A 5-Step Guide to Learning to Read Japanese In 8 Weeks
Japanese is said to be one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn because of the significant differences in writing systems. But I’ve devised a method that will enable you to learn to read Japanese in as little as 8 weeks!
Let me start by saying that you will not be literate at the level of a native adult. This will take longer because you will need to master thousands of vocabulary as well as several grammatical patterns.
But here’s what this procedure will accomplish for you:
- Teach you how to learn the meanings of 2,200 kanji and how to read them.
- Teach you both hiragana and katakana kana systems.
- Teach you enough Japanese grammar to comprehend the basics.
- Make sure you’re reading native material!
This 5-step procedure was created with the complete beginner in mind. So, if you have no prior knowledge of Japanese, this is ideal for you!
However, if you’ve been studying Japanese for a while, you’re in luck since the entire procedure will be even faster for you!
Let me clarify right now that this initial stage is the most time-consuming and difficult of the entire process. If you start to feel overwhelmed while reading it, don’t worry about it; simply go at your own pace.
The rest is simple once you’ve completed the first step.
Finally, go over each of the 5-Steps in this post and then look at the Resources section at the conclusion to see where you can get the things you’ll need to make your plan a reality.
1. EVERY DAY, LEARN THE MEANING OF 50 NEW KANJI.
In Japanese, the word “kanji” means “Chinese character,” and that is exactly what they are.
A word can be written with just one kanji, or it can be written with numerous kanji mixed together (called “compounds”).
Kanji can have several readings or pronunciations in addition to their potential meanings. When kanji is utilized in a different way, it is usually read in a different way.
What is the total number of kanji? A little more than 50,000.
The good news is that you just need to memorize a little more than 2,000 characters (known as the “daily-use kanji”) to become fluent in the language. However, if you want to go to a Japanese university, you’ll need to know more than 3,000 words.
Knowing all of this, as well as the enormous amount of kanji and their numerous meanings and interpretations, it’s easy to see why it takes the Japanese years to study kanji.
But you’re going to adopt a different strategy, one that will get you reading the language straight away and will work rapidly.
It turns out that knowing just one (or sometimes two) kanji interpretations is all you need to understand them 90% of the time.
That’s how you’ll go about learning the 2,200 kanji you’ll encounter on a daily basis: By remembering only one meaning for each.
This will tie a new piece of information (the kanji itself) to an existing piece of information in your long-term memory.
What should you do now that you understand what kanji are and how to swiftly learn a large number of them?
This is a good time for me to point you that the entire timetable I’m laying out is somewhat demanding.
I propose that you follow this strategy for 1-2 hours each day.
If you finished sooner, that’s fantastic!
However, set aside that amount of time for studying every day.
This may entail giving up one of your favorite TV series or limiting your time spent playing video games, among other things.
It all boils down to a question of priorities: how vital is it for you to learn to read Japanese?
Only you have the ability to honestly answer that question. But, once you’ve answered it, make sure to give it your all.
If you can’t commit to 1-2 hours each day, set a goal of 30-60 minutes per day and understand that it will take twice as long overall.
Still, 16 weeks to learn to read Japanese isn’t awful!
Let’s get back to the second section of Step 1: Kanji Review.
In order to keep strengthening the new memories as you continue, you’ll need to revisit kanji you’ve already learned. I recommend that you install the free software program Anki on your PC.
This is a Spaced Repetition System (SRS), which is essentially a sophisticated version of Flash Cards.
The reason you should use SRS is that it will push the kanji that you find simple far into the future while reviewing the ones you find difficult more frequently.
This way, you’ll only have to devote 10-20 minutes to evaluate the items that require the greatest attention. When your “deck” grows to hundreds, then thousands of flashcards, it’s a lifesaver.
The best aspect is that the cards don’t even have to be made by you!
Remembering the Kanji decks have already been produced by several members of the community. You can just download one of them for free and begin using it straight away for your evaluation.
As I previously stated, the first stage in the process is the most difficult and time-consuming.
You can learn all 2,200 kanji in the book in just 44 days (just over 6 weeks!) if you use Remember the Kanji to learn 50 new kanji per day and then use Anki to review the kanji you’ve already learned.
Following that, you’ll glide through the steps below and be reading native stuff in two weeks or less!
2. In Just a Few Days, You Can Learn Both Hiragana And Katakana.
In addition to kanji, the Japanese language features two other purely phonetic characters. That each symbol symbolizes a single sound but has no meaning!
Isn’t that simple?
The first is known as hiragana. Many common terms that aren’t written in kanji are spelled in this way.
It’s also widely utilized for the many grammatical structures you’ll study in the next section.
Hiragana is often the first portion of Japan’s writing system to learn, but I’ve reserved it for this second step because learning all of the kanji takes so much longer.
I don’t want you to learn hiragana and then forget about it for six weeks while learning kanji. Does that make sense?
Once you’ve mastered the 46 fundamental hiragana symbols, as well as a few more advanced ones, you’ll be able to use them right away in the steps that follow.
This implies that you won’t need to set up any form of evaluation system because you’ll be using them in real life straight away.
I learned hiragana in about three days by writing them down over and again, but you can learn them all in a day or two by either writing them out like I did or utilizing visual mnemonics to recall their pronunciation.
Visual mnemonics are comparable to the imaginative stories you’ll use to learn kanji, but because hiragana is so easy, they’re a little different.
FYI: All hiragana are 1-4 strokes long, however, the kanji you’ll study can have a stroke count of up to 20.
After you’ve mastered hiragana, you’ll go on to katakana right away.
If hiragana were the English alphabet’s “lower case letters,” katakana would be the “upper case letters.”
What I mean is that hiragana and katakana both represent the same sounds, yet they serve different purposes.
Katakana is most commonly used for “borrowed words” from other languages that the Japanese language has adopted. It is also widely used for plant and animal names. And, on occasion, an author will simply write a term in katakana because it looks “cool” in comparison to hiragana.
Because there are so many symbols that seem virtually identical, I learned katakana a day faster than I learned hiragana.
Although you will not come across katakana as frequently as hiragana or kanji, it is nevertheless vital to learn in order to read Japanese.
Almost all beginner Japanese books teach both hiragana and katakana from the outset.
This is fantastic since you’ll need one of those beginner books for the next section, which is all about learning and comprehending Japanese language patterns.
3. Invest in a beginner’s grammar book.
You will have learned the meanings of 2,200 kanji and how to read both hiragana and katakana by this stage.
For only 6-7 weeks of Japanese study, this is great!
You should be proud of what you’ve accomplished thus far and looking forward to what lies ahead.
Now is the time to pick up a beginner’s book that will teach you some basic vocabulary as well as the language’s grammar.
Simply begin from the beginning and work your way through the book, doing the drills and activities at the end of each chapter to help you remember what you learned.
The best part is that you’ll finally be able to see how the kanji you’ve learned interacts with hiragana.
Of course, you’ll come across some katakana-spelled words that are usually nouns or verbs from other languages.
It’s crucial to remember at this stage that you don’t have to study everything about Japanese grammar; doing so would take a long time. This step is all about mastering the fundamentals.
You want to lay a strong foundation that will support the rest of your language learning.
You should be able to finish the beginner book in one week if you continue to study for 1-2 hours per day.
The great thing about the Japanese language is that the more you use it, the more you automatically revisit the fundamentals you acquired previously.
Because it’s doubtful that you’ll come across all 2,200 kanji every day, you simply need to utilize SRS for kanji at first.
You will, on the other hand, use all of the hiragana and basic grammar patterns if you go through the basic Japanese book.
Katakana does not appear as frequently as hiragana, but there are many parallels between the two, so it should be OK.
4. Look for interesting manga with Furigana.
Now is the moment to start reading real Japanese literature and manga that were written for and enjoyed by natives.
Congratulations! You’ve completed the task! In just eight weeks, you learned to read Japanese!
There’s just one small problem: in order to understand what you read, you’ll need to learn hundreds of new terms and expert grammar!
Ugh… But hold on! There is an alternative: Purchase manga intended for a younger audience.
If you choose manga geared for children, you will be able to enjoy a story that has the following elements:
- You’ll be surprised at how much this aids comprehension of the dialogue.
- Common terms – You’ll already be familiar with the kanji’s meaning!
- Fundamental grammar – The beginner’s book on Japanese will also teach you basic grammar.
- Furigana – A little hiragana printed above the kanji that helps you memorize the readings!
This last point is crucial since, during phase one, I had you ignore learning how to pronounce all 2,200 kanji.
You can now associate a single new piece of information (the reading) with the meaning of the kanji, which will be kept in your long-term memory.
This means you may keep learning while reading and enjoying Japanese manga!
It’s as though you’ve got the best of both worlds. It’s a “virtuous cycle” because you’re mixing learning with enjoyment, which both reinforce each other, leading to you learning even more and having even more fun!
The secret is to enjoy the process if you want to become a true life-long learner.
My entire goal in pushing you through this intense 8-week approach is to bring you to this place as quickly as possible so that you can enjoy reading Japanese books while learning more vocabulary and grammar.
The concept of “learning as you go” leads us to the last step.
5. As You Come Across New Words, Learn Them.
Remember how I mentioned compound words made up of two or more kanji? You may have noticed that we’ve been ignoring them up until now. That was done on purpose.
The issue with this method of learning is twofold:
It’s perplexing since so much information is provided at once.
It’s a slow process.
If you follow this path, you should be able to learn 5 kanji per day if you are dedicated!
That implies it takes them over a year to memorize the 2,200 kanji they use every day!
Do you want to spend a year studying before reading a lot of Japanese books? When I first started learning to read Japanese, I had no idea.
Did you know that a kanji can have three different meanings/readings, but only one of them will account for 90% of the kanji’s usage?
Spending a lot of time memorizing meanings/readings that you’ll only see once a month or once a year doesn’t seem to make sense to me.
Do you think so?
In as little as two months, you will be able to read Japanese using the method I’ve given. Then you can devote the next ten months to actually reading Japanese and learning new kanji meanings and readings.
That makes sense, right? Can you see why I created the process in this manner?
Do you want to know which terms you should focus on learning first? They’re the ones in the manga you’re currently reading.
I don’t want you to read the manga more than once. I’d like you to go through it ten times. Hundreds of times!
The following is how children learn to read: By reading the same few books again and over until they have a firm grasps of the material and are ready to move on.
The same will be true for you. Remember that you are currently acting like a child — a Japanese child! Perhaps your comprehension is that of a two-to-three-year-old.
Still, you have to be proud of yourself when you consider it only took you two months to get there!
You ought to be.
All you have to do now is keep reading Japanese every day and look up the things you don’t understand when they happen. Rinse and repeat until you’ve achieved fluency.
The Gathering of Resources and Putting It All Together
So, in order for this technique to function, you’ll need the following five items:
- Keeping Kanji in Mind (for learning kanji)
- For the computer, there’s Anki (for reviewing kanji)
- A Japanese beginner’s guide (for learning basic grammar)
- A manga mostly focused on youngsters.
- An online dictionary that may be used to check up new words in the manga rapidly.
It’s critical to get into the habit of learning Japanese on a daily basis right away.
I told you to study for 1-2 hours per day, but I didn’t say you had to do it all at once. It’s totally acceptable to divide it into smaller chunks throughout the day. Just remember to be consistent.
Unfortunately, if you have these study materials in digital format, you’re much more likely to fall victim to the “out of sight, out of mind” approach and miss a day, which can quickly grow into two and snowball from there.
Fast and Slow Reading
Reading for study can be classified into two categories: fast and slow reading. Intensive reading entails thoroughly comprehending a shorter, more challenging material while also carefully examining unfamiliar words in a dictionary. This is the type of reading that is most usually seen in the classroom when understanding is frequently tested through questions. A lot of reading is required while translating a text.
Extensive reading is related to pleasure reading since it entails gaining a wide comprehension of something longer but simpler without stopping to analyze it. This benefits the reader by increasing input and allowing them to naturally take up words in context. Intensive reading, on the other hand, allows you to become familiar with words and phrases that demand more work to learn. The finest of both worlds can be had by combining the two in one’s study.
According to several studies, fluent extensive reading and learning necessitate 98 percent text comprehension. Before diving into an intriguing book, you can evaluate your comprehension by counting the number of words you don’t understand on the first page and estimating what proportion of the total you don’t understand. While this is merely a rough suggestion, if you don’t know 10% or more of the book’s content, it’s likely to be difficult and best suited to extensive reading.
As a result, I’ll wrap up by emphasizing the significance of motivation. Reading allows you to become more familiar with a variety of grammatical patterns that can be difficult to recall when taken out of context. Higashino’s riddles entertained me while also assisting me in comprehending a wide range of materials in my professional life, including business journals and political periodicals. I believe it is more important to read what you enjoy and find stimulating rather than worrying about what you should be reading, particularly while learning the foundations.
Keep your motivation up. Intermediate pupils hit a snag when their steady progress through the primary levels flattens out and becomes stagnant. This reflects a desire to read something more challenging than textbooks. For busy adult learners in especially, finding a steady stream of reading materials that are both engaging and at the proper level can be a difficult journey of trial and error. (This is something I’ve discovered through personal experience.)
Focus on rewards rather than punishments. Learning Japanese, like learning anything else, is easier when it’s enjoyable. Consider what initially piqued your interest in Japanese. If you’re interested in anime, video games, a specific author, or a specific band, go for it. Those activities can also be considered studying. Make a list of books (and audiobooks) that you’re interested in and passionate about reading. Variety is necessary in order to retain Japanese in your life while avoiding burnout. When you’re feeling concentrated, read a book; when you’re weary but still want to hear Japanese, watch a TV drama. Look for ways to make the learning process more enjoyable.