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Tips for Learning Japanese Without a Textbook

I think that learning should be fun. Because the more fun you have while learning the better your progress will be and the easier it is to keep up your motivation. As for learning Japanese and languages in general at the beginning you probably will need a textbook or similar material but after you mastered the basics there are a lot of ways you can continue your Japanese studies that are more entertaining than a textbook dialogue between Mr. Tanaka and Ms. Suzuki.

Watching Japanese TV or VODs

Doraemon might a good start into watching Japanese TV

I found watching Japanese TV very helpful for improving my listening skills. When watching TV or VODs in Japanese I would recommend watching them with Japanese subtitles. This way you can read while listening to the spoken words, which improves the percentage of what you understand and helps your brain to link the pronunciation with the Japanese characters. In other languages, the subtitles sometimes differ from the words that are spoken because of the character limit for subtitles. In Japanese however most of the time the subtitles are the same.

Watching Japanese TV might be difficult when you are not in Japan but nowadays you can easily get access to Japanese streaming services via VPN. If you already have a Netflix account, you only need a VPN service to enjoy a ton of Japanese Anime and drama series.

You might want to start with series aimed at children first and build your skills from there.

Blogging in Japanese

Photo by すしぱく on Pakutaso.

What I found helpful for practicing written Japanese was writing a blog in Japanese. In the beginning, your texts will probably be quite simple and rather short, but what matters is that you practice expressing yourself with the words and phrases you already know.

By commenting on other people’s blogs or receiving comments on your blog you can also practice communicating in written Japanese.

And if you don’t feel like writing a whole blog post, why not start with a Twitter account in Japanese?

Making Japanese Friends

Photo by カズキヒロ on Pakutaso

Making Japanese friends is one of the best ways to practice speaking skills. But depending on where you live that might not be an easy task. When I still lived in Germany, I had several Japanese tandem partners, but I hardly ever met them because they were so busy. Also, with tandem partners, a lot of the time the only common interest is the language learning aspect.

Nowadays you can easily find people with similar interests online. So why not try to find Japanese friends with similar interests? Blogging about something you enjoy in Japanese can be the first step in this direction.

With someone you met online, it usually is more difficult to meet them in person but with so many options for voice and video chatting, we have available today you don’t actually need to meet in person to practice talking in Japanese.

Reading Books in Japanese

How about reading Harry Potter in Japanese?

We also need ways to practice reading right? Reading books is probably the obvious way. In the beginning you might want to start with something you already read in your mother tongue. If you already know what is going on it helps you understanding unknown words just from the context.

Manga are also a good way to get into reading in Japanese. A lot of manga have Furigana for the Kanji and knowing the reading makes it easier to look up Kanji. Also, manga mostly consist of dialogue which is easier to understand than written language. 

On your next trip to Japan make sure to check out second-hand bookstores for some nice bargains. In the meantime, you can also look into e-book versions.

Playing Video Games in Japanese

You don’t need the Japanese version of these games to play them in Japanese

A few years ago, you had to import the Japanese versions of a video game if you did not want to wait for the release in your country. Nowadays most games have a global release so that is not necessary anymore. Nevertheless, playing video games in Japanese can be a fun way to practice reading and listening skills. If you own a Nintendo Switch just change the language of the Switch menu to Japanese. Now all games that have Japanese language support will be in Japanese. Most of the Nintendo Games for the Switch are international version and the Japanese language is included no matter which country you bought the game.

For the beginning, I would recommend games like Pokémon or Animal Crossing as they don’t use a lot of Kanji and don’t talk about complex topics.

I hope I could provide some useful hints for your Japanese study journey.

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