I am a novice to the Japanese language, and this question might have some opinion-based answers but I could use some advice.

Should I learn to speak some basic words and sentences up to a level where I can have a sensible conversation with a person and then start on reading and writing (Like a child learns a language), or should I dive into both simultaneously — speaking and writing — considering an adult can handle both at once.

I'm learning Japanese as a hobby (on my own) and don't have any time limitations. All help is appreciated!


  • Welcome to Language Learning SE! When you say that you are learning Japanese as a hobby, do you mean that you are learning it entirely on your own? Or do you (also) attend classes?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 12:23
  • I'm learning on my own.
    – GradDev
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 12:37
  • Related: languagelearning.stackexchange.com/questions/292/…
    – SAH
    Commented Feb 19, 2017 at 13:51

4 Answers 4


I addressed this issue in another question, where I wrote, among other things :

In his video on learning foreign alphabets, Olly Richards mentions some (anonymous) learners of Japanese, Chinese and Cantonese who advise not to learn kanji or hanzi at the beginning because it is a lot of work and takes time away from learning to speak. (Also, it is neither useful nor motivating to learn characters for words that you don't know how to use correctly in a communicative context.)

On Language Log, Victor Mair, professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in Februar 2014 (emphasis added):

If I were the czar or god of Chinese and Japanese language pedagogy, I would not teach students a single Chinese character until they were relatively fluent — about two years. I've always said that we should learn languages the way babies do; they learn to speak long before they learn to write.

In fact, this approach was used at a few American universities (Penn State University and Ohio State University). Victor Mair also cites a study by Jerome L. Packard (1990):

Jerry found that the time lag of delayed character introduction improved students' ability to discriminate Chinese sounds, and improved their fluency.

Two other interesting posts on Language Log are The future of Chinese language learning is now (5 April 2014) Learning to read and write Chinese (11 July 2016).

Even though the above comments are mainly about Chinese, I think they also apply to Japanese. So if you want to learn to speak before learning to write, you are in good company. However, you may have reasons to learn speaking and writing at the same time, for example:

  • Your job — or other goals that motivate you to learn Japanese (e.g. if you want to read mangas) — require that you learn to read and write Japanese.
  • The school where you are learning Japanese teaches reading and writing along with oral skills from day one.
  • You want to learn to read older forms of Japanese (e.g. Early Modern Japanese, Middle Japanese).

If you are in control of your learning, I think the first part of my answer gives you good arguments to learn oral skills first.

Update: The textbook series Japanese: The Spoken Language, written by Eleanor Harz Jorden and published by Yale University Press in the late 1980s, focused exclusively on the spoken language.

  • Thank you for the detailed answer. I agree with professor Victor Mair and I will try the 'learning like a child' method. I might even try listening to children's songs and watch T.V. shows as an experiment.
    – GradDev
    Commented Dec 27, 2016 at 13:00

I would go back even further. Start by concentrating more on learning to comprehend speech than on producing it. Producing too soon sometimes results in habits that have to be unlearned. The more native speech you have heard and understood, the fewer weird syntax you will produce.


Watashi wa Jen Jen.

Congrats on wanting to learn Japanese as a hobby. I, too, have made that decision 5 years ago. During the tsunami that took place awhile back, a lot of Asians moved to Texas after losing their homes. In good spirits, I decided to self-teach Japanese in my spare time.

There is a channel on YouTube called JapanSocietyNYC that teaches you from Ohiyo Gozaemas1 (good morning) to Oyasuminasi1 (good night). Yes I decided to hear a lot of Japanese and study things such as their ancient traditions on mannerisms.

1. Read those vowels as you would in English, not like Japanese romaji.

LISTENING, table manners according to Japanese culture, counting to 30, and INTRODUCING myself took me just 3 months! All you have to do is, for 1 hour a day:

  • 3 days a week watch Uki Uki or Waku Waku. Turn it off and look at 20-30 minutes of any Japanese cooking show.
  • On the 3rd day watch a Japanese action movie like 47 Ronin with actor Keanu Reeves, or Kill Bill with actress Uma Thurman.
  • DO NOT read a book or take Hiragana lessons until you can introduce yourself, count to twenty, display good table conversation, and can recite the days of the week. After that, learning to speak the alphabet didn't seem so hard.

There is an additional channel on YouTube free of charge called JapanesePod101 with a teacher named Hiroko, who is excellent if you have to see some kind of words or have questions about the subject.

Thank you for your time and best of luck to you! Yoro shiku onegai shemasu

  • 1
    This answer badly needs formatting. Also, you're telling the anecdotal evidence of your own way of learning, without any link to the OP's needs. So, -1. Commented Jan 29, 2017 at 15:03
  • 1
    I reformatted the answer, giving it a much better graphical presentation, corrected some very obvious grammatical mistakes, and put some links to the actual contents.
    – g4v3
    Commented Jun 1, 2017 at 16:26
  • 1
    @g4v3 The formatting has now been accepted, thanks. Jen Jen, Your answer is in itself a nice contribution but it does not quite answer the question why speaking and listening should be the initial focus before learning to read and write. It recommends this approach without giving arguments. If you can add a few good arguments, I think you can get some upvotes.
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Jun 4, 2017 at 17:20

Japanese has three skills you can learn without knowing how to speak and listen to language: hiragana, katakana and kanji radicals. I can vocalize text written in hiragana and katakana with good rate of success, though I only know a couple of disjoint words and can only form a couple of sentences. I also can recognize a fair amount of kanji radicals.

I decided to learn these precise because they are disjoint skills that don't require much background, and because they are useful by themselves or because they help in future learning. As such, they provide good motivation for me.

Having such disjoint components of a language is not very usual - usually, you have to learn many things at once.

But if your actual goal is to learn how to speak and understand spoken language, then intuitively starting from the script is not the most effective way. If reading or writing is your goal, then this might work fine.

I am, thus far, happy with my approach of first grasping the low-hanging fruit. I don't have scholarly references for the subject.

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