As a S-ALT (Super Assistant Language Teacher) in Japan, I’ve been in the business of second language acquisition for just over three years, both publicly (teaching English to Japanese students) and personally (studying Japanese day after day).
The road to “fluency” has been an extremely challenging and grueling process. And one that I can honestly say has been one of the most difficult challenges I’ve ever attempted.
Yes, I’ve made a tremendous amount of leaps and bounds along the way, and yes, I’ve fallen and regressed many times over. But hey, learning a second language is like a giant ball of fishing line all entangled within itself. Sometimes unraveling one piece makes other things worst.
The only way to unravel this horrible mess is with diligence and piece by piece. Or you can use a knife to cut right through the process. The bigger the better! That’s what I always say. Hit the jump so that we can start gutting this fish.
Writing Systems are the Lines that Tie Everything Together
Right from the get-go the most important thing you can do for your Japanese studies is to learn Hiragana and Katakana and understand there functions in this great ball of twine. The two writing systems are like the ABCs of Japanese; just double the amount of characters plus two times the fun!
Once you got your Hiragana and Katakana hooked in like a fish on a line (probably can be done within a week, but two weeks to be on the safe side) you’ll want to immediately jump into learning Kanji. Now, I know what your thinking, “Kanji already?! You’re insane Kuma Sensei!”
You know what I have to say to that?
“Well, there’s like a billion  Kanji, so it’s better to start early than to start late. You know what I’m sayin?”
You don’t need to be able to write them all, you just need to be able to read / recognize them. And you know what the best part is? Just within the last few years, there has been some tremendous breakthroughs in the Kanji learning front.
One program that I’ve been using and highly recommend is WaniKani. It is a bit on the pricey side , but I do think this is the best product out there for anyone learning Kanji. Basically, it uses a combination of Mnemonics and SRS (Space Repetition Software) for faster and higher memorization rates.
The program breaks everything down into its radicals. Once the radicals are learned, they are then put together to form Kanji. Based on their radicals, stories have been created for higher memorization rates. Once multiple Kanji have been learned, they are then put together to form common words.
Initially, it may sound complicated, but once you start doing it, the process quickly streamlines itself for a very user-friendly experience. Often times then not, in the beginning a lot of users complain that they aren’t being challenged enough in the beginning. But trust me, you get more than enough once you get past the first couple of levels.
On the other hand, maybe you’re a bit hesitant to part ways with that much money. Hey, I understand. Everyone has bills to pay. Using a combination of KanjiDamage and Anki is my next best suggestion for anyone on a budget. They function the same way that WaniKani works (KanjiDamage for its Mnemonics and Anki for its SRS) and they are both free! The downside is that they do require a bit more prep work on the learners end: i.e. making, organizing and loading cards into the Anki program and sifting through copious amounts of information.
Whatever you choose, learn your Kanji as soon as possible. It’ll make life so much easier down the road.
1. Roughly 2000 Kanji are taught from elementary to high school, but you probably only really need about 1000 to read 80% of any book and 1500 to be on solid ground. The other 500 or so are mainly reserved for names and other crazy irrelevant things.