Considered one of the most difficult languages in the world to learn, Japanese is a serious but rewarding challenge. If you’re planning on moving to Japan or just travelling, a little learning can go a long way. For those on a short-term trip, getting to grips with the two simplified alphabets (hiragana and katakana) and learning some key phrases can make travel much simpler, but for those looking to study in-depth, there’s a lot to know.  

Learn Japanese


While memorising kanji and their multiple readings may come easily to some, it can be a hurdle too far for many learners. If you plan on learning to read Japanese as well as speak it, the JLPT can provide a good framework. Luckily, there are now a whole range of options that reach beyond the traditional textbooks. From flashcard apps to podcasts, technology has opened up language-learning to visual, audio and kinesthetic learners as well as those who enjoy a good revision-exam process. 

Regardless of the preferred study technique, having an opportunity to use freshly-learned phrases makes a vast difference to progress. Enabling students to head out and use their knowledge straight away, learning from mistakes and thinking on the spot, the immersive technique has long been a popular approach. Supported by academics worldwide1, the experience of every-day use offers learning opportunities far beyond the scope of a worksheet or even an app. While living in a country won’t help you absorb a language without effort, when paired with study it can offer a chance to progress far faster. 

There are some downsides, of course - the shortened hours of traditional study may mean a little less attention to grammar, and a little more focus on chatting. The ad-lib approach to an afternoon shop may mean a few kanji are left to be memorised another day, but there are unexpected benefits too. As well as learning a local dialect, hearing new idioms or unusual words, it offers an opportunity to join a community. Moving to a city or town, or even a village - your neighbours, new friends and even local shop assistants will follow your progress, offering help and encouragement along the way. 

Holed-up in a classroom or studying on bus rides to work, motivation can be hard to keep hold of when learning a language far from its homeland. Setting goals and working alongside others can be good support, but enjoyment is a key factor. If studying abroad isn’t an option, conversation classes, subtitled tv programmes and even karaoke can help - as well as offering cultural insights too. Whichever approach you take, be sure to try out different options and combine a few - learning Japanese is definitely difficult, but it can introduce you to the country in a unique and fascinating way.

By: Lily Crossley-Baxter

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