One of the most common questions we hear people asking is, “How do you learn Japanese? What is the best way to learn?” This guide will show you the resources you can use to learn Japanese efficiently, on your own. There’s a ton of programs, books, and websites out there, but you only really need to use 2 resources to learn Japanese efficiently on your own.
Whether you are an absolute beginner or already have a good understanding of the basics, here are the best and fastest ways to master Japanese.
Roadmap for Learning Japanese: Absolute Beginners to Low-Advanced Students
- Use a good program (preferably with audio, video, and text lessons) to learn grammar and vocabulary. The program you use should also teach basics like pronunciation, how to read and write Japanese characters (hiragana, katakana, and kanji) for beginners. I highly recommend Japanesepod101. Their lessons cover everything you need to know (for beginners to low-advanced students)
2. When you know basic grammar and a few hundred words, start SPEAKING. You can practice speaking by yourself but it is not as good as real practice with a native Japanese speaker. Italki has amazing teachers who you can practicing speaking with.
Japanesepod101: The Best Way to Learn Japanese On Your Own
I have tried dozens of different programs, apps, and books to learn Japanese. Nothing comes close to the material on Japanesepod101. If you want to learn natural Japanese easily and efficiently, this is the program you should use.
With the massive amount of material on their site, they provide the best value compared to everything else. They also teach the most real-world, conversational Japanese that you will actually use. Their audio and videos lessons are entertaining and informative, and they add more lessons every week.
The best part?
Just sign up (no credit card required) and you’ll have access to over 100 lessons and other materials to learn Japanese. You’ll also have access to the 3-5 new lessons added every week.
You can get a free account here: Japanesepod101 Free Account Sign-Up
While the free lessons are great, I highly recommend getting a premium membership to access all of their lessons and materials. It is more than worth it and will take your Japanese to the next level. You can also get a huge 65% discount (the biggest discount they normally offer) on premium memberships.
You can get special discounts here: Discount Codes for Japanesepod101 Premium Memberships
If your Japanese is at a very advanced level (you can read Japanese newspapers, converse with native speakers on difficult topics, etc.) you will probably get little value from Japanesepod101. It is more suited for absolute beginners to lower advanced level students. If you are an advanced student, you will be better off reading (Japanese books, websites, newspapers, etc.) and speaking with native speakers (like on italki, below).
Also, there is an option to get a premium + (Premium Plus) membership, where you’ll have access to a teacher to give you 1 on 1 tips and advice. I DO NOT recommend this option. It is expensive and is not worth it in my opinion. You don’t have live conversations with your personal teacher (just messaging), so I feel that it doesn’t justify the cost.
I wrote a very detailed review on this program. If you want to know all about the pros and cons, check out the article here: Japanesepod101 Review: Is It Worth It?
Italki: The Fastest Way to Speaking Japanese Fluently
Italki is a website that connects teachers or tutors with students. You can find native Japanese teachers who will help you with your Japanese. Most importantly, you can have live conversations with them, which is the BEST and FASTEST way to improve your Japanese.
Using Japanesepod101 (to learn grammar, vocab, reading, etc.) and italki (for speaking practice and to learn nuance) is all you need to become fluent in Japanese.
Important Information: Money-Saving Tip
There are two types of teachers on italki: professional teachers and tutors.
The professional teachers have qualifications like a degree, professional training, or teaching experience. Tutors don’t have any professional qualifications.
As you would guess, hiring professional teachers are usually more expensive (sometimes by a lot!). However, if you just want to practice speaking (which is the best), a tutor is all that you need.
In fact, some tutors have taught hundreds of lessons, and they can teach as well, if not better than the professional teachers. I suggest hiring a tutor for practice speaking and learning natural Japanese (and to save money). I would only consider hiring a professional teacher if their rates were reasonable or if you had difficult questions about Japanese grammar or nuance. Take your time to look through the tutors profiles and choose the one who you think will suit your personality the best.
Check Out Italki Here: Italki Online Teachers/Tutors
Best Books For Learning Japanese
I love books. I have dozens of Japanese books I’ve used to help me improve my Japanese. Some of them are good, and some of them were a waste of money.
You can check out which books were helpful here: Best Japanese Books For Any Level
That being said, if your goal is to become fluent in speaking Japanese, I don’t think you need any books. Using Japanesepod101 and italki alone can make you into a fluent speaker of Japanese.
However, I believe there are some exceptions. I believe that the best way to learn kanji is with the Heisig method. His book on all of the jōyō kanji (daily use characters) is a must-get in my opinion.
You can learn more about this method here: The Best Way to Learn Kanji
Also, there are some reference books like the that are good to have on your shelf. Anytime you want to learn more about a specific grammar pattern, you can reference those books.
Also, there are some great books to help with reading Japanese. I think if your focus is on reading and writing Japanese, or if you are at an advanced level, books are a great way to improve your Japanese. This is especially true if you can read Japanese manga or novels. Reading is an amazing way to level up your Japanese. That being said, you can read a lot of articles, stories, and blogs in Japanese online for free. Just Google a topic you like in Japanese and you’ll have an endless supply of reading material to learn from.
Learning Japanese for Free
If you want to learn natural Japanese for free, we offer a lot of lessons here at The True Japan.
You can check out all of our Japanese lessons here: Natural Japanese Lessons
Japanese For Beginners: Free Lessons
If you are a beginner, be sure to check out our Japanese guides which teaches you the fundamentals of the language:
Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Learning Japanese: Learn Japanese from Scratch
Beginner’s Guide to Japanese (for those who have mastered the absolute beginner’s guide)
Tips, Tricks, and Advice to Improve Your Japanese
If you want to learn Japanese more efficiently, check out this guide filled with useful tips: The Best Way to Learn Japanese: 15 Tips You Need to Know
Here are some articles that answer some of the most common questions about Japanese:
How Long Does it Take to Learn Japanese?
How to Speak in Japanese if You’re Shy
Top 5 Mistakes Everyone Makes Learning Japanese