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Resources for learning Japanese

(Translations: English日本語)

I enjoy studying the Japanese language and culture. Over time I’ve found lots of helpful resources that I use to study.

Jisho

Website

Standard Japanese-English dictionary. Simple interface, good content.

Tofugu: Learn the Kana

Japanese has 3 different writing systems. The first 2, hiragana and katakana, are called the kana. These each have 46 characters, which correspond to each other, in that they both make the same sounds. For example, the Hiragana character あ and the Katakana character ア both make the sound “ah”.

How to read the kana should definitely be the first thing to learn.

Guide to Japanese

Website

Good grammar reference. Topics are basically ordered with more basic/fundamental ones first and more niche ones later. All topics have example sentences, as well as explanations in English.

I like this resource because it teaches Japanese grammar from the foundations.

For instance, consider how this resources teaches the “polite form”.

In Japanese, there is a regular form and a polite form of verbs. Most textbooks/resources will start by teaching the polite form, because this form is the default to use when talking to most people.

But then, when you later learn the regular form, it is only then you realize that the regular form is the actual base form of the word, and the polite form is derived from it.

This guide instead first teaches the regular form and later tells you how to derive the polite form from it.

WaniKani

Website

Teaches you “radicals”, kanji, and words. Past the first 2 levels it requires a subscription or a lifetime purchase.

Even if you don’t want to pay for WaniKani, it is important to understand that if you want to read or write Japanese at all, you will have to learn a decent number of kanji. And the most important thing to know when learning kanji, whether using WaniKani or not, is this:

Unlike in English with the alphabet, the character is not the smallest unit of the writing system. Rather, the smallest unit is the “radical”.

I used to not know this, and I therefore struggled with learning kanji. When learning a single kanji character, you generally have to learn

For example, take 議.

This character is composed of 2 radicals: 言 and 義. Knowing the radicals helps with every aspect of a kanji:

Now, some kanji are pictograms, which means they kind of look like a picture:

But actually most kanji, like 議, are phono-semantic compounds. This means they’re composed of 2 radicals, one of which gives a hint to the meaning and the other a hint to the reading.

Bottom line: learn radicals. There’s an article about it.

NHK News Web Easy

Website

Japanese language news about current events. Pretty short articles. Good for reading practice. You can also listen to some of the articles and toggle off the reading hints (“furigana”) for more practice.

Mainichi Kanji

Website

Daily kanji practice. You actually write out the kanji.

YouTube

There’s a ton of Japanese YouTubers out there, but I sometimes watch Mina Luna Japanese and Nakata University.

It’s good to have a mix of channels focused on Japanese education, and channels which just happen to be in Japanese. The education ones teach specifically about different grammar points, wheras the non-education focused ones often have a faster and more realistic rate of speech, as well as more spoken colloquialisms.