Learning Japanese

Earlier this year I posted a couple times about my goal of teaching English in Japan. I gave my all, but in the end I was not accepted by the JET Program to be an assistant language teacher. My subsequent rejection a month or so later from Interac further solidified my need to do even more than I have to get into this field of work. My main goals at the moment are: saving up money, getting a TESOL certificate, volunteer to teach English to people in some way, and–of course–learn more Japanese. I hope doing all these things will show how committed I am when I apply again for next year.

The past few months I have been trying to review the things I learned in the four semesters of Japanese I took in college. I have mainly studied by renting books from the library as well as some audio CDs. Here’s my thoughts on some of them:

Ultimate Japanese – this is a decent book and set of CDs for review as a beginner. Everyone speaks slowly and clearly, which is helpful for honing in on pronunciation. Slowly going through the first eight or so lessons has helped me fill in some basic vocabulary. Unfortunately I’ve found myself getting bored when I repeat drills from the CDs too much, and don’t really retain all the information. Basic grammar principles are explained decently, but in general the information feels fairly supplemental. So again, this is probably best utilized for review rather than straight-up learning.

My Japanese Coach – I borrowed a friend’s Nintendo DS and this game for a month or so, and mainly just reviewed some vocab with it. Overall it was an okay program–the games were a nice way to drill words with. In theory the DS would be perfect for practicing how to write Japanese, but unfortunately (and strangely) this game doesn’t teach the correct stroke order for many of the hiragana and katakana. It also seemed rather picky for where to precisely draw each stroke on the screen. If you just use this program for vocab it’s all right, and could be a fun way to encourage people to start studying Japanese on their own.

Remembering the Kanji – This book by James Heisig is a life-saver. I took two semesters of learning kanji in college, but it was extremely difficult for me to remember many of them. In college, the method of teaching kanji was rather ineffective for me: Write them down a few hundred times. The method Heisig teaches is drastically more effective. If you’ve looked at kanji for a while, you’ve surely noticed how many characters share similar elements. I always thought that surely there must be some method to understanding the way the Japanese written language works, but my teachers (apparently) didn’t know of any way to organize or make sense of all the random parts that compose these thousands of kanji. In the first ten or so chapters of Heisig’s book, I’ve already learned the meaning of many of these elements–and by making up keywords for various kanji pieces (and in turn groups of kanji pieces), I can form tiny stories that stick in my head much more easily than a pile of 25 random pen strokes. I’ve had to rent it off and on from the library, but I plan on buying this book shortly. That way I’ll be able to focus on getting through another lesson or two each week, and hopefully have a thousand or so kanji meanings down by the end of the year. Won’t that be awesome? I think I can keep with it if I always have some flash cards with me. It’s rather fun to go through a set and actually know what they all mean. (Now, if only I could get the Japanese words for all of them down…)

Other Stuff – Of course, the internet is also full of good materials to practice with. I know all the hiragana and katakana, but I still need to get them down well enough that I can recognize and read them immediately. There’s still a bunch I have to think about for a bit (especially for the katakana). You can find all sorts of worksheets to print out if you do an online search, and this is good for practice.

Some things I’d like to do:

  • Try translating some of this Japanese manga I own. I think I’ll start with the Nichijou volume 1 I won from GoodbyeNavi. Perhaps I’ll do a series of posts here about my first swim in the ocean of manga translation?? I have a few other manga books as well, and even some light novels. I particularly would like to translate my Pandora Hearts light novel, but alas, there are very few furigana to assist me with all the kanji. I’m just not good enough to tackle that book yet. I may instead start with a book for kids I found, called Youkai Navi Runa Rindou. Bigger font, simpler words, and all the furigana I could ask for. I may do a series of posts on that as well. The story features a really creepy-looking owl, at least.
  • Writing sentences to practice specific grammar principles is a good idea, and is something I haven’t done much of at all. I could really afford to practice conjugating verbs especially. And really, I need to learn more verbs, period. SIGH.
  • The biggest thing I need to practice though is conversation. I am currently looking into some online sites to see how easy it is to find people who can help me with Japanese, and I in turn help them with English. I think it’s worth trying, and it’ll at least be good practice for me to teach people English. But as a beginner trying to remember all the basics of Japanese, I’ll probably stick with emails and text chats at first, and then work my way to actually conversing with others somehow. I need to learn how to type in Japanese on the computer.
  • I may look into trying out a computer program, such as Human Japanese, which according to (the surprisingly positive) reviews is actually quite helpful for beginners. It’s certainly a ton cheaper than Rosetta Stone, so it doesn’t seem like too big of a gamble.

Feel free to offer any suggestions you all have for Japanese self-study. My opinion is you really need to try all sorts of methods to find what works best for you. There’s a lot to focus on when learning a new language, but there are many things you can do to help keep the language in mind and internalize elements of it, such as watching anime in Japanese and listening to Japanese music. But you know that already. =P

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9 responses

  1. Hogart

    I’ve been dabbling with it the past year or so myself. Tae Kim’s site, in addition to the now-tough-to-find kwhazit site, were real boosts to my understanding of Japanese grammar. Also, I can’t stress how much I appreciated Jay Rubin’s “Making sense of Japanese” helped me with some grammar concepts. Heisig’s method sure is helpful too. Really, my whole problem has always been finding resources for how thinking works in Japanese, rather than thinking in English and somehow trying to end up sounding Japanese, which is the common learning method that never worked for me.

    June 9, 2012 at 5:34 pm

    • Tae Kim’s guides look like they’ll be really useful. I think I’ll try going through them this upcoming week. And reading over descriptions of Jay Rubin’s book, I think I’ll definitely want to give that a read.
      I imagine that the main thing for learning a language is just the amount of time and effort you put into it day in and day out. It definitely takes some thinking to figure out how to piece together sentences in a natural way though.

      June 9, 2012 at 8:55 pm

  2. I have been studying Japanese on my own for nearly 7 months and I use Genki to get all the grammar rules down. I probably have more than enough to pass at least the JLPT N5 confidently… but the tricky part is the Kanji. Making flashcards work, but you need to study them one in a while. Anki is also helpful for memorizing vocabulary.

    Also, Lang-8 is a pretty good site to have people who is native in Japanese to correct what you wrote. If you have trouble getting an IME to work, try this.

    June 9, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    • Genki looks like a thorough system of textbooks for learning Japanese (if I’m looking at the correct materials).
      Looking over the Anki website and intro video, I’m definitely going to give that program a try. It looks like it will be a very useful, organized tool for memorizing vocab.
      I’ll also keep Lang-8 in mind for when I want to try writing a bunch of things in Japanese–and hopefully help people with their English, as well!
      And big thanks for that link telling how to type in Japanese! すごい! It looks like there’s a series of helpful lessons worth looking into there, too.

      June 9, 2012 at 9:29 pm

  3. I’ve been doing Remember the Kanji too and it’s worked great for me. After five months I have 1800 down (although the last 500 or so need some more review).

    June 9, 2012 at 9:22 pm

    • That’s super-impressive, Draggle! I’m very slow at learning, particularly when it comes to memorizing things. I think I’d feel quite pleased if I could get 100 down in a month, but perhaps it will start coming to me faster the further I go along in the book. Also, it’ll obviously help if I really buckle down on it more.
      That said, that book has already helped me out with kanji tons more than college did.

      June 9, 2012 at 9:32 pm

      • I make notecards and study during the 20 minute walk back and forth from school. 100 / week is no problem if you do it every day.

        June 10, 2012 at 1:13 am

  4. I also didn’t get into the JET Program when I applied in 2009 (I got on the alternate list but a spot never opened up for me). I think they’re more interested in people who are good at and passionate about teaching English and American culture than people who know and are into Japan/Japanese. But luck plays a big part ;)

    I got my B.A. focusing on Japanese language and literature, so I took it up to the end of Advanced level at college. Since I graduated I’ve been teaching myself at home and it’s a slow but steady process. I already have a good grasp of Japanese grammar so I’m mostly working on learning new kanji and vocabulary, and enhancing my listening and reading comprehension skills. I’ve been reviewing the Advanced textbook I used in college (which has excerpts from raw Japanese magazine articles) and another book that’s all about listening comprehension and has a supplementary CD. Both books are pretty much written all in Japanese, and I think that kind of immersion is what I need right now. I watch a couple of kids anime raw without subs, and that’s helpful too.

    Like chikorita157 mentioned, I too recommend the Genki books and Lang-8 (I’m on Lang-8 as well). I also recommend Kodansha books by Taeko Kamiya called “The Handbook of Japanese Verbs” and “Japanese Sentence Patterns for Effective Communication.” Both were indispensable to me for my Intermediate level of study. And if you’re interested, on my blog I’ve been writing a Fundamentals of Japanese post series. That might help you out too =)

    June 10, 2012 at 10:00 am

    • JET, Interac, and likely most other programs seem a bit difficult to understand precisely what they’re looking for. I suppose at the end of the day there’s just way too many factors involved to really pin down what types of people are accepted and what types aren’t. I’ll be trying again though, and hope I can fill my resume with as much good stuff as possible. I’ve taught English overseas before, but perhaps I need to show stuff I’ve been doing more recently in regards to teaching.
      I’ve started reading through some of your fundamentals post, and I quite like them. Very to-the-point and clear–basically the exact opposite of the textbooks my college used. (Felt like I needed a PHD in linguistics to understand *anything* those books were talking about… Not to mention they used their own different romaji system [which they relied on entirely].)
      I’ll have to look into some of the books you mentioned once I’m at a more intermediate level.

      June 10, 2012 at 11:55 am

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