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What’s the best way to learn to speak Japanese?

Do you want to know the best way to learn Japanese? In this article, we are talking about one of the most difficult languages in the world: Japanese. Many beginner students who decide to learn it give up halfway through, fed up with so many Kanji, Hiragana, and Katakana. Others continued, even though it is a challenge worthy of Her Majesty’s best, agent 007.

However, and despite everything, if one follows a proper line of learning, there is no need to complicate things so much… What is the best way to learn to speak Japanese from scratch, then?

In this article, we will offer a structured study plan and a strategy that we believe represents the best way to learn to speak Japanese without getting intimidated or discouraged from the start. So let’s see some important tips that will help you in your Japanese learning adventure.

Level 1: Focus on the spoken language first

If you are new to the Japanese language it is undoubtedly much easier to start by learning to speak Japanese first. And the best way to learn to speak Japanese is by repetition. Listen and learn to pronounce the Japanese consonants and vowels by repeating the words out loud, especially those most commonly used. Keep in mind that this language has only 5 vowels, whose sound is very similar to their English counterparts. Once you have some practice, it will be time to move on to the second level: write in Japanese.

Usually, when learning a new language, one of the many pieces of advice people give is to use subtitles in the language you are learning. But Japanese is a completely different story because written Japanese uses the feared Kanji. This makes it very hard for beginner students to read subtitles. Since you are just starting with this language, you’d better download one of the many language learning apps for your cell phone and listen and learn words one by one. Starting simple is the best way to learn to speak Japanese.  

Level 2: Learn Hiragana

Hiragana (平仮名 or ひらがな) is one of the two syllabaries used in the Japanese language (along with Katakana, which we will speak about later). Hiragana mainly represents syllables and vowels, thanks to which any sound can be written in this language. On the other hand, it is also used for verb and adjective endings, as well as for propositions and particles. The 46 characters of Hiragana are very simple, so learning them should not take you long.

Starting to write in Japanese with Hiragana is one of the best ways to learn to speak Japanese without getting intimidated or discouraged from the start.

Level 3: Then… Katakana

This is the second Japanese syllabary: Katakana (片仮名 or カタカナ). Katakana also has 46 characters and it is used mainly for foreign words and onomatopoeias. Each sound in Hiragana has its equivalent in Katanaka; so, having already learned the former, you’ll have less trouble assimilating the latter.

Have you memorized both already? Good. Then you should be ready to start reading with both of them. 

Level 4: Learn more expressions, pronouns, verbs, vocabulary

Now that you already have some knowledge of Japanese, you should start learning the most common expressions of this language, as well as its pronouns, some vocabulary (mainly verbs), qualifying adjectives, and demonstrative adjectives. Little by little, of course. They will be of great help for the following levels since at this point things will get a bit more complicated…

How to learn these? At this point we recommend you to learn them in a context, and not separately. That is, learn a new lesson, read a Japanese book or watch an anime and learn the words that the main characters say, for example.

Level 5: It’s time for learning Grammar!

Nouns, adjectives, and verb tenses finally make their appearance. Fortunately, if you’ve followed a structured learning plan and you have passed the previous level, this one will be much easier for you. We’re not saying that at this level you have to learn Japanese grammar from cover to cover, but you do need to acquire a basic level. For example, you should know that the sentence structure in this language is ‘subject-object-verb’.

Level 6: The Japanese learner’s worst nightmare – Kanji!

The great dreaded characters of Japanese, are very similar to Chinese characters. Kanji are characters that represent concepts and ideas in themselves and are absolutely essential for mastering Japanese.

There are officially more than 1,900 kanji, but don’t worry: you don’t have to learn them all (just as you wouldn’t be able to recite the English dictionary by memory). To give you an idea, a person is considered to have reached the intermediate Japanese level when they know 300 kanji. But let’s go little by little. Remember: keeping it simple is the best way to learn to speak Japanese.  

We recommend that you first learn the radicals and their meanings since they will help you to memorize new kanji later on. There are 214 in total, so you have your work cut out for you. Once you know how to recognize them all, we advise you to continue with the most commonly used kanji and also with those that belong to subjects of your interest.

We would suggest that the most convenient way to learn them is to follow the order of the JPLT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) or Noken. That is the official Japanese exam. This exam has 5 levels, being the fifth the most suitable for beginners. On the internet, you can find information about it and about the tests that are taken, which would be good for you to practice.

Summarizing

There are many more aspects to deal with in this language: Keigo and kenjougo (very formal and humble formal), colloquialisms and abbreviations, onomatopoeias, many more kanji, much more vocabulary.

In this article, we’ve covered the six levels that will help you when it comes to learning Japanese, no matter if you learn Japanese online, in-person, or on your own. However, we won’t say it’s easy, but every effort has its reward. One thing you could do to facilitate your learning process is to study with a Japanese teacher who is a native speaker and will give you proper feedback in your learning process. On italki, you can book a demo lesson to see how private lessons can positively impact your Japanese and how beneficial they can be to your learning process.

Japanese is a language of great importance: the ninth most spoken language in the world, 130 million speakers, and highly valued by companies and businesses all over the world.

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