To your average part-time learner of Japanese, the multitude of different components of the language that are to be studied in order to build a well-rounded proficiency can be a stumbling block when trying to develop an effective study schedule. Students may wish to improve their ability to listen to and understand spoken Japanese, to construct and pronounce their own sentences, to expand their vocabulary, to understand and correctly apply a wide range of grammar rules, to read hiragana, katakana, and an increasing number of kanji without difficulty, or to work on Japanese writing and correct stroke order. When students only have a few hours to spare each week, what should they focus on, how should they plan their study, and what changes might be necessary as their level of proficiency increases?

Goals for Learning Japanese

When deciding on what components to focus on, students must consider their reasons for learning the language and their goals. Some may want to master daily conversation, to read manga comics, or to understand Japanese films without subtitles. However, even in such cases, students should bear in mind that neglecting certain other parts of the language may be detrimental to their specific goal because all the components of Japanese are of course interwoven. For example, being able to write many kanji and remember the correct stroke order will speed up your reading speed, or an improved vocabulary obtained from a lot of reading will help make speaking and constructing sentences easier.

For students who have no specific target but just generally want to learn Japanese for fun, focusing on speaking and listening, with the associated need to learn how to apply and decipher grammar rules correctly, should be considered most important. A few hours of this type of study each week, with frequent revision of previous work, can be accompanied by vocabulary learning by making word lists of all the new words that one encounters during one’s studies.

Diversifying and Reviewing Progress in Japanese

As one progresses, it becomes increasingly necessary to add reading and possibly writing studies to one’s focus on Japanese. This helps bring some variation to one’s study schedule. However, as the number of different aspects of language study that one is engaged in increases, the necessary study load can become a burden. For example, after you have learnt the general English meanings and the kunyomi and onyomi readings of 500 or so kanji, then you will have to keep returning to these every week or two in order to ensure that you do not forget them. This is especially true since your memory of them won’t be reinforced by speaking or listening practice, or from studying grammar. So, to some extent, unless you are naturally using both spoken and written Japanese in your daily life, you will be engaged in a battle to stop yourself slipping backwards in terms of what you have already learnt.

At more advanced levels, students may want to consider particular specialist areas to focus on. As such, there is a dedicated literature as well as classes at Japanese language schools at which students can focus on Business Japanese or Japanese for other fields like Law, Medicine, and Science, with an emphasis on the terminology required to participate in these sectors effectively.