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Learning Japanese

2014/02/05

Although some schools like English teachers who cannot speak Japanese, believing it increases their value as a foreign asset which forces their students to speak in English. Living in a country where you cannot communicate effectively is pretty rough.

So, how is your Japanese ability? Here is a distillation of advice for learning the language.

KANJI
Japanese and English are opposites in more ways than one, even to the very core of how it's learned. There is a reason why Japanese students focus on reading and writing in English; because that's the best way to learn Japanese. Even native students born in Japan spend a substantial amount of time studying how to read and write Japanese, probably a lot more time than we've spent learning how to read English in our schools. That's because the meaning of words in Japanese relate to the writing of words much more than to the sounds they make. For English, if you hear "cooperate", you might be able to surmise it has something in common with other words with the same "co" sound, like "collaborate", "cohabitate", or "coordinate". That's because (in this case) the "co" sound has a meaning of "together". In English we get clues to the meaning of a word through the sound it contains. That same rule does not apply to Japanese, instead meaning is determined by the way it is written. Someone learning Japanese can often guess the meaning of a word when looking at it (even if they couldn't tell you how to read it). Although it is very difficult to comprehend, kanji is the only shortcut in learning Japanese.

MEETINGS
You get what you pay for (generally), so if you're going to meet with someone regularly to improve your Japanese, it makes sense to make it a little worth their while. There are some great language exchange programs (the Mixxer: spend 30 minutes in one language, and then the other) but if you can get an official tutor, you're off to a good start!

FLASHCARDS
Writing out flashcards is classic and time-tested, but there is a lot of great software to help you along. Anki is an electronic flashcard program that is highly reviewed. But there are a plethora of others too. Flashcards are especially important for memorizing kanji, but actually writing them out, again, and again, and again is an invaluable practice too. Also, remember that studying words one-by-one is great, but including them in sentences is much more efficient for learning meaning, context, and logical groups of words and phrases.

MEDIA
In the end, it is exposure that makes you learn a language. That is to say that volume of time spent in effort wins over any quick and clever method. If you can still enjoy that time, maybe you'll have better endurance for learning. Reading the comics, watching the movies, are great ways to immerse yourself in the language. Of course educational media is a great choice too. Podcasts, such as Japanesepod 101 are very popular. Rosetta Stone, and other media-based learning tools are effective too, but don't come cheap. If you can find some media you like, stick with it, translate it, and study it... there is no soft option, for Japanese especially, only through concentrated study will you learn.

But in the end, taking a class with a great teacher really is the best, am I right? If anyone can appreciate that, than it's us English teachers! Plus, taking a language class is guaranteed to give you new insight into understanding the point of view of your students!


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