There are probably a hundred different ways to learn Japanese. Then, there is my way. But you saw that coming.
The most important part of a learning experience is determining your goal. Right up front, my goal with this has been to be able to read work PowerPoints. Not very lofty on the surface, but actually pretty complicated. I read and speak German quite well, reading novels, newspapers, and yes, work PowerPoints. With a rehearsal or two, I can actually present in German. Getting to that level in Japanese may not happen, but I am going to try.
With the clear goal of reading in mind, the challenge of learning kanji, the graphemes that make up Chinese and Japanese text, is at the forefront. My exercise is not about learning Japanese so much as learning to read it and that means kanji is more critical than anything else. Kanji is a unique writing system that can be learned without learning any Japanese whatsoever, actually. In fact, pretty much all of my Shanghai-dialect Chinese consists of reading kanji and not having any idea how to say them. I am functionally voiceless in China. I do not want that to happen with Japanese. Research into kanji tools led me to a strange blog named Tofugu, and their kanji learning tool WaniKani.
WaniKani is a spaced repetition tool that uses the radical system for teaching kanji. It is focused on the top 2000 characters and the vocabulary that use them. It does not teach Japanese, rather, it teaches a way to read Japanese and learn to interact with the kanji writing system. So far, I’m on level 19 of 60, and ready to go from Painful to Death. The language of the tool is very cute and humorous, but so far it is working for me.
Kanji is also giving me a new way to express myself, so don’t be surprised if you start seeing some here. 私は漢字は好きです。My imperfect grammar will likely be painful, but whatever. It’s a whole new way to express my self, and that is kind of pretty baller all on its own.