Learning Japanese may seem like an impossible task. Most people see the intricate connections of lines which make up Japanese characters, the hiragana, katakana and kanji, as impossible to decipher.
But in a country where almost 75% of adults say they can't speak English, and with the Ministry of Education describing the level of English learning at schools as disappointing, the ability to speak Japanese will make a prospective employer take notice.
Aside from a professional perspective, learning Japanese could be a dream come true for those who love to read manga, watch anime, or play video games.
Most of us will have probably seen some anime growing up. These are like free Japanese lessons as you will probably be familiar with some Japanese vocabulary and some common expressions if you have seen the original versions.
So how do you start learning Japanese? Is it a difficult language to learn? How easily can you travel to Japan?
The most important question to answer before you start is: what is your motivation for learning Japanese? If you just want to learn basic Japanese for greeting people, introducing yourself, and to know how to use a few essential words or phrases, then your approach to learning will be different from people who want to develop a more fluent level in speaking Japanese because they want to live and work in Japan.
These are all questions we’ll be trying to answer over the course of this article.
Can You Learn Japanese in Primary School?
Let’s not waste time beating about the bush and get to the answers; it’s definitely possible (and even recommended) to start learning Japanese in primary school and early secondary school.
Did you know that children have better memories than adults? With a number of effective methods for raising bilingual children, those who are raised in a bilingual environment, speaking both English and another language, will grow up being able to speak both languages well.
This is due to the fact that when we’re young, we have more synaptic connections than when we’re older. However, as we grow up, we start losing these connections. Even more so when we stop using them every day. With this in mind, you can see why it’s so important to start learning Japanese as early as possible.
To find out more about where you can learn Japanese and to read kanji, hiragana, and katakana, we recommend visiting the Embassy of Japan’s website. If you'd like lists of schools in your state where Japanese language is taught, you should also contact your state's education directorate.
Don’t worry if you don’t happen to live near a school that has Japanese lessons! There’s more than one way to learn about the Japanese language, Japanese culture, and Japanese history.
You could always consider getting private classes or tutorials in Japanese from a private tutor. Ask around about community classes, or get in touch with the Japan Foundation to find out about free classes with native speakers, or local events celebrating Japanese festivals.
Regardless of where you study, your Japanese lessons will more than likely focus on 'polite' forms of grammar and vocabulary, which is the level of Japanese used by any new learner who is studying Japanese as a new language.
Have a look here for the best Japanese lessons near you.
Everything You Need to Know About Learning Japanese at University
After leaving school, you’ll probably want to continue learning Japanese at university. If this is the case, you’ll have a number of good options because Japanese is offered at universities around the world.
The number of people who want to learn to speak Japanese is increasing around the world, and this is reflected in the number of students who learn Japanese as an undergraduate. You are even able to study at postgraduate level as well. You should be able to find a Japanese course at your local university if you live in a big town or city, and you don't necessarily require prior learning to study. Most courses are targeted at beginners, rather than experienced speakers.
While the classroom has always been the traditional way to learn, in this day and age you can also learn Japanese online, with private tutors, or through language centres that offer lessons both during the day and in the evenings. Depending on where you live, you can often find these options in abundance. The most important thing is that you learn to speak the language while at the same time broadening your understanding of the accompanying culture and history. In some cases, you can do this more effectively outside of university.
As a general rule, if you want to work in academia, you should probably consider learning the language at university. However, when it comes to applying for jobs with a Japanese language requirement, the other course options can be just as good.
If you can't find a nearby university that offers Japanese speaking classes, you can learn Japanese online.
Don’t forget the most important thing: You can always hire a private tutor who can assist you to catch up with your studies or even teach you Japanese privately if none of the other options are available to you.
How Can You Find a Japanese Private Tutor?
Wherever you are, you can easily find the right tutor to teach you Japanese who’ll be happy to give you private tutorials. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or advanced, we can guide you to find a Japanese language specialist near you.
You can learn anything from a few phrases, and how to say your name and age, to a more complex study of the language, writing system and culture in preparation for taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
If you want to be able to read Japanese, learning hiragana, katakana, romaji and kanji (which originated from Chinese) is essential. A Japanese teacher can work with you at a pace that suits you, and using a method tailored to help your language learning.
Superprof is a great resource for finding private tutors who can work with your strengths and weaknesses to help you learn Japanese as effectively as possible. It’s what we do, after all.
It doesn’t matter where you live, in just a few clicks you can find a teacher, check out their profile, compare their rates, and evaluate their method of teaching. Once you’ve found the right one, just get in contact with them.
You should also know that many tutors offer free tutoring for the first hour. The intention is to make it easier to know whether or not you and your tutor really click.
Whatever your level is, your tutor will be able to help you:
work on your pronunciation of Japanese words
count in Japanese
construct sentences in Japanese
participate in conversations with native speakers
understand and use Japanese grammar
memorise important Japanese words, phrases and sentence structures
The best tutors will adapt their methods to suit your needs, too. Furthermore, they can also recommend the best resources for learning and continuing your Japanese practice between lessons. Some recommend you supplement your studies with textbooks, manga, movies, video games or art.
If you follow all the advice they give you, you will see your proficiency improve in all aspects of the Japanese language; speaking, listening, reading and writing.
When it comes to price, tuition rates can vary depending on a number of different factors such as experience, location and level. You should also check if there are Japanese groups or clubs where you live. Maybe there are language centres offering classes during the day or evening. Of course, both of these options are rarely free, though they may be cheaper than private tutoring.
Is Learning Japanese Difficult?
From the point of view of an English speaker, the Japanese language can seem quite complicated.
The Japanese writing system alone can inspire fear in the hearts of even the steeliest students. Not having the Latin alphabet as a comfort blanket makes it near impossible for beginners to read Japanese phrases. There will, of course, be a wealth of new and unfamiliar words to greet you when you start researching the language online, and it is highly likely they'll be written in the writing scripts of Japan—hiragana, katakana and kanji.
However, does the different written system really make Japanese a difficult language to learn?
You don’t need to worry too much. After all, the Japanese language has borrowed plenty of words from English. Here are a few of them.
- “milkshake” → mirukuse-ki
- “soccer” → sakkaa
- “half-time” → haafu taimu
- “referee” → refurii
- “jeans” → jiinzu
- “table” → teeburu
In addition to all the English words, there are several other things that make Japanese easier than you might think:
Unlike languages, such as Spanish and French, Japanese has no gendered nouns.
You don’t need to conjugate each subject with a verb.
You don’t always have to mention the subject or the object.
Every syllable is almost always pronounced the same way
Japanese pronunciation is not as reliant on tones as Chinese or Vietnamese.
Video Games: The Best Way to Learn Japanese on Your Own
Most people who grew up during the 80s and 90s will be very familiar with how many video games are made in Japan. Through brands like Nintendo, Sony, Genki, and Sega, children across the world grew up playing games that were made in the Land of the Rising Sun.
So can you learn Japanese through video games? In the 80s, video games were almost exclusively made in one of two places: the US or Japan. You can use the latter to familiarise yourself with the Japanese writing systems: kanji and kana (hiragana and katakana).
You learn more effectively when you’re having fun and with Japanese titles such as Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy and Tekken (to name a few), plenty of kids were closer to Japanese culture than they realised. There are even games that exist for the sole purpose of teaching you Japanese:
The Legend of Zelda
Ni no Kuni
- Persona 5
With the practice you receive through playing, you will learn Japanese pronunciation much more quickly by playing video games than studying from a textbook. It is a good form of immersion in the language that can help you understand Japanese sentences without having to go all the way to Tokyo.