Frequently Asked Questions

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Click below for responses to frequently asked questions.

About Learning Japanese

The extremely concise answer:

(1) Learn to read, write, and pronounce Japanese (e.g. this course).

(2) Get a foundational understanding of Japanese grammar (e.g. this course).

(3) Start speaking the language with a teacher or language exchange partner (e.g. this course).

(4a) Learn tons of kanji (e.g. by using mnemonics).
(4b) Learn tons of vocabulary (e.g. this course).
(4c) Learn JLPT N5 and N4 grammar (e.g. this course and this course).

(5a) Learn much more vocabulary (e.g. the 4,000+ sentences covered in our first 300 daily lessons).
(5b) Learn N3 and N2 grammar. (e.g. this course and this course).

(6) Learn content relevant to you personally, such as content from anime or manga, video games, or JLPT N1 grammar (which you need if you want to become a translator).

See the answer to the previous question.

Dive in wherever you feel it is appropriate to do so. Do your very best not to get frustrated the many, many times that learning materials are above or below your current level. If the Japanese is "too easy," then that means you're reviewing and solidifying your grasp of the basics. If the content is "too hard," you're getting a preview of what you'll understand with ease some day in the future.

Keep in mind, first and foremost, that "advice is autobiography." So people will tell you to learn kanji the way they have learned it. Japanese people will typically say either (A) write all the characters by hand 27,000 times or (B) give up. People that have used mnemonics to learn kanji will say to do it that way. People who didn't use mnemonics — who perhaps think they learned kanji by writing them but probably learned them via exposure — will tell you to do it their way.

It doesn't really matter which method you choose. Some methods are faster than others. Some methods only appeal to some people. In the vast majority of cases, the problem is not the method. The problem is that learners do not stick to the method they have chosen. They give up part-way through their studies or, just as bad, start over using a different method.

Think very carefully about which method you would like to use to learn kanji (I think it's pretty much mnemonics and then exposure or just exposure), then commit to it. Do it for as long as it takes. You will learn kanji eventually.

Don't. Learn vocabulary, and you will learn kanji readings naturally over time.

Studying separate readings for each kanji character is a dangerous game because you will end up learning lots of readings that are hardly ever used in real Japanese. Also, you're not learning any useful information by learning the reading of a kanji... unless you learn at least one word containing that kanji reading which is used by Japanese people (and not necessarily Japanese dictionaries, which are riddled with problems).

Second, you should shun learning materials — and classes, if possible — that "dumb down" Japanese by using kanji-free materials. Having furigana (little hiragana above kanji) or kana breakdowns (like we use in our daily lessons) is fine. But if you use Japanese that does not include kanji the way that Japanese people read it, you are robbing yourself of the chance to begin developing your "sight vocabulary," which takes a lot of time to build.

There are so many methods for this. We like "smart flashcards" (Anki, specifically) and "audio flashcards," which are essentially loops of Japanese sentences. That why we provide both of these in all of our premium courses.

Be sure to distinguish between the ability to understand a word and the ability to use it. Just using flashcards and reading books is rarely enough to be able to use new words in spoken or written Japanese. You'll find that saying the words sears them into your brain in a way that other things just can't... particularly if you say a word in a unique situation and/or place while speaking to a Japanese person.

"JLPT" stands for “Japanese Langauge Proficiency Test.” In Japanese, that’s 日本語能力試験 (nihongo nouryoku shiken). 日本語 (nihongo) means "Japanese," 能力 (nouryoku) means "ability," and 試験 (shiken) means "test." This test is used all across Japan for a variety of purposes. For example, passing a certain level of the test is required to get certain jobs, be admitted to certain schools, etc.

The JLPT has five levels, broken down as such:

JLPT Levels

Here are some massive generalizations that the people making the test would probably hate to read:

  • JLPT N5: The ability to NOT DIE in an all-Japanese world.
  • JLPT N4: The ability to get around in Japan(ese).
  • JLPT N3: The ability to have fun, make friends, and chat with teachers.
  • JLPT N2: The ability to NOT be totally lost in virtually any situation in Japan.
  • JLPT N1: The ability to be a (mostly) fully-functioning, adult member of society.

You can look at the official descriptions of the JLPT levels on the JLPT website.

There are some problems with the JLPT, the greatest of which is that JLPT levels aren't all that accurate for measuring a person's ability, particularly if we're talking about the ability to communicate with people in casual, everyday situations.

Casual language — and slang, especially — are more or less ignored in JLPT tests.

On the other hand, the JLPT is such a widely respected measure of Japanese ability that there are a lot of benefits to taking it. For example, it's hard to get a job in a Japanese-speaking office environment without N2 certification. It's hard to become a translator without N1 certification. Also, most of the grammar introduced in JLPT N5-N3 is more or less essential for becoming "fluent," even if they only present it in overly stiff language.

If you're studying with NihongoShark, by the way, you don't need to worry about any of this. We cover all of it — the fancy grammar stuff and the laid-back casual language that we personally love to study and use.

Our main concern is to give you a deep, intricate understanding of the mechanics of Japanese. Passing tests should come naturally after doing that.

Learn how the language is structured (e.g. what we cover in Bunkai Beast), then learn more complex grammatical constructions (e.g. JLPT N5, N4, N3, N2, N1, all of which are covered in NDL Premium).

If you want to use a grammar point, drill it over and over and over again with a teacher or a language exchange partner.

Learn how Japanese is pronounced. Use flashcards that have audio from native speakers in them (like all of our flashcards). Listen to loops of Japanese sentences (like we provide in all of our premium courses), and throw in a podcast episode or audio lesson here and there, too.

Speak! Learn lots of words, some foundational grammar, then get yourself a Japanese teacher or language exchange partner and get practice making words and sentences come out of your mouth. Even if you know a word or phrase, you still need to integrate it into your muscle memory if you want to be able to use it. Speaking is a bodily experience.

Check out our Caveman Convo Course if you want a step-by-step guide to preparing for a lesson, having your key "lesson language" memorized, and taking the courageous plunge.

Browse sites like Preply, italki, and Cafetalk. Take lots of lessons from lots of teachers until you find someone that you like learning with.

About our Site & Japanese Courses

First, the easy part: 日本語 (nihongo) means "Japanese (language)" in Japanese.

Niko started this site on a whim way back in 2012. He randomly chose "shark" as an animal name to append to the site.

In retrospect, the name worked out pretty well, as the metaphor of a shark that just keeps swimming day after day is quite relevant to effective language-learning models.

Some days — some weeks or months, even — it feels like you're making no progress in your Japanese studies. But if you just keep swimming, things do begin to fall together eventually (if you are using a well-designed study system).

(The full story of NihongoShark is on our About page.)

Prepare for some major generalizations:

If it's your first day studying, the Kana Mastery Course.

If it's any time in the first two years of your Japanese studies, the Hacking Japanese Supercourse.

If you're anywhere above JLPT N4 level, NDL Premium.

First and foremost, we do not waste people's time. We never write a blog post or send an email that does not teach at least some Japanese. We do not post articles unless they contain actionable content (e.g. words and phrases worth learning, tools that will improve readers' Japanese, etc.). We do not write clickbait articles that prioritize activity over productivity (we explain the difference in our Intro Course). Our readers have precious little time in each day, and they need to utilize that as well as possible if they are going to learn Japanese quickly and efficiently.


  • We always deliver more value in a course than we receive in monetary compensation.
  • We only allow native speakers to write (or at the very least, approve) Japanese sentences used in our lessons. A native Japanese speaker must also check all lessons for accuracy.
  • We do not shy away from recommending other sites and learning resources just because they are our "competitors." If we find a site or service with top-notch learning materials, we share it.
  • We obsess over making our Japanese learning materials the best on planet Earth.

Finally, we are not interested in having students purchase our courses, then not use them. For this reason, much of the content that is free on our site costs money elsewhere. A great example is our Kana Course. If a student is going to learn Japanese for a week, then quit, we don't want to take their money. We want the students that are going to achieve a life-changing level of fluency in Japanese — the student that wants to become a translator; the student that wants to talk with friends and family in Japanese; the student that wants to watch their favorite shows without subtitles; the student that wants to read their favorite light novelist's latest work without waiting for a translation. Everything is done with these students in mind.

Yes. All credit card payments on our course site are processed by Stripe using advanced encryption technology. Stripe is a secure payment gateway used to process billions of dollars in payments each year for companies like Kickstarter, Twitter, Instacart, and Lyft.

We never personally receive your credit card information.

For one-time purchases like Toby in Tokyo, yes. For recurring subscriptions like NDL Premium, no. Our system doesn't allow it. Sorry. _(-_-)_

Yes. Our site is SSL-encrypted to keep the data of all visitors safe.

Yes. All of our paid courses come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked money-back guarantee. Change your mind about learning Japanese? Just let us know. Get in trouble for using your mom's credit card to sign up for a course? Just let us know.

Of course. We have a dedicated Testimonials page, as well as testimonials on each of our course pages. Testimonials are never posted without the written permission of the student. You can also get live feedback from members of the NS Chat Community. In fact, most of the admins of that community are not NihongoShark staff.

Sorry, but we don't do Skype lessons. We can teach the most Japanese to the most people by offering amazing courses. While we'd someday like to offer amazing face-to-face lessons, too, we're not there yet. Luckily, there are lots of great teachers on sites like Preply, Cafetalk, and italki.

About Working with NihongoShark

Maybe. But we're picky. Feel free to contact us if you think you could produce something that would be of value to our readers. Absolutely no list-based or clickbait articles are permitted (e.g. "10 Things Every Japanese Learner Should Know", "Are you offending Japanese people by making this common mistake?", etc.).

If you are writing about a topic that has been covered elsewhere on the Internet, be warned: We will not consider your article unless it is of higher quality than every similar article on the Internet. We want to add value to the world, not try to divert people's attention from equally valuable content that already exists. So if you want to write an article titled "Best Sushi Shops in Tokyo," the article (1) must be more informative, useful, and easy-to-read than all similar articles online and (2) include Japanese words or phrases that are useful to learners (e.g. the names of common sushi items, how to order, etc.).

It depends. If you have a truly valuable site that our listeners would be interested in, and you can prove this to us somehow, of course we'll share it with them. We will not request that you post a link to our site in exchange. If your site is truly valuable, we would share it anyway.

Maybe. Just contact us and explain how you are helping learners of Japanese. One of our staff members will check it out eventually. You might have to wait a while for us to get around to it, though. Sorry. *_*

Maybe! Just contact us and tell us why you think you're the right person for the job. It is worth noting that the vast majority of people that we pay to do work (with the exception of native Japanese speakers, of course) are our former and current students!

About Living & Working in Japan

Unless you qualify for a working holiday visa, getting a work visa is tricky. It might be possible to find a job requiring physical labor, but there is very little information available online detailing how to find companies hiring non-Japanese for this kind of work (though they do exist). You could try entering Japan on a student visa through a language school or, even better, a 4-year university with a program in English. Then you can polish your Japanese, get that degree, and stay in the country you've come to love. If you have a lot of money, look into the Business Investor Visa. If you find the love of your life while in Japan, get a spouse visa!

Sorry, but in most cases, no. However, if you are very good at Japanese, a native speaker of English, and love writing, contact Niko personally. The editing company he works with is often in dire need of skilled help.

We are not qualified to answer this question. Sorry.

About Learning Materials

Check out our Resources page for our top recommendations.

Again, check out our Resources page for our top recommendations.

We are not casual learners of Japanese at NihongoShark. We want to help students reach extremely high levels of proficiency as quickly as possible. Memrise, for example, is a great site. And they have a lot of fun flashcard decks available. The problem is that you are not in control of your study materials.

Do you want to generate flashcards from anime or video games? You can do that with Anki.

Do you want to automatically add Japanese words to your flashcard deck as you encounter them on Japanese websites? You can do that with Anki.

Do you want to export all of the audio from sentences in a flashcard deck, then make loops of that audio and listen to it while at the gym, grocery store, etc.? You can do that with Anki.

We're hesitant to answer this question, as our answer will be necessarily biased. That said, people keep asking. So...

First, a good thing about Duolingo for Japanese is that they've gotten a lot of people interested in learning Japanese.

That said, there are some problems. First, they spend far too much time on the kana, when really you should be able to learn them in 6-8 hours. After that, you can just use a kana cheat sheet (like the one in our Kana Course).

Additionally, Duolingo is a quiz-based learning system, which means that it tests your accuracy. But testing your accuracy is a waste of time unless you are speaking to a native speaker or writing something that is intended to be read by native speakers.

Instead of learning how to accurately use 5 words (according to strict grammar rules that are often ignored in the spoken language), you should learn to comprehend 25 words. Developing comprehension rapidly is the most important thing you can do because you'll eventually reach a level where immersion becomes possible (e.g. watching [and re-watching] an episode of a TV show and understanding most of it). Getting to this level makes it much less exhausting to get massive amounts of exposure to the Japanese language, and when you get massive amounts of exposure, you develop a sense for when unnatural language sounds unnatural. You master the stuff the quizzes were trying to teach you without ever worrying about it.

That said, if you're a beginner, and you like the interface on Duolingo, playing around with it is certainly not a bad thing. Just don't expect it to make you "fluent" (an ill-defined word).

About Giving Up

Please read this article: How to Commit to Learning Japanese.

Know that every person working on this site has experienced the same thing, and most of us have quit multiple times, too.

But don't be "patient." That is, don't wait around for your Japanese to get better — chase after that dream with all of your might. Simultaneously, though, remember to have faith. Have faith that, as long as you using a proven-effective study system and getting consistent, level-appropriate exposure to the language, you will in fact reach the level you're striving for in time. It is an inevitability.

And try to enjoy it while you suck at Japanese. You'll probably look back on these struggles with something akin to nostalgia someday. We know we look back on our first months and years that way.

Keep swimming, yo.

From all of us at NihongoShark.

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