Are you thinking of learning Japanese? Have you already started learning Japanese? Have you already become frustrated because you aren't seeing consistent results?
Perhaps you just need to broaden your portfolio of study tools!
It may seem obvious but I want to point out that there are more options beyond textbooks and expensive language courses when thinking about how to learn Japanese. I am certainly not saying that you shouldn't purchase any books at all because they provide the much-needed structure to your learning that you might be missing out on if you choose not to attend a formal class for Japanese. What I'm getting at is that you should view the learning resources that I talk about as add-ons, supplements and expansion packs to your core learning experience.
I really just want to outline a few "other" ways to learn Japanese without necessarily picking up a textbook or at least not worshipping it.
Join your nearest Japanese society!
I am from the UK and I cannot speak for other nationalities but I am confident that many nations will have a Japanese society. You can easily search this by just going on Google and typing something like “Japan society [your country name]”. I'm sure every Japan society will be unique but the most important thing for you is that it will most likely be a big opportunity for you to meet some very nice Japanese people.
Not only will you have the chance to practice the Japanese you already know, you will be able to learn some new Japanese and maybe even something about Japanese culture through the various activities that the society will arrange.
The best thing about going to a Japan society is that you are killing two birds with one stone; you can learn Japanese from native Japanese speakers but you are doing it in an environment where you won't even notice that you're learning because you're simply having fun with japanese learning sprinkled on top!
You CAN learn in the same way children learn
I believe that this is the key to learning Japanese (or any language) – you should be in a position where having fun and engaging in interesting activities almost makes you forget that you're trying to make your brain “work”. This is why teachers are paid to come up with exciting ways of learning new content because humans are clearly not programmed to just sit there and study. Of course there are many people who do simply sit there and study but I would think most of them have to force themselves to do it and, deep down, they don't really enjoy it that much. Children are encouraged to complete puzzles like the “word-search” because it encourages brain activity and thinking while leading them to believe that they are playing a game.
Many people will tell us that adults learn in a totally different way than children but hey, I'm almost 21 years young and the learning methods imposed on small children work just fine for me! There is real potential for return on investment when we decide to open a current account with this bank of education. I want to move back to the main agenda but I will talk a lot more about this in another article so please stay tuned for that!
Make use of the world-wide web!
This may sound extremely patronising but I want to make sure that you are using the internet to your advantage while learning Japanese. The most obvious avenues to do with the internet are things like finding a pen-friend (or an e-mail friend?) or making an account on a multi-language instant messaging website. If you thought of those already then that's a great start, but there is a lot more out there for you to get your hands on!
Did you think about using YouTube?
YouTube is probably the largest video sharing website in the world and while I don't claim to know how many videos are on YouTube, I wouldn't be surprised if there were hundreds of millions if not billions. The best thing about YouTube is that it's absolutely free! As long as somebody has a made a video on it, you can learn about it! This works to your advantage because we are programmed to learn from experience and the experiences of others. If you don't know which text-book to buy, why not type “best japanese text-book” in YouTube and see what comes up?
Maybe you want to get recommendations on some japanese games on a certain platform; have a look on YouTube! Watching a video of somebody explaining a certain point of grammar is a lot more exciting than sitting in a dark room staring at your text-book and writing notes like a depressed frog. It's 100% free and easy to use so what do you have to lose?
Try Spaced Repetition Software!
Yes, I know. You just said “What?”. Spaced repetition software is simply a more streamlined and effective system of flash cards stored in your computer or mobile device. I could go into the theory and talk about Hermann Ebbinghaus and his 1885 book about memory, OR I could just give you a quick explanation... Right you are!
Imagine you have just made 50 flashcards and one side has a word in Japanese while the reverse side has the English equivalent written down. Now you could easily go through those 50 flashcards everyday and be able to recite each one flawlessly within a day or so. The only problem here is that you won't remember exactly which ones you knew perfectly. Likewise, you probably won't have kept a note of the ones that you utterly failed on. While you only have 50 cards, you may be able to live with the problem just mentioned but this would become unsustainable once your deck of flashcards grew past around 100 or 200. You would have to go through every single card every single day although you may already know some of them off by heart. This is, in effect, wasting your time!
Now let's say that you developed a system where you would make 4 boxes for your cards. You would number the boxes from 1,2, 3 and 4, with box 1 containing cards that you either failed or struggled to remember and box 4 containing cards that you remember effortlessly. You can see that boxes 2 and 3 would be somewhere between. With this system, you would grade your cards during review based on how well you knew them and would start to organise your deck a bit better. But there is still one small problem – how do we know when to schedule reviews of cards in the different boxes? There is probably some very long-winded mathematical equation to explain this but, luckily for you, there are a number of programs (for both PC and mac and even mobile devices) that can organise everything for you with a click on your mouse.
There are a couple of different programs that all do essentially the same job but I'll use “Anki” as my example because it's the one I've used for a while now and I believe it's the best software out there. With Anki, you simply create a deck and then you are presented with a “Front” side and a “Back” side. All you need to do is to type something on the front and then on the back. For example, you could write “What is the capital of South Korea?” on the front, and then write “Seoul” on the back. Once you have clicked “OK”, you've just created your first flash card! Now if you do this for every country in the world (around 196) you would build up a deck of almost 200 flashcards!
Now all you need to do is go through them and grade them based on how well you know the answers. With that, the software will take care of the rest by using automatic calculations to best schedule your review of the different flashcards. I should say at this point that Anki is geared more towards the long-term learner and not someone who needs to quickly cram, but Anki does actually accommodate for those people too!
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Anki can do and there is a vast amount of customisation possible but as you can see, even at its rawest form, Anki is a very powerful piece of software that can help you learn vocabulary and facts very easily. This is just the beginning of what you can do with Japanese when you think outside the box!
The sun has just come up and I think I've officially done an all-nighter so I should probably stop now and go to sleep!
Thank you very much for reading my article and I hope to see you soon!