Formerly worldrevolution. The only reason I am nice to anyone else is to avoid being banned.
(Note: New thread is still under construction and will have layout/information updated daily. Apologies for the incompleteness!)
Welcome to NeoGAF's official thread for discussing the study of Japanese and Japanese related activities. This thread is a collection of resources and discussions aimed at people of all levels. In this OP you will find links to various interesting materials that we, the Japanese OT community, feel would be helpful in your Japanese studies. Please take the time to look through this post as you may find a question you wish to ask already answered here. You will find the bulk of the content in this post in the F.A.Q. below, which hopefully categorizes and addresses topics neatly. There is also a friendly disclaimer that you may or may not wish to read at the bottom of this post.
The previous thread can be found here.
Please read the first two questions at minimum if you are new to Japanese.
Should I self study or should I join a program/class/group?
This is usually the starting point of all Japanese study plans for an individual. Taking classes in school? Doing a program like Rosetta? Going completely solo? Whichever it is, realize that having the aid of a native speaker in some shape or form will always be more advantageous than not. There are also things like Lang-8 or Reddit's forum that can be used to look for that advanced level of help, but nothing will replace a live person.
Even if you are in a program, or for example a university class, it is important to realize that most programs will not go in-depth enough or push you enough to become proficient in Japanese. For that reason, some form of supplementary self study is always recommended. More likely than not, kanji will be the area that you wish to tackle on your own. This is discussed further below.
I just want to study Japanese to be able to consume media, I have no plans of ever communicating with it. What should I do?
This is one of the most common reasons that people online look for Japanese learning materials and as such we have dedicated this spot for the answer. We understand that most people simply want to enjoy things like their favorite video games, manga, tv shows, etc. and are studying Japanese for that reason. There is nothing wrong with this goal, but realize that studying for this purpose may overlap with the general study of the language. That is to say, there is no way to pinpoint your studies in a way that let's you study only for playing your favorite video game. You may have to invest your energies in a much broader form of study so that you build a basic foundation for all Japanese, and not just the small segment that you wish to partake in.
The next major thing to understand is that there are two skills you will need to be able to consume media - listening and reading. In today's age, it is easy to procure materials for practicing both, but please understand the commitment it takes to become skilled in both. Putting listening aside, the hurdle for most when it comes to media will be the Jouyou Kanji. At the bare minimum, anyone intending to read things at an intermediate or above level will need to tackle these. It is an interesting point to note that even if you master all Jouyou Kanji, there are still many, many more kanji you would need to know in order to truly consume all media.
In short, we still recommend you follow the advice in the rest of the questions below, even if your goal is not to become a native level Japanese user.
I'm a complete beginner, where should I begin?
The majority of this answer will focus on the self study or supplementary side of study, however, as said above, we always recommend joining some form of structured class or program with access to a native or advanced speaker. These options will vary for everyone based on their location, but university classes or language tutors are usually common. There are also sites like Wyzant where you can find online tutors, or Lang-8 where you can find native help.
First, this Reddit starter's guide is a great, quick introduction into the language and study. There are obviously various levels of beginner, but everyone can benefit from a few of these when starting out.
We recommend starting with the usual books that anyone would find anywhere, for example - Genki or Japanese for Busy People. Following these courses through at least a few texts will most likely get you to a basic foundation of understanding sentence structure, the writing systems, and vocabulary. For those with a head start or looking for a challenge earlier in their studies, there is also Tobira. While technically a bit above beginner, if you're looking for a more immersive study method from the start, this series can give you that experience.
Two resources we recommend in general for your beginner studies, and even all of your studies going forward,are A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and Jim Breen's Legendary Japanese Online Compendium. The Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar is part of a 3 set anthology that most Japanese learners consider to be the absolute top when it comes to grammar explanations and examples. Having this text available to supplement and clarify your studies will prove to be an invaluable resource. Jim Breen's website was the first and is the largest online Japanese<->English dictionary on the internet. It is the main database that almost all dictionary website and apps use as their foundation. While we of course recommend getting things like paper or electronic dictionaries, when it comes to online resources, Jim Breen has done more work for online Japanese study than probably any human.
I'm not quite a beginner, but I'm not exactly advanced. What should I be focusing on?
As an intermediate learner, you will most likely have to delve further into self-study as your primary source of learning. Even if you have completed a course like Genki or are in a 4 year university program, they will leave you at a point of yearning.
A good place to really increase your Japanese level when transitioning from a beginner is kanji. Kanji is a common theme in this post and that's because it is the number one reason people quit studying Japanese. There are many reasons to learn kanji, but as an intermediate learner here is the big one - it will allow you to experience different types of content that will introduce you to new vocabulary, grammar, idioms, and culture.
So, how do we recommend you study kanji? There are a million ways and we can't recommend any over the other. Here are some of the usual suspects:
Spaced repetition using programs like WaniKani
The Heisig Method
Brute force method (aka whiteboard)
What we do plan to do is post a compendium of experiences/opinions/thoughts about these study methods here for people to see actual stories from people who tried them. Please keep an eye out for those links!
If you would like to focus on other topics before kanji, working your way through the topics presented in Intermediate and Advanced would give you the majority of grammatical foundation you need. Remember, most 4 year university programs usually stop around the beginning of the Intermediate text's content.
So how do I actually use all of the resources you've linked to study myself?
We plan to post more links/experiences that answer just this question soon! Please check back.
Are there any certifications or licenses I can work toward?
There are actually quite a few and this section will be updated with more detail in the coming days. For now, the main one to bring up is the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. It consists of 5 distinct levels that test your current level of Japanese reading, comprehension, and listening abilities. There are no writing or speaking sections. In general, the JLPT has been the main standard by which people judge or showcase Japanese proficiency, and most work places or schools often require a minimum of N2(the second highest level) for acceptance. The test is given once a year internationally and twice a year within Japan. It is important to note that even if someone passes the highest level, N1, it does not mean that they are fluent in Japanese. N1 level is equivalent to native level of a high school student. While this may not seem like a lot, understand that the test equates to about 12 years of Japanese schooling or, more specifically, kanji.
If you are interested in the JLPT, many people participating in this thread have taken it and can share their thoughts. Again, we will update this post with links of peoples' experiences soon.
What are my options for actually going to Japan to study, or living/working in Japan?
In general, most people find their way to Japan via English teaching. The English teaching industry Japan is, for better or worse, very easy to get into provided you are a native English speaker and have a 4 year advanced degree or equivalent. There are also study abroad programs and language school programs that many people take part in. If your country participates in a working holiday visa, this is usually one of the better ways to visit Japan.
While we agree that going to Japan is a great way to study Japanese, there are a few things we would like to make people aware of.
First, Japan is a very different culture than most Western countries, and often times people go to Japan with preconceived notions due to being exposed to cultural exports from Japan. It is important to note that what you think Japan is and what Japan is may not be the same.
Second, the Japanese visa system can be a bit of a hurdle. While most countries' citizens will be able to receive a 3 month tourist visa upon arrival, this visa cannot be used to work or study in a formal sense and must be changed via a Certificate of Eligibility. While Japanese rules require you to acquire the CoE before coming to Japan, exceptions are often made for those already in the country. Acquiring a working holiday visa is usually the best method for young people to come.
Third, if you plan to take the English teacher route, prepare yourself mentally and financially. You often will not be able to choose the place you live/work and you will also need to cover most of your initial thoughts. Many people suffer from culture shock, loneliness, and a lack of desire to study, which can all defeat the purpose of you going there. There is a wonderful Teaching English in Asia thread here on GAF that can help you with all of this.
If you have ambitions of going to Japan via other career opportunities, we will post more information/resources as time goes on. We have people with many different backgrounds in the thread so feel free to ask.
Can someone translate this for me?
If you make a post with enough detail or information, it is possible someone will be kind enough to come by and translate for you. Please don't beg.
This is just a friendly note from the community here. Studying Japanese can be a daunting endeavor that is not easily comparable to the study of other languages. It is important to note that Japanese is a high context language with various cultural cues that go beyond simply understanding a word or phrase. Learning the mechanics of Japanese takes time, but actually learning how to communicate in Japanese can genuinely take a lifetime.
Before taking any major next step in your studies, please realize that there is an incredible variety of ideas and methodologies when it comes to learning Japanese, or any language. Not every topic or method discussed in this thread may be right for you, in fact, all of them might not be right for you. Try your best to experiment with different study habits or try new ways of exposing yourself to the language. Eventually you will find something that clicks for you.
Thanks to Kansoku for banners.