Self-Studying Japanese

by Prex JDV Ybasco

Watching Japanese cartoons and dramas probably is the primary reason why I am taking up Japanese. Apart from that, their OSTs are amazing! They have a certain feel to them that even though I hardly understand them, I feel like I can do the impossible. However, there are always some moments when subtitles or English lyrics do not satisfy me. As they say, some things are lost in translation. I do not intend to live in Japan (but I certainly want to visit!) so I have decided not to take professional classes in Japanese and just learn the language by myself. After all, if language learning can be considered one’s hobby then how hard will that be?

I would not consider myself an expert in languages but here are some ‘strategies’ I have used to study Nihongo.

Anime / Drama /Music

Exposure to the language is very important. Since I don’t take classes, the best I can do is to go back to the very reason I study Japanese: animation. Watching one’s favorite animation is a great way to pick up some casual expressions! One of my students told me that a number of learners can even recognize expressions in porn Good anime is always a great learning material. I do love to watch One Piece episodes and movies over and over again that by the time I learned how to construct Japanese sentences, I sounded like a Japanese…boy! [Japanese has a different set of Grammar rules used by women.]


For those who are not into two-dimensional characters, you can also watch Japanese dramas. They are known to be very short, about eight to ten episodes in one season, so it is easy to finish one whole drama in a matter of hours. As Japanese are quite oriented with their culture, there are some expressions that are customary said in various occasions presented in television series or even movies. It will not be difficult for you to remember what to say once you are offered meals in Japan!

Listening to music also helps a lot to remember words, if not the sentence construction. It also gives me immense satisfaction when I recognize some words and what they mean in the songs without even checking the translated lyrics online. <a href=”http://35xxxv (Deluxe Edition)""“>One OK Rock’s and <a href=”http://Cross Gene – Ying Yang (Type B) (CD+DVD) [Japan CD] UPCH-7149""“>Cross Gene’s music take up most of the songs in my playlist but there are some anime OSTs here and there.

Manga / Japanese Comic Books

Manga 漫画- Japanese comic books

When your focus is to learn casual expressions and vocabulary, you can read Japan’s very famous Manga. This is not the most useful tool to study grammar but you may be able to remember certain words you can’t use daily due to the fact you have to use your L1.

jlpt manga

As it is quite challenging to look for raw Japanese manga in my country, my colleague has lent me the Japanese versions of Rurouni Kenshin and Fairytail. Don’t get me wrong. Mangas are available everywhere. You can visit MangaFox and you will have tons that will last your lifetime. However, comic books in their native language are very difficult to come by as they are heavily protected by some copyright in Japan– you’ve got to hand it to the Japanese! Some recommend downloading Nihongo manga through Torrent but having a hard copy still is good because you can leave notes or mark pages you want to study. Now, I am not going to be judging anybody who will do anything to get his or his hands on a good copy 

Language Learning Websites

When you work with computers about eight to ten hours a day, you may have found out Google can be your best friend. All you have to do is type keywords such as “Japanese study” or “Nihongo” in the search bar and the search engine will give you a number of sites  that will help you learn Japanese. The following are the sites I have found most helpful:

If you want a place to practice writing Japanese sentences and essays and expect good feedback, Lang-8 is the site for you. For a full review, see here.

Those who are still trying to learn the basics of Japanese including studying Hiragana and Katakana, you may want to visit JPLANG. It is a good site where you can toggle settings (Full Japanese/ English) to suit your needs. It also has sample conversations you can practice.

In depth study of the Japanese language is what this site offers. You can find vocabulary and expressions in the beginning, and exercises at the end of every chapter. Somehow, this site gives me a more professional feel.

If you don’t want to be so overwhelmed by grammar rules and you want to take things a little slowly, you can use this site. It teaches Hiragana and Katakana and basic Kanji in the first chapters and sufficient grammar lessons in the succeeding ones. I still have the notes I took when I was using this site as  users aren’t allowed to put the answers there. Then again, it still is a pretty good.

JLPT N4   Beginner –

The title of the site already shows what it has to offer. I have taken my JLPT N5 exam and will take N4 in December, and this site provides me all the review materials I need. The exams are arranged according to levels and according to skills (Reading, Listening and Vocabulary identification). What is more is the interface allows the users to input their answers and the site gives the result after the test. You can also find phrases and expressions taken from animations!No wonder, this is my current go-to site.


I cannot deny having a good book is a great way to go in language learning. Whether you are taking classes or not, a textbook you can write on is a good tool to reinforce the grammar points you have painstakingly memorized! The books I use are Genki 1 and 2 and the worktext accompanying Genki 2. These are packed with grammar points that can save you in the time of your confusion as it saved me. What I like about Genki, apart from the CDs, is the Culture Note at the end of the chapters as it lists common and up-to-date expressions used in Japan. If you don’t want to sound ‘bookish’ you can consult that part.


For the not so committed people, or those who have no time to study, or those who are too busy with their jobs they just can’t find the time to look at a page of their workbooks or visit a website, you can study a different language using the device you certainly cannot live without these days: your smartphone.

A number of applications are available in Appstore and even Google Playstore for language learners’ consumption. Kanji Q is a good one for those who want to practice stroke order of Kanji. The dictionary is also handy for the times I encounter words I haven’t used before, or to recall ones I don’t often use.

jlpt app

You can see in the picture the icons of those applications I often use including practice apps for JLPT. I have to admit that the questions in the apps are more difficult and stressful than the actual examination (N5) but that is better compared to an app that gives you easy questions and therefore rendering you completely unprepared for the JLPT.


You may not take my word for it but I do love taking grammar exams to check my proficiency. As my goal in learning the language is to be able to read Japanese comic books and understand Japanese animation, in the beginning I scoffed at the idea of taking the JLPT. I certainly did not need a license nor a proficiency certificate at work so needless to say I had no reason to. However, I had to admit as I went through my workbook, there were some parts I skipped because I got lazy… or not so motivated. Yeobo then persuaded me to take N5. Looking back at it, I am glad I took the exam.

No matter what the results are as soon as you take the exams, you will feel have a sense of purpose to study, another motivation. Besides you only need to take one exam per level–and even skip levels–per year for a small price. For more information regarding JLPT, visit this site:

If your heart isn’t set on taking the exams a 100% then you can go to and take mock tests. Believe me when I say that once you take the exams and don’t get at least seven out of ten, you will start reading your books and using your apps with renewed vigor.

I don’t promise that my techniques are effective for all learners but these are the ones that work for me. Some say you have to follow a strict schedule for you to study and that’s good too but I have had enough of classroom language learning to last me for a lifetime. I don’t want to use the same methods for me to learn a 3rd language. After all, how many of us learned our subjects by heart when we were in high school, forced to stay in the class for 50 minutes?


I may write my review about these different websites and applications but don’t count on when I can post them. Please leave a note which application or site you want me to post an in depth review on and I will do my best to work on it as soon as possible. Thank you!

Updated on August 14, 2020: added the accompanying Youtube Video.

Prex JDV Ybasco

15 Comments Add yours

  1. このポストは大好きなあ。日本語勉強するのは難しいだけど私たちの趣味をなりました。自分でべんきょうは頑張ってね。


  2. *趣味になりました


    1. prexybasco says:


      Liked by 1 person

  3. This was very useful, thanks:) I too use some of those websites..


    1. prexybasco says:

      Hi! I’m very happy you liked the post! And yes, I feel you, when you wrote about getting stuck in Japanese ^_^ thank God for motivations right.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I really got motivated reading that you succeeded in self-studying Japanese!


      2. prexybasco says:

        oh! Yes! But I was just aiming to understand animation and Japanese comics so it wouldn’t count much. Besides I have JLPT N4 in December. Then I can call it a success!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Right! Even I’m trying to learn for fun 🙂 Best of luck for the N4…

        Liked by 1 person

      4. prexybasco says:

        Thank you!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. very informative… I am as well self studying Japanese and I can testify that above can be true – helpful indeed. Learning one of the difficult languages requires a lot of patience and practice.


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