[Guide] How to Learn Japanese

皆さん、こんにちは!

Hello, everyone!

If you’re here, I’m assuming you’re interested in learning Japanese. I don’t blame you! Japan’s culture is incredibly rich; no matter what you’re interested in, be it anime/games, fashion, food, sports or technology, Japan probably has a lot to offer. You might be a little nervous to start learning Japanese. After all, it’s considered to be one of the most difficult languages for English speakers to achieve proficiency in. However, I believe that if you approach it with the right mindset, it is definitely an attainable feat. In this post, I’m going to share some tips I’ve picked up during my language journey.

Stop using Romaji.

Please, for the love of all that is good in this world, stop using Romaji. You don’t need it! I can’t think of a single practical situation where you would actually use Romaji in Japan. It may help you figure a few things out during the very early stages of learning, but sooner or later you just have to stop using it as a crutch… hopefully sooner rather than later. This means getting rid of your kana charts that use romaji, too! People scream when I tell them that, but I promise you that romaji-free kana charts are easy to read once you figure out the system and know a few characters. After that, the lack of romaji will help you memorize the characters as well; you will be looking for the character itself, not the English letters attached to it. I plan to post a guide on learning kana for the long-term later on… but my short point here is just to get rid of romaji as soon as you can.

In fact, just forget English.

I don’t mean cutting English out of your life entirely (although one of the best ways to learn quickly is through immersion); I’m just telling you right away that English and Japanese are two entirely different languages. You might be thinking, “Duh, of course they’re different languages. If they weren’t, I wouldn’t be trying to learn it,” but this is a point that is not to be taken lightly. Many people assume that if they just learn the words and alphabet, they’ll be set; this is absolutely not the case. At it’s most basic, Japanese grammar structure is completely different from English, but look deeper and you’ll find that the entire mentality surrounding communication is a world apart. For example, typically Japanese people don’t ask “How are you,” they ask “Are you well?”; but this is usually only to people they haven’t seen in a while. As a basic greeting, making a statement about the weather for example is more common. Additionally, even the style of writing is different; Japanese kana is a syllabry, not an alphabet. There is no 1-to-1 comparison between English letters and kana. When learning Japanese, you can’t expect anything to have a perfect English equivalent, because it’s just not English.

Take lots of notes.

There’s one thing that I will never forget, and that is that memory is never to be trusted. Make a note of everything. Not only can you look back on it as a refresher, but the act of writing actually activates a part of your brain that is likely to help you remember. If you use it to write kanji (or even just kana) over and over, they will be committed to muscle memory. I recommend investing in a cheap notebook, one that you won’t be afraid to write in, scribble on, tear out of, destroy. Then, use it to take notes on everything. Practice kana, jot down vocabulary, write sentences you see in books and try to translate them. Don’t worry about organizing it perfectly; I find that this makes me more hesitant to take notes. Just do it, you can organize them later. I actually have a few notebooks; one of which is an “everything” notebook that I periodically refer to and then sort information into their respective places when I have the time.

Use as many resources as possible.

There are so many sites and apps out there that are meant to help people learn Japanese. Many of them are even free! I plan to write a few reviews on apps and sites, but for now, check out Erin ga Chousen!. For Android users, Obenkyo is a very good app for flashcard-style memorization of kana, kanji, vocabulary, etc… it even has a particle mode, as well as some lessons in grammar borrowed from Tae Kim’s Guide to Learning Japanese (another great free resource). 

Be patient.

It may seem daunting to tackle a language knowing that you’ll have to learn to think in an entirely different way, but you shouldn’t be put off by it. Think about when you were a baby; you couldn’t speak any languages, but you had a very open mind. You were listening, observing, taking mental notes constantly, and slowly, you got to where you are now; reading this post with very little effort, having fluid conversations without a second thought, even able to recognize (most of the time) when a child or foreigner uses the language incorrectly. It doesn’t happen immediately or without struggle, but it can happen. It will happen. You just have to be patient; never give up just because it seems difficult. If it feels like a struggle, it means you’re learning. Also, pace yourself! Make sure you don’t try to tackle too much at once; choose something at your level. If you’re playing an RPG and you want to level up your Lv. 15 characters, do you go off and fight Lv. 70 monsters? I didn’t think so. So don’t do it when you’re studying, either! If you go in trying to watch anime without subtitles straight away you won’t get very much out of it save for a few overused phrases. Cool for impressing your friends, but if you really want to impress people you’ll want to learn more than that.

Just do it!

You heard me. The longer you hesitate, the longer it will take to learn. There is no “better time” to learn anything; any time is the best time. If you have ten minutes on the bus, pull out flashcards, or conceptualize how you would say certain things in your head. You are bound to make mistakes, everyone does, it’s part of the learning process. Just take a deep breath and jump in. You’ll do just fine. (*^ω^*)b