Learn Japanese Quickly – in 7 Easy Steps

Learn Japanese Quickly – in 7 Easy Steps

So you want to learn Japanese fast?  Great—you can!—in just seven easy steps.  Just like the pros.

Now don’t deny it, you want to believe those guys on the internet claiming to have “learned Japanese” in like a year or two.  For some reason it’s always guys too—why is that?  Aren’t women supposed to be better at languages?  Nah, that can’t be right.  Anyway, since they apparently learned Japanese so quickly, you (presumably) can too.  But how’d they do it, and more importantly—do you have what it takes?  Let’s find out.

#1 Be a Huge Geek

Now, I have a friend, let’s just call him “Ken,” and when he was was 12, his parents sat him down in a wooden chair and said:

“We know you’re using drugs.”

“I’m not,” he protested, “and why can’t we just all sit on the sofa like usual?”

“Don’t change the subject,” his father said.  “Where’d the money from your savings account go?”

“Probably just an accounting error.  I’m sure it’ll turn back up soon.”

It was a fair enough question, given that young Ken had gone to the bank a month before and liquidated all the cash Santa’d ever given him to buy . . . programming software.  Why?  Probably because he hadn’t yet discovered his brother’s stash of Playboys.  Anyway, the next few years were like all programming, all the time.  It didn’t feel like work, just fun.  A few years later, this led to a job as a programmer, like some freaking Horatio Alger story.  And all without ever studying or taking classes.  Not a bad way to learn something like, say, Japanese.  So much for going to college.

So there you go.  All you need to do is love studying and do it all the time.  It probably wouldn’t hurt to be a 12 year-old kid with no life, either.  Unfortunately, “love it” isn’t really much of a method, and most people have more important things to do, like women, beer, and occasionally working.  I assume that’s not just me.  Whatever.  Just because you don’t have the single-minded focus of child doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn something.

#2 Be Young

Age doesn’t affect your learning ability.  Yeah, for some reason, the people who say that are all pretty young.  Old folks spend more time talking about how scary it is to walk down stairs.  Ever seen an old dude in a dance class?  Nobody wants to see that.  God invented the DVD player so you can do that stuff in your living room, granddad.

Look, I’m no happier about this than you are, but having taught thousands of people of all ages, it seems that the human capacity for awesomeness decreases in a predictable curve.  A class of 20 year-olds will do better than a class of 40 year-olds, assuming all persons are neither hungover nor asleep.  Okay, so it’s kind of hypothetical.  But where people expend the same effort and use the same methods, nature favors the young.  Sorry, old people.

#3 Be Bilingual

A lot of people who learned Japanese quickly were already bilingual, or polylingual.  That’s a huge advantage when it comes to learning other languages.  Can you already speak another language?  Great, then your brain is conditioned to working in multiple languages and creating connections between words.  If not, you’re going to have to develop those abilities, and that takes time.  Probably a long time.  Sorry, Americans.

#4 Be Talented

Not everybody’s good at everything.  That’s the way it is.  Some things you can do well; some you can’t.  People who talk about how fast they mastered a language are quite likely good at it, otherwise, uh . . . it would’ve taken them longer.  “Anyone can do it,” is nice to believe.  But like I took a Japanese class in college with a guy who could look at a kanji once and then write it perfectly, every time.  There was no reason behind it; he just could.  Maybe he was a witch.  I don’t know, I’m just saying he wore a lot of black.  Witch.

 So You’re Employed, Old, American, and not Particularly Talented

Okay, that’s not good.  But don’t give up hope if the first 4 steps don’t work in your favor.  You can still try these tried and true methods of the internet language learning gurus . . .

#5 Change When You Started

By minimizing your own start point, you can make it look like you learned Japanese way faster than you actually did.  Did you do a Japanese home-stay when you were younger?  Don’t include that in the time it took you to learn the language.  Did you take college classes before you “started”?  Don’t count those.

I’m not saying that people who claim to have learned Japanese incredibly fast are being deceptive, just—how to put this delicately—obfuscating the truth.  A lot of their stories describe formal or informal learning before they “started.”  Athletic performance tip:  you can run marathons a lot faster if you don’t start your stopwatch until Mile 10.

#6 Make Yourself Look Good

It’s easy to think you’re better than you actually are.  That’s known as self-deception.  It’s when you convince others of the fact, that’s it’s called . . . uh, salesmanship, apparently.

Good things to note are that you’ve given speeches, gone through a Japanese interview, or appeared on some TV show or other.  Never mind that Japanese people find it incessantly amusing when people of other races attempt to speak “their” language. The key here is to avoid taking any tests or showing videos where folks are asking you random questions.  Instead, promote your own clips where you do most of the speaking and control the topic.  That looks impressive.

#7 Live in the Past

Many internet language gurus “learned Japanese” years ago, and given their sizable talents, you’d think they’d sound like natives by now.   So apparently you want to post a video early on, showing how much you can speak, and then leave it on YouTube for years.  Definitely avoid any videos that indicate ongoing progress.  That would only raise questions about how good you were before.  Never doubt your own infallibility.

Success is Yours

So just follow these 7 steps and Shazam! —you’re guaranteed to learn Japanese fast.  Or become disillusioned at how long it actually takes, and switch to Spanish.  Nah, that never happens, just kidding.  That’s like saying you need to study, take classes, or work hard.  That’s crazy talk.  Just make sure to tell people you did it in a few months, and then sell them stuff.  Remember the first rule of the internet:  tell people what they want to hear.  Man, I gotta write that down.



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About Ken Seeroi

44 Comments

  1. Ken,

    I am convinced now more than ever, that I will never learn Japanese, but at least I know others think its hard too. After watching subbed anime for 20 years you’d think I’d be pick up something, but all I remember is Kuwaii, Arigatou, Ohayou gozaimasu and “Watashi wa nihongo wo ichikagetu narrate imasu”.

    • Yeah, it’s not easy. The notion that one could just “pick it up” is, unfortunately, not very true, as witnessed by the scores of English teachers who speak next to no Japanese after years of living here.

      So two things, really. One is to have realistic expectations. If you want to devote several years of your life to working at it, you can do it. Absolutely. And I don’t discourage anyone from pursuing Japanese if that’s where his or her heart lies. But know what it takes when you’re going into it. This fiction that you can just breeze through a year and a half of Anki reps and watching anime only leads to legions of disappointed learners.

      The second thing is—is this the best use of your time? If you want to devote a few years to studying something, maybe it’s a better idea to get an advanced degree. Or start a business and make money. Or just work on your tan. You can have a good time in Japan—honestly, probably a better time—without speaking any more than a handful of survival phrases.

      • Ken,

        Got a question for you. If I spent the next 3-4 years learning Japanese, and assuming I got good enough to speak and write well, would I be able to find work in Japan? What kind of market is there for 60+ year olds that worked for NASA, do ya think?

        • Hi Bud,

          I would separate learning Japanese and searching for a job into two separate projects. Japanese ability is costly to acquire (in terms of time), and offers only limited payback in terms of securing a job.

          The real question is: why would a Japanese firm need to import foreign labor? Very few jobs are so specialized that a Japanese person couldn’t already do them. The real demand is rarely for specialists in a particular field, but rather for people who can speak English. That’s the one thing Japanese people can’t do well, and it’s something they desperately need, since it opens up doors for international trade, travel, and collaboration.

          I’d add that if you were looking for, I don’t know, some job with a Japanese aerospace company, that the people there would already have a pretty good ability to communicate in English. Every person in the nation receives a minimum of 6 years of English education, and many educated people have received over a decade of fairly intense English education. So even if you spent 4 years learning Japanese, you’d probably still use English when communicating with them. Plus, they enjoy speaking English.

          So if we take Japanese as a separate pursuit, then the next question is: what job can you get over here? And of course, are you sure you want to work in Japan? Jeez, I dunno. It’s a great country to travel in, but for working, hmmm. I might try another solution.

  2. Like they say, nothing good comes easy. Although I’ve a plan of making it in four years or may be a bit more than that, let’s hope for the best. (Oh and I satisfy the first four criteria, ain’t I awesome :D)

    Btw is this why the site is named “rule of 7”? Or did you keep “7 steps” in this article for consistency? Or is it just a coincidence?

    • First of all, Yes, you is awesome. It’s great that you meet those first four criteria, and a huge advantage.

      Four years should be enough for someone like you to become proficient in Japanese, if you have a solid plan and stick with it. If you can put in an hour or two a day then, yeah, I’d say no problem. Focus on learning the kanji early. And listening. And speaking. Hell, focus on everything.

      As for 7, well, it’s a really good number, don’t you think? I think so. Like, 5 always seems too few, and 10 too many. So 7’s the perfect number. Okay, well, maybe 8. Nah, let’s say 7. Anyway, I don’t go too crazy trying to make everything into 7s, but if it works out that way, hey, bonus.

  3. I dunno, it really depends. I have friends who picked it up to a pretty good level not long after moving there, but this was when they more or less asked me to give them a pretty harsh introduction to the basic structure of the language and common vocabulary.

    There’s older people in the military who do ok at picking up at least the basics of other languages pretty quick, but they’ve (arguably)got the “luxury” of putting a lot of other stuff on hold to do it sometimes.

    • I dunno either, and I guess that’s where testing comes in. It’s like how everyone feels they’re in pretty good shape. But you get people doing pull-ups and running a few miles and it’ll sort out everyone’s level real quick. There’s no doubt that some people learn faster than others. But to know for sure, we need some kind of assessment–written, spoken, anything other than, Eh, sounds okay to me. Nobody likes tests, but I guess they serve a purpose.

  4. I studied Japanese at Uni and the courses were pretty intense, like “You’ll know all hiragana by the end of the week and all katakana by the end of the month” kind intense. But you know, it’s quite possible. There are also Japanese courses in my city and they go all the hiragana in a YEAR! A whole year to learn 42 symbols? Seems a bit excessive…

    In the end all that studying and grammar did not make me fluent really. It just gave me a basis to work from. Actually working (not living!) in a Japanese-speaking environment is what really upped my Japanese skills. One year in Japan: not so much (I should admit that I didn’t exactly seek conversation that much). One year jobbing at a Japanese restaurant after that, having conversations with the family over dinner: A lot of improvement. Two years working full time at a Japanese company: A lot of improvement.
    After that: You pick up a word or phrase here and there but forget a lot again. At least it comes back quicker when you need it.

    I love Japanese but I really only use it nowadays when on vacation in Japan (or occasionally reading a manga). Luckily it stand up well to the lack of use.

    • Yeah, that type of intense course sounds perfect to jump-start a person into the language. And what you said is true, courses like that provide a base of knowledge, but it’s lots of real interaction that builds up fluency.

      I’ve never stopped using Japanese once I started learning it, so I’m kind of terrified of losing it. I’m motivated by fear, what can I say. But good to know that it holds up well.

  5. *damn thing cut off*

    But yeah, the thing with the younger guys- they probably have way more time to dedicate to concentrating on their language studies. Older people are probably also wondering about their kids, what’s for dinner, when that damn order is supposed to come in at work etc. while in class. When I was doing my undergrad at UH Manoa, there were a lot of older people in my German classes, and to be honest, they kept up with the 20 somethings, and often blew us out of the water.

    But then, they were taking advantage of the fact that retired people could basically take up unused class spaces for free, and didn’t have to juggle around stuff as much as we did.

    • Yeah, if your school was anything like mine, the priority was basically, keg party first, homework, eh, pretty much never. So it wouldn’t have been too hard for a 40 year-old, or even a talented talking horse, to blow us out of the water.

      Really what I’m talking about is like, I taught this 15 year-old when I worked at an eikaiwa. And you know, this girl really wanted to learn English, so whatever I’d say, she’d really listen to, and practice the mock dialogs, and her accent was perfect. Then I also taught this 45 year-old businessman, same exact lesson. Every time I’d introduce a new word, he’d be like, Wait, let me write that down. And if he didn’t understand something, he’d look it up in his electronic dictionary. And the following week, he’d come with a notebook full of carefully written sentences and flash cards on the topic we’d studied. They both made good progress, but the difference between their approaches was striking.

      When you watch kids learn things, it’s just so easy and natural. And you can see how an older person who works in an office where he has to track projects and make spreadsheets doesn’t have that luxury. Work demands that you do things in the right order, at the right time, and the consequences for missing a step can be severe. So we make checklists, and write things down, and organize and file. There’s no doubt that people can learn at any age, but how they do it seems to me markedly different.

      • At the time when I went, it probably wasn’t anything like yours in terms of parties etc. Out of the full time student population, something like 75%+ also worked full time, so the average 18-20something student really did have a lot more to juggle than those old folks/continuing part time students. I remember that after around 2pm or so the campus was pretty much a ghost town.

        Besides, unless your major was that particular language I don’t think many students cared too much about the grade, so long as they made the 2yr language requirement for non-engineering majors.

        • Yeah, using college students as a gauge of learning ability probably isn’t going to yield the most accurate results, especially where I got my undergrad degree. I managed to pass two years of French and about all it enabled me to do was pronounce “croissant.”

  6. My first year working here I thought I’d try the whole Japanese-by-osmosis thing. I mean, I’m the only teacher in a tiny eikaiwa surrounded by Japanese for 6 hours a day. I am literally shut in with six kids at a time, and although it’s ostensibly an English school, they’re really just there to fuck around with their friends and speak as little English as possible. So of course I’d -have- to learn something, right? I mean, that’s immersive learning at it’s finest!

    So, a year later, my Japanese consisted entirely of the ability to tell people to shut up, sit down, do their work, and stop being annoying. I was also a professional at middle-school x-rated slang. This was pretty awesome for taunting the girlfriend, but not so great in just about every single other situation imaginable.

    This year I’ve put a couple hours a day into studying and I’ve literally improved my Japanese tenfold. I’m now able to speak roughly at the level of a retarded three year old, which I am damned proud of.

    So listen to Seeroi-san here, kids, and do some damned studying. Not that you really need Japanese for anything, really. Except friends. Sometimes.

    • Yeah, I’m still waiting for that osmosis thing to kick in myself. Probably happen about the time I learn how to say “osmosis” in Japanese.

      I think we share a lot of the same school vocabulary, since my classes are about 30 minutes of English names for animals, transportation, and clothing, and 15 minutes of explaining in Japanese to sit the hell down, take their hands out of their pants, and quit picking their noses. But I guess that’s just businessmen for you.

      Sometimes I marvel at how little immersion works. I mean, I spend like 24 hours a day surrounded by Japanese, and it’s been that way for years–you’d think I’d be better. Or at least, I’d think that. About the only thing that really works, is hard work. Damned shame, that.

      • And yet it’s immersion that gets trumpeted as the end-all and be-all of ESL education. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m no educator. Everything I’m about to say about education has to be qualified by the fact that I was hired based on the following criteria: 1) I’m white and 2) I don’t have a criminal record. But that said, if I (let alone you) learned pretty much nothing of substance in a year of being immersed in Japanese 6 hours a day every day, what are the students getting out of one hour a week? Once I had picked up enough Japanese to actually start asking kids what sentences meant, I was shocked to find out that a good 50% of my kids had no idea what “I” was and that they all believed “please” meant “ちょうだい”.

        Of course the high school kids are a little better, but all the young kids with no non-eikaiwa education were fundamentally confused about pretty much everything. Surely some of this is my fault, but most of these kids have been coming to the eikaiwa for years. Now that I’ve got the Japanese for it, I’m actually checking for comprehension in Japanese. And the kids are learning and understanding a hell of a lot more. It seems that their progress is inversely proportional to the amount of immersion they’re subjected to (“oh God what is this white dude talking about, let’s just nod and hope for the best!” … this is also me in pretty much every Japanese language situation). This is probably also the reason that Rosetta Stone confused the hell out of me before I got a decent dictionary to go with it.

        But like I said, I’m just some dude who wound up in Japan pretty much by accident with no great love of children or language education. Linguists in the house–feel free to pick apart everything I just said.

        • Over time, having taught in the U.S. and now in Japan, I guess I’ve come to consider myself an educator. And yet I’m under no illusion that I was hired because I fit everyone’s image of the friendly white sensei. Like Casper the ghost, who also speaks English.

          And that being said, my experience as both a teacher and a student has led me to an amazingly unremarkable discovery: People learn stuff a lot better when they understand it. Now, there’s a number of ways people can understand something: pictures, direct experience, context, or simply by being told, Hey, cat equals neko. There are advantages and disadvantages to various instructional approaches, but the bottom line seems clear–you gotta help people understand what they’re seeing and hearing.

          Immersion provides opportunities for both repetition and the immediacy of meaningful interaction. But if someone doesn’t know what the hell’s going on, it can more of a barrier than an assistance. It’s also full of distracting non-words. And in terms of bang for the buck, it’s really time-inefficient. You can get more out of one hour with a decent teacher than a week of just floating lost in a sea of mysterious words.

          By the way, one of the meanings of ちょうだい is actually “please.” In informal situations, when asking for an item, it can be used similarly to ください。

          As a for Rosetta Stone, I also felt that it didn’t live up to its promise of teaching through immersion, but once I fired up the dictionary and looked up the things I didn’t understand, I thought it worked pretty well.

  7. I’m in university studying software development but I want to learn Japanese on the side, you’ve responded to a comment on the subject of mine before. However I was wondering do you encourage learning Japanese if I am going to use it recreationally? I want to be able to read and watch TV, I also want to be able to do other stuff that requires using the language (Building model kits etc).

    • I’d never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. Eat 100 hot dogs, become an astronaut, whatever. Follow your passion, for sure. Just understand the economics of your choice.

      What I mean is: if you could bust ass at learning Japanese and become proficient in a year, then, to me, that’s a good investment of one year of your life. I’d definitely do that.

      On the other hand, if you bust ass at it for a decade and become only marginally proficient, then, well, you spent a lot to gain a little. I’d definitely double-check my choice.

      My experience is that the reality is closer to the second case than the first, depending upon several factors, including geekiness, age, bilingualism, and natural aptitude. I’ll also add that about 99% of the people who begin studying Japanese spend a year or two and then give up. That’s a terrible waste of time and money. Either do or do not, there is not try. Pretty sure that’s a Japanese proverb.

      So I made the choice. I spent ten years busting ass at the language and now I can eh, kind of read stuff and kind of watch TV. But there’s a ton, and I mean a ton, of stuff I’ll never be able to understand. All the references to old TV shows and rarely-used sayings that are part and parcel of jokes. There’s no way to study for those. In society, I’ve risen to the level of an immigrant with a foreign accent, and unless I speak English and play the “look at me, I’m a gaijin” card, I’m treated as such.

      Now on the plus side, I’ll say that learning Japanese and living here has expanded my knowledge of the world exponentially. It’s cool. But it was expensive. Did it make sense to spend so many years learning a language that’s only used in one country, and a country where everyone wants to speak English? Eh, probably best not to think about that.

      One last thing: don’t forget opportunity cost. That’s what your could otherwise be doing with your time, if you weren’t geeking out on Japanese. I mean, if you spent two hours a day studying something else, you’d have a doctorate in less time that it takes to learn Japanese. Two hours a day in the gym and you’d be ripped. Hell, even two hours a day working a part-time job and you’d have a pile of cash. I’m thinking like make $20 a day, times 365, times 10 years—jeez, that’s like a million dollars. I dunno, I’m not real good with math, but it’s a lot, I think.

      But in the end, we don’t fall in love using a decision tree. Something captures our hearts for some reason, and we go that way. So follow your heart, but make good choices.

      • Well, I have a large capacity to learn and I actually want to take lessons. I know that mastery of a language takes a long time but I’m willing to put in the time and as for things like old TV show references and old sayings, I guess they are what you pick up from consuming media and talking to people.

        • That’s great, then you’ll make good progress. Taking classes is an excellent idea, in addition to your own study. And don’t wait around for the class, either. Like, I went straight to Japanese 102 because I’d already taught myself enough to skip 101. I also used Pimsleur to get started speaking right away. I used to have a lot more money before I moved to Japan and became poor, so I bought the whole expensive series, but unless you’re loaded, I wouldn’t recommend that. The $30 version will give you a decent jump-start into the language, and seems worth it to me.

          I’d also recommend you focus on building vocabulary, and don’t worry about grammar too much. For me, using Anki to learn vocabulary within sentences has been tremendously valuable.

          • Ah, thanks for the advice and such, I appreciate it. I’m glad that you think I’ll make good progress and such. I disagree with the age affects learning but I am also a young person so yeah.

            Definitely my favourite blog about Japan. The best bit is you answer comments, keeps me coming back.

            • Thanks, man. I spend a disproportionate amount of my time learning, teaching, and just freaking thinking about language, so I’m genuinely interested when someone is motivated to learn. Keep me posted on your progress.

  8. Like yourself, I’ve studied Japanese way too crazy long and I’m still far from perfect. I just started working in a company where I’m required to negotiate in Japanese, as well as translate that to English. I don’t struggle so much speaking everyday Japanese, but when you’re asking me to translate analysis concerning China’s growing GDP or the TPP fiasco that’s going on in Japan right now, well, let’s say I’d struggle a bit (i.e. wouldn’t even know where to start).

    So I listen to NHK news everyday but I still feel like it’s not enough. Do you know of any good Japanese programming or podcasts that discuss about specialized topics? Like economics, finance, business—basically, conversations that go beyond weather and food (which is all Japanese people talk about anyway).

    I remember when I lived in Japan 2 year ago they had this program that was [ニューズを知ろう!] or something like that, hosted by Akira Ikegami to teach stupid celebrities about what’s actually happening outside of Japan. It was really helpful and I learned a ton, definitely my favorite program at the time. Does that still run on TV? Or anything slightly similar that will help boost your vocab/knowledge up a notch?

    Thanks!!

    • In addition to NHK News (and NHK News Easy for people at an intermediate level and/or just lazy), you might find TV Asahi beneficial. They have a lot of videos of current topics that I think are pretty interesting. There’s one today about water pollution in China, and jeez, what a mess that is. But I digress.

      The truth is, the amount of TV I watch is very small. It’s mostly on for background noise while I sort my cans and bottles or trim my eyebrows or some other Japanese thing. I did ask a Japanese friend of mine, and he said he thinks ニュースを知ろう is no longer on. He also promised to search for another resource, so if he finds anything, I’ll post the info here.

      • Hey Ken,

        Thanks for actually helping me out with that request! I often saw on your blog posts that you fire up the TV before cracking up chuhai/beer/nihonshuu (and rightly so), so I thought maybe you might know a few shows. I’ll definitely check out TV Asahi, let’s hope it’s not blocked here in China.

        Anyway, don’t worry about the request too much, just kind of a ‘just wondering if you know…’ type thing. At this company they actually expect me to speak really good Japanese, which never happened in Japan. It’s a strange feeling, but instead of be happy I feel a wave of pressure. Gotta hit the books!

        Anyway, thanks so much for the help!

  9. Hey Ken,

    I stumbled upon this blog by accident (well… Actually by our common aqcuintance that goes by the name Google) and have been spending time by reading your entries from the start. Love the way you write about things in Japan by the way, keep up the good work!

    Ahem, but back to my actual message, I’d like to ask you a few questions after some background info that might or might not be relevant how you’re answering my questions. Ah… You might to grab a couple beers and snacks before reading from this point onwards. Hmmh… That sounds such a good idea I’m just gonna do that before I continue writing…

    As I’m already bilingual (Finnish as a native language and english as a second) to the point I rarely need to look up words from dictionary and can understand perfectly a wide variety of subjects in english if they don’t go too deeply in to specialized words. Occasional brainfarts aren’t counted in the previous comment. ^^
    I have also pretty much mastered that blocking out the other language and skipping the translation phase years ago and started learning japanese around 8 months ago. Well I went on a break from that after first course ended in beginning of May (catched up the course via selfstudy when it was halfway going during December) due very random working situations (nightjob, dayjob, 8h days or 12h days +2h for travel. I need my rest between that shit and socializing with my friends to recover).
    But anyways, situation for studying is gonna improve by leaps and bounds by the end of October as I’m gonna start studying in University of Applied Sciences and get my bachelor degree in Industrial Engineering (or Industrial Management and Engineering). My aim is to get into international student exchange program in japanese university during my 3rd or 4th year, for 1 year.

    Ok, I have ranted enough about my background now is time for my questions.

    1.
    Would you say it’s good way to continue with my studies (of course anyone has styles fitting their personalities, but grave mistakes can still be pointed out, yes?) by reviewing all material from course 1 before attending to course 2. Reviewing includes following: Translating every chapter from my native language into japanese (hiragana, katakana and kanji, not romaji). Doing all exercises (duh…) and practicing the pronouncing. Backtracing my studies every few chapters (ie. jumping 3-4 chapters back and redoing all the I have done earlier from scratch. And my personal favorite, making a playlist in youtube and play some japanese music at the background while studying.
    As for the pronouncing practices, finnish is pronounced as it is written so as long as I remember exceptions in japanese language that shouldn’t be a problem.

    2.
    After finishing abovementioned pain-in-the-ass curriculum (albeit it’s necessary and useful one), setting aside 1-2 hours per day about 5 days a week to review old and learn something new. I believe that basics are quite important to hammer in before you learn any bad habits and spent lots of extra effort in rooting them out.
    This will continue during my first semester as courses I’m attending are moving slowly (2h per week).
    My aim is to study ahead and review chapters I have selflearned under quidance of my sensei (yes, she’s native japanese) during courses so that I can grab course 3 and 4 at the same time next year. This equals that I’m planning to study one course ahead than the rest I’m learning with during next semester. It’s gonna be crazy semester, yes I know.

    That leads to my 3rd question. If I keep similiar studying level (at least during studying as summertime is important to get extra money for next semester so I’ll probably regress to plain old reviewing already learned stuff) would it be possible to achieve level of understanding some basic japanese novels (maybe junior high level) in 3 years time from now? About my course, sensei told me that first 2 courses equal N4 profiency level. Might as well take her word from it as she’s the one who wrote those textbooks… She can’t be that wrong about such basic stuff, can she? *knock on the wood*
    Well she’s nice teacher and we also practice a lot of pronouncing, forming our own questions and talking with others along the cramming of grammar and new vocabularity.

    And about the studying patterns I have learned (as a finn), our system emphasizes learning basics and then applying that to solve more complex problems (while learning more and more advanced stuff at the same time) instead of pure memorization of problems and answers as it seems to be case in Japan and in many other countries as well. I’ve noticed that this helps immensely when selfstudying something new as I’m used to find out stuff out on my own and applying the knowledge I already have within my grasp and use that as a base to work on to more advanced stuff.

    Well that’s it. Might be dry to read (thus the beer recommendation earlier) as I tend to stick in business in this kind of text. I could learn a lot from your style to write.
    And who wouldn’t? Can’t go wrong with fun and witty. At least if we ignore overly serious bosses during interviews.

    But anyways, this 23 years old (young or old is relative subject depending on receiving party) is gonna bow and bail out. Can’t be lurking around here waiting for your answer as that would seem… overly eager? So I’m gonna hide behind those reindeers and do some vodka fueled drunken wrestling with polar bears meanwhile.

    *Bows, does sloppy attention and quickly maneuvers out of sight*

    • First of all, wow. For a “non-native speaker,” your English is amazing. You’ve done really well learning a second language, and it certainly bodes well for a third.

      So backing into your questions, I’d say that yes, for you, three years would be enough time to begin understanding basic novels. Kanji is clearly the biggest challenge, followed rather distantly by grammar. There are a myriad of methods for learning kanji that I won’t get into right now, but suffice to say that it takes a butt long time, so begin using it early on. I’d also suggest the Japanese Graded Reader Series, since they get you reading semi-real Japanese, and include audio, which I love. The prices on Amazon are pretty steep, but check around the web and you can probably find them cheaper.

      As for your first two questions, if I read you correctly, they both seem to be asking how much one should review versus forge ahead. I think that’s an issue all language learners face, and it’s especially important in Japanese, precisely because there are so many kanji that must be acquired. On the one hand, I think that attention to the basics is really important, and since you clearly have experience successfully learning language, I’m tempted to say, go with what works.

      On the other hand, I’ve personally found reviewing past material to be overly time-consuming, without a corresponding payoff. Because Japanese grammar and vocabulary is so different from English, for the first few years I tended to retain it less well than I did with French and Spanish (which I also studied in the past, to a lesser extent). Reviewing excessively didn’t help all that much. Certainly, when I learn new material, I still go over it several times for a couple of days, but beyond that, I let it go. If it sticks, it sticks. And if it doesn’t, well, something else will.

      There’s also the issue of simply how much there is to learn, which again, sigh, because of the kanji, is a lot. So with that in mind, I’ve rather concluded that, damn the torpedoes, forging ahead is probably best. Maintaining forward momentum is really important. So that’s what I think, today. Tomorrow, eh, maybe something else, but anyway, keep going!

  10. When I started reading this list, the first step made me quite happy. Maybe it’s the only reason I’ve cared enough to read the post until the end and post a response. Because come the fuck on.

    Sure, being old means you’re going to learn it at a slower pace. But just how old? From my experience, I’m confident to say that it starts to make a difference around age 50 or so, and at that age you’re actually kind of used to the fact that you’re going to learn things at a slower pace than that of a young man. Pretty useless entry, and very discouraging too. I wanted to start learning Russian as my second language at age 15, but I was tricked into believing that this was impossible (or would take too long), since most people (or so I was tricked into believing, then again) learn a second language at age 6 or so, and it was only possible to learn a language afterwards if your brain was already kind of used to it (step 3, I’m looking at you). I actually had to wait until I was 19 for someone slap me in the face and make me learn Russian (I could read an article by the end of the year without problems, I had never learned a second language before, and I was in college).

    And then we get to step 4. Ahhhh, natural talent. This one kept me wondering for way too long: does such a thing even exists? Except for things like Savant Syndrome, there isn’t a gene that determines whether you’ll be able to learn a language fast. Your example made me crack up, by the way. I’m quite fond of mathematics, and so in high school and college people assumed I had some kind of divine talent, since I could solve math problems without effort and could often come up with an elementary solution to a “hard problem”. What people didn’t know is that I trained for math olympiads pretty intensely at home (2~3h a day is enough if you do it at least 5 days a week). And during my first year training for it, I was pwned to epic proportions (I didn’t get past the first test), which almost made me give up. It might be easier to assume your fellow “talented” friend was actually born with some fine-ass natural talent on looking at a kanji once and then writing it perfectly (best superpower ever), especially after you admitted you just didn’t know why was so good at it, much like it’s easy to attribute things such as lighting to the rage of Zeus or whatever, just because you don’t know what causes lightning.

    The rest of the steps aren’t even worth a feedback. I’m genuinely curious as to where the “7 easy steps to learn Japanese quickly” went to. Rest assured, if I ever need advice on how to trick people and myself into believing I’ve mastered Japanese in a month, I’ll refer to the last three steps.

    • Thanks for the reply. This was partly written as a send-up of the “Learn Japanese Quickly” industry, where people are, as you said, tricking people into believe they’ve mastered Japanese. Although “lying their asses off” might be a kinder way to put it though.

      The other two points do bear some consideration, however, and I see both as a spectrum. For example, natural talent. I’d say that’s not something you have versus don’t have, but rather that some people are better at things than others. Who knows why? Genetics or random distribution or something. But I’m pretty sure if you lined up a thousand people and told them all to run ten miles, some would finish faster, much faster than others. That’s just the way it is. And some people will learn Japanese faster than others. I know as people raised to believe that “all men are created equal” that’s unpalatable, but frankly, nature doesn’t care.

      As for age, again, it’s a spectrum. It’s not like one day you’re fifty and suddenly you’re like, Oh, now how do I draw that kanji for chicken wing, and where are my car keys? There’s a slow change in ability as people get older. Of course, you also gain other skills, such as patience and discipline that may be more valuable, but in terms of flexibility and receptiveness, younger people clearly have the advantage. There’s no such thing as too old, but you might have to work at it differently, that’s all.

      This isn’t fun information to hear, since age and innate ability are things we can’t change. But neither does it have to be discouraging, and I think it’s better to tell people the truth at the onset instead of just blowing sunshine up people’s skirts. Things are what they are. Abraham Lincoln said that, I think. Anyway, it’s better just to start today, go forward, and not worry about how others are doing.

  11. well .. most things apply .. i speak English, and Korean .. next to my native language
    and i wanna learn Japanese … but i don’t know how to !!
    i thought it would be similar to Korean ,,, but Korean is way to easy for it !!

    now i’ve learned languages on my own .. but japanese seems to have soooo many thing i don’t know where to start ?
    when i read about the different ways of pronouncing kanji .. that was just annoying !!

    so . i need help to learn it within a year ! any help …

    • Well, Japanese does have a lot of stuff to learn. Honestly, the number one most important thing to do is to learn the kanji. Do that, and you’re on your way. Without it, you’ll be at a huge handicap. This book—Remembering the Kanji—may help.

      • thanks ^_^ the book is amazing
        it’s really fun and easy

        but it doesn’t say any thing about kana !! do i study it after kanji or both at the same time ??
        and also what about the grammar !
        thanx for your help 🙂

        • All good questions, and there are several ways to approach this.

          Personally, I think focusing on kanji is the most important thing you can do.

          That being said, however, it’s fairly easy to learn hiragana and katakana. You could probably memorize them both in a couple of weeks.

          However, I’d caution you not to take notes using only hiragana, without kanji. For example, if you’re trying to memorize the word “cat,” don’t simply write ねこ (“neko”). That’s not any better than romaji. You should write (or type) 猫, and then beside it, include the hiragana. Start using kanji as early as possible.

          I’d delay the study of grammar until you finish learning the kanji. That way, you’ll actually be able to read the example sentences, and strengthen your kanji knowledge while acquiring grammar.

  12. A captivating read. I enjoyed the wry humor mixed with a hard dollop of fish-slap-in-the face reality. A really cool blog format too. I’m going to enjoy reading this blog at leisure. This 57-yr old is going to try hard to prove you wrong and that I can hack it with the younger guys . . . and my 5-yr old gal (daughter) here in southern Japan. I’ll be back to comment regularly. 22 years since my first Japanese class .

    • Seriously, good luck with that. You can certainly do it, and there’s nothing about your age that will prevent you from learning Japanese, once you remember where you put your reading glasses.

  13. Whoever wrote this, (i can’t tell who wrote this / too lazy to look for who wrote this) in #3, you say be bilingual and it said, sorry Americans. I grew up in 3 different languages besides Japanese! 1- English 2-French 3-Mohawk

    • Thanks for the comment, although it seems you also lacked the energy to include your nationality, or any other relevant details. It’d be interesting to hear how you grew up speaking a language that I modeled my hairstyle after.

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