11 methods to learn Japanese effectively in 2020

Technology and the world change so rapidly that we cannot even follow the new trends. There are almost 1.8 billion websites on the Internet currently. YouTube has approximately 30 million active users each day. In this environment, suggesting the Internet as a tool to learn Japanese is not a surprise. I have been learning this wonderful language for almost a decade and I have worked out a few unorthodox methods to maintain my knowledge and to master new expressions effectively. The main goal of this post is to share a few tips to provide help for Japanese learners.

How to learn Japanese effectively in 2020

1. Learning how to write Japanese

There are three sets of characters to use when you want to write in Japanese. The katakana and the hiragana alphabets are pretty easy to master, however the Chinese characters are much more difficult to memorise.

If you don’t want to go crazy when you are starting to learn Japanese I would recommend you proceed to the long list of Chinese characters after the katakana and the hiragana alphabets.

For this you can use online tests and there are several videos on YouTube video I recorded recently:

And if you want to learn katakana you can use the following video:

If you are done with these then you can start reading simple Japanese text and I would advise you to start learning the Chinese characters one by one.

The following steps are a little bit more difficult to follow. Mainly because there is no such thing as a fixed curriculum that you can follow. Obviously, there are university courses based on for example Genki or Minna no Nihongo, but these materials are only for those who don’t want to speak the language. You will never ever learn how to have a conversation in Japanese only by reading textbooks.

If you really want to know what people are talking about Japan and you want to get involved in Japanese conversations, you will definitely need something more than Genki. I have already uploaded a few of my tips for Japanese learners and I have started working on a YouTube channel recently. Japanese songs, online tests and news sites help a lot too.

In my opinion, besides mastering grammatical structures, getting familiar with modern Japanese is also a very important aspect of learning the language. For this purpose, I use Twitter almost on a daily basis and I follow several Japanese users to get updates from the country. If you do the same you will find expressions that are new and innovative and you would never find these in a textbook that was written 20 years ago. Sometimes I have to spend a few minutes on the Internet to figure out the meaning of a single word, because comprehending Japanese slang is no easy task.

2. The 試行錯誤 method

Scrolling through Japanese social media is something you can do to stay updated, but talking to native speakers is the most effective method if you want to master a language.

These days there are hundreds of chat applications, among these the most prevalent one in Japan is Line. If you have a few Japanese friends on Line and you talk to them a lot you can refresh your Japanese vocabulary, but you will alway have to pay attention to the way you write your messages.

Not many of the learners are aware of the fact that the more kanji you use in your text the colder the impression you will make. So let’s see the following example:


Or in other words: “Thank you for your guidance!”. You might have spotted that there is a ご in front of 指導 and this will make your speech more sophisticated. You could have written this line in the following way:


However this looks much more indirect and you’d be implying that you want to keep distance from the recipient. Definitely not a good way of composing your messages when you want to make friends. The thing is that the meaning of the two sentences above is identical. It is only the impression you are trying to make what is different and in most cases nobody will ever warn you saying that “Hey, I understood what you said, but what are you being so cold to me?”. This makes it extremely difficult to master these nuances.

Once I thanked my girlfriend’s invitation in the following way:


Completely odd…

You can see that there is ね at the end of the sentence, so I implied that we both know what we’re talking about and I’m just trying to be polite and I tried to express gratitude with my message. What was the problem here?

The main issue with this sentence is that I used ご and I also used 招待 in a message that was sent to my girlfriend.

ご is usually used in formal situations and the same is true for 招待. So I tried to be friendly while using formal expressions and this made my girlfriend confused. She chided me and I was offended. What an inappropriate behaviour? As a learner of the Japanese language you should never act like this.

I should have acknowledged my mistake, because the appropriate expression in this context is the following:


This sounds much more friendly and I would have gotten away with it.

So this is what I mean by using the Japanese word 試行錯誤, or trial and error in English. Try it. Check the outcomes and improve upon your methods next time.

3. Japanese words into your pocket

I have recently developed a method for real samurais.

What if you would learn a Japanese word every time you touch your phone?

If you have an iPhone, it has statistics on how many times you unlocked your phone. Look at those numbers and you will be astonished.

With this frequency I think you would be done with the N1 kanji list in a month...

By the way, this method is not only valid for 2020. In 2021 it will be even more actual, because the social media platforms are being developed in a way that they take away the most possible amount of free time from you.

So my new method is supposed to tackle this issue. I recommend the following trick:

Find a field that you are interested in and try to read about this field in Japanese. Most likely there will be words that you don’t understand, but don’t worry. Use a dictionary and try to comprehend the content of the text you are reading.

Look up all the words you don’t understand in a Japanese-English dictionary, create flash cards and every time you're about to check your phone and see whether your platonian lover has posted anything on social media go through your flashcard deck.

Isn’t this a good idea?

If you are done with all the words, create a new deck!

Believe me, real samurais learn Japanese in this way!

4. Singing songs in Japanese

If you ever end up in Japan, the probability of you being invited to a karaoke night is very high. When this happens it is better to be prepared, because if you cannot sing a single song in Japanese you will cause disappointment and nobody will ever invite you again. Okay, maybe they are not that cruel, but you can make a very good first impression if you can sing a few Japanese songs. Here are some examples for you want to start singing in Japanese:

  • (1) Official髭男dism - Pretender
  • (2) LiSA - Gurenge (紅蓮華)
  • (3) YOASOBI「夜に駆ける」
  • (4) あいみょん - マリーゴールド (Aimyon - Marigold)
  • (5) King Gnu - 白日 (Hakujitsu)

These songs have fairly easy lyrics and I would definitely recommend them to those who like singing. Try to listen to them a few times, understand the lyrics and start repeating in your own style. I guarantee that if you go to Japan and perform in a karaoke in front of a small Japanese audience, they’ll love you!

5. Watching movies in Japanese

If you are confident in your Japanese knowledge you can make your transition from textbooks to movies. Japanese movies are somewhat different from the ones you would watch in Europe or in the US, but you can find many similarities too. If you are looking for romance, social problems, fantasy or action you will not get disappointed in a Japanese cinema.

Check out a few of these movies if you want to improve your Japanese comprehending and speaking skills:

  • 1. My Husband Won’t Fit
  • 2. The Could’ve Gone All the Way Committee
  • 3. Gosick
  • 4. Crash Landing on You
  • 5. Kingdom
  • 6. I am a Hero
  • 7. Giri/Haji (Duty/Shame)
  • 8. Love Death + Robots
  • 9. Beastars
  • 10. Violet Evergarden

Most of these movies are available on Netflix so you don’t even have to go to the country to buy expensive cinema tickets.

7. Studying in Japan

Obviously the most effective way to learn a language is to go to the country where they speak your target language.

So how do we make our ways to Japan?

You have the most options if you are a student. I was also an exchange student in Japan and studying in Japan, hanging out with Japanese friends and mingling with Japanese speaking people improved my speaking and listening skills a lot.

The best way to go to Japan without spending too much money is to apply for a scholarship program. You can find several opportunities on the website of the Japanese Ministry of Culture and Education or 文部科学省 in Japanese.

If you need help or you want to know more about the application process, please feel free to contact me.

In case you want to work in Japan you need to be prepared for completely different things. Speaking the language is a must and I am not exaggerating at all.

So first of all, you need language skills and you will also need willpower and endurance. That’s it. Okay, you will have to apply for a working visa in Japan and you will also have to make your way through the Japanese red-tape, but this can be done if you have the previously mentioned prerequisites.

I am not going to write too much on my working experiences in Japan, because that would be very lengthy, but I can tell you that working in Japan is nowhere near as fun as being a student in the country so try to apply for a scholarship while you are a university student in your home country.

Alright, let’s move on to the next method!

8. Learning Japanese with YouTube

YouTube is one of the most powerful tools you have available if you want to learn Japanese and you don’t want to spend money on the process.

Let me share with you a few channels I have been following recently. I found them very useful and in addition to the entertaining content provided by these authors, I find their videos informative and interesting.

My favourite channel is this one: いくぴーチャンネル.

This Japanese guy is living in the Philippines and he creates very interesting and funny videos. Sometimes he does not talk about too many things, but he does use Japanese slang and he supplements his videos with Japanese subtitles.

You can learn a lot about life in the Philippines and everything is in Japanese so your language skills will definitely improve if you follow いくぴー.

I just love the way he interacts with the locals and if you understand his monologues you can also get some insight into the way how Japanese people think when they are traveling or living outside of Japan.

In some videos he might sound or act a little bit rude or harsh, but he has no ill will and these videos come off as valuable entertainment for large audiences.

If you want to learn more hardcore stuff then I recommend the following channel: 中田敦彦のYouTube大学 - NAKATA UNIVERSITY

I find this guy extremely funny, but at the same time I learn a lot when I watch his videos.

He explains many things that already exist outside of Japan, but their adoption into Japan still needs time. Nakata introduces new concepts, such as cryptocurrencies and autonomous cars.

If you want to read the English translation of one of his videos on Bitcoin, click here. With this you can improve your Japanese and laugh a lot.

The next channel I want to introduce here is maintained by Chika.

Click here if you want to subscribe to her channel: バイリンガール英会話 | Bilingirl Chika.

She speaks both English and Japanese and her target audience is composed of Japanese people who want to learn English. Most of her videos are from the US and usually she explains things both in Japanese and English so that the native speakers of these languages can enjoy her content.

If you want to learn every day Japanese then her channel is a very good option for you!

9. Japanese books for bookworms

Let’s see another very effective way to learn Japanese!

If you are currently in Japan and you have access to the Japanese Amazon, then you will be able to choose from millions of Japanese books.

When I lived in Japan, I did not only use the Japanese Amazon, but I also went to the local second hand bookstores and spent a significant amount of time seeking for treasures from the East.

And sometimes I did find them.

The most famous must read books in Japan in these second hand stores don’t cost more than 100 yen, which means that you can buy entertainment and knowledge for less than the price of a cup of coffee. If you want to build up a very solid foundation of your Japanese knowledge consider this option too.

My favourite Japanese writer is 三島由紀夫. I just love his style, which is a little bit old fashioned, but he does have eternal peculiarities.

My recommendation from Yukio Mishima would be the book called 音楽, or “Music”.

This book tells us a story about a woman who lost interest in men and her psychiatrist is trying to help her to regain her interest. If you are interested in relationships and you want to learn about psychology, then this book is for you!

Let’s see the next Japanese author.

I think I don’t have to introduce the name of Haruki Murakami or 村上春樹 in Japanese…

One of his most popular books is the Norwegian Wood (ノルウェイの森, Noruwei no Mori). I have read this book too and I did find it a good read. Haruki Murakami’s style is much easier to understand than the previously introduced Yukio Mishima and I had an impression that he contemplates on concepts that are consumable for larger audiences.

If you want to learn a little bit about how to write in Japanese I would recommend the book called “顔のある文章の作り方” from 轡田 隆史.

This book is ideal for those who want to create content in Japanese, because this is a must read if you want to improve your writing skills.

Translating English into Japanese is not a straightforward process and the author explains this problem with the translation of the famous line from Shakespear: “To be or not to be”.

Finally let’s see a book on a completely different topic!

Not many of us have heard the name of the Japanese author 森巣 博. Or maybe he is not even Japanese. Well, he is a little bit inscrutable. At the end of his book I want to introduce here (神はダイスを遊ばない) he is trying to uncover his identity, but he leaves the reader in the darkness. Anyway, his nationality is not as important as the content of his book.

He tells us the way to play against the house in Australian casinos. According to Hiroshi Morris, there is a game originally invented in China called 牌九 or Pai Gow in Cantonese. If you are smart enough and you know all the rules to combine the Chinese tiles you can build up a winning strategy, but you have to be consistent and you shall never lose your control during the game. This was a very intriguing story for me to read and it will be exciting for you too if you like gambling and sophisticated Japanese language.

10. Interesting Japanese from anime series

Learning Japanese from anime series might not be the best choice for those who have started learning Japanese not too long ago, because the Japanese used in these is comparatively difficult to understand.

I would not start with these, but if you are a fan of Japanese animation and you know some basic vocabulary you can try and watch these interesting productions too.

Genres are numerous. Love, fantasy, society, work and many others.

However these movies are not made for beginner learners and you will need several thousands of words if you want to enjoy them without constantly interrupting the movie because you have to look up a word in a dictionary.

Check out a few of these Japanese animations if you want to learn modern Japanese:

  • 1. Gantz: O
  • 2. Highschool of the Dead
  • 3. Now and Then, Here and There
  • 4. Attack on Titan
  • 5. Blame!

11. Learning Japanese from news

I think it expedient to learn Japanese from news sites.

Many of us must be reading a lot of news articles every day so why not read them in Japanese? The best would be to read the same news both in English and Japanese.

Many articles are not even translated from Japanese into English so if you can understand written Japanese and you are interested in Japanese politics, economy, healthcare or industry related topics you can find yourself a few online magazines and broaden your horizon with news from Japan too.

One of the most famous news sites in Japan is the Japanese equivalent of yahoo.com. You can access this site using the following URL: https://www.yahoo.co.jp/

The site is updated frequently and if you can read Japanese this site will help you to further improve your kanji skills.

So these were my thoughts on how to learn in Japanese without spending too much money in 2020. These 11 points are perfect if you want to practice your Japanese in your free time and I hope I could help with sharing these ideas I could come up with.

By the way, most of these methods are applicable not only to learning Japanese, but any other languages.

You could watch films in Russian, enjoy YouTube videos in Spanish and read articles in French. Undoubtedly, the Internet has become a very powerful tool for language learners too.

Most importantly, my advice would be the following: Don’t give up or 頑張ってね!in Japanese. The path to advanced Japanese skills is paved by these methods and if you keep walking on this pavement you will reach your goals. Everythings depends on the efforts you put in this progress.


Image: pakutaso

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