The normal methods of learning Japanese feeling too slow? Do you not just need good Japanese but need it fast? If you have an interest in power leveling (learning Japanese as fast as possible) then you may have read the other power leveling articles on this site. Those are great to give you start, but I want to give you a more personal and detailed process. I went from level 0 to 40 in the span of around eight months and you can too. You may even be faster because you will be using improvements on my original methods.
First, I want to make it clear that power leveling has a very high fail rate, especially at the beginning. It definitely isn’t for everyone. You will be filling every available moment with Japanese from dawn until dusk. But don’t let that sound like a bad thing. Power leveling can be an extremely fun way to learn Japanese due to the fact that you will see constant progress and it creates a very minimal mid-level blues because you’ll be blowing right past it.
This guide is designed for anyone to be able to jump in at any interval, so if you haven’t been following from the beginning don’t worry. As long as you have completed the goals in previous level brackets and want to give power leveling a shot, feel free to join right in.
Why would you want to power level?
The 2 most common reasons:
1. You have a job interview lined up that absolutely needs good Japanese.
2. You are moving to Japan
However, for me it was neither. I just really loved all things Japan, and was determined to learn. So don’t worry if you think your reason isn’t good enough. Using these methods, I believe anyone with enough determination and will power can propel themselves to swift success.
So where do you get started?
Tell your friends and family
When you’ve fully made your commitment to this process, begin by telling your friends and relatives that you plan on being advanced in Japanese in eight months. Yes, you will get a lot of sarcastic replies and skeptic looks, but this is what we’re going for. People thrive when they have someone else to prove wrong and this is what you’ll set up the chance to do. Opposition breeds progression.
Schedule a test
Schedule a test like the JLPT or a similar one around four to six months in advance. While these tests don’t really determine ability, they give you a deadline and encouragement when you pass. It’s something to show the people you told, and really makes you feel like you’re progressing.
Find a competitive partner
Get a partner to compete on who gets it done first. Competition is another great way to motivate you to get those last few pages read, a few more anki cards done, and a few more episodes watched.
Make sure to regularly share progress to see who’s winning! This isn’t too likely, but if you haven’t engaged in much Japanese material before beginning your quest, take a week to find some favorite shows, drama, manga, or bands that you like. For now it’s fine in English because you can enjoy it more and get a feel for your Japanese taste.
This is a method where I’ll be setting goals that may seem crazy, but that’s the point! The idea is that the over-goal will be much more than what we’re really looking for so even if you fail you still attain the necessary progress in time. However, this only works if you genuinely try to complete the goal.
So what does the actual break down look like, from level 1-40 in 8 months? Let’s take it in blocks of 5 levels at a time.
Humble Beginnings (0-5)
The very first thing you need is RTK combined with its anki equivalent. While there are articles on this site explaining alternate methods I don’t believe it’s possible to achieve our desired speed without them.
The typical pace for a normal RTK learner is anywhere from 10-30 kanji a day.
We are going for 65 a day.
65, are you insane!? No, and with the power of Anki and the JALUP RTK mod this will probably only take two hours of writing the kanji and an hour and a half for reviews. Anyone who has done RTK can tell you they would’ve loved to be done in a month. You will be.
The most important part is to never ever skip your reviews in Anki. On your reviews you will forget, forget, and forget, but Anki has you covered and you’ll balance out over time. I started skipping my reviews and had to restart after 1000 because the pace got to me and I realized I hardly knew any kanji. This won’t be you, and you’re already ahead of where I was.
The next step will be to learn the kana. After 1900 kanji this should be a piece of cake and take around a week. There’s plenty of ways to learn these. Songs, apps, flash cards, the Jalup Kana Deck, mnemonics, etc. Just find one that works for you. There’s plenty to choose from.
Getting into high gear (5-10)
This is what you’ve been waiting for. Now that you’ve learned the reading blocks, it’s time to actually learn Japanese. My first and last textbook was Tae Kims’s Complete Guide to Japanese. It covers all your basic Japanese up until around level 20. There’s a free deck on ankiweb to accompany the complete guide.
An alternative (or supplementary) option, and one I would also encourage, is picking up JALUP Beginner, as this also prepares yourself for Intermediate. I personally never used the Beginner package, and dived directly into Intermediate, so I was lost on a lot of words, which makes J-J much more difficult.
Please do NOT attempt to create your own deck. With all the amazing decks already created, making your own, especially in the beginning is an unnecessary waste of time compared to borrowing one.
Shoot for 20 new cards a day for beginner. You should finish reading half of the Complete Guide and grammar guide (or Jalup Beginner) within a month and a half. Just like with RTK and almost everything else in your power leveling journey, there will be a lag between what you’ve read and learned and how much you retain.
This is normal. Don’t be frustrated. This is what Anki is here for; to cover the seemingly never ending amount of cracks in your Japanese wall. This should bring you up to level 10 in record breaking time.
Even getting this far in this short amount of time is something very few people accomplish, so stand tall, be proud, and prepare yourself for the next major leap.
From Level 10 on
Nice job making it to level 10! You’ve started to learn some Japanese, all the kanji are memorized and you should be around 900 on the Jalup Beginner series. It’s a strong start but this is the point where the doubts and worries may start to creep in.
Throughout your power level quest there will be a lot of times where you think there’s not enough time, these methods aren’t working or languages just aren’t your thing. Maybe you should just quit and move on to something you’re better at.
You must absolutely ignore these thoughts!
This type of self doubt is present in anyone who has pursued something great. Myself and many others on this site have experienced times of tremendous self-doubt and lack of belief in ourselves. Overcoming these doubts will push you over the wall the separates those who succeed and those who make excuses as to why they couldn’t. This brings me to the most important aspect of power leveling and one of the biggest aspects of this guide.
The real trick to power leveling is probably the most simple yet hardest tasks on your quest.
Stop caring about your level.
That’s it. Obviously as a power leveler it’s going to be one of your biggest worries that you aren’t progressing as fast as you should be especially if you have a deadline you’re trying to meet. You need to ignore how fast you’re going and just enjoy the material. Isn’t that why you started learning Japanese in the first place?
That should be your main focus. The methods here on Jalup have been proven by numerous people. If you’re following these strategies, it will work. You will achieve your goals. Just keep in mind that this is fun and enjoyable. The fluency will come while you’re having a great time.
With power leveling there are a lot of things that need to get accomplished daily. So how do you fit it all in?
The biggest thing taking up your study time probably isn’t all the things you have to get done. It’s probably all the little distractions like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, English news websites, and pretty much anything on the Internet. You get it. The easiest way to get rid of these is to just delete them. There are ways to save them so they will still be there when you’re done power leveling so until then it’s best that they aren’t there.
Also an important thing to understand is that for learning, the best way to study is actually NOT the long cram sessions you are likely to have done all the way through school. The best approach is the slow extended repetition over longer periods of time. If you can do 2-3 ten minute sessions per day, it can really add up in the long run. Here are some ideas for study places.
*On the toilet
*On the bus
*When waiting for the bus/someone
*When you feel bored
*In between other tasks
*During breaks (if you are truly busy)
Another thing to think about is your three most time consuming unproductive habits. Getting rid of those should provide you with time to study.
The Ultimate Immersion Environment
Now that you’re around level 10 it’s time to begin the real training. The first step is to get the tools that you’ll need for this.
The biggest component of the environment will be to have an MP3 player of some kind like your phone, iPod, or really anything that you can put ripped audio on. There’s already many articles on this site explaining what kind of material to put on it so check those out here.
The aspect that will be differing in power leveling is that you strive to get a complete 24 hour immersion environment every day. At first this sounds crazy but it can definitely be done. This is where your immersion iPod will come in to play. Every moment (and I mean every moment) you aren’t actively engaging in Japanese like doing anki, watching an anime, reading a book, etc. it’s very important to have the headphones on.
You can tell when it’s working when everyone asks you what you’re always listening to. Even if you’re eating dinner with your family, at church, work, or school try to have them on. A lot of times you will have to just do one ear, but that’s much better than none. It may be more difficult at work or school because sometimes they won’t allow headphones, but there are ways of getting around that. At work try using a Bluetooth that lets you play audio from your phone, and at school you can always string one headphone up out your sleeve and lean on it like this.
Switching Out The Material
When beginning your immersion environment you should start off with around thirty episodes of shows and add them over time as you find ones you like and would be appropriate for your level until fifty. From here this is where the power level aspect comes into play.
You’ll notice as you start to re-listen to episodes numerous times that for a while every time you re-listen you hear words you couldn’t, notice different grammar points, and increase your overall understanding of the episode. However, after a certain amount of listens (depending on the person and show) you realize that you aren’t really hearing anything new when you listen.
There may be a few new words here and there, but for the most part you’ve learned all you can from this episode. Now it’s time to switch it out and get a new episode. This shouldn’t be a problem as you’ll be watching new episodes everyday so there shouldn’t be a shortage of shows you can use. Essentially what this means is that you’ll listen to an episode until you’ve gotten all the use out of it, and then switch it out for something new. Now just rinse and repeat.
The Two Types of Passive Listening
For the most part passive listening is just anything you listen to without actually watching the show but just hearing it. However, there are really two types and it’s important to distinguish them.
1. Background Passive
This is what is normally thought of for passive listening which is having your Japanese playing while your focusing on something else. This listening generally improves your ability to distinguish syllables and gets you more used to listening to Japanese.
2. Foreground Passive
This is the more important type of passive listening. This type is where you can focus on the words and grammar more closely and can be done commuting to work, waiting in a lobby, anytime you can focus on listening but can’t actually sit down and watch the show. You want to get as much of this type as you can.
This is where you can hear and internalize the words you’ve learned to read but aren’t used to hearing, or realize that you knew a word but weren’t used to hearing it in a different grammar form. Unfortunately you can’t do this all the time, but try to get as much as you can every day.
Is Music OK for Power Leveling?
At some point you probably would’ve asked yourself if it’s ok to listen to music when you’re power leveling.
Yes, it’s true that music is not nearly as beneficial as listening to a show, and you can’t really use background passive listening with music because you’ll just listen to rhythm and beat so you aren’t focusing on the words.
However, music can be very motivating and is a nice break from your constant immersion so I wouldn’t say never. But try and limit it to one period of time a day like when you’re getting ready in the morning or working out. This way you aren’t spending more time jamming out than you are really learning.
Implementing Immersion 10-15
Now that you actually know some Japanese it’s time to get rid of those subtitles and really begin the immersion environment. I don’t want to sugarcoat these first stages as they will not be a lot of fun. It’s important to realize that no you aren’t very good yet so don’t expect to understand too much at the beginning even though you’ll be listening to easier shows. Just keep at it and your level will rise before you know it.
You should be half way through Tae Kim’s guide or Jalup Beginner and now it’s time to get through the other half. Keep reading and using the deck and you should finish this up in another month and a half. For the Jalup beginner path you should be at exactly 900 after a month and a half.
Yes, this is a lot of cards at the beginning. Just remember that these are over-goals. Finish up the deck and keep doing reviews. Until you finish do all the reviews it tells you and then use the cram function which randomizes all cards in the deck to do fifty extra reviews a day because the regular reviews will drop fast when you aren’t adding twenty new cards a day.
Lastly, remember to always have the immersion iPod playing when you aren’t actively watching. Even when you’re reading the textbook or doing Anki reviews it’s better to have them on at a low volume. If you’re someone who really can’t have anything playing while you read that’s okay. Just have them on when you aren’t reading.
Woah-o You’re Halfway There 15-20
This is more of a plug-and-chug stage where you’re not going to shake anything up. You should now be finished with Tae Kim and/or Jalup Beginner, but now it’s time for some re-reading.
Aw come on you say.
I just finished and I have to read the thing again?
You’re understanding of the material will increase dramatically as you read it again. You probably already noticed that it was easier to understand previous concepts as you kept seeing them used again and again in the later concepts. Confused about は and が before? I doubt you are now. Not because you got a really good explanation of what they are and how to use them, but because you saw them being used and just picked it up.
This stage follows the same concept as it’s just a lot of review to make you better before the greatest challenge of all: J-J! Keep using the cram function on Anki.
The J-J Challenge 20-30
Now that the bases and basics of your Japanese learning are covered the level explanations need less detail and more of a general direction. At this point your journey will become more individualized. You will engage in what you like whether that’s Shounen anime or celebrity talk shows.
This is when you should get Jalup Intermediate. Shoot for twenty cards a day, which should be an easy pace at this point.
Another goal you should be going for now is trying to watch five episodes of TV a day. This can be anything you want. Don’t get bogged down in whether you think it is too hard unless you really are not getting anything. Watching things you like will spur motivation even if they are hard rather than understanding a lot of something you could care less about.
The last goal to aim for is to read around fifty pages of manga a day. I say manga because there are generally easier subjects and more frequently have furigana along with the text. Stay on pace and you’ll be done with Intermediate in two months.
The Last Push 30-40
This last stage is especially simple.
Just get Jalup Advanced and do twenty cards a day once again. Continue until another two months has passed and you have finished Jalup Advanced. Other than doing these cards the only advice is to move into novels at some time during this period. Then you can move on towards Expert.
There will be challenges when moving into Japanese novel territory, but the key is to simply press on and just like the rest of this journey you will get the hang of it over time and through great effort! If you have done the math then you realize that on this schedule you are now done in seven months, even sooner than me!
Level 40 isn’t the end. In a way it is the beginning. The beginning of your awesome Japanese life ahead of you. Though please remember, whether it takes you 8 months or 8 years, as long as you keep going you will reach it. Go at the pace you decide matters to you, and you will absolutely succeed.
This was my journey (up till level 40) and I hope you enjoyed it. I’d be happy to answer any questions in the comments!
Have any question, comments, or suggestions? Leave them below!
Power leveler. Just a regular guy trying to learn Japanese as fast as possible.