If you want to try studying Japanese independently, you're in good company. While Japanese is a fairly normal language to learn nowadays, classes aren't readily available or convenient everywhere and for everyone, so many people learn through less traditional methods for at least some part of their journey.
This page focuses on how to use the Beginning Lessons as an independent course of study. If you do happen to go to a school that has a Japanese program, or if you have a community college nearby, by all means take advantage of it. The experience of having a teacher to ask for help in person and fellow students to practice with is just as important as the information you'll get from the class.
The amount of material covered is equivalent to about one semester of college level study at 5 credit hours, which is theoretically 5 hours of class + 10 hours of additional study time each week, for a total of 15 weeks. This adds up to 225 theoretical hours of study, though you should take this exact number with a grain of salt. At more of a high-school like pace, you would probably stretch the content over roughly 30 weeks.
Feel free to tackle the course at whatever pace you think you can handle. To avoid burnout, I would recommend that you set a relatively attainable minimum amount of weekly study time, and put in extra hours when you have the time and motivation. Remember that learning a second language takes a lot of work, but the result is a useful skill that will allow you to connect with other language learners and native speakers alike.
Recommended Course Of Study
The following chart is a rough outline of how you would cover the Beginning Lessons from start to finish. Each "step" should take about the same amount of time to complete.
|1||The Preliminaries, Basic Expressions||Basic grammar, politeness, expressions||Read up to "Pitch Accent and Vowel Devoicing", learn Hiragana|
|2||Part 1: Nouns and Adjectives||Wa and Desu, nouns, questions, negation, numbers||Practice using Hiragana, Kanji Lesson 0-1 (numbers)|
|3||cont.||cont.||Kanji Lesson 0-2 (Kanji from pictures)|
|4||cont.||Adjectives, compound sentences||"Katakana and Borrowed Words", learn Katakana|
|5||Part 2: Verbs and Conjugation||Masu form, using verbs||Practice using Katakana|
|6||cont.||Conjugations of masu form, past tense||Kanji Lesson 0-3 (days of the week)|
|7||cont.||Te form, commands and connectives||Kanji Lesson 0-4 (Kanji for dates and time)|
This curriculum may be adjusted as I get feedback from readers.
Note: as of the time of writing, the Beginning Lesson and the accompanying Kanji lessons are still being written.
Textbooks and Practice Materials
These lessons are best used alongside an actual textbook or other learning materials. This is simply because there's more to learning a language than reading about it on the web – you have to use it too. You can find all the information you need here and elsewhere on the internet, but there are some extremely useful things that only a textbook has:
- Example conversations (ideally both printed and recorded)
- Practice readings (ideally with translations)
- Grammar and writing drills (ideallywith an answer key)
Not every textbook adequately meets these needs, but nowadays it's not difficult to find high quality, reasonably priced textbooks and other resources for beginning and intermediate Japanese learners, especially from online retailers. Also thanks to the internet, it's no longer difficult to find a conversation partner either.
You would do well, however, to avoid products with names like "Learn Japanese in Just X Minutes a Day!", as well as things like:
- Japanese for Dummies, which is incredibly dumbed down and misleading
- Rosetta Stone, because cognitive science says that no, you can't learn a second language the way you learned your first language as a baby; your brain isn't wired that way any more! (not to mention that the series is atrociously overpriced)
What you want is the following:
- A decent textbook (described above)
- Additional audio materials (a CD audio course, podcasts, anime…anything)
- A J-E/E-J dictionary (somewhat optional, thanks to jisho.org)
- A free flashcard program (by far the fastest way to memorize vocabulary)
- And ideally, both native speakers and learners near your level to talk to (possibly online)
A list of recommended resources for beginners is in the works, but in the meantime you should check out the links section to see some of the stuff I've found on the web.