Learn Japanese the Fun Way

Want to get really good at Japanese and actually have fun along the way?

You just need the right tools, attitude, and guidance.

John Fotheringham初めまして!I’m John Fotheringham, an author, curriculum designer, educator, entrepreneur, linguist, and Nutritional Therapy Practitioner. I have been learning and teaching languages for over two decades and have seen first-hand what works and what doesn’t. And what have I learned?

  • Anyone can learn Japanese regardless of age, income, or zip code with the right attitude, methods, and materials.
  • Most adult learners fail because they spend all their time learning about Japanese instead of actually practicing in Japanese.
  • You DON’T need to spend thousands of dollars on Japanese classes but a little investment in the right tools and materials can go a long way.
  • You DON’T need to force yourself through boring Japanese textbooks. Fun, modern, relevant materials are readily available online.
  • You DON’T need to be “gifted” at languages, but you DO need to figure out what methods fit your learning style, schedule, and personality.
  • You DON’T need to move to Japan. Creative use of technology allows you to create a Japanese immersion environment no matter where you live.
  • You DO need to maximize your exposure to Japanese everyday through input (listening and reading) and maximize your active output (speaking and writing).

And that’s it! You just need to show up and put in the time on a consistent basis and your brain will do the rest. We are all hard-wired to pick up the languages around us (even as adults) if you get enough input and output. The key to staying the course is actually enjoying the process by picking materials, topics, and activities that are inherently enjoyable. To that end, I have dedicated the Language Mastery blog, podcast, and newsletter, as well as my extensive Master Japanese guide, to helping you create fun, engaging, immersive environments no matter where in the world one happens to live.


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Master Japanese: The Beginner’s Step-by-Step Guide to Learning Nihongo the Fun Way shares the tools and resources you need to learn languages the fun, modern way, leveraging technology instead of drudgery, intelligent use of psychology instead of sheer willpower, and free online resources instead of back-breaking, budget-busting books. The guide includes tips and tools to help you:

  • Master all four Japanese language skills: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
  • Save time and learn on your own terms: Your time should be spent actually acquiring Japanese, not searching for tools and materials.
  • Use brain-friendly methods: Learn how to harness your innate language acquisition capabilities—we ALL have them!—and how to work with, not against, human psychology.
  • Learn anywhere & everywhere: You’ll see how to create a Japanese immersion environment no matter where you happen to live, while also helping you harness hidden moments throughout the day to maximize your exposure to the language no matter how busy you may be.

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The Language Mastery Philosophy

I'm a sucker for pithy quotes. Or maybe I'm just a sucker in general. Either way, here are 10 quotes from 10 of my heroes that do a good job of summing up my philosophy about language learning and life in general.
“A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.” “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” Albert Einstein

Theoretical Physicist & Philosopher

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Bruce Lee

Martial Artist, Actor & Philosopher

“Fun gets done.” Khatzumoto

All Japanese All The Time

“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” Woody Allen

Actor, Filmmaker & Comedian

“Language is infinitely expansive and therefore horribly overwhelming if unfiltered… What you study is more important than how you study.” Tim Ferriss

Author, Entrepreneur & Angel Investor

“Study hard what interests you the most in the most undisciplined, irreverent and original manner possible.” Richard P. Feynman

Theoretical Physicist

“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.” Frank Smith


“In language learning, it is attitude, not aptitude, that determines success.” Steve Kaufmann

Polyglot, Author & Entrepreneur

“Where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time. It’s more about creating an immersion environment and exposing yourself to native speakers.” Benny Lewis

Polyglot, Author & Technomad

“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives. Choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” Aristotle

Greek Philosopher & Scientist

Featured Posts

A selection of my favorite blog posts since starting the Language Mastery blog in 2009. Has it really been that long? Where does the time go!?

The Art of Learning & The Road to Mastery

There are many great books about learning out there, but one of my favorites to date is “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” by Josh Waitzkin. The book shares core learning principles that have allowed Josh to master multiple diverse disciplines, including chess (the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher is based on Josh’s childhood, during which time his impressive chess skills led to him being called a “prodigy”, a word he doesn’t particularly care for as it discounts the massive amount of practice, effort, and psychological tactics he relied on to win eight National Chess Championships), Taiji Push Hands (Josh has won a number of medals in the sport, the World Champion Title in 2004, and went on to coach others to victory themselves), and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Josh holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which he obtained training under Marcelo Garcia, considered to be one of the world’s best practitioners and teachers of the art). So what do chess and martial arts have to do with language learning? Quite a bit, actually. Mastering any skill requires that you travel down the same basic road. Whether you are learning the Japanese language or a Japanese martial art, you will encounter many of the same challenges, pitfalls, and joys on your journey. And, many of the same metalearning techniques can be applied. Here are few key learning principles that Josh shares in the book that can be of big help in reaching fluency in a foreign language.

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Do You Really Need More Language Learning Resources or Just More Courage?

We’ve all been there. We find ourselves standing in the language section of Barnes and Noble staring lustfully at the colorful rows of shiny new books, thinking naïvely to ourselves, “This is the missing resource. If I just buy this book, I can finally make some real progress!” It’s a perfectly naturally instinct and I admit that I have succumbed to it an embarrassing number of times. I’ve excitedly purchased language learning books that ended up sitting on my shelf unopened. I’ve joined online membership sites, bought apps, or made in-app purchases, only to rarely if ever open the sites or apps. It saddens me to think of how many trips I could now take using the money I have wasted on language learning tools and resources I never ended up using. You would think I would have learned my lesson by now, but the frustrating truth is that I will likely do the same thing again. Why do so many of us fall into this trap again and again?

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Do You Have to Move Abroad to Learn a Language Well?

Is it ideal to learn Japanese in Japan and Mandarin in China or Taiwan? Yes. Is it a mandatory condition? Absolutely not. Let me be clear: living in Japan and Taiwan for a number of years was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, and I go back to visit as often as possible. But while living in a Japanese or Mandarin speaking country can certainly provide learners of these languages many advantages, it’s critical to understand that it’s not a requirement for success. In today’s world, “I can’t learn Japanese or Mandarin because I live in rural Kansas” is an excuse, not a reality. With Internet access, a little creativity, and a lot of hard work, you really can learn any language, anywhere.

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Why Should You Trust My Advice?

I made just about every possible mistake when starting out in languages. I used terribly inefficient methods, slogged through boring materials I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy, and almost gave up more than a few times. But this is good news for you: struggling so much in the beginning and later correcting course makes me a much better language coach. You never want to learn from a “natural” who picks up new skills easily. As Tim Ferriss points out in the The 4-Hour Chef: “The top 1% often succeed despite how they train, not because of it. Superior genetics, or a luxurious full-time schedule, make up for a lot. Career specialists can’t externalize what they’ve internalized. Second nature is hard to teach.”

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Frequently Asked Questions: What Do I Mean by “Mastery”?

One of the most common questions I receive is, “What do you mean by ‘mastery’?” First of all, “mastery” does not mean “perfection”. Such a thing doesn’t exist in languages. And even if it did, it would not be a “S.M.A.R.T. goal” (covered in detail in my Master Japanese and Master Mandarin guides) and is therefore irrelevant to our purposes as language learners. So if “mastery” does not equal “perfection”, what does it mean? Read on to find out.

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My Top 10 Favorite Japanese Movies of All Time

Film is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in a foreign language from afar, giving you valuable cultural and linguistic insights from the comfort of your couch. Below you will find my top ten favorite Japanese movies of all time, divided into three categories: 1) “Samurai & Fighting Flicks” for those who enjoy epic hero tales and aren’t squeamish of violence, 2) “Windows Into Japanese Culture” for those want to see different facets of life in modern Japan (some good, some sad), and 3) “Lighthearted & Humorous Films” for days when you need a good laugh. Limiting my list to ten movies was no easy task as Japan is home to prolific filmmakers and some of the best directors in the world.

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The 7 Habits of Highly Successful Language Learners

Most of you are probably familiar with Stephen R. Covey’s best-selling book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”. I’ve listened to the audiobook a number of times and return to it whenever I am feeling overwhelmed, adrift, or caught up in “the thick of thin things”. Many of the 7 habits actually apply quite well to language learning (especially when it comes to prioritizing and making time for study), but I’d like to tweak them a bit to make them more specific to what it takes to become a highly successful language learner.

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Help Me Help You: What Can I Do to Serve You Better?

Howdy Language Mastery-ites! I’ve got a quick—but extremely important—question for all of you: How can I be of more help? I’ve written quite a few posts over the past 4 years, but I know there are still many questions I’ve yet to answer, holes I haven’t yet patched in, materials I haven’t yet reviewed, methods I haven’t yet discussed, and probably some emails from you that managed to slip through the cracks…

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33 Life Lessons Learned Living & Working Abroad for 10 Years

33 years. 13 countries. 19 addresses. Here are 33 life lessons I’ve gleaned over the past 33 years living on the planet earth, especially the last decade living as a “stranger in a strange land” in Japan, Bangladesh, and Taiwan. I hope they offer you some vicarious expat wisdom, and more importantly, impetus to move abroad yourself.

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Why Most Fail in Language Learning & How You Can Succeed

If an adult fails to learn a foreign language (and most do), most of us assume they simply don’t study hard enough or just aren’t good at languages. It’s certainly true that some learners are lazy, and given the same methods, certain folks tend to pick up languages faster than others. But neither of these is the real issue; both are but symptoms of the underlying problem: 1) Crappy Methods, 2) Crappy Materials, and 3) Crappy Attitudes.

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The NOT To Do List for Successful Language Learners

To do lists seem like a good idea in theory, but they have one major disadvantage: there is an infinite number of potential to do items. With this in mind, Timothy Ferriss, best-selling author of The 4-Hour Workweek (and a speaker of 6 languages), recommends “not to do lists” instead. Since they isolate a finite set of behaviors that are getting between you and your goals, they are far more effective than traditional to do lists. This tool applies perfectly to language learning, where most learners waste a lot of time on ineffective methods, bad materials, and counter-productive attitudes.

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Showing Up is the Key

OK. Everyone knows that quote by Woody Allen or whoever about showing up. You know, 70% of winning is showing up. Well, Woody Allen, that daughter-dating scoundrel, lied to you. The truth is 70% of winning is showing up is a bunch of bull!

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