Around this time last year, I did a thread on Twitter aggregating sources for studying Japanese, especially those that would help people studying for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I’ve been thinking for awhile that it might be helpful if I shared those resources here, as well as adding some new ones.
This would normally be the time of year when those planning to sit the December exam would be finishing up their registration or entering the final phase of study, but with everything going on right now, the JLPT has been cancelled in certain areas. That being said, this is still a good opportunity to continue your study. More time hopefully means a higher rate of success.
A Note on Studying and Learning Japanese (or any language)
I’ve listed the resources below. I’ve also included a final note at the bottom about the JLPT, especially as it pertains to people hoping to break into translation. If you have any resources you found useful, feel free to share them in the comments below.
The original intent of this post is meant to be a collection of resources, to be used as you need them. Different resources may meet different needs. Your mileage may, and likely will, vary. This list is not intended as a comprehensive study plan nor a guaranteed path to proficiency. Each person learns differently and your individual goals and learning style are going to impact where you should place your energy.
I think reading and listening to content aimed at native speakers is extremely important in your study. Yes, this even includes anime, manga, and other pop culture media. While those should never be your only means of learning a language, enjoying the media you’re passionate about in its original language can be an engaging piece of your study and practice.
At the end of the day, I think a varied, holistic approach is the best.
Nihongonomori has a plethora of excellent content. Most of it is categorized by JLPT level, but I recommend visiting it, especially some of their grammar videos, whenever you hit a grammar usage that is unfamiliar to you. The video hosts explain things in easily understandable Japanese (being able to understand grammar explanations in the language you’re studying is extremely useful) and try to make the topics fun and interesting.
Run by TV Asahi, this channel posts several bites from news broadcasts throughout the day. The news is domestic and international, so the familiarity with stories that you may be following in your native language can help with making connections to certain vocabulary used throughout.
Kanji StickyStudy by Justin of Stickystudy
This is a wonderful app for kanji study, whether you’re studying for the JLPT or not. It presents the kanji in flashcard format, but also has a screen where you can practice writing each character. The front of the flashcards show the kanji, their readings, English meanings, potential word combinations, sample sentences, and similar kanji. The back displays the stroke order and allows the user to practice along, the sillhouette in the background growing dimmer each time the user properly writes the character. There are decks for hiragana, katakana, all five levels of the JLPT, Joyo kanji, and the kanji learned in Japanese schools by grade, from 1-9.
KanKen Start by Imagineer Co. Ltd.
This is an app fellow translator Emily Balistrieri shared on Twitter earlier this year and it has been wonderful for getting back into kanji study. This app is predicated on passing the Kanji Kentei exam and does require payment once you break through a certain level, but it’s a great tool in your study arsenal. The format for some of the questions mimics the format for some JLPT kanji questions as well.
Full disclosure: I have been using this to study other languages, not Japanese. But it has been incredibly useful, so i still want to recommend it here.
Drops is primarily focused on vocabulary study. But there’s a lot to that, especially with a language like Japanese, where you are likely also learning to read kana and kanji. Drops focuses on memorization. It presents (or “drops”) a new vocabulary word on you, usually written in kana, then romaji, then with the English. You go through a series of games – from matching the picture with either the word or its English meaning, to spelling games, to games where you listen and match. It engages all of your senses while using repetition over multiple sessions until it feels you have learned the term. Vocabulary is grouped by theme and more vocabulary is unlocked over time. It is free to start and you gt so much free time each day. You can pay to have unlimited access, but I actually find the five-to-ten minutes you get for free each day to be perfect. They’re bite-sized study sessions you can knock out on a coffee break but it’s just enough to compel you to come back day after day, building these connections in your mind.
This is a generalized flashcard app, but it is wonderful for study and memorization. There are many premade decks out there, especially ones geared toward JLPT study, but also decks for other themes or uses. The flashcards can include pictures or sounds as well. And with each flashcard, Anki leaves it to you to decide how comfortable you are that you understand the content of each card by allowing you to determine how soon you see it again. It’s a great addition to any study arsenal.
I paired this with the Kanzen Master books and it helped fill in some holes. The downside is both sets can be pricey. If you could only choose one, skip to Kanzen Master. So-Matome is great and includes some explanation in English, Chinese, and Korean, in addition to the Japanese text. It can be a good middle step, especially if you’re struggling. There are books for all five levels. Each level has a separate book for vocabulary, kanji, grammar, reading, and listening. Each book is also divided into eight weeks of study, with six days being for drills and the seventh day being a quiz. I like the way the book has you schedule your study sessions, but this may not work for people who don’t have time to work on the book’s two-page spread each day.
Kanzen Master Series
This is the series I see recommended most for JLPT study and for good reason. This series, especially in the upper levels, dispenses with a lot of the fluff and moves quickly to preparing you for the test. Like So-Matome, the series is divided into five books per level: vocabulary, kanji, grammar, reading, and listening. If you could only buy one set that I’m recommending, this is it.
Breaking into Japanese Literature by Giles Murray
I love the set-up of this book and still have my copy from college. It’s a wonderful read for people who aspire to translate one day or even those just wanting to read books in Japanese. The original Japanese text is presented at the top of the left hand page, with the corresponding English translation at the top of the right page. Along the bottom are all the vocabulary words the reader encounters for the first time, along with their English counterparts. This particular volume covers four stories from Natsume Souseki’s Ten Nights of Dreams, as well as three short stories from Akutagawa Ryuunosuke, including “In A Grove” and “Rashoumon”.
Websites and Other Resources
Meguro Language Center
MLC offers plenty of JLPT study resources for free. Worksheets, practice quizzes, vocabulary lists, etc. They also offer classes both in-person and online via Skype. (NOTE: as of 9/30/20, their in-person classes are suspended. Skype classes still appear to be available. I’ll update whenever this changes.)
No, I’m not sponsored by BookWalker. But I can’t tell you how amazing it feels to be able to look up a Japanese manga or novel and, 9 times out of 10, be able to buy and read it INSTANTLY! This is coming from someone who was ecstatic on finding Sasuga Bookstore’s online site back in (year redacted to protect the ancient). We currently have so much access to books in Japanese and what better way to study than by reading something entertaining in the language you wish to learn. I know there are other eBook services out there for Japanese books, this is just the one I am most familiar with.
I feel like if you’ve studied Japanese for any period of time, you’ve probably encountered Jisho. But I’m including it for those unfamiliar. As you progress in your study, you also want to get comfortable using J-J dictionaries (I’ve included ones below), especially if you’re interested in translation. But Jisho.org is a great resource.
I have found Weblio to be a helpful dictionary. There are other great sites as well (Kotobank, for example), but this is one of my favorites.
Sites That Connect You With Native Speakers
There are many sites out there that connect you with native speakers and language learners the world over. The Mixxer, for example, facilitates a language learning relationship. Usually you’ll find and pair up with someone who is looking to learn your native language over video chat to practice. Other sites, like HiNative, allow you to ask questions about language usage and get replies from native speakers. Lang-8 is also a great place to have your writing in Japanese evaluated and to help proofread for others as well.
A Note on the JLPT and Its Use
There has been a lot of good and interesting discussion on how useful the JLPT is in determining ability, especially when it comes to people wishing to become translators.
My personal opinion on this is that the JLPT is one possible benchmark. I think it’s useful as a benchmark, but it’s not the end-all, be-all. It doesn’t test Japanese writing or speaking ability. It is a multiple-choice test that tests kanji, vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, reading comprehension (which is vital in translation), and listening. It cannot account for your writing ability in English (or whatever your target translation language is), which is also vital in translation. It wasn’t designed for that.
Most companies you apply to translate for will assess you with their own in-house translation test. Some companies will have a JLPT level listed, either as a requirement or as preference. If you are applying to a Japanese company in Japan or a Japanese university, you are more likely to see a JLPT requirement.
There are some alternatives. The OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview) and WPT (Writing Proficiency Test) are both offered in Japanese. I’ve seen them used in lieu of the Praxis II for people wishing to teach languages that do not have a Praxis II test available (such as Japanese). They may also be used for some government jobs. The only catch is that I don’t believe you can sign up for them freely. I think you have to have a school or employer request that you take them. Still, if you are in the US, you may see them requested at some point.
At the end of the day, the value of the JLPT is up to you. I find it useful as one benchmark. However, the fact that it is only offered at certain times of year, in certain locations, can be very prohibitive.
Whether you choose to take the JLPT or not, good luck in your studies and your pursuits! Take care!