Japanese is Possible!
Some helpful tips
Your brain is a
very powerful tool, even more than you realize. You can learn
new things, and unlearn things that were in error. Unlearning
in particular tends to require a lot of repetition. You must
beat the corrected information into your head, just as the
falsehood was beat into your head over a period of years.
Eventually, you'll prevail.
In learning Japanese (and this goes for
almost any goal you set), the sooner you can unlearn that "it's
the sooner you'll be able to make rapid progress. If you've
already taken my word for it and believe it, good for
At first, Japanese
may sound very foreign to you, and your confidence may
falter at times. As you begin to listen to it and learn
more about it, you will become more comfortable with it. I
speak from experience on this.
suggest that you "make friends" with the
language. Don't treat it as a monster you wish to
tame, but rather approach it like a friend and an ally, something
you want to do, a fun hobby that you only approach
when you want to. Try to rekindle the love of learning that
children have. Some of you still have that love of learning, and
If you treat Japanese like a chore, it will be much harder to learn. Let's think of Japanese study
as something fun you will do alongside your favorite hobby -
anime, video games, music, or talking for that matter. You will
get more enjoyment out of any one of these.
There are many "resources" you can use in the study of Japanese,
each giving you practice in one or two particular areas. For
example, listening to Japanese music helps you in the following
As this column progresses, I will point out the best ways to
improve yourself in each area.
- Getting rid of the "foreign" feel
- Learning new words (and remembering them well)
- Learning pronunciation
Don't worry about what you don't know, but rather focus on what
you do know. Take it one step at a time. "Rome wasn't built in
a day", as the saying goes. On the other hand, it's very fun to
look back at how far you've come in a week, month, or year!
If you're not used to learning things on your
own, don't worry. I'll help you out as much
as any teacher or professor. Also, the people in this site's forum
are always eager to help people with any questions they have. Remember
that even in a classroom environment, it's still up to you to
learn. If you don't apply yourself in a class, you fail to learn
anything. Conversely, if you study outside of class, and do your
homework, you will end up with an A. Why not just study on your
own to begin with? As long as you have the materials and the
guidance, you should be able to make impressive progress.
There will be
more specific tips as the lessons progress. For instance, when studying
word lists, early morning is the best time. That is
because your brain, like wet cement, is VERY receptive to new
information at that time. Have you ever awakened to a
horrible song on your alarm clock radio, and then tried to get
it out of your head? It's almost impossible. This works to your
advantage when you are trying to memorize something. If you set
aside at least 5 or 10 minutes in the morning, you will notice
the difference. Studies have found that school kids do better
in their 1st hour classes for the same reason.
First steps in learning Japanese
Getting the Right Mindset
Unless you watch a lot of subtitled anime, you probably aren't
very familiar with Japanese, and it probably sounds foreign to
you. When you hear it, your instinct is to ignore it as a
"foreign" language. You must try to think of Japanese dialog
as simply, "words I don't know yet". In other words, you must
believe that "Japanese is Possible".
Realize How Much Time You Have to Learn
You may think you have very little time, but you might be
surprised how much time you can scrape together. Important parts
of learning Japanese, such as "Word Lists" can be done anytime,
anywhere. You only need 10 seconds in a row to look at a list
and study some words! Other things can be done at the same time
as other things. You can listen to Japanese music or Anime while
surfing the Web, for example.
Start thinking about how you could manage your time better, to
give yourself some time each day to study. Not much time is
required - just enough to look at a word list a few times, read
part of a "Learn Japanese" book, or watch a subtitled Anime.
(That part won't take too much discipline!)
The idea is to do a little bit every day. We've all heard the
fable of "The Tortoise and the Hare". Indeed, when learning a
language, "Slow and steady wins the race".
Here's an interesting analogy I found on the Internet on
managing your time:
(by James R. Beach)
A professor walks into the room carrying an empty 10-gallon water
jug and dragging an obviously heavy bag. He places them on the
teacher's desk. Without a word, he begins placing white rocks, just
big enough to fit through the mouth of the jug, into the jug until
they reach the very top. "Is it full?" he asks. The class nods.
"Maybe not," he says. He then stuffs tiny pebbles into the jug
and the pebbles find their way through the cracks in the rock.
"Full now?" he asks. The whole class nods.
He then shovels sand into the jug, occasionally shaking the jug,
and the tiny grains sift through the rocks and pebbles. "OK," he
says, "now is it full?" The class nods in unison.
He smiles. He then slowly pours water into the jug until a
water glass is finally empty.
"The lesson here," he says, "is that there is always more room
in our lives than we think there is. When you think you're out
of time, there is still more available if you look for it."
Here's the time-saving payoff:
The ROCKS are the important things we have to accomplish
regularly to be successful. They go into our "time jug" first,
because they are most important. The PEBBLES represent those
things we may not like to do, but we must do. They go in next.
The SAND represents things that we should do, we may even like
to do, but they're not as important. The WATER represents
the few remaining things that make a difference. If you reverse the
order, putting in the water, then the sand, then the pebbles,
there will not be enough room for the rocks. So prioritize your
activities and make sure the rocks go on your schedule first.
So the moral is, whether Japanese is a rock or the water,
there's always space for even a little bit of it in your
day, as long as you're ready to do it when the opportunity comes.
Rent some anime DVDs.
Whether you are an anime fan or not, it can
be a serious help for your study of Japanese, especially if you
don't have any other resource for listening to Japanese
dialogue. Anime DVDs are great because they almost always have
the Japanese speech available. If you don't have a DVD player,
you might be able to rent subtitled anime on tape and you can
definitely buy it. Chances are slim that you won't find
anything that you don't enjoy at least a little bit, so give it a
try, it's a very useful method.
you can pause the tape or DVD and look up a word
you don't know in a Japanese dictionary. You can then write the
word on a list so you can learn it! If it was used in an Anime,
it's probably a good word to learn. On the other hand, writing
down random words from a Japanese dictionary is a horribly
inefficient way of building a vocabulary. (Don't laugh...many people have
tried it!) I will focus on vocabulary building again in lesson
If you don't know where to start with anime buying, here
are some tips. You can get Anime at Best Buy, Media Play,
and other like stores. Also check small hobby shops. If you
happen to live in the vicinity of a Yaohan (Japanese mall-like
place) you should definitely stop by and see what they have
there! If you don't have a store that sells Anime in your
vicinity, you can always turn to the Internet. We don't have any
links right now, but we may soon.
Remember, it's up to you to work on learning Japanese. I can
guide you, but I can't force you to learn.
Next week - Japanese pronunciation
Other areas will be discussed as well, so don't miss it!