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.
(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).
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.