Despite its difficulty, more and more people are learning Japanese. Not only is it a beautiful language with a long history, but it can also come in handy if you are planning to study in Japan. What’s more, speaking fluent Japanese is a must for almost any kind of professional position in Japan. If you’re thinking about working here, better take up some Japanese—the sooner the better!

Three years ago, I came to Japan to attend Sophia University with my nonexistent Japanese knowledge. As the program that I was enrolled in would be taught entirely in English, Japanese language skills were not required. I couldn’t speak a word in Japanese on the day I arrived. However, I decided I would try to learn the language as quickly as I can so that I can fully experience Japan and its rich culture. Three years have gone by since then, and I managed to pass JLPT N2 with plenty of margins to spare. 

So how hard is the N2 level? According to the official JLPT website, N2 level measures “the ability to understand Japanese used in everyday situations, and in a variety of circumstances to a certain degree.” In other words, in order to pass N2, you need to be able to comprehend everyday conversations, street signs, and general news programs on TV. That said, I am nowhere near mastering Japanese, as there are still so many things to learn. Actually, the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know about this beautiful language. 

How did I learn Japanese and achieved N2-level proficiency within such a short period of time? If picking up a new language is on your new-year resolutions, try out these tricks!

1. Immerse yourself into the language

If you want to pick up a new language as quickly as you can, make sure to familiarize yourself with the language by hearing and seeing your target language as often as possible. In my case, I found that creating a habit of listening to morning radio and podcasts in Japanese really helped me absorb the tones and recognize each syllable more easily. Listening to radio programs and podcasts in Japanese was also very helpful with my pronunciation since there are so many unfamiliar sounds in Japanese that don’t exist in my other languages. Don’t worry if you understand absolutely nothing at the beginning, just keep the radio/tv on as some sort of background noise. Your brain will slowly familiarize itself to the language, even when you’re unaware of it!

If you prefer a more proactive learning method, try out watching movies and TV shows in Japanese. If you already know some basics like katakana and hiragana, I recommend turning both Japanese subtitles and the translation on. Language Learning With Netflix is my favourite Google Chrome extension that allows you to use multiple subtitles at the same time. I binged watched animations like Fullmetal Alchemist and popular shows like Terrace House while using LLN. To my surprise, I found myself picking up words and phrases from the show and even use it in my daily conversations sometimes. 

2. If you’re already in Japan, make the most out of your time by interacting with the locals.

If you are already in Japan, whether it’s for work or studies, make the most out of it by getting out there and meet new people. Getting part-time jobs that require active use of languages such as working at restaurants or cafes will force you into sink or swim mode. The first few days into my part-time job at a restaurant, my head almost felt completely numb because I had to learn so many new phrases. (Told you, I really knew ZERO Japanese when I came here.) However, once I got through the torment in the first week, I became much more comfortable speaking Japanese (and making tons of mistakes along the way.)

If you want to speak Japanese in a less stressful environment, try out some volunteer activities or attend local language meetups. You’ll find yourself exploring another side of Japan that you would not get to experience at school. You’ll get to expand your social connections and might even find great language buddies!

If you’re not living in Japan, there are many other ways to hone your Japanese skills as well! Check out some cool language exchange apps that can help you find language buddies here.

3. Practice, Practice, Practice

I can’t stress this enough. Traditional language practice using textbooks can come in handy when you want to make sense of what you have learned or heard. Of course, grammar is not everything, but knowing the concepts can really help you organize your thoughts and learn languages more efficiently. 

You can also spare a few minutes each day for language practice using mobile applications. My favourite one so far is Duolingo, one of the world’s most popular language-learning app. What’s more, it’s free!

4. Keep a diary

Keeping a diary might sound like a boring task. However, it is proven to be a great habit to have. Keeping a diary in Japanese offers two birds with one stone: not only that it has therapeutic effects on your emotional wellbeing, but it also helps you put your thoughts into a new language and discover new words and expressions along the way. Again, just forget about perfection – allow your diary to be as messy as it can be. Making a few grammatical mistakes in your journal won’t hurt anybody! 

5. Make learning Japanese part of your routine

The four steps I mentioned may seem easy and straightforward. However, the real challenge is to integrate all these habits into your daily life. Learning a new language needs constant effort, and Japanese is no exception. 

Even though you might be excited to try out the things I have suggested all at once, remember that consistency is key. There is no point cramming hours and hours of language learning into a day if you can’t keep doing it. Start by introducing a few minutes of Japanese into your life, and gradually increase your language exposure when you start feeling comfortable. After a while, you won’t even realize how you end up binge-watching all the latest seasons of Terrace House

The key to learning and mastering a language is to have fun! Good luck with your Japanese learning journey and let me know your thoughts via!