It can be challenging to tackle new languages. Learning Hiragana, Katakana, and the vocabulary takes time and dedication. Learning Kanji takes a lot of time and a lot more dedication! Here are tools that I used and some others I recommend to help you get started. If you can take a Japanese language class or course that will help keep you motivated and give you an advantage. If you can dedicate some time to become self-taught, or study at home, or brush up on your Nihongo (日本語) then these should help.
I posted some progress on my learning back in the day. They might give beginners some inspiration, and you can see them here:
The first thing I recommend is listening and repeating. If you’re traveling to Japan or curious about the language I think the Pimsleur Japanese audio lessons are a great start. They helped me a lot. I only listened to “Japanese 1”. You can even try a free lesson today!
The next thing I found useful was to study Hiragana. When I went to my first Japanese lesson in Japan the book was not in English (romanized), it was in Kana, so I had no idea what was going on and the teacher straight up told me that she had no time to teach me this. I could have gone the easier route and did some private lessons but I figured I’d be more dedicated if I taught myself. By learning Hiragana the sounds started to make sense and I was able to read children books (don’t laugh! this is serious business!). Right after tackling Hiragana I went straight into Katakana. Hiragana is used for Japanese words, but Katakana is used for foreign words. To learn the characters I used “Kana Pict-o-Graphix: Mnemonics for Japanese Hiragana and Katakana”.
I also used flashcards and studied them every night before going to sleep, and occasionally throughout the day. You can make your own or buy an iPhone app, but you can also get these Kana flashcards to help you study.
To get the writing down, I bought “Let’s Learn Hiragana: First Book of Basic Japanese Writing” and for Katakana, I downloaded free worksheets I found online. Here’s the red book I purchased, and two others I recommend for learning how to write the characters.
The book that I got when I was attending class was from the “Minna no Nihongo” which is pretty hardcore. If you like to read, this is for you. The one I had didn’t come with any audio, though. I borrowed it from the small library of books offered at the local foreigners center.
Due to the lack of audio and my self-studies at home and on the go, I decided to buy the Japanese For Busy People series. The book layout is decent and comes with a CD so you’ll have audio to help you speak the language better. I bought the Kana version so I could stay away from English as much as possible when studying. For each volume, I recommend buying the workbook along with it so you can do the lessons at home.
Finally, to learn Kanji I bought the book “Kanji Pict-O-Graphix: Over 1,000 Japanese Kanji and Kana Mnemonics” because the Kana version was so useful for me. If the Kana version worked for you, this one should too.
I almost forgot something… but it’s something you need… so don’t forget to get a dictionary! Here’s a good one. When buying a dictionary it’s important that you can read it and find entries easy. A romanized one is ok, but I prefer a kana version so I can look up the words using Hiragana or Katakana and see the Kanji and English next to it. You can find a ton of learning tools from Amazon. You can also study grammar online using JGram, a wiki-style site. NHK World also offers a handful of free lessons along with tips for living in Japan.
Learning Japanese isn’t as difficult as it may seem, but I have to stress 1) Time 2) Dedication. You definitely have to put in the time or you’ll never get anywhere. Good luck!