“I’m learning Japanese.” “You are? Cool! I wanna learn Japanese!”

Following that “I wanna learn Japanese”, depending on who you are talking to, will either be something along the lines of “teach me” or “say something”. If you’re one of the “teach me” sort of people, this post is sort of for you.

It’s actually more for the people who are in a position I used to be in. The position where you want to learn Japanese, but you don’t really know where to start, so you just gather all the words you can find, and believe you are learning, but know you aren’t quite “learning” the language.

It was back in 2003 or 2004. I was about halfway through 6th grade and I discovered anime & manga. It became my passion and I wanted to learn the language associated with the medias – Japanese. Unfortunately, I didn’t know where to start. I first gathered whatever I could from anime & manga, fan sites, and my friends who seemed to know a bit. From 6th grade to 11th grade, I struggled to find a starting point. As time went on, I did start getting a clearer idea of where I should start.

I can’t remember when, but I had, at some point, learned of kana. I did the traditional writing kana over and over thing, but it didn’t really stick for the most part – I got the vowels down and that was pretty much it. There were random kana that I knew past those as well, but other than that, I didn’t know much. One day though, it occurred to me to just start with kana. If I go onto a Japanese website or crack open a manga in Japanese, I will see kana, no doubt about it. Sure, it wasn’t vocabulary or grammar, but it was a very clear starting point. So clear, that in April 2008, I sat down and spent a few hours on Real Kana, drilling kana into my head and testing myself with a manga in Japanese (to read more about this, go here).

Between learning kana, the Rosette Stone my mom bought me, and Japanese for Dummies, I was able to start pushing myself onto the right track. And by “right track”, I mean I started to figure out what to Google search to help me find better ways to learn Japanese. Thanks to the Internet, I discovered the Genki textbook series and tons of resources.

So, what should you have gotten out of that story?

Go learn kana first. Go learn how each kana is pronounced (which shouldn’t be too hard to find – go google “kana pronunciation”), how to write it, and how to read it. It’s a key for learning Japanese that will open so many doors. It will help you learn vocabulary and grammar. It will help you with pretty much everything related to learning Japanese.

That’s not to say don’t go learning other things before then. I actually would recommend “prepping” yourself for Japanese learning by learning random, not-borrowed words from Japanese and just learning a few random kanji (primarily how to read it and its meaning) that you like before starting. It gives you a bit of a foundation and gives your mind some sort of foundation. It’s easier to tackle learning when you know a tiny bit of something, rather than nothing at all. If you already have an interest in learning Japanese and did what I did for years, you’re most likely ready to start learning Japanese.

Anything else?

If you find that learning Japanese is just a passing interest, don’t bother even trying. If it’s frequent enough and you’ve legitimately been trying to learn it, but have been at a complete lost on where to start, feel free to try what I’ve mentioned in this post!

Also, try to find your reason to study Japanese. Ask yourself if it’s strong enough to keep you interested. For instance, if it’s because you have always seemed to love Japanese culture, then that’s a good reason. If your reason is because some of your friends are currently learning it and you want to join them, you may want to triple check on how that will keep you motivated (i.e. if they stopped learning it, would you stop too). If you find yourself being motivated for reasons people say are horrible reasons, screw ’em and go with whatever will keep you learning! Honestly, the reason doesn’t have to be the most perfect reason in the world. It just needs to be strong enough to keep you motivated.

Immerse yourself in the language as well. You didn’t learn English (or your native language) just by sitting in a classroom for 42 minutes a day – you learned it (and retained it) because you were surrounded by it. Set whatever you can set in Japanese (your phone, game system, MP3 player, etc.) and listen to as much Japanese audio as possible. Do this for hours. Trust me, it will greatly help you. I don’t do the audio immersion as much as I wish I did, but I most certainly immerse myself in text a lot.

I hope this post is at least somewhat helpful to language learners. I have to highly recommend going over to Tofugu and poking around that site for ideas on how to further your Japanese learning after you learn kana.