How to master Japanese ?

① Introduction: Tips to Learning Japanese

"I want to speak Japanese better, but I just can't seem to do it"
"I study but I just can't retain it"
"Even though I know the words, I can't seem to say things right in a real situation"
"People speak Japanese so fast, I can never seem to catch up"
Doesn't everyone have these same problems?
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill for learning a language.
Therefore, be skeptical when you see ads for schools or textbooks that say things like: "Learn to speak Japanese in just 3 months!"
I am often asked "I want to improve my Japanese, what should I do?" However, the best approach differs depending on the person, so it's just not possible to give a quick answer. There are a few things that all people should try to do, so I'd like to give some advice to all of you learning Japanese.

 

② Motivation is the Key

Try to Think About Your Motivation

"Motivation" is most definitely the key to mastering a language. Unfortunately, each person has different motivation that comes from within themselves, so I cannot create motivation for my students. What I can do is ask the students about their motivation and help them sort it out for themselves.
If you could speak Japanese, what kind of things could you do? 
"What kind of person do you want to talk to?" "What do you want to say?"
It's very important to have something to talk about in Japanese.
Japanese is just a tool for communication. You need a conscious sense of purpose.
In my trial lessons I try to clarify this part first.

 

The Motivation Doesn't Need to be Something Lofty

· I would like to be able to talk more with my Japanese friends.
· I want a Japanese girlfriend / boyfriend.
· I want to be able to read my favorite manga in Japanese.
· I would like to be able to ask restaurant staff about the food etc.
The above examples of motivation are sufficient. Your motivation needs to give you a mental image of what you will be able to do when you can speak Japanese, it needs to be fun and it needs to be achievable. Of course, it's not a bad thing to have lofty goals as well, but it helps to separate your goals into "short-term" and "long-term" goals.

Set Goals that Mesh with your Motivation.

For example, if your motivation is "I want to be able to read my favorite manga in Japanese" it would be necessary to understand unexpectedly difficult expressions and vocabulary, but if your motivation is "I would like to be able to ask restaurant staff about the food etc." you don't need tough goals like passing JLPT N2.
For example, when a beginner level student suddenly said "I want to pass N2 in December of this year", and I asked "Why do you want N2?" the answer was "because my friend passed N2, so I want to too." If it is necessary for speaking Japanese at work, or if you need it for job hunting or a career change, then passing N2 is an important priority, but if your reason is "because my friend passed it" you will not have sufficient motivation. And when it doesn't go well, you will only be left with a negative self-image because; "my friend passed, but I failed." It is much more effective to keep motivated by setting clear, realistic goals that increase in difficulty as you achieve them.

Turn your Embarrassing Moments into Motivation

· Life in Japan is very frustrating if you cannot speak Japanese.
· It's easy to speak in my native language, but I feel stupid when I try to speak Japanese.
· While my friends are having fun talking in Japanese, it's boring to just sit and listen silently.
Everyone who learns Japanese feels this way. Even if you are feeling frustrated now, if you turn that feeling into motivation, the time will come when things will become "fun." It's important not to be easily discouraged while waiting for things to become fun. To avoid getting discouraged, you need to dump any unhealthy pride. Those who had better grades in school often have a pattern of getting frustrated and stumbling when learning a language as an adult. If you can drop your pride and ask questions without shame, making an effort to remember the answers, you will be able to cultivate a mentality that is not easily discouraged.

③ Strength to Keep Going

Maintaining motivation is the most important key, but everyone has times when their motivation fails them. A variety of different things may make you feel like it's difficult to keep up the effort, for example: "I study but just can't remember" or "My family obligations keep me so occupied" or "I don't have the time because I'm so busy with work" etc.
When that happens, its ok to just keep up your lessons. If you stop your lessons completely, the speed at which an adult forgets is quicker than you can imagine, so all the things you have so far learned will quickly disappear. I don't often try to stop students from quitting, but I can't help thinking "what a waste." I recommend continuing to do as much as you can, and maintaining your learning environment.

 

④ Balancing Input and Output

What is language input ?
= "Taking in information" that is, listening (watching YouTube, movies etc.) and reading (news articles, textbooks), memorizing kanji etc.
What is language output? 
= "Applying the information" that is, shadowing, or speaking the Japanese have you learned in real conversation.

In my lessons, the emphasis is on output. There is no point to having a face-to-face lesson unless you have interactive activities. Just having a lesson once or twice a week is never enough input. I will recommend some input methods, but these should be done at home as much as possible.
It's good to start with a ratio of (input): (output) of approx. 9: 1 and increase it to approx. 6: 4 as you get to an Intermediate / Advanced level.

 

 

⑤ Active Learning  rather than Study

"Learning" and "Studying" are not the same. Many people think "to learn" equals "to study", but in fact they are quite different. "Studying" is passive, it requires patience as you open and read a school textbook, copy notes from a blackboard, or learn the vocabulary necessary to pass an exam. On the other hand, "Learning" is proactive, learning involves absorbing information with enjoyment and enthusiasm.
Adult learners should especially be conscious about "learning." Avoid unpleasant repetitive activities, focus as much as possible on things that you are personally interested in.

 

⑥ The Relationship Between Language and Culture

In order to master a language, it is vital to understand the cultural background.
For example, a foreigner who is an English teacher introduced himself to me and said, "I am an English Teacher (Sensei)". For Japanese people hearing this "Sensei", it's a bit strange. I explained to this student that when we talk about our own occupation we need to say "Kyoshi" which is a humble word for teacher. Then this student asked: "Why does Japanese have two kinds of teacher? Sensei and Kyoshi?" "Why do I have to use a humble form to talk about my occupation?" he said, seeming unconvinced.
If you cannot understand that there is a culture to humble oneself and honor one's superiors in Japan, you will not be able to progress. Because the culture of Japan is behind the language, understanding the background of why we express things in this way is a key to learning the language. This may differ very much from the culture of your home country, and you may feel embarrassed or even a little angry at having to use it, but speaking a language is equivalent to understanding its culture. Honestly speaking, even if there is something that bothers you a bit, you will improve linguistically if you simply "accept it for the time being".

 

⑦ Don't Underestimate the Power of Vocabulary

It's just vocabulary, but it's still important. Sometimes students study a lot and then go out with confidence thinking they are ready to express themselves in Japanese, only to find that "I can't understand anything because I missed a single word" or "I can't say anything because I don't know one particular word". If you know vocabulary to say things like "Ambulance! Please help!" "Fire! Fire truck!! Please help!" you can at least be understood. But if you don't know main words like "Ambulance" "Fire" and "Fire truck" you'll be in trouble. There is no time to search the dictionary on your smartphone when you have an emergency.
If you don't know what you need to do to start learning a language, the first thing you need to do is to start memorizing vocabulary.

 

⑧ Make the Best Use of Smartphone Apps

So, how to remember kanji, vocabulary and expressions? You could fill in textbooks or write the words down again and again, but this is a little bit old-style. I encourage those who feel that such long-standing study methods work for them to please keep it up. However, nowadays more and more people are downloading and using applications on their smartphones, and this works well too. Using an application called Quizlet, I can directly input important vocabulary during my lessons. My students download the data that I input, then they memorize the vocabulary while adding their own words and explanatory notes. Apart from Quizlet, there are many other useful applications such as apps to help memorize kanji, apps to help write characters, apps specializing in JLPT, etc. If there is something you think might be helpful, download it and try it out. However, getting into a habit of downloading lots of apps and then not using any of them is not going to help you. For busy modern people, I recommend narrowing things down to a few frequently used apps, customizing them to your needs and then using them often when you have spare time.

 

⑨ Lessons Focused on Communication

From the end of the 20th century, most language lessons have evolved to "put more emphasis on communication." In other words, rather than studying at school to pass tests, new methods focus on oral use of daily expressions by practicing role-playing, task execution and discussion of real situations. The advantage of this communicative approach is that it is easy to apply what you learn to real life communication, but there is also a disadvantage in that systematic language learning is difficult. Especially for those who have a limited number of hours of lessons per week, it's important to do your own study (memorizing vocabulary etc.) and then use the lesson time to talk to your teacher about yourself using the expressions and words you have learned.

 

⑩ Learning a Language Takes Time

Actually, there is scientific data to show that learning a language is absolutely related to "how much time is spent connecting with the language". Just as a person who receives golf lessons twice a week cannot suddenly become a professional golfer, no one taking Japanese lessons twice a week will suddenly become fluent. I am well aware that business people are busy, but in order to keep up motivation and achieve goals, you need to "make up the time" somehow. As a way to help with that, I can assign homework, but this is only passive learning. More effective are creative ways of learning, voluntarily doing things that you enjoy such as trying to understand the words of your favorite Japanese music, or repeatedly watching a Japanese movie that you like.

 

⑪ Don't Delay

No one wants to hear this, but the fact is that it is easier to learn a language when you are young. Children can quickly pick up new sounds and absorb them like a sponge, but adults make repeated mistakes when trying to speak a new language and find it difficult to distinguish sounds other than in their native tongue. So, is it too late if we start now? It is never too late. But it is important to start right now. You are currently as young and lively as you are ever going to be. Day by day we lose more and more memory and comprehension. By starting now and continuing determinedly, you will retain what you have so far learned and gradually add more and more. A much bigger obstacle than the language itself, the idea that: "It's impossible for me" will spell certain doom.

 

⑫ In Summary

Apart from a detailed study method, all you need to learn a language is summed up in "Motivation" "Goals" and "Active learning". I can organize these 3 points, provide suggestions, and assist your proactive learning. Do not hesitate to stand in the batter's box and take a swing. Its ok to strike out a few times. The more you stand in the batter's box, the more experience you will gain, giving you more confidence in yourself. You can learn grammar and expressions with me, but be sure to make plenty of opportunities to speak in Japanese with Japanese people to gain your confidence.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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