Japanese lessons online

My husband and I are excited to be visiting Japan for the first time in December. It’s one of those places on “the list”, you know, the long list of places we really really want to travel to. Neither of us speaks a word of Japanese. Even in countries where English is spoken widely, we think it’s rude to show up and not be able to say at least the basics in the local language, such as ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’, ‘ticket’, count to ten and so on. So today I trawled through some sites offering online Japanese lessons, some including audio and video. There are HUNDREDS, but some that look OK so far include:

NHK World (news organisation)


About.com: Japanese Language

The Japanese Page

I haven’t done much language learning online before, usually opting for the buy book/CD/attend classes options. But that seems silly when there are lots of free resources on the web.

Any tips? If you speak or have learnt Japanese, I would love to hear your thoughts.


3 responses to “Japanese lessons online

  1. Deborah Hause

    Your colleague Takako, a friend of mine from many years back, sent me your post and asked if I had any ideas. I’ve visited Japan twice, but the trips were some years ago (the late 80s and the mid-90s), so I didn’t have the option of free online resources. I did take Japanese I in college, and studied Japanese informally with friends (including Takako, when she was 8 or 9 years old!!). What my husband and I have found most useful–in preparing to travel to Japan as well as European countries–is to listen to language course CDs in the car and in the house repeatedly, until we reach a high comfort level with each lesson. But with Japanese you will face an additional challenge because of the writing system, which takes years to master. For example, I seem to remember that there was little romaji (the Roman-style alphabet) in the Tokyo subways (I don’t know if that’s still true), so you will need to know the kanji (Chinese characters) of the station to which you are traveling. On my last trip to Tokyo, I carried with me a handwritten (in Japanese) list of the names of the stations I was most likely to use. You might even want to carry with you the sentence “What is the kanji for . . . ?” written in Japanese, so that you can show it to people when you are trying to read signs to figure out where you are going. I believe Kyoto and other touristy areas had more signs with romaji, making it a little easier for foreigners to make their way. I hope this is at least a little helpful. Have a wonderful trip!

    • Thanks so much for your advice Deborah, especially about carrying a list of places we’re trying to get to in kanji. I will definitely do that! And I think I might be more comfortable with the CD approach that I’ve also used before… maybe I’ll just use some of the online audio files as a backup. I don’t expect to achieve a very useful level of Japanese in two months, but I would hate to go and not even know basic greetings and polite introductory phrases. Very much looking forward to visiting Japan! Cheers Susan

  2. Deborah Hause

    I think that your efforts to learn some basic Japanese phrases will go a long way toward making your interactions in Japan more successful and comfortable. I love Japan and I hope you do too. Good luck!! Deborah

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