Look at a pronunciation guide. These are at the start of most Japanese learning books and are easy to follow. I find it essential to know how letters are pronounced properly before starting anything else. You will pick up bad habits other wise.
For an on-line pronunciation guide go here:
To listen to .wav files of each Kana sound go here:
Studying the Kana
Studying Hiragana and Katakana is a great way to compliment your pronunciation study. Learning them will give you full understanding of how every word in the Japanese language is pronounced. This makes it much easier to read Japanese writing when it's in full Kana and obviously makes your speech sound more natural.
My personal favourite place to learn recognition of the Kana is a simple game on the web. You learn through repetition and sort of trial and error, but it's so fast it doesn't get boring. I managed to get perfect scores on the games after just a few hours. It's easily the quickest substantial achievement you'll make while learning Japanese.
Play the game here:
Another game, but this one you need to download a single file (no installation needed). Dream Kana is slightly harder as it doesn't give you multiple choices. It also mixes the both Kana together. Move to this if you want a bit more training after the first game.
Once you have a good grasp of just recognising the Kana, you will want to start learning to write it. I don't find it necessary to practise writing them too soon, but this of course helps you to remember them and have fun writing in Japanese yourself. The best resources for writing practice are books, unfortunately. The most important thing about learning to write them is the stroke order.
Here is the one I used. It may seem a bit childish, but it comes with flash cards and lots of exercises. They're also a little expensive, but fair for what you get.
Hiragana For Beginners
Katakana For Beginners
Speech Practice, Basic Phrases
A fantastic way to get your speech flowing is to listen to audio lessons. The best of which is Pimsleur's Speak and Understand Japanese. The method of learning is great and you will learn basic phrases in no time. There are 90 lessons in total for Japanese I, II and III and can get fairly deep depending of how far you want to take it. I don't recommend basing your entire study off of this, but it's a great way to get the ball rolling. The downside? VERY costly.
Another way to start off with speech practice is to watch video lessons. These have an advantage over the audio lessons for obvious reasons, but the main reason is they usually include some grammar and writing training. By far and away the best video lessons available is Let's Learn Japanese Basic I and II. They feature Yan-san, and American going to live and work in Japan (who is already fluent in Japanese). You watch a skit and then a teacher breaks it down and explains it over a couple of episodes. I love these things and insist you get them.
NHK made a video series too, however I'm only saying this so you avoid it. Bad acting and not a great layout means if you see this, make a u-turn.
Lastly, Japanese (Linguaphone in Action V2) (CD-ROM)
Something nice if you want a bit more interactivity with your study. Has a few nice features like voiced converstations, clips, games and speech recognition. It's pretty cheap and you'll probably find it in your local bookstore.
Grammar and Structure
Not as bad as you might think! Compared to English it's easier, that's for sure.
Personally, I think this next book is all you need for grammar. It answered any question I had, has a great layout and it's even fun! Japanese the Manga way is the book I'm glad I bought the most. In my opinion it's not for complete beginners though, so don't pick it up right off the bat, but as you progress and begin to understand and in turn have more questions, you'll want to get this. The downside is this book is just grammar and structure. It doesn't really teach you anything else. However it's a fairly large book.
You should find it in most book stores. (I got mine in Tower Records, actually)
Japanese for Busy People This book is the one my Japanese teacher based her course off of. You can pick it up from total beginner and it's not bad, but for some reason I don't really like it. I'd say it's more of a reference for teachers than a self study book (even though it was designed for that), so the choice is yours. Have a look at it first in a book shop. It's in every freakin book shop I've been in. The best thing it has going for it is the CD which accompanies the book. You can listen to the conversations at the start of each lesson and also new vocabulary. I'd recommend the Kana version of the book, but if you're a newbie and can't grasp Kana too well, go for the Romanised version. Or just hurry up and learn Kana!
The dreaded Kanji! Seriously, don't think like that. Kanji is one of the most fun parts of learning Japanese for me. Especially when you get to play Slime Forest Adventure! It's an RPG style game which pits you against slimes. The only way to kill the slimes? Type in the meaning of the Kanji. There are different modes; English Meaning, Onyomi reading and Kunyomi reading. The first two have the story mode. Go save the princess and all that, which is a nice feature. Personally I play the English Meaning mode and then go to the Kunyomi story-less mode and learn that. So I know the English meaning and also the Japanese reading. Onyomi is the Chinese reading and isn't used as often.
It's free as a trial (250 Kanji, I think) and if you register ($20) you get the full 3000Kanji and story and other modes. Also access to updates, forum, etc. It's a really fun game and most importantly, you really do learn Kanji. I surprised my self by learning 300 Kanji in a month.
Other material, advice
Since self study can be quite difficult, I'd suggest taking a Japanese course. They help immensely and you won't feel like you're not progressing. Ask your local college about one.
Get a friend to study with. It can make it more fun and you can practice conversing with each other.
Find a Japanese friend. One up your plan old boring friend and get a real Nihonjin. Excellent way to practice speech and also useful for a human dictionary.
Try these other useful websites:
Most of all, enjoy it.
Minnasan! Gambatte ne!
In addition to your resources, here's a great site to practice Kana and Kanji :
...so to summarize, life sucks then you die.
Thanks very much for the tips!
Do you recommend the Rosetta Stone software program for studying the language?
I looked at the materials you outlined, but I still feel like I need something to "break in" on the language.
I haven't used Rosetta Stone in a long time and I don't really recommend it either. It's OK for learning some vocabulary but apart from that, I didn't find it too helpful. I personally started learning with Pimsleur's audio lessons, so you can try them yourself and see what you think. You might have to grow a beard and get a parrot, if you catch my drift .;) Education should be free!
P.S if you find this useful request a topic sticky please ^_^;
(Message detail under my name on the first post)
Sticky request submitted.
As for learning the Kana, which set of them if more important to master first? (if not equally important?) And would you recommend that I completely memorize them via your games and sites you listed before I move on to the lessons you mentioned? Or do those lessons also help with the Kana?
XBL Gamertag: MetaRidley42 -- Why would tv lie to me? What would it have to gain?! -- Sunhawk
Hiragana is definitely the more important of the two and should be learnt first. When writing in Japanese you use Kana alongside Kanji, but it's mostly Hiragana. Katakana is basically used for people's names (if not in Kanji), non-Japanese place names, item names that are originally not Japanese and things of that sort. For example. Game, as in computer game is ge-mu. You would use Katakana here. I can't show you because GameFAQs doesn't Japanese writing. :(
You don't need to master the Kana before starting any lessons, I just think it's good for students to practice them a bit so you get use to the sounds before starting to try pronounce words. So trying learning the recognition of Hiragana first (shouldn't take too long) and then start into some lessons. That way you can put what you learned into use.
Many thanks, I'm trying to get rolling with this as soon as possible.
I will come back here with any other questions I may have, so please keep an eye out, and thanks again.
XBL Gamertag: MetaRidley42 -- Why would tv lie to me? What would it have to gain?! -- Sunhawk
Ok, quick update. I have slogged my way through the first several Pimsleurs lessons and am feeling quite proud of myself.
(Nijongo ga skoshi watakimas)
The probem is, I am still completely intimidated by the Hiragana, frightened by the katakana, and downright terrified of the Kanji.
Should I finish the entire Pinsleaurs course before attemtping to learn these things? BTW, I **ahem** "got" Pimsleur's Absolute Japanese, which consists of three parts with 60 lessons each. How far in this should I go if any at all before mastering some of the written characters?
I tried the first game you recommened and mastered within a few hours, but I always end up surrendering after I rapid-fire miss 30 in a row. :'(
With the above taken into consideration, what would be a rough outline of a study plan for me?
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