I just started learning Japanese regularly, and I was wondering if it's worth it to work on pitch accent while learning grammar and vocab or forget it for now and start working on it when I can speak a bit and understand some spoken speech? And in any case, is there a pitch accent dictionary I can use or looking up every word isn't an efficient way of learning?
Short answer: yes.
- Resources: When you use a good Japanese-Japanese dictionary or Takoboto (online or the app) it will take only a second to take note of the accent. You can also hear the correct accent when you use TTS in Anki.
- In my own experience, even at the beginning you'll notice a few patterns, like that most sino-japanese compounds have the 平板 accent, and quite a few sino-japanese words that don't have this accent become much more distinctive with their specific accent. Also in my own experience, when you note the accent, you are more likely to hear it as well, which will reinforce your awareness of the accent, without you having to drill it. Beyond basic vocabulary, it may be better to use Anki only for passive repetition (according to this guy). I put only complete Japanese sentences in the front of an Anki note, let those being read with TTS. If you really need to put in one word, put は after it so that you can hear if the word ends in a high pitch.
- From the beginning? Yes, you don't want to need to unlearn bad habits.
- Is it really important? Pitch accent in Japanese is at least as important as is stress accent in English. Do you want to be the person who puts stress on the wrong syllable all the time? Imagine having to listen to someone who does that in English (watch these Japanese people commenting on each others mistakes).
The pitch accent is often forgotten in Japanese lessons, but is very important. Japanese have many similar words differentiated only by pitch accent.
The Takoboto Android app can display the pitch accent. You have to activate it in the settings. Sometimes, you have two different pitch accents because it can vary from a region to another.
(I am not affiliated with this application.)