Japanese Learning Resources

People are always asking me how to learn Japanese. I began learning Japanese from a class at UVU. I have never started learning a language from scratch on my own, so I don't have a whole lot of advice in this field. But in order to help those people, and others trying to learn/study Japanese like me, I have put together a list of all of my favorite Japanese-language related sites. This list is for learners of all levels (or at least all up until my own level.) Feel free to skip these beginning paragraphs, as they are likely very boring.

The most important thing to keep in mind when learning a language is that you cannot get better at something without practice. As simple as an idea as that is, so many people seem to miss this. People try so hard to learn a language, and they struggle so much, but if you ask them, "Have you been reading/speaking/listening to that language?" they say something like, "Well, no, of course not, I can't read very well at all, I can't understand anything I hear, and when I try to come up with words, I draw blanks. I'm nowhere near the level where I could be reading/speaking/listening yet." That may sound like sound logic, but what they are basically saying is, "I can't read, so I can't read," etc. It's circular logic and it must be stopped. Try, and if you fail, try again until you don't fail. I'm definitely not the first person to say this, and I think this applies to almost anything.

The second most important thing is to have fun. People think that they have to be perfect. People think they must do everything by the book, that they cannot corrupt their mind with colloquial language and abbreviations and popular speech patterns. The fact of the matter is that all of these things are the language and ignoring them is just as silly as ignoring basic grammar rules. If you want to learn Japanese entirely by watching anime, you should go ahead. You may end up sounding a bit like a rude schoolgirl or a gruff samurai, but at least you can communicate. You can plug those holes later. Most of the stuff you learn along the way will be 100% real Japanese that works anywhere. And you will know all kinds of things about the language that Mr. By-The-Textbook would never find in his index.

I will stop pretending like I'm some kind of expert now and post something substantial.


* - Starred resources require money

This is a great guide. It's good for learning grammar. There are plenty of sites that will tell you what a word means, but it's hard to find a site that will actually tell you how to express something. This site is perfect for learning all of the grammar points. It's like the meat of a textbook, without all of the assignments and vocabulary getting in the way. There is also an iOS app.

Denshi Jisho, or "electronic dictionary" is exactly what it sounds like. It is a English-Japanese/Japanese-English dictionary. It takes one of the most popular databases on the internet, WWWJDIC, which has an unfortunately clumsy layout, and wraps it up into a pretty user interface. You can look up Kanji and example sentences, too, with the various tools it offers.

This is an online textbook designed for self-learners. As I mentioned before, I began in a physical classroom at UVU, so I can't honestly speak for anything else for beginners. I've looked at the free parts of this textbook, and they seem pretty cool. It is a bit expensive, but definitely cheaper than a college class. And if you just pay the one-time fee, I think it's pretty close to a normal textbook in terms of price.

I used this site for a long time. It made a good flash card tool, and it gave me a huge confidence boost because I was able to write all of the kanji as well. This app is like flash cards, but you have to write the characters to advance. It basically turns your flash cards into a game. It has premade lists, or you can make your own. I highly recommend this for nailing vocabulary, especially if you have a writing tablet. I stopped using it recently because I got bored with it. If something is a chore to do, you're not going to learn very much from it. That's my philosophy.

I used this site a lot back in my third year at UVU. It's a site where people post things they have written in other languages so that they can receive corrections from native speakers. You can make friends and correct people's English, too. I've got a couple of really good friends there who will always correct something when I post. Sometimes correcting people can help your Japanese as well, because sometimes they write what they meant in Japanese, or they'll ask you questions in Japanese. A great tool for intermediate learners.

This is where I used to buy all of my Japanese books from. It's a great place to find almost anything you're looking for, and I usually buy three or four at a time, because orders over $39 get free shipping. Searching can be a pain sometimes, because some of the titles are improperly romanized. For instance, "Nichijou" is listed as "Nichijiyou." I now use a website called Honto for books, but it is really hard to get them to ship to an overseas address, and navigating the site requires a fair bit of Japanese knowledge, so I have left it off this list. There are guides online about how to use it, so if you're having trouble finding a book on YesAsia, and feeling a bit adventurous, you might want to give it a try.

This is a funny, interesting, and sometimes fairly irreverent blog written by a man who learned Japanese to a nearly fluent level in about a year and a half, simply by immersing himself and injecting the language into everything he did. It is chock full of inspiration and ideas to help you learn a language better. Whether you're learning Japanese, another language, or even something other than a language, this website is very motivational and eye-opening. Recently the feed has been overrun by his advertisements for his own Japanese-learning products, and, even more recently, by a new flash card management system he has been endorsing. It's kind of annoying and confusing to somebody visiting for the first time, so I have linked to the table of contents because this is now probably the best place to start from.

When you begin learning Japanese, one of the first real steps is to learn the two syllabaries, hiragana and katakana, together called "kana." This website was instrumental to me in learning to read them. It presents you with the characters, and a text box to let you type the romaji (alphabet representation of kana). There are advanced options that allow you to see them in different fonts, among other things.

This is an amazing tool for any subject really. It's a digital platform for flashcards. But not only does it save you from buying and carring around a bunch of gruesome-papercut-inducing 4x5 index cards, but it has a special system that would be nearly impossible to properly emulate on your own. It uses a sysem called "SRS" (Spaced Repitition Studying), which presents you with a digital flash card, and when you "flip" it, it asks you, on a 4-tier scale, how well you know/remember the answer. If you know it really well, it pushes it back so that you won't get it again for a while. If you barely know it at all, you'll probably be seeing it again really soon. There are hundreds of shared decks available online, so you might not even have to make your own cards. And it's all free on almost any platform you can think of. On iOS, (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad) it will cost you, but it's worth it. 

This is an app I used a long time ago. It's a great one to use to start out. I totally forgot about it until just recently. If you are a beginner I highly recommend trying this app. There is a free trial, and it is available on most spartphones, along with a PC/Mac version. It's not that expensive, and it's a great way to start learning. I used it a lot when I first started.

This is the single best app I have ever purchased. There are other decent dictionary apps for free, like Kotoba, but I love this app because it has a few more features, like handwriting recognition for Japanese characters and bookmark folders (I make one for every book/anime/game) that you can turn into flashcards on the fly. Also I just like the interface better.

WWWJDIC (Android App)
WWWJDIC is a very popular internet database for Japanese language learners. What I have linked to, however, is an app, for Android. Although I don't think it is on quite the level that Midori is, it is probably the best Japanese-English dictionary app for Android that I have found. It has character look up by stroke recognition, and even has a mode that isn't sensitive to stroke order, which is nice for beginners. If you have an iOS device, I recommend Midori, but if you only have Android, I think this app is the way to go.

A problem you might have in your noble quest to learn Japanese is the problem of finding stuff to read, or more specifically, finding stuff to read digitally. I like to put a bunch of manga and novels in picture format on my iPod to read them when I have down time but can't take out a book, or don't have a book with me. If you are trying to find raw Japanese files, but are having trouble finding non-translated stuff, this is the site for you. It is a torrent tracker that hosts torrents of all kinds of Japanese-related materials, translated and not. If you want to find raw Japanese, just choose the search category "Books - Raw Books" and search the Japanese name for it. You can find almost anything. They have anime and Japanese music as well. You will need a BitTorrent client to download these. You should never download images of a book that you don't actually own, as it could be illegal. Actually, it's a legal grey area to be downloading them at all, but just be careful.

Another torrent tracker. This is the best place I have found to download anime, Nyaa is second. They refuse to host anything if they are asked to take it down, so the main purpose of this site has become to host obscure anime or anime that has no official localization. Most of the files here are of very high quality. You need to create a profile on the website for free before you can do anything. This is so they can keep a high seeding rate on their torrents by making sure all of their users have a good ratio. Because of this, if you don't know how to use torrents very well, you may want to stay away from this website.

These are both essentially the same thing for different internet browsers. It is a plugin that installs into the browser, and adds a button that, when activated, will allow you to scroll over Japanese words on webpages and have their meaning(s)/reading(s) pop up in a little box. It's very handy. It's like a really lazy version of a dictionary.

I recently discovered this while translating manga. It's become immensely helpful. I use it when I have no idea what a sound effect means, in manga or elsewhere, or if I know what it means but I can't think of a good English equivalent to use in a translation. Sound effects are not only in manga, but also in "real" literature, usually in the form of adverbs. So knowing them is definitely important. This is a collaborated dictionary that documents usage of Japanese sound effects, and what their English equivalents would be.

Tofugu: How to Guess a Kanji's Reading You Don't Know
I've tried to describe this to people many times, but I always just get blank stares. Finally, I found an article that properly explains how I can guess a kanji's reading. It just kind of jumps out at me now, after having read so much, so I guess that's why I had such a hard time explaining it. It saves me a lot of time because I don't have to draw out kanji characters in Midori or use radical lookup. This article was written by Koichi, the main author of Textfugu, by the way.

Japanese Subtitles at Kitsunekko

Once you get to the point where you can generally understand what's going on without English subtitles, or perhaps even before, you might find yourself wanting a Japanese transcription of what the characters are saying in anime. Don't worry, there's a way! This archive hosted by kitsunekko.net has hundreds of subtitle files for anime. The only problem is that many of them won't work immediately. You usually have to drag them into the same folder as anime files, and rename them to match the video files. Sometimes you might have to mess with the timing using Aegisub. The "Shift Times" feature will come in handy if the subtitles are ahead or behind your video.

This list will never be complete. I will keep updating it as I see fit and/or when I'm bored. If you want to recommend me another resource, please comment. I love to find new ways to study.

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