Why Japanese?

I love French. We live in a neighborhood where French is widely spoken and I especially enjoy hearing little children speaking the language. I can speak better-than-beginner level French, having taught at a school in Chad, Africa in my early 20’s. When I got the grand idea for us to learn a language as a family (inspired by my sister), I excitedly asked my husband what he thought about the idea. He presumed we would be learning French, of which he had zero experience. Not particularly enthused, he kindly said that it sounded okay.

I knew if we were going to learn a language as a family, it had to be something we were all excited about. If he wasn’t into it, it’d be a flop (or a mom-and-children-only language). I wanted to learn a language as a family more than mastering any specific language, so I asked him what language he would like us to learn as a family. He thought for a moment and said that if he could pick a language, he would choose for us to learn Japanese. Without thinking twice I said with a smile, “Well then, let’s learn Japanese!”

Little did I know the complete delight of a language (and completely new writing systems) that I would begin to learn. After I found one せんせい (sensei) in particular that made it all so fun, I started to make up silly songs and rhymes with Japanese words while walking the little ones to and from school. I got to be a beginner student again and learn like a little kid alongside my 4-year-old son — both of us awkward writing a whole new alphabet that we'd never drawn before. My 1-year-old and I would point to animals and, sound-by-sound, slowly say their name over and over again until we could make all the sounds into one word.


This is where it all started for our family. My sister began homeschooling her 3 school-aged children during Covid and they decided to learn a language as a family. She splurged on one of these boxes ($80) and spoke highly of the content and method. I bought the first Japanese box (focused on the kitchen and food) and soon our family was repeating phrases as the included-app native speaker said (in Japanese) "I am hungry" or "Please give me an orange".

The only negative comment I have to say about this wonderful tool is that it teaches the "casual" way to speak Japanese. I didn't realize it at the time because when I purchased the box I was a 100% newbie and knew 3 words in Japanese (sushi, kimono, sayonara), but Japanese has a casual/friendly way of speaking and a polite/respectful way of speaking. Primarily it is different endings in vowels and an added word in some cases to be especially polite. I'd rather my family learn the polite version of Japanese first and then the casual version, so that when we meet Japanese people (in our neighborhood, when traveling, when ordering from a Japanese restaurant), we can be respectful and speak in a polite way. Thus, I need to be a step ahead of the lessons so that I can say the polite version whenever the audio says the casual version of a word.

Even though we were unknowingly learning the "casual" way to speak Japanese, this was a great way to dive in and start speaking immediately.

The せんせい that made learning fun

せ=se ん=n せ=se い=i. Sensei = teacher. One book that stood out in my learning quest had accompanying YouTube videos by a guy named George Trombley, an American who moved to Japan as a boy. The first review on Amazon of his book Japanese From Zero is a perfect description. You can watch all the videos for free on YouTube or his website. The videos paired with the book are such a fun and memorable way to learn. George is insightful with English and Japanese similarities/differences, has funny stories, and makes learning Japanese truly something to look forward to.

Someone made a Memrise course for all of the vocabulary from the book. I found it to be the fastest, easiest way to learn and quiz myself. Memrise has self-made methods to learn and I haven’t tried any of theirs, but they offer the ability for anyone to use the Memrise platform to make their own quizes (with user-added memes that are funny/helpful to remember words).

Michel Thomas Method

In my early 20’s, I was a teacher at a university in Tchad. No students spoke English, so before I got there I had to learn enough French to teach the class. In my quest for a faster-than-usual way to learn French, I stumbled upon Michel Thomas. His method of teaching was a new concept to me and really stuck in a way no other teaching had before. When I began learning Japanese, I was happily surprised to find that Japanese is also taught with his method. The female teacher is delightfully patient with students (moreso than Michel was) so that was a nice surprise too. I listen and re-listen 10x over to these courses whenever I am commuting and find myself looking forward to taking a long walk to learn and speak along with the teaching. Though the course is intended for adults, my son enjoys listening and repeating as well, so I bought an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker and we bring it with us on walks/commute or sometimes when we’re playing in the backyard.


For easy and quick review of hiragana and katakana. Allows selection of individual characters for review, so when I started out I'd just select あいうえお and then as time went on, add to the selection until I was reviewing all characters. Just 5-10 minutes a few times a week helps me keep quick recollection of character..


The Drops app is a game-changer (for adults and kids). My son and I do this every single day for 1 or 2 10-minute sessions. Including review time, it’s about 15-30 minutes a day, making this app the primary tool that we use together to learn vocabulary, kana (hiragana+katakana) and kanji. We blast though so many words, selected by topic (animals, restaurant, fruit, etc) and can also do a review of everything we’ve learned so far. Every word has an illustration instead of just a translation, which makes it perfect for my 4 year old who cannot yet fluently read English. I liked it so much that after just a day I signed up for the lifetime plan and it is very rare that we miss a day, now 3 months in.

Apps: Robokana & Learn Japanese

Favorite apps for learning how to write and say the characters of hiragana & katakana are Robokana and Learn Japanese. Both are appropriate for kids.