Credit Where Credit Is Due
Before we begin, I’d like to give proper credit where it’s due. This method is largely based on that from All Japanese All The Time (AJATT). I’m using my own modified version of that method for what best fits me. There are some differences now, and probably will be more in the future as well, but the overall idea is the same.
Bird’s Eye Overview
Prior to jumping in with both feet, there are a couple things that I should point out. First is the Table of Contents, which provides a method of progressing through the articles on this site in a somewhat-organized manner. Next is the fact that this method may change slightly over time, as I determine what works and what doesn’t. Also, bear in mind these techniques can be applied to any language, not just Japanese. However, Japanese is the main focus of this site.
One last thing to go over are some key concepts:
- Immersion – this is continuous from the time you start to beyond the time you’re fluent. It’s basically emulating being raised as a Japanese person. There will be a lot more detail on this shortly, so just accept this at face value for now. A more detailed series of articles on this begins here.
- SRS – Learning any language requires lots of memorization. Japanese is no exception. Spaced repetition systems are an efficient way to learn Japanese via long-term memory.
- The Japanese Writing System – Understanding this is a biggie, as well as the toughest part of the language. On a high level, it’s somewhat straightforward, but once you get into the nitty gritty things can get pretty crazy. For now, know that there are 3 sets of scripts (or “symbols” as some may call them) – Kanji, Katakana and Hiragana. Kanji are originally Chinese symbols that are used in everyday writing, and represent an idea instead of a specific word (though they can represent a word in many cases). The other two (Hiragana and Katakana) are known as “syllabaries”, which basically means that each character represents a sound. These 3 scripts are used in combination to form the Japanese written language. There will be many more detailed articles about this in the future, so I’m going to table this discussion for now.
There is much, much more information about these 3 concepts located in the articles on the Table of Contents. (Notice how I keep linking to the Table of Contents? Must be important, right? Right.) Reading through them to get an understanding of these concepts is a must if you wish to succeed.
All right, now we can begin! The all nihongo method of learning Japanese is divided into 4 Phases.
Phases of Learning Japanese
Phase 1: Kanji
Once you’ve set up your immersion environment (see this overview of immersion), it’s time to begin the first phase, which is the kanji phase. Bear in mind that this only includes learning the English keyword for association, as well as writing it. This phase is not about reading sentences. That comes later. Don’t worry though, I will go into more detail as to why reading sentences should come later in future articles. Patience, young grasshopper.
For this phase, you’ll need 3 things:
- Remembering the Kanji (RTK), Part I. This book is designed for those who wish to learn the 2,042 general use kanji using English keywords. Yep, there’s over 2,000 of them. No way around it, only through it if you want fluency. The idea is that you learn how to write the kanji from memory when given an English word. To achieve this, you should use an SRS, which involves typing in the keyword and kanji to create “flashcards”.
- The aforementioned SRS program. More detailed articles exist about this across the site, so I won’t go into it here. See the Table of Contents. (See? Another link to it!)
- Good ol’ pencil and paper. Yep, you need to physically write the kanji as well. Physically writing the kanji is a must if you want to remember them.
Phase 2: Kana
This is basically the same as phase 1, but for the 2 other scripts used in Japanese: hiragana and katakana. They each have 46 characters, and are used in addition to kanji. This is done using a combination of SRS and Heisig’s Remembering the Kana.
Phase 3: Sentences / Input
This stage is probably the longest of all. Toward the end, this stage and the next will run together. However, at the beginning, the real focus here is learning complete Japanese sentences (namely reading and understanding them verbally). The focus here is not on output, or being able to produce Japanese (writing/speaking).
Some key points:
- Learn sentences, not individual words. This will inadvertently help with grammar as well.
- Do not learn grammar, per se. Basically, like any language, grammar rules aren’t 100% accurate all the time. Why not speak Japanese the way it’s currently spoken? You’re not a textbook, but you’ll sound like one if you focus on grammar too much.
- Do not translate sentences, especially using a translator. These rarely reflect actual Japanese sentences in an accurate manner. Instead, understand them. Essentially, break it down into parts/words/sections, and understand how they come together as a whole. Get the general idea.
Phase 4: Output (Speaking)
This is the last phase. Learning to speak and parrot sentences is easy. Anyone can say こんにちは. Understanding the response: something different entirely. Don’t even attempt speaking (at least, to anyone else outside review sessions) until you’re sure you can understand at least 90% of the answer, and be able to ask about the part you don’t understand.
Where Should I Go Next?
The Table of Contents, of course. Read through the articles all the way up to Phase 2 (i.e. stop before reading Phase 2/Section 4.2) before you begin. Skipping these could result in missing out on some tips or gotchas that I’ve found. Reading these will make your process easier. Once you’ve done this, get crackin’ on learning your kanji.