A friend of mine has just told me that she is off to Japan with OMF this summer and asked if I could direct her to some helpful resources to learn Japanese. After writing the message I realised that I actually amassed quite a list so I thought I'd reproduce an (abridged) version here.
がんばってください (Try your best!)
I suggest the following for introductory phrases and words:
1) Japanese pod 101
You need to sign up to use it but the basic package is free. It's absolutely fantastic. These are the best Podcasts I've come across. Added bonus is that they are also on itunes so you can search for and automatically download (if you wish) all their past pods.
2) Learn Japanese pod
Another great podcast site. They are also a little more fun then 101 I think, so are easier to listen too, although not always as clear.
This is very much like Rosetta stone but better and MUCH cheaper. There are tons of free lessons which should see you through but its really cheap to sign up if you find it helpful.
Great flash-card site. Pick a category and work though vocab. Check star rating though as some of them are wrong :S
All the 'about.com' pages seem really good, especially for learning vocab
6) All about teaching English in Japan
These are actually classroom phrases but will help when working with kids, or if you are going out as a teacher! Phrases like 'quiet please' and 'please sit down' will become your friend!
7) Google video (Gestures)
Gestures can be really helpful when you don't know the phrase. Be careful thought as some that we use in the UK are rude in Japan! (like 'come here')
8) Kids Web Japan
A great introduction to Japanese for those that have never come across any before.
That should be enough to keep anyone going for a short term mission or a holiday but for those a little more serious about learning I have a few more recommendations:
1) These websites all use/include Romaji which is Japanese in Roman letters. If you are just learning for a short trip this is ok but if you plan to carry on please, please, please learn kana (the 2 basic alphabets). For example 'Easy Japanese' will help you both read and write the characters. It will make your life a lot easier in the long run and make words make a lot more sense. Leave Kanji alone for a while though!
2) I recommend this book: Japanese for Busy people I: kana version
3) I recommend taking a course. All the book learning is great but it's hard to learn when you have no-one to practice with.
4) Anyone with a Nintendo DS (whichever version) can also use it to learn Japanese. I recommend 'My Japanese coach'. Of course you can use this for basics but it goes all the way through to intermediate level. Added bonus is it's great fun!
Till Next Time