adjective. For example, you could say 昨日のパーティーは楽しかったです, which is grammatically correct and people say it all the time. So it says, “Yesterday—the party was awesome.” But you could also say パーティーは楽しかったです—you know—(“The party was fun.”)
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: Right? Or you could just say 楽しかった, which just means “fun.”
Asuka: Right, as long as your—you know the context of the conversation; the conversation is about the party, then you don’t actually have to mention the word “party” in order to say how interesting or how fun it was. So—but you have to make sure that people know exactly what you’re talking about. I would actually say パーティー楽しかったね!
Alex: Yeah, that’s great. Yeah. パーティー楽しかったね。
Asuka: Like there’s no or—you know—just say パーティー (“party”) fun! [Laughing] That’s it.
Alex: This is why I—this is why I love Japanese. And if you literally translate Japanese into English, it sounds really awesome. It’s like, “Now konbini go?”
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: You know, just—just stuff like that. So what—what you want to do is you want to learn a bunch of adjectives, and that would really get you started having a conversation. So—
Asuka: I have a question.
Alex: Yes.
Asuka: Uh, since we’re in the topic of “fun” and 楽しかった, can you show us examples of how you can use that and change it around?
Alex: Oh yes, so what you want to do is you want to learn how to—for example—conjugate the adjectives so that you conjugate them yourself. So for example, present tense: “It is fun;” you would say 楽しい, right?
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: Now if you say—if you wanna say, “It’s not fun,” you say 楽しくない.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: Past tense: “It was fun” is 楽しかった.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: So that’s what we were just talking about. You know, “The party was fun.” (パーティー楽しかったね。) So the party was fun.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: And then, you can even say, “The party wasn’t fun.” (パーティー 楽しくなかった。)
Asuka: Right.
Alex: “It wasn’t fun.”
Asuka: And the amazing part is these are all very informal conversation that you can have with friends. If you wanna make this formal, all you have to throw at the end is actually what, Alex?
Alex: です. So instead—so normally between friends in a casual conversation you say 楽しい, but stick a です on the end (楽しいです。) it just makes it more formal.
Asuka: [Agreeing] Polite. Polite. You know …
Alex: It makes it more polite. Yeah, it makes it more polite.
Asuka: If you’re going out for business or—you know—these are people that you don’t really know well then all was going formal usually sort of wins points.
Alex: So basically—you know—楽しい, 楽しくない, 楽しかった, 楽しくなかった. Just learn those four—that pattern—those conjugations; you’re good to go. Super minimal, super easy and it means—and this is the great thing—you can say more with less.

Alex: Point 6—I’ll go through super quickly. Exactly the same advice but for verbs.
Asuka: Great.
Alex: So for example—I would just go through these super quickly—if you want to do something—yeah?—you can say … There’s a couple of verbs you can use: します; another one is やります.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: So for example, to do something is やります; not do something, やりません; did something, やりました; didn’t do something, やりませんでした. And if you want to say, “Let’s do something,” you can say やりましょう or, in the dialogue you heard in the beginning, またやりましょう (“Let’s do it again”). So just learn those. Just learn that pattern, and you’re gonna be able to say a lot.
Asuka: Yeah, actually sounds really compact and simplified.
Alex: Absolutely, and so you want to be quite minimal with Japanese; you don’t—yeah, you don’t want to say too much. Number 7.
Asuka: Alright, so I’m super excited about this.
Alex: Oh yeah.

Asuka: Learn sentence enders. So super-charge your sentences, and this is probably what’s going to make a huge difference in whether you sound stiff or natural.
Alex: [Pondering] Absolutely, yeah.
Asuka: So we’ve already introduced some of them. When we were talking, our first conversation that we had was パーティー楽しかったですね. The —because we didn’t talk about this and how that’s more formal—, just sort of you’re asking for like …
Alex: It’s almost not quite, but it’s almost like saying something like “Isn’t it?” or “Wasn’t it?”—
Asuka: Right.
Alex: “Don’t you think?” You’re—what you’re doing is you’re almost asking for agreement.
Asuka: Agreement. That’s it. That’s the word.
Alex: 楽しいね。Like “It’s fun, isn’t it?”
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: Or 楽しかったね (“It was fun, wasn’t it?”).
Asuka: [Agreeing] And Japanese people love that. It’s a cultural thing, like we value harmony. So you want to include the people that you’re with or people that are close to you, and throwing that little at the end definitely sort—you know—sort of feels like you’re being included or you’re into something exciting, and it’s nice. I like that.
Alex: That’s good. What other sentence endings do you have?
Asuka: Another one would be like . やりましょうか?
Alex: [Pondering] So that just means—what does that mean?
Asuka: That’s a question. It would be like “Shall we do it?”
Alex: やりましょうか?日本語勉強しましょうか?
Asuka: はい、勉強しましょう。
Alex: “Shall we study Japanese?” “Yeah, let’s study Japanese.” Another really good one is .
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: やりましょうよ。So that’s just making it more emphatic. “Yeah, let’s really—let’s do this thing! Let’s crush it, baby!”
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: Something like that. またやりましょうね。 (“Let’s do it again!”) 楽しかったですね。 (“It was fun, wasn’t it?”)
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: 楽しいよ! (“It really is fun!”) Number 8. Asuka, what’s point number 8?

Asuka: The point number 8—start to put this altogether with a good Japanese conversation podcast like …
Alex: Oh, we don’t know!
Asuka: I don’t know. Learn Japanese Pod? [Laughing]
Alex: Learn Japanese Pod. Oh, modesty prevents us. Oh, wait a minute. It doesn’t!
Asuka: [Laughing] No, I think it’s really good to have an opportunity to listen—you know—and then we want to break down the culture as well. I believe—I do a lot of translation work, and I deal with a lot of translators. And one of the things that I see coming across translated work is that people just really translate word to word. They have no love in it. They have no care. They have no cultural background. They’re not interested in—you know—the topic, and it’s like if you have passion and you want to learn about the culture and how people think and how relate to each other, that takes you further than say like speaking proper, grammatical Japanese or making sure you’re not offending someone, you know. I think that cultural understanding takes you so much further.
Alex: And we’ve got mad love for Japanese.
Asuka: Oh yes, we do. And we love teaching it too. [Laughter]
Alex: Yeah, it’s—it’s—it’s really good fun. And we love going off track and saying crazy things because—let me just put my ¥2 here—when I was starting to study Japanese, I just bought a Japanese conversation book, and I listened to that CD probably a thousand times, and I just memorized every single sentence. And it was a good way to learn. I was super motivated. I learned a lot from that. I mean the dialogue’s sort of kinda weird, and they were kinda stiff.
Asuka: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Alex: And they were kind of formal, but—you know—I did learn a lot. So you know, one reason we wanted to make this podcast was—you know—we wanted to make something like that but with real street Japanese, real Japanese people—
Asuka: Right, useful.
Alex: Real useful Japanese that people actually hear people say.
Asuka: Right.
Alex: So now I’m not gonna get on my high horse and start dissing textbooks ‘cause there’re a lot of really good textbooks out there that I would highly recommend, and we’ll probably do a review in a future podcast. But—but I think the key is I listen, listen, listen, listen as many times as many times as you can; drill, drill, drill, drill, drill; and then your brain is praying to speak 日本語 (“Japanese”).
Asuka: And then you just have to get out there and speak it, but which brings us to our 9th tip. What is that, Alex?

Alex: So uhm, in terms of writing, we’re not gonna lie; writing is challenging, or I should say reading and writing Japanese is challenging. You have three scripts. You have hiragana and katakana, which are phonetic scripts.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: And you have kanji, which are pictographs imported from …
Asuka: China.
Alex: China.
Asuka: And you can’t even count how many we have of those, so …
Alex: [Stumbling] There’s a lot. To read a newspaper, you need to know at least what? 1,500 to 2,000? So I’m not gonna lie. It’s pretty challenging, but one cool thing about learning to read and write Japanese is there’s a bunch of apps out there. And now, this is coming—this is coming from someone who—I started learning Japanese 20 years ago. I wrote kanji out by hand.
Asuka: You mean you’re older than 20 years old, Alex?
Alex: I’m 21.
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: I’m kidding, kids. [Laughing] And uhm, I literally wrote them out by hand hundreds and hundreds of times. Now you have all these cool apps. What—how—where should you start? Well, I think you should learn hiragana and get away from romaji or Roman letters from your textbooks as quick as possible. I find that learning Japanese in English and using—you know—English alphabet is just confusing. And the other thing to it is I was talking to a friend of mine who is saying that when he was studying Japanese he found that learning hiragana actually improved his pronunciation because with—if you just read a word in Roman letters, you tend to pronounce it [Western accent] watashi, watashi wa Alex desu.
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: But if you—if you read it in hiragana, the hiragana breaks it down into syllables. And Japanese is pronounced in quite an equal way; they give equal weight to each syllable. So instead of saying [Western accent] 私は, so [Japanese accent] 私はアレックスです. It sounds a bit better, right? So try to learn hiragana and katakana as quickly as possible and learn as much kanji as you can. There’s a million apps out there now for learning kanji, so just download them onto your iPhone, your Android, your prapatang phone. Anything’s cool. You can do it. Number 10. Asuka.
Asuka: Yes.
Alex: What’s the final point?

Asuka: The final point is just really simple and probably the most difficult thing to do. It’s really go out there and use it in real life and just get your like shyness and your like 、どうしよう—you know—your little nervousness in making mistakes like you—there’s no way other than making mistakes and learning how to interact with people than learning the language and the culture best way so …
Alex: So you wanna get out there and practice it. Now, the great thing is Japanese people are highly appreciative and supportive of people who are learning Japanese, even if they’re beginners.
Asuka: Yes!
Alex: I have been to some countries, which will remain nameless to hide the guilty, where you say something, they’re “Oh, your so and so sucks!” But the Japanese are really impressed if you can say even a badly pronounced こんにちは.
Asuka: Yeah, they’re really psyched that you can say maybe like five words that they’ll be like, “Oh my God, they can speak Japanese! すごい!すごい!日本語しゃべっている!” You know, they get all—you know—it’s just five words, dude! [Laughing]
Alex: Yeah, it—no. So, so, that’s—that’s what’s really cool. So let’s just quickly review. Number 1: decide why you want to study Japanese and define your goal; be very focused. Number 2: learn useful everyday expressions. Number 3, Asuka?
Asuka: Number 3 is learn Japanese expressions that don’t translate well into English or give you an insight into the Japanese culture.
Alex: Number 4 is learn basic survival sentence patterns and drill them. Number 5!
Asuka: Learn a lot of adjectives and learn how to conjugate them.
Alex: Exactly the same for number 6 but just do it with verbs; learn a bunch of verbs; learn how to conjugate them. Number 7!
Asuka: Learn sentence enders to super-charge your sentences.
Alex: Number 8: put this all together with a wonderful Learn Japanese Pod podcast.
Asuka: Learn Japanese Pod.
Alex: Learn Japanese Pod. Please listen to us, please! お願いします!
Asuka: And then number 9 is for writing. Try to learn hiragana, and get away from the romaji in textbooks as quickly as possible as it can be very distracting.
Alex: And number 10: finally get out there and practice your Japanese. You know, you could use Skype, maybe? You could join a club. Join a kendo club. Maybe there’s some Japanese people, some patient Japanese people who will listen to your Japanese?
Asuka: [Agreeing reluctantly]
Alex: So …
Asuka: Just—
Alex: Don’t do that.
Asuka: Yeah, just do some language exchanges, make a—you know—meet Japanese girls, boys, friends, kids, parents—I don’t know. Just get out there!
Alex: Samurai sword masters.
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: Any, all crazy people who record podcasts. Uhm, now one thing before we finish is we’ve got to answer this question ‘cause I get asked this quite a lot, and that is “Is Japanese difficult?”
Asuka: Yes!
Alex: No!
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: Kind of. It depends. [Laughing] It depends. So okay, what—what—Asuka, what’s difficult about Japanese?
Asuka: You know, when you try to learn everything especially the writing and the reading, I think it gets a little overwhelming, but it’s—everything is—you know—every knowledge, you have to start somewhere, and it’s a buildup. So what we’re trying to do here is we wanna build you up so you have enough tools that you can pull out and communicate. And they’re gonna be super useful, really great to have, and you’re gonna be like, “Dude, I speak Japanese pretty awesome!” [Laughing]
Alex: You’re gonna be like Neo in The Matrix. They stick that iron spike in the back of your head, and then you go like, “I know kung fu!” It’s like, “I know Japanese!” And then Morpheus comes over and he says, “Show me!” And then, someone beats you up in a dojo. No, that was the wrong metaphor.
Asuka: Right, I think that was the wrong metaphor there! [Laughing]
Alex: [Laughing] What we mean is: don’t worry; we’ll teach you kanji. Kanji is—kanji is challenging, but you can do it. Another thing that I found kid of difficult was levels of politeness in Japanese. Japan is quite a highly stratified society, and the language reflects that. So if you’re talking to your friends or your boss or your mother-in-law or to a kid, you got—you’re actually gonna be using different vocabulary, different grammar, different words. And you just have to learn that. What—what else is difficult in Japanese?
Asuka: [Pondering] You know, maybe making the appropriate form of speech?
Alex: Hmm, yeah.
Asuka: You know, ‘cause we have a lot of—you can’t—you can never go wrong with saying keigo, which is the formal speech, but then there’s kensongo, which you have to degrade yourself in order to put respect on the other person. So I mean, there’s just so much—you know—intricacy in terms of like where you stand, where—what position you’re in, and—you know—again, this is back to what Alex was saying: it’s all cultural content—I mean, context. [Laughing] So …
Alex: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Asuka: The more you understand about the culture, the easier these words and grammars—you know—speeches, communication is gonna come to you. So you know, we’re not just teaching you how to speak Japanese, we really want you to know about our culture—you know—what’s so amazing about—what’s so—you know—annoying, or—you know—how to bypass certain things so you don’t have to get stuck with boring grammar and—you know—just not really feel it. Like we want you to feel the language, and one way of feeling it is to listen to our podcast.
Alex: That’s the one. That’s the one. One of the tricky things is vagueness. The Japanese tend to be quite vague. They don’t like to communicate directly sometimes. And so, that actually—that’s also reflected in the language when you often don’t have a subject in the sentence, like “going now,” like “Who’s going where?” [Laughing] So you have to be quite highly attuned to the social context where the conversation’s happening. So you really, really have to listen a lot. And you have to really work out what people’s intentions are because they’re not gonna teach you and you’re gonna make—you’re gonna make an ass of yourself and no one’s gonna tell you. But you will learn, and I think in Jap—one of the cool things I’ve learned in Japan is how to be highly attuned to what’s happening in a certain social situation because they’re not obvious about it. But—but I think actually that makes the language way more interesting to study. Now just before you give up studying Japanese, let’s talk about the easy points. Pronunciation is relatively easy. You don’t have tones as you do in say Chinese or maybe even Thai. Uhm, vowel sounds aren’t too hard, I guess? /a/, /i/, /u/, /e/, /o/.
Asuka: Yeah, once you get a—once you get a hang of it, I think you’ll understand that it’s a very staccato pronunciation or enunciation.
Alex: [Agreeing] And I think—uhm—even with pronunciation that’s not perfect, you’ll still be understood. I would imagine—I mean I don’t speak Chinese, but I would imagine that if I did study Chinese I’m sure one of the biggest hurdles I’d—I would have is actually getting people to understand me. But in Japanese—you know—again as we said before, even a bad こんにちは is understood by natives speakers.
Asuka: Right.
Alex: And I think the last point about Japanese is—I don’t know if this is an easy or difficult point, but Japanese is minimal, right?
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: That means, again—you know—like I was saying, if you learn adjectives, just one adjective or one verb, you can say a lot more with less.
Asuka: Right.
Alex: Uhm, so—and that’s another thing: you shouldn’t speak too much in Japanese. Listen. Always listen.
Asuka: [Laughing in agreement]
Alex: Now at the beginning of the podcast, you heard a conversation, and—uhm—I think we’ve explained some of the—some of the vocabulary already in that conversation, but let’s just do it again. So どうぞ、あすか。
Asuka: おはようございます!
Alex: おはようございます。
Asuka: 昨日のパーティー楽しかったですね。
Alex: 楽しかったですね。
Asuka: またやりましょう!
Alex: ぜひ。 One more time!
Asuka: おはようございます!
Alex: おはようございます。
Asuka: 昨日のパーティー楽しかったですね。
Alex: 楽しかったですね。
Asuka: またやりましょう!
Alex: ぜひ! Okay, let’s explain that really quickly. I think you’ve probably already understand [sic] this, right? おはようございます means?
Asuka: “Good morning!”
Alex: And then I said おはようございます (“good morning”). Then 昨日のパーティー楽しかったですね means?
Asuka: Uh, “Yesterday’s party was really fun!”
Alex: Which is—you just repeat it: 楽しかったですね.
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: And then? またやりましょう means?
Asuka: またやりましょう! (“Let’s do it again!”)
Alex: And then finally, I said ぜひ which means “by all means.”
Asuka: So it’s—what’s interesting is you can probably predict the relationship between those two people?
Alex: [Agreeing] Right, right.
Asuka: Becau—and then it’s a morning, so they were coworkers.
Alex: Right.
Asuka: And they ended up going to a party together.
Alex: And maybe they had a bit too much sake to drink.
Asuka: [Laughing]
Alex: And something embarrassing happened, and I mean [stumbling] they don’t want to talk about it. I’m joking; you couldn’t tell that from the conversation. But yeah …
Asuka: Not that far.
Alex: But you—but you can tell that—you can tell that—you know—they’re friends; it’s kind of a casual level?
Asuka: [Agreeing]
Alex: Let’s do it one more time because we’re all about drilling おはようございます!
Asuka: おはようございます!
Alex: 昨日のパーティー楽しかったですね。
Asuka: 楽しかったですね。
Alex: またやりましょう?
Asuka: ぜひ!
Alex: Yay!
Asuka: Let’s do that again, Alex.
Alex: おはようございます。
Asuka: おはようございます!
Alex: 昨日のパーティー楽しかったですね。
Asuka: 楽しかったですね。
Alex: またやりましょう?
Asuka: ぜひ!
Alex: Yay, that’s it! It’s as simple as that! Hey, you can already understand how to talk about a party.
Asuka: Yeah?
Alex: How cool is that? So if you have any questions, queries, opinions or ideas, please email us at [email protected] You can find us on Twitter at or find us on Facebook at! We would love to speak to you, hear your ideas, and we would love to teach you Japanese. And maybe you can teach us something! Who knows? Now, we’ve threw a bunch of information at you today, didn’t we? But don’t worry, because if you sign up for the free membership at, you can—you can get access to the show notes and everything in this podcast will be written down in beautiful English and Japanese for your perusal.
Asuka: That’s awesome! Take advantage of that, and is that free, Alex?
Alex: That’s completely free. And what we’ll do—so if you—if you join—I’m gonna be completely upfront. If you join the membership, you’ll get access to the show notes for the first group of podcasts, and we will send updates via email about new courses we’re doing and new posts, new videos, new podcasts. So please join today!
Asuka: Please join!
Alex: Okay Asuka, well 色々教えていただいてありがとうございます。
Asuka: どういたしまして。楽しかった。
Alex: 楽しかったね。楽しかったね。
Asuka: 楽しかったね。
Alex: じゃ、またやりましょう!
Asuka: はい、ぜひ!
Alex: Yay! Okay everyone, thanks so much!
Asuka: Thank you!
Alex: That was awesome! See you la—that was real Japanese in a real—in real context! Hey Asuka, see you next time, and everyone—
Asuka: See you!
Alex: Thanks for listening. See you next time. Bye!
Asuka: Yeah, study hard! Bye!



2 Responses to “Top 10 tips for studying Japanese”

  1. Tim Allington April 9, 2016 at 2:50 am #

    Alex, Is there going to be show notes for Top 10 tips for studying Japanese?


    • admin April 20, 2016 at 12:59 pm #

      Hi Tim, I just put up the PDF show notes. You can directly download them here Podcast 5 PDF show notes Or you can read them all on the main blog post here Enjoy!

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