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Breaking the Language Barrier: Enhancing Japanese Language Skills
Dec 19, 2023
7 min read
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Starting a professional journey in Japan can be a rewarding experience. While skills and qualifications are key parts of securing employment, one aspect that is especially important and may pose challenges is language.

Overcoming language barriers can be very demanding, requiring you to proactively learn the language and culture. However, this can give you a big advantage in your career opportunities. In this article, we will provide tips to boost your Japanese language skills.

STEP 1: Choosing the Right Textbook

Japanese alphabets, such as Hiragana and Katakana, can be easily found and learned online in a short period of time. However, this may not be the case for Kanji, further vocabulary, grammar or conversational phrases. Choosing the right textbook that fits your language level and goals is crucial to ensure that you can learn motivated and comfortably.

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In regards to grammar, the "Minna no Nihongo" textbook is a popular choice for beginners. It is widely used by teachers in Japanese language schools, as well as in Japanese language courses at universities in Japan and overseas. This textbook can help you learn not only grammar, but also essential vocabulary as well. However, “Minna no Nihongo” has one downside: it does not provide detailed information about Kanji, such as the correct way to write Kanji or how to read the Kanji systematically.

An alternative to “Minna no Nihongo'' can be the “TRY! Nihongo Nouryoku Shiken Bunpou Kara Nobasu Nihongo" series. It is definitely the right choice for you if you are preparing for the JLPT. Even if not, this series can still be a well organized guide to learning Japanese grammar.

Both of the above grammar books also have audio to improve your listening skills.


As for learning vocabulary, we recommend the “Nihongo Tango Speed Master” series. This textbook gives you explanations and contextual examples of various Japanese words, divided by themes. There are many versions for many languages, so you can use the version with the language you are most comfortable with. Even if you are not planning to take the JLPT, it will give you an idea of what words are commonly used, and therefore that you should learn first.


As for kanji, the "Basic Kanji Book" can be a good start. This textbook has many exercises to help you memorize kanji more effectively.

Some alternatives to this are the “Kanji 2200 Listed According to Frequency and Familiarity,” or the “Kanji Dictionary 2500 For Foreigners Learning Japanese”. However, we do not recommend these books for complete beginners. If you are already somewhat familiar with the kanji, you may find these books very easy to use and more informative than the "Basic Kanji Book”.

Speaking and Listening

An additional series of books that we strongly recommend to improve your conversational Japanese speaking and listening skills is the “Speak Japanese!” series. This series can teach you how to speak like a native Japanese, instead of the common text-like tone.


As a beginner you may find it difficult to read in Japanese. If you feel that the texts provided in “Minna no Nihongo” are not enough for you, you can also supplement it with textbooks such as “Japanese for Today” and/or "Introduction to Japanese History for Foreign Students”. “Japanese for Today” provides a wide range of texts about Japanese culture. “Introduction to Japanese History for Foreign Students” can also be a good choice, especially if you are interested in Japanese history.

STEP 2: Beyond the Textbook - Japanese Media and Other Web Resources

While textbooks can help to start building your foundational Japanese, we recommend that you use Japanese media, apps and websites to help enhance the effect of your learning.

Japanese Media and Literature

Dive into Japanese movies, anime, TV shows, and music to expose yourself to the authentic usage of Japanese, as well as the various accents. This can enhance your comprehension, and help you learn colloquial expressions and cultural nuances, an important part of daily conversation. Watch movies and shows first with subtitles, and gradually reduce your reliance on them as your skills improve. Depending on your interests, you can also listen to Japanese music, or even try going to a karaoke.

Reading literature such as books, manga, or newspapers in Japanese can help improve your language proficiency and expand your vocabulary. Start with the materials suited to your language level, and progressively challenge yourself with more complex texts. Reading allows for exposure to different writing styles and cultural themes.

Language Apps and Online Communities

Use technology to your advantage with language learning apps, such as Duolingo or Memrise. These apps offer game-like lessons, making the learning process convenient and enjoyable. The consistent use of language apps can reinforce vocabulary and grammar in daily practice.

Engage with online language communities on platforms such as Reddit or Facebook, where language learners can share resources, tips, and experiences. These communities can be your support network, and become a valuable source of advice for overcoming specific language challenges.

STEP 3: Use The Language

Engage in conversation with native speakers, take language courses, join in conversation exchanges and language meet-ups to expose yourself to real-life situations where Japanese is used. This will accelerate learning and help you build confidence in using the language.

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Immersive Language-learning

One of the most effective ways to enhance your language skills is through immersion. You can start by talking in Japanese to yourself. Next, make sure to practice speaking and listening with native speakers. Without practicing speaking, your language level may stagnate and stop improving.

Be sure to seek out opportunities to practice with native speakers in a casual settings. Join local clubs or sports groups, where shared interests can create a natural space for language exchange. Language exchange programs are also an excellent way to practice speaking with natives.

Platforms like Tandem or HelloTalk connect language learners with native speakers for language practice opportunities. This interactive exchange not only improves language skills but also fosters cultural understanding. Once again, do not be afraid of mistakes and imperfection in the beginning. Native speakers often appreciate the effort to learn their language and are willing to help! :)

Language Classes and Language Workshops

Enrolling in language classes - whether it be language schools, universities or online platforms - provides structured learning with a focus on grammar, vocabulary, and practical conversation. Look for classes that offer a balance between written and spoken practice to ensure that your skills will develop comprehensively. Having a teacher to help guide you can also be helpful in your learning journey.

You can also search for workshops or cultural events organized by local communities or expat groups. These events provide opportunities to practice language skills in a more supportive environment, while also building connections with other learners and native speakers.

Remember: Don't give up!

In this article, we looked at tips to help you improve your language ability and break the language barrier. Overcoming language barriers in Japan is not only about mastering the vocabulary and grammar, but also about embracing the culture and fostering meaningful connections. Remember that every effort you invest in language proficiency brings you one step closer to not only further opportunities, but also a more enjoyable experience in Japan.

Good luck, and we wish you the best on your language-learning journey!

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