12 Essential Tips for Learning Japanese the Right Way
1 - Look up your words!
If you’re studying and there is a word you don’t understand it is going to prevent you from getting the complete concept the author is trying to give you.
If you’re trying to learn a language and there is a word you don’t understand it is even worse! You’re going to prevent yourself from ever understanding that concept and it will come back to haunt you every time you are studying something new, which relies upon that first thing you didn’t fully get! It is absolutely deadly. If you’re too lazy to crack open a dictionary just ask Google to define it.
2 - Make Japanese friends
More specifically: Make Japanese friends who can speak English. Unfortunately, your hot Japanese friend who can barely communicate to you won’t be of any help for your studies.
If you get some Japanese friends who actually speak English (at a decent level) you can then ask them all of your questions whenever you are stumped or can’t find an answer online. It is invaluable.
They are very easy to find and make. The Japanese are obsessed with learning English and are delighted to make friends with a foreigner. You don’t even have to teach anything to them in return. They are very happy if you just have chats with them from time to time and correct their English.
3 - Ask questions
Let’s say you learn a new concept; you understand it is fine. BUT, it actually totally contradicts something you had thought before! You feel like you’re trying to jam something into your head and it is just not fitting. Your new concept is either wrong, or your old one is wrong. Either way, you need to resolve this. You should write down the thing you just learned/understand, and the thing which you thought was the case, but which now doesn’t make sense. You should then try Googling this to see if anyone else has had the same confusion. Otherwise, you need to talk to one of your Japanese friends (the smartest one) so you can resolve it.
If you don’t resolve it, it will make you stupider and you will be handicapped in that area where the confusion lies.
4- Know your goal
Honestly, any goal is better than no goal. You need to choose your goal and keep it in mind and work towards it.
For example, if you just want to learn Japanese insults, slang and funny words, own it! Don’t be afraid to admit it to yourself. Be real. Who cares. That is how I started learning Japanese (hohoho!).
Once you know what your goal is, don’t let other people distract you by telling you to do things you don’t need to. Therefore, if you do just want to learn slang and funny words don’t feel that you now have to go study kanji, grammar, etc just because someone guru told you to. You don’t need kanji and grammar to study slang and insults!
Know your goal, and proceed towards it, don’t get distracted.
If your goal is to get a Japanese GF or BF realize that only learning slang won’t be enough. You will actually have to learn to speak the language, since very few Japanese can even speak English.
If your goal is indeed to become skilled and able to speak and think in Japanese, then realize that is a pretty big goal, and it will require you to work hard over a long period of time. There will be no instant gratification. (There is however, instant gratification in learning slang and swear words).
5 - Study Basic English Grammar
If you want to speak and think in Japanese, you will have to confront the fact that you don’t understand English. (unless you are a grammar Nazi, and in that case, good for you!).
Don’t believe me?
Can you answer these questions honestly:
- What are the three key meanings of the word ‘is’ ?
- What is the difference between ‘in’ and ‘at’
- What are the two key meanings for ‘ing’
- What are some examples of ‘Subject, Verb, Object’?
- [Here’s a tough one] What is the difference between:
- Have him do it
- Make him do it
- Get him to do it
- Let him do it
If you had to look up any of those questions, then you need to work on your English before you work on your Japanese.
Don’t worry, you just need the basics. We’re talking 6th Grade English grammar, that’s all you need.
6 - Learn how to teach English
Check this out. After you have studied enough Japanese and English (don’t forget to study your basic English grammar!!!), and it is clear to you, you will be able to teach a person who is under your level the things you have mastered!
This is super awesome and means that you will be able to teach Japanese people the English which you have learned and mastered. And they, in return can teach you Japanese. This allows you to create meaningful study buddies, where each party is really benefiting.
Don’t think you can teach a Japanese person English until you yourself have really studied the hell out of it. Otherwise you will be stumped when they ask you questions like:
“why can’t I say: ‘I like to swimming’?”
And they want to know grammatically why. Not just: “oh, you should just say: I like to swim”. They want an explanation at the grammatical level. You only can do that if you study it.
7 - Don’t use memorization
You can use memorization, and some people do. They take a list of 100 adjectives and just pound it. But it can be very very time-consuming and even over-whelming. Trying to stuff with rapidity these words in your mind, only to forget them soon after.
There is a faster and more reliable way to absorb words into the mind.
It’s called ‘making examples’. When you make an example you actually have to think. You’re using your mind. When you just chant: “cute means kawaii, cute means kawaii, cute is kawaii” it gets a bit much, after the 100th word.
Instead, make up funny or weird example sentences, using the new word you’re trying to remember.
8 - Keep a list of all unresolved confusions
There will be days when you just can’t solve a confusion. You couldn’t find it on the web, your language buddies couldn’t explain it properly, and there you sit, with this annoying confusion over you. And you have to move on with your life and you don’t have any more time to spend that day, racking your brains.
The thing to do is to write it down, fully describing it. Including all your suspicions, hunches etc. If there are any contradictions, etc etc. Type it all up and put it in a folder.
At a later date, open it up and try some more Googling, and asking friends. Take it on piece by piece, and find the concept that is messing you up. It may be something you previously assumed was true (but with no evidence or inspection, you just agreed it was true) however you’ve found out it is no longer true, and not ‘fitting’ with something you were learning which is true.
9 – Use meetups & study groups
Study groups seldom get anything constructive done, however it is nice to have some fun and distraction injected into your sometimes-boring Japanese studies.
Meetup.com is a great place to find local groups of Japanese learners.
Who knows, one of them might be a total pro, and you can then proceed to dump all of your complex questions on him or her!
10 – Balance theory and practice
Did you know that hardly any Japanese people can actually speak English?
They can understand English sentence structure, grammar and they can even do beautiful cursive hand-writing! But they can’t SPEAK!
Because in school, it was ALL theory and NO practice. The result is lots of data and no ability to do.
Don’t make that same mistake. In your studies make sure, no matter how embarrassing it may be, to try to speak Japanese. Don’t be afraid to sound like a foreigner. Given time and correction you will sound great.
11 – Use a known, workable system
Don’t have your Japanese learning adventure be some random activity, where you’re just all over the place, and making now visible progress.
You need a system, structure. A system which is logical, and gets results.
12 – Have some FUN! Please!
It’s going to be hard at times. Lighten things up for yourself by getting into Japanese music, anime, manga, tv-shows, online dating (yee haw!), movies, get a Japancrate, karate, whatever. Just have a bit of fun.
Another way to make it fun is to take a break from the usual studies and learn some slang, phrases, swear words and more.
For me, whenever I needed some levity, I’d switch over and study some Osaka-ben (the dialect spoken in Osaka). And after learning a new phrase or words, I’d talk to my Japanese buddies on Skype and completely and utterly crack them up. It was a great feeling, and made all the hard work well worth it.
The Japanese truly appreciate it when they see a foreigner trying hard to speak their language, and absolutely love it when you try to speak in one of their dialects. It gets them, every time.