It's no secret that Japanese is a tricky language to learn. While there are around 190 million worldwide speakers, over 90% of those are Japanese natives living in Japan itself. While nations like Great Britain and Spain spread their language and culture via colonization and trade routes, Japan enforced Sakoku (鎖国, "locked country") for a period of 214 years (1603 - 1868), essentially keeping the mixing of outside nations barred. Happily, nowadays, Japan greets visitors with open arms, with Japanese culture seeing a huge burst of popularity in the west over the past thirty years, especially.
Japanese anime, video games, fashion, and music are now hungrily devoured by western youth cultures, while cheaper international flights have made it easier than ever for travelers to explore its fascinating cities and beautiful countryside. This popularity has made an increasing number of people wish to learn Japanese - even if just a few words to get by when visiting. Luckily the birth of the internet and the introduction of powerful smartphones have made learning a new language easier than ever before. So, let's take a look at some useful resources to begin your Japanese language journey - hajimemashou!
When it comes to studying a new language, there is always more than one approach. You're never going to have more interactive and useful resources than a native speaker. They may be a teacher, friend, or relative and are often a handy and informal way to tackle a new language. As previously mentioned, though, Japan is not widely spoken outside its home, so a digital buddy may be the best way to go. Luckily there's a great variety of apps, websites, and reading resources that we've put together for you below.
For a budding Japanophile, Tofugu is an absolute must-visit website. Gorgeously designed and featuring an anime flavor, this website collects learning resources, deep dives on cultural concepts, and has a useful grammar database. If that wasn't enough, there's even a podcast available on all key streaming services so fans can learn on the move. For those who start getting used to the lingo and all of Japan's social complexities, there's also a fascinating interviews section with a range of fascinating characters, including videogame collectors and 10-year-old philosophers.
If you're reading this after mastering a good chunk of Duolingo's Japanese lessons, then perhaps you're keen to test your reading ability. If so, we recommend Watanoc, a free easy to read magazine in simplified Japanese featuring native audio narration of short readings graded at N5, N4, BE levels. The site is crammed with articles about great sightseeing ideas, tasty dishes, and culture in general. Each article comes with two features: an audio file, and then the grammar and vocab definitions. Valuable for those who are still getting used to reading with ease.
When someone begins to learn a language for the first time, one of the hardest parts is physically speaking the language. With most of the world's Japanese speakers residing in Japan itself, learning the language with people face-to-face can seem a little daunting, if not impossible. That's where Italki comes in. Italki is a site made for professional and casual teachers to spread their knowledge of languages worldwide. The site offers community forums, reduced-rate trial sessions, and teachers from all walks of life.
There are many ways to learn a language, and one of the most popular and successful methods is using flashcards. If that's something you are interested in, then Memrise is the site for you. Memrise is a memorization site that teaches basic to advanced vocabulary through the means of flashcards, written questions, and audio quizzes. The site is very easy to navigate, and the best part, it's completely free. Create an account, and you will be learning the basics of Japanese in no time!
If you've already done a little research into Japanese learning tools, then JapanesePod101 is a site you may have previously come across. Over the last few years, this site has been stocking up on some of the most useful and informative audio and visual learning classes online. JapanesePod101 offers a quick email sign-up and even personalizes your learning experience based on what you want and need. The site offers a premium membership, but even the basic experience is enough to get your Japanese language experience well on the way!
If you have worked your way through some of the resources on our list, and now you find yourself fairly comfortable with the basics of Japanese, then you'll definitely want to take a look at Imabi next. Imabi is a site crammed with information and does an amazing job in laying out the Japanese language into its complex, yet beautiful components. Whether you want to know about the many forms of a particular vowel, master the tenses, or simply put a technical name to something you have learned, Imabi will satisfy that highly intellectual side of Japanese language learning.
Japanese is a hard language to learn, especially for English speakers, and the starting steps may seem scary at first. However, hopefully, the excellent resources we have provided in this article get you started on your journey. Once you take that first step into a new language, the culture and flavor of that place shine in a whole new way. Japan has a deeply fascinating and complex history, and learning the language is a great way of understanding those intricacies in depth! We hope your Japanese journey starts with us!
Sam Walker-Smart is a British culture journalist currently based in Bristol. His work has appeared in CLASH, The Huffington Post, Vinyl Me Please, Barcelona Metropolitan, Little White Lies, and many other outlets. He enjoys weird folklore, sad songs, and good beer.