Learn Real Japanese: My Flexible & Immersive Approach

This post is primarily aimed towards those who know little to no Japanese and are looking to learn the language for fun, culture, travel, conversing, etc. There are many ways to learn Japanese and this is only sharing what has worked best for me.

Although I've been exposed to Japanese since I was a child, I didn't get serious about understanding and speaking the language until I was much older. I was able to go from basic level to near intermediate in under a year! I look back on all the chaos I put myself through, so let me cut out all the unnecessary stuff,  simplify the approach, and suggest what worked best for me: 

self-paced course + tutoring

Yes, you can take the standard college course + Genki approach, but it was boring and overwhelming for me. That option is great for a lot of learners, but I found that I had difficulty understanding and retaining information long term because it felt unnatural and not applicable to real life scenarios. In the past I had a friend say to me that I sounded outdated. Now I receive more compliments that aren’t nihongo jouzu (I still have a long way to go, but it felt good y’know). 

Think about it… many of us can't remember much from high school/college language classes. Self-paced courses allow you to study when you're motivated. Courses that are curated by passionate individuals can be easier to understand due to different approaches to teaching than college courses that focus on standardized learning. They provide up-to-date and fresh perspectives to teaching a language because they do not have to follow restrictions set by schools/governing bodies. Changes to school curriculum can take a while to update. 

Tutoring was not at all what I thought it'd be; I find that it is actually fun! Tutoring is customizable — I can go at my own pace and style, focus on specific topics, ask grammar questions, request slang/lingo that you wouldn't normally find in textbooks, and ask my tutors about their personal experiences and views. I feel more confident in one-on-one settings and feel that intimate and personalized usage of time is worth the money. Many programs use free or reduced trial fees for first sessions and you can switch tutors until you find the right fit; I tend to do best with tutors around my age as it feels more relatable and they are able to give me the low down on current trends in Japan. There are tons of affordable quality tutors nowadays thanks to the normalization of working online. 


I know this is what you’re really here for 😏 After trying out and researching countless language learning methods, here are my top suggestions for beginners!


While there are many course options out there, I feel these four recommendations are excellent to start off with. You do not need to take all of these courses! We are trying to stay focused and intentional. Sticking to one course is much more efficient than trying to absorb everything at once.

✿ Japanese in 12 - I highly recommend this course for absolute and accelerated beginners (there are also intermediate and advanced courses). The 12 week emphasis is legit and helpful if you are one someone who needs a schedule or set timeframe! New lessons are released weekly, but you have access to the course forever. This was created by a passionate interpreter and was organized and easy to digest! There is a focus on no fluff, but practical content. The graphics and resources are super cute and aesthetic (it’s important to some people, okay!!). You take a quiz in the beginning that helps determine which level you are and what course you should take. Check out Aimee’s instagram page @japanesewithaimee for her aesthetic and infographics. This course is pricey, but I would splurge on this course and save on other learning materials. There are payments plans available.

✿ Japanese with Hikari - I suggest her courses for those traveling to Japan, who like detailed breakdowns, and/or those who really love Japanese culture. Hikari sensei is Lively and she speaks very clearly. She provides visual-heavy courses fully taught in Japanese with subtitles and imagery. She covers real-life topics with a modern twist, such as grocery shopping, shopping in Shibuya, attending festivals, working, dating, Izakaya partying, and cooking. For each topic lesson, you focus on listening and reading a skit first, then break it down by vocabulary, verbs, kanji, expressions, grammar, and a special segment. She also includes other resources such as a travel guide. I am still going through everything, but I am impressed! Her social media @japanesewithhikari is entertaining and educational! It is also pricey as well, but you get a TON of useful content. There are payment plans available. The courses are not always available, so keep a lookout.

Free Options:

✿ Irodori - I loooove the visuals (the colors and formats are super cute)! There are tons of free resources, such as charts and books. They offer online video courses as well. The lessons are applicable to real life scenarios. My favorite part about Irodori is the the comprehension checklists, as it makes me feel more accomplished! I kind of want to print it out and put it on my wall as a reminder 🤔 the con to this is that it can feel overwhelming since there is a lot going on in one page. 

✿ Imabi - a more detailed, straightforward, and grammar focused option. Lessons are text heavy and thorough. Pretty dry and little to no imagery, videos, or audio but useful if you’re a reader!

Tutoring/Voice Chatting:

You absolutely need to practice conversing. I was very shy (I still am) but trust me, your skills will exponentially grow if you are talking regularly. I suggest at least taking lessons or doing voice chats 1-2 times a week. 

✿ iTalki (app) - learn from your phone! Cheaper prices and you have the option of scheduling lessons as you go or in bulk. Tutors are able to provide lesson styles (free chat, structures lessons, etc.) and in increments of 30, 45, 60, and 120 minutes. Overall, this app seems more casual and laid back. I have just started using this app, so I will provide an update later.

✿ Preply - in my experience, I've had some of the best most professional (but fun) tutors from here (in the $20+ range). This is great for those who need more structure and consistency, because you get one trial lesson, and then you have a subscription. You can cancel your subscription at any time. The Preply customer service is great!

✿ Tandem (app) - Free language learning community. Be careful with these kinds of apps (sometimes people are looking for dates even if it's against community rules). Check pictures, bios, and reviews carefully. 

*there are also popular app options such as HelloTalk, but popular apps tend to have more trolls and people who join with the intention of dating.


Kana App (iOS)(Android) - my favorite tutor suggested this app to me! I already knew Hiragana, but was able to pick up katakana quickly by using this app everyday until I mastered it. Then I practiced reading katakana on social media. Turn off your phone internet to avoid advertisements. I focus on reading comprehension over writing as most of my Japanese is done through typing. 

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ 

I would take Japanese in 12 (or Irodori if you're looking for a free option) and pair it with weekly tutoring/voice chatting using Preply or iTalki (or Tandem for a free option). You can use any combination of the courses and tutoring suggestions! What is important is to stick to one course and finish all of the lessons. Don't rush and really absorb the content before moving forward (that's the beauty of self-paced).

The key is consistency. Decide on a day or time for self-paced courses and schedule tutoring sessions ahead of time for accountability. It’s important to surround yourself in Japanese media (vlogs, music, movies, podcasts, etc.) as this will keep you relevant with vocab and topics, as well as with pop-culture. I will definitely share my current favorite media to consume in a future post.

✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ ✿ 

If you want to amp up the learning process, you can take a look at other steps and suggestions:

Focus on informal/everyday language and move up to formal. This is a more natural way of learning. Many lessons and books do not teach this way!!!

Nihongo Fun & Easy teaches need-to-know vocabulary and contains easy sentence building exercises 
✿Terrace House on Netflix is popular because everyone speaks casually on the show.
✿HIGHLY recommend Japanese with Yuta as he teaches real everyday Japanese
✿Free resources and articles: Tofugu
Yumely on Patreon is a language teacher who offers live classes and conversation practice sessions. She also has a discord community 
Aha'Aina Japanese Language Class is a language teacher in Hawaii. Her materials are easy to understand. She teaches casual forms as well


Pimsleur for initial exposure & media immersion (shows, music, movies, YouTube, social media, etc.) to familiarize myself with sounds, patterns, and common word. Some lessons may be outdated/too formal.
✿Practice reading news with Easy Japanese (free)
Take Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese is another free popular reference
✿The Hai! series has been helpful with learning kanji thanks to the imagery associations
Onomatope gives me an insight on Japanese symbolic words; something I didn't learn in my textbooks or classes. It adds depth!

Some money saving tips: 

For subscription based apps like lingodeer and Pimsleur, I went over a few lessons a day so that I could finish the beginner levels before the next month. I'd cancel my subscription before the next month. 

You might find Pimsleur for free at your local library.

Buy books used if possible! 

There are a lot of free resources out there; aside from YouTube, I've found podcasts on language enrichment and Twitch streamers who do live lessons. 

Watching children shows in your target language is another natural approach and can be found on YouTube. 

Duolingo is a popular free app, but I think it's better as a refresher. 

Keep yourself motivated! Follow other study accounts on social media or find a study buddy. Remind yourself why you’re doing this and keep up the momentum with imagery (posters, vision board, Pinterest boards), timelines (agendas, attending events, visiting places that use the target language), and rewards.

Happy language learning!!!

*Some links may be affiliate links. I may get a small kickback on any purchases made using my links. You do not pay anything extra nor can I see anyone's info. Using my links is an easy way to support me and my efforts! Thank you 🙏