I’ve tried several different approaches to learning Japanese. Some work better than others.
The first thing I looked at was duolingo. I then trashed that very quickly, as I didn’t think it would do well at teaching me what I wanted to know.
I looked at Rosetta Stone and tried it out. As I mentioned, I have very mixed feelings about it. It teaches a lot of vocabulary very quickly, which is a plus. What it does not do is give any kind of background to the vocabulary – so you don’t really understand what you’re saying, you’re just repeating back by rote. I imagine in later lessons it might teach some of that stuff, but it’s not how I learn. Couple that with being very horrible about their chat, and I gave up on that.
I decided that I was going to take community college classes. But if I do so, I figured that the best “bang for the yen” I’d get would be to learn the stuff that needed memorization, so that I could concentrate on the grammar and vocabulary. That means, getting proficient at hiragana, katakana, and learning as much kanji as I can.
Hiragana and Katakana aren’t that hard, honestly. They are syllabaries of about, what, fifty or so characters along with a few “small-case” structures, and while there’s no real pattern to them (they were pulled out of kanji that sounded like them), once you memorize them, you memorize them. Drawing them is entirely different, but that’s also not too hard. I’ve found that spaced repetition tools like memrise or some of the android apps are very helpful for that.
Kanji is an entirely different animal, though. There are a couple of thousand characters that seem to have no rhyme nor reason, and it’s mostly just memorization. Each kanji has two or more different pronunciations, too. However, I find that a method called “kanji damage” is actually really useful for this purpose. It teaches the kanji in a logical progression, starting from “radicals” and moving forward. I find some of the names for the radicals to be funny, such as “George Michael’s Moustache”. It condenses it into what I’ll really need, and then I can go back and study the rest later.
Which is kind of what I was looking for.
So I’m not studying grammar or vocabulary seriously right now, though I’m learning some as a side effect of my other studies. I figure being fluent at hiragana and katakana reading and writing will give me a leg up in classes, as will knowing as many kanji as I can get my hands on. Then the rest will take care of itself once I start the classes.