A newbie’s journey through Japanese

Konnichiwa. Mike desu. I am a relatively new student to Japanese, having only begun learning the language this past March. I cannot believe that eight months have gone by since I first picked up a book on learning hiragana. In some ways, I feel like I have much more than eight months’ worth of information stored in my brain. I have already learned hiragana, katakana, about 50 kanji (though I am admittedly shaky on some of the readings) and a couple counters, along with some basic vocabulary, sentence structures and grammar patterns. Yet even with that much memorized, even with that much practice, I doubt I could even understand half of what came out of the mouth of a first-grader in Japan.

Japanese, to this native English speaker, seems incredibly complex, labyrinthine and fascinating. It feels like a topic where you could study for 10 years and still have plenty to learn. Some might find that intimidating. In some ways it is. There are plenty of nights when I scratch kanji into a notebook while balancing kanji reference books in my lap, trying to remember the different readings and proper stroke orders, feeling completely overwhelmed. However, it is also a challenge I am more than willing to take on.

I began wanting to learn Japanese when I started replaying the old Nintendo games of my youth. I heard whispers on the Internet that many of the games I had grown up loving were actually bastardized North American localizations where much of the original Japanese content was lost. That was part of my reason for learning, so that someday I could play the games unaltered and understand them fully. The other deciding factor was the earthquake and tsunami earlier this year. Seeing the raw video footage and photos from that disaster, I realized I was not only watching a historic event of great trauma and tragedy; I was also confronting my own ignorance of a language that more than 130 million people know and use daily.

In this new blog, I hope to share some of my methods as an absolute beginner for learning this one-of-a-kind language. They include some pretty obvious techniques like tackling hiragana and katakana immediately, so you can wean yourself off of romaji. However, I also use some methods that might not seem like first steps for a newbie. I’m talking about things like following Japanese Twitter accounts, watching Japanese-only content on YouTube, and listening to many different podcasts where Japanese is the only language spoken.

If you are just starting out with the language, you might think these methods are next to useless because so much will be incomprehensible. But believe me, the sooner you can start immersing yourself, the better. You’ll be surprised what you can pick up just by opening yourself up to all the different ways to see, read, hear and react to Japanese.

I will offer some specific examples in a future post. Until then, thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment detailing your own journey into the language. I would love to hear about your experiences, as we all continue on this journey together into fluency.


  1. I’ve just known a little about it though(hiragana, katakana, and much little about JLPT n5). Many thanks to this post, for make me remember my dreams. I’ll be waiting for the future post.

  2. I learned hiragana, katakana, counters and many other things on the internet, but only a few kanji. It’s difficult, yes, but fantastic anyway 🙂

  3. Patricia Ross says:

    Looking forward to following your blog, thank you.

  4. Thanks everyone, for the warm reception to this initial post. I will be sharing some of my tips and experiences in future entries, but I would love to hear about your methods and successes as well. This is definitely a language that feels less intimidating the more we share our experiences about it.

  5. This is an awesome and encouraging post to all the Japanese learners in the world! As a Japanese learner myself for about 1 year, I have the same thoughts and feelings as you’ve mentioned in the post. Keep it up! ^_^

  6. Sayed Salama says:

    Thank you. Your words encourage me a lot. I don’t know if getting old will hinder me indulging into this beatuiful language. I am 60 years old, I started learning Japanese two months ago; the reason is Japan is my favorite country , Japanese people are my piece of cake and Kanji is pictograms worthy to fathom. I shall keep on learning and see how I can standup the edge of old age. I have Learned Herigana and in the middle of Katakana , however I jump from time to time into Kanji. Pray for me. Thanks

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