Decade Challenge: Japanese Learning Resources Edition!

It’s 2020 – あけましておめでとうございます!

The previous decade seems to have gone by so quickly, and so many things have changed. Whilst I haven’t been studying Japanese intensively for some time now, I can still confidently say that my Japanese is much better than it was 10 years ago! 

I first started looking online for Japanese study resources in about 2007, although that was still a while before I became serious about learning the language. By 2010 I had a few go-to resources that I used before, and just after I started to study Japanese at university in 2010. I thought it would be interesting to look back to the start of the decade and look at what resources I found useful. At the time, I was probably an upper beginner (probably JLPT N4 level) in terms of vocabulary and kanji with an admittedly shaky knowledge of Japanese grammar.

Funnily enough, all of these resources still exist in some form today! So in no particular order, here are 10 resources I was using 10 years ago.

1. Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese Grammar

This website hardly needs any introduction to Japanese beginners. Unlike the textbook I was using at the time, the clear explanations of Japanese grammar just clicked better when reading Tae Kim’s guide. I was also a big fan of the mini vocab lists and example sentences which saved me having to consult a dictionary every 5 seconds. I still highly recommend this website to beginner learners.

2. Basic Kanji Book

I had to use Basic Kanji Book volumes 1 and 2 as part of my university Japanese classes. Each volume teaches you 250 essential kanji split over 20 or so chapters, with stroke order, common compounds, and radicals. I found Basic Kanji Book easy to follow and its clear layout gave me a good idea as to how to structure my kanji learning when I moved on from the books.

Sadly, I’m not sure if this book is still in print now. There are of course many more kanji learning resources out there today; this is not a flashy book by any means but I still look back on my time using it with great fondness.

3. Oxford Learners Japanese-English dictionary

Sometimes larger dictionaries contain too much detail and are simply overwhelming. This dictionary was recommended to me as a supplementary resource to use for simpler explanations aimed at Japanese learners. Unlike other Japanese dictionaries available to me at the time, this dictionary uses hiragana/ katakana rather than romaji.

For an A5 sized book, this dictionary packs in a lot of content. Aside from dictionary entries, there is also a grammar section including a verb conjugation table and notes on Japanese culture.

4. Coscom

Before I knew about NHK News Easy, this was my go-to website for simple Japanese reading practice. Not all content is free, but the stuff that is available is still very useful for beginners, especially if you are interested in the news. 

Each article has audio and it is possible to toggle between romaji, kana or kanji & kana. There’s also sentence by sentence breakdowns and vocabulary lists too. The website does look a bit dated, especially 10 years later but the quality is still there.

5. The Japanese Page

This may have been one of my favourite Japanese learning websites 10 years ago. I particularly liked the easy Japanese grammar explanations and vocabulary related posts such as this one on Thanksgiving. I don’t use it now but there are some useful articles for beginners.

6. iKnow

Studying with sentences was a relatively new concept to me back then, and iKnow was my first introduction to learning Japanese in this way. iKnow is a website designed for Japanese learners where you learn new vocabulary with sentences and pictures. I learned a great deal of vocabulary by studying for a few minutes every day.

In 2010, iKnow was a free service but soon after this it became a monthly subscription service. There are free alternatives out there (namely Anki) where you can import the Core 2000 decks.

7. Lang-8

Ten years ago, Lang 8 was the place to get your writing corrected by native speakers. I tried to keep a weekly diary on Lang 8 but I stopped when I had my own essays to write at university. The community on there was great and I always got quick, useful feedback from other users.

Whilst Lang-8 is still around, the no longer accepts new account registrations (the company has pooled its resources into HiNative instead). Nowadays HelloTalk is probably the best alternative out there.

8. Japanesepod101

The in your face advertising was and still is offputting, but the content on the JapanesePod101 website was extremely useful to me 10 years ago. I used to like listening to the podcast on my MP3 player for grammar points covering aspects that I found tricky. The short episodes meant that the lessons were engaging without getting information overload. 

JapanesePod101’s YouTube channel remains a useful resource for all sorts of things relating to learning Japanese.

9. JMDICT, aka Jim Breen’s J-E dictionary

This online dictionary doesn’t have the slick interfaces that we largely expect nowadays, but it is definitely one of the best quality Japanese to English dictionaries on the internet. Jim Breen’s was my go to dictionary when I began to read online, which I found really useful for names in particular. The dictionary was made at a time when it was a struggle to display Japanese on Western computers, something that I like many other learners have probably never thought about before. I am very thankful that Jim managed to build this essential resource!

10. Rikaichan browser add on

As useful as JMDICT is, Rikaichan was truly a game changer for me. 

Rikaichan allows you to look up the meaning of a Japanese word just by hovering over it.  10 years ago I used Firefox as my main internet browser, and Rikaichan was an add on that you could download and use for free! It made reading any sort of material online a much easier and more enjoyable process, which I will always be grateful for.

When Firefox upgraded to Firefox quantum a couple of years ago, a new add on called Rikaichamp was created to replace it. I use Google Chrome now, and use a similar browser extension called Yomichan for the same easy lookups.

How has your approach to language learning changed (if at all) since you first started? Let me know in the comments!

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