Learning Japanese Efficiently: Tools and Advice

Learning Japanese Efficiently: Tools and Advice

Looking for practical, real world tips for effectively and efficiently learning Japanese? Today, I have a few recommended resources based on level. 

Sorry I don't have an etymology for you today, but I'll begin with an English haiku from one of our readers who writes under the name Sakana-Kun:


An ADHD Haiku: 

Scattered thoughts bouncing.
l'll carefully explain now...
look! a shiny thing!


Thanks, Sakana-kun. 5-7-5. Reminds me of Dug the Dog from the Pixar movie Up. Squirrel!


Recommended Resources

Here are a few thoughts and tools I personally use and recommend based on your current level.

Please note, I'm just one guy who has some experience (been a student of Japanese since 1998!), but I can't know every useful tool out there. I'm sure I'm missing something BIG.

I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.

What free or paid tools do you use that you have found to be helpful in learning Japanese? What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out?

Leave a comment and let me know. I sincerely would love to hear your thoughts and if you don't mind, I'll add the best ideas to our beginner's page.

Hit reply

Before I give my thoughts on each level, here are a few indispensable tools for all levels. ALL are FREE except iTalki.

  • Yomichan - It's magic! Hold down shift and mouse over a Japanese word or kanji to get an instant translation. Click here to read my thoughts on Yomichan and Anki. There are other similar tools, but Yomichan works smoothly and there is even a pitch accent add on. [FREE]
  • Anki - We are including Anki decks with most of the content we produce now. If you can make using Anki a daily habit, you will see progress with your vocabulary. [FREE except iPhone app]
  • Learning languages with Netflix now called "Language Reactor" - A great free tool for mining vocabulary from Netflix shows. See our Makoto Letter on streaming Japanese content here. It has a feature to export to Anki, but I prefer manually adding all words. It helps it stick when I go to the trouble of typing it into Anki. Like Yomichan, there are other similar plug ins. Hit reply and let me know if you know of something better than Language Reactor. [FREE]
  • iTalki - I mentioned this a few weeks back, and use it at least twice a week to chat with two (now) friends in Japan. This isn't free, however. You do need to pay the teachers/conversation partner, but the fastest way to improve your Japanese conversation is to actually hold Japanese conversations. This is an affiliate link. If you purchase $20 of credits, you’ll get $5 back and I’ll get $10. It isn't free, but highly, highly recommended.\


And now, for my thoughts based on level:


Total Beginner

I spent all morning revising our beginners advice page at TheJapanesePage.com. I won't copy/paste all I wrote here, but please check it out.

Basically, I suggest a total beginner should start with hiragana, then katakana, and then get a textbook to keep one's learning structured. A textbook isn't as necessary once you enter the intermediate stage, but beginners need structure and direction.

I also recommend, (cough cough) our beginner's bundle, Beri- Beri- Shoshinsha. It is meant to be used with your textbook and includes tons of fun (not boring) reading material.

If you are a total beginner or would like a pep talk to rekindle your enthusiasm, please check it out. It's a bit long, but I think it would be worth your time. Click here.


Beginner - Upper Beginner

Most of what we produce is really for you.

Use our bundles to practice reading, and if you aren't a Makoto+ member, become one.

Really, while total beginners and more advanced students can get a lot out of what we do, Makoto+ and most of our digital bundles are specifically for you!

Make a habit of reading one news article with NHK's Easy Web news site every single day.

Try to read through the text and then read again while listening to the audio. This may be tough at first, but if you really want to improve your Japanese, this is an amazing (and free) tool to help with that.

If you are very new to kanji, turn the furigana on. If you are working on your kanji, turn the furigana off and then use Yomichan to check the readings and pitch accents.

Buy our bundles and use them! Email me any questions as you go through our material.

If you are a Shogun Makoto+ member, go through past Makoto issues. If you are a Samurai member, you can still go through the latest issue. Find material that is challenging to you but not frustratingly so.

Actively add new words and phrases to your Anki deck and clear your Anki deck daily. No excuses!



You now should be reading and listening to mostly native material like Japanese podcasts, Japanese YouTubers, TV dramas, news articles, or whatever.

Actively add new words and phrases to your Anki deck and clear your Anki deck daily. No excuses!

Make time every day to read something.

It is best if it is something that is fresh every day. It could be a news article or if you want to keep up with pop culture, an article on the latest entertainment on Yahoo.co.jp.

It is best if it has audio.

If you are a Makoto+ Shogun or Lifetime member, try to spend some time each day going through one of the stories from a past Makoto issue. Not only does it have instant definitions (hidden at first, of course), but it also has slow and normal speed audio recordings.

Here is what I recommend:

  • Read the text out loud first.
  • Then read it again while listening to the audio.
  • Stop to check the pitch accents for any word you are not sure of. (Use Yomichan to do that--see here for how to install the pitch accent dictionary)
  • Of course, always add new words to your Anki deck. 
  • Then clear your Anki deck every day.


For me (Clay), I read a Japanese Bible devotional every morning. It has audio of the exact text which is awesome. Then if I have time, I pick a news article to do the same thing. I haven't found a news site that has the exact audio of the article, but with the NHK news site, there are oftentimes a video of the same story.

Find content that interests you. If it has audio, that's perfection.

If you can't find audio, please consider becoming a Makoto+ Shogun or Lifetime member. Most of the hundreds of stories and texts found on the website have both slow and normal speed recordings.


Those are my (Clay) thoughts. Leave a comment and let me know if you have any suggestions. What works for you?

Become a Makoto+ member today (or a Patreon patron here).


Thank you,
Clay & Yumi