How to Learn Japanese in a Month (Protip: It Takes a Lot of Hard Work)
You’ve probably seen blog titles like “Get Fluent in an Hour!” and “Learn 5,000,000 Kanji in Two Days!”
These wild promises are pretty ridiculous since everybody learns a second language differently and at different speeds.
Instead of telling you how to learn Japanese, this post has a game plan and resources designed to help you learn Japanese in less than a month.
In other words, we can provide you with the suggestions and tools you need to become passably conversational in about four weeks—the rest is up to you.
- Is It Really Possible to Learn How to Speak Japanese in Less Than 4 Weeks?
- 4 Steps to Learn Japanese in Less Than a Month
- 1. Use the Best Apps and Resources
- 2. Learn the Japanese Sentence Structure, Grammar Basics and Word Order
- 3. Get the Gist of the Japanese Writing Systems
- 4. Talk and Listen to Native Japanese Speakers
Is It Really Possible to Learn How to Speak Japanese in Less Than 4 Weeks?
If we said no, this would be a pretty short blog post wouldn’t it?
With hard work, the right tools and daily practice, just about anybody can learn usable Japanese.
You can reach a high enough level to survive a stay abroad in the country. If you’re just learning for enjoyment, you can use this guide to fast-track yourself to mid- to high-beginner level.
Let’s get one thing clear: You won’t become fluent in a month. (Unless you’re some foreign language genius.)
But you can absolutely learn what you need to get by with a month of studying. It’s all about finding what resources are best for you.
We recommend printing this page or writing down the steps with their resources, and going through each step and link one by one. As you complete each resource, cross it off.
Give yourself a deadline to reach the end of the post: a month from when you begin studying.
At the end of the month, you should be able to form coherent sentences, read some basic text (with furigana) and understand some spoken Japanese. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ve learned!
4 Steps to Learn Japanese in Less Than a Month
1. Use the Best Apps and Resources
Set your pace and schedule
There are so many apps out there that focus on daily lessons designed to fit a pace that the learner is comfortable with.
Want to jump right into hour-long lessons? Go for it! Only want to spare 15 minutes a day? This is doable.
But if you want to really get a handle on Japanese in four weeks, we suggest practicing Japanese and studying for 30 minutes a day at a minimum—aim for more study-time whenever you can!
Start with reputable apps
Japanese-learning tools and apps allow you to study wherever you are. Make use of that commute or replace your morning newspaper for a month with these, instead.
The language-learning apps below are reputable, well-known options for learners. They also all use very different approaches. Try them out to see which learning style is most effective for you:
- Duolingo uses bite-sized lessons that build up vocabulary and grammar knowledge for a solid basic foundation.
Within the first few lessons, the program will have you arranging words into structurally sound sentences. It introduces vocabulary as it teaches grammar, providing a solid foundation for beginning learners.
- FluentU uses an immersive approach to learning, by helping learners watch and understand authentic Japanese videos like movie clips and music videos. These clips are paired with learning tools like interactive subtitles with a contextual built-in dictionary, review questions that adapt to your learning speed and multimedia flashcards where you can see words used in other videos.
This approach means that you’re thrown directly into real Japanese, allowing you to quickly pick up natural expressions and nuances that you might not find in a program with a more rigid approach.
- Memrise uses spaced repetition and user-made visual mnemonics to ensure you drill each word into your long-term memory for a large core vocabulary. It pairs new vocabulary with exercises and videos that feature different native Japanese speakers.
- LingoDeer provides quick written and audio lessons that dive right into the foundation of Japanese with grammar lessons that build vocabulary naturally.
LingoDeer’s approach is by far the most grammar-oriented than the rest on this list, but it structures lessons in a logical and approachable way.
2. Learn the Japanese Sentence Structure, Grammar Basics and Word Order
A language isn’t just its vocabulary words or textbook full of common phrases. You absolutely should learn the basic phrases, especially if you’ll be visiting Japan with only a month to learn how to speak a new language (and we have some useful travel phrases for you later in this post).
But it’s also important to get a handle on Japanese grammar and sentence structure. This way, you’ll at least have a little bit of information memorized to help in a contextual situation where you’re not entirely sure what someone said or how to respond.
It’ll also get you ready to build more grammar and vocabulary into your Japanese knowledge. Finally, it’ll give you more versatile use of all the words you’re learning!
Below are some essential grammar concepts even absolute Japanese learners should know.
Learn proper particle use
Japanese particles are words that come after modified nouns, adjectives, verbs and phrases in Japanese.
These little words or sounds are an integral part of the Japanese sentence structure and indicate parts of speech, questions and exclamations and much more. Certain particles can also help show enthusiasm, cuteness, aggression, humor, etc.
To learn about Japanese particles and how to figure them out, check out these resources:
- “How to Learn Japanese Particles” from JLPT Boot Camp helps learners navigate the often-confusing world of particles with a guide on how to learn them. (We recommend you read this one, first!)
- “The Japanese Particles Cheat Sheet” from Tofugu contains particle information in one condensed information sheet.
- “Introduction to Particles” by Guide to Japanese breaks down each particle with explanations and examples.
- “The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Particles” by italki has even more explanations and sample sentences for a solid understanding.
Grammar forms to learn first
Japanese grammar forms or “verb forms” are used to indicate various types of past, present and future tense. English also has verb forms, but our language is significantly different than Japanese so it may take some getting used to the Japanese verb forms.
The Japanese language has several verb-based tenses, including the plain, “te,” conditional, potential and imperative forms.
Learn the basics of Japanese grammar forms here:
- “Japanese Causative and Passive Verb Forms” from Guide to Japanese is like a textbook page online: you’ll find a no-frills explanation of the causative and passive verb forms here.
- “All About Japanese ‘Te’ Form” by Kawakawa Learn Studio is a delightfully illustrated and color-coded dive into the “te” form.
- “Using Japanese Verb Bases” by Free Japanese Lessons introduces all the different verb endings in one easy-to-use chart that you can utilize to guide your learning.
- “Japanese Verb Forms” on CosCom defines each of the above verb forms in more detail; the two resources work remarkably well together.
Beginner vocabulary words and phrases
Whether you’re studying for a trip or for your own enjoyment, having a core vocabulary will create a solid foundation that you can build your future learning on. After all, you can’t learn grammar if you don’t know any words to string into sentences.
Stock up on important vocabulary words and travel phrases with these awesome resources:
- “80 Easy Japanese Words and Phrases to Rock Any Situation” by FluentU will get you started with 80 essential words and phrases every beginner should know.
- “Easy Japanese Vocabulary List & Quiz” from the NHK is an interactive vocabulary list and quiz with plenty of great core vocabulary words (as well as some more unique words).
- “Basic Japanese Words” by Rocket Languages has some of the most common basic words all learners should start with, as well as links to more useful vocab.
- “Basic Japanese Travel Phrases” presented by Fodors has you covered if you plan to visit Japan with useful Japanese travel phrases. Not enough for you? Check out even more Japanese travel phrases.
Understanding Japanese word order
Okay, we know this may sound kind of scary.
Japanese word order is very different from English and trying to grasp it may seem a bit advanced. But knowing the bare-bones basics of Japanese word order will be handy contextually when you start speaking Japanese: it’ll help you understand the basics of a sentence, even if you don’t know all the words being used.
If you’re stuck on how Japanese word order works, look into these useful guides:
- “A Visual Guide to Japanese Word Order” by 8020 Japanese is a great resource for visual learners that breaks down Japanese word order by presenting it in illustrations.
- “On Japanese Word Order” from Nihongo Perapera is not as colorful as the resource above, but it contains all the essentials you need to know about string words together to form Japanese sentences like a pro.
- “Japanese Sentence Structure: A Beginner’s Guide to Forming Japanese Sentences” from FluentU is a great starter guide to forming sentences, questions and some more advanced ideas.
- “Word Order in Japanese” by Nihongo Shark uses the wisdom of Yoda and some fun shark images to break down word order in a way anyone can understand.
3. Get the Gist of the Japanese Writing Systems
We mentioned earlier how important it is to focus on speaking, listening and comprehension in order to learn passable Japanese in a month. That being said, it’s still wise to understand the basics of Japanese writing systems.
Start with hiragana
Kanji is a complicated writing system that’s beyond the scope of this guide. Even native Japanese speakers spend years achieving fluency with kanji, so we don’t recommend tackling it in just a month.
However, you should definitely look into some of these resources that explain the common Japanese writing system called hiragana:
- “Learn Hiragana: The Ultimate Guide” by Tofugu is a thorough visual guide to hiragana which uses images to help readers remember characters in a way they’ll never forget.
- “Learn Japanese Hiragana” by Guide to Japanese has handy charts with stroke order and pronunciation guides for each character.
- “Read, Write, Repeat: Japanese Hiragana Practice for Beginners” from FluentU is a massive list of resources for hiragana practice, both reading and writing.
- “Hiragana Course 1” by Hiragana-Lesson introduces each character in groups with accompanying quizzes.
Some Japanese text is accompanied with hiragana readings of the included kanji (this is called furigana), so knowing hiragana is an excellent start to studying the written language.
Once you feel comfortable enough with hiragana, you can move on to learning the other writing systems of Japanese, starting with katakana then moving on to kanji—just be aware that kanji learning will be an ongoing process.
Don’t despair! Take it one step at a time.
4. Talk and Listen to Native Japanese Speakers
You’ll hear any linguistic teacher tell you this, no matter the language being learned: If you want to understand a new language, you can’t just study on paper. You’ll need to listen to native speakers.
This is true for many reasons, the biggest one being comprehension skills.
You may think you have an idea of what Japanese sounds like, but you really don’t get the nuances and pronunciation until you hear it from a Japanese person’s mouth.
It’s also crucial to listen and speak Japanese constantly to improve your fluency. Improving and growing in Japanese is like exercising a muscle: if you don’t work it out, it won’t get swole.
Communicate with native speakers
To listen to and communicate with native Japanese speakers, try out some language exchange sites. These sites match learners with native speakers: you teach someone English (or your native language) and in return, they teach you Japanese.
Here are some of our favorite language exchange programs:
- HelloTalk is a chat program where learners can find and easily chat with native speakers.
- WeSpeke is sometimes referred to as the “polyglot Facebook” and acts as a social media service for language learners.
- Conversation Exchange matches users to native speakers in their area wishing to exchange language tips and help in person.
- My Language Exchange allows users to reach out to native speakers and language learners from all over the world just to say “hi” or to start a conversation.
Watch Japanese media
If you don’t feel ready for one-on-one communication, you can still get some listening practice by watching Japanese movies, television shows and dramas as soon as possible.
Some of our favorite spots to binge watch Japanese media are:
- Crunchyroll has a huge collection of completed and currently-airing anime, from popular titles like “Naruto” to less-known gems like “Aria the Animation.”
- Asian Crush is the place to go for Asian entertainment, including hundreds of Japanese TV shows, movies and web videos; check out “Irezumi, Art of the Japanese Tattoo” for a window into an aspect of the Japanese culture.
- Netflix has an ever-growing library of animated and live-action titles to watch, including the popular Japanese reality show “Terrace House.”
Are you feeling a little less nervous about your future Japanese language-learning journey? The internet is packed with awesome resources perfect for the beginner learner—all you need is a little help finding them.
Good luck and happy learning!
Emily Casalena is a published author, freelance writer and music columnist. She writes about a lot of stuff, from music to films to language.