There is a seemingly endless sea of resources out there that can get you genuinely acquainted with studying beginner to intermediate Japanese. However, many learners may experience a sharp decline in motivation after reaching the plateau between upper-intermediate and advanced Japanese.
Moreover, there is a lot of misinformation and strange concepts of Japanese proficiency in both the Japanese and foreign camps, with seemingly no consensus on what actually constitutes “advanced Japanese.”
Therefore, you must start to teach yourself using native Japanese resources that truly push your comprehension and get you on track toward near-native proficiency.
Let me introduce to you some tried and true resources that enabled me to overcome my own linguistic plateaus and allowed me to work full-time in Japanese with both clients and coworkers alike.
1. Easy Japanese News
Todai has created Easy Japanese News (Japanese), a Japanese-language media source that categorizes all featured vocabulary and grammar points, These are then color-coded to their respective JLPT proficiency level.
With Easy Japanese News, you can diversify your Japanese proficiency and get a Japanese perspective on current events. You can also build your vocabulary and subject knowledge to hold topical conversations with native speakers.
The length of the articles is perfect for a morning commute, and just five minutes a day will dramatically improve your proficiency over time. In addition, the vocabulary list creator tool will help you remember the words with ease during your next session.
A similar service would be Yomujp (Japanese), which offers scalable proficiency articles about places in Japan and more fundamental topics.
Kotonoha is a trilingual learning resource that categorizes its topics to allow you to pick what you are interested in and listen to a piece read in Japanese based on that topic.
Read along to recordings and videos, build up your vocabulary and reading comprehension with this free resource. If you exhaust their library of learning materials, they have compiled a hub of free materials you can use to further your Japanese studies at no extra charge.
3. Gateway to Advanced Japanese Book
Jokyu no Tobira (Japanese), or “Tobira’s Gateway to Advanced Japanese,” is a well-known textbook in university circles for its coverage of highly accessible lower-intermediate Japanese. It includes some pretty complex grammar and vocabulary you might need in certain situations requiring a much higher level.
The language and tone are concise and well written, turning otherwise hard-to-grasp concepts into practical and straightforward explanations. The book also comes with a passcode to online resources and study materials you can use—all included in the book’s price.
4. 4989 American Life podcast
The 4989 American Life podcast is a great, free resource for learning Japanese—especially for Americans. Topics such as comparisons of daily life from Japanese and U.S. perspectives are discussed in Japanese.
Familiarity with topics or subjects can be a big help when learning a language. It can be challenging to remember seemingly irrelevant vocabulary and language, so connecting your studies to everyday concepts and memories helps you retain the language.
The podcast comes with complete scripts to read while you follow the discussion or take notes to improve your reading and listening skills. A similar podcast is the now-retired Hikibiki podcast, which has been archived here.
The 4989 American Life can be found here:
Tsunagaru is a learning tool backed by Japan’s Agency of Cultural Affairs for foreign residents in Japan. It features various real-world situations with video resources and real-time subtitling along with study materials you can use in tandem with the content.
For those who don’t live in Japan, this resource allows you to immerse yourself in more true-to-life Japanese. It includes the use of honorific language and communicating your way through problems and various aspects of life in Japan, such as moving in and out of a home or fire safety.
When you don’t feel like studying
If studious pursuits are not for you, there are several other ways to break the plateau.
- Part-time work: Depending on your visa, you may be entitled to work in a part-time position, as well. Working a weekend job in a Japanese environment might diversify your vocabulary.
- Movies and TV: Watching something in Japanese on Netflix Japan or Amazon Prime is another excellent way to study “without studying.” Check out some of these Japanese dramas and Netflix shows.
- Volunteer: If you check your official city website, you might find several workshops and volunteer opportunities for you to get in touch with your local community. This way, you’ll get a lot of exposure to using real-world Japanese and meet new people at the same time.
- Headphones out: It might sound like eavesdropping, but listening to conversations you hear on the street or the train is something to try while you’re out. With every passing comment or phrase, you might hear new words.
Learning advanced Japanese can be a challenging, expensive and even stressful endeavor. Hopefully, this guide has given you a few other ventures to experience so you can smash that tricky plateau.
If you have any other hints and tricks for overcoming the plateau, leave a comment and let us know!