Five tried-and-true ways to learn Japanese

There are so many different ways to learn Japanese, but some ways definitely work better than others. We have picked our top ways to learn the language for those who are serious about putting in the time and effort to get their Japanese skills to the next level. Regardless of where you are in your language-learning journey, we’re sure you’ll find something here that works for you! 

Watch YouTube in Japanese

YouTube is a gold mine when it comes to Japanese content and you would be remiss not to use it as one of your ways to learn Japanese. You can find abundant language-learning resources since there are more channels teaching you Japanese than you can shake a stick at. For example, Nihongo no Mori, Japanesepod 101, Dogen and Japanese Ammo with Misa are some popular Japanese-learning channels. 

Tune in to channels like Cathy Cat and That Japanese Man Yuta, where they conduct interviews with Japanese people (and sometimes foreigners) on a range of interesting social and cultural topics. Many of them speak both Japanese and English, but their interviews with Japanese people are typically conducted in Japanese.

Other interesting Japanese YouTubers and YouTube channels include:

  • Yuka Kinoshita, who is the OG Japanese “oogui”, or “big eater”. Her videos include English subtitles.
  • Vlogger Bilingirl Chika, who creates videos in both English and Japanese. She also got to film a video with Will Smith when he visited Japan in 2019.
  • Fischer’s, one of the biggest YouTube channels in Japan, focusing on comedy. This group features several YouTubers who got together in high school. There are plenty of other Japanese YouTubers in this comedy/prank category including Hajime, Hikakin and Tokai OnAir. They speak fast and only have Japanese subtitles, so this is recommended for more advanced learners.
  • Bright Side Japan is the Japanese language version of the popular Bright Side channel that features videos on a range of trivia, history and random facts about life and the world we live in. Subtitles available only in Japanese.
  • ANN News, for those days when you feel up to tackling Japanese news in Japanese.

Our tip? Actively listening to and studying the language used in the videos, such as taking notes of unfamiliar words/sentence structures, will do more for your Japanese learning than just passively watching. 

Listen to Japanese podcasts and music

Listening to podcasts is a great way to learn Japanese if you are an aural learner. There are plenty that are dedicated to teaching Japanese and aiding learners in their studies: Learn Japanese Pod, News in Slow Japanese, Let’s Learn Japanese from Smalltalk and Nihongo con Teppei are some examples.

For more advanced learners, native Japanese podcasts are aplenty e.g. NHK Radio News, Coten Radio, All Night Nippon Radio, Sokoani.

Using music is a really fun way to build up your vocabulary and a great accompaniment to other ways to learn Japanese. It can also help you stay motivated when you hit a wall trying to learn keigo or remember all the different readings of the new kanji characters you learnt.

You might already have your favourite artists, but if you’re a total newbie to Japanese music, some popular artists include boy band Arashi, idol girl group AKB48, musician and songwriter Gackt, and established pop star Hikaru Utada. 

Put a label on it

Get some Post-It notes, write the Japanese word for the things in your room and stick the notes on to help you remember what they’re called. Say the word out loud and repeat it in your head until you can remember it without even looking at the sticky note.

This is an easy and fun way to learn and revise words for everyday things in your life by exercising your visual memory. It’s easier to remember words if you associate them with things that you are familiar with and your home is probably one of the places you know inside and out.

Read Japanese newspapers and books

If you love to read, then it makes sense to pick up a book or a newspaper written in Japanese to aid your language learning. By doing this you can improve your reading comprehension, learn new words and discover turns of phrases and expressions that only exist in written Japanese. It will be tough at first if you’re still new to Japanese, but try reading some children’s books to start with and progress from there. 

To really get the most out of this way of learning Japanese, treat each reading session as a study session. Put notes down next to words or phrases you don’t know and make the time to review them later. 

Not a book fan? Try reading articles online and taking notes down as you go!

Enrol in an online course

When it comes to comprehensive, structured language-learning, nothing beats learning through a course. And at a time when border restrictions, lockdown measures and social distancing mean you can’t physically attend language school in Japan, online courses are the next best thing. That’s why Go! Go! Nihon has teamed up with some of Japan’s top language schools to offer online Japanese language courses. 

If you’re a beginner, there is a 12-week beginner course from Tokyo’s Akamonkai Language School. You’ll gain a strong foundation in speaking, reading, writing and understanding basic Japanese. 

If you already know basic Japanese and want to expand your knowledge, why not give the Kansai dialect language course a go? Taught by the Communica Institute in Kobe, you will learn how Kansai dialect differs from standard Japanese and to use it in daily conversations. We created a video with Sharla, Emma and Sarah trying out their Kansai dialect course, so feel free to take a look and test your skills!

For both courses, you will learn through a mix of video, text and interactive elements. You will also have access to a student community where you can engage with others doing the course and also the course teachers. 

Visit the Go! Go! Nihon online learning website for more information and to sign up.

So there you have it - five tried-and-true ways to learn Japanese. What do you think? Do you have another way of learning that you think should be on our list?