Learning Some Japanese Efficiently for An Upcoming Trip: Seeking Advice

Hi all/anyone,

I presently am focused on Spanish, with a growing effort in French. But I have a two week, upcoming trip to Japan in December, so about 2.5 months away. Although I agree with Steve’s approach generally of taking a lot longer to become competent in a language, working on listening and reading a lot upfront, speaking more later, I also think it is a good ethic to try and get up to some level, however, minimal it my turn out to be, of the destination’s native language before traveling there.

So I’m looking for advice on starting to learn some Japanese from scratch. I don’t see completely abandoning Spanish and French between now and my Japan trip. I don’t know any of the Japanese characters yet, but am willing to start learning if it makes the most sense to do so. My goal would be to have some functionality in Japanese society while traveling, such as being functional in the restaurant, train travel, read some signs, menus, and other basic words, and be able to have some (probably very spare) social conversations in Japanese. I know that two and half months is probably not enough to do much more than this. But it’s also a great opportunity to jump start the Japanese language, and maybe work towards greater fluency in the future.

Any thoughts on starting from scratch would be appreciated, whether or not it involves materials beyond LingQ (although I hope to make LingQ a meaningful part of the effort as I do in Spanish and French).


I had two months to prepare for my trip to Romania. Romanian is written in the Latin alphabet and has 70% words that are very similar to Italian.

I wrote out about 150 basic phrases which I had translated and recorded in Romanian. I studied these and our beginner texts at LingQ for the first month. But that was not the first thing I did. I spent my first three days listening to Pimsleur in my car, perhaps 30-40 minutes each day. I did this before we had anything in our library LingQ. I found it a good icebreaker to the language. However the vocabulary it provides is extremely limited considering the time we need to spend with it.

Soon I was able to graduate to authentic content that I found at Radio Romania, and imported into LingQ.

After one month I started speaking with our tutors, and stepped that up to 3 hours a week, before going to Romania.

You are in a different situation. Japanese has three writing systems, all of which are unfamiliar to you. You have no freebie vocabulary. The structure of Japanese is very different from the structure of European languages. You will have to make some choices.

I would focus on listening and reading for at least one month. I would also focus on hiragana, and just dabble in katakana and kanji.

Pimsleur may be a good icebreaker, but I would not spend too much time with it. I would get a starter book that you like. If you like Assimil fine. I would also check out resources on the web. Japanese pod 101, lists of common phrases and whatever else you can find. I would combine all this with doing the beginner lessons at LingQ.

After a month or six weeks, I would try to talk to people via Skype, our tutors at LIngQ for example, while continuing your listening and reading.

Good luck.

I suggest you close down the other thread,so we can all follow and contribute. I would copy Iri’s comment from the other thread and add it here.

I had a look in our Japanese library. We have over 380 beginner lessons in our library. Roughly half of them are beginner one. Many of them are excellent. Around 60 of them have translations into English. Check the resources filter to find them. I don’t think you can find as complete a collection of beginner material for Japanese, with audio and text, anywhere.

I would focus on our own beginner material, created by people like emma, rika, nobuo and other members just to name a few. Their work is outstanding. Give it a try.

I closed down the other thread, now where is Iri’s answer? I though you had copied it. Oops.

Steve’s assessment sounds accurate to me, you will have to make some choices. Hiragana can be learned quickly and is probably the most useful of the three (hiragana, katakana, and kanji). It will open up some more resources for you (such as more lessons in the library) and can be used to represent every sound in the language. But on its own it will not allow you to read genuine Japanese text. Fortunately the LingQ library has lessons written entirely in hiragana as well as romaji. The time spent learning kanji or katakana is probably better spent doing other things. I would only worry about recognizing some important kanji characters such as 「駅」 so you can recognize a sign is for a train station. ^^

I seem to remember some beginner lessons in the library specifically geared towards what you are interested in learning such as restaurants and train travel. I can see if I can find the lessons if you have trouble finding them.

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Actually, depending on where you will be in Japan, the train stations might all have English written under them so I’m not even sure you will need to know that character.

I think that’s an excellent Kanji for a beginner to recognize! “Eki” is also an important word to know.



Here is Ira’s response I pulled off my email forum tracking:

Dear Christian,

You are watching the following thread on the LingQ Forum:

Title: Planning to Learn Some Japanese for a Trip in a Few Months; Looking for Advice

A new post has been added by Iri:

Buy a small paper phrasebook. Yes, you can use electronic ones, but
this is less expensive and more reliable. Learn these words first:
Konnichiwa (“Hello”), Sumimasen (excuse me) and Kudasai (please).
Now you can eat. You can great people in a simple way, excuse yourself
for errors or inconvenience, and ask for help. If you go in a
restaurant (train station) or restaurants with picture menus or
plastic molded versions of the food, you can indicate with the name of
the food “Tempura soba, kudasai”, “Ramen, kudasai”, “Sukiyaki,
kudasai”, “Tempura Udon”, kudasai. These are common foods. If you
are unfamiliar with these dishes, use a search engine and look at
images of them before you arrive. Some other food" Yakitori, Sushi"
Words you will hear every day: Desu ne (isn’t it?) “Dess nay”,
“Sakana” Japanese people talk about fish all the time, in my opinion.
Learn the names of food and seafood if you like this. You can also
say “Ham-ba-ga, kudasai” if you like Western food better. Not saying
you’re a barbarian, but… If you are by yourself say “Hitori” to
indicate that you need a table for one. To me, this almost sounds like
hsTORI or schtori when it’s pronounced in Tokyo. If there are two of
you say “Futari”, three of you is “San-nin”. You don’t need to learn
the word for four people, if there are four of you in a group and none
of you speak English, the shop will suddenly be closed. No, just
kidding. After you eat, you should say “Gochisosamadeshita”, If
you feel grateful before you eat, you should say “Itadakimasu” as
well. These mean “It was a feast.” and “I gratefully partake”. You
might get away with “Oishii” (deliciious) when you are eating, if you
would like to show appreciation. To me, these are the basics. You
should add the numbers up to ten, at least. Yasai=vegetables
Kohi=coffee Ocha=tea (green) Kocha=tea (black), “Mizu” water You can
say these before “kudasai”. Directions: Kita (North) Minami
(South), Higashi (Sounds like "Hinashi"in Tokyo dialect, to me)
(East), and Nishi (West) So, to recap, learn these words first,
combine as needed. Isha/O-isha-san (physician). Abunai (danger)