While you don’t need to know any Japanese to enjoy your trip through Japan, it’s always nice to know at least some basic phrases that can act as a safety net should you require them.
The recommendations on this page are going to be dramatically different depending on what your goals are.
I’m not fluent yet but I’ve put so much time into studying and I wish someone could have set me on the right track from the start. So here is a list of my favorite resources.
For A Beginner
Japanese From Zero! (Click to check current price on Amazon) – If you’re completely new to Japanese, want a textbook and don’t know where to start… This is a great option.
George Trombley has a wealth of experience in taking people from a complete beginner to conversational in Japanese and the first book in the series is a great stepping stone.
In book 1 of 5, you’ll learn simple vocabulary and grammar so you can do everything from introduce yourself to asking for a pizza at a pizza shop. That’s super important, wherever you are in the world you need access to pizza.
Even better than that though is he has all of the lessons in video format for free on YouTube, so you can easily revise everything you’ve learned! He’s a really nice guy and I often still find myself watching his videos for fun. Check out the first lesson below.
For A More Traditional Learner
Genki (check current price on Amazon) – If you’re more serious about studying, have some more free time or you want to live in Japan someday this is a good option. It’s definitely faster paced than the From Zero series and it’s a lot tougher to stick with, but nonetheless it’s a good resource.
In fact, it’s probably the most famous book for studying Japanese and a quick flick through the contents will show you why. There are a lot of learners who have a lot of success with the Genki series and the style of the book is perfect for a classroom-type environment. If you liked learning in school, you’ll love Genki.
If You’re Aiming For Fluency
If your dream is to be able to read native materials accurately and have an extremely high level speaking ability, then this can be broken into two parts.
For reading, the most important element is being able to remember and recall all of the most useful kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese) as quickly as possible. The most proven method for this is the book by James W. Heisig, Remembering the Kanji 1 (check price on Amazon).
If you can get this part out of the way within the first 3-4 months while you’re still enthusiastic, you’re already ahead of most people who ever attempted to learn Japanese.
For the second part, head over to https://massimmersionapproach.com/ and check out their completely free guide (as of the time of writing). They show you step-by-step how to go from a beginner to getting as close to a native level as you could ever realistically expect to be and all in a fun way.
It’s not easy, but nothing worthwhile is right?! If you’re going to stick with it, this seems to be the best way!
Anybody can claim to speak Japanese and they’ll all sound good to you if their ability is higher than yours. But these guys are the real deal. Whenever I’ve showed my Japanese friends the audio of Matt speaking, none of them can believe he’s a foreigner.
Here’s a clip from his YouTube channel which itself is also a valuable resource.
I gain nothing by telling you to go check out the Mass Immersion Approach. It’s just something I wish I knew about sooner in my own journey!
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