How to Learn Japanese: New Year’s Language Mission 3

how to learn japanese

How to Learn Japanese

My latest language mission (which I started about four weeks ago so it’s not really my new year’s resolution) is to learn Japanese. I’ll be travelling to Japan in March and I’d really like to be able to get to a stage where I can:

  • Introduce myself, say where I’m from and understand my conversation partner’s response
  • Have a basic conversation about what I like, ask my conversation partner what they like and understand their response
  • Ask for information (e.g. a food/drink recommendation in a restaurant or whether a tourist site is worth visiting) and ask for directions, and understand my conversation partner’s response to that

I’d like to take my learning beyond that as well but for now, these are my immediate goals that I want to hit by March.

I figure that recording my progress on the blog will make me more accountable so I’ll be posting updates on how I’m getting on here.

I’d also like those of you who are learning or would like to start learning Japanese to benefit from reading this so I’m going to record my learning process, what worked and what didn’t, and share this with you.

Japanese is honestly the most interesting language I’ve attempted to learn so far. It’s fascinating to learn about the different scripts it uses, how reality is represented in vocabulary and how its grammar gives you a bit of an insight into how reality is perceived by native Japanese speakers.

How to Learn Japanese: What I’ve Learned So Far

So, here’s my first update – a sample of what I’ve learned so far!

Hiragana and katakana

I definitely recommend Memrise for learning hiragana and katakana – the two syllabaries used in Japanese. I managed to learn them in a few days, and now, in my fourth week of learning, I can confidently say that I can read hiragana and katakana well (although still slowly!).

Memrise gives you a selection of memes for each hiragana/katakana character. These memes use mnemonics (a memorisation technique I’ve previously written about) to help you memorise the characters. Here’s an example:

how to learn japanese kana

The katakana character for ‘ro’ looks like the square body of the ‘ro’bot in the meme – easy!

My friend Siskia from The Polyglotist also recommendded that I should learn the two syllabaries alongside each other (i.e. learn the あ in hiragana and the ア in katakana as a pair – they are both characters which represent the same vowel sound ‘a’), which makes things easier and less confusing.

I’ve also used apps called Japanese-Hiragana and Japanese-Katakana to learn how to write the characters, including the order in which the strokes should be written (the two apps are absolutely insane – you’ll see what I mean!). I’m still working on that, though. Here’s a sample of my writing:

how to learn japanese kana


I’ve also made a start on vocabulary with Memrise’s Introduction to Japanese and Genki I courses. There’s a bit of an overlap there, though, and if I were to start again, I’d have just done the Genki course.

To learn some basic phrases, such as ‘my name is’, ‘where are you from’, ‘I live in…’, etc. I’ve used the JapanesePod101 podcast, which also has a video with the 25 most common phrases in Japanese.


Here’s a sample of what I can say so far:


My next steps are to make a start on some basic kanji (this ultimate guide to learning Kanji could be a good place to start) and learn some more verbs so I can start making sentences. I’m really excited about this and I’d like you guys to get involved too! Learn Japanese with me, offer your tips, correct my mistakes, or anything else you can think of!


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  • Great that you are learning Japanese, Agnieszka! I love this language too, and have been learning for a number of years now. I look forward to reading about your journey. がんばってください!
    I myself am on the fence about my next language. Either I learn German, or learn Swedish. I followed your Swedish challenge and had also put some sticky notes around my desk at work, words like Tack and Hej and Jag tyckerom. It sounds like an interesting language!

  • How cool, Agnieszka, and what a great goal! It’ll be interesting to see how you progress 🙂

  • honore

    Thank you for your interest in Japan! It’s interesting to see people learning Japanese.