These lessons are designed to to be a step-by-step guide to basic spoken Japanese, including pronunciation, basic grammar, communicative functions, vocabulary and expressions, and all relevant cultural knowledge. The basics of Japanese writing are introduced, but the written style of the language is not emphasized.
You may want to start by reading about the lessons in general.
Content and Organization
Formal spoken Japanese (a.k.a. "polite" or "desu-masu" form) is the focus of these lessons. This is default language typically used between two adult Japanese speakers, and it is unlikely that you would insult anyone by using this style as a beginner.
Lessons are organized by topic, keeping related content together, and the ordering is somewhat flexible. Prerequisite topics are listed at the top of each page, with links to successor lessons at the bottom.
Two basic verb conjugations are introduced: masu form and te form. With just slight variations on these two forms, you'll also be able to express negation, past tense, commands, suggestions, and more.
As of the time of writing, the beginning lessons are not yet complete, but there will be a total of about 50-60 lessons. The amount of material covered is roughly equivalent to a one semester college level course (shorter in the case of faster paced programs), or a one year high school level course (longer in the case of slower paced programs).
Starting from zero, you could reasonably get through this much material in as little as 8 weeks, a pace of about one lesson per day. Note that some lessons will take significantly more time to digest than others, so this is not a rule you should follow exactly.
Brief Content Outline
- Introductory topics – intro to the Japanese language, pronunciation, writing, sentence structure, politeness and formality
- Basic expressions
- The topic marker "wa" and the copula "desu"
- Using wa and desu, the particle "no", questions and negation, numbers
- Adjectives, compound sentences
- Verbs, masu form, past tense, several particles
- Conjugation, te form, various topics
- Reference materials
You'll get a better idea of what topics are covered simply by looking at the beginning lessons top page, which includes a listing of all lessons at this level.
Both Kana and romanization are provided for all Japanese text, giving you time to master Hiragana and Katakana, the Japanese syllabaries (phonetic scripts). You might choose to learn Hiragana or even both syllabaries up front, or you can spread the task out while starting on the other lessons.
If intend to pursue Japanese beyond the absolute beginning level, I recommend that you finish memorizing all of the Kana characters by the time you finish the first half of the Beginning Lessons, so that you can use the second half to bring your reading and writing up to a workable speed.
Kanji are covered in a dedicated section of the site. About 25 Kanji for numbers, dates, and time will be introduced in the corresponding Kanji Course Level 0. You can start learning Kanji as soon as you've finished learning Hiragana.
In general, I use the modified Hepburn romanization system, which closely approximates the spelling of English consonants and Spanish vowels.
The advantage to this system is that it allows beginners to get a rough approximation of the Japanese sounds with very little effort, but at the same time it obscures relationships between the sounds that are obvious in Hiragana. Kana spelling gives a much better representation of the Japanese sound system, so it's important that you learn at least Hiragana as soon as possible.
Some approaches advocate using a romanization system that more closely matches Hiragana spelling, such as Kunrei-shiki or the system used in Japanese: The Spoken Language, but in the long run it takes the least amount of time if you simply learn Hiragana up front.
Some additional notes on romanization:
- Because I have no easy way to put macrons (horizontal lines) over long vowels, I simply spell them out according to the Hiragana spelling, a style known as wapuro romaji, since this is how Hiragana is typed using an alphabetic keyboard.
- Although particles are sometimes attached to the preceding noun using hypens, I will write them as separate words in Romaji (watashi wa, rather than watashi-wa) since this makes the text easier to read. I will also write certain auxiliaries (takaku arimasen deshita) and sentence ending particles (ka, yo, ne) as separate words. I will use hypenation primarily when discussing verb conjugation.
Using These Lessons
Please note that these lessons focus on the informational side of things – practice materials are not provided. Ideally you'll want to take a formal course at some point in the early stages of your language study, or a least get a textbook (or textbooks) that includes example conversations and readings, grammar and writing practice, and audio materials.
Read more on How to Use the Beginning Lessons.