Japanese Culture

How to Learn Japanese on Your Own?

I’m sure that you’re like me. You love Karate, the Japanese culture and now you want to learn the Japanese language, but you’re wondering if it’s possible to do it on your own?

Yes, it’s totally possible! If I did it, and you can do it too! I have put together a list of resources that I have used (and still use!) and that are the most helpful for me.

The best ways to learn Japanese on your own (and it worked for me!)

For me, there are basically two efficient ways to learn Japanese on your own: by using books and specialized website (with both audio and reading).

Books are probably the most common ways to learn Japanese by yourself. These books presented here are, from my experience, the best on the market today. If you are interested and motivated to learn the Japanese language, these books are for you.

Here is a list of Japanese language resources that I personally use and love, and that worked to improve my Japanese language skills.

My favourite Introductory books

Let me present to you my personal favorite introductory books to Japanese. I have actually started studying Japanese with these books, and they’re great! Like me, you’ll be surprised at how much you will learn with the help of these books.

1. Easy Japanese Step-by-Step (by Gene Nishi)

This is the very first book that I have bought to learn Japanese. I actually started, years ago, with the second edition, but I love it so much that I have purchased the third edition as well. This book is easy to understand, perfect for beginners to the Japanese language. You’ll learn how to construct Japanese sentences, from the simplest to the most complex, using an easy-to-follow approach. This is a book that comprehensively teaches Japanese grammar instead of just providing “pre-cooked” phrases to use. Great buy, you won’t regret it. Check price on Amazon

2. Speak Japanese Today (by Taeko Kamiya)

Taeko Kamiya is an internationally recognized linguist, Japanese teacher, and author. I just love her books on the Japanese language (I own quite a few). This self-study book is an excellent choice for learning Japanese basics quickly, without compromising on quality. This book provides both the material and the method of practice to learn everyday Japanese conversation fast. For a short book, this one packs a lot! Check price on Amazon

My favourite Grammar books

You might hate it as much as you want, grammar is a part of the Japanese language as it is part of every other language. These books will really make grammar easy on you.

1. The handbook of Japanese verbs (by Taeko Kamiya)

If you wanna learn Japanese, you can’t help but learn verbs. Taeko Kamiya wrote the perfect in-depth book on how to handle Japanese verbs correctly. This is one of those books that you will often refer back to even if you become more and more skilled in Japanese. The handbook of Japanese verbs is pretty much a reference book filled with exercises for you to practice. Check price on Amazon

2. The handbook of Japanese adjectives and adverbs (by Taeko Kamiya)

Japanese adjectives and adverbs can be a bit tricky to learn, but not anymore, thanks to this book. My understanding and ability to speak Japanese got serious better after studying this book. This book is a great help in understanding how to put Japanese sentences together. It’s another undeniable must-have. Check price on Amazon

3. Japanese sentence patterns for Effective communication (by Taeko Kamiya)

Another great book by Taeko Kamiya, I told you I like her! This book uses a straight to the point method for learning Japanese sentence structure that is both common and practical. I wish I had this book years ago when I started studying Japanese – it could have saved me a lot of time and sweat. The book breaks down conversational patterns into more than 150 sentence structures, with approximately 1200 sample sentences. Definitely one of the most helpful books that I own. Check price on Amazon

My favourite Reading and Writing books

Some people only want to learn to speak Japanese, and some others prefer to learn to speak, read, and write. I’m the latter type. Maybe that’s because my wife is Japanese and we go to Japan pretty often where I’m confronted with Japanese writing everywhere.

1. A guide to Learning Hiragana & Katakana (by Kenneth G. Henshall and Tetsuo Takagaki)

This is a great book to learn basic Japanese Kana (hiragana and katakana) characters. The structure of this book is simple enough so that characters can be learned quickly. With the help of this book, I’ve actually succeeded to learn every hiragana and katakana. What is interesting about this book is that it contains a workbook to practice writing characters and get the strokes in the right order. Check price on Amazon

2. Kana Pict-O-Graphix (by Micheal Rowley)

This book is a tiny visual guide for remembering hiragana and katakana. If like me, you are a visual learner, then this book is for you! This small little book does precisely what it says it does – teaching you the basic Japanese characters in a matter of hours. You’ll learn hiragana and katakana painlessly, through fun mnemonic pictures. I can’t recommend this guide enough! Check price on Amazon

3. Beginners Japanese Script

This book is definitely more advanced than the previous two as it deals with Kanji or Chinese characters. It’s obviously intended for readers wanting to learn higher-level reading and writing skills. I bought it because when I’m in Japan, I wanna be able to recognize the most common set of kanji. The information and illustrations are to the point and really helped me identify dozens of kanji. Read and write Japanese scripts is a great step-by-step guide to the written Japanese language. I’ve got the older edition. Check price of the new edition on Amazon

My favorite website to learn Japanese

There’s dozens of specialized website dedicated to teaching Japanese, so choosing the right one can sometimes be challenging. 

I tried most of them, but when I stumbled upon Japanesepod101.com, I knew I had found what I was looking for. From all the tools that I have used to learn the language, Japanesepod101.com is by far the best and the one that helped me the most.

JapanesePod101 is a website that teaches Japanese with a series of lessons in audio format accompanied by precious lesson notes. The lessons are organized in courses of up to 50 episodes each, arranged by skill level, ranging from complete newbie to advanced. Lessons are delivered in audio format and are generally 12-15 minutes long. Each lesson is divided into four parts: 1- short dialogue in Japanese (then with English translation), 2- discussion about the story, 3- vocabulary, and lastly 4- grammar.

You can listen to them on the website itself or else downloaded it all as podcasts, which you can then put on your smartphone and take around with you. Even better, you can use their fantastic smartphone app.

There are different pricing options for Japanesepod101, and I personally chose the Premium Plan, which is only 10$/month if you pay for 24 months! As usual, the longer your subscription, the cheaper it gets. In my opinion, the pricing is reasonable for content of that quality. You can try now their free plan and see for yourself.

For more details about Japanesepod101, check out my article entitled The Best Program to Learn Japanese.

Additional tips for learning Japanese by yourself

Here is a list of a few extra things that you can do to learn Japanese on your own or improve your actual level.

1. Watch Japanese Films and Anime

Another great way to practice your Japanese is to watch Japanese movies and anime. Through films and anime, can learn a wide variety of new words and expressions, including slang and casual Japanese. Personally, I often use English subtitles to help me better understand what I’m watching. That’s especially true if I’m watching a Taiga drama as they often use old Japanese.

2. Listen to Japanese radio

Just like with movies, listening to Japanese radio is an effective way to sharpen your listening skills. Try listening to music with lyrics, or Japanese talk radio. There’ss a great website to listen to Japanese radio online.

3. Read in Japanese

At the begins, try ready simple kids book. That’s what I did! I used my son’s Anpanman books to practice my reading skills! Later on, as you get better, you can try reading small Japanese books or even manga. I wouldn’t touch newspapers as they are quite complicated to understand.

4. Find a Japanese friend to speak with

A pleasant yet challenging option for practicing your Japanese speaking skills is to talk face to face or through video-chat with a native Japanese speaker. They are lots of online resources that pairs you with a language partner. There’s a website called My Language Exchange that’s one of the most famous and oldest.

5. Visit Japan!

There is really no better way to learn a new language than total immersion! If you have the opportunity, go to Japan! This will enable you to speak to people in Japanese and watch them talk. You’ll learn much from this experience! Personally, every time I come back from Japan, my wife tells me that my Japanese level has improved a lot. 


So as you can see after reading this article, it’s totally possible to learn Japanese by yourself, on your own. 

After years of experience studying the language, I honestly think that the best was to study Japanese is with Japanesedpod101.com. This website helped me tremendously, and I recommended it to many friends who also greatly benefitted from it. I highly recommend it.

What tools do you use to learn Japanese?

Martin Jutras