Ever since the explosion of Japanese soft power in the 1990s, increasing numbers of people have started learning Japanese, either:
- by themselves
- at evening classes
- at university
However, some don’t realise what a difficult language it is to master and can quickly become discouraged. So, in this article, we’ve put together five simple and practical tips to help you progress in Japanese.
Stay motivated over the long term
This is true of all learning, especially languages, and perhaps even more so for Japanese - your motivation needs to be strong from the start and mustn’t fizzle out over time. If you are not going to be able to sit down quietly and regularly put in the work or if your levels of motivation are a bit up and down, this is almost certainly not the right time to start learning.
Learning the language involves actually wanting to learn and not being discouraged by difficulties that are bound to arise. If you think you can overcome these difficulties and realise that redoubling your efforts will not necessarily bring immediate results and you are prepared to work hard in the long term, then you are already well on your way!
Know the kana by heart/try very hard to learn the kanji
The kana (hiragana/katakana) are the most essential basis for written Japanese. But many people rush through these essential building blocks in order to get on to the next stage of learning. This is a huge error that will cost you dearly! You must have all the kana at your fingertips and be able to read and write without a second’s hesitation. We are deadly serious on this point. Until you have mastered them 100 per cent, there is no point in starting to learn how to write Japanese. Here is a useful resource for all those who are at this stage: our method for learning the kana in three days.
Once you know the kana by heart, so begins the long (or even endless?) task of learning the kanji. If the kana were child’s play in the end, the two thousand kanji and their countless readings and meanings are the big boys, but they are the very heart of the Japanese language. This is an exciting phase in which you will be constantly making new discoveries. But it can also be torture: confusing and sometimes pitiless and discouraging. Be particularly strict about the keys and the order of the strokes, and do not be discouraged; it will be worth it in the end!
Find your own rhythm
We are all different when it comes to learning. Certainly motivation has a lot to do with it, but some people pick things up more quickly than others. However, this should not be used as an excuse! If you really want to, you can become bilingual in Japanese in the end, regardless of whether it takes you more or less time than the next person.
An important factor is the time that you can devote to learning Japanese. It doesn’t matter if you only have half an hour each day to spend on it. This is bound to be better than an eight-hour session once every two weeks. By regularly devoting even a little bit of time to learning, your brain will tune into the Japanese, adapt to its logic and be better able to take in the information and make good use of it.
Talk to others about Japanese
Whatever your method of learning, we strongly advise you to get together with other learners. Talk about your feelings, share your difficulties, but also what motivates you, ask for clarification on things you are not sure about or ask questions (on Kotaete, for example) about the things you don’t understand. And speak out loud to get your mouth and tongue used to some sounds which don’t exist at all in English.
Spend time learning in groups of two or more, compare your level with the others (and perhaps that could be another source of motivation) or try to explain the basics of the language to a beginner. All this is part of a consolidation stage which can only help you reach your goal.
Put it into practice
All this theory and accumulation of knowledge is fine, but you should never forget what it is all for: use it! If you are learning Japanese, it is so you can speak it and write it. Right from the start, it is possible to find ways to practice talking and writing. For example you could find yourself a Japanese correspondent to email or have a drink with, or even find out how good you are by taking the international Japanese exam: the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test).
But you can also let the Japanese come to you, for example by watching Japanese anime, dramas or films. Or by reading books or manga (start with ones aimed at children, then move up through the levels of difficulty).
Finally take a trip to Japan or even live there. Isn’t that the ultimate way to practice your Japanese? Once you are totally immersed in the country, you will have no choice but to speak and read it daily!
Good luck to everyone with the lessons!