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How to Learn Japanese Words

Posted by on March 2, 2009 in Japanese words | 8 comments


In the last post, Common Japanese Words I discussed why choosing the right materials  is crucial in learning Japanese. I also discussed why it’s important to study certain Japanese words in priority over others. In this post I will talk about how to study Japanese words in ways that will help you learn more words and know when to use them. These tips should also save you from wasting a lot of time.

Study Common Japanese Phrases

Japanese words are the base of the Japanese language, and the more you know the better you will be able to communicate. Now everyone has their own way to learn words. Probably the most common of these being the flash card method. Putting the Japanese words on one side of the card and your native language on the other side. Then going though these cards repeatedly until your remember the the words.

Now I am not going to bash flash cards. They certainly have their purpose and can be very helpful. I learned a lot of words using flash cards However, it can be easier and quicker to learn words when you learn them in context. Learning words in Japanese phrases helps you see how the word is actually used and helps you get a better feeling for it’s true meaning. Since people speak in sentences and not words, learning the phrases will help you speak more fluently.

One tip I recommend when making flash cards is to include a sentence or phrase containing the word. It is important to be able to use different words to make your own sentences, but there are also a lot of set phrases which are used again and again. Learning these common Japanese phrases will help you learn Japanese words and communicate more effectively.

Don’t Try to Learn Every Word

There are a lot of Japanese words that are no longer used in modern society or are used so rarely that the time spent to learn them will not bring back a good return for your time. Since you will not have the chance to use them on a regular basis, it is also very likely that you will soon forget them.

The amount of time I spent learning words that I would never use probably nearly doubled the amount of time it took me to speak Japanese.

One way to limit this is to choose the right materials. If your main purpose is to speak Japanese, then purchase materials that have commonly used Japanese words for speaking. Not all materials and books are equal, so be sure to take your time evaluating them. Several minutes evaluating a book could end up saving you hours and hours of valuable time later. If you know someone who speaks Japanese (preferably a native speaker), ask him or her to help you evaluate the materials/course. They will be able to spot quickly if the learning materials are outdated.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Second to choosing the right materials is practicing continuously. I studied in college for two years before studying in Japan, but it wasn’t until I was actually here that my speaking ability really increased. The main reason for this was the frequency that I was able to use the Japanese words I was learning and put them into context.

For obvious reasons, it is more difficult to use Japanese outside of Japan, but there are a few options. First, put in as many hours as you can learning the materials. Repeat the words and phrases out loud. If you are attending school then use the tutor labs and join a Japanese club. Make friends on Skype where you can spend time speaking with people in Japan. Watch Japanese movies or anime. Watching movies allows you to rewind and hear things again. The more you listen the better you will get.

The point is to get as much repetition with the Japanese words as possible. You will start noticing that certain words and phrases will be repeated again and again and pretty soon you won’t have to think about the meaning.



  1. avatar

    How do you write ‘I love you’ in Japanese? Thank you

  2. avatar

    Do you have a list of the most commonly used japanese phrases in Japan today?

    I’m teaching myself japaneses through my iphone and I’ve decided to just memories the most used words (from a list I found) and watch anime to learn the order of the words and pronunciation. It seems to be the easiest thing since I hate memorizing sentence structures etc. and always forget what exactly it is an adverb is and so on. All I really want is to speak it and maybe read it (I have an app for learning different sets of characters). But since you say it’s better to learn in phrases, it’d be great if you could give a list. I’m a native speaker of both english and spanish, so if it’s too much work to make one or if you don’t have one in english and happen to have it in spanish that’d also be helpful. Whatever is easier for you, either language would be great!

  3. avatar

    reply to helen: aishiteru, 私はあなたを愛して

  4. avatar

    Helen, to say “i love you” you could say ~aishite! but thats a bit extreme (sounds kind of like an obsessed person >.<) and you would usually say (anata ni-or whatever their name is) suki desu!

  5. avatar

    Actually, you would want to say aishiteru. Aishite would be short for aishite kudasai (please love me).

  6. avatar

    how to say ” my baby” in japanese

  7. avatar

    @ Nick
    Aishite means love, and its not very common (apparently) to say aishite in the “I love you”. Suki is the most common term for saying “love”. Suki directly translates to like.
    You would say “私はあなたが好き。”. Watch enough anime and Japanese movies and they wouldn’t say aishite much. Actually maybe none, I don’t know. I’m not Japanese. But as for someone who grew up watching anime with English subs, suki is most common.

  8. avatar

    Mari!!(or anyone else) If your still out there, could you tell me if you learned Japanese since your post in 2010. If you did, what did you end up doing to learn. The reason I want to know is because IM CURRENTLY studying nihongo and I also can speak Spanish and English fluently. It would be very helpful to know your experience. So please respond back. If it helps, I just graduated High School and im serious about learning nihongo. Nihongo wo oshiete kudasai.XD

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