My Japanese learning path from Zero to JLPT N3, in seven months

Mark Feng
4 min readJan 27, 2021


I’m writing to share my Japanese learning path last year, from Zero to JLPT N3, in seven months. It’s achievable and practical.

My friends during the journey

My experience

2020 has been, no wonder, a strange and challenging year almost for most people. We are isolated from the world where nearly no good news is going on, working from home and away from the office, colleagues, and friends since March, getting used to facing people under masks.

Being bored of the daily routine of WFH, I found out that there have been more chunks of spare time to spend, and because of my long-lasting curiosity towards Japan and Japanese, in May, I decide to try learning Japanese and see how far I could go. The target I made for myself is passing the 2020.12 JLPT N3 exams (the July exam happened to be canceled).

My motivation to learn Japanese is relatively straightforward:

  • It’s an influential language in the world, especially in Asia and Singapore.
  • Learning a new language is always pretty cool, and it can equip me with a new angle on the world.
  • It’s close to Chinese. Two languages are similar concerning lexical similarity, and I can save some effort reading Kanji (but not reading). Japanese culture is influential to almost everyone around me. I watched several Japanese dramas and movies, including several times of Legal High.
  • If I have time, effort, and interest, why not?

After seven months of learning, I took the JLPT N3 test in December 2020 at the Japanese Cultural Society of Singapore. Seven months of part-time study is not sufficient to master the language, and I met some difficulties during the text. Luckily the result turned out well. I got an A in both Vocabulary and Grammar, and a 60/60 for reading.

My test results

Learning path

I want to introduce my reference books, textbooks, exam books, and how I used them. I hope it can help somebody to start their journey of learning Japanese.

For reference books, I only bought three books, and these are more than enough for me.

The only textbooks I used is the complete set of 『みんなの日本語初級』 including Textbook and several workbooks, as this link shows. As I’m studying part-time, I spent around 1–2 hours learning these textbooks every day.

My steps of using 『みんなの日本語初級』 are:

  1. Read the words following recordings.
  2. Memorize the words through Anki iOS and Mac apps. It is an excellent app for memorizing Japanese words. I strongly recommend using it. We can easily find the vocabulary set of みんなの日本語 in shared decks.
  3. Listen to the main text and shadow it. By shadow, I mean doing dictation as much as possible. I used my iPad Pro Notability app to write the texts down after repeating them several times. Of course, there would be words I don’t understand and Kanji I can’t remember. It’s totally fine.
  4. Compare with the main text and correct my dictation.
  5. Reread the text following the audio for pronunciation.
  6. Read the grammar part. There are plenty of great Youtube videos explaining grammars in みんなの日本語. I attached my link in the next section.
  7. Look up the grammar I don’t understand in ‘A dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar’ or search it online.
  8. Finish all the exercises and workbooks. And then I’ll give myself some rewards after the hard work. No more practices are required as the workbooks contain reviewing sections already.

I think after finishing 『みんなの日本語初級』textbook, you can just pass JLPT N4 exams easily without anything else. However, I need to fill in the gap as I signed up for the N3 exams.

After I finish 『みんなの日本語初級』textbook, it’s already October, two months before my JLPT N3 exam. In these two months, I’m focusing on only one set of books, Nihongo So-Matome JLPT N3 Complete Set. By finishing one section within five books every day, the timeline just matches well, and the book helped a lot for me to fill in the gap between 『みんなの日本語初級』 and JLPT N3. Vocabulary, Grammar, and Listening are the most critical parts, in my opinion, as test preparation somehow requires specific techniques and experience. I definitely didn’t memorize everything down, but I think by completing Nihongo So-Matome JLPT N3 Complete Set, it’s enough for me to pass the N3 exams. Things turned out well.

Some useful online resources

  1. Learn Japanese: A Ridiculously Detailed Guide — Tofugu
  2. 出口日語 【改訂版】大家的日本語文法解說 for grammar explanation
  3. Online Japanese N3 Course(All 10 lessons) I think the series by Attain Corp. on Udemy are all well-made. You can buy all courses if you prefer learning through videos. It would take no less effort for sure. I think it can be suitable supplemental materials for 『みんなの日本語初級』
  4. Siri :) I changed my Siri language settings to Japanese and talk to it sometimes. It’s quite helpful to practice my Japanese communication, especially during the lockdown period.

Hope this post can help some friends as a reference to reach the N3 level. I’m continuing my self-learning journey this year, hope I can share some N3 -> N2 experience some time :)

Originally published at