This site is intended to increase your background knowledge about the Japanese language.
About this WebsitePurpose of this Website
So far, I have to interview over 500 Japanese language learners. Unfortunately, there were many people who gave up in the middle despite having stated that they wanted to master Japanese.
Why weren't these people able to master Japanese?
As with anything, your chance of success differs if you don't have any prior knowledge of the subject. It's risky to attempt learning something new when you don't know anything about it. This site is therefore intended to increase your background knowledge about the Japanese language.
Guide to this Website
I graduated from the Meiji Gakuin University, The Faculty of International Studies with a degree in Japanese Culture. Since March 2004, I have been supporting and consulting Japanese language learners, from private individuals to professionals, in over 32 nations around the world. Also I work as a teacher of Japanese teachers. So far I have trained more than 100 Japanese teachers.
01-Basics of Learning Japanese
-Main Reasons for Learning Japanese
-About Japanese Language Learners (Total Number, Nationalities, Etc.)
-How much time does it take to learn Japanese?
-Is Japanese really hard?
-Should I learn Hiragana and Katakana first?
02-Advice by Purpose of Study
-People Who Study for Job-related Reasons
-People Who Study Japanese for Their Family or Partner
-People Who Want to Study as a Hobby
03-Advice by Type of Learner
-People and Perseverance
-People Who Can Study Only 1 or 2 Hours Per Week
-People and Use of Japanese
-People Who Don't Want to Incur Any Study Costs
04-Japanese Language Tests
-What kind of Japanese language tests are there?
-Should I take a test?
05-Study Methods - 1
-Effective study methods for increasing one's ability to remember
-The Importance of Review
06-Study Methods - 2
-Comparison of Learning Methods by Cost and Efficiency
-Can I master Japanese through self-study?
07-Study Methods - 3
-Is an indirect or direct method of learning better for mastering Japanese?
-The Basics in Selecting a School
-Schools with a Good Reputation
-What should I look for in an instructor?
-Standard Market Course Fees
-How to judge the skill of an instructor during a trial lesson
-How to Find a Japanese Language Instructor
-Which text book do you recommend?
-Materials Other than Textbooks
-Where can I buy textbooks?
-Eight reasons students quit learning Japanese
-An Example of Setting Goals
-Advice for Absolute Beginners
-Advice for Intermediate and Advanced Students
01-Basics of Learning JapaneseMain Reasons for Learning Japanese
The following four reasons are often given for learning Japanese.
1. To gain knowledge and information about Japanese culture (history, literature, etc.)
2. To gain knowledge and information about Japanese culture (anime, manga, J-POP, etc.)
3. To satisfy an interest in Japanese language and languages in general
4. To develop the ability to communicate in Japanese
These results were obtained in a survey of Japanese schools. Among people studying on their own and taking one-on-one lessons, there are probably many other reasons for studying Japanese such as wanting to be able to do business with Japanese people.
About Japanese Language Learners (Total Number, Nationalities, Etc.)
Approximately 3.82 million people are learning Japanese (170,000 inside Japan, 3.65 million outside Japan). The majority of learners are Asians from countries like China, Korea, and Indonesia. Approximately 7% of Japanese learners are from North America or Europe.
Although Japan is in a recession, the number of Japanese learners is still growing due to an increase in people who have started learning Japanese due to interest in anime, manga, and Japanese pop culture.
*Reference data taken from the Agency for Cultural Affairs home page, and the Japan Foundation home page(data for 2009)
How much time does it take to learn Japanese?
This is an extremely difficult question to answer. As far as I know, for every person who can begin from zero, study for one year, and pass the JLPT Level 1 (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) used to identify experts at the language, there is also someone who still can't speak Japanese at all even after living in Japan for over 20 years.
There is also some information we can referenced if you just want a general estimate. The JLPT is the most well known test in Japanese language learning.
It's been said that it takes 900 hours of study to pass the JLPT old Level 1, 600 hours to pass the old Level 2, 300 hours to pass the old Level 3, and 150 hours to pass the old Level 4. Although the JLPT has changed, the old Level 1 text corresponds to the new N1, the old Level 2 corresponds to the new N2, the old Level 3 corresponds to the new N4, and the old Level 4 corresponds to the new N5. Now, it is said that it takes 900 hours of study to pass the new N1, 600 hours to pass the new N2, 300 hours to pass the new N4, and 150 hours to pass the new N5. The new test level, N3, is said to require between 300 to 600 hours, or approximately 450 hours of study to pass.
Note, however, that the new N1 and N2 tests are slightly more difficult than the old Level 1 and Level 2 tests, so the new N1, N2 and N3 tests may actually require slightly more study time than given here.
Is Japanese really hard?
The following items can be listed as the main reasons Japanese is considered to be difficult.
-There are three types of written characters: Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji.
-There is honorific language. (Note: These are expressions used to indicate respect for others such as when speaking with a person older than oneself or a person of accomplishment.)
-There are many words related to numbers and counting objects.
-The basic particles and order of words can change in a conversation.
-Information about a verb can only be created by conjugating the verb.
Conversely, Japanese also has the following characteristics.
-There are only 5 vowel sounds.
-There are no articles.
-There is no distinction between singular and plural nouns.
-Verbs do not inflect based on person.
-There is no distinction in syntax between male and female gender, or between people and objects.
The fact that it's difficult to reach the highest level is the same for all languages.
However, if you're thinking of establishing a relatively short-term goal such as being able produce phrases rather than just communicate at a vocabulary level, or being able to speak at a phrase level, or being able to read and write, Japanese is said to be an extremely easy language to learn. Furthermore, even if your goal is set even higher and you want to be able to understand 60% of what Japanese people say in daily conversation, achieving your goal is not a difficult as compared to other languages. Japanese is surprisingly easy!
Should I learn Hiragana and Katakana first?
There are people attempting to master Japanese without learning Hiragana and Katakana. Although they may become able to speak Japanese to some degree, I recommend that students learn Hiragana and Katakana from an early stage. Perhaps you know that once you learn touch typing your work efficiency quickly improves afterwards. Learning Hiragana and Katakana has the same benefit. Although it takes a little time in the beginning, when one considers the resulting increase in learning efficiency later, it's best to learn them at an early stage.
02-Advice by Purpose of StudyIn this section, I'm going to tell you things many people misunderstand, but it isn't because I don't want everyone to study Japanese. I've merely decided to be frank because I want you to succeed.
People Who Study for Job-related Reasons
Many people study Japanese because they work at a Japanese corporation, because they work in Japan, or because they are doing business with a Japanese company or with Japanese people. However, even if you work in Japan, there are many jobs that don't require Japanese such as in foreign companies where the official in-house language is English. Of course, it's always better to be able to use Japanese if you want to be able to communicate in business with Japanese people. Even so, there are many things that it might be better to be able to do besides using Japanese. For instance, it would probably be better to be capable of marketing or accounting. I recommend you carefully consider whether there is value in spending the time, effort, and money it will take to learn Japanese compared to these other possibilities.
People Who Study Japanese for Their Family or Partner
I think wanting to speak Japanese because your partner (wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend), family, or relatives are Japanese is proof that you care for them, and a great reason to study Japanese. If you're ready to invest the time, effort, and money, I definitely want you to try, but I recommend that you think it over carefully if you're not fully prepared. If you promise to master Japanese for the sake of other people, and then don't follow through with your studies, they may begin to look at you in a negative way.
Sometimes I get into discussions with people who say they want to study in secret until they learn how to speak Japanese, because they want to surprise their partner. However, I don't recommend studying in secret because it can take a long time to learn to speak. If sneaking around studying in secret is only going result in suspicion and arguments, it's probably best to just honestly state that you are studying Japanese so you can gain cooperation in making the time needed to study it. It's particularly hard to secure time if you have children, so be sure to get the understanding and cooperation of your partner before you start.
People Who Want to Study as a Hobby
There are many people who start studying Japanese language as a hobby because they have an interest in traditional Japanese culture or modern pop culture. Note, however, that there is a tendency for people who don't have clear goals to quit. This happens because those who start studying Japanese as a hobby often find something else more fun to do and then give that priority. Of course, it is important to enjoy studying, but it's equally important to set clear goals and have a strong conviction to continue studying until you achieve those goals.
Particularly in recent years, there are many people who have started studying Japanese because they want to be able to understand Japanese manga and anime in the original language. However, manga and anime include many special expressions not taught in textbooks and understanding them is difficult without mastering the basics first.
Although I've written some negative things here, I really do want you to succeed.
03-Advice by Type of LearnerHere, I'll give some advice for each type of learner and the types of people who tend to achieve the most.
People and Perseverance
People can be divided into three types depending on their perseverance.
1. People who will continue no matter what once they make a decision
2. People who can continue as long as it's fun and they have a goal
3. People who don't continue with anything
Although Type 1 and 2 have an advantage, even Type 3 can succeed as long as an environment that makes it hard to quit is created. There is also some concern regarding Type 2 people, because they may start out happy, but, as they continue, they may start feeling that it's too much work. The important thing here is that few people admit that their own will power is weak. There are many people who think they are Type 1, but are really Type 2 or even 3. If you know you're Type 3, I recommend creating an environment that makes it difficult to quit.
People Who Can Study Only 1 or 2 Hours Per Week
When I ask people how many hours they can study per week, I get various answers such as "two hours," "five hours," or even "20 hours." Since there are many people who will say "20 hours" without actually doing it, I don't buy it when I hear it, but short-time progress is probably going to be very difficult for people who only intend to study one or two hours per week.
It's said that 300 hours of study is required to pass the JLPT N4 test. That would take three years, studying two hours per week, and six years, studying one hour per week. In light of this, I think students should study at least three hours per week. With this as the bare minimum, the chance of success rises for people who study at least six hours per week, or at least one hour per day Monday through Saturday.
At three hours per week, it should take two years of study to pass the N4 test, and just one year at six hours per week. Do you think you can concentrate and keep studying at that pace for one year?
People and Use of Japanese
1. People who must use Japanese everyday
2. People who are better off using Japanese even though they don't have to
2. People who don't use Japanese at all
Naturally, Type 1 and Type 2 people have an advantage, but even Type 3 people can do okay if they can create an environment in which they use Japanese utilizing any of the many useful services available such as the Internet. There are many free ways to use Japanese language including listening to Japanese language net radio programs or pod casts, reading Japanese language e-zines, and keeping a daily journal in Japanese. Although free speaking practice may be hard to find if you have no one to practice with, shadowing is an effective method of practicing that you can use free of charge all by yourself.
Shadowing is a method of mimicking a native speaker by repeating what they say. You can expect improvement in both listening and speaking ability when using shadowing.
People Who Don't Want to Incur Any Study Costs
You'd probably like to master Japanese as cheaply as possible and without spending any money at all if possible. However, the ability to bear the cost of taking lessons and buying learning tools and study materials such textbooks and an I-Pod is one factor that can influence how much benefit you will get from your studies.
The ability to bear such costs is a definite advantage, because there is a greater chance of being able to study efficiently if you can afford to pay for one-on-one lessons with a professional teacher and purchase high-quality learning tools and study materials. However, this really just increases your options. Whether you can take full advantage of these options is another matter. I've seen students who have bought ten or more textbooks, but haven't finished even one of them.
Conversely, even a person without the financial means can still take full advantage of the limited free tools and resources available. There are many cases of people without the financial means who have advanced by studying as if their life depended on it. In many cases, they have achieved large economic gain by becoming able to speak Japanese.
Unfortunately, it's very difficult to master Japanese just using free tools on the Internet. Although many different free tools have appeared on the Internet in recent years, you won't find a more effective tool than receiving instruction from a professional instructor.
The most important thing isn't whether you spend a lot or a little. It's cost-performance. Rather than trying to get by using only free materials and resources, I think the wise choice is to be smart with your money and use free materials for kanji practice and listening, while paying for other things like textbooks and receiving professional instruction.
04-Japanese Language TestsWhat kind of Japanese language tests are there?
Here is some information about some Japanese Language exams. Even if you are not interested in taking the exam, the information may help you to measure your current language level and to help you pursue your goal.
Japanese Language Proficiency Test
This is the most famous test among Japanese-majored students and business people. The Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) has been offered by the Japan Foundation and Japan Educational Exchanges and Services (formerly Association of International Education, Japan) since 1984 as a reliable means of evaluating and certifying the Japanese proficiency of non-native speakers.
The JLPT is offered in five levels (N1, N2, N3, N4, N5). (The old test through 2009 was offered in four levels - Level 1, Level 2, Level 3, Level 4). twice yearly, in July and December. However, certain countries/areas will only offer the test in December and not in July. Please check in their website.
The Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students
The Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students (EJU) is used to evaluate whether international students who wish to study at the undergraduate level at universities or other such higher educational institutions in Japan possess the Japanese language skills and the basic academic abilities needed to study at those institutions.
EJU takes the place of both the Japanese Language Proficiency Test and the General Examination for Foreign Students (no longer administered as of December 2001), which many universities (undergraduate level) and other higher educational institutions in Japan previously required international students to take for admission. Starting in 2002, EJU will be administered twice a year (June and November) in Japan and other countries and regions. For a list of examination sites, check in their website.
* Note that there are some universities that base their selection of international students mainly upon EJU scores.
J.TEST - Test of Practical Japanese
The J.Test of Practical Japanese was introduced in 1991 as a test for conducting objective measurement of the Japanese language proficiency of non-Japanese. Based on the broad-based incorporation of the hearing test, this method effectively gauges practical proficiency in Japanese. In gaining employment or entry to higher level schools in Japan, or for use of Japanese in the performance of practical work, advanced proficiency in the language is a must. By taking the J.Test of Practical Japanese, it is possible to comprehend your current level of proficiency, and then determine your next objective. It might be good to take the test several times to comprehend your current Japanese proficiency as well as further grasp the language. Each year in January, March, May, July, September and November, you can take.
*Test Level A-D (Intermediate to Advanced) *Test Level E-F (Beginners)
Japan Kanji Test (No English site available)
Although this test is mainly for native Japanese, you can also take this test if you like studying Kanji.
*Levels are 1-10.
Should I take a test?
I recommend that you take a test. There are two reasons for my advice.
First, having a concrete goal, like a test to study for, can be beneficial because it increases motivation.
Second, although I often hear people say things like "I just want to be able to speak Japanese and have no interest in tests," you can't have a conversation in Japanese without knowing the basic grammar and vocabulary. Studying for an exam can be an efficient way to learn that grammar and vocabulary, so studying to pass a given test can definitely be useful in developing conversational ability.
If you were to practice conversation without understanding grammar and vocabulary, there are many cases where students who are capable of imitating the teacher in a lesson can't carry on a real conversation very well. Although I understand that conversational lessons can be more fun, and that many students withdraw from grammar and vocabulary courses, try putting some serious effort into it based on the idea that you can't build a tall building on a weak foundation.
Let's listen to the opinion of some people who have actually taken the JLPT test.
I have included what Cory-san has to say about his experience passing the last JLPT test.
Q1 : Which level did you take?
A1 : I took JLPT Level 3 (Now equivalent to JLPT N4).
Q2 : Is it your first time to take the level?
A2 : This was my first attempt at Level 3. I (barely) passed Level 4 the previous year.
Q3 : Why did you take the JLPT?
A3 : I took the JLPT to give me something to work towards. I study much better when I have a definite goal to attain. Studying for the sake of learning a language doesn't motivate me as much as studying for an exam does.
Q4 : When did you start preparations for the JLPT?
A4 : I started preparations for JLPT 3 in August.
Q5 : After you started preparations for the JLPT,
(1) how many lessons(*) in a week did you take?
(2) how many hours in a week did you spent on your self study?
(1) I took 1 lesson a week.
(2) My weekly study times were highly inconsistent; I would estimate I studied on average between 10-15 hours a week starting in mid-August.
Q6 : How have you been studying for the JLPT?
A6 : I studied for the examination in many ways:
To help me prepare for the kanji section I used a program on my iPhone called "Kanji Flip" and a textbook series called "1 nichi 15 hun no kanji renshu" by ALC. The Kanji Flip program is convenient to use in on-the-go situations (like on a train), but the examples it gives on how to use the kanji are sometimes useless or irrelevant. The ALC book has great example vocabulary and uses them in sentences. I ended up combining the information from these two sources by typing a 100-page binder of detailed notes on about 300 kanji.
To help me prepare for JLPT vocabulary, I took three tests from previous years. Every time I came across a word I didn't know (which happened quite often, unfortunately) I underlined the word. After I was finished with the test I would go back and write the words and the English definitions in a notebook. I spent many hours at coffee shops doing this...
Grammar has always been my weakest area of Japanese, so I signed up for J-OS lessons to help me learn proper Japanese grammar. I worked from the Genki II textbook and workbook and quickly crammed a semester's worth of Japanese grammar in about three months.
I didn't usually study specifically for listening because I live in Japan, so I hear Japanese every day. But one thing that helps me to improve my general listening skills is to watch Japanese TV with the Japanese subtitles turned on. I've found that often times my eyes will catch what my ears couldn't. (For example: tanosisou desu vs. tanoshii desu)
Finally, I ate tonkatsu the night before the exam for good luck. I'm not sure if that helped, but it was a good meal!
Q7 : Would you recommend taking (studying for) the JLPT to other Japanese learners?
A7 : I highly recommend studying for the JLPT. It's an internationally known test for Japanese proficiency. You also get a cool certificate if you pass (or a nice bookmark/coffee coaster/dartboard if you fail).
05-Study Methods - 1Just as there is a large difference in the work performance of someone who knows how to work efficiently and someone who doesn't, the same can be said about one's method of study. I will therefore discuss specific study techniques and useful information to keep in mind as you study Japanese.
Effective study methods for increasing one's ability to remember
The following resource gives the retention rate for various study methods.
The amount that can be memorized merely by listening to a class is low. So try using your body as much as possible and combine reading, watching, writing, discussing, role playing, and so on.
At this point, I'd like to introduce the concept of "shadowing". Shadowing is a method of mimicking a native speaker by repeating what they say. You can expect improvement in both listening and speaking ability when using shadowing.
Also, you probably already know a study method even more effective than role playing in the resource. It's "teach it." You can't teach something very effectively to another person if you don't know it very well yourself. In other words, it's necessary to understand a subject well in order to teach it effectively to another person. The study method that utilizes this principle is called "teach to learn" and can be implemented by making certain you teach another person (or even yourself) what you've learned.
There are various methods you can use. You can collect all the points you've learned and make your own original textbook or you can upload what you've studied to a blog or Facebook or MySpace or Mixi (the biggest SNS in Japan). Be sure to try this idea, because the benefits of this study method are tremendous.
The Importance of Review. "There is no growth, without review."
The main reason that so many people tell me "I'm studying hard, but I'm not improving very much." is that they do not review enough.
Do you know how human memory works?
The red line in the graph shown below indicates how much people forget as time elapses based on the results of a test performed by the German psychologist Herman Ebinghouse. The blue dotted line indicates how people tend to remember things better as they review what they have learned.
This is why students are told that it is best to review. It should be clear even from my own experience that it takes time for people who do not review to improve.
As a specific method of review, it is good to review multiple times, immediately after you finish a lesson, then again the next day, and then again several days later. Since the most valuable time for review is particularly that time immediately after a lesson is finished, there can be a large difference in how much you remember in the future depending on whether you review during this time.
Preparation is also important. Preparation allows you to remember things more efficiently. Even if you cannot set aside a lot of time for preparation, always be sure to do some preparation even if it's only five minutes. Just this much preparation allows you to get your mind ready and can greatly improve your learning efficiency compared to people who do not prepare.
Even if it's only for five minutes, even busy people should always be sure to prepare and review.
06-Study Methods - 2Comparison of Learning Methods by Cost and Efficiency
You probably want to select the study method with the highest cost-to-benefit ratio. I've therefore prepared the following table.
*Costs given are based on the typical market price per lesson (one hour of instruction), assuming a one-on-one lesson, not an online lesson.
Personally speaking, I don't recommend volunteer instructors working in places like city hall, because I know many Japanese language students who have said that they went to see the volunteer instructor at city hall, but realized they should be seeing a professional instructor because it wasn't helping them. Lately, many sites offer language exchange, as well, but I don't recommend this either. Although it definitely represents a chance to speak Japanese for free, the person teaching you is a novice and rarely knows how to explain Japanese very well. Not only that, but just like you want them to teach you Japanese, they want you to teach them your native language, so learning your language is probably more important to them than teaching you Japanese.
Next, let's take a look at schools that use a class format.
Many schools with a class format have a lot of students and instructors generally teach in a lecture format. This usually limits the amount of time you get to speak Japanese. For a school with a class format to have much benefit, the number of students per class needs to be 10 or less. (This could be called the break-even point for schools.) If you find such a class, you will probably get the usual benefit of a group lesson for a low course fee.
Next, let's consider group lessons and one-on-one lessons.
I am definitely a believer in private lessons. The reason is that it's difficult for someone busy with work to match schedules with the times chosen by a school and because it's a waste when class time is taken up by someone else.
Assume for a moment that a group of six people attend a class lasting 60 minutes per lesson. Usually, it takes some time for the teacher to describe a concept. If we assume this takes half (30 minutes) the time available, that basically leaves only 5 minutes for each student to speak. If this had been a private lesson, and we assume that the teacher takes half the time talking (30 minutes), you get to speak for the remaining half hour (30 minutes). A simple comparison of these two cases shows that, at 30 minutes to 5 minutes, a private lesson has six times the value of a group lesson.
In comparison, the course fee for group lessons and private lessons runs from nearly the same to within about twice the amount for a private lesson, making private lessons are a good value. Not only that, the big advantage to private lessons is that the instructor can customize the lessons to match your interests and level.
Although it will ultimately depend on how much cost you can bear, rather than simply comparing course fees, I recommend you make your decision based on cost-performance. After all, a course can be a waste of money if you receive no benefit even though the fee is low, but is probably a good buy if you receive benefit even though the fee is slightly higher.
Can I master Japanese through self-study?
Your ideal dream is probably to master Japanese without spending even one yen. I've met a lot of Japanese language learners over the years, and I think that only about 1 or 2% are capable of mastering Japanese through self-study.
If you study on your own, you'll probably study using a textbook. However, the textbook can't correct your mistakes, or get you over bumps, or give you instruction on points of note. It also can't present examples tailored to your situation, and can't do anything to increase your motivation. Ultimately, a textbook is nothing more than a collection of the things students need most, so it takes quite a bit of will-power to master Japanese through self-study.
However, I do recommend self-study for certain aspects of Japanese. For example, absolute beginners can easily learn simple greetings, hiragana, and katakana on their own. At this level, there are many free materials available, and most students can probably remember this information without any particular instruction from a teacher.
07-Study Methods - 3Is an indirect or direct method of learning better for mastering Japanese?
With an indirect method, the learner receives explanations using an intermediate language (such as his or her native language) so that he or she can understand.
With a direct method, the learner receives explanations in Japanese only.
If your native language is English, you may worry about whether it's better to temporarily get explanations in English or to get explanations in Japanese. In the end, it depends on your preferences, but let's consider the pros and cons of both methods.
The indirect method is less stressful because beginners cannot understand explanations in Japanese. However, the advantage of studying using the direct method from the beginning is that learners are better prepared for a real conversation because they have been listening to actually conversations in Japanese only. In other words, the difference is whether you consider speaking only in Japanese as "stressful" or "good training."
I recommend the following approach for people who want to become used to Japanese as quickly as possible, but who also want to use their lesson time efficiently.
>First, tell your instructor ahead of time not to use an intermediate language unless you request otherwise, and basically use Japanese only.
>Then, ask your instructor for explanations in an intermediate language only when you can't understand no matter how hard you try.
However, make an agreement with your instructor not to use an intermediate language more than three times per lesson. (It doesn't matter if you agree to five times or ten times, it's just seems best to use an intermediate language as little as possible.)
>Then, do not use an intermediate language more than the agreed number of times no matter how frustrating it becomes.
I recommend this approach because, by sticking to these rules, you will develop a habit of thinking for yourself as much as possible even when you don't understand and you can enjoy your lessons like a game.
08-SchoolsThe Basics in Selecting a School
If you are going to commute to a school, you may be worrying about which schools are good. Here, I'll discuss the basics in selecting a school.
Based on my experience, two things can be said.
1. There are many good schools where instructors receive comprehensive training.
2. Good schools have good teachers, and therefore good students.
I think one criterion for selecting a good school is whether the school provides training to instructors to increase their ability to teach. This is because good instructors select the school they work at. If you have a chance to visit and observe a school, be sure to ask what kind of training they give instructors. Also, check what kind of students are learning there. If there are good students present, this may help stimulate you and make it easier to continue studying.
Finally, the most important thing I want you to do is to actually talk with some of the people studying there. If you don't know anyone, you should be able to find someone studying Japanese on the Internet through social networking sites such as FaceBook, MySpace, Mixi, MeetUp, or forums on the Japanese language.
Schools with a Good Reputation
I will introduce you to some schools that I've heard good things about over the years. Since this information is only based on what I've heard, there may be many schools not listed here that are also good. Also, I obviously can't guarantee the services provided by the schools I do list.
-Sendagaya Japanese School in Takadanobaba, Tokyo
-Meguro Language Center in Meguro, Tokyo
-Intercultural Institute of Japan in Akihabara, Tokyo
-NPO Research Institute for Japanese Language Education in Yotsuya, Tokyo
-Aichi Center for Japanese Studies (the Yamasa Institute) in Okazaki, Aichi
-GENKI JACKS in Fukuoka, Fukuoka
I recommend online lessons to people who don't live near a Japanese school, people who are too busy to commute, and people who want to use their time more efficiently. With an online school, you can speak directly with a professional instructor using a communication tool such as SKYPE.
If you are interested in taking online Japanese lessons, I would like to recommend
-Japan Online School in Japan
Face-to-face lessons and online lessons both have their respective advantages, but there aren't any real disadvantages with online lessons. For instance I'm studying English at an online school, and even though I'm very busy with work, I haven't felt inconvenienced at all so far.
Comments from People Studying Japanese Online
Mr. Michael Scheuner
I came to appreciate the geographical mobility that comes with learning over the net. Usually I'm at home when conducting classes, but in the case I'm busy at work, I can just fire up Skype at my office-computer and take the lesson from there. There is no need to hasten to a specific place. One more thing: From the beginning I was able to use the textbooks I already had und learned with, so the transition from online to offline learning was very smooth. The teacher asked in the first lesson to which chapter I have been learning and we went on from there. To sum it up: My experience until now is very good and i will certainly continue to take online-lessons.
Ms. Hiedee Sandiego
It is great way to learn Japanese language for a very reasonable price. One-on-one online lessons provide a very stress-free environment that encourages easy learning. Flexibility on time and place provides additional comfort, so student can focus more on the lessons it self.
Mr. Christian Kaiser
I'm enjoying the lessons I have taken until now. It really helped me a lot to get closer to my goal, the JLPT-3. Even though I have to work a lot and was able to take lessons only on weekends I tried my best to do the homework each week and receive the correction from my teacher. It was really hard for me to find a good place to study near where i am living (probably there are not many people in Germany learning Japanese). But when I found it, I was really glad to have found a working solution.
Mr. Daniele Galuppo
Everything works well, from teachers to support, at a really good price. Whether you need to improve rapidly or want to take it easy, an online course allows you to set your own pace because you decide when to take lessons. Highly suggested for those strongly committed to learn Japanese.
It's much more convenient than I thought to learn Japanese on Skype. Though I have passed JLPT 1st level, my speaking is not quite fluent. I think through one-on-one lesson, I can improve my speaking ability more effectively. After some lessons I think I am becoming more comfortable in speaking Japanese.
It is a very convenient way of learning language. The one-on-one system makes it easily possible to adapt the plans and times for individual needs. The atmosphere during lessons is supportive and encouraging. I like that even when I do not have much free time I can enjoy a lesson in a time that suits me and relax by it.
From my perspective online course suits me best with the flexibility of time, working in a relaxed atmosphere, able to take class even during vacation and comparatively lower rates.
Mr. Frederik Altvater
I am living in a remote area anld the next Japanese school is more 100km away. I am very happy to have found the school. To everyone who wants to learn Japanese, this is the second best option apart from going to Japan. ^-^
Ms. Sarah Smith
I have been searching for a Japanese course in my area, but the schedules at nearby universities do not suit my busy work requirements. Online school allows me to have flexibility and to take lessons in the convenience of my home.
09-InstructorsNow, I'm going to give you some basic advice about selecting an instructor. This should be particularly useful for people studying in one-on-one lessons.
What should I look for in an instructor?
First, what do you emphasize?
(2) Course fee
(3) Time and place considerations
(4) Personality, character, and compatibility
(5) Other conditions (The instructor should speak English or have business experience, for example.)
(1) You probably want someone with as much experience as possible. Note, however, that this also influences (2) below
(2) I'll discuss the fair market price for Japanese language instruction in more detail later.
(3) This is a difficult issue. The schedules of the most popular instructors can fill quickly, so if you want to learn from a good instructor, you will need to compromise a bit when it comes to the time and place. If you must decide the time and place in accordance with your own situation, your choices will be limited.
(4) Opinions are divided on this subject, but personally I think that compatibility is very important. Even more than compatibility, I also think it's important whether you respect the instructor, whether speaking with the instructor is enjoyable, and whether you can listen patiently and politely to the instructor's explanations. Also, there are cases where compatibility will develop after you've taken several lessons.
(5) There are many people who insist that the instructor speak an intermediate language such as English. Be sure to carefully consider whether an intermediate language is really necessary. (For details, see 07-Study Methods - 3)
Many businessmen will ask for a teacher who also has business experience, but it's very difficult to find a teacher who is both good at teaching and has business experience at a low course fee. Remember, there are many good teachers without any business experience. You will probably have better luck finding a good teacher at a reasonable price if you change the way you look at it and learn special terminology for your field on your own, or practice so that you become good at explaining the terminology of a given field to a teacher who doesn't know that terminology.
There are three points to consider here.
1. Are your desires realistic?
2. Have you told your instructor your desires and does your instructor understand them?
3. Does the lesson plan cover what you want and are you giving feedback to your instructor?
Many people fail to emphasize Point 3. If you have a direct agreement with an instructor, it may be hard to say some things, but it's in your own best interest in terms of results to give your instructor feedback so they can become an even better instructor.
Standard Market Course Fees
Standard market course fees are generally as follows for freelance Japanese language instructors living in Japan.
*This table gives the approximate market price per lesson (one hour).
People living outside of Japan may find these prices high, but in most cases these prices are lower than the fees paid by Japanese people learning English conversation in Japan.
If an instructor teaches four lessons per day, five days per week, it represents approximately 80 lessons per month. Assuming 2000 yen per lesson, that gives a monthly income of 160,000 yen. At 3000 yen per lesson, that's 240,000 yen per month. And at 5000 yen per lesson, that's 400,000 yen per month. Since the average starting salary of a university graduate entering the workforce in Japan is about 180,000 to 220,000 yen per month, a course fee of 3000 yen per lesson is not that high for a person working in a job as a professional considering the high prices in Japan.
By the way, I personally know teachers who earn as much as 6000 yen per lesson, but they are very popular and their schedules are always full.
How to judge the skill of an instructor during a trial lesson
Usually, you can take a trial lesson before entering into a contract with an instructor or school. Here, I'll describe what you need to look for during such a lesson.
First, don't expect too much from a trial lesson. Some people think they are entitled to learn lots of various things, but a trial lesson is really nothing more than a chance to check out the atmosphere, so it's best to think of it as a chance to see if you are compatible with the instructor.
If you're thinking that you've taken the trouble to come to this trial and want solid instruction, remember that it's hard for the instructor to provide a good lesson without any previous background knowledge about you. So make sure first to tell the instructor about your level, learning experience, and what you hope to get out of the lesson.
During the trial lesson, you should be able to tell whether the teacher is good or not. If it's hard to tell, have the teacher explain a grammar point that you already know. You should be able to tell if they are a good instructor or not by doing so.
There are also many people who ask about past experience. There's a trick to asking about experience. Note that the number of years an instructor has been teaching doesn't mean much. You should be able to judge an instructor's experience by asking the following:
-Where do you teach? At a school? On a dispatch or freelance basic?
-What kind of courses do you offer? Classes? Group lessons? One-on-one instruction?
-How many students do you teach in each setting? (Note: Tell them not to count free, volunteer lessons.)
-What kind of students have you taught? (Ask for their nationalities, ages, and whether they are students or working adults, and if they are working adults their profession.)
Finally, there's a special, magic question you can ask! The question is: "Please tell me all of the textbooks you can use." Beware of teachers who use only one textbook even if they have many years of experience. In one-on-one lessons, it's necessary to customize lessons according to the student's needs. This is a great question because if the instructor has been teaching one-on-one lessons for a long time, they should be able to use a variety of textbooks in order to meet the needs of a wide variety of students.
However, pay attention to the following points.
1. Sometimes a teacher may have a lot of experience with lessons in a classroom setting, but not much experience with one-on-one lessons, and they still might be a very good teacher.
2. Even if a teacher doesn't have the textbook you do, that's not always a bad thing. It may only mean that your textbook isn't very good. (For details on selecting textbooks, see 10-Materials)
How to Find a Japanese Language Instructor
If you're looking for a personal contract with a freelance instructor and live in Japan (Kantou (Tokyo, Shinagawa, Chiba, or Saitama), Kansai (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, or Kobe), or Chubu (Nagoya), I recommend you use the website labochi.com. With this service, instructors pay a finder's fee to labochi.com when they sign up, and students pay nothing to find registered teachers.
If you are uneasy about a personal contract, try looking on the Internet for Japanese language schools and companies that dispatch Japanese language instructors. You should get many hits by searching for "Japanese teacher's list" or "Japanese school." The market price for these types of schools and companies ranges from about 4000 to 6000 yen per hour of instruction. In most cases, you must pay a separate transportation fee for a dispatched instructor.
10-MaterialsWhich text book do you recommend?
I will discuss the right way to think about text books.
First, there is no best choice for everyone when it comes to text books. A good text book should cover as many of the topics most people need as possible. Speaking from the perspective of someone who creates study materials, sometimes concessions must be made to complete a work.
I'm often asked "Which text book do you recommend?" Unfortunately, I can't give any advice without knowing details about your current level of proficiency, study goals, study methods, and so on.
In addition, each text book has its own characteristics. For example, even if intended for the same beginning level, the text book I would recommend differs for people who also want to study the written language versus those who don't.
If you want to know the best text book for you, first you should clearly state your study goals and preferences and then ask a highly experienced Japanese instructor for recommendations. Even so, selecting a text book is hard work even for a professional instructor. If the teacher you ask is someone who uses many text books, you can probably trust the advice they give, but, if this isn't the case, you need to be careful, because the instructor may lack credibility on this topic.
For instance, some text books aren't very good even though they may be famous in your country. Even text books are a type of product, and some text books have become well-known due to expert marketing and PR by the company selling them. I can't give specific book titles here, but if you're interested just ask me directly.
There's one more important thing. The best study materials for you differ depending on your study method. For example, if you've studied grammar yourself and want to practice conversation with an instructor, you probably need a textbook for practicing conversation. If you want to study for an exam, a book on grammar or a collection of past test questions is probably best for you.
Try to adopt the idea of "studying with a text book" rather than "studying a text book."
There are various textbook genres available. Roughly, there are 15 genres, listed below. Within each genre, textbooks are aimed at different levels and target different students.
Comprehensive textbooks, Textbooks for businessmen and trainees, textbooks for short stays, textbooks for overseas students, textbooks for children, reading comprehension textbooks, grammar textbooks, textbooks for listening and pronunciation, textbooks for writing (kana and kanji), essay textbooks, practice problem textbooks, textbooks for passing the JLPT , textbooks for passing the Examination for Japanese University Admission for International Students, textbooks for passing university entrance exams, and textbooks for passing other exams.
Selecting a textbook is not easy. Be sure to get the advice of a professional instructor. If you choose the wrong textbook, it can lead to decreased motivation, and this causes many people to quit studying Japanese altogether.
Materials Other than Textbooks
There are many other types of language learning materials besides textbooks. These include CDs, websites, audio media, movies, original materials produced by instructors, iPhones, and iPods. Finally, regardless of whether or not they are intended as study materials for Japanese language learners, Japanese books and magazines intended for Japanese people can also be used as study materials. For example, people interested in Aikido can use a book about Aikido to study, or a person interested in tattoos can use a magazine about tattoos.
I recently gave a Japanese language magazine about Internet security to a student who said he learned a lot from it. He works as a freelance security network specialist in the US and says he'd like to work in Japan in the future. I gave him this present, because he had passed the JLPT Level 2 test and I felt he could probably read Japanese fairly well. If he had been a beginner, I probably would have selected a textbook for beginners as a gift, rather than that magazine.
The thing I want to say here is that many materials can be used to study Japanese besides textbooks. If you're taking one-on-one lessons, you should make sure your teacher knows your interests and hobbies so that they can incorporate that information into your lessons as much as possible. However, take care to select something that matches your actual abilities.
Where can I buy textbooks?
Among Internet options, I recommend Amazon and BK1 because they both ship overseas. Note that it's easy to find books on the Japanese Amazon site not sold on the non-Japanese Amazon site. If you want to buy from a Japanese bookstore (Tokyo), I recommend Bonjinsha, a bookstore specializing in Japanese language materials.
11-MotivationEight reasons students quit learning Japanese
Unfortunately, there are many people who give up on mastering Japanese midway through. Here, I will list the main reasons and take a close look at each of them.
The student can't maintain his or her initial motivation.
A student's motivation can drop even though it was high when they first started studying. First, this type of person needs to understand that one's motivation will definitely change over time. Not only that, but in most cases motivation goes down, rather than up, when one encounters difficulty. Develop a strong resolve that you will continue studying even if your motivation drops.
It takes more time to improve than the student expected.
Students lose their enthusiasm if they aren't improving very much. Understand that growth takes time.
The student's goals are unreasonable.
Students often quit if they have established goals that are too far away or if there is a large gap between ability and reality. Select realistic goals.
The student's study plan is unreasonable or the student doesn't have a study plan.
Students may give up if they establish a plan that is difficult to execute or where progress does not go according to plan, or they may attempt studying without a plan at all. Settle on a realistic study plan.
The student engages in activities other than studying despite him or herself.
Students can end out watching television or reading rather than studying. Set aside a time for study and always study during that time.
The student doesn't have enough time.
Time can be taken up by work or other commitments, leaving no time for learning Japanese. Don't use the fact that you're busy as an excuse. Everybody's busy.
The student's schedule no longer matches that of his or her teacher so far.
Students may quit altogether when it is no longer possible to study with a teacher they like. For example, even if your schedule and no longer matches that of the instructor you've been using so far, you should be able to continue as long as you have your own goals and study plan, and will probably find another teacher. Do not depend too heavily on a given instructor.
The student doesn't have anyone to give him or her encouragement.
Students may undermine their studies because no one says anything about it even if they don't study. It's hard to keep studying Japanese on your own. Make friends with other people studying Japanese and start competing with each other and encouraging each other.
Following this advice will increase the chance that you continue.
12-Setting GoalsAn Example of Setting Goals
Deciding on goals is up to each individual student, so it's impossible to make any unconditional statements. However, in my experience, there are several points I'd like to make. (Note that these are my personal opinions only.)
Advice for Absolute Beginners
If you are a beginner and live outside Japan, or even if you live in Japan but are not in an environment where Japanese is used daily, how about setting a goal of being able to pass the JLPT N4 test within one or two years?
I have several reasons for this advice.
1. There is a good chance of being able to pass this exam even if you are a busy person. It's said that about 300 hours of study time is required to pass the JLPT N4 test. (See note below.) If you study for one hour every day for a year, or 30 minutes every day for two years, even a busy person can probably manage to pass the N4 test.
Note: There has been no statement issued about how many hours of study are required to pass the new JLPT texts, but since the N4 test corresponds to the old Level 3 test, the 300-hour figure for passing the old Level 3 test should still be true for the N4 test.
2. You have specified an end date.
Your motivation may not last for 5 or 10 years. It will be easier to maintain your motivation if you set a cut-off date of one or two years.
3. You will come to understand conversation.
If you can master the vocabulary, grammar, and kanji necessary for the JLPT N4 test, you should be able to carry on a conversation with a Japanese person. Being able to speak Japanese will not only be enjoyable, but will make it easier to maintain your motivation. Stated another way, it's hard to carry on a conversation without N4-level skills.
4. You have time to consider your next goal.
If you aim at passing the N4 level test or higher, you will have to study with a certain degree of concentration. However, you probably have other interests and things to study. Once you pass the N4 test, you can take a short break from studying Japanese and use the time for something else. Then you can aim at the next level without running out of steam.
Advice for Intermediate and Advanced Students
Usually, there is a wide variety in what intermediate and advanced students can do and can't do. For example, there are some students who have confidence in their grammar but whose conversational ability isn't that good. There are also some students whose strong point is conversation, but who frequently make basic grammar mistakes.
The thing I recommend for intermediate and advanced students is to take a close look at yourself and admit what you can do and what you can't do. Then, continue expanding on what you can do, while training to master what you can't do. It's easy to practice things you're good at, but you must challenge the things you're bad at in order to reach the next level.
Continue training so that you can read, write and speak Japanese better and faster. For example, read a two page report out loud within one minute. Write a 400-word report within 30 minutes. Give a 5-minute presentation on your work or service. There are many things you can do to stretch yourself.
If possible, I recommend enjoyable forms of practice such as writing, giving presentations, and producing Japanese. Then, work on practice that increases the quality of your Japanese output.
Challenge yourself to speak more fluently so that you don't lose out to people who enter Japanese speech contests.
Example of a Japanese Presentation (Movie)-under construction