How to use Free Software to learn Japanese, and more.

Avoiding bad advice

March 21, 2024 — Tatsumoto Ren

Countless language-learning methods exist, and each of them tells you to do different things. Some methods are effective, but many are not. Unfortunately, the Internet is brimming with advice that might sound good but often leads to little progress. If you want to reach mastery in a foreign language, you don't want to waste precious time on ineffective methods.

Let's highlight examples of low-quality resources.


Traditional language classes have several issues.

  • They cost money.
  • They're boring. They don't provide compelling content.
  • Your teacher doesn't know Japanese that well.
  • If you are lucky enough to have a native speaker as your teacher, they likely have no idea how language acquisition works, they don't remember how they learned Japanese themselves, and they've never actually followed their own advice.
  • In class, you get toxic input. You're exposed to other learners' speech which is ridden with mistakes. Listening to phrases like "ah ree gar toe go zai moss oo" being poorly spoken is not beneficial for your language learning.
  • Premature output. You are forced to speak before you are ready. Usually people start outputting naturally after 1 to 1.5 years of learning, and it's very hard to force output to come out earlier.
  • Classes don't work. A simple comparison between the number of people taking Japanese classes and those who are proficient in the language reveals a startling gap.


Examples include Genki, Minna no Nihongo, Japanese From Zero, etc.

If your goal is proficiency, you won't be satisfied with the low level and slow pace of textbooks. A textbook cannot teach you all there is to master your target language. Even a hundred textbooks can't. But enough input certainly will.

In the beginning, you can use a basic grammar guide. We'll teach you how in the corresponding article. Anything on top of the grammar guide won't be necessary. The purpose behind studying grammar is not to learn how to speak but to improve comprehension when interacting with native content.


Wanikani, Duolingo, Busuu and most "apps" do not work. More details are given on the linked FAQ pages.

No one has ever achieved fluency solely from using an app, especially an app that claims that you can learn to speak a language in 10 minutes a day. Language apps can't replace learning through massive exposure to the target language, and they can't tell you everything you should know. Language is not an app that you open and close. Reaching fluency is more like multi-booting, i.e., installing multiple operating systems on a single computer, and being able to choose which one to boot. Each OS has to be useful, you should be able to do anything you want with it.

The only "app" really worth having is a flashcard application for reviewing what you've learned so far. We'll dig deeper into the topic of flashcards in subsequent articles.

Graded readers

Graded readers are dumbed down for the sake of a learner, and thus do not teach you the real language. No amount of graded readers can prepare you for reading authentic native texts like novels. AJATT recommends consuming real authentic content from the beginning. Start with watching anime with Japanese subtitles to learn the basics of reading, then progress to reading simple manga, and finally jump into reading books.

For a more detailed discussion on graded readers refer to this article.


Platforms such as Italki, Cambly, Lingoda and Verbling fall under this category. Details provided in this article about Italki apply to all similar platforms. E-learning offers the boredom of traditional classes, but online. You pay to speak with "tutors", who may not necessarily even be language teachers. You're essentially paying just to chat. People who charge money for speaking practice are either delusional or dishonest.

Speaking is fundamentally about receiving input. We acquire language by understanding messages. For the language acquisition process to take place, the input must be compelling. Contrary, conversations held with online tutors are very basic and very boring. You're not going to learn much from them.

Premature speaking practice reinforces incorrect pronunciations and grammar. You need to develop listening abilities and intuitive understanding of language structures before focusing on speaking.


YouTube presents great opportunities for language learning if used correctly. Mainly by watching videos created by native speakers intended primarily for other natives speakers of your target language.

There's a difference between learning a language and learning about the language. YouTube channels where everybody speaks English all the time, like JapanesePod101, will only waste your time. Videos where Japanese people are asked to answer JLPT quizzes on the street are equally useless. Some channels simply recite textbook materials in audio-visual format, which is not just inefficient, but is also slower than reading a book given that typically people read faster than they speak.

Subtitles in your native language

Watching foreign language content is an excellent way to acquire language. But watching with subtitles in your native language will result in no learning progress. Reading the subtitles creates an inner voice that completely overshadows the speech in your target language. As a consequence, you're not actually engaging with your target language, you're listening to your own subvocalization in your native language. Therefore, you are learning the language of the subtitles, not the language of the audio. We've all seen countless anime fans who've watched thousands of hours of English-subbed anime and still know less than 100 Japanese words.

Tags: guide