Is it possible to learn Japanese online without spending money on expensive courses?

7 minute read

First of all, you should answer the following question - Do you want to really learn Japanese or just "try it out"? And if you choose to learn it, you ought to take responsibility for the learning process and not blame others for a possible failure. And here is how you would do that.

Why do people go on courses?

There is someone to track your progress

What do you need to master a new language? Words, sentences, grammar, figures of speech, catch phrases, kanji (in Japanese). Basically, that's all.

During Japanese courses you will learn all that in the following order, building every new step upon the previous one:

  1. You learn hiragana and katakana (two Japanese syllabaries) and kanji
  2. You learn words, that consist of kana and kanji
  3. You learn sentences, that consist of words.
  4. You learn to build sentences by yourself.

And now let's think about this: for which of these steps we need a teacher and which can be completed simply using our own computer? Steps 1 and 2, obviously, better be checked by a computer. We learn a new word and then we just open a program that checks us. What could be easier than that? On Kanjiway we use spaced repetition system To learn 10 or 10000 kanji and words we don't need another human. At this stage it would be more effective to work with a computer. To learn sentences we don't need a teacher as well, we just use a computer to check ourselves.

Learning grammar and building sentences based on this knowledge is an traditional way of learning foreign languages. In fact it is not only inefficient, but also absolutely wrong. We discuss this question in more detail in this article, right now we can mention, that there are a lot of exceptions in a natural language, that are not covered by the rules of grammar. It is especially so in Japanese. And when we try to fit freshly learned vocabulary into freshly learned grammatical structures, we usually tend to make a lot of mistakes.

Don't get us wrong: learning grammar is a useful thing to do, but you should not turn it into a sacred cow and build your learning process around it. We are just saying that you should not spend as much time with it as most courses make you believe is necessary.

Practice with a native speaker

Talking to a native speaker is one of the most wide spread learning methods used on courses. It may sound logical - we want to learn a language and speaking the language would help us. Actually it is not quite like that. Using language is one of the least effective methods of learnings. In the first six month listening and reading is much more important than speaking. Language acquisition happens when we listen, not when we talk. Think back to when you were learning your native tongue. Before you started using it, you spent several years listening to it. And this is exactly what you should do with foreign languages.

If this idea sounds strange to you, you should check out Stephen Krashen's input hypothesis. Constant talking as a way to learn a language may look appealing, but is completely inefficient. When we start using memorized phrases, we think "wow, I can speak the language" and we see it as a progress. But in the beginning of a learning process your level of understanding of Japanese should be a real measure of your progress, not using memorized phrases.

You have to talk with native speakers but only when you feel comfortable with your level of understanding of the language and realize what areas of your Japanese should be improved. Instead of going to courses we recommend you to find individuals teachers, who may help you estimate your level of speaking. When you have a more or less meaningful conversation, you learn and develop. When you simply "play out a scene" and repeat common phrases, you simply stagnate.

A paved path

When you go on a course, you have a paved path in front of you. You know that someone may have already walked it, maybe even successfully so. Knowing this helps a lot, because you have no idea how you should learn Japanese, and there you have teachers who obviously do. But wait a minute. How can you be sure that your teacher knows Japanese if you don't know it yourself? Maybe they just speak beginner level Japanese, but from your perspective it sounds like they mastered it? And even if it is a native speaker, how do you know if he would make a good teacher? He learned his language when he was a baby and therefore may not know how to teach it to an adult?

Of course, we are not saying that all that all teachers of Japanese are liars, that's not true. What we are saying is that you should be responsible for designing your learning process. If you go on a language course, you should have a clear idea of what do you want to achieve by that. You should understand that courses is not the only step, it is one of many steps to master Japanese. Don't be surprised if you don't get too much out of them.

And besides, courses are usually designed for a group of people, which means that you would have to adapt to the needs of your classmates. On the other hand, if you choose learning by yourself, you can work in your own pace.

Familiar environment

We are used to this format of education since childhood: a class 40-80 minutes long, most of the time teacher is giving you new materials, sometimes you have a chance to ask a question. After class you come home, do your homework and the cycle repeats. Is it familiar? Of course. Is it effective? Absolutely not.

School system if very much obsolete. It mostly is controlled by the state and the state is usually reluctant to introduce too many innovations. We recommend you to check out a very good TED Talk by the founder of Khan Academy. It discusses innovations in the field of education (despite the fact that this video was recorded in 2011, it is still very much relevant). If school system was developing as fast as tech companies, we would be living in a completely different world by now.

How to learn a language by yourself?

You should understand, what are you learning and why are you doing it

First of all, you shouldn't rush into learning itself. You should rather devote time to designing your learning process. When you are planning a vacation or a long trip, you study the place you are going to. What can you find there? What should you be aware of? As strange as it may sound, people don't spend much time thinking about the language they are about to learn. They don't know much about its particular features, they don't study opinions of people who have already mastered it. They just take a course and hope that it will somehow work out for them.

You should take your learning process in your own hands. Take some time to check out our articles or articles about Japanese on any other site. Get familiar with the structure of Japanese. Then design your path for the next 2-3 month and start walking it. Right now you might not understand what exactly you need, but soon enough you will have a much clearer picture.

I'm not so good at learning languages

Maybe you've already taken a second language course (or studied second language in school) and all you were able to produce afterwards was "konichiwa arigato sayonara". It doesn't mean that you haven't got a talent for languages. The problem is an outdated education system, that refuses to change. There is no such thing as talent for languages or "language genes". There is a correct way of learning and an incorrect way of learning. Unfortunately, many language schools and courses use inefficient methods. No wonder that you've come to a dead end. What you should do now is to learn how to learn a language efficiently. And if you still think that you are not good at languages, we recommend this video.

How to learn Japanese?

We have a big article about learning Japanese, where we describe exactly what you should do in you first few month of learning: How to learn Japanese and how much time would it take?

How can Kanjiway help me with learning Japanese?

We call Kanjiway an online school, but in fact Kanjiway may be described as an instrument for learning Japanese. We give you this instrument and all the information necessary to use it as effectively as possible and then we let you use it as you think fit. You can use this instrument as a main framework for your learning or as an addition to other learning systems. If you use Kanjiway and follow our guidance, in a few months you will be able to watch anime with subtitles and read manga/novels of medium difficulty.

But most importantly, you will be in control of your own learning process, you will be able to move at your own pace and you will have an understanding of why you are doing it and what you should do next, without blindly trusting other people.


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