Ria is an avid writer who is currently teaching English in southwest Japan. She loves helping new teachers and expats get settled in.
Invest in a Textbook
If you've studied Japanese in any kind of academic setting, you probably already have a decent textbook, but it's worth looking around to see if another series meets your needs. The Genki series is highly-regarded and teaches both the written language and the spoken language at the same time. Don’t let that intimidate you, though: it’s commonly used in universities and in the few high schools that offer Japanese. It has cute illustrations to help explain the conversations. Intermediate learners can probably jump straight into Level II and catch up on any grammar bits they missed during their own studies.
If you’re trying to focus on the spoken language, check out Japanese: The Spoken Language. While the romanization and pronunciation is explained and displayed in an unusual way, the grammar and culture explanations are excellent, and will be super helpful for anyone trying to dive deep into the language. It’s less commonly-used than Genki and can be a dense read, though, so more casual learners will want to stick to Genki.
If your goal is to pass the JLPT, each level of the exam has a range of textbooks and workbooks available. Some of these books are designed to mainly act as practice, though, and don't offer much in the way of detailed explanations.
Get Guidance from Expert Blogs
Manga Sensei has a podcast, blog, videos, and other resources to help you improve. If you need a full refresher, the 30-day Japanese challenge will help you brush up. Otherwise, you can scroll through the site for bits of grammar you don't understand.
Maggie-Sensei is also very good, and the example dialogues are handy for any intermediate learner or advanced learner who needs to brush up. The content uses ample use of color coding and cute animal photos, making it a much easier read than most textbooks. She replies to comments fairly frequently, making her an excellent resource if you have a tricky grammar question.
Both of these sites are excellent because the grammar points and nuances are clearly explained by native English speakers who know what they're talking about. There are many wonderful Japanese tutors out there, but sometimes it takes a native English speaker to clearly explain the difference in nuance between two similar Japanese words.
Read Manga with Furigana
Furigana, the small hiragana written above kanji to show its pronunciation, isn't written in most books or documents for adults. It is, however, usually written in manga intended for younger audiences! This doesn't just limit you to Naruto and other shonen series; more mature Gundam series and classics like Revolutionary Girl Utena also feature furigana in the original Japanese versions. Typically, if the series was originally published in a magazine for readers in high school or below, the dialogue will have furigana above all kanji.
Unfortunately, manga in Japanese can be a little hard to obtain overseas, but Amazon and other retailers sometimes carry popular series. It's a worthwhile investment if you're a big fan of a particular series and you need practice reading kanji and understanding conversation. (Just remember that many of the conversations in manga are going to be a little too informal for you to use in everyday life!)
While watching anime can be decent listening comprehension practice, the speaking speed will often be too fast for intermediate learners. It's also harder to distinguish between homophones and similar-sounding words without the kanji in front of you to help.
Japanese is much more difficult than Spanish or French, and requires many years of practice to attain fluency, even in an immersion setting. However, it is possible to attain competency in just a few years if you study hard and immerse yourself as much as possible. Playing app-based games isn’t enough to learn the complex grammar - you have to be willing to invest time and energy into studying the rules and nuances associated with the language.
If possible, try to take a few classes at a community college or other education center, since live classes are best for mastering the pronunciation. If you can’t, though, try some online tutoring options like Verbling and FluentU.
You can also chat with native speakers on apps like HelloTalk, which allows private messaging and open conversation, including audio posts. Keep in mind that the Japanese speakers on HelloTalk are often trying to learn English, so play fair and make sure to help them learn as well! Busuu is similar but has a paywall for most features, though the subscription fee is as low as $8 per month. Since Busuu also has flashcards and grammar guides, the fee may well be worth it if you'll use the app regularly.
Liz Westwood from UK on October 24, 2018:
You give good advice. Another hubber recently published a list of useful Japanese words.