Author: J.J.

Three Tricks to Keep You on Track to Mastering Japanese

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step"

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

Unless you really enjoy studying, it is hard to study for long hours at a time. I remember in university, even when a big exam was coming up, I couldn’t keep my head in a book for more than a couple hours before fatigue and boredom set in. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I am not a book studying person. I’m an engineer, a computer programmer. I learn by doing. I learn by jumping feet first into a task and then learning by making mistakes.

When it comes to languages, whether they be computer or human, everything follows a certain structure. If you can grasp the structure and flow of the language it then becomes a practice of putting the right words in the right places. But when learning we reach plateaus, slumps, and stopping points where it just seems like we cannot improve. Well, to be honest, that is where you have two options: step away or double down. And if you have a deadline like the JLPTs, university exam, or Japanese interview, stepping away is not an option. Here are some ways to catapult your Japanese comprehension.

Don’t Study Using Romaji

Don’t. Don’t, don’t, don’t. This is the biggest crutch, which bogs down beginners, and it slows the process from intermediate to advanced students. Romaji is where Japanese is written using roman characters, also known as the alphabet. Schools use it as a way to get students right into the grammar and the structure of Japanese. For many the thought process of translating Japanese looks like this:

4 steps to translate Japanese to English if using romaji

Japanese sentence (Kanji + Hiragana) -> All Hiragana (Japanese phonetics) -> Romaji (Roman character phonetics)-> English

Why romaji is detrimental is that, this adds an extra layer for the brain to work through when translating. Romaji is never used in everyday life and serves only for phonetic purposes, like the “all hiragana” step. Cut out the middleman from the start and you will improve your learning and reading speed. Eventually, through practice and memorization, the pronunciation of Japanese Kanji will become second nature and both middlemen will be unnecessary.

The best way to do this is to learn the basic hiragana and katakana characters that make up the language at the very beginning of your language quest. Make flash cards that probably will have the romaji on the back. But once you learn the basic pronunciation, that is the last you will ever see of romaji.


Model building is a popular hobby in Japan, especially Gundams!

Model building is a popular hobby in Japan,
especially Gundams!

Now, especially if you are not living in Japan, this might be hard. But what this means is that all the media you consume – social media, television, music, and games – should be in Japanese. Once you get home from school or work, your free time becomes a learning game. Try to enjoy all your hobbies in Japanese. If you like playing the guitar, learn a Japanese song from a Japanese person on YouTube. If you like dressing up for conventions (cosplay) there are many tutorials and videos on the Internet.

Things like cooking, drawing, building models, martial arts, travel, and even coding are all hobbies that Japanese people also enjoy, so you can find videos and blog posts all in Japanese. The goal of this is exposure. By being exposed to a language you are becoming familiar and re-enforce things you have learned while enjoying your hobbies at the same time.

Write Down and Translate Everything

Writing things out is another tool for re-enforcing what you’ve learned. But not like Bart Simpson and his detention chalkboard writing, but translating.


Translating forces you to think about grammar and how sentences are structured. The best practice is to grab a manga or light novel, maybe a pamphlet you saved from your last trip to Japan and write out the most accurate translation, a raw translation. While the raw translation might sound funny, the next step is to make that translation sound like your native language. Being able to keep all the important elements of a paragraph through translation is a skill, and one that takes a good deal of practice. But in the end you will learn a good deal about Japanese sentence structure and how subjects, objects, verbs, and particles interconnect with each other.

Try not to get lost in your learnings, but you will get lost in Tokyo!

Try not to get lost in your learnings,
but you will get lost in Tokyo!

Much like other skills and talents, learning a language is a constant process. If you stop dedicating time and effort then that skill will become victim to atrophy. What’s more is that each and every person is different, therefore the best environment and strategy for learning varies from person to person. These three tips are great because they re-enforce the basic principles of second language acquisition. These tricks might not work as well for you as they did me. But give them a shot and maybe you will find yourself busting through your language learning plateaus!

By J.J.
Software Engineer and Blogger at TalentHub
Usually coding, writing, or exploring Japan.

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