This is a question that comes up quite a lot. Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2, and then focus on immersion and vocabulary building. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).
Unfortunately, Genki books are not cheap at around £40 for the textbook (not to mention the costs of the workbooks) and so are not an option for people studying on their own with little money to spare. On the other hand, the internet is a rich source of Japanese learning resources, so I thought I would introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without the use of a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.
Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow (fortunately most of the ones I mention do), in which case I recommend looking at grammar lists for JLPT N5 to give yourself an idea of which aspects of the language to focus on learning first, even if your intention is not to take the JLPT. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work.
Here is a list of various resources that I think could either be worked through like a regular textbook, or could be used as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you may already be making use of:
Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list, Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive which tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time
Imabi – This is a great place to start if Tae Kim isn’t for you. This online grammar guide starts from the beginning of learning Japanese right up to advanced level and each level is split into a number of lessons, enabling you to work your way through the website just like a textbook. Best of all this is entirely free – needless to say, this is a must visit resource!
Erin’s Challenge – if you’re a visual learner you may find supplementing your study with this website useful. Erin’s challenge is a website put together by the Japan Foundation with a series of videos featuring Erin, who becomes a school exchange student in Japan. Each short video covers a different topic as she gets used to her new life in Japan, which also comes with explanations of key grammar points and phrases used which you can then test yourself on.
Marugoto – The Japan Foundation website has a number of free online courses aimed at those self-studying Japanese called Marugoto. If you aim is to build practical communication skills in Japanese then I recommend the ‘Katsudoo’ course, but if you want to study Japanese in more depth then choose the ‘Katsudoo & Rikai’ course.
Human Japanese – Whilst not free in its entirety, the ‘lite’ version of this app is free and gives a pretty good indication of the app’s approach to learning Japanese. I’ve written a separate post on this app as I think it is worth the cost of entry for complete beginners to Japanese.
Lingodeer – this (free!) app is more like Duolingo than Human Japanese in that you follow a series of lessons covering different aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Having said that, it covers topics in a way that makes it very accessible for Japanese learners – you can then follow up the lessons with some of the sites below to reinforce your understanding of the content. It also does a pretty good job of testing you on the content of the lessons in different ways, which is really important when self-studying.
Grammar Reference sites
It’s always good to have somewhere else to check out grammar explanations if they are not making sense straight away. Here’s a list of places you might find useful:
Jgram – I think of Jgram as a database of Japanese grammar points which the community contributes to. You can search for grammar points by the (old) JLPT levels or use the search function to look up something specific. Each entry has notes and example sentences which is helpful for getting a new perspective on a grammar point.
Maggie Sensei – Everything on the website is presented in a really fun and easy to digest way. As well as explanations of grammar points, you will also find posts on aspects of Japanese culture. I also like that vocabulary is listed by theme rather than difficulty.
Wasabi – Wasabi’s online grammar reference is similar to Tae Kim in layout and style. I think Wasabi’s guide is particularly good for learning to distinguish between grammar points which have similar English meanings.
Japanistry – The Japanistry grammar guide works quite similarly to the Tae Kim guide but is a great reference site for the foundations of Japanese grammar.
日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori) – This YouTube channel has lots of videos on grammar points aimed at all levels of Japanese learners. The playlist that I’ve linked to called ‘Ekubo Basic Japanese Lessons’ starts from the very beginning, but there are a number of playlists focused on different levels of the JLPT.
Worksheets and Quizzes
MLC Japanese – full of handy printable worksheets and quizzes. There is a lot of content for JLPT N5 & N4 in particular, but you can find study plans and JLPT material for the upper levels (old levels level 2 and level 1).
Memrise – has a number of electronic flashcard decks, including decks on the main textbooks including Genki, Tae Kim’s guide and at the JLPT
These are all the sites I am currently aware of, but I will add to this list as and when I come across other new resources!