Pass JLPT1 in 2 Years
And how to teach yourself any language
I passed JLPT level 1 with two years of study, and was convincing
enough that I got a technical sales job in Japan after 16 months of
study, of which only 6 months involved formal study in a classroom. I
also speak French and 3 dialects of Chinese. Some people ask me how I
At first, I was not interested in learning to read and write Japanese,
but only to learn to speak. By trial and error, I arrived at an
effective way to learn: Here are the steps involved in my learning to
speak Japanese. This is the same method I used to learn several other
See the bottom of this page for Japanese textbooks that I used, or click on "Books" in the menu for a list.
Choose material that comes with CDs for listening practice and
learning on the go.
With any given lesson:
- Listen to the dialogue, and try to figure out what the speakers
are saying. The courses I recommend have sound effects, so it's
possible to guess the location, and some of what's going on. Sometimes,
I'd try to speak along with it.
- Read the dialogue, and look up any words I don't know. I would
often play a dialog line, pause, and read it.
- Listen to the dialogue, until I can understand all the words that
- Shadow the dialogue, until I can actually speak faster than the
- Listen to dialogues during my commute. This would allow me to
review past dialogues, as well as giving me a start of step 1 for
The key to fast learning is to have several lessons going on parallel,
and getting started on step 1 as soon as possible. I may be studying
three lessons at once, each at different stages of the pipeline,
getting first-exposure to new material, even as I'm still polishing
another lesson. This ensures multiple exposures across several days,
and allows your subconscious mind to absorb the sounds of the language.
You can actually do stage 1 while walking, ironing, or cleaning around
the house. It's low-stress, fun, and inspirational because you know if
you work steadily, that what sounds like incomprehensible gibberish
will be stuff that you will master.
Learning according to the pipeline above gives you these skills
- Your ear will become accustomed to the sounds of Japanese. By
listening before looking at any written material, you step away from
using written material as a crutch. Afterward, when you read, you can
check to see whether you heard all the sounds correctly. I found that
in quickly spoken Japanese, I couldn't hear the "r" sound because it's
a sound that didn't exist in any language I'd studied up to that point.
Having a good ear will be helpful in your conversations, as you'll be
able to pick up new words.
- Your mouth will become accustomed to Japanese pronunciation and
- You will learn actual conversational Japanese, and avoid sounding
- You will ingrain certain grammar patterns and responses. This was
funny because I would speak slowly when creating new sentences, but if
it was a grammatical pattern or turn of phrase that I had learned, I
would be able to speak it at native speed. This was fun because the the
Teach Yourself course had funny turns of phrase, like "He's smart, but
not very handsome." and "The dish didn't break, you broke it, didn't
Learn Japanese: Recommended Books and Materials
Here are the materials I used to learn to speak Japanese. Study
these in order, and you will give you a wide range of spoken fluency. They are available on Amazon Japan
Use this website as the basis for learning kanji and written Japanese.
- Get started speaking immediately: all dialogues are in romaji.
- Fun dialogues
- Accompanying CDs with native speakers
- Teaches polite speech for business and acquaintances
- Humorous dialogues make material more memorable.
- have accompanying CDs with native speakers
- no Japanese script - all dialogs are transcribed into Romaji.
- Teaches polite speech for business and acquaintances.
- Teaches informal speech for family and close friends.
- Teaches honorific speech for being even more polite.
- overlaps with the Teach Yourself Japanese in level of
difficulty - mainly useful to get extra practice while on the road, by
listening to fresh dialogues.
- no Japanese script - all dialogs are transcribed into romaji.
- Lots of new vocabulary not covered in the above courses.
- A variety of dialogues covering polite, informal speech.
- All dialogues are in Japanese script - a big leap, but all Kanji
have Kana pronunciation guides.
- Reading exercises.
- Unfortunately, no CD.
- Good for extended practice of honorific sonkeigo (尊
敬語) and humble kensongo (謙遜語) forms. I needed this for
Halfway through the Japanese for Professionals book, I convinced
Intel to give me a sales job in Japan.
- Mostly overlaps with the "Integrated Approach" course - mainly
useful to get extra practice while on the road, by listening to fresh
- Dialogues are transcribed in both Japanese script and in romaji.
Joining any sort of a club gives you chances to interact with people in
your language of choice, and toastmasters is a club for people
interested in speaking!
- great jazz music and detailed visuals
- colloquially rough Japanese spoken by two heroes, a heroine, and
girl - important because male and female speech patterns are different
- speaking in public in general
- preparing speeches and speaking at different levels of formality
- switching between English and Japanese