First, a bit of terminology, some things that aren't always made clear in the literature...

  • Kanji - There are many thousands of kanji. Each one is a picture that has a meaning, and they can be combined for further meanings. They are the "picture writing" you've probably seen, and evolved from the Chinese.
  • Kana - There are two sets of these, with 46 in each set. Each represents a Japanese syllable, and they are used to "spell" kanji. That is, instead of writing a picture, you can use the sounds of the kana to "spell" out its pronunciation. Each one also has a Romanized spelling which is the same in each of the two sets.
    • Hiragana - One of the two kana sets. Think of it as a font, with katakana being a parallel font. Japanese words are usually spelled with hiragana, though katakana may be used for emphasis or special effects.
    • Katakana - One of the two kana sets. Think of it as a font, with hiragana being a parallel font. Foreign words and foreign words which are commonly used in Japanese are spelled with katakana.

Online Learning Resources

Learning Resources

Here are some learning resources, mostly available from Amazon.com...

+ Calendars...

+ Kana Flashcards (Japanese and English Edition)
The MP3 Audio Companion is available at White Rabbit Japan Shop.
+ Japanese Kanji Flashcards, Series 2 Vol. 1 (Japanese Edition)
+ Japanese Kanji Flashcards, Series 2 Volume 2 (Japanese Edition)
+ Japanese Kanji Flashcards, Series 2 Volume 3 (English and Japanese Edition)
Sometimes they're less expensive at White Rabbit, and if you're interested in buying all three sets, look for the bundle. I don't know whether it's always available, but I got the bundle for 20% off: White Rabbit Japan Shop: Flashcards.
+ Beginner's Kana Workbook - Practice Drills for Writing Hiragana and Katakana
Just as the title says. Teaches you to write the characters.
+ Easy Hiragana - First Steps to Reading and Writing Basic Japanese
+ Easy Katakana - How to Read and Write English Words Used in Japanese
+ Easy Kanji - A Basic Guide to Writing Japanese Characters
A bit less emphasis on how to write the characters than is provided in the workbook mentioned above, but a lot more information on what they mean and how they're used.
Living Language Japanese, Complete Edition
A classic series, updated, excellent for self-study.
+ Learn in Your Car: Japanese - Level 1
+ Learn in Your Car: Japanese - Level 2
+ Learn in Your Car: Japanese - Level 3
A good learning tool but may move too fast for the beginner... I found this to be true of the German and Spanish versions even though I had some previous experience in those languages, and in Japanese I'm a real beginner! It would probably be best to follow along a bit in the listening guides before hitting the road. [The German and Spanish versions I purchased years ago were audio cassettes; later they were released on CD, but now they appear to be primarily MP3 format.]
+ Remembering the Hiragana - A Complete Course on How to Teach Yourself the Japanese Syllabary in 3 Hours
+ Remembering the Katakana
+ Remembering the Kanji I - A Complete Course on How Not to Forget the Meaning and Writing of Japanese Characters
+ Remembering the Kanji II - A Systematic Guide to Reading Japanese Characters
So far, I've purchased only the Hiragana book. It's rather clever, teaching you little memory hooks. After the first lesson I found that the method does work, though I wonder if it can work as well with something as big as the Kanji set. In past experiments with associative tricks meant to improve one's memory, I've found that they work well only if you have a good memory to begin with! That is, if you can remember the hooks, you can pretty much remember the material itself just as easily, and if not, not. Maybe these will be better.
+ Vocabulearn Japanese - Amazon search
An all-audio no-reading-required offering. Good for vocabulary-building while you commute. A word is spoken, then its translation, another word is spoken, then its translation... an excellent tool! I've used the German and Spanish versions. [When I revisited the Vocabulearn series at Amazon years later, I found that some were unavailable, some available as CD or MP3, some for one language but not another... So I replaced my old direct links with the above search.]

After you've learned Japanese, visit http://www.shonenknife.net, home of the most famous band in the world from Osaka! But if you can't wait, you can visit my Shonen Knife page now.

10 Decembro 2013 modifita.