Japanese is a wide-spread East Asian language with more than 128 million speakers around the world. It’s the national language of Japan, but it’s also spoken in Korea, the US, and Brazil primarily because of the significant immigrant communities.
How hard is it to learn Japanese? Many language learners believe that learning Japanese is significantly more difficult than learning any other language. In fact, every language learning journey takes a lot of effort and hard work on your part.
But, by taking Japanese lessons and using the helpful tools and resources in this article, you’ll surely reach your goal of Japanese fluency.
11 Simple Steps to Learn Japanese Fast
To make quick progress with your Japanese, start focusing on the core pillars of language learning. These include learning the basics, establishing a regular study routine, and (the fun part) immersing yourself in the culture.
Take a look at our 11 simple ways you can cover these bases, and start your Japanese learning journey.
1. Learn the Japanese alphabet
The best way to learn Japanese is to start with the basics: learning the alphabet. There are 3 basic writing systems you need to learn to be able to read Japanese: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.
The ability to read Hiragana is crucial for all beginners. Hiragana is primarily used for native Japanese words and consists of 46 characters or 51 phonetic characters. It’s the key to understanding how and why Japanese words sound the way they do. Because most of the characters have only one pronunciation, Hiragana is quite easy to learn. No doubt, once you learn Hiragana, you’ll create a firm foundation needed for a native-sounding accent.
Сompared to Hiragana, Katakana is used for non-Japanese or loanwords: a word adopted from a foreign language. These include technical and scientific terms, as well as the names of some plants and animals. Katakana can give you more trouble than Hiragana as it won’t be so frequently used, especially at the very beginning of your language learning journey. As your level increases, Katakana will appear more regularly. However, just being able to read Katakana is enough for a beginner.
Many learners believe that learning Kanji is the most challenging part of the process. On the other hand, it’s one of the most critical aspects of learning Japanese. Knowing very basic Kanji will enable you to understand, speak and write simple Japanese. Kanji consists of thousands of Chinese symbols that represent entire words, ideas or phrases.
Kanji comes with many complexities, as English meanings can’t always be directly translated from Japanese words. That’s why there can be many correct English meanings for a single Kanji word. We never said learning Japanese would be easy, but learning Kanji will give you a huge amount of ways to express yourself.
2. Practice grammar
How do you learn Japanese grammar? If you want to master it perfectly, you have to forget everything you know about English grammar as they differ dramatically. Unlike many of the romance languages, Japanese has only two tenses: past and non-past (present and future). However, there are two forms: polite and plain. The last one is used for casual speech.
We recommend that you start to learn Japanese grammar with the help of textbooks. The best books to learn Japanese grammar are:
- Practice Makes Perfect: Basic Japanese;
- A Guide to Japanese Grammar by Tae Kim;
- Japanese Hiragana & Katakana for Beginners.
It’s also important to mention that Japanese has an entirely different writing system: from right to left, from top to bottom. In these textbooks, you’ll find a lot of practical lessons that will help you get a sense of Japanese writing.
3. Learn some key phrases
How to learn Japanese fast? Start with the list of the most common words and expressions. Knowing basic phrases like “Hello”, “How do you do?”, and “Nice to meet you” allows you to begin speaking Japanese and quickly join conversations with native speakers. Take a look at the 100+ most important Japanese words — this will be extremely helpful if you ever decide to visit Japan, or if you need a starting point if you decide to relocate there.
4. Set up a schedule
How long does it take to learn Japanese? It’s probably one of the most popular questions many people have about this language. The truth is that it depends on the efforts you’re going to make to boost your level of Japanese.
The truth is, to see fast progress you need to start practicing every day! There are hundreds of useful apps and learning strategies to help you schedule daily lessons and find a learning pace that suits them. Ready to kick start a learning process with hourly lessons? Go for it! Can you only spend 15 minutes a day learning Japanese? No problem! Just make the most of this time.
5. Use apps to get started
Language learning applications will come in very handy when you start learning Japanese. Duolingo, Memrise, or Rosetta Stone are very simple apps for beginners to start learning basic Japanese phrases and vocabulary. Apps like these allow you to study wherever and whenever you want.
If you want to find out more about useful language learning apps, check out our review of one of the most popular apps on the market: Babbel Review: How It Can Help You Learn a Language.
However, most language-learning apps are great for a quick boost to your Japanese language skills. But they shouldn’t be the only resource that you use. If you’re only studying an app for 10 minutes a day, you won’t experience quick progress. No app is a substitute for real-world interaction! Instead, try to find a language learning partner or online tutor to help you speak on a regular basis. We have tutors that cost as little as $5 an hour— take a look at our expert Japanese tutors here.
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6. Pay attention to flashcards
Flashcards are perfect for language learners. It’s a card with information on it that you need to remember. To memorize a particular word in Japanese, you can use a flashcard with this word on it. When you flip the card over, you’ll see a translation into your native language.
If you’ve never tried flashcards, you should make them a part of your learning journey. With flashcards, you can:
- label items in your home with their Japanese names to see them every day;
- regularly repeat new words and quiz yourself;
- ask a friend to quiz you to see if you remember the words correctly.
The best part about flashcards is that you can purchase them online or even make them yourself. Whether you’re mastering skills in Hiragana, Katakana or Kanji, flashcards can be a great way to strengthen your vocabulary in all three systems.
7. Chat online with native speakers or other learners
The best way to learn to speak Japanese and strengthen what you’ve already learned is to practice regularly with others. Even if you don’t have a native Japanese friend, you have various options to put your knowledge into practice these days.
For example, you can opt for 1-on-1 video chats to find a language partner who speaks Japanese. Using your smartphone or computer, you’ll be able to talk or write online to native speakers or learners from all around the globe. Here are some tools you can try:
- HelloTalk is a language exchange app where learners can quickly find and chat with native speakers;
- LextTalk is the first social networking and chats app designed for language exchange;
- MyLanguageExchange is a platform which allows users to find conversation partners and improve their speaking both with native speakers and language learners.
If you want to start speaking Japanese from lesson #1 with a native,, browse Preply’s expert Japanese tutors. You can choose from a vast database of certified teachers who can customize an effective lesson plan for your level and language learning needs. Preply offers private lessons with experts via user-friendly video chat. It’s also surprisingly affordable, starting from just $5 per hour.
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8. Read manga
It’s time to start immersing yourself in Japanese culture! Apart from Japanese books and newspapers, learn to read Japanese with manga. Manga is a crucial part of Japanese culture with a long history. Today, it’s at the heart of Japanese pop culture and is also widely known outside of the country.
Manga is art in the form of comics or graphic novels, and can be especially helpful for language learners. These comics are full of contextual clues so that you can easily understand the meaning of the written words. Sailor Moon would be a great starting point for a beginner.
9. Watch anime
If you want to be entertained while you study, try to learn Japanese with anime!. Anime is a unique style of Japanese animation, and for decades, anime was produced only by Japan. Today, it has become an international phenomenon, attracting millions of fans.
Spending your free time watching anime will help you learn a batch of new words, including slang, and improve your listening skills.
10. Listen to podcasts
If you want to learn Japanese, podcasts are an excellent way to add some extra listening practice to your daily routine and find out more about Japanese culture. Here are two podcasts that are great for beginners:
- Learn Japanese Pod Podcasts. Various episodes cover all sort of topics: from traveling tips to drinking etiquette in Japan. Each episode comes with the script in Japanese and a translated transcript.
- NHK. Each episode of this podcast for beginners tells a story of Anna, a fictional character who comes to Japan to study Japanese. The brief lessons provide scripts with an English translation.
Looking for more options? We’ve got you covered! Take a look at 5 podcasts to learn Japanese on the go.
11. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
When you start to practice Japanese, you are always going to make mistakes. But if you don’t put a foot wrong, you won’t grow! Making mistakes and receiving feedback from others is the most effective way to learn a language. However, keep in mind that native Japanese speakers may not want to correct you out of respect, so make it clear that you’d appreciate some guidance.
Master Japanese faster with 1-on-1 tutoring
Whatever steps you take to enhance your Japanese skills, one thing is certain: nothing beats speaking the language from day one if you want to see rapid improvement!
That’s why Preply is an excellent way to practice a new language. With Preply, you can take 1-on-1 lessons through video chat with a certified Japanese tutor. Your tutor will be your language learning sensei—guiding you through the process, pointing out your mistakes, and developing a customized plan based on your level.
There are so many tutors to choose from. All you need to do is use our search filters to find the perfect tutor for your goals, schedule and budget. Just a few sessions will make a huge difference to your confidence, and will help you reach your Japanese learning goals faster than a typical learning app ever could!
Take a look at our Japanese tutors and book your first class today.
Frequently asked questions
How much do Japanese lessons cost?
Japanese lessons start from just $10 on Preply. Traditional language schools often charge much more than this because of the extra costs associated with running a school. However, Preply tutors set their own price per lesson and don't have any extra charges because they teach online.
While it may not be possible to become fluent in Japanese in just ten days, it IS possible to learn the basics of speaking in a short period of time and move on to becoming fluent. Don't be discouraged. You can and will learn Japanese much faster than you expect.Is basic Japanese easy to learn? ›
The Japanese language is considered one of the most difficult to learn by many English speakers. With three separate writing systems, an opposite sentence structure to English, and a complicated hierarchy of politeness, it's decidedly complex.What is the easiest way to memorize Japanese? ›
- Use repetition: reading, writing and speaking words over and over again.
- Associate words with drawings, pictures and funny scenes.
- Try to use the language routinely in the context of daily life.
- Reading as much as possible, especially the newspaper, helps you to remember words.
It will take around 2-6 months to get through most beginner Japanese textbooks. Though, this does depend on how much time you have to spend on your studies and what grammar method you choose. You can even go through a couple different textbooks at the same time, if you want.Does it take 6 years to learn Japanese? ›
According to the US Department of State, Japanese is one of the hardest languages for English natives to learn. It doesn't have many similarities in structure to English. They estimate it takes 88 weeks of learning, or 2200 hours, to reach fluency.Which Japanese alphabet is easy? ›
Hiragana and katakana are easy enough to learn – and will be a big help if you're thinking about travelling to Japan, or learning basic Japanese. Learning kanji is a little trickier, but we'll come to that later.What Japanese words should I learn first? ›
- Yes: はい (hai)
- No: いいえ (iie)
- Hello: こんにちは (konnichiwa)
- Goodbye: じゃね (ja ne)
- Thank you: ありがとう (arigatou)
- I'm Sorry: ごめんなさい (gomen nasai)
- Excuse me: すみません (sumimasen)
- Understand the mechanics of remembering and forgetting.
- Focus on what you'll use most often.
- Prioritize improving your Japanese speaking and listening skills. ...
- Set good goals and have realistic expectations.
- Little and often is better than occasional marathon learning.
- Avoid procrastination.
- Learn from your mistakes.
The average length of time to learn advanced Japanese is 2-3 years. At the intermediate level, you can understand most of what your teacher says, and you can follow along with TV programs. When it comes to using the language with other Japanese speakers, however, you still have some limitations.What is number 20 in Japanese? ›
That is, 20 is said “2-10”, or ni-juu / にじゅう.
However, if you study only one hour per day and don't do anything else to learn Japanese, it can take you up to twenty years to learn the language! So if you don't want to be speaking Japanese only in 2039, keep reading to see how you can shorten this time frame.What is harder Chinese or Japanese? ›
Both Chinese and Japanese have a fierce reputation to be the hardest languages to learn. But, for English native speakers, that's not accurate. The truth is, there's no such thing as an easy or hard language.How to start speaking Japanese? ›
- Don't rush the basics. For some learners, the three Japanese writing systems can be intimidating. ...
- Find media you love. ...
- Practise with native speakers. ...
- Record yourself speaking. ...
- Set goals. ...
- Use mnemonics. ...
- Stay positive.
Am I too old to study Japanese in Japan? You may have heard recently that it's now impossible to study in Japan if you are over 30 years old. Luckily for those who fall in that category, this isn't actually true and it's actually never too late to chase your Japanese language dreams.Which Japanese is easiest to learn? ›
Hiragana is primarily used for native Japanese words and consists of 46 characters or 51 phonetic characters. It's the key to understanding how and why Japanese words sound the way they do. Because most of the characters have only one pronunciation, Hiragana is quite easy to learn.How hard is Japanese to learn? ›
Even experts agree that spoken Japanese is not particularly difficult to learn. The sounds of the language are limited (only five vowels and thirteen consonants) and grammatically it is quite regular, without case declensions or other complex issues that are found in languages like Russian, or even German.How old is a Japanese 6th grader? ›
|9-10||ELMN 4||Grade 4|
|10-11||ELMN 5||Grade 5|
|11-12||ELMN 6||Grade 6|
|12-13||JHS 1||Grade 7|
Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for English natives to master. This is because it does not have a lot of likeness in structure to English. Approximately it will take 88 weeks, or 2200 hours of studying, to become fluent.Can I master Japanese in a year? ›
In fact, Japanese is one of the most difficult languages to learn for a native English speaker. If you want to speak enough Japanese to make friends in Japan and carry on simple conversations, you can master casual Japanese in under a year, especially if you are skipping over hiragana and katakana.What is my name in Japan? ›
お名前は何ですか？ Onamae wa nan desu ka? What is your name?
The Most Difficult Japanese Kanji on Record: たいと(Taito)
たいと(taito) is the most difficult Japanese Kanji on the record with a total of 84 strokes. It is formed by combining 3 雲 (くもkumo) with 3 龍 (りゅうRyuu). 雲means cloud and 龍 means dragon in English.
かわいい (kawaii) — Cute
Though it actually means “cute,” it is also a pretty cute word to say as well.
Most-frequently-used word to say 'I/me. ' It's a modest way to express yourself in any situations.
- はい (hai) – Yes.
- いいえ (iie) - No.
- わかりません (wakarimasen) – I don't understand.
- わすれました (wasuremashita) – I forgot.
- しりません (shirimasen) – I don't know.
- たぶん (tabun) – Maybe.
- だいじょうぶ (daijoubu) – Alright.
- よろしくお願いします (yoroshiku onegai shimasu) – Nice to meet you.
Among the many factors that might have contributed, Lynn listed a massive movement of peasants to the cities, modernization of health care, and much-improved nutrition, which also has increased the average height by more than two inches in only 20 years.How hard is it to learn Japanese on your own? ›
Even experts agree that spoken Japanese is not particularly difficult to learn. The sounds of the language are limited (only five vowels and thirteen consonants) and grammatically it is quite regular, without case declensions or other complex issues that are found in languages like Russian, or even German.How long does it take to self learn Japanese? ›
Japanese is one of the most difficult languages for English natives to master. This is because it does not have a lot of likeness in structure to English. Approximately it will take 88 weeks, or 2200 hours of studying, to become fluent. But this article shows tips and tools to expedite and make the process easier.How many years does it take to learn Japanese fluently? ›
Learning Japanese isn't easy and it will take time. It's probably fair to say that you can expect a commitment of at least three years in order to achieve something resembling fluency. The average learner gets to the advanced level in three or four years.How long does it take to fully learn Japanese? ›
They estimate it takes 88 weeks (2200 class hours) for a student to achieve Japanese proficiency. Of course this time can vary due to many factors, such as the student's natural ability, prior linguistic experience and time spent in the classroom.
Am I too old to study Japanese in Japan? You may have heard recently that it's now impossible to study in Japan if you are over 30 years old. Luckily for those who fall in that category, this isn't actually true and it's actually never too late to chase your Japanese language dreams.How can I learn Japanese fast at home? ›
- Pick a core Japanese curriculum and work with it every day. Most Japanese schools use the “Minna no Nihongo” series (“Japanese for Everyone”). ...
- Watch anime, movies, and TV in Japanese. ...
- Listen to Japanese radio, music, and podcasts. ...
- Cook Japanese food. ...
- Make Japanese friends.
There are lots of social benefits of learning Japanese. Being able to communicate with more people means you are able to meet and get to know more people. If you know how to speak Japanese, you'll find it much easier to make Japanese friends than someone who doesn't speak Japanese.Is it easier to learn Korean or Japanese? ›
Unlike other East-Asian languages, Korean isn't a tonal language. This means, that the meaning of the word doesn't change, regardless of what your accent is like. This makes learning Korean much easier than Japanese.How many hours should I study Japanese a day? ›
In general, it is recommended that learners spend 2 hours per day studying Japanese. This rate of study will enable a learner to achieve general professional proficiency in Japanese in a time frame of 6.2 years. Increasing or decreasing study hours will shorten or extend the time frame respectively.How many kanji are there? ›
The total number of kanji is well over 50,000, though few if any native speakers know anywhere near this number. In modern Japanese, the hiragana and katakana syllabaries each contain 46 basic characters, or 71 including diacritics.What is the hardest language to learn? ›
Across multiple sources, Mandarin Chinese is the number one language listed as the most challenging to learn. The Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center puts Mandarin in Category IV, which is the list of the most difficult languages to learn for English speakers.Can you learn Japanese fast? ›
Yes, studying a language does take time, and there's no fast track to real fluency. But the good news is, you can get to a very good level of Japanese faster than you think.What's the easiest language to learn? ›
- Frisian. Frisian is thought to be one of the languages most closely related to English, and therefore also the easiest for English-speakers to pick up. ...
- Dutch. ...
- Norwegian. ...
- Spanish. ...
- Portuguese. ...
- Italian. ...
- French. ...
The truth is, you do not need to speak any Japanese to have a successful, wonderful trip to Japan (and if you're looking for travel inspiration, check out our favorite destinations in Japan). However, learning a few key Japanese phrases can make your trip just that much better.