learning about japanese 2019

links and tips

the japanese language education center once posted an average of 2000 study hours needed to pass the jlpt n2 language proficiency test. by this estimate, if studying two hours every day it would take about three years

favorite links

study guide

level 1 - kana, fundamental grammar

  • start and finish human japanese
  • associate character and pronounciation for hiragana and katakana
  • write from memory all kana characters in gojoun order. you are able to do the equivalent in your native language with ease and you should be able to do it in japanese, too. blank paper excercise books and a fudepen can be used
  • start human japanese anki deck. the meaning->sound+kana cards contain all information and should really be enough, delete the other card types via "desktop anki -> tools -> manage note types -> cards... -> select card type -> options -> remove card type...". it takes quite a while to get through this ~2000 card deck even with the extra cards removed
  • start to associate kanji to a single meaning word using kanji-deck in anki. this will teach you to distinguish, recognise and to memorise kanji. the characters are ordered by stroke count, which is a natural order where parts come before compounds. the meanings in the set are usually on point. the sooner you have memorised this deck the better. when you learn new words, they usually consist of two kanji or more. with the knowledge from this deck, you can learn new words with ease because you wont have to learn the kanji at the same time

level 2 - grammar, kanji, vocabulary

  • start and finish human japanese intermediate
  • work throuh jlpt 5 exercises on jtest4you
  • write down things you think translated to japanese or translate phrases from your native language
  • collect words you want to know and keep adding them to a custom anki deck "collected". learn them while you still remember the context and pace yourself to not be overwhelmed
  • find texts you want to understand, collect all words you do not know, learn those words until you can understand the text, proceed to the next text

level 3 - vocabulary, grammar, handwriting

  • should be able to pass jlpt5
  • work through jlpt exercises on jtest4you
  • listening practice with satori reader. come back to stories until you can fully understand them
  • install a japanese input method (linux, android)
  • write small essays regularly
  • create an anki deck for writing practice. on the front of cards pronounciation in romaji and word meaning (shown only on mouseover/tap perhaps), on the back the kanji. you have to write down the kanji/kana word from memory to succeed and see if your result matches the back of the card
  • always look up words and grammar you dont know
  • optional: write down words you know ordered by initial
  • optional: human japanese intermediate anki deck. again delete the sound->meaning card type. the written-form->meaning card type might now be more important because of kanji. the deck has almost 7000 cards
  • optional: core 2000 anki deck
  • optional: dictionary of basic japanese grammar for an interesting read


  • you can make dictionary lookups in the browser by entering "ja something" after you create a bookmark with the address "https://jisho.org/search/%s %23words" and keyword "ja"

more links


  • kana are about 142 characters in two sets that can represent the pronounciation of all words in the japanese language. kana are used as suffixes to kanji for conjugation and particles, and sometimes prefixes
  • both hiragana and katakana are in common use. some words use the one and some the other character set. loan words are usually written in katakana (and there are many) and in dictionaries, some types of kanji readings are given usually in katakana
  • small character variants: small tsu is silent and like a double consonant, other small characters are combined with the previous one to form a new one
  • romaji is japanese written with latin characters. there are mulitple systems: hepburn (most common, corresponds more to pronounciation) and kunrei (only two latin characters per kana). both have ambiguities
  • each character has an associated stroke order that describes in what order the parts of a character is to be written which is important for handwriting to make it look right and recognisable
  • character similarities

    • hiragana: さき, さちら, けはほに, たにこい, たな, ほま, あおぬめ, われね, ろるそ, とっう
    • katakana: ユコ, ソンツシ, モチテ, マム, リル, ワウフヲラ, クケヌタ, メナ
    • hiragana/katakana: へヘ, かカ, やヤ, サせセ, うラ, とヒ
  • stroke direction: ソ first stroke low then top to bottom, ン first stroke high then bottom to top, シ first two strokes downwards then bottom to top, ツ first two strokes upwards then top to bottom
  • every syllable is roughly to be spoken with the same duration or beat
  • the duration that characters are spoken with is increased by appending vowels. vowel duration is doubled by repeating the same vowel (あ -> ああ). consonant syllables are lengthened with the vowel they are ending with, except for o and e, which are lengthened with u and i to produce combinations like kou/こう and kei/けい
  • kana i found difficult to write: ふそあかやれい


the most common character order is called gojūon (五十音) and goes like this: aiueokstnhmyrwn, were the consonants are to be substitute with the corresponding syllables in vowel order, for example kakikukeko. to remember it, i pronounce ordered syllables as a fictional name: kasatana hamaya rawan. characters modified with dakuten and handakuten, for example べ and ぺ, directly follow their unmodified variant in this order. the consonant order with modified characters is kgsztdnhbpmyrw

the 142 commonly used kana

あいうえおかがきぎくぐけげこごさざしじすずせぜそぞただちぢつづてでとどなにぬねのはばぱひびぴふぶぷへべぺほぼぽまみむめもやゆよらりるれろわをん アイウエオカガキギクグケゲコゴサザシジスズセゼソゾタダチヂツヅテデトドナニヌネノハバパヒビピフブプヘベペホボポマミムメモヤユヨラリルレロワヲン

without modifiers

あいうえおかきくけこさしすせそたちつてとなにぬねのはひふへほまみむめもやゆよらりるれろわをん アイウエオカキクケコサシスセソタチツテトナニヌネノハヒフヘホマミムメモヤユヨラリルレロワヲン

kanji (漢字)

  • jouyou kanji (常用漢字) is an official list of about 2130 kanji that are commonly used. in some contexts like official documents and newspapers, texts are limited to these characters
  • most japanese words use kanji
  • kanji are not each completely separate drawings but share 200-300 components. knowing the components makes most kanji recognisable as a combination. the components also often act as classifiers, for example the grass component is associated with words about vegetation. this should make it easier to recognise, write (you know how to write each radical), learn (grass, field, beast -> cat) and look up kanji in the dictionary. it is not always easy to recognise the components used and there are variations in how exactly they are integrated into a kanji. knowing the components is useful for recognition but wont help much for meaning. after learning many kanji you start to see the ever repeating patterns which makes things easier.
  • the reading or actual pronounciation of kanji appears in the context of words. kanji can have different readings in different words. dictionaries usually show a list of readings of kanji but i have found that the readings often arent actually used at all in the words im interested in, so i ignored the standard readings and focused on the reading of words, which is probably the best starting strategy anyway
  • kanji have an associated stroke order
  • kanji can be looked up in dictionaries by component, stroke count, hiragana pronounciation or by topic
  • some similar looking kanji: 又夂攵夕久具首頁真壬禾夫未矢牛午几兀元示
  • you can not see the pronounciation from words with kanji. you can only guess the pronounciation if you know the pronounciation of the kanji from other words, but the guess might be completely wrong
  • many kanji share the same pronounciation in words. kanji have different pronounciations in different words. when japanese people are asked to read a series of random kanji, they try to choose a pronounciation for each kanji as if it were phonetic letters
  • pronounciation is the key - writing speaking and kanji words follows from that. japanese people usually learn to speak before they learn how to read and write. if you try to learn new vocabulary, reading and writing at the same time, this would likely be overwhelming




  • ichidan: "one base", have suffix iru or eru, with a few exceptions that have the suffix but arent ichidan
  • godan: "five bases", suffix u
  • irregular: small number (< 10) of words that conjugate differently

verb stem

formal present: remove masu


the "->" stands for "replaced with". replaced are suffixes.

  • present

    • godan: u -> imasu
    • ichidan: ru -> imasu
  • present negative: present: masu -> masen
  • past

    • godan: u -> imashita
    • ichidan: ru -> mashita
    • irregular: kuru kimashita, suru shimashita, and others
  • past negative: present negative: masen -> masen deshita


  • present: dictionary form
  • present negative

    • godan

      • u -> anai
      • {vowel}u -> wanai
    • ichidan: ru -> nai
    • irregular: kuru konai, suru shinai
  • past

    • godan

      • nu/bu/mu -> nda
      • u/tsu/ru -> tta
      • ku -> ita
      • gu -> ida
      • su -> shita
    • ichidan: ru -> ta
    • irregular: kuru kita, suru shita
  • past negative: present negative: nai -> nakatta
  • te-form: informal past: ta -> te, da -> de

want-to form with tai

  • verb-stem + tai


both classes can precede noun to modify the noun


  • i-adjective: i suffix, never ei

    • can conjugate and function like verb, also called verbial adjective
  • na-adjective: na suffix

i-adjective declension


  • negative: i -> kunai
  • past: i -> katta
  • past negative: i -> kunakatta

how to make your own anki deck

import from csv

  • prepare them in a spreadsheet. one column per field
  • export to comma separated values / csv file
  • ensure that in anki a card with the right number/type of fields exists
  • in anki go to file -> import, choose the target deck and map fields
  • first field is the question, other fields are the answer
  • edit the card template to have the fields and layout you want

export apkg deck file

  • go to browse
  • select the deck in the tree left
  • this file can be imported in anki on desktop or android and shared

add/remove available fields

  • browse -> select deck in tree -> fields... button
  • fields can be deleted from all cards if no card or all cards are selected

edit the card template

  • browse -> select deck in tree -> cards... button
  • templates use html and css

the 2136 jouyou kanji as of 2010