As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve taken on a 90 day Japanese learning challenge. I’m learning a little Japanese everyday (obviously in addition to my never-ending Korean studies), and then we’ll see how far I’ll have come by the end of those 90 days. For me that’s until December 17. So, basically, I’ll see how far I’ve come by the time Christmas rolls around.

A few of my readers have asked me to write about how I’m learning Japanese, so this is exactly what this post is about – principles for effective language learning.

So far, I’ve been doing this challenge for around two weeks. I started out learning the two Japanese scripts hiragana and katakana. They contain 46 phonetic letters each. I’ve learned a few Kanji characters, but not many.

I’ve previously blogged about my 7 principles for learning any language, and obviously I’m applying exactly those princinples in my effort to add Japanese to my list of languages.

  1. Focus on the core of the language. I’ve started out with the most basic expressions, such as greetings, introductions, expressions of gratitude, and simple questions and answers. My goal for this week is to master 25 core verbs, adjectives and nouns. A total of 75 words. This enables me to make an infinite number of sentences.
  2. Never learn anything out of context. I rely on my Korean written Japanese textbook for building my vocabulary and basic sentence structuring skills. The chapters are organized by situation, so that I can easily relate the new words and phrases to a specific situation. For audio and extra variation, I’ve already become a big fan of Japanesepod101 (similar to Talk To Me In Korean), and Tofugu (excellent site presenting the core of the Japanese language such as basic words and phrases together with fun and effective memorization tools for learning the Japanese scripts.)
  3. Read as much material as you can in your target language, even if you don’t understand it all yet. Since I currently live in Korea, where many signs are also written in English, Chinese and Japanese, even a short subway ride presents me with plenty of opportunities for reading Japanese. I also read signs and menus from the many Japanese restaurants here in Seoul.
  4. Listen. By listening, even passively, your brain and your subconcious is being exposed to the language. This method is much more powerful than it seems. Just like when I first learned Korean, I listen to podcasts about learning Japanese and shadow the Japanese speakers as I listen.
  5. Express yourself. You must speak the language to really learn it. Don’t worry about making mistakes, and just start speaking the few words and sentences you know. If you keep doing this as your vocabulary increases, you will soon be able to speak more freely. Like I did with Korean, I’ve started speaking simple Japanese sentences to myself. (Note: Talking to yourself is a sign that you’re a genius – not that you’re insane!) At some point, I’ll make sure to find someone to talk to in Japanese.
  6. Learn grouped vocabulary, that is words that are related to each other. For example “theater” can be related to “play, performance, ticket, seat, actor, show”, and so on. By concentrating your energy on learning grouped vocabulary, the words are automatically becoming contextualized in your brain. Today, for example, I learned the words for natural phenomena like the four seasons, moon, stars, etc.
  7. Keep going. Even when you feel you are getting nowhere, this simply isn’t true. Stay motivated, and make an effort to study the language in one way or another every day. Being naturally competitive and knowing that I will go to Japan in February makes it easy to stay motivated. After all, I’ve studied Korean for 26 months now, without going one single day without learning the language. Keep moving forward and you’re bound to reach your goal!

If you need a little pick-me-up in terms of motivation, youtube is full of people talking about how they have learned a language. If they can do it, so can you!

I personally really liked this one: (A british guy on how to learn Japanese in just 6 months.)

In my search for Japanese songs on youtube, I found this one. It became a global hit in the ’60s, almost an early version of Gangnam Style. I was happy to realize that with just two weeks of Japanese studies, this song was actually making sense. Happy listening!



  1. I’m posting late on here because I just started teaching myself Japanese. This post is helpful and motivating! Also, it’s nice to know that there’s a Japanese equivalent to TTMIK because it’s a fun, motivating way to get started. ^^


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