Getting fluent in Japanese

As a enthusiast of Japanese cars or Japan in general, I am sure you want to visit or live in Japan sometime in your life. For this it will be very useful to understand and speak Japanese. As a person who is more science oriented, learning languages was a never one of my strong points. Though, I have been able to become fluent in Japanese in quite a short time, so let me explain you how I did it. I hope it will help you.

Here a summary for if you do not want to read the full article:

  • Do 15-30 minutes self-study per day for around one year to learn hiragana, katakana, basic kanji and common vocabulary.
  • Buy a book like “Japanese for Busy People” or “Genki” to learn basic grammar and new words. Start making your own sentences with these learning for efficient memorisation of new words.
  • Once you have basic language knowledge, start talking as much as possible to as many as possible different people.
  • Do not be afraid to make mistakes. You can only become better by practicing and making mistakes.
  • Make effective use of language exchange tools like
  • Try different learning platforms, for example to find the one that suits you best to your learning.


I decided to start learning Japanese because I was working for a Japanese company with a branch office in Europe and I thought it might be useful some day in the future. On regular basis, colleagues were being sent on assignment to Japan and so was one of my colleagues in my team. As preparation, he was studying Japanese so I could ask which material he was using for studying. While he had a private teacher to study together, I thought I could just study the material by myself. And so I bought the material called “Japanese for Busy People I”:

With this book you are able to learn the basics of Japanese (Romanji, Katakana and Kanji), which will support you in becoming fluent. What I did was that on a daily basis I started to work my way through the book. Just doing one or two pages a day. I would take around 10 minutes. Every new word that came up, I wrote it down in a special booklet. And for around 15 minutes I would learn writing hiragana (and later katakana) and simple kanji. And while I was cooking dinner, I used to review the booklet with new words to study those.

For hiragana and katakana, it took me around half a year 10-15 minutes a day before I could recognize or write them down from my memory. In that half year time, I also finished the first “Japanese for Busy People” book. That meant that I also had a basic understanding for the grammar due to the exercises in the book and a beginners vocabulary because I was memorizing the words during cooking. Furthermore, as I was interested in the Kanji, I managed to learn 100 (easy) kanji in my first half year of studying.

Finishing the first book, I continued with the second book of “Japanese for Busy People”. Taking the same approach as the first book, I managed to learn a lot of new grammar and expand my vocabulary. I was able to make my own sentences at this time, so instead of learning new words, I tried to combine a few new words into a strange sentence so that it would stick better in my head. For learning kanji, I used a website like where the kanji’s are categorised so that you can select order in which you want to learn them. I would look up the kanji and write down the reading in hiragana and meaning in English with some sample words in a notebook. The second book also took around half a year for me and then I started the third book of “Japanese for Busy People”.

I could not make my full way through this third book as around 1.5 year after I started studying, I was being sent to Japan on an assignment. By working my way through these two books, finishing studying hiragana and katakana, having a basic vocabulary and knowing around 300 kanji, I was ready to start applying this knowledge into verbal communication.

So when I arrived in Japan, I did not have a lot of experience talking. However, I used every opportunity that would arise. Do not be ashamed of trying to talk a language even though you are not so skilled. Most people will appreciate you trying. You can only learning by practicing and making mistakes. So try to talk as much as possible to as many different people as possible. For me it took around 6 months in Japan to get to the level where I was able to talk fluently about most subjects.

A good tool to help you improve your speaking and language skills is doing language exchange. A lot of Japanese people want to learn English, so it should be easy to find a partner in your neighborhood. Websites like or can help you with that. While Japanese are normally quite shy trying to speak a foreign language, you might be speaking more Japanese than English or your native language during language exchange sessions. Also, trying to meet up in person immediately might scare your partner away, so take it easy exchanging emails or chat messages before meeting up.

The fastest way to get fluent when you are in Japan is to join a sports club, make local friends or talk Japanese at your workplace. Or of course having a life partner which only speaks Japanese helps as well. Still, reading Japanese is another level than speaking Japanese and this requires a long period of memorizing kanji and their readings. I just wrote the kanji’s I want to learn in a notebook. I brought this with me most of the time and then when I had to wait somewhere, I would study the kanji at that time.

I also enjoyed learning new words and Japanese culture related things via the website called Be sure to follow them on Facebook for interesting Japanese content. They also offer language courses from beginner until advanced including a Premium Plus membership with personal teacher. Find out more about it here.

Learn Japanese with

An alternative to “Japanese for Busy People” for self-study is the series called “Genki”: