Quick Guide For Self-Study

Here I detail a few resources that may be helpful for people interested in self-study. I will first go through some general resources and then give resources appropriate to people at a certain level.

General Resources

(1) Dictionary – Well, this one is obvious. I suggest www.tangorin.com. It is a very well-designed, clear site.

(2) Example Search – For when you want to look up specific sentence examples. For example, if you wanted to know how to say “If I were you,” then you would type that into the example search and it would give you a bunch of sentences to use. I suggest jisho.org’s example search. Tangorin’s example search used to be great, but certain site changes made it a bit less useful over the past few months.

(3) Grammar Guide – Some guide that will just list a lot of grammar rules for you. I used Japanese: A Comprehensive Grammar by Kaiser et. al. It’s a very good book that is concise in its explanations and offers a huge number of examples.

(4) Browser Japanese-English Plugin – A plugin that will translate Japanese on screen to English for you if you hover your cursor over it. Chrome comes with this function. Firefox users should go download Perapera-kun. Internet Explorer users should get their heads out of their asses and stop using Internet Explorer.

(5) Japanese Keyboard Input Functionality – The ability to write in Japanese on your computer will, of course, be important. Windows users should use the Microsoft IME. I’m sure Mac users have something similar that they can figure out.

Now we go through the specific resources for people at different levels. Keep in mind that just because something is filed under stage 1, it doesn’t mean you can’t use it during stage 2 or 3.

Stage 1 Resources

Stage 1 students know almost no Japanese, and lack even a basic grasp of grammar. This is where everyone starts.

(1) Introductory Textbook – It is important to start with a textbook so you don’t get confused by slang. This is something I will make more mention of in my Japanese lecture series, as slang is important to recognize and if you do not you will sound like an idiot when you speak to other Japanese people. My suggestion is Nakama I and II, which was the book used by my college’s intro Japanese course (which I didn’t take, but I have the book nonetheless).

(2) Japanese News Site – News is great in that it’s all written in proper Japanese and you won’t get slang. I suggest Asahi Shinbun for beginners, as it is comes with an English version. Hooray!

Stage 2 Resources

Stage 2 students have a solid grasp of basic Japanese grammar, know hiragana and katakana, and perhaps ~100 kanji.

(1) Shounen/shoujo manga – Good for beginners since you technically need no kanji to read these – all kanji comes with phonetic hirgana or katakana written next to it (called furigana). You will also know enough grammar and polite language to not get fooled by slang.

The focus in Stage 2 is to increase kanji and grammar knowledge through manga.

Stage 3 Resources

Stage 3 students have a good grasp of Japanese grammar, and know more than 500 kanji (and at least all of the basic ones).

(1) Seinen/Josei Manga – Here the training wheels come off, and you will be exposed to bare kanji. This is nothing more than an extension of Stage 2.

(2) Anime – You will not be able to understand everything, but you should be able to pick up on basic things. This is the time when anime starts actually being useful for learning Japanese. PROTIP: Watch anime with delayed subtitles – VLC player allows you to do this with softsubs, and this will force you to listen to the Japanese before having the option of falling back on the subtitles.

The goal in Stage 3 is to increase language fluency and continue to increase your kanji and vocabulary.

Stage 4 Resources

Stage 4 students have a semi-fluent grasp of Japanese grammar, and know more than 1000 kanji.

(1) Visual Novels – The great thing about visual novels is that you will listen to Japanese but also can read the lines in Japanese while they are being voiced. Thus, this is like watching anime with Japanese subtitles, and there is no other resource that allows you to do this as Visual Novels.

The goal in Stage 4 is to finish learning all the common kanji and vocabulary and arrive at a semi-fluent state.

Stage 5 Resources

Stage 5 students have a semi-fluent grasp of Japanese grammar, and know upwards of 1500 kanji.

(1) Light Novels and Novels – Self-explanatory.

(2) Everything else (anime, VNs, other manga, newspapers)

This is the cleanup phase. At this point you know what to do, and you’re just learning the things you don’t know.


13 thoughts on “Quick Guide For Self-Study

  1. Wow, I’ve never seen so many polar opposite reviews as for those Nakama 1 & 2 books, don’t know what to think, but it sensei learned with them they can’t be that bad, no?

    • They are good to start you off. You won’t learn much from them. But you will learn enough to not get tricked by slang and whatnot. The bulk of study should still be through actual material like manga or online news articles. You just need to build a foundation to be able to use those materials properly. And Nakama gets the job done fairly quickly.

      • They had them in my university’s library, so I borrowed volume 1 for now.
        Let’s see if it can clear up when to use “wa” and when to use “ga”, I have a feeling, but none of my materials explained it so far.

        • Ah also, any shounen mangas are fine?
          Would ones I already read in english be preferred, since I could take a guess at words I don’t know, since I already know the story, or should I get ones I’m completely unfamiliar with?
          I’m tempted to order japanese copies of Yotsuba &! since I never get tired of re-reading it and already have the english versions as far es they are released.

          • I dunno, anything is fine really… it’s going to be really slow going at first but that’s to be expected. I actually think my first one was Ika Musume -_-. But I knew enough at that point to know that degeso is not proper Japanese.

            I would be careful with Yotsuba – it’s a fun read but Yotsuba makes grammar mistakes all the time since she’s… well… like 6 or something.

        • Yeah, I don’t think Nakama is going to give you a very satisfying answer for wa/ga. If you ask me, the key difference is that wa “detaches” what it modifies from the sentence. For example,


          The second is clearly “I am a student.” The first one would in most cases translated the same way, but a more literal, faithful translation would be “As for me, I am a student.” The subject has been subordinated and detached from the rest of the sentence.

          This has two effects:

          (1) “wa” shifts emphasis onto the predicate, while “ga” shifts emphasis onto the subject. In the sentence “As for me, I am a student,” the separation of the subject from the predicate means that our focus is shifted towards the predicate (am a student) rather than the subject (I am).

          (2) A more striking distinction is that “wa” can be used to mark things that are NOT subjects, which is why calling it a “subject marker” might be misleading. For example, take the two sentences:


          The latter sentence is nonsensical – “meal” is the subject and it would translate to something like. “The meal has already eaten.”

          The former sentence, however, is legal. “As for the meal, I already ate it.” By separating the “meal” from the rest of the sentence, even if it is meant as a direct object, it still makes sense. Of course, this sounds heavy-handed in English, so the former sentence is usually just translated to “I already ate.”

          I haven’t seen any book anywhere explain it like this, but this is the explanation that makes the most sense to me.

          • Thanks for your explanation, that kinda went into the direction I guessed in.
            My guess was that “ga” is only used to mark the subject, but “wa” can be used to mark the “topic” of a sentence.

  2. Turns out my library only had the book, not the included materials and the homepage linked in the book for the visual/audio material that’s supposed to be included no longer exists, even though the book is only 2 years old, bummer. :/

  3. It surprises me how much faster I can learn a language if I just learn by myself.
    I think I learned japanese worth about 1-1.5 years of school french/english in 2 months.
    I’m about 40% through nakama 1 in just 2 weeks, while maintening a solid rate of 8 kanji a day (my walls are full of post-its, organized in a manner that makes sense to me) while also enhancing my grammar. Having a slightly hard time in deciding when to put in those grammar phases, but I can manage.

    Big question I have though:
    When you see a kanji you don’t know somewhere, and it doesn’t come with furigana, how do you go about finding it in a dictionary/online?
    There’s only so much I can get from context…
    There is the handwriting pad in IME, but I can’t even get it to recognize a lot of kanji which I know the stroke order for, let alone ones I don’t.

    • There’s a kanji handwriting input in microsoft word that isn’t super sensitive to stroke order. I would look it up, but basically, push F5 after inputting a hiragana but before you push enter.

      • Is there perhaps an addon for the Microsoft IME that displays the translation for the kanjis in the handwriting section if I mouseover one?
        Currently, it displays the on and kun readings, but not the translation.
        I can manage, but it would be much more convenient with translations, allowing me to skip the dictionary part.

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