Let's Learn Japanese!

This thread is for anybody who’s interested in learning the Japanese language. Post useful resources on the subject, share hard earned knowledge, ask questions if you’re confused, and learn a language!

Links to guides and generally useful articles and user tips will be collected in this top post.

Systems and Subscriptions

  • WaniKani is a complete system for learning the kanji (and the small parts that compose them, the radicals). It gives you a series of lessons and reviews. The lessons show you a given kanji or radical, and an explanation of how to remember it. You’ll be quizzed and there will be tests (they call their tests “reviews”). As you progress through WaniKani you can level up (max level: 50). The first level is free. After that there are subscription options with relatively cheap prices. The normal price is apparently $10/mo, but right now it’s $8/mo. You can instead get a year’s subscription, which is the same cost as ten months.
    • ky.is/wanikani - Gives you statistics and other information about your current level of understanding, from your WaniKani account. It can even project how long it will take for you to master a given JLPT level.
    • Wanikanify (Chrome Extension) - Takes the vocabulary you’ve done so far from WaniKani and injects it into the web, giving you better immersion and reinforcing what you’ve learned. 「Wanikanify takes the vocabulary you’ve studied, finds the english word on a webpage and substitutes the kanji character. As you learn more kanji, your webpages begin to fill up with kanji! Wanikanify can find word anywhere on a webpage and replace it for kanji characters. It is a great utility for practicing and recalling vocabulary you may have forgotten.
  • iknow.jp is, like WaniKani, an implementation of a spaced repetition system (SRS) that teaches you Japanese vocabulary. This system speaks the words to you, gives context to them, allows you to pick how often you want to study individual words, etc. You’ll be quizzed on the words in various ways too. For example, they might speak the word to you and you’ll be asked to select the appropriate kanji representation, or state its meaning. You’ll have to fill in the blanks in sentences (meaning the words are used in context instead of standalone), and many words that you’re learning will even be used together (in my experience). Special thanks to @ghagler for sharing this.
  • EtoEto - It’s not ready yet! This is the successor to TextFugu. This focuses on the Japanese language as a whole rather than just the kanji.
  • Memrise offers a variety of language learning courses. It’s another flash card type of system. This comes recommended from @Madekuji_san; thanks!
  • Japanese with Yuta is an email subscription service that will send vimeo videos which explain various parts of everyday Japanese. Thanks Madekuji_san!

Guides

  • Itazura Neko - A bunch of guides, games, and general resources for learning Japanese.
  • Imabi.net - Thorough guide for the Japanese language, broken into a large series of lessons. It can be really detailed and daunting, but I recommend sticking with it.
  • Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar - Excellent guide extensively covering grammar, as well as some basics of the writing system. Thank you @Kaze for sharing!
  • Ixrec’s Guide to Japanese - Also has a downloadable version. Written by the guy who did the Rewrite translation. (Twitter: @ixrec)

Phrases & Words

  • The 100 Most Important Japanese Words You Should Know (Tofugu) ― Useful if you find yourself suddenly headed for Japan… Or if you just want to see which words and corresponding kanji can be considered important.
  • Verbs (About.com) ― Tells you a bit about Japanese verbs and how they work, but consists mostly of a list of general verbs and their meanings.
  • Maggie Sensei ― Shows you how to use various phrases, gives information about slang and everyday Japanese, etc.

Info Dump

  • Japanese language (Wikipedia) ― Useful information covering the Japanese language in broad strokes. Plus some history and statistics, if you’re into that.
  • Hiragana (Wikipedia) ― One of the three writing systems used in Japanese. It can loosely be considered the native form of the kana.
  • Katakana (Wikipedia) ― One of the three writing systems used in Japanese. This has a 1:1 mapping to hiragana, but with different character shapes. This is commonly used to carry over foreign words to Japanese, however it is not limited to this.
  • Kanji (Wikipedia) ― One of the three writing systems used in Japanese. Of the three, this one is the hardest and will take the most time. But don’t let that get you down!
  • Japanese Grammar (Wikipedia) ― Massive info dump on Japanese grammar. If you need a reference, this is useful.

Misc

  • How to Type Japanese ― Tells you how to setup your computer to accept Japanese input. 「このうよな」 Note: Some of the links no longer work, but the information is still usable.
  • japanese.stackexchange.com ― Ask questions or go through the questions that have been asked on the Japanese language. Uses the well-known Stack Overflow interface. Description from the site: “Japanese Language Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for students, teachers, and linguists wanting to discuss the finer points of the Japanese language.
  • RealKana ― Learn Hiragana and Katakana! This is an interesting web application. You select one or more rows of whichever hiragana and/or katakana you want to practice at, then you type in the romaji. For example, if you selected the ‘k’ row (か き く け こ) it will select a random kana from that and show it. If you see か then you would type “ka” and press enter. If you were right, it moves onto the next one. Otherwise, it lets you know you were wrong by showing an ‘x’. If you get it wrong twice, it tells you the correct romaji of it. ありがとうございます! @Karifean
  • Hiragana Megane ― Adds hiragana over the tops of kanji in whatever web page you send it to. (This form is called furigana. The layout is known as “ruby text.”) This is certainly helpful when you stumble over some unfamiliar kanji. Big thank you to @IkaCZ!
  • Japanese Language Reading Tutor ― Wonderful web application that allows you to enter in Japanese sentences. It will process them, then explain more about the kanji used in the sentence, and the various meanings they can take on. Thanks again, Ika!
  • ichi.moe ― Dissects your Japanese sentences and explains each part of it! A very useful utility. Thank you @Takafumi!
  • Satori Reader, is a service that curates Japanese works for you to read based on your level of proficiency, allowing you to practice at your level. Note that this isn’t a learning resource per se, it’s more of a way to practice your Japanese.

Apps

  • JA Sensei Android ― Useful application that shows you various kana and kanji, as well as their stroke orders and basic meanings. Can quiz you on them to help keep you engaged.
  • Obenkyo Android (and Windows Phone) ― Helps you learn the kana and kanji. Has a flash card and testing system as well.
  • Duolingo has a Japanese course for English speakers now. ***** Member @therationalpi has started a group for Kazamatsuri! Code: G9NPQ6 *****

Books

  • Genki ― Series of textbooks for learning Japanese.
  • Minna no Nihongo: Beginner 1, 2nd Edition ― Treats you like an adult, teaching things more relevant than types of horses. As Pepe says, “it views things from a Japanese perspective.” This is the primary workbook, written entirely in Japanese. It contains sample text and practice exercises. Comes in a variety of editions and languages, with multiple books in the series. ありがとう、@Pepe!
    • Minna no Nihongo (Second Edition) (Amazon) ― Quoting Pepe again here: “Translation and grammar notes in English, which accompanies the examples in the workbook. This book is available in many other languages, and I would recommend you using the version of your mother tongue, if available.”
    • Minna no Nihongo (Amazon) ― Original link that I had posted. This one is a bit older.
  • All About Particles: A Handbook of Japanese Function Words (Amazon) ― Gives detailed descriptions and explanations on particles, sorted by frequency of use. It’s small and light; useful for travel.
  • Remembering the Kanji (RtK) (Amazon) ― Useful series of books on how to remember the kanji. Focuses on teaching you how to write them rather than how to read them in the first volume. However, you can probably pick up the skill of recognizing and differentiating between quite a few kanji in a short period of time. Might be worth checking out.
  • Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Dictionary (Amazon) ― Useful and comprehensive dictionary with easy-to-use skip system for finding difficult kanji. Definitely worth having one of these around if you can’t do an online search (or you’re allergic to web dictionaries).

Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) Resources

  • JLPT Resources ― A comprehensive collection of resources if you’ll be taking the JLPT. Seemingly covers everything! Thank you for this @ChickenWingz!
  • Official JLPT Website ― Quoting ChickenWingz: “you can find the nearest test date, and where/how to take the test in your home country.”

Is it okay to keep watching anime, reading manga, and playing VNs while I learn?
There are multiple places that tell you not to learn from them. I’m no expert but that seems accurate. If they are your source of motivation, then continue watching/reading/playing them. However, if you insist on learning through them then it’s a good idea to nab some Japanese subtitles and use those instead of the English subtitles, then work through what they’re saying. Keep context in mind and don’t mimic characters… nobody should need to tell you not to pretend to be Kirito, so don’t learn to talk like him either. Learn how to use the language like a person who speaks it, not a character.

Machine translations are fine, aren’t they?
No. They do not take into account idioms or cultural differences. Nor will they (completely and accurately) consider the various meanings of words. For example, the English word “right” could indicate a direction (“to the right of you”) or correctness (“that’s right”). At most they can be used as a loose guide for verifying whether you are at least on par with Google Translate.

Do I really need to learn stroke order?
My personal opinion is that learning at least the general/common method for writing will be helpful. I’ve had a better experience learning the kana and kanji by writing them out on paper. However, if your intention is just to be able to read and type Japanese then it’s not all that important. See @Shadowhammers’ two cents on the topic - link. Keep in mind, as @Pepe and @Hirato point out, that you’ll need to know this if you’re taking the JLPT. Some people have expressed to me that they were able to better remember the kanji they’ve encountered by learning to write them as well.

How much effort should I put into learning Japanese?
Tofugu had a few articles on this. (Sorry, will find them later unless someone else nabs 'em first.) Two important factors are the efficiency of your effort, and your time spent. Some things to help improve your efficiency: Give yourself more immersion into the culture and the language; Focus on what you’re doing for a decent block of time and minimize distractions; Review basics if there are too many stumbling blocks, but don’t just fallback immediately after getting something wrong. Maybe dedicate one or two hours, solid, each day to learning the language. (Reduce if you’re burning out.) Then give yourself small exercises throughout the day. This can be as simple as more actively listening to a Japanese song you like and trying to figure out the meanings of sentences or even just see if you can recognize certain words.


Helpful Posts:

CJ asks about Rosetta Stone

(General consensus is that you should use whatever resources you have available. It seems to be the case that Rosetta Stone is not commonly recommended by YouTubers, but that’s often in comparison to something else.)


This post will forever be a work-in-progress. Please report any inaccuracies, and contribute where you can. I intend to expand this topic immensely, however it will be done bits and pieces at a time.

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I, and many people I know, have found Tae Kim’s guide to Japanese grammar to be extremely helpful.

Also the reason a lot of people say not to learn from manga/anime is because you get kids who know very little Japanese who start spouting crap like kisama and abusing desu. Basically using Japanese that no one would actually use in real life. If you understand what you can actually learn from this stuff, they are incredibly helpful, such as expanding vocabulary and kanji recognition. I learn most of my kanji from suffering through untranslated VNs. I mean, I totally admit it’s a horribly inefficient method, but it keeps my motivation high compared to rote memorization.

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I’m currently learning Japanese from my extra-curricular classes at school. We learn using the Minna no Nihongo books (currently studying the second book). I like it because, unlike what Ixrec and Tae Kim seem to point out about other books, it views things from a Japanese perspective. It is, after all, called Minna no Nihongo, because it was meant for learning for people from numerous backgrounds, and doesn’t try to link Japanese with English too much. They have different editions of the translation and grammar guides including French, English, German, even Thai and Vietnamese.

@NotKyon If I may, since you included my suggestion in the opening topic, I suggest you include links for these:
http://www.amazon.com/Minna-No-Nihongo-Beginner-2nd/dp/4883196038/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429873513&sr=1-2&keywords=minna+no+nihongo - Main workbook, entirely written in Japanese, and contains sample text and practice exercises.
http://www.amazon.com/Minna-No-Nihongo-Second-Edition/dp/4883196046/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429873513&sr=1-4&keywords=minna+no+nihongo - Translation and grammar notes in English, which accompanies the examples in the workbook. This book is available in many other languages, and I would recommend you using the version of your mother tongue, if available

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My favorite site would be JLex. Although it doesn’t tell you how about the grammar and such, this site is very useful to find Kanji by the strokes. I have several Japanese comics and when I encounter difficult kanji without furigana, I go to this site to find the letter.

Thank you so much for this. I’m leaving Japan tomorrow and I am dying to come back as soon as possible with hopefully some kind of conversational knowledge of Japanese.

Guess I’m going to have to work hard >_<

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This is actually the Japanese guide I started with and I’d be pretty hard pressed to reccommend it to anybody. It’s just not paced very well (or formatted), and I didn’t get a whole lot out of it. The translations section where he gives you material to translate and then compare against his translation is cool, but there’s not enough of it to last you very long.

I have a lot of other stuff to comment on, but I’ll edit it in when I’ve got more time.

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No mention of ichi.moe? It’s a nice little utility.

What are people’s thoughts on creative freedom in translation? Dropping some details to make a sentence more legible in English, or fit more with a character.

For example, in the Charlotte PV was this:
なぜ自分は、自分でしかなく、他人ではないのだろう

ANN translated it as “I wonder why I am nothing but myself and not someone else.”
I’d translate it as “I am me, and only me… right?”

It drops the naze and kinda twists the meaning of tanin, but I prefer it.

Oh dear got that one again… I was struggling to understand that back then, but my japanese class just yesterday (Chapter 27 of Minna no Nihongo) helped with one of the grammar nuances. In that case, ANN’s translation seems to be literally accurate.

But see, herein lies the problem with literally translating and localizing. I honestly think literal translation is only good for people who can somehow understand the culture and nuance behind it. Otherwise, a translation needs to somehow bring in said nuance somehow, which makes the work harder than it looks.

I think that meaning totally loses the nuance behind it. The original text, I feel, has the speaker wondering why is himself; kind of like the question that people ask themselves: “Why am I myself?”

Your translation seems to imply that he is doubtful that he is himself and thinks there is a possibility of him being somebody else

Yeah, I kinda saw that coming through, but the last part of the sentence (のだろう) confused me.
“Why am I me? I wonder why I’m not someone else?” or something like that?

I do think interpretation is far preferable to literal translation, but only if it keeps the original basic meaning. If you twist that, it gets messy.

I’ve been taking a Japanese course at my university for a good 7 months now. It has it’s own way of doing things, like using SIM Coding to classify Kanji, making them surprisingly easy to look up without even remembering any radicals. Or using the ‘five constructions’ and combinations thereof to classify all Japanese sentences. It’s going pretty well, I certainly understand Japanese a lot better than I used to.

For learning the kanas I can wholeheartedly recommend http://realkana.com/. It’s a very simple web-application but it really worked wonders. Only took me like a week or two to memorize most of them.

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Im not really sure if this is into the learning session but it certainly helps a lot with trainslations and making something clear.
Im gonna post some links below that are quite handy and you can use them whenever - Im not really sure if they work properly tho.
This is what I got from my sensei. It should be a site that adds hiragana to the kanji if you are on a japanese website.
And this should work as a partial translator - you can click jp > en and it should translate some stuff. Im not really sure how it works since I have used it only a few times but it’s quite handy.

Other than that, I recommend a series or … even a book is it? Geh I dont know. Its basically called “Erin-chan” and it has a lot of videos that shows the daily lives, japanese culture and it even has english or romaji subtitles. It has a lot of lessons, from particles to kanji or verbs basically anything, and its pretty fun.
There should be also an online version of that.
OH there we go I found it! So if anyone is interested that is a quite good one. I highly recommend it: here

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Ooh, Erin-chan! My teach also showed me that, and in my national channel it’s a regular show.
I remember watching that and they show socks glue…? It is uncommon in my place, so knowing that people in Japan actually glue their socks to their legs is quite something.

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They just fall down if you don’t! Then you get those ugly landslide shapes that look like they’ve given up on their sockily duties. That, or you do the English thing, and just wear another pair over them.

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I thought i’d pitch in my 2 cents about this. I’m learning it right now too and I find it so much easier if you don’t take time in learning the stroke order. Lets be real here, how often do people actually write things with pen and paper outside of classes, barely anything. Everything is being digitized so taking time to learn how to write it just adds a lot more hassle especially since learning stroke order takes a huge amount of time. Since i’m learning it for the sole reason of VNs, maybe animes and oral conversations. That’s just my method and it helped me understand about 1.5k kanji in 4 months with relative ease. Can’t write Japanese but hey, I can understand/read and type it.

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I’ve always wanted to learn Japanese so I can read untranslated VNs, mangas, interesting Japanese blogs, etc. But I haven’t really gotten down to doing it. (Screw procrastination!)
Anyway, have you guys considered using JLPT as a benchmark for where your Japanese literacy stands?
I know its just a piece of paper but I believe it gives a tangible form to your learning, and it might come in handy someday.
Here are some resources for preparing for the JLPT tests:

  1. http://www.tanos.co.uk/jlpt/ - complete syllabus of JLPT from N5 to N1, with some past papers and other useful resources
  2. http://www.jlpt.jp/e/index.html - official JLPT website, you can find the nearest test date, and where/how to take the test in your home country
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Urrrrrgh I feel the SAME WAY
Unfortunately, my classes require writing (and so does JLPT) so I just have to bite that bullet

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Yeah, actually a lot of Japanese don’t really bother about stroke orders as well. Example would be in writing kanji “woman” 女. The correct order is ku (く) - no (ノ) - ichi (一) but I’ve seen people writing the horizontal line first.

But as @Pepe said it’ll be required for JLPT. I can read kanji and understand the meaning, but writing them is my biggest flop. Which is why I can’t get through JLPT lol.

There were a few things in there that seemed slightly inaccurate, though the guide seemed to be rather valuable for collecting all of that information in one place.

Btw, I’ll be adding WaniKani to the list after I try it out a bit more. I registered but haven’t done anything with it yet. Haven’t forgotten! :slight_smile:

I think this depends on the audience and the work itself. If the audience is expected to know a reasonable degree of Japanese culture or terms then you can omit the translation of some words entirely. (For example, in Haruhi they use the word “otaku” directly.)

My personal preference is for a large degree of creative freedom as long as it isn’t destructive to the overall meaning or nuance. This is particular important if the work being translated expects the reader to pick up on subtle nuance, such as in mysteries or abstract philosophical works.

That sounds pretty neat, I’ll check it out a bit later. I also like watching some YouTubers that live in Japan, such as Rachel & Jun or Gimmeaflakeman. Lots of fun insights into the culture and discussions there.

Uguu~ I’ve been doing it wrong this whole time. I did ku (く) - ichi (一) - no (ノ)…

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Yeah I don’t think people care about stroke order anymore, but it might make it easier to remember how to write the more complicated kanji. Factor in some messy handwriting, and it’s always a pain to read anyway. The only person who’s criticized me for incorrect stroke order (besides in a classroom setting) wasn’t even Japanese.

I would also do JLPT if it had zero written portion lol. While I admit there are times living in Japan I needed to actually write what I could type, even those times are rare enough to not warrant putting in the effort to learn.

I really dislike this, actually. It’s one thing with terms that don’t have an easy, simple translation, like tsundere. In the case of otaku, while some of the culture implication is lost, words like nerd or geek can still suffice. One Piece subs using “nakama” comes to mind as the biggest offender. My main issue though is the idea of taking the audience’s knowledge into consideration as a reason to slack on translations. Leaving this stuff alone is not an example of creative freedom, because it’s not a translation at all. Creative freedom would be how you choose to translate it and how “far” it strays from the literal meaning.

I remember when Steins;Gate had some Japanese memes that got translated to Western memes and some people complained the subs completely changed what was being said. This is a good example of creative freedom where they basically ignored the original to keep the intended implication, and regardless of how you might feel about it, it’s still a translation.

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While I’ve used several different sites, books, etc over my time of studying I think my favorites are TextFugu (soon to be EtoEto) and WaniKani, both by the aforementioned Tofugu.

Personally, I like TextFugu because I enjoy the writing style, which is clearly aimed at keeping self-studying students interested and committed. It is currently still only a beginner level resource, which is why it is not as widely used. However, after a long time of working on it, back in January they finally started alpha testing their new resource EtoEto, a huge project which will cover intermediate and advanced levels, as well as overhaul the current beginner resource.

WaniKani is great too. Its basically an SSR that teaches teaches kanji by radicals instead of strokes, and uses a ton of mnemonics to help you remember everything.

Lastly, I havent used this at all yet, but someone recommended imabi to me. From just skimming over it, it looks pretty useful, but as I said I haven’t touched it yet.

Good luck everyone!

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