One of the recurring themes on my blog and YouTube channel are Japan and the Japanese language. I’ve been an anime fan since forever, had two long Japan stays, and have been studying Japanese actively for about 4 1/2 years now.1

In today’s post, I would like to tell you about how I currently study and what I would like to change about it.

How I Study Currently

Admittedly, there is not too much to say here. “Actively” in this case means that I have a fixed block in my morning routine where I review my vocabulary and kanji in an app called Anki. I am planning to write a separate post about Anki in the future.

The thing is: I haven’t added new cards to my Anki decks in a while. So while I’m reviewing everything I’ve learned so far, I’m not learning new things, at least not in Anki. That’s why it takes me only 5 to 10 minutes to complete all my reviews, even though I have a whopping 1214 kanji and 2700+ words in my decks.2 This shows the power of spaced repetition: If you do it every day, and you are using a good algorithm (which is Anki’s specialty), you can keep a ton of information in your head with minimal long-term time commitment.

Something that I wouldn’t consider “studying”, but that certainly doesn’t hurt, is watching anime and shows. I’m watching a ton of anime and usually watch one episode of Terrace House3 with my roommate every evening. While there are always English subtitles, I’m trying to actively listen to the Japanese as well (which sometimes makes me miss what was actually said, oops). Especially with Terrace House, I can often supplement the subtitles with additional information for my roommate, as subtitles don’t always accurately represent what was actually said.

Sadly, this is all I can say about this part of the post…

What I Would Like to Change

I’m still very much interested in improving my Japanese and someday getting to a level that allows me to watch things in Japanese without English subtitles and to have a normal conversation with a Japanese person. Interestingly, I feel like I’m ahead in the conversation part compared to the understanding part, at least that’s how it felt during my last trip to Japan. (In Japanese, there’s quite a difference in choice of words and grammar between a day-to-day conversation and a book.)

So there are certain things that I would like to integrate into my Japanese studies:

Learn New Vocabulary and Kanji

Whenever I try to watch or read something in Japanese, I notice that especially vocabulary is a problem for me. I want to be more mindful of what I’m actually missing and study those things.

Study Grammar From the Beginning

Out of all the different parts of a language, I feel like my grammar is comparatively bad. In 2016 when I went to Japan for my exchange, they put me into level 4 of 6 because I had studied Japanese a few years earlier. However, at that point I had forgotten almost everything, so I only had a few weeks to catch up to the rest of the class. While I was kind of able to catch up with vocab and kanji (I was the kanji master of our class at the end of the semester), my grammar was still lacking, and I never spent the time to actually deal with that. So what I want to do is to start from the basics and work my way up. Of course there will be a lot that I already know. I’m pretty sure I could easily pass JLPT N5 if I took it tomorrow. But even with N4 grammar, I’m not sure if I know all of it. The course I took during my exchange worked towards N3, so I should know most of N3 grammar, at least somewhat. And I’m pretty sure I know almost no N2 grammar. (I think that’s where I will stop because from what I’ve heard, N1 grammar is super obscure and you won’t really need it in daily life.)

Read Japanese Books

I own some Japanese books that I brought with me from Japan. The problem is that while they are not impossible for me to understand, they are quite above my current level, so trying to read them is fairly exhausting. So maybe after I nailed down some of the grammar stuff, I would like to try again, knowing that it will be hard. I might need to block certain periods of my day specifically for reading Japanese books. But if I actually do, I think it can really help with my Japanese.

Find a Tandem

Something that I pretty much never really tried is to find a tandem partner to exchange languages with. Especially for conversation, this would be a big step. I’m not sure about doing it online though, so I might postpone this until it’s okay to meet in person again.

Watch Some Stuff Without Subtitles

I think I want to keep the English subs for most of the things that I watch, especially if I really care about understanding everything that’s going on. But I have a few anime on my list that might be closer to my level of Japanese, so I want to try watching these with Japanese subtitles. There are actually sites and tools that help you use this to study Japanese by providing mouseover translations and stuff. Definitely something to look into.

Like it usually happens with these kinds of things, I want to do too much all at the same time. In an ideal world, I would assign a significant part of my free time to studying Japanese, but in the real world, there are many other things that I also want to spend time on. At least this time around, I was able to keep up reviewing what I have already learned before (unlike once before when I forgot everything).

I don’t know when or how much of those things I listed above I can implement, or whether other things will take priority. But I do know that in the long run, I really want to make progress with my Japanese studies. This will certainly be considered when I think about managing my time starting in December.

How about you? Are you studying any languages, and if yes, what is your study strategy? Let me know in the comments below!

  1. Actually, it’s way more complicated than that. I basically started almost 10 years ago when I took a beginner Japanese class. About 9 years ago, I took Japanese in university as a voluntary class and finished all the classes my uni offered. However, I pretty much did nothing over the three following years, so that in 2016 when I prepared for my exchange semester, I had to more or less relearn everything. 

  2. Those a the ones which I have already learned. 

  3. A Japanese reality TV show on Netflix that we are obsessed about. However, I would recommend to skip the latest house (Tokyo 2019/2020) as certain things escalated so badly that the show was canceled. The best one, in my opinion, is still the original run which, unfortunately, is only on Netflix in Japan.