You are coming to Japan. Or maybe are already here. Not as a temporary visitor but for a short-term or long-term stay. Maybe you are a student or a contract worker. You need to learn some Japanese. “Hurry!”, your heart tells you. You grab a paper and a pen ready to scribble some Japanese characters. You search the Internet for Japanese lessons. Perhaps, for the first days you are too enthusiastic and excited to learn and use the language, but as soon as you realize it’s not a straight, paved road to success, you start dwindling down like an old yellow leaf of a Ginko tree.
What to do? Here are some advices I extracted from my years of experience learning Japanese language.
If you want to (really) learn, go to school. Of course you can study on your own and avoid spending money on tuition, but, if you use your hard-earned money to pay tuition, there will be no reason for you to back out and quit studying when times get rough. You will make sure that you will get back every penny you spent by studying hard. Moreover, the classroom atmosphere will help you follow strict rules like attendance and submission of assignments, which, when you do a self-study, can be easily neglected and disregarded. Most importantly, it is always better and fun to learn when you interact with teachers and classmates.
Whether you can or can’t afford a language school, self-study is not an option. It is a must! Most language schools offer classes only few times a week and this is not effective (that, if you want to learn the language fast). In order to learn the language, you have to do it everyday, at least for the first three months. It is always better to support your formal study with self-study. Even for just an hour a day.
Sometimes, learning Japanese from a book gets very boring. It makes your head heavy and full (of kanji) and you start to dazzle. Have a break (in learning from a book, but not from learning Japanese). Watch Japanese anime or a movie you like (subtitles will help). Drama, comedy, action, horror. Japanese movies are great. Even Japanese prank shows will help. Don’t worry if you don’t understanding everything that you hear. Listening is important. It is the basics of learning a language. You will certainly catch some words used in the movie you watch.
Language is not a language until you use it to communicate. So, while doing 1, 2 and 3 above, it is advisable to find a language partner who can help you practice what you are learning. When I was studying Japanese, I had my Japanese tutor who I met once or twice a week. She is a university volunteer and she likes to learn English, so it was a language exchange. If you have no Japanese friends or you are not in Japan, you can tap another friend who is also learning Japanese and you can set a ‘Japanese only’ time. And don’t forget about the world wide web. Maybe you can find someone in a chat room. Just always be careful about your privacy and be straightforward in the beginning about the fact that you just want to practice your Japanese.
The best of all the rest, talk to the natives. When you finally arrive in Japan, don’t be afraid to go out and use the language. Talk to a sale personnel, a station attendant, the waiters and waitresses. Even if you just speak a few words, the Japanese will always admire you and say “Jouzu”, meaning, “you’re good”! Join a club where the members are Japanese and try to talk to them. Be friends with them and spend more time with them (than with your fellow countrymen). Immerse yourself in the language with the native speakers.