How to Learn Japanese
Whatever your reasons for wanting to learn Japanese - perhaps because you are traveling there soon or maybe you have simply become enamoured with the culture and language - whatever your reasons, you will happily find that the web is now a massive source of information to learn the language in every level and through a variety of methods.
Before you begin, keep in mind that the most crucial point in learning and speaking Japanese is to also understand some of the nuances of the Japanese culture. Grasping some the these facets - fundamentally social - along with a good “textbook” knowledge of the language can help you speak and understand Japanese in less time than you think.
First Things First
Hiragana, Katakana and Romaji
The first things you should learn about are “hiragana” and “katakana” and “romaji” and "kanji", the 4 distinct systems of writing in Japan. Many “quick” courses often begin and center around “romaji”, a newer development of romanizised words. Many teachers would disagree with this, preferring more serious students to begin with “hiragana”, which is known as the most original writing system in Japan, the first set of writing which is taught to children in the country. This should then be followed by “katakana”, a system used to write foreign words.
Consisting of around 2000 characters, Kanji is based on the Chinese writing system brought about sometime in the 6th century AD. Many would say that Kanji is the most difficult aspect of the language to learn and it is admittedly time-consuming and can be complex, but it is a vital element to master for the serious student. Some good methods to master kanji would be to use a kanji dictionary or even some home-made flash cards to make memorization easier. Familiarizing yourself with Kanji can also boost your vocabulary immensely.
For more on Hiragana Katakana and Romaji see The Japanese Writing System.