17 Simple Strategies to Learn Japanese Comfortably at Home
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take a month off and spend it in Japan soaking up the language and culture?
Your Japanese ability would skyrocket and you’d have a great head start on becoming fluent.
Unfortunately, for most of us, this isn’t an option.
But the good news is that there are ways to create total Japanese immersion and learn Japanese at home without actually landing in Japan, and here are my suggestions for doing it.
17 Simple Strategies to Learn Japanese Comfortably at Home
1. Take Notes in Japanese
When you take notes or jot down everyday reminders, do it in Japanese. Instead of writing, “Return books to library” in your planner, write, “本を図書館に返す (ほんをとしょかんに かえす – Return books to library).”
This is a nice challenge for your writing skills, plus you’ll learn a ton of everyday vocabulary that’s useful to you. On top of that, you’ll really need to know what it says—or you’ll have overdue fees!
2. Set Your Phone to Japanese
For whatever gadgets you use—smartphone, tablet, GPS, computer, e-reader, etc.—switch their language settings to Japanese. Now you can manage your schedule, set your alarms, check your voicemail and get updates in Japanese instead of English.
Here’s a bonus tip: You can also now practice your Japanese any time with Siri if you can’t find a local speaking partner!
3. Change Your TV Viewing Habits
You may be immersed in English all day at school or work, but you can learn Japanese at home with your leisure activities. A great way to study is to watch TV or movies in Japanese.
You easily can access Japanese TV shows on the internet, and one simple way to do it is through YouTube. I personally recommend watching kids’ cartoons like ドラえもん (どらえもん – Doraemon)!
Another site that has Japanese TV shows is OV Guide. Scroll down to “Explore TV Genres” on the righthand side and click “More Genres.” One of them is Japanese. Click on “Japanese” and you’ll find Japanese language shows!
4. Check out Japanese Music
The same goes for your listening habits. Put away your English language music and become a J-pop fan. If J-pop isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of Japanese rock and roll, reggae, punk, hip-hop and just about any other genre you can imagine.
You can find a listing of the Japanese pop charts here and then search for the songs on YouTube. Looking up Japanese song lyrics is a breeze with this useful guide. You could also stream live radio from Japanese stations on sites like Live365.
Ready for another bonus tip? An awesome way to learn songs (and so much more) is with FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
5. Talk to Yourself in Japanese
Yes, sometimes you have to look like a crazy person in order to master a foreign language! Get into the habit of talking to yourself in Japanese. People often recommend narrating what you’re doing, such as saying, “歯を磨いている。鏡を見ている。(はをみがいている。かがみをみている。- I’m brushing my teeth. I’m looking in the mirror.)”
But I contend that this is weird because no one does this in English (I hope). But what about that dialogue most of us have constantly running through our heads? When you catch yourself thinking about something, turn it into Japanese!
6. Cover the Walls with Posters
Buy some Japanese language posters (or feel free to make your own if you’re feeling artsy!) and cover your walls. This way, everywhere you look, you’ll be looking at Japanese.
In addition to learning materials like kana charts, be sure to get some non-language posters as well, like movie, artist or idol posters. You can buy Japanese movie posters online at Jposter.net.
7. Indulge in Hobbies in Japanese
Whatever your hobby may happen to be, do it in Japanese. If you like cooking, look for recipes in Japanese (Try Cookpad or Rakuten Recipes) and then cook them, of course!
If you’re into watching sports, watch games on the internet in Japanese (Type “スポーツ” (すぽーつ – sport) or a particular sport’s name in Japanese on YouTube).
Get the gist? Be creative and try to find a way to do whatever you enjoy doing—using Japanese!
8. Listen to Japanese Podcasts
There are podcasts in every language and on every topic, so this offers a great way to immerse yourself in Japanese. Keep in mind that you don’t have to limit yourself to Japanese language learning podcasts.
You can listen to news, sports, talk shows, comedy and any other genre in Japanese. So how can you find these podcasts that were made for native speakers? Simply change your iTunes settings to Japanese using these steps:
1. Open iTunes and go to the iTunes Store.
2. Scroll to the bottom, and select “Change Country” under “Manage.”
3. Select “Japan.”
4. Now you can see the content that’s popular in Japan—in Japanese!
9. Surf the Web in Japanese
Browsing the Japanese iTunes Store was just a little warm up for this one. Why not take your internet surfing habits and turn them Japanese?
When you want to look something up on Wikipedia or another major website, try the Japanese version. For most major websites, you can type “.co.jp” at the end instead of “.com” to get the Japanese version. For example:
You’ve done it once, but how can you make it a habit? Set a Japanese website as your home page, so that you’ll see the Japanese right away every time you go online. Then, change your keyboard settings so that you can easily type in Japanese.
Another idea is to create and use a Japanese e-mail account with Yahoo Japan or a similar service. You can use this account when communicating with online Japanese language exchange partners, which we’ll get to in #13.
10. Read Japanese Blogs
While you’re online, check out some Japanese language blogs. Ameblo is a huge Japanese blog network where you can find blogs on all kinds of topics. You’ll need some reading ability under your belt in order to search topics on the site, but that’s just another great learning opportunity. In fact, you could even start your own Ameblo blog to practice.
11. Get Social
There are several ways you can use social media to immerse yourself in Japanese. One is to sign up for Japan’s Mixi social media site, where you can send messages, write in a diary and join communities of common interests.
Another is to follow Japanese accounts on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest—whatever social media sites you use the most. How do you find people? Try searching for terms related to your hobbies or interests in Japanese.
12. Get a Job in Japanese
If there are Japanese restaurants or other businesses in your area, apply for a job there. A Japanese restaurant offers an excellent way to immerse yourself in Japanese because all of your working time is spent hearing and using the language.
You’ll get a crash course not only in the language, but also the culture.
13. Language Exchange
Try finding a Japanese person studying English in your area, and offer English conversation in exchange for Japanese. Don’t have time to take on a part-time job at that nearby Japanese restaurant? Maybe the owners, chefs or wait staff—or one of their friends—is interested in a conversation exchange! These tips will show you how to have the best language exchange possible.
Don’t forget that you can always have a language exchange online. English lessons are pricey in Japan, so there are plenty of people using language exchange websites to find free English instruction. A great site for finding virtual language partners is My Language Exchange.
14. Your Local Japanese Community
If you live in a large enough city, there’s bound to be a local Japanese community or a Japanese grocery store. If not, you can find a small Japanese community of students at your local university. Connect with this community and get involved with things like taiko groups, cooking classes and cultural activities.
If you’re not sure how to find your local Japanese community, try checking out Meetup, Craigslist community or googling the terms “Japanese” and your town or area. You can also try entering a Japanese interest of yours in the search bar—like taiko drumming—and you should be able to find something. Don’t be afraid to start directly with the people though! Where there’s an authentic Japanese restaurant, there are bound to be Japanese people—and I’ll bet that they have Japanese friends!
15. Create Daily Habits
The ideal situation is to be studying a little bit every day. If you’re not there yet, it can definitely help with your immersion to create certain times of the day for studying or immersion. If you’re an early riser, for example, set aside the early morning for Japanese. Make it a Japanese-only time, flipping your thoughts into Japanese as well.
Setting daily goals for yourself, such as learning five kanji, is another way to help with your immersion through new daily habits.
16. Speak Japanese with Other Japanese Learners
Even when engaging in regular non-study conversation with fellow Japanese language learners, do it in Japanese. Like other ideas above, this might make you look strange in public, but it’s well worth the rewards. You’ll help each other out a great deal.
The same goes for when you chat with others on forums, social media, blogs or elsewhere online. To find Japanese language meetups in your area, you can search on Meetup.com, or join a virtual community of Japanese language learners, like the one on Reddit. You can really get lots of support and inspiration/motivation from fellow language learners.
17. Don’t Hurry, Stay Relaxed
When learning Japanese at home through immersion, don’t try to rush it. The idea is to simply “be” in your Japanese environment. Immersion helps you learn a language because you have a chance to live with it, and thus get more used to it.
It’s not like trying to memorize new vocabulary or quiz yourself. It’s not as goal-oriented as a formal class. So put your feet up and make your immersion time relaxing—a time for simply living with Japanese.
The Challenge of Learning Japanese at Home
True immersion means that everyone is saying everything in your target language. The bits and pieces of Japanese you can expose yourself to don’t really constitute true “immersion.” But you can come close to it if you seize every opportunity possible to consume content and participate in activities in Japanese.
Even if you can only do a tiny bit of immersion, it’s more fun than spending concentrated time with a textbook, plus it can teach you a great deal about how the language is really spoken.
The key is to look for any opportunity where you can absorb as much Japanese as possible. If you do this, you can create something like immersion without ever leaving the comfort of home, and you’ll see your Japanese ability improve quickly.