How to build a simple Japanese study routine

Studying Japanese can be overwhelming at times. With so many different textbooks, apps, and online resources, trying to figure out what to do can quickly become a nightmare. Regardless of if you're aiming for fluency, or just doing it as a hobby, having a consistent study routine can make the mess of learning Japanese a lot more manageable, and your life a whole lot easier.

While having a study routine may sound boring and too much like school, it really doesn't need to be. I'm not asking you to spend hours meticulously planning every minute of your study time, in fact I'd actually strongly advise against it. What I would suggest you to do instead is to spend a couple of minutes creating a high level overview of the different categories of Japanese, what resources you'll use for each, and roughly how much time you'll spend. From here you'll be easily able to see at a glance where your time is going, and how it could be improved.

Having a simple plan of how you'll study each week will allow you to more easily grow the habit of regular Japanese study. Once you have spent a few weeks using a simple plan and forming the habit of regular study, you can then look at ways of changing your routine to make it better.

In the rest of this post I'll explain how I'd suggest breaking your study resources down into three main categories, and then I'll give you some example study routines using these categories.

Keeping it simple

Kana, kanji, vocabulary, grammar, reading, writing, listening, speaking, hearing, and more. There is an almost endless amount of categories and sub-categories that you could break learning Japanese down into. While it may be tempting to start off by being as detailed as possible, I'd suggest a different approach.

Instead of breaking Japanese down into a lot of smaller categories, I'd suggest only using the following three: Practicing, Learning, and Applying. These three categories will give you a lot of flexibility with how you allocate your time, while also ensuring that your study is well rounded. Remember, the goal here is to create a simple and flexible routine that will serve as a good foundation for you while you build the habit of regular study. Once you've established the habit, then you can start focusing your study on more specific areas.

A routine based on these categories is also simple enough that it can easily adapt to different time frames on the fly. If you usually study for an hour, but only have 20 minutes today, using these categories will allow you to easily ensure that you still have a well rounded study session.

Practicing

While not the most interesting part of learning a new language, practicing what you've previously learned is vital to ensure that you don't forget it. Some apps/websites such as Duolingo and Yomimono have built in ways to practice their Japanese content, or you could use a standalone program such as Anki. Anki is a very popular SRS (spaced repetition system), commonly used alongside textbooks like Genki.

You could further break practice down into reading/writing/listening/speaking, but that can come later. For now I'd just suggest choosing one or two tools that cover two or more of the above subcategories. Remember, the focus here is on keeping things simple.

When practicing Japanese, frequent small sessions are a lot more effective than occasional larger ones. This is especially true of tools like Anki which are designed to be used every day. How often you can study is going to heavily influence which practice tools will work best for you. So even though Anki is one of the most popular practice tools around, it may not be the best one for you.

Also remember to keep it fun, or at the very least enjoyable. If you are finding that a certain tool is making you dread studying, then just choose another one. Don't feel pressured to do what's most 'efficient' at the cost of your own enjoyment. You're going to be spending months or years studying Japanese, making sure that you actually enjoy that time is important.

Learning

Learning new content is the heart and soul of studying a language. Luckily for you there are a lot of different options here, and most of them are actually quite fun. I'll further divide these up into two main categories: primary and secondary.

Primary

Primary resources are ones that have their own structured curriculum and are designed to be used as the main textbook/app for a Japanese learner. Their lessons will generally start off basic and become more complicated and in-depth over time. They'll build up your knowledge and get you to a pretty high level if followed all the way through.

The two most popular options here are going to be Duolingo and Genki. Duolingo offers small, bite sized lessons which focus on making language learning fun and enjoyable for solo learners. Whereas Genki is a more traditional textbook designed for use in University and focuses on depth and comprehension. Yomimono also contains a structured Japanese curriculum, which was designed to be a nice middle ground between the two main options.

While there are a lot of different options here, you should be careful not to spread yourself too thin. Each different textbook or app will generally design their lessons to build up over time and gradually become more complex. Frequently switching between different curriculums will mean you spend a lot of time working through the simple beginner lessons, without ever getting to the more complicated, in-depth ones. You'll also end up repeating a lot of the same content, which can be an inefficient use of time.

Secondary

Secondary resources are ones that act as more of a reference, or a second opinion. Generally designed to be used alongside other resources, rather than as the only one. YouTube channels such as Japanese Ammo with Misa or Miku Real Japanese are great examples of this.

These types of resources are great for providing alternative explanations to concepts you've read about elsewhere. Every resource will explain things their own way, and sometimes you might find that Misa's explanation of a grammatical concept 'clicks' a lot better with you than Genki's one did, or vice versa.

By dividing learning resources into these two categories, and then using them in conjunction with each other, you can really get the best of both worlds. You can receive the structure, depth, and nice ordering of lessons from a primary resource such as Genki or Yomimono. While also being able to have multiple explanations of the same topic to ensure that you fully understand it.

Combing the two together will be easier for some resources than it is for others. Primary resources with longer and more in-depth lessons are going to be easier to combine with secondary resources than those with very small and simpler lessons such as Duolingo. This isn't to say that you can't do it, but it will be more difficult.

Applying

Finding a way to regularly apply your Japanese skills will not only help you improve, but will also act as a massive source of motivation. At the beginning this can be difficult, but I'd still recommend trying to find a way to make it work. Anime is a great resource for this, because even when you've only been studying for a week or two, you'll still be able to occasionally recognise words and understand simple sentences. Every time you understand something you'll feel good about yourself, and it will motivate you to continue studying. As your skills improve, you'll be able to understand more and more which which will feel even better. Anime is also just enjoyable to watch in general and there are so many different shows that you're certain to find one that you like.

Other alternatives to anime are manga, podcasts, regular Japanese TV shows, and spending time on Japanese social media. Because of the subtitles Anime is still my recommended resource for new learners, but you can find ways to make the others work. Some manga will have English versions available, and beginner focused Japanese podcasts often have English translations as well.

Routine examples

Now that you understand the different aspects that go into your Japanese study routine, I'll provide you with some examples that you can use for yourself. These example routines will use Yomimono as the primary learning/practicing resource, but you can easily adapt them to others. Both routines are also 30 minutes long, because that is generally the lowest amount of time I'd recommend for regular study. It's fine if you occasionally do less, because anything is better than nothing, but try to spend at least 30 minutes most of the time.

Plan A

  • Practice (10 min): Complete five practice sessions for Yomimono beginner lesson 9
  • Learn (10 min): Complete Yomimono beginner lesson 10
  • Apply (10 min): Listen to beginner Japanese podcast

This routine aims to accomplish all three sections of studying Japanese (practicing, learning, applying) in a single day. This routine works best for those who like the variety or who might not be able to study every day. This routine is by far the most flexible, and is where I'd recommend starting out.

Plan B

Day A
  • Practice (10 min): Complete five practice sessions for Yomimono beginner lesson 9
  • Learn (20 min): Review Yomimono beginner lesson 9, complete Yomimono beginner lesson 10, watch YouTube video about adjectives
Day B
  • Practice (10 min): Complete five practice sessions for Yomimono beginner lesson 10
  • Learn (20 min): Watch an episode of One Punch Man. Try to listen for adjectives

This routine uses a two day, alternating schedule, allowing you to focus more heavily on a single task, without as much context switching as the previous routine. This one also works great for those who are using anime to apply your Japanese, as individual episodes are usually around 20 minutes in length. This routine works best if you can do it at least two days in a row, so if your schedule is a bit unpredictable, the previous routine will suit you better.

Closing thoughts

Although having a routine is important, you also shouldn't worry too much if you can't complete what you have planned. Don't let perfect be the enemy of good, and if you don't have much time to study, don't worry about not being able to follow a structured routine. Just do something, anything at all, because anything you do is going to be infinitely better than nothing.

Sometimes you won't have much time and the best you can do is watch a video while you eat your dinner. Or maybe you just can't be bothered and the best you can do is listen to a podcast on the way to work. The important thing here is just continuing to study regularly and forming the habit. It is so much easier to work you way up from 5 minutes of study to 30, than it is to start from zero.

Finally just remember to enjoy yourself. I've talked a lot about studying and routines, but don't forget that learning Japanese should be enjoyable for you. Don't force yourself to follow a strict routine or study plan if you don't enjoy it, just do whatever works best for you.

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