how to learn japanese

How to Learn Japanese by Yourself in 6 Steps

Not everyone who learned to speak fluent Japanese studied in a classroom.

With all the resources available online these days, it’s easier than ever to learn Japanese on your own. 

Take me, for example—I started from scratch and got to an advanced level with a realistic study plan, online courses, a notebook and some elbow grease.

Here, I’ll share how to learn Japanese by yourself. The art of teaching yourself is easily learned.


The Steps

1. Learn Japanese pronunciation, core vocabulary and basic grammar first.

Start learning Japanese by building your foundations.

Focus some time and energy on learning correct Japanese pronunciation. This video will teach you the basics in 14 minutes:

For more, check out:

  • Japanese Professor to learn the rules of Japanese pronunciation.
  • Forvo to hear pronunciation examples for Japanese greetings, travel phrases and more.

Next, build your core vocabulary in Japanese.

Think about the words you need for essential, everyday tasks. Words like hello, yes, please and thank you are great starting points.

Try these resources to get going:

Of course, languages aren’t just vocabulary and common phrases. Spend time familiarizing yourself with basic Japanese grammar and sentence structure.

I recommend starting with the following three grammar points.

Japanese particles:

Japanese grammar forms or “verb forms:”

Japanese word order:

2. Use the best apps and resources to learn Japanese.

Make use of your commute or replace your morning newspaper with some Japanese study time via digital learning tools.

These language learning apps are reputable, well-known options for studying Japanese. They use different approaches, so you can determine which learning style is most effective for you.

  • Duolingo uses bite-sized lessons that build up vocabulary and grammar knowledge for a solid foundation of Japanese.
  • FluentU uses an immersive approach to learning. You can watch and understand authentic Japanese videos like movie clips and music videos.
  • Memrise uses spaced repetition and user-made visual mnemonics. It pairs new vocabulary with exercises and videos that feature native Japanese speakers.
  • LingoDeer provides quick lessons that teach foundational Japanese grammar and build vocabulary naturally.

I also recommend using the flashcard app Anki (available for iOS and Android).

Anki utilizes a spaced repetition software to help you learn vocabulary. Spaced repetition uses the brain’s natural forgetting curve to show you vocabulary you’ve learned just when you’re about to forget it.

This helped me tremendously in Japan. I was able to hold very basic conversations after the first month.

Of course, while apps allow you to set your own pace and schedule, there’s nothing wrong with more traditional language learning methods.

For example, two popular Japanese textbooks are:

Genki I” is shorter and less involved. If you don’t have much time to commit to learning Japanese, it’s a good way to learn the basics.

If you’re more serious about studying Japanese and ready to set aside a good portion of your time, then “Minna no Nihongo” is the book for you. It’s extremely thorough and teaches you how to apply the lessons in different scenarios.

No matter which methods you choose, I suggest studying Japanese for a minimum of 30 minutes a day—aim for more whenever you can!

3. Learn the Japanese that’s important to you.

One huge benefit of learning a language on your own is relevance—you only need to learn what you want to learn.

You might be looking to learn how to speak Japanese for business or for travel. That means you can focus on certain phrases and vocabulary.

It also means you can spend more or less time on any given topic.

Don’t need to discuss your career goals in Japanese? You don’t have to. Wish you could talk about your college studies with your Japanese friend? Learn how to!

Similarly, learning Japanese on your own means you can easily set goals to motivate yourself.

You want to feel the rewards of studying Japanese. This is easy enough if you live in Japan, since you will notice that you understand more and more of the language that surrounds you.

For me, nothing compares to when I suddenly discover that I can say something I had no idea I was able to say.

I once asked a Japanese clerk to put my groceries in my backpack for me (my arm was broken at the time). I was surprised that I even knew how to phrase that request. At the same time, I felt like I’d learned a neat trick: “I can now get people to put stuff in my backpack!”

Seeing the rewards of your efforts will encourage you to keep studying, even when it feels like the last thing you want to do.

4. Narrate your life in Japanese.

“Here we have a Japanese language learner in their natural environment, doing what they love, studying their favorite language. The task before them is difficult. The learner persists.”

Okay, so maybe you’re not exactly Sir David Attenborough. Even so, you should try narrating—as long as you do it in Japanese.

It might make you feel crazy, since it’s pretty much just talking to yourself.

But ask yourself these questions:

  • Will you always have a language partner to practice speaking with?
  • Do you want your skills to deteriorate because you haven’t used them?

No, and of course not.

So, narrate your life in Japanese! Talk about what you’re doing, what you’re looking at, what you’re eating, where you’re planning to go…Talk about any topic you want.

Regularly doing this exercise will improve your fluency, pronunciation and grammar without you even noticing. You can try out different dialects and accents, too.

It’s okay if you feel silly! Speaking Japanese as much as possible (even if it’s just to yourself at first) will boost your confidence and increase your enthusiasm for using your new language.

5. Watch Japanese TV shows and movies.

Consuming authentic media is a fun way to practice your listening skills and overall comprehension.

Authentic content is essential for learning real Japanese. Real-world conversations are full of slang and colloquialisms that you will only find when consuming native materials.

A good place to start is to watch Japanese movies with subtitles.

You’ll learn how to piece together what you know and make sense of what you don’t. Think of it like a puzzle that you’ll get better at solving over time.

While you can always split movies into smaller segments, a full-length Japanese feature may still be too intimidating.

You can learn Japanese with anime programs, but note that they often use a unique speech style that differs from everyday Japanese.

Beyond anime, try learning with Japanese TV shows. They often consist of panels that discuss news stories, interview guests and so on.

These discussions are usually spoken in fast-paced, everyday Japanese—because they’re intended for Japanese people. If you can follow talk shows, then your Japanese listening skills are already very good.

But if you aren’t quite up to speed yet, even watching Japanese television can be frustrating. When then happens, you’ll benefit from extra tools and support to help you watch Japanese media.


FluentU, for example, has an online video library of authentic Japanese content like news, movie clips, talk shows and more. There’s Japanese content at every level, so you can work on your Japanese skills no matter where you’re at.

how to learn japanese

The FluentU program has a video player with interactive subtitles. Hover over an unknown word or phrase and get a direct translation. Click on the word for more in-depth info, or add it to your custom flashcard deck.

No matter what kind of television programs, cartoons, movies or other videos you enjoy watching, there will be something suited to your interests.

Here are some other great spots to find Japanese shows or movies:

6. Use songs to learn Japanese.

If you’re having trouble memorizing words or recalling them quickly, you should do more karaoke. To forget your troubles.

Jokes aside, karaoke can actually help a lot with learning Japanese. It can:

  • enrich your vocabulary.
  • improve your pronunciation.
  • strengthen your grammar.

As long as you do it right, that is.

Before you start singing, make sure you know what each word means. Use a dictionary and translate the song on your own if you can’t find the lyrics in your native language.

Focus on grammar as well. Lyrics can simplify complex grammar constructions and make them easier to understand.

Then, once you’ve sung the song a few times, those words and grammar patterns will stick in your head!

When you need to recall them later, all you have to do is hum the melody of the song to bring them to mind quickly.

I recommend you start with some easier Japanese songs to get the hang of this learning technique.

You might also find some songs you like on Spotify. Look them up on YouTube to find lyric videos—the dual Japanese and English lyrics will be particularly helpful.

Common Expressions in Japanese

A great way to start learning a new language is to master some everyday expressions.

With just a few good Japanese sentences, you can come across as relatively knowledgeable, even to a native speaker. But more importantly, you can find your way to the bathroom if you find yourself in a pinch.


私の名前はブルースです。どうぞ宜しくお願いします。(わたしの なまえは ぶるーす です。どうぞ よろしく おねがいします。)
My name is Bruce. Please treat me well.

Good morning!

Good day!

Good evening!

お元気ですか? (おげんき ですか?)
How are you?


これ/それ/あれは何ですか? (これ/それ/あれは なん ですか?)
What is this/that/that over there?

この/その/あの人は誰ですか? (この/その/あのひとは だれ ですか?)
Who is this/that/that person over there?

トイレはどこですか? (といれは どこ ですか?)
Where is the toilet?

今は何時ですか? (いまは なんじ ですか?)
What time is it?



私は寿司/チョコレート/ビールが好きです。(わたしは すし/ちょこれーと/びーるがすき です。)
I like sushi/chocolate/beer.

私は雑音/タバコ/月曜日が嫌いです。(わたしは ざつおん/たばこ/げつようびが きらい です。)
I hate noise/tobacco/Mondays.


Excuse me.

Thank you very much.

また明日!(また あした!)
See you tomorrow!

元気でね。(げんき でね。)
Stay well.


If you read this whole post, that probably means you’re dedicated to learning Japanese.

And now that you know how to learn Japanese—good luck! You can do this!

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