In STEP 1 you will learn the very basics of Japanese writing, vocabulary, and grammar.
At the very beginning of your journey its imperative that we state a very important fact about learning any language. You do not learn Japanese in Anki you learn it with your immersion. That being said, if you want to learn Japanese it is important that you immerse every day! Take however much time you have to learn Japanese and divide into thirds, 1/3 of that should be used for time in Anki and the other 2/3 should be used for immersion. Ideally After you are able to start reading 1/3 will be for that and the other 1/3 will be for listening such as watching Japanese shows, and youtube videos. For now just focus on listening immersion. At first of course you will not understand much of anything but as you study more and listen more the fog will clear and you will begin pick out words and phrases. Eventually if you keep studying and immersing you will be able to understand a great deal of your immersion and even reach fluency!
You should start off by learning Hiragana and Katakana. There are a lot of great ways to do that, if you are a Patreon you have access to the decks made by Nukemarine. You may also want to use some of the follow methods listed in the MIA Japanese Start Guide. You should be able to learn the kana within a week or two.
During this time period it is suggested that you start reading a grammar guide such as Tae Kim. Read a few sections every day and finish reading the whole guide by the time you finish the Tango N5 deck.
After you are able to write the recognize and write the kana, its time to move on to learning some real Japanese! We highly suggest you purchase the 1000 Essential Vocabulary for the JLPT N5 (usually refered to by its nickname Tango N5). The book is a small investment to make for your Japanese jouney, and by purchasing the book you can gain access to the Tango N5 Anki deck from either Nukemarine or Matt vs Japan. We don't make any money off this resource, we just think its the best for beginners.
Once you have aquired the deck and have installed it into Anki you should be ready to go. We recommend doing 10-20 new words a day (if you are using Nukemarines Tango decks which have audio and reading cards then your settings will be between 20-40 new cards a day, and if you are using the MIA deck which does not have audio cards it will be 10-20 cards a day.)
Depending on the source, the Tango N5 deck has about 950 cards. If you consistently learn 10 new words a day you should be able to complete the deck in 95 days or just over 3 months. You should be able to finish reading Tae Kim within this time frame as well.
While going through the Tango N5 deck you will run into about 150 different Kanji. Do your best to learn to recognize and read them as you go through them. In the next step you will be learn quite a few more kanji and will be doing it in a much more structured way. You may ask yourself why not just learn the kanji first like is suggested by MIA? That is a great option, and you absolutey can do that, however most people find them selves feeling very demotivated after spending several months learning Japanese to find they dont know any more Japanese than what they started with. This is why we suggest learning some basics before kanji. At the end of Tango N5 you should have around 857 known morphs.
Now that you have finished learning the foundations of Japanese it is time to start building on that knowledge. From this point on you will continue to grow your abilitys in Reading, Listening, Grammar, and Vocabulary. Of course none of this works without getting daily immersion, so it is important to keep doing that as much as you can. At this point you should be able to pick out words and phrases from your immersion, but probably still don't understand too much. That is ok and is part of the process!
Now that you have seen all of the cards in the N5 deck and have learned some some basic Japanese, it is time to start learning about the largest portion of the Japanese writing system. You will keep doing your daily reps for N5, but will take a short break from learning new vocabulary to learn the 500 most common Kanji. If you are a patreon of Nukemarine you can pick the Remembering the Kanji Optomized Pt. 1 for your contribution. Otherwise, you can use the free deck that Matt vs Japan provides on the MIA Japanese Quickstart Guide. The second deck mentioned is not broken up in to groups of 500 and is instead the 1000 most common kanji. If you choose to use this deck we suggest finishing the all 1000 at once. We also suggest you read the kanji section from the Japanese Quickstart Guide as it will answer many of your questions.
Learning kanji can be a daunting task, but by using the RTK method it can become much simpler to learn the meaning of each kanji. You will learn the kanji radicals (little building blocks that make up each kanji) and with these, make stories to help you remember the meaning of each kanji. Stories are already provided on each card for every kanji, however making your own story tends to help people remember the meanings of each kanji better, so if you find that this helps you please feel free to make your own stories.
When it comes to reviewing your cards each day, there are two ways you can go about it. The Traditional RTK method is to have the English keyword on the front of your cards and the kanji on the back. Your goal is to write the kanji from memory based on your stories. The Recognition RTK method is just the opposite, where you have your each kanji on the front of your card and the English keyword on the back. Your goal for these types of cards are to remember the meaning of the kanji but not how to write it. There are benefits to both methods, but generally speaking, people usually do Recognition RTK while they are still in the beginner phases of learning Japanese and then return to Traditional RTK once they reach basic fluency in the language. We suggest that you learn between 10 to 30 new cards a day, if done at a pace of 20 cards a day you should be able to finish this step in just 25 days.
Once you have finished learning the 500 most common kanji it is time to once again focus on vocabulary. We will do this by completing the Tango N4 decks. Once you have purchased the N4 book (hard copy or digital) you can get the Tango N4 decks from Nukemarine or Matt vs Japan. This deck very is similar to the N5 Tango deck just a bit larger and of course with new words. There are about 1200 words in this deck so if you completed it at a rate of 15 new words a day it should take you about 80 days to finish it or just shy of 3 months. At the end of Tango N4 you should have about 1729 known Morphs.
You will most likey notice that the grammar is quite a bit harder in the N4 Tango deck. That is of course because it covers grammar for N5 and N4. If you have trouble understanding sentences in this deck, don't be afraid to go back and read parts or even all of Tae Kim. You can of course also answer many of your questions with a quick google search. Another excellent resource is to use this search engine based of the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar (Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced).
Some people will want a more in-depth way to learn grammar, in which case you can always create a seperate anki deck for grammar. Many people have used decks based of the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and found it very helpful. If you do decide to study something like this, we suggest you take it slow, such as 3-5 cards a day.
After finishing the N5 Tango deck and the 500 most common kanji, you should give reading a try! You will probably find it difficult at first, but that is to be expected. Using sites like Bilingual Manga to read a manga like Yotsubato, or Shirokuma Cafe is a great way to start reading native Japanese material. Learning to read basic news articles on NHK News Easy is another great option. There is also a fantasic Android and iPhone app called TangoRisto which can pull from NHK News Easy and other sources and has a built in dictionary. Another option is to occationaly immerse with Japanese subtitles. Using the browser addon Language Learning with Netflix creates an ideal learning environment which allows you to click on subtitles for an instant definition while watching shows on Netflix. The video player Voracious creates a very similiar enviornment for media with subtitles which you have downloaded to your PC. At this stage you want to start getting some reading immersion every day and eventually reading should take up around 1/3 of your Japanese learning time.
Congrats on reaching the Intermediate stages! This is the point where your Japanese ability will really start to grow and you will be able to enjoy more and more content in Japanese. This is also sometimes the most frustrating stage for many as you find your self being able to understand a large amoung of new things, and yet are suddenly realizing how far you have left to go. Of course you should be still immersing, more probably now than ever, and you should be choosing harder forms of immersion, such as easy Video Games (Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Visual Novels), Manga that you enjoy, and maybe after this stage even try your hand at your first Light Novel or Book.
So you have finished the first 500 Kanji, Tango N4, and have been immersing regulary. I am sure you have noticed that those 500 Kanji make up a large amoung of the ones you are seeing in the wild, but I would also wager that many of the words you don't know and are often looking up include kanji you have never seen before. Well guess what it's time you learned some more kanji. You probably figured out how you like to learn these by now so I won't give too much more advice on how to learn them, but I will say that you should probably finish these next 500 kanji before moving on to the N3 book, as many will appear in your new sentences.
If you are a patreon on Nukemarine, then you can find the deck for the next 500 kanji here
Alright we have reached the first big decision point in your Japanese learning adventure. At this point in your studing you will want to choose between continuing on with the Tango Series with another book, or if you would like to move out into the wild and start Sentence Mining / Deep Diving. The decision is completely yours, however I will offer some pros and cons to help you choose. Tango is great for a few different things, the biggest being that if your goal is to pass the JLPT N(3,2,1) these books will help you greatly in learning the vocab and passively the grammar and kanji for these tests. They are also awesome if you are really tight on time and have enjoyed the Tango decks so far. The Tango N3 book will also now start introducing you to casual Japanese that you will hear in everyday conversation and in much of what you have been immersing with. I personally found it to be a nice transition for sentence mining. That being said, a lot of people don't love the Tango book's canned sentences and find some words a bit difficult to remember due to the fact that they are learning them out of context as opposed to in a story. Some of the words in N3 are also now rare enough that you might not hear or see them in your immersion often. So the choice is really up to you. That being said you can always sentence mine for a while and then come back to the Tango books, or you can finish this book and then move on to sentence mining.
So you have chosen to continue on with Tango, thats great all you need do is the same as before, once you have purchased the book provide proof to Nukemarine and receive the deck. Study it the same way you studied the other decks up until now.
So you have chosen to try your hand at sentence mining. Sentence mining is a really rewarding process. Basically you will take words from your immersion and add them to anki in a few different ways. We typically break setence mining up into 2 or 3 different methods, Traditional Setence Mining, Sentence Mining with Morphman, and Deep Dives.
Traditional Sentence Mining is the process of finding 1T/i+1 sentences in your immersion while immersing and then taking those sentences and adding them to anki cards. Some people find this process to be fun and it seems to help your new words stick really well, however it can be pretty time consuming. The guys at MIA have a really great write up about this in their Japanese Quickstart Guide if you would like to read more on this. They also touch on Morphman which is what we will discuss next.
Morphman is an Anki addon which has the ability to scan all the sentences you have stuided in anki and find new sentences which will be 1T/i+1 from a sentence bank you have created. This is a huge time saving trick for those of us who don't have much time to use on sentence mining. Morphman paired with a frequency list can make it even more effective as it will force morphman to pick common words based on whatever frequency list you use. The biggest downside of Morphman when used by it's self or with a frequency list is that you lose the biggest benefit of traditional sentence mining which was having strong context for each word you learn. It was for this reason that we came up with the idea for Deep Diving.
Doing a Deep Dive is the process of picking one show to study with, and learning all the most common words from it up to a desired level of understanding. Basically you download the subtitles from a show, you create or find a Subs2SRS deck for the show, and then set up Morphman in a specific way using those subtitles to target the show you want to study. What this does is allows us to combine the time saving qualities of Morphman with the biggest benefit of traditional sentence mining, context. We have written and recorded a guide for you to follow if you would like to see how to set up your first Deep Dive on our Morphman Page. At this point I also want to give a huge shoutout to one of Nukemarine's Patreons NoCompo, as his is the one who has updated the Morphman addon to make Deep Dives possible. He has contributed a lot to our learning community and should be recognized!
At this stage in the game your most likely know how you like to study. For some they might decide they want to stick the Tango Books and take the JLPT N2. For others they might want to start Sentence Mining, or moving on to doing a Deep Dive. Either way you want to continue down the path of learning. Of course as always you want to keep up with your daily immersion.
At this point you have learned a fair number of kanji (over 1000) and should know how you like to go about doing this. Learning another 500 kanji will make reading easier for you. You can of course use the next LLJ kanji deck to do so if you would like.
If you would like you can continue to use the Tango N2 vocabulary deck. This would be especially helpful if you are planning on taking the JLPT N2 which is a goal of many people. However if the JLPT is not your goal currently, then it might be a better time to move on to Sentence Mining.
There are many ways to Sentence Mine. You can use books, shows, videogames, visual novels, the news. Really anything can be used to create good sentences for studying. Of course you will want to try to stick to creating cards that are i+1/1T at a rate of around 10-15 new words a day. Maybe people like to do this "manually" meaning they will create cards from the shows they watch, the games they play, and the books they read. This is probably the best way to setnence mine as it creates a strong link between the words you are learning and the content you are using. The down side to this is it takes a lot of time to do. Many people choose instead to use an Anki addon called Morphman to help speed up the process. Even more effiencent than Morphman on it own, is using Morphman to do "Deep Dives". If you would like to read more about these methods please look back to the Vocabulary section in STEP 3. If you decide Morphman and Deep Dives are for you then please check out our Morphman Page.
Reading should be one of your main forms of immersion now. We havent talked too much about how you should immerse up until this point, only that you should. That being said reading is important enough that we feel we should mention it. Finishing you first book will be hard, there is no way around that, but it will be very rewarding. There are many ways to make the process easier, but you really just need to sit down and read to get better at it. The hardest way is the most traditional, sitting down with a paper back book and a dictionary and reading the old fasion way. It should be your goal to get to this point, but might not be the most enjoyable way to read your first book. Conversely you can use a Kindle to read a book, or an internet browser and the browser addon Yomichan. Using a Kindle (or any eReader) or borwser and Yomichan allows you to quickly look up words you don't know by simply tapping them or selecting them. Being able to quickly do this will allow you get back to reading faster. Lastly you can try reading along to audio. Doing so will make reading very easy compared to traditional methods and is great immersion, but might not strengthen your reading ability quite as much as the previous two methods.