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Japanese Study Tools

japanese study tools

I hope everyone had a great weekend and got lots of Japanese study in. I had a busy weekend (looking for a new house to rent)  and so wasn’t able to post for the last few days. However, starting tomorrow, I will be writing a number of posts on some very helpful Japanese study tools and sties. We also have some new Japanese lists we are creating so stay tuned.

Why You Need To Learn The Japanese Kana


One of the most popular posts on Japanese words has been the common Japanese Words list containing over 1000 Japanese words and kanji. That page has received quite a few comments asking for pronunciations in romaji (English Alphabet). While having romaji may seem to make studying easier when you first start out, learning using the English alphabet will actually hold you back. This article will cover the main reasons why you should start studying and master the Japanese Kana (hiragana and katakana) as soon as possible. As well as listing a few tools to help you learn more quickly.

Thinking in Japanese

If you want to learn Japanese as quickly as possible, then you need to immerse yourself in it. The more you are seeing and thinking in Japanese the faster you will be able to learn. If you are trying to learn using the English alphabet, then your mind is only half thinking in Japanese. You are seeing Japanese words, but your mind is trying to translate them into English. If you read using the kana (and eventually kanji) it is easier for your brain to make the change.

Once you learn to read the kana, you will realize how difficult reading Japanese in romaji really was!

More Japanese Materials

The more Japanese materials you have available to you the better. It doesn’t mean that you will use them all, but you will have a larger selection from which to choose the best ones. Once you learn the kana, you aren’t limited to only Japanese language study materials (textbooks, Japanese language books, etc). You can start trying to read Japanese magazines, mangas, websites, and subtitles on movies. This will also help you start learning the kanji, which are essential for anyone serious about Japanese.


Japanese has far fewer sounds than the English language. Furthermore, each kana can only be read a single way. Not like English where vowels can have different sounds depending on the letters next to them. Once you learn the correct sound for each kana, you will be better at pronouncing Japanese words. Of course you will still need a lot of practice to learn the correct pronunciation, but getting away from romaji (which can have several) is a good move in the right direction.

Travelling/Living in Japan

It’s true that you can find a lot of English signs in the main cities in Japan now days. However, there are many places that have no English signs at all. Having the ability to read at least hiragana and kana will really help you get around. Learning the first 100 or so Kanji will be an even bigger help.

Tools for Learning the Japanese Characters

Remembering the Kana– James Heisig, Author of Remembering the Kanji has created a unique and effective method for remembering Japanese characters. Using creative stories to remember each kana and it’s reading, the book teaches you the hiragana and katakana in about 3 hours each. You can read a full review on the book here: Remembering the Kana.

Read The Kanji– Now that you have finished Remembering the Kana, it’s time to get some practice. Read the Kanji is a great site that allows you to practice using Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji in sentences. It highlights the word and you type the reading. Not only is it great reading practice, it’s also great typing practice. The website keeps track of your progress and makes you review characters and words you know less, more often. I highly recommend this site.

Learn the Kana– This site has all the kana, but more importantly they also have the sounds. Very helpful if you are just getting started.

Rikaichan– Rikaichan is an amazing addon for Firefox that will give you the reading, definition, and a ton of other information of any Japanese word or character you mouse over. You can find a more detailed review on Rikaichan here: Reading Japanese Words Like A Pro With Rikaichan.

Anki– Anki is a spaced program that helps you learn quicker by showing you the right items when you need to see them. A great tool for learning Japanese and completely free.

Smart.FM– A website that uses spaced repitition to help you learn faster. There is a downloadable list for hiragana and katakana with sound.

Watching YouTube In Japanese

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Since the weekend is almost here, there is plenty of time to sit in front of the computer watching YouTube videos. Why not turn this little activity into Japanese learning time as well. Setting up your YouTube page to easily find Japanese videos and even read Japanese is very simple and can easily be changed back at any time.

1. Open up YouTube

2. In the upper left hand corner you should see a language and a region setting.  The left is the region (where you want to see videos from) and the right is the language you want to view the page in.

youtube screenshot.png

3. To view videos from Japan, simply click on the left link (it probably reads “wordwide” or has your specific region) and change it to Japanese. If you want to get a little more Japanese practice, then you can also switch the page language to Japanese as well.

Japanese YouTube.png

4. Don’t forget to use Firefox and to turn on Rikaichan to make reading the page easy!

5 Great Tools to Study Japanese Words

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tools to learn Japanese

Learning a new language takes time, hard work, and dedication. However, using the right study methods along with the right tools can help you learn a language much quicker while at the same time making it funner as well. Over the years I have tried a number of different methods to learn new Japanese words. Below are the ones I have found to be the most efficient and also the most enjoyable.

1. The Apple Itouch/Iphone– we all no about the various uses of the itouch. However, the thing that I use it for the most is to study Japanese words and kanij. There are a number of Japanese programs to choose from and most of them are under a few dollars. I have listed my 4 favorites below.

1. Kanji Flip

A very simple flash card program containing all of the JLPT Kanji along with sample vocab words. The program tracks how well you remember each kanji and shows it more or less frequently accordingly. An absolute must for someone studying for the JLPT. Disadvantage is that the words are not put into categories and you can not opt out of kanji once you have learned them well. $5.99. There is also a version called “Kana Flip for those learning hiragana and katakana. $2.99

  1. Japanese Flip– Basically the same program as Kanji Flip but using words from the JLPT test. Uses the same interface as Kanji flip and the same algorithm to help you remember words.  $6.99
  2. Kotoba– A Free dictionary put out by the same maker of Kanji Flip and Japanese flip using. The uses an open source dictionary and also has the ability to search by hand input (drawing kanji). This is a very important feature since searching for meanings of difficult kanji can be very time consuming. Free
  3. Kanji– A very similar program to Kanji flip with a clean interface. It is a simple flash card program and lacks the progressive learning feature that Kanji Flip uses. Good program for $0.99.

2. Mnemosyne

Studies have shown that the best time to review material is right before you forget it. Mnemosyne is a free flash card program for your computer that allows you to choose how well you remembered the word you were shown. Depending on your choices, Mnemosyne will show that word more or less often. There are set decks of cards available for free download and you can also put in your own words. I use this with The above itouch programs to help me learn Japanese words faster.

3. Rikaichan

Rikaichan is a FireFox add-on that allows you to mouse over Japanese words and see the meaning and readings. It is a great tool for learning Japanese words (and kanji) and can help even a beginner to navigate Japanese pages. This program is a must for anyone learning Japanese.

4. Mini-notepad

Now I know that this one may not seem nearly as high tech or cool as the previous three, but a mini-notepad and can be one of the best tools for learning new Japanese words and kanji (especially for those who are living in Japan). The key is to carry the notepad and a writing utensil with you at all times and write down the the words and kanji you don’t understand. If you write down only a few words a day then you will be learning 14-21 extra words a week. If you are not living in Japan, then you can write down words in your native language you don’t know how to say in Japanese to research later. As an extra even more effective step, you can transfer these words into Mnemosyne to help you remember them.

5. Skype

Skype is a voip and instant chat program that allows you to have chats, make phone calls, and even video conferences with people anywhere in the world for free as long as they have skype. This means that you can make friends with people in Japan and practice your Japanese no matter where you are. The program is easy to set up and use and you can start making friends immediately. For those in Japan, you can also use it to call home.

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