Learn Japanese: The Complete Guide

Start Japanese today to learn some small talk, how to order food, travelling around and a bunch of other topics.

Learn Japanese - Memrise

So you want to learn Japanese? Or as the locals call it: Nihongo (日本語).

That’s a great choice – congratulations!

 

We know what you’re thinking: ‘Where on earth do I start?’ But relax. While touching down in Tokyo at the click of your fingers isn’t possible right now…

 

This complete guide to learning Japanese will give you the motivation and confidence to learn to speak Japanese on your own terms. Want to head to the ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’ and order sushi and sashimi with swagger? No problem. We’ve got you covered. 

 

sushi

 

After tasting authentic Japanese food, you’ll be Googling how to say I love you in Japanese. Because speaking to food isn’t weird… right?

 

Time to drop some facts about the Japanese language: there are 130 million native Japanese speakers in the world. Most in Japan – the one country where Japanese is the official language – but there are also others in immigrant communities in the US, Brazil, Guam, Palau and Hawaii (aloha!). 

 

Japanese also has no clear links to any other languages. This makes it pretty special. No, awesome! And you know what? If you learn to speak Japanese… that makes you awesome too!

 

In this complete guide to learning Japanese: we’ll share a bunch of tips, links, advice, and videos of real-life Japanese speakers to help you learn this wonderful language through language immersion. Read on and it’ll all make sense! Promise.

 

Why Learn Japanese?

Japan is made up of 421 inhabited islands split into 5 main islands, 9 regions and 47 prefectures! Still with us? Great.

 

The point is: learning Japanese lets you explore this beautiful island country and discover that Japan has rich culture like no other. Whether that’s ordering ramen in Hokkaido, shopping in Tokyo, or in checking into a love hotel in Shibuya (only joking… but not really) – there are hundreds of reasons that’ll make you decide: ‘I want to learn Japanese!’

 

Here are some key reasons for wanting to learn Japanese:

 

a beer please

 

A beer to start, please!   / とりあえずビール!(toriaezu bīru!)

 

  • Advance your career! The Japanese business scene and economy is pretty serious! Japan has the 3rd largest global economy and is home to huge companies like Toyota, Global Bank, Honda and Sony. Speaking some Japanese can help you land jobs, make business connections and advance your career. Say yes to that promotion!
  • Learn how to order sake (Japanese rice wine) and beer in a Japanese izakaya – a traditional after-work pub!
  • Order sushi and other delicious Japanese foods with confidence.
  • Dating or marrying a Japanese person? Impress their parents with your Japanese!
  • Watch your favourite Japanese cooking tutorials or Youtubers without subtitles.
  • Learn to ‘Tidy Up’ and declutter your home (and mind!) like global Japanese lifestyle icon: Marie Kondo – by watching in Japanese!
  • Watch anime TV series and Studio Ghibli anime movies like Spirited Away in the original Japanese!

spirited_away

  • Sing Japanese songs like a local at your next karaoke… or in the shower.
  • When someone asks “Does anyone here speak Japanese?” in any given situation, you will be the hero they never knew they needed!

 

This list is quite fun, right? But seriously. You need to ask yourself ‘why learn Japanese?’

People hold different motivations for wanting to learn Japanese language. And that’s cool. You might want to learn Japanese for career reasons, or to connect with family and friends. Maybe you’re planning to travel Japan and need to learn Japanese to survive. Perhaps you fancy watching Tokyo’s 2021 Olympic Games with Japanese commentary or your favourite anime without English subtitles? Whatever your reasons for wanting to learn Japanese language, I think we can agree there are many benefits.

What are you waiting for? Start learning Japanese now.

 

Benefits of Learning Japanese

Whatever your motivations for learning Japanese, the personal benefits can be huge.

 

Learning Japanese helps you travel Japan!

Many have dreams of travelling through Japan. It’s no surprise. Japan is packed full of national parks, glistening greenery, clear oceans and snowy mountains. As well as HUGE shopping centres, street stalls and markets, plus shrines, temples, and castles that reveal so much about Japanese history and cultural traditions. Oh, and did I mention the food, atmosphere and nightlife? I could go on…

 

Whether you want to stare in awe at the Japanese cherry blossoms in spring, or stroll through busy Shinjuku streets (did you know Tokyo is the most populated megacity in the world!?)… you’ll never run out of people to speak Japanese with!

 

Take a new step in your career

Japan is a world leader in business and economics. Pretty cool, right? That means the benefits of learning Japanese can be huge for your career, helping you to:

  • Impress interviewers and gain employment for global Japanese corporations.
  • Make useful new contacts in the business world.
  • Secure that work placement abroad to Japan. Even a few standard greetings can help you bond with potential clients.

 

The Personal Benefits of Learning Japanese

Not only is learning Japanese super fun, the personal benefits of language learning make great reading. Here’s just a few:

  • Improved memory and concentration. 🤓
  • HUGE self-confidence: ‘I can do anything!’💪
  • You’ll become a better multitasker. Now you’ve got the hang of more than one language – other tasks in your life will be a piece of cake! 🍰
  • Your brain will get BIGGER and STRONGER. Just as physical exercise builds your body, learning a language will get your brain in amazing condition! 🧠
  • An appreciation of Japanese culture and an open-mindedness to exploring other countries and cultures across the world. Cool!

 

Ready to get started?  Download our Free App now!

 

Is Japanese hard to learn?

Before you google ‘how hard is it to learn Japanese?’ Listen up. Like all languages, Japanese has some difficult parts. BUT these aren’t important when first starting to learn Japanese. Japanese isn’t easy… but with us: it’s super fun! Just trust us.

 

 

The awesome thing about Japanese speaking culture is that the locals use a lot of sounds in conversation. You can use these sounds to react to what people say and communicate! Here are some of our favourites:

 

へー (HEE) / Wow, that's interesting

hee

 

hee1

 

 

なるほど (NARUHODO) / I see

NARUHODO1

 

NARUHODO

 

Japanese is a language isolate, meaning it has no clear linguistic connections with any other languages. As a result, there are no clear advantages or disadvantages for English speakers or French speakers or German speakers (you name it) that try to learn Japanese. So just give it a go and have fun with it!

 

How long does it take to learn Japanese?

Asking ‘how long to learn Japanese?’ is asking an impossible question.

 

Everyone’s different lives, time, and motivations make their language learning journeys different. The good news is: whether you’ve got a free month, free evening, or even just 5 minutes… especially just 5 minutes… you have time to learn! Woo! 🎉

 

Try to repeat language lessons little and often, (apps like us are good *actually really great* for this), and reap the rewards. Walking to work? Making lunch? Before bed? Just a handful of minutes can be the difference between remembering and forgetting.

 

What’s the fastest way to learn Japanese?

Yep. Ideally you’d be fluent in Japanese instantly and ordering Japanese food faster than you can say ラーメン食べたい人!(‘hands up if you want ramen!’). But languages don’t work like that. Sorry. But with effective, immersive language study sessions – learning Japanese can be fun and even addictive!

To give you that extra boost of inspiration, here are some tips on how to learn Japanese fast.

 

Top Tips: How to learn Japanese fast

 

To fast forward your Japanese language learning, you’ve got to dedicate some time and motivation.

Sorry. It would be nice if this wasn’t the case but repeated work pays off. Practice little and often and before long you’ll be wondering if it’s too late to become a Japanese TV presenter. P.S. It’s never too late to learn a language!

 

Grab the popcorn and watch some anime (but not too much!)

Japanese animated cartoons – anime – is awesome! Familiarise yourself with Japanese language through anime (but don’t exclusively watch anime because anime Japanese is not real life language). Remember, they’re acting!

 

Find a language learning programme that fits seamlessly into your life

Who has the time and money to travel to a Japanese language class that might not even be useful? No thanks! Download an app *ooohhh we know one!* and practice on your own time.

 

Speak aloud

Learning words and phrases is a waste of time unless you try saying them aloud. Don’t be embarrassed. Mistakes are part of the game. So just go for it!

See our Japanese Video Phrasebook to get you started! Just remember: repetition repetition repetition. Did I mention repetition?

 

Where to learn Japanese?

There are lots of different places to learn a language. Japan, for one, wouldn’t that be nice? Sigh. But there are also Japanese learning classes and places to learn Japanese online including learn Japanese apps (ummm… hi there) 👋

 

There’s no one-place-fits-all for learning Japanese. One thing’s for sure: your language learning needs to be easy and fit seamlessly into your lifestyle. Life is busy – this reality hits us hard when we’re adults – so the time you spend learning HAS to be useful.

 

That’s why we’ve got a soft spot for Immersive Language Learning. We believe it’s the best way to learn a language. Why? Because it puts your mind, eyes and ears face to face with authentic language speakers. You experience the sounds, tones, accents, gestures and facial expressions of native speakers… rather than imagining them from a textbook.

 

People will have preferred ways of learning a language, of course. So to guide you, here are a few options to consider when deciding where to learn Japanese.

 

Japanese Learning Classes

When thinking of where to learn Japanese, it’s possible to relive our school days and learn a language in the classroom again by signing up to a Japanese learning class. These enable feedback from your teacher and to hear natural speech from them in person. Great! But while this might appear fun on the surface… they often prove exhausting.

 

Why drag yourself to a Japanese class after a long day’s work when you can learn while your dinner cooks or on a walk with your dog? Dedicating yourself to a classroom can eat into your time, money and energy more than you accounted for.

 

Importantly, with classes: you have no say on what you learn. The course is decided for you. You want to know what to say when entering a Japanese restaurant or meeting a business professional – but the topic hasn’t been covered in class! Read why learning a foreign language in school doesn’t work.

 We feel thisWe feel this

Your time is precious. So use it wisely to learn in a way that fits into your reasons for learning Japanese.

  

Learn Japanese Online, or with an App!

Thanks to the internet, there are some useful resources for learning Japanese online. These include online courses, quizzes and language learning apps that enable people to learn a language on their own from the comfort of their sofa. We actually have a website for those who want to hop online and learn Japanese from their laptop, as well as an app for those who learn better on the go!

 

It’s important you choose a language app that works for you and can fit into your life without stress. You may think: ‘Surely an app is just a textbook on my phone?’ and you’re spot on. A lot of apps are basically digitalised versions of large textbooks which recite words & phrases in a slightly bored tone of voice. 💤

 

What’s why we created an app that uses clips of real Japanese locals speaking their native language, while giving you the opportunity to choose what you want to learn! Not to toot our own horn… but that’s pretty cool. Right?

Keen to try? Get started now!

 

What's the best way to learn Japanese?

When considering how to learn Japanese on your own and how to take your first steps to learn Japanese, you need to weigh up your time, motivations and learning goals first.

 

Life is short. So you want something that’s fun and interesting enough to hold your attention! Whether that’s an online class, classroom environment, textbooks or video resources (YouTube, anime, TV series, etc) – there are a few options available when it comes to how to start learning Japanese.

 

Put simply, the best way to learn Japanese will fit into your life easily, letting you learn at your own pace and on your own time, while keeping you motivated.


 

Sound good? 👀

 

We believe a great Japanese learning program is one that uses immersive language learning. This means learning a new language in the most natural way possible: by listening to, and interacting with, native speakers. Of course, we can’t just click our fingers and land in Japan. But our app lets you rub virtual shoulders with real locals. This lets you constantly develop proficiency by adding new vocabulary and contexts to your understanding. With immersion, you have access to an authentic version of the language because you’re exposed to native speakers and different contexts. Click on the link to read why immersion is the best way to learn a new language.

 

Immersion is also great because it equips you with useful words and phrases from native speakers that, when repeated, are basically how to learn Japanese language.

 

Here are a few crucial phrases that will help you survive in Japan.

Hi… excuse me

あのー、ちょっとすみません / (anō, chotto sumimasen)

anō, chotto suimimasen

 

Slowly, please

ゆっくりおねがいします / (yukkuri onegaishimasu)

yukkuri onegaishimasu

Can I ask you a question?

質問をしてもいいですか?/ (shitsumon o shite mo ii desu ka?)

shitsumon o shite mo ii desu ka?

What is this?

これはなんですか / (kore wa nan desu ka?) 

kore wa nan desu ka?

 

See our Japanese Video Phrasebook and Japanese Survival Kit for more super useful phrases to get you started.

 

We believe our immersive language learning app is the best program to learn Japanese. No one ever learned to swim from a manual. You have to dive in.

Take the dive and give Memrise a try today!

 

Tips for learning Japanese

There’s no ultimate trick to learn Japanese quick. Hey that rhymes! But there are a few tips we can give you to help you learn this awesome language.

 

For example:

Do what you love to do already… but do it in Japanese!

So many people forget to pursue their interests when they learn a language. What’s the point of picking up a Japanese existential novel if you hate reading!? Do what you love: makeup tutorials, podcasts, cat videos, watching tennis… whatever it is – but do it in Japanese! 🇯🇵

 

  • You may work best by learning via class, studying a textbook or by using an app.
  • Listening into a podcast might suit you better.
  • Watching a cooking YouTube tutorial or your favourite comedy with Japanese might keep you focused better than a long anime film.
  • Find people to converse with.

 

Not easy (cheers COVID). But there are places online where you can practise your spoken Japanese with other people. We also have specific modes that encourage you to practice speaking - it's perfect to hone your skills and build confidence. When you get to Japan, the locals will LOVE your efforts to speak Japanese. So equip yourself with a few useful phrases and be treated like a hero!

 

Let’s start small. Learn how to say hello in Japanese!

 

konnichiwa

 

 

Last tip: stay positive as you learn. You are NOT ‘bad at languages’. You just haven’t tried our tips for learning Japanese yet. 👀

 

Is it easier to start with Hiragana? 

Yes. The Japanese language has 3 written syllabic scripts that donate sound and meaning: hiragana, katakana and kanji. Wait, WHAT? 🤔 This can scare new learners… but RELAX. If you want to travel around Japan, embrace the culture, and converse with locals – you don’t need to memorise every single character from every script off by heart. Phew!

 

Beginners should start by familiarising themselves with the 46 basic hiragana characters because they help you understand the basic sounds of the Japanese language – and give you confidence to speak them yourselves! By learning hiragana, you’ll learn the basics of Japanese pronunciation. That’s a cool place to start! We can scale up from there.

 

Is the Japanese grammar too complex?

Simple answer: NO. An important thing to remember is that Japanese grammar in textbooks often teaches you to speak in full sentences. In contrast, if you use YouTube, podcasts and maybe an app (*cough* like us) to hear native speakers – you realise that spoken Japanese can often omit a lot of words. This makes the grammar element a little easier.

 

Fun Fact! Politeness is a big part of Japanese culture, and so the grammatical phrase you use will depend on who you’re talking to. Stick to the polite versions to start out.

 

How useful are Japanese books?

Japanese books, textbooks and dictionaries can offer a useful grammatical foundation and give you the confidence to practise listening and speaking in Japanese. But they don’t suit all learners. Textbooks bore some of us to death. But others like the structure of them. So really, it’s your call.

 

Learning Japanese with Memrise

Memrise is fantastic for:

  • Learning on the go! Take learning with you wherever you are in the world.
  • Learning Japanese at home in your pyjamas with a bag of crisps.
  • Learning Japanese through listening, with hours of videos and audio of real people teaching you (no robot voices here!).
  • Learning Japanese by immersion.
  • People who want to learn super useful vocabulary and phrases that they’ll actually use!
  • Motivation: our courses are fun! Reach into your pocket and start learning on your own time.

 

Memrise is less fantastic for:

  • People who only want a piece of paper to prove they’ve learned something.
  • If you want to sound like a bored Japanese robot (hey… no judgements!)

 

You may think we’re only saying this because you’re on Memrise.com. But we created our language learning system to do all the things we see missing in the other books, videos, and apps out there. We believe Memrise is the best program to learn Japanese because you’re able to learn the vocabulary that you find useful, learn fast, keep motivated through having fun, and surround yourself with Japanese native speakers – which all gives you the confidence to communicate!

 

We have a website for those who want to learn Japanese at home on a computer and an app for those who learn better on the go. We teach you with videos of locals, saying useful phrases in the accents, pace, and body language that makes that language come to life. You can choose different levels to learn from at any time, meaning that you can skip to the parts that you find the most interesting and fun!

 

The best app to learn Japanese

Along with the ability to learn Japanese online, we’ve also built the best app to learn Japanese. The app is created from the ground up to make it the best learning experience on your phone and on-the-go.

 

We know your time is limited. So you need an app that gets straight to the point and teaches you useful phrases that you’ll actually use in real life. Forget just learning stuff for the sake of it. You need to learn language that lets you make real connections with real people. This is why our app uses real native speakers to teach you to speak like the locals do, so you can connect to different people, countries and cultures – and enrich your life!

 

Other reasons The Memrise App is great:

  • Memrise highlights useful phrases which give you real-world language competence.
  • It’s created for an agile learning experience. Anytime. Anyplace. 
  • Our fun videos of native speakers teaching you Japanese (and testing your pronunciation) throw you into the heart of Tokyo.
  • If you ever have to stop your lesson abruptly, our app automatically saves your progress so you won’t lose anything. Plus, it keeps track of your daily streak so you get that extra boost of motivation to keep learning Japanese.
  • Need to save mobile data? Got no signal? The offline mode lets you download all the content you need to learn on your phone so you can learn Japanese without wifi or mobile data.

 

Congratulations! You’ve made it through our complete guide to learning Japanese. This means you must be serious about getting started! We believe we’ve created the best software to learn Japanese. Why? Our app lets you immerse yourself in Japanese language, learn on-the-go, watch fun clips of native Japanese speakers, and practice on your own terms. Simple.

 

‘I want to learn Japanese!’ Yes! We love to hear that. So download our free app to learn Japanese with Memrise now.

 

Good luck and congratulations on getting started. Remember: just go for it! Mistakes are okay at this stage. We’d love to hear how your Japanese learning journey is going. Tweet us @memrise or DM us on Instagram @memrise to let us know!