I like to refer to the order of learning Japanese (or learning anything, really) as “doors”. Generally, doors lead to rooms, sometimes to a room with more doors to open. While some doors don’t have locks on them, others do. For language learning, you generally first stand in a room with a few doors with no locks. However, you walk into one of the rooms and will find locked doors that you can’t get the key to until you complete whatever task that the figurative room requires you to do. Obviously, the starting rooms will change depending on the language you are learning.

To first even get to the room with the unlocked doors, you need to first find your motivation. Motivation can really be anything, but you need to make sure it’s something that will keep you motivated. For instance, my motivation for working on Japanese is:

1.) Getting to a high level of proficiency so I can watch or read anything I want without having to rely on a dictionary on almost every word, especially with reading;

2.) To be able to communicate in written and verbal forms of communication;

3.) To feel accomplished by seeing my gradual progress;

Obviously, these are my motivations and my motivations alone. I’m telling you this as an idea to what yours might be. If you really want to learn Japanese, you will find a motivation at some point. I hope it comes to you sooner than later!

Of course, when I first got the idea of studying Japanese, it was simply because the media I was mostly consuming (i.e. anime and manga) came from Japan and I wanted to learn the language because of that. While that has mostly changed, I still want to learn Japanese. For right now, seeing myself making progress is what motivates me the most.

Anyway, after you get a motivation, a door opens and you can step into the room of “Finding a Direction”. It’s usually in this room where you start taking your first steps towards learning Japanese. If you are completely clueless about the Japanese language (if you don’t know about hiragana, katakana, or kanji, you will have to check up on those), you are probably going to have to do some research. Since you’re interested in the subject though, it shouldn’t be too hard, now should it? I guarantee it will be a lot easier for you too if you are learning Japanese now, with all the learning resources online. Once you start getting some information about the language, you will probably be presented with some doors: Kana, Kanji, Vocabulary, Grammar, All.

It’s these doors where you can start on your Japanese language learning adventure and which door you decide to open is up to you. As you proceed through these doors, you will be given tasks to complete. Upon completion, you will receive a “key”, allowing you to move forward and working towards some sort of end goal.

To put it into non-figurative terms, you’re just working towards a goal and each time you complete something, you’re just a step closer to your goal. In order to get to your goal, there are many different ways you can take and you just need to find the one that suits you the most.

The doors and the keys are referring to how you can’t really skip things, otherwise you’re bound to get stuck and the only way to get through it is by progressing ahead in small steps. Once you hit a certain point in your progress, things will become easier and it will allow you to learn new material.

The “locked doors” are “walls” you can get through if you make progress and the “key” is hitting that point where you can move forward, allowing you to open that locked door.

Depending on the path you choose, some doors will lead to large rooms, while others to smaller ones. Don’t get discouraged though and keep on moving forward, only stepping back when you need to.

If you haven’t done so much “research” into where you should start learning Japanese, you’re probably wondering which door to open first. I was like that when I first had the idea of learning Japanese and I’ve had some people mention the same situation – where to begin.

There really are so many ways for you to begin – kana, kanji, vocabulary, grammar, or all at the same time. If you take a class, you’re going to be forced to learn them all at the same time, but if you learn on your own, you can either just focus on one or two things at a time or all of them, if you want to. I honestly feel like you need to do what will make you learn the best and get to your goals.

What are your goals for learning Japanese? To be able to speak the language? To be able to write it? To be able to communicate in every form possible? To play an entire game in Japanese while understanding everything being said? How about watching that TV show in Japanese without needing to use subtitles? To read history in Japanese? To make friends? To live there? Whatever your [long term] goal is, put it down. Remember it. Figure out what is the best approach for you.

If you’re not quite sure how you’re going to go about your own learning, I can tell you mine. This is my language learning blog, after all. There needs to be some of “me” in it. Note that this is just the way I’m doing things and in no such way is the “correct” way. I’m still trying different doors as well.

I probably spent a good 5 or 6 years wondering how to start learning Japanese. I didn’t know how to find any classes, my school (obviously) didn’t offer Japanese, and the Internet wasn’t being any help to me. Granted, I probably wasn’t look in the right places – I looked on anime fansites to lead me into the right direction, but I realize now they didn’t really help me, other than giving me a few helpful words to start building a foundation on. I started my quest to figure out how to learn Japanese back in 2004 or 2005. I’ve done a load of research, finding out about things such as kana, kanji, and “subject dropping” in sentences. I wanted to learn so many things, but I really didn’t know where to start.

– I tried learning vocabulary, but had trouble finding lists to help me learn some;

– I tried learning grammar, but failed at that (I didn’t know about the existence of particles until later) since I found nothing;

– I tried learning kana by writing them over and over again, but couldn’t get much farther than A-I-U-E-O and a few random kana from else where;

– Picked up on the kanji for 日本語 (Japanese) and 日本 (Japan) on some site, but that was it since I didn’t concentrate on kanji at that particular time;

I wanted to learn Japanese and my parents knew I wanted to learn Japanese. I had received three Japanese dictionaries from them for Christmas one year (include the famous Kanji Learner’s Dictionary and a furigana dictionary that I didn’t know how to use until I picked it up again this year and realized I needed to know kana to read it). I received a workbook too that I never touched and Japanese for Dummies.

Japanese for Dummies was, surprisingly, a step into the right direction. I don’t really remember anything I learned from that book, but it did start giving me an idea about what kind of direction I should take. I don’t remember if I started on that book before or after I learned kana; must have been before since the notebook I have lacks kana.

I think it was April 2008. I had Manga University’s Kana de Manga book. I had tried to use it before to study Japanese, but I remember having issues actually remembering anything. I think the book recommended a site called Real Kana. Anyway, it was some night and I decided “okay, I’m just going to learn how to read Japanese”. I went onto Real Kana and checked the entire A-I-U-E-O row for both hiragana and katakana. Through trial and error, I memorized them. I moved onto the next row and the next, using Pocket Monsters Special volume 10 to test myself. I did one by one, gradually adding another row. Until I got to the TA-CHI-TSU-TE-TO row. I became extremely angry and frustrated at how slow the progress was. I wanted to learn how to read kana and I wanted to learn it NOW. I wanted to be able to read Pocket Monsters Special volume 10 all the way through. I checked EVERY row for both hiragana and katakana, using trial and error to remember them. After I seemed to memorize them, I made sure to constantly read everything I could to make sure I didn’t forget kana.

I didn’t learn how to write kana though until late 2009/early 2010, which I used an app called iKana to do. I’m not going to lie – I still struggle to remember how to write certain katakana. I need excuses for using it more often.

Between learning how to read kana and getting to the point I am now, I bought Japanese for Busy People and was annoyed at all the romaji inside of it (I bought the romaji edition since it was the only one my bookstore carried). I was annoyed at all the handbooks I bought that I couldn’t make a lick of sense of since I knew nothing of grammar. My mom bought me Rosetta Stone and I was annoyed that it started up in romaji, but luckily I could change it. At some point, I learned of a textbook called Genki and decided to do some research on it.

I eventually looked through a copy during a trip to Kinokuniya and found that it was EXACTLY what I needed – a structured textbook that would teach me vocabulary, grammar, and kanji with detailed grammar explanations. I bought the first volume and planned to use it eventually.

It was that year I bought it that I finally went to a school that taught Japanese. They used Rosetta Stone though. I thought Rosetta Stone was an alright program when I first used it, but when I started to use it for a class, I quickly learned how much I hated that program. Using that program was so painfully bad, I asked my teacher if I could please switch to Genki. Since my school was big on customized courses, I was able to. I was already in Japanese II B near the end of the year though and didn’t have a chance to finish the course. I did keep my teacher as a tutor for a little while, but found that I hated taking a class for Japanese and hated having a tutor for it. I dropped having a tutor and have studied it on my own ever since.

Going back to the doors thing, the first room I was in was the desire to learn Japanese, which lead to a door of discovery. Once I discovered different aspects of the Japanese language, I had to decide where I wanted to go. I first tried the vocabulary room and found it barely big enough to be a closet and it had no door. The grammar room was just a wall behind the door with a few cracks. The kanji door wasn’t even a serious option. The room for kana was small, but still spacious. I kept on going in and out of all the rooms until I finally decided that kana was going to be the next step.

Upon completion of kana, a set of doors appeared in front of me once again: kanji, vocab, grammar, all.

I used that key I got for completing kana and stepped through the door for “all”, a decision I don’t regret. Right now, in the medium sized room of Basic Japanese, there are two locked doors: Intermediate Japanese and Kanji. If you have read other entries on this blog, you should know which door I am planning on stepping through. Of course, right now, it’s not a final decision.

I need to complete basic Japanese first in order to get the key. Let’s see if I can get there in time, shall we?