January 23

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How to Learn Japanese Without a Teacher: Going It Alone

By Jake Hallows

January 23, 2021


As anyone who has learnt Japanese can tell you, it’s not easy. It can be even tougher if you choose to do so without the help of a teacher. Of course, that’s not to say it’s impossible. Plenty of people have done it, myself included. But how should you go about learning Japanese without a teacher?

One of the most important jobs that a teacher has is to ensure that you develop a well-rounded knowledge of Japanese. That means developing each of your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills. When studying alone, it can be much harder to practice certain elements of the language, potentially leaving you with glaring holes in your ability.

In this post, I’ll be showing you several ways to practice the different elements of Japanese without the help of a teacher.  

Kanji

Learning kanji is something that is mostly done alone. A teacher might tell you which kanji to learn next or provide you with examples of it in use, but you’re the one who has to learn them. As such, learning kanji alone isn’t all that different than with a teacher.

However, there are some apps that play the role of the teacher if you want that help. My personal recommendation for this would be WaniKani. It uses mnemonics to teach kanji, and will eventually teach you 2000 different characters!

If you’re comfortable learning kanji by yourself and simply need a way to practice, I would recommend using flashcards. I use Anki as I find digital flashcards easier to make, and I can use them on the go.

WaniKani is super handy and free to try!

Grammar

Grammar can be a pain to learn by yourself. Whilst learning a new rule or pattern isn’t necessarily difficult, not having a teacher to check your understanding with can lead to mistakes. Thankfully there are resources out there to help. I recommend using a textbook in combination with online resources.

Textbooks are great for learning about grammar rules, but their explanations aren’t great in my experience. As such, once I understand the gist of a certain piece of grammar, I go online for a more detailed explanation. I personally like the website JGram for this, but any popular Japanese grammar website should do the trick.

I also recommend trying YouTube too. Recently there has been an influx of new Japanese YouTubers creating grammar videos which are really detailed. Just search for the grammar point followed by 文法 (Bunpou – Grammar)!

YouTube has a huge variety of learning material available – Check it out!

Reading

Practicing Japanese reading by yourself is easy. Simply pick up a book or load up a Japanese website and start reading. What’s less easy is finding the correct level of reading material for you.

It might take you a little while, but I recommend trying a variety of websites until you find one where you understand at least 70% of the content. Any less than that and you’ll spend more time looking at a dictionary than actually reading.

Of course, the higher your Japanese level, the more resources will be available to you. Some good sites to try out for the more inexperienced are beginner-friendly news sites like NHK News Web Easy and Nippon Talk. They use furigana so are a lot easier to work your way through. If you prefer a paper option, getting yourself a graded reader is the way to go.

NipponTalk has the English written below the Japanese so you can check your comprehension!

Writing and composition

When it comes to practicing writing kanji, doing so alone isn’t a problem. Provided you are learning stroke order properly, writing practice is similar to kanji in that it is simply repetition. As for learning stroke order, there are many websites out there that teach the general rules, and online dictionaries such as Jisho generally show the stroke order for kanji too.

The more difficult part of writing is composition. In other words, creating sentences. The main issue is finding a way to check if your work has been written correctly. As this generally requires a Japanese speaker’s assistance, it can prove problematic.

My personal solution was to post on language learning apps and ask for native speakers to correct me. Another option would be to do a similar thing but in a Japanese language-learning forum. There is also the option of finding a pen-pal too. There are various pen-pal exchange websites out there that are worth a look.

Sites like Global Pen Friends allow you to search for a pen pal in a similar age range!

Speaking and listening

Without a doubt, having no teacher will affect your speaking and listening skills more than anything else. Unless you’re lucky enough to have Japanese friends, you probably won’t have any opportunities to use Japanese in daily life, which can affect both your Japanese ability and your motivation.

I recommend trying to make friends or find a language partner via a language exchange app, such as HelloTalk. Doing so gives you the opportunity to practice both speaking and listening, as well as meet someone going through the same language struggles as you. If things go right, you can end up making a friend for life!

There are alternative methods for those who prefer to practice by themselves too. Recording yourself speaking Japanese can help work on your speaking skills, whilst there’s a lot of ways to practice listening. My chosen method is to watch Japanese shows on Netflix without subtitles, then re-watch it with them. That way I can be sure that I understood the scene properly, and see what I misunderstood. The same method works with any Japanese content that has subtitles, such as YouTube videos.

No teacher? No problem!

Learning Japanese without a teacher might seem daunting, but it’s absolutely doable! It might take you a little longer to find a good routine, but once you do things will start to click into place. Best of luck!

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