Japanese is a difficult, yet interesting language. But there are a few things you need to know when starting. There are three alphabets in Japanese: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji. Hiragana and Katakana are the simpler alphabets. They containing about 48 characters each. Luckily, these two are similar, but Katakana is often used for foreign words or emphasis. Kanji is where Japanese tends to get troublesome. Kanji is borrowed from the Chinese alphabet and has thousands of characters. There’s a lot to learn. Take it one step at a time.
I’ve put together a directory of Japanese learning resources called Konbini.io.
First thing to learn is your kana. You want to knock this out immediately. Japanese do not use English characters (or romaji), so it’s useless to keep practicing with it. Also remember: pronunciation of Japanese letters isn’t the same as the English pronunciation of the romaji. Meaning how you most likely say “ra” or “da” isn’t the same as the Japanese “ら” or “だ”.
How I learned Katakana and Hiragana:
Learn a row a day. Check out the kana resources on Konbini, you may have noticed the pattern of all the ka’s –ka, ki, ku, ke,ko–, sa’s –sa, shi, su, se, so–, and so on in rows. Each day learn a new row by writing it from memory. You can cheat, but you have to write the entire row from memory at least once. And the next day you have to write the new row down from memory as well as all the other rows. If you forget any of them: Look at it, finish writing them all out, then try to write it all again without looking. You can learn both alphabets pretty quickly in about 2 weeks using this method.
Grammar is one of the hard, but not hard parts about Japanese. Coming from English, the hardest part is that you have to learn to talk like Yoda all the time. “This is a pen” becomes “Pen, this is” in Japanese because the language orders words differently in a sentence. The important thing on grammar is to practice it. There are many resources and books to help explain in different ways, but practice is key.
This is what will drive you crazy. There’s over 2,000 characters to learn and many look alike. You have to learn the patterns and the differences and the multiple readings. Yes, it’s confusing and tedious. I’ve tried multiple methods to try and learn kanji. The one that has stuck the best with is WaniKani. It’s a great resource and teaches you the useful kanji first. After you complete WaniKani, you’ll be most of the way there all kanji for the JLPT.
If you’re like me, this is the hardest section to jump into. But without practice all the other sections are worthless. There’s a lot of ways to practice, but in the end: you need a fluent Japanese speaker. Get connected with the Japanese professor at your school. See if there’s any conversation groups on campus. Search MeetUp to see if there are any Japanese groups near you. Finding people near you is the best option. When that fails, we have the internet.
Resources for Hiragana, Katakana, Kanji, Grammar, Practice, and more can be found at Kobini.io.