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8 Tips For Learning Japanese (Speaking, Listening, Reading)

12 September 2020
Practical tips that you can apply daily!

Becoming good at Japanese is just a matter of how exposed you are to the language. This doesn't end with just using textbook, using language learning app and call it a day. If you're serious about it, and want to rapidly improve your Japanese skill, you have to surround your environment with Japanese. Even if you're not in Japan and still want to improve your Japanese, here are some practical tips that you can apply daily!

The Japanese version of this blog post is also available here. So for those who can read and understand Japanese to a certain level, trying to understand the Japanese version might be an interesting excercise! ๐Ÿ˜›

Set your smartphone language to your learning language


Trust me, this will be one of the most uncomfortable thing that you'll do. It really feels overwhelming at first, because you will not understand most of what's been displayed to you. But the fact is that you already know where some buttons are, some basic texts also have along with it an icon, so instead of having to read each time you want to tap for a menu, you just look at the icon.

The point is that, a lot of things that you do, you just do it unconsciously. By switching your smartphone language to the one you're learning, you'll pay more attention to those little words that you always ignore, and can then effortlessly learn new words since you'll encounter those words hundred of times a day.

You might not be able to read the kanjis associated with the words, but it will help you kind of remember visually their shape, so at least you can recognize it next time you'll see it somewhere else. And that's something that is essential in learning a foreign language: recognize first > read it > write/output it.

Watch YouTube or Netflix with your learning language subtitle on


These days, we spent a lot of time binge-watching videos online on either YouTube or Netflix. Why not integrating some semi-passive learning while watching those long hours?

You still can keep the voice in your native language or one that you're comfortable with, and just put the subtitle in Japanese.

Just some small attention given to the subtitle is enough the first time. Because, there are a lot of short sentences in a movie/TV show, your eyes will help you learn new expressions when those short sentences are being said and you'll focus on the subtitle -> new words/grammar pattern/slang expression discovered!

Just reading the end of each sentences is sometime enough too.

Then those sentences will be repeated throughout the entire movie, and that's where it will stick and you'll learn something new ๐Ÿ˜‰

Read the lyrics while listening to Japanese songs


Usually when I commute to work, I sometime listen to some Japanese songs using apps like Spotify or Apple Music. Those apps offer real-time synced lyrics and is a good way to get your ears used to listen to Japanese sounds. When learning a language, one part that we all struggle is the pronunciation.

Reading the lyrics while listening to a song is a free way to know how a word is pronounced. There are some slight difference in a word pronunciation, and hearing the same word from different songs allow you to recognize that word in its different tone/color.

Moreover, you'll be more likely listening to some songs over and over again, and by reading its lyrics, you'll end up memorizing the songs, which is good because you'll learn some pre-made grammatical patterns or association of common words.

However due to COVID-19, we can't not commute by train these days... so find a way and time to read while listening to your favorite songs!

Order your food in Japanese (I think you already do so but...)


If you are already in Japan, I guess you already do so. But in case you are beginner and think that your Japanese level is not good enough, you might just go with the easy way by ordering in English. Or worse, if the staff can speak good English, you might just want to do so too because it's much easier right?

Nop, try not to do so. Try to be in the mindset where people don't understand anything but Japanese, and it will force you to output your Japanese that you learned so hard.

Not only you order in Japanese, but you must force yourself to do it well! Don't be satisfied with ใ“ใ‚ŒใŠ้ก˜ใ„ใ—ใพใ™, try to make complete and difficult sentences that you want to challenge yourself. For example, ใ“ใ‚Œใ€ใ”้ฃฏใ‚’ๅฐ‘ใชใ‚ใซใ—ใฆใ‚‚ใ‚‰ใˆใพใ™ใ‹๏ผŸ, try to imitate your surrounding.

Those mundane words and sentences seem so easy that you neglect it thinking that you know them, but doing it well helps to become much more natural.

Practice Japanese conversation with your non-native buddies


A lot of people think they absolutely need to practice a foreign language with native people from that language. Although, finding some native people who are willing to practice with you is not an easy thing.

On the other hand, just look at your surrounding and you'll be surprised to notice that there are a lot of your friends from your country or international friends who are learning Japanese. So why not leveragering that and practice with them?

The benefits would be:

  • you'll have more opportunities to do so

  • you won't feel awkward if both of you make mistakes

Though there are some drawbacks like not being able to get corrected in the native way when you make a mistake. However, do you really think that whenever you talk to a native, they'll constantly take the time to correct every single mistake that you'll make?

I don't think so. But instead, I think that if you have a buddy whose Japanese level is better than yours, he/she will be more than happy to correct you, as it will also be a way for them to master their language skills. Teaching something to someone, will help you master that subject.

Give yourself and your buddy some challenges, like 30minutes or 1hour a day, only conversing or texting in Japanese.

Back when I was in an exchange university program in Japan (Kobe), I was with my French buddy who was also really into mastering Japanese. We mutually motivate ourselves and improve our speaking skills by talking to each other only in Japanese on our commute to the university. To spice up a little bit the challenge, if one of us start to switch back and speak in French, we had to do some push-ups as a penalty.

Try to do it, and you'll see the benefits of it! It'll help to get rid of your shyness.

Because of Corona, you might not be able to commute or have a walk with your friends, but you still can have an online session and practice a little bit. It's always better than nothing.

Write social media posts in Japanese


The concern of a lot of people is that they are embarrassed to make mistakes when they speak/write in a language they're learning. The best way to get over that? Do it publicly.

It's a good training to start to write or at least, incorporate some Japanese in your social media posts. If you are a beginner, don't expect to be ready to start debating in Japanese over some political posts, but there might be some mundanes or day to day things that you'll post (like vacation photos or so). On those posts, writing in your learning language some words or sentences will force you to think about how to properly translate them.

These sentences are usually common things that you want to master because they are so recurrent, and the sooner you can say them out loud (meaning, get the public exposure), the less you'll feel embarrassed the next time you face a native and have to output them in real life situation.

Social media posts are great because they are short, concise and are related to your daily life.

Heavily use Anki flashcard app


This is by far the fastest way to absorb a ton of new vocabularies in a short period of time, period. Use below decks to do so:

  • Heisig: Remembering the Kanjis. This allows me to learn and remember all of the most commonly used kanjis in Japanese (~2000) within ~3 months with a pace of 20 new kanjis a day and 50 kanjis to review (usually 40minutes a day). This is the fastest way to learn and remember the meaning of a kanji because each card has a story (sometime really funny) to help you remember those kanjis. So if you do the math, it takes exactly 100 days to learn or at least discover all the kanjis, then give yourself one extra month to master. After that, you have at least seen once and know the meaning of each and every single (except rarely used kanjis) in the Japanese language. In this phase, you don't need to remember the pronunciation, this will come later.

  • JLPT N5~N1 vocabularies. This is where the fun comes. You get to learn almost all the words that will be used in daily life, at different level (corresponding to each JLPT test). You now start to learn how each kanji is pronounced in words, and not isolated one by one in a single kanji. All the words that you learn within this deck has direct application in real life because you get to see them literally everywhere, so the sense of accomplishment doing this is huge.

As for the pace, I did 50 new words a day and 100 review, that took me around another 3 months too to cover all of the cards in the deck. But you decide the pace that suits you the best, but I'll recommend at least 15-20 new, and 30-50 review a day.

Train yourself to record voice memos in Japanese


This is really good, because we don't pay much attention to our accent or pronunciation when we talk in real time. But when you record your own voice, you get to hear it from an external point of view, and then you can compare it to the native pronunciation and see how good/bad you are. Knowing one's level is the best way to track progress and improve over time. The memos can be of any nature, your shopping list, what you did today, whatever sentences you want to practice.

Keeping a record of those will be useful when you look back a few weeks/months/years forward, and realize how much you have improved!

Bonus: Use Apps to practice your Japanese with real natives


The last one, is to make use of your hardly learned Japanese with real Japanese native using Language Exchange Apps.

There are plenty of apps out there that allow you to do so, so it might be the topic of a different post to do an overview of some of them, but I'd like to recommend one: SewaYou which focuses on the in-person experience of practicing a foreign language one-on-one with a native.

Full disclosure: I'm the the creator on this app ๐Ÿ™‚. Because I've been myself through this journey of learning and trying to get better at my Japanese day by day, I understand some of your pain points. That's why SewaYou was born. Because I coded it while working full-time in Japan - Tokyo, the growth of the userbase started there, so a lot of users are native Japanese people living in Tokyo. SewaYou is not yet another Swipe-Match-Talk App, where you have to pay and buy coins to talk with more people. It's focused on Time and Location: you set your available time range of the day, and you appear on our interactive Map, you can then find language partners that live close by, and can quickly set up a meet up in real life to practice Japanese!

Of course, even if you don't live in Tokyo or Japan, you can still use the Chat feature to freely chat and talk (including voice message and Video/Voice call, 1-click message translation, message correction) with other people on the platform.

So please give it a try, it doesn't hurt, and might accelerate your learning journey! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ


Philippe Khin
Written by
Philippe Khin
Founder of SewaYou ๐Ÿ’ฌ Born in Cambodia, grew up in France, now Permanent Resident in Japan When I don't write code for SewaYou, I write these articles ๐Ÿง‘โ€๐Ÿ’ป

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