Updated: Aug 24, 2020
I'm going to break down a very effective way to learn Japanese w/o a teacher and to save a lot of money. Some things I wish I did when I was younger and I regret now because of the inferior thinking of the group I was in before. "taking shortcuts" and not drilling as hard as I could have. Crippled me in learning as efficiently as I could have.
First off I'm going to tell you my mistakes and then I will give you a very thorough guide to study effectively.
1. I didn't study very hard in writing.
Not studying hard in writing was my biggest regret because I was very focused on speaking and reading rather than writing. We live an a era were we really didn't need to do a lot of writing. I thought I was smart at the time and I would only do like the bare minimum. You know for signing maybe a contract or signing a document. I would never do any real writing and because of that I can't recall characters as easily as I could have if I just practiced more. It's very strange I can read a lot of characters but I cant write as how much I know. It's quite embarrassing. But I regret it to this day therefore I really put a lot of time doing a lot of writing.
2. I didn't qualify who I was learning from
Now when I say this I do not mean I just talked to anyone. I actually spoke with Japanese people at language exchanges. This is really good practice but Japanese people are not teachers. I was speaking to various different types of people. But there were some people who did't like their country, was terrible at Japanese in school, and they had a bad understanding of Japanese. Which was really problematic. Not every Japanese person was like this but there were a few times. That I would sometime receive the wrong information about kanji and some origins of some places that I was interested in. Not everyone is going to be excited about Japanese as much as you nor really care if what their saying is true or not. My advice to you find the serious learner trying to learn English and always checks if they are correct or not. Build a relationship with that person this will be super beneficial for you. It's almost like an accountability partner but with Japanese\English.
3. Read more like a lot MORE
To some people or to the average person I'd say I read quite a bit. I reached a level in Japanese that I would watch reverse subtitles in Japanese. Then any word I didn't know it would be on the screen and I'd check my dictionary what it was. Even thou this was a effective way to learn Japanese. I was only watching stuff that was purely just words I might never use. Being able to say tons of ways someone should die. Really isn't helpful, cool but not helpful. Anyway read stuff that you are interested in and mine the words that you don't know. Also understand what area of words you want to learn. Maybe you should learn medical terms, Law terms, Anatomy, pick what you are lacking in and mine those words.
Now that I got that out the way I'm going to tell you my story via video then a breakdown.
When you are starting to learn a language get a starter book some people use Pimsleur some people use living language. I'm very bias for living language because I went that route but it was the right choice for me.
Here's the book I used even thou it's all old we had some good memories.
You are going to need to really take the time out of your day and get the foundation correct for Japanese.
I made a review on it click here.
When I was 16 years old I had this one rule studying anything.
Always invest an hours worth a day.
An hours worth of studying is not gonna kill you. within these starter books they will come with audio cd's. Don't do like 3 lessons a day that is too much to do and pointless.
Be patient do one lesson a day for 1hr straight. Just read over the instructions and the culture notes they usually have to advise you. Then repeat exactly everything back like they say over and over again. You may think you sound funny or whatever. But trust me drop the goddamn ego. Think about it Japanese people say the same thing over and over again to communicate on a daily basis just like you do in English. You've only repeated the words maybe a few times and felt embarrassed. A Japanese person has done it countless times and it sounds natural as it should and it will for you. You just need to focus continue doing this until looking at the words or hearing it would be common sense to know. Once you reach that state of awareness move on to the next lesson. DO NOT MOVE ON UNTIL YOU GET IT. I can not stress this enough, remember these are the building blocks to having a sturdy foundation in Japanese. Also find media that you are already interested in and watch it in English subtitles. Mimic the speakers in the media you are watching and eventually you'll develop your type of speaking. This will definitely separate you from the rest and make you very unique and interesting. I used to copy Nagase Tomoya I really loved how he spoke and soon enough I gained my own type of speaking.
Before you meet Japanese people get this right. I know you feel really good you studied a few words but if you really want to not get confused. Speaking with Japanese people or being mislead with other language learners get the foundation down right.
This is how I started.
What you should do is practice speaking and hearing your own voice. Join a group record yourself speaking and upload it to that group. That way people will critique you and you can actively search if they were correct or not on their judgement about your words.
Alright after doing all that and you have pretty strong foundation go to a Japanese exchange or go on a site like iTalki to talk with a Japanese native. Now the purpose of this is to not just gain information on new vocabulary, culture etc. but to redefine and strengthen your believe on what you know. We all need to do this no matter what level you are in Japanese.
Now that you've done enough and got the basics out the way. It's time to write a lot like a lot a lot.
You need to get a Japanese learning dictionary I made a review on one that has the stroke order and definitions. click here
What you want to do is pick 2 kanji you want to learn how to write and go exactly by the stroke order and write 2 pages worth.
Do this everyday no exceptions you should be doing at least 2 pages worth a day.
now if one sheet of paper has 26 lines do half and half.
For example you do one of the meanings of the characters referenced with the kanji you want to learn. but you do 13 lines worth of writing out that meaning until you reach the other half of 13 in hiragana or katakana. Then the rest in kanji this way you sharpen your writing skills getting everything included. The more you write the more easier it will be to recall characters and remember more clearly. This is the very thing I regret not working hard on. Please do this write. In just a few years this will be a massive asset. I know it suck's to write but understand its very necessary just to remember.
Edit: one book I forgot to mention that will really improve your cognitive thinking recalling kanji and remembering them with better if not more then even Japanese people (depending on your effort of course) is this amazing book.
I don't care what anyone says you have this book and really pay attention into attaching stories to the kanji and do flashcards you will excel very quickly in recalling kanji. There are 3 series for this book but if you have over 2000 from the Jouyou Kanji and the link that I provided in this post to study with. You should be able to get through this book in 6 weeks apparently and know over 2000 Kanji. Now this is powerful stuff here. The other books are advance level if you wish to continue.
I'm still on the series and I feel like I'm unlocking all the years of Kanji I learned when I was younger.
Basically me right now.
Here's a link to the book.
If you are still on thinking about if this book is right for you watch this video.
The next that is useful to do is buy a grammar book. The stuff you learned in the starter book surprisingly enough if you got the foundation right has a good amount of what you already know.
I'm going to link a bunch of books that will basically be your bible for the next few years.
There are 3 major books that will put you very far in Japanese produced from The Japan Times. They may seem expensive but bare with me take your time and be thorough studying them one by one.
Just like I said before in the starter one do each grammar segment once a day. Also any words you see and you don't know go on https://jisho.org and search for them. After you do that use a site called Anki or one of those flashcards and take the meaning and the word. Study them for 1 hr a day. This is very powerful stuff. There used to be an old site called speedanki that I used to use when I was younger I didn't really have Anki or any other flash cards but this was like free at the time. It was scaled from N5 to N1 according to the JLPT test (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) incredibly helpful but no longer around. But fear not I found a another free one made for Jouyou 1984 everyday used Kanji click here for that post.
What you want to do with flash card programs is fish as many words that you don't know doing your course books/grammar books because these sentences they are teaching you are based of often used words and technical practical words.
Now that's it that's how you do it. I know this was pretty long but trust me you just saved years of work if you take this seriously.
If you have a specific topic or problem you are interested in me covering just leave a comment below or email me firstname.lastname@example.org more than happy to.
Thanks for reading!