Do I have to go to language school to learn Japanese?

If you were looking for the simplified answer, it is definitely no. The followings can be applied to basically any other languages. I wouldn't say that Japanese is special in this sense. If you were to ask “Is it difficult to learn Japanese”, then I would answer “Yes it is!”. It might be more difficult than a regular European language, mainly because of its writing system. So somebody could say that if it's more difficult, then I definitely need to go to a language school or find a private teacher. However I found that, during the learning process, the effort you put in it is much more important than the person who teaches you. I have several friends here in Japan, who before coming to the country have achieved and advanced Japanese knowledge only by studying themselves without going to a single lesson or having a private teacher.

Learning Japanese is indeed a complex process

So how could they managed to learn Japanese?

Since we live in the 21st-century there is hardly any information that you cannot find on the Internet. If it is about for example Japanese grammar or Japanese teaching materials my website is a wonderful free resource. Most of my friends used similar websites to learn the basics of Japanese grammar and characters. The first steps are indeed difficult to make but as soon as you know the two alphabets called “hiragana” and “katakana”, you are basically able to develop yourself.

So what else do I need to know?

After the two alphabets you will need to study the characters (kanji), grammar, culture, pronunciation and communication skills. All of these, except for communication skills, can be mastered online for free. The number of grammatical structures used every day is limited. You need a couple of weeks or months to learn these and after that you are good to go. You will be able to make basic conversations and, the rest of the expressions you will be able to figure out by yourself without looking them up on the Internet or in a dictionary. Obviously there will be times when you need to, this is especially true for onomatopoeic words, slang expressions or words used in specific dialects only.

So what about the characters?

Kanjis, that are basically Chinese characters, are the most difficult to learn. There is an official list of characters which contains about 2000 elements. If you have learnt these you will be able to read a contract or a simple book, but unfortunately this does not necessarily mean that you won't meet any new character in your life. Another thing what I have realized during learning Japanese is that you forget these characters very quickly. As such you will have to review them they by day. If you just consider approximately 2000 characters and you take the combination of them you get a tremendous amount of Japanese words. The good news is that you don't have to learn them one by one because you will be able to figure out the meaning by just identifying the characters themselves.

Read more >> The first steps of learning Japanese

Keep in mind that you will need to learn culture, grammar and characters in the same time when learning Japanese

To be confident in the characters I had to make something like 5 to 6000 flashcards and I took them, or at least a part of them, wherever I went and if I had more than 10 minutes I drew them out from my pocket and reviewed them. This is something that you can also do without investing any money. You will need a pen, scissors, many paper and a Japanese dictionary which again you can find on the Internet for free. If you have these ready, try to find articles or texts that are relevant for you, or I would say you are interested in them. When you have it, start inputting the unknown words in the online dictionary and create your own flashcards. You will realize that learning the characters is not that difficult, it only needs a very long time. This is something that cannot be taught in a school. Just imagine who would teach you to 2000 characters, and if you consider a 20$ dollar tuition fee per hour, just calculate how much money would you need.

Why is it important to know about Japanese culture?

I meet many people from the west who make the following mistake. There are things you say when you talk using your mother tongue. Language learners should understand that when speaking a foreign language it is not appropriate to translate everything directly that you would say on your mother tongue. This is especially true for Japanese. Beginner speakers in Japan praise themselves, tell their opinions right away, which might often Japanese people and others as well. This sounds very strange in a Japanese speaking environment. Japanese culture is built on respect and praising the partner instead of ourselves. As such praising ourselves when speaking Japanese sounds very odd, therefore try to avoid it. Most of the situations will require you to be as humble as possible.

Most of the situations when speaking Japanese will require you to be as humble as possible.

What is more you will need to praise your partner more than you would do it for example when using English. This might sound something difficult to understand for the first time, but believe me this creates a very comfortable atmosphere where nobody feels less important than the others.

How to speak Japanese?

Making a Japanese conversation is indeed something that you cannot do by yourself. Basically you have three options and I think this is the part when you need to invest some money. If you're not in Japan you need to find somebody around you who speaks Japanese, ideally a Japanese person. Probably you will need to find a Japanese language school in your neighbor. The second option is to find somebody online who practices with you or find me and I would do the same. And some of the cases this also requires some money. And the third option is to go to Japan. Keep in mind that you will have to pay for your flight and Japan is not a cheap country. Obviously this is the most effective way to develop your Japanese skills.

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