You are probably planning to come to Japan, or you already are there. You are still a student, or a contract worker. You have / will have a visa or will be / are a simple visitor. But nothing is more sure: you have the will to improve your Japanese as much as you can.
Before going forward, I want to directly reassure you, you are at the right place.
And you probably are, as much as I am, tired of reading articles which are promising you the earth in one day.
Let’s be honest, learning Japanese is tough but turns out to be an incredible experience if you correctly build your framework.
Therefore, it is a pleasure to be your guide (at least at the beginning) in tackling this effort.
Of course, there are plenty other ways to learn but I have collected for you an non exhaustive list of useful tips you could add to yours, or write down from scratch if it is your “big dive”.
To do so, you can use the following material as you want. By picking some piece of advice or by combing all of them to ensure you an intense learning experience and to get the best out of it.
Last note: almost all of the advice below applies to you whether you are in Japan or not.
Before anything else, I would highly recommend you to learn Japanese kana (consisting in hiragana and katakana) which composed the Japanese symbols. Indeed, Japanese do not use alphabet but symbols.
This step will allow to start your transition and will allow you to faster get rid off the approximate re-transcription (called romaji) other languages could use.
There are tons of applications available on any kind of device, even website like this, which allows you to better memorize the kana with illustrations.
Now that you know the Japanese symbols, you need to create an artificial bubble (or to enforce it if already in the land of the rising sun).
As much as you can, you have to ban English or any other languages but Japanese around you.
Grab a memo and begin to write the names (with, of course, the tools your previously learn) of all surrounding things of your daily environment, starting from your table to your fridge, passing by your closet and your doors.
Your furniture will certainly look ugly with this new label, but your brain will passively assimilate the information.
In addition, try to cover any other “suspicious” language with a brand new memo replacing the old name with its Japanese counterpart. If for example you have a calendar, with “Calendar” written on it, then cover it with “カレンダー”.
I would also recommend you to connect to online Japanese radios leaving a sound ambiance all day long. It does not need to be loud, just enough for your ears to get used to it.
If you are more confident about your Japanese and know enough kanji, then switch all your devices to Japanese. It will obviously raise your immersion level even more.
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.
I would recommend this site to help you in your administrative procedures with languages schools if you plan to study in Japan. If not, plenty of possibilities (even associations) are available around the world for you to study hard.
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 is, if you want to learn the language quickly).
With a quick search, you can find plenty of websites giving you the opportunity to study at home, so do not hesitate to cross the information, and to be active on forums. The “learners community” is always welcoming and you will find answers to all your questions, I am sure of it.
It is also way better to support your formal study with self-study. Even if for just an hour a day.
One other key thing, be consistent, no matter what. It is way better to practice 20 minutes a day than 2h20 on Sunday afternoon.
To keep your Japanese up, simply read in Japanese as much as you can. But do not forget, read all your material out-loud. It will improve your reading speed and your comprehension.
Start with manga (for example Doraemon at first to avoid difficult kanji), then continue with simple novels to hardest one as soon as your Japanese is becoming better.
You also could easily find online where to buy some physical bilingual versions. I do insist on the physical word which could allow you to easily add notes at it.
But sometimes, learning Japanese from books gets too humdrum. 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.
Do not worry if you are not understanding everything 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 all tips 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 do not 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.
But to do so, there are now a load of applications with that purpose including “HelloTalk” which I used myself. Really convenient with nice included tools!
The best of all the rest, but unfortunately only available on the spot, talk to the natives. When you finally arrive in Japan, do not be afraid to go out and use what you have learned. 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.
Hope those tips were relevant to you, because from now on, no more excuse to improve your Japanese!