Friday, 31 October 2014

5 Steps that I Took to Learn Japanese

To be honest, there is a lot of language learning tools and apps on the web or on mobile that I frankly do not recommend. As a long time avid-learner of Japanese, over the duration of my language learning experience, I have compiled a concise set of steps that I recommend in order to learn Japanese. Please note that this list is in chronological order - a list that I myself have used in order to get to the level of Japanese I am at now.

1. Learn Japanese Pronunciation and Articulation/Learning Hiragana and Katakana

I'm not sure if I just have a natural knack for this, or if it's just an easy skill that many language learners don't seem to think is important. Either way, I personally still think it's important to be able to speak like a native and not sound completely weird when speaking in Japanese, although some people might disagree. I know it's bad to judge people based on their accents, but I definitely believe that Japanese language learners can improve their current level of Japanese pronunciation if they focus on it. This is what I did first - possibly due to me being the type of person who gets easily embarrassed. I am 100% certain that once you talk like a native, you will be more confident in talking in Japanese to others. Not only will your language confidence improve, but you will also be implicitly learning hiragana and katakana at the same time. You see, each "letter" in the Japanese alphabet is, to simplify, a basic "sound" in their language. That means, if you learn all of the hiragana alphabet, you will be technically able to pronounce any Japanese word. The katakana alphabet has the exact same sounds as the hiragana alphabet - it's just another way of writing hiragana. So, you could learn proper pronunciation with either of the two alphabets.

Here are some tools that helped me improve my Japanese to the level where I actually fool actual Japanese people into thinking I am a native:
1. Youtube. Just google search "Japanese pronunciation Youtube" and you will get a lot of videos. Also search for "Japanese alphabet" or "Japanese Hiragana".
2. Learn Hiragana, then Katakana. (hiragana is more common when reading Japanese). This is the first big mile stone for beginners of Japanese. If you can't do this step (which is basically the first step in learning Japanese), then I doubt you can be fluent. That being said however, please do not let it get to you. Don't give up! To motivate you, I should tell you that I actually learned hiragana in elementary school. By myself. If you are older than that, then of course you can easily learn the two languages by yourself.
3. Binge watch a lot of anime or J-dramas. (Yes, this actually helps you get an ear for the articulation of words!). Try not using any subs for a few times. It will help you concentrate on how they speak.

2. Understand all of the basic grammar.

Without grammar, sentences would have a lot less meaning. The only things we could say would be single word sentences such as "I". "Go". "Bird". With grammar, language becomes alive. I would say that there were two main basic sites I went on to learn all of my basic Japanese grammar.
I think that this page is more appealing than the popular Tae Kim's guide, because it is just more aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. That being said, both this, and Tae Kim's guide are amazing.
Tae Kim's guide to Japanese grammar

Not only do these two links help you learn essential grammar, but as you grind through them, you will also learn a lot of common Japanese vocabulary. It's like hitting two birds with one stone!

3. Talk and write/type in Japanese (online and in person).

So after steps 1 and steps 2, you have developed a very rudimentary Japanese vocabulary and basic Japanese grammar. This is basically all you need in order to start actually speaking and writing in Japanese. I fortunately had a friend who was studying with me, and my brother and parents are fluent in Japanese too. Therefore, I could practice talking to my family, and practice writing with my friend. In order to write Japanese, you just need to add the language input. This depends on whether you're on a Mac, PC, et cetera, but it honestly shouldn't be too hard. Just google it. Virtually everything and anything is googlable nowadays.

Now, if you don't have anyone to talk to or write to, I suggest using which is a cool site that allows you to write journal entries/blog posts in the language you are speaking. Then, natives in Japanese will be able to correct and edit your posts. In order to practice speaking in Japanese, I suggest actually going out of your home and try to find Japanese classes. Try going to your local city hall and ask them if there are any, or ask your high school teachers/counselors, or go to your local university and see if they offer Japanese courses to non-students (where you can practice speaking Japanese). If you are a university student, that's even better.

I would like to note something that is pretty obvious, but I will mention it anyway: you shouldn't stop this step as soon as you go onto step 4. This step should be something that you should continually do in order to improve your Japanese.

4. Learn vocabulary everyday.

In order to really talk in a language, sure you could learn some of the more advanced grammar, but what you really need is vocabulary. If you know vocabulary and basic grammar, you'll be basically able to talk at a conversational level. I mean, I think it's obvious that vocabulary is the core of all languages. Without vocabulary, we wouldn't have anything to play around with grammatically. Without vocabulary, we wouldn't be able to describe anything or even talk about anything.

In order to increase your vocabulary, I recommend using Anki. I honestly think that this is the best software for remembering things (not just Japanese vocabulary). Medical students use it too in order to memorize a lot in a short amount of time. Anki is an SRS, which stands for spaced-recognition software. That's just a fancy way of saying it has lots of cool algorithms and logic so that it repeats the flashcards at a rate/in a way which helps you memorize more efficiently and faster. Anki is like an advanced flashcard system that can have audio and images in it, and is super customizable. It even has an Android app and an iOS app (though the iOS app isn't free), not to mention a web app and an app you can download onto your computer locally.

Anki users who want to learn Japanese typically download premade decks which other users have made. This is the amazingness of Anki - you don't necessarily have to make your own flashcard decks, since there are already pre-made ones. The decks that I think everyone should use are: Japanese Core 2000 series, and after you've finished that, you should take the Japanese Core 6000 series. By the end, this will make you learn 6000+ words, enough to basically hold your own in a conversation. I'd also like to note that these core series are sub-divided into smaller decks. For example, the Core 2000 series is not one deck with 2000 words you can learn. It's actually 10 decks that you will have to download - each with 200 words in them. Each of these decks are called "steps". So, when you first start off with Anki, be sure to only download Core 2000 Step 01, and not Step 05 or something like that.

5. Go to Japan or find a way to immerse yourself in the language.

The link above will take you to Khatzumoto's site, and honestly, I too find that immersing yourself in the language will help you attain fluency very quickly. I mean, that's how I learned English when I immigrated to Canada. Just immersing yourself, whether by going to Japan or just surrounding yourself artificially with the language, will definitely help a ton. I have heard of people who went to Japan and did not get fluent, however. The trick is to completely stop looking at English. Whenever you see something in English, try it or look at a Japanese version. It's a big step, but it is what's required in order to attain fluency, I find.

Some easy ways to at least artificially immerse yourself in the Japanese language is to only watch Japanese TV/go on Japanese sites, go watch Niconico instead of Youtube, read Japanese newspapers,  listen to Japanese music, and talk in Japanese as often as possible. Basic, switch everything you do in to what I call "Japanese mode".

I hope this post helps fellow Japanese language learners such as myself.