Japanese learning may seem like an impossible task. Most people see the intricate connections of lines and shapes which make up Japanese characters as impossible to decipher.
But in a country where almost 75% of adults say that they can't speak English, and the Ministry of Education has said that the level of English at schools is disappointing, the ability to speak Japanese will be more than just an attractive addition to a prospective employer.
Aside from a professional perspective, learning Japanese could be a dream come true for those who love manga, anime, or video games.
Most of us will have probably seen some anime growing up. This is like a free Japanese tuition as you will probably be familiar with some Japanese vocabulary and some common expressions if you have seen the original versions.
So how do you start learning Japanese? Is it a difficult language to learn? How easily can you travel to Japan?
The most important question to answer before you start is your motivation for learning Japanese. If you only want to learn basic Japanese in order to know the basic greetings and how to introduce yourself so that you can have a conversation, then your approach to learning will be different than if you want to have a more fluent level in speaking Japanese because you want to live and work in Japan.
These are all questions that we’ll be trying to answer over the course of this article.
Can You Learn Japanese at Middle School?
Let’s not waste time beating about the bush and get to the answers; it’s definitely possible (and even recommended) to start learning Japanese at middle school.
Did you know that children have better memories than adults? With a number of effective methods for raising bilingual children, those who are raised in a bilingual environment will grow up being able to speak both languages well.
This is due to the fact that when we’re young, we have more synaptic connections than when we’re older. However, as we grow up, we start losing these connections. Even more so when we stop using them every day. With this in mind, you can see why it’s so important to start learning Japanese as early as possible.
To find out more about where you can learn Japanese and get to grips with kanji, hiragana, and katakana, we recommend visiting the Japanese embassy’s website. You can also find lists of public and private schools in the US where Japanese is taught as a foreign language.
Don’t worry if you don’t happen to live near a school where Japanese is taught! There’s more than one way to learn about the Japanese language, Japanese culture, and Japanese history.
You could always consider getting private classes or tutorials in Japanese from a private tutor. There are also private and public Japanese schools where children can be taught as if they were attending a school in Japan. This is an interesting way to learn Japanese for free (not the private schools, obviously).
Regardless of where you study, your Japanese lessons will more than likely focus on Nihongo, the form of Japanese learnt by any new learner who is studying Japanese as a new language.
If you are in the British capital, have a look at the best Japanese lessons London.
Everything You Need to Know About Learning Japanese at University
After leaving school, you’ll probably want to continue learning Japanese at university. If this is the case, you’ll have a few options because Japanese is offered at universities around the world.
The number of people who want to learn to speak Japanese is increasing around the world, and this is reflected in the number of students who learn Japanese either at undergraduate level, or even at postgraduate level as well. You can probably find a Japanese course at your local university if you live in a big town or city. And you don't need to be an intermediate to study. Most courses are targeted at beginners, rather than experienced speakers.
While college has always been the traditional way to learn, you can learn Japanese online, with private tutors, or through language centers offering classes in the evenings. Depending on where you live, you can often find these options in abundance. The most important thing is that you learn to speak the language while broadening your understanding of the accompanying culture and history, too. In some cases, you can do this more effectively outside of university.
As a general rule, if you want to work in academia, you should probably consider learning the language at university. However, when it comes to getting jobs with a Japanese language requirement, the other options can be just as good.
If you can't find a university close-by that offers Japanese speaking classes, you can learn a lot of Japanese online!
Don’t forget the most important thing: You can always get a private tutor who can help you catch up with your studies or even teach you Japanese privately if none of the other options are available to you.
How Can You Find a Japanese Private Tutor?
Wherever you are, you can easily find the right tutor to teach you Japanese who’ll be happy to give you private tutorials. Whether you’re a beginner, intermediate, or expert, we can help you find a Japanese language specialist near you.
You can learn anything from a few phrases, and how to say your name and age, to more complex parts of the language and culture in order to prepare you to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
If you want to learn hiragana, katakana, romaji, or Japanese kanji, a Japanese teacher can help you at a pace that suits you, and with a method tailored to help your language learning.
Superprof is a great resource for finding private tutors who can work with your strengths and weaknesses in order to help you learn Japanese as effectively as possible. It’s what we do, after all.
It doesn’t matter where you live, in just a few clicks, you can find a teacher, check out their profile, compare their rates, evaluate their teaching methods, and, once you’ve found the right one, get in contact with them.
You should also know that a lot of tutors offer free tutoring for the first hour. This will help you work out whether or not it’s going to work.
Whatever you level is, your tutor will be able to help you:
Work on your pronunciation of Japanese words
Count in Japanese
Build sentences in Japanese
Understand Japanese grammar
Memorize important Japanese verbs, adjectives, pronouns, words and phrases etc.
The best tutors will adapt their methods to suit your needs, too. Furthermore, they can also recommend the best resources for learning even more when they’re not there. Some recommend that you complement your studies with textbooks, manga, movies, video games, or art.
If you follow all of the advice that they give you, you will see your proficiency improve in all aspects of Japanese; the spoken language, listening, reading and writing.
When it comes to rates, they can vary wildly depending on a number of different factors such as experience, location, level, etc. You should also check if there are Japanese clubs where you live. Maybe there are language centers offering evening classes. Of course, both of these options are rarely free.
Is Learning Japanese Difficult?
From the point of view of an English speaker, the Japanese language can sometimes seem quite complicated.
The Japanese writing system alone can inspire fear in the hearts of even the steeliest students. Not having the Latin alphabet as a comfort blanket makes it impossible to even pronounce Japanese phrases for beginners, added to the wealth of new and unfamiliar words which greet you when you start researching the language online such as hiragana katakana, desu, watashi, kanji characters but to name a few.
However, does that actually make Japanese a difficult language to learn?
You don’t need to worry too much. After all, the Japanese language has borrowed plenty of words from English. Here are a few of them.
- “ending” → endingu,
- “soccer” → sakkaa,
- “half-time” → haafu taimu,
- “referee” → refurii,
- “mic” → maiku
- “table” → teeburu
In addition to all the English words, there are also several other reasons that Japanese is simpler than you think:
Unlike languages like Spanish and French, Japanese has no gendered nouns.
You don’t need to conjugate each subject with a verb.
You don’t always need to even say the subject or the object.
Every syllable is almost always pronounced the same way.
The “r” in Japanese is pronounced like the “tt” in “butter”.
The Best Way to Learn Japanese on Your Own: With Video Games
Most children who grew up during the 80s and 90s will be very familiar with how many video games are made in Japan. Through brands like Nintendo, Sony, Genki, and Sega, children across the world grew up playing games that were made in the Land of the Rising Sun.
So can you learn Japanese through video games? In the 80s, video games were almost exclusively made in one of two places: the US or Japan. You can use the latter to familiarize yourself with the Japanese writing systems: kanji and kana (hiragana and katakana).
You learn much better when you’re having fun and with Japanese titles such as Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, and Tekken (to name a few), plenty of kids were closer to Japanese culture than they realized. There are even games that exist for the sole purpose of teaching you Japanese:
PURURUN! SHIZUKU-CHAN AHA DRILL KOKUGO
DS Rakubiki Jiten
You will learn Japanese pronunciation a lot better by playing video games than studying from a textbook, and it is a form of immersion in the language which can help you understand Japanese sentences without having to go all the way to Tokyo.