Eventually you’re going to graduate. You’re not going to be in Japanese class forever. And since you already know how to survive the classroom, you need to know what to do afterwards. So what do you do once you don’t have a schedule or classmates or teachers or homework!? Is it possible to maintain your learning and continue to grow in the language? Of course it is, but it’s not always easy. Making the transition is easy for some and hard for others. Here are some ways to make that transition as painless as possible.

Make a Schedule and Stick to It

CalendarOne big advantage of being in actual Japanese classes is that you have to be in class and learning for a certain amount of time each week at set blocks of time on a consistent schedule. This makes it easy to get yourself into a routine and not fall behind with your learning. When you’re on your own, you have to impose these guidelines on yourself.

The best way to do this is to decide how much you want to study each week and what time of the day you want to do it. Maybe you want to study every other day for an hour before bed. Perhaps you want to study thirty minutes each day after work. Whatever your preference may be, it’s important that you stick to it, make it a habit, and fall into that routine. If worse comes to worst and you miss a day, make it up. You’d have to make up a Japanese class if you missed one, so do the same thing here.


Even better would be if you could model your schedule after what you’re already used to from the Japanese classes. If you had them every day at a certain time, try and keep doing it at that same time after you graduate. If you have a job that gets in the way, that’s too bad but you can just move the lessons around. The important part is that you don’t fall out of your classroom routine. The longer you wait to make the switch from classroom routine to self-study routine, the more difficult it’ll be getting back into it.

Ideally you’d want to move right from classroom to self-study with no downtime. Take the motivation from your classroom learning and apply it to self-study. Don’t get lazy. The longer you wait to make the transition the more difficult it will be.

Make it Fun

SuperFunTimeMost likely your Japanese classes weren’t all that fun. Maybe they were. I’m sure part of the fun was actually getting to interact with other students in class and talking in Japanese with the teacher. Well, now you’re on your own. How to make fun?

There are tons of ways to make it fun and we’ve already written about a lot of them. You can study with dramas, variety shows, video games, even anime. There is a lot of media out there and I’m sure you can find something out there to really sink your teeth into and motivate yourself with.

Start up something like Textfugu, Wanikani, or just anything that works for you. Having some sort of guidelines and plan for your learning is always good. Structure is very useful. Some people do better without much structure but I’d think after having classroom learning classes you have a pretty good idea of what study and learning methods work best for you. Find something you enjoy and stick with it. The best method is the method that works for you.

Study and Speak with Others

conversationLike I said, you’re not in the classroom anymore so your human interactions in Japanese are now zero. Probably. Maybe you’re lucky and have a real life Japanese friend to practice with. Unfortunately not all of us can be that lucky. If you want to improve your conversational Japanese abilities, you need to practice conversation (duh).

To do this, you can either get together with old friends from your Japanese classes and talk together in Japanese or discuss the finer points of the language if you’re into that sort of thing. Make use of your friends and ask them questions and help each other out!


Another great option is to find yourself a real life Japanese practice partner. You’ll probably have better luck finding one online and most likely they’ll want to practice their English in exchange for helping you with your Japanese. This seems like a pretty fair trade and you’ll make a new friend out of it so it’s a good deal.

Depending on if you want to improve your written or spoken Japanese (or both) you can find a Japanese pal and exchange emails, messages, or Skype. There are lots of options and plenty of language learners out there who would be happy to help you out. All you gotta do it look for them.

Remember Why You Started This Journey

journey-beginsYou started learning Japanese for a reason and there’s a reason you’re continuing to learn even after the classroom. Whatever that reason is, keep it in mind. Set a goal for yourself and don’t give up until you get there. And then once you reach that goal, set another, more lofty goal for yourself and don’t stop until you achieve that as well.

It’s much easier to stay motivated when you realize how what you are currently doing is helping you move towards your goal. If you want to be able to read the text in video games and manga, realize that struggling through Manga for Illiterate Babies Vol. 1, no matter how frustratingly embarrassing, is helping you move towards your end goal. Eventually all your hand work will pay off and you’ll come back to Manga for Illiterate Babies Vol. 1 and be amazed at how much progress you’ve made.

Keep track of where you are, where you want to be, and what you need to do to get yourself there. If you find yourself struggling or at a plateau, switch things up a bit, ask friends for advice, something, anything! Just don’t give up. You are capable of achieving your goals and the only one standing in your way is you.

So tell me, do you have any other tips for making the transition from classroom study to self-study? Anything in particular you struggled with yourself? How did you overcome it? Share your thoughts in the comments!

  • Gianmarco Russo

    John, have you read my mind? I’m gonna graduate next month…hence I’m right in the transition from classroom to self-learning, LOL!

  • Justin

    lol same here going to graduate from my language school this coming week! But then again I only went to the school for the Visa hahah. Always have been more of a self studier anyway.

  • Ignacio Grande

    Nice article!

    My two cents: your scheduling should also include a good division of tasks. I had problem after I started to study on my own because I don’t like to study vocabulary so I focused on kanji and grammar. I couldn’t practice grammar much so I could not retain most of it. At the end, I learned a lot of “pure” kanji, without the related vocabulary, and it was a problem when I resumed my classes. So try to study everything! A series of graded books (Noken levels for example) can help with that.

  • HatsuHazama

    You know, I reckon these tips you give apply to people who never went to classes as well. I’ve only self learnt from the start, and though I definitely am not good enough at following these (terrible scheduling and no practise partners, even though I know where to find them), these would be helpful for anyone.
    But I wish I could try a class someday, it seems like it would be somewhat smoother than grabbing random materials and learning.

  • Okono-san

    The best way to organized self study is, trying to build the immersive environment by your self. I started to download a lot of video that in Japanese language, somekind like commercial, music video, or to make it fun and avoid to fell a sleep because i;m boring, i search a video about documentary trip in Japan probablly that have to in Japanese language without any subtitle stick on it trust me it’s really work!! you could feel how immersive the situation when you started watching the documentary that in Japanese. Just sneaking around you tube, Some kind like Journey japan from NHK or Culture Japan from Dannychoo. It’s working for me, i hope it would working for you too. :))

  • simplyshiny

    what language school are you in? how is it?

  • simplyshiny

    Thank you, John! I haven’t done the classroom learning, but this will help me keep focused. I was also really lucky to find a Japanese Language group near me…that was fun

  • Justin

    Called AILC and I found them through, check the site out if your interested in languages school, just don’t go to AILC lol, it’s a 95% Chinese student school so they focus their teaching around people that already have a good handle on Kanji. Not so good for us normal people. Just the 4+ hour a day exposure and constant interaction in Japanese will get you far after 2 years, but personally everything they teach me there I can learn myself with online tools and resources. It depends on the person I guess, I definitely consider myself a hardcore self dependant learner so for me the school was a way to keep me in Japan until I could enter a Japanese college here.

  • Flora

    If you’re self-studying, it helps to have little short-term goals planted along the way. If your ultimate goal is fluency, that takes years to achieve – during the times you get discouraged, it’s going to seem a million miles away. Being able to see your hard work paying off over & over again will help keep you motivated.

  • Flora

    And by short-term, I mean something that can be accomplished with a few months of work.

    Like, “I want to read a volume of my favorite manga in Japanese by summer” or “I want to translate my favorite Japanese song”.

  • zoomingjapan

    I never really officially studied in a classroom environment.
    I did a very basic course at my university, but that’s about it.
    I’m all self-taught. It wasn’t always easy, but it was what worked best for me.
    On top of that I didn’t have any other choice as I lived in the boonies in Japan and language schools were all far away and expensive!

  • Anonymous

    I’m not sure your advice on how to make things fun in terms of Japanese will work all the way. These things are only going to be fun if you’re good at Japanese in the first place. At least for me, the language (or maybe my own general incompetence with the language) is a direct impediment to fun, even with material that I have to imagine would be very enjoyable if I could completely understand it.


    So insperational

  • ◕ ◡ ◕ thea

    You guys at Tofugu seriously have the best timing in writing up articles! I have recently stopped taking formal classroom Japanese classes and trying my best to squeeze in some self-studying in between work and my Spanish classes. I really need to stick to a schedule so I can continue making progress and hopefully take either N5/N4 exam this year.

  • LordKyuubey

    I suck at self-studying. I’m very bad at making my own schedule, which is one reason I’ve been on Japanese limbo for a couple of years. It’s tough getting used to it, but it’s possible. The one thing I have trouble with is finding Japanese people around here to practice with. And with JICA retiring all Japanese volunteers from the country, I see a very grim future… >_> That’s why I signed on WaniKani for Kanji studies, premium even. The monthly payment might actually serve as motivation for studying.

  • HokkaidoKuma

    Nice tips John. I think your last point is the most important – think of some goals and continually update them as you progress. You got to keep asking yourself, “Why am I studying Japanese?” Seems like such an easy question, but when you really get down to it, it becomes a difficult question to answer.

    When you hit the low points, it’s a nice reminder to keep you going in your self-study adventures.

  • Yuume

    Something I like to do is try to apply it to everyday stuff.

    How I do it is, sometimes when I’m thinking, I’ll think it in English, then try to think it as it would be in Japanese.

    Sometimes at work when I’m talking to myself, or even as I walk away from a conversation, I try to say the previous statement (to myself) in Japanese.

    Some of my co-workers think it’s cool to listen to me. Others just think I’m crazy XD