I started learning Japanese when I was in high school. I started by taking Japanese one, the first class offered in Japanese. To this day, that is the only Japanese class that I have ever taken. The Japanese ability I have now is a result of self-study and actual application of the language from using it while studying abroad to Japan in both high school and university.
While I am by no means fluent in the language, I have been able to retain a lot of the language by incorporating tricks in my life. I still continue to work on my Japanese language ability everyday to keep exercising that part of my brain, and I am constantly working to improve my command of the language.
Learning Japanese has definitively not been something that has come easily to me. Learning any new language proves itself to be quite challenging, especially when you have other responsibilities including work and school. There are many small tricks that you can incorporate into your daily life though to make learning a new language that is much easier and natural for you.
Five Tricks I Use to Study
1.) Labeling items in your apartment/dorm/home
I have found it very helpful to incorporate Japanese into my home life. Putting post it notes on everything in my apartment with their Japanese name, has forced to me to encounter Japanese in every area of my house. As you get better with recognizing the Japanese name for each item, start saying it out-loud each time you use the item/appliance. This will get you very familiar with the names of everyday items in your home.
2.) Find ways to speak Japanese out-loud any chance you get.
Many people read Japanese textbooks and look at the words without ever really reading them out-loud. Pronunciation is very key when studying a new language, and you can not get good at it without ever practicing. Make sure that when you are studying from textbooks, you are saying each word or phrase out-loud to get comfortable with speaking in Japanese.
3.) Find a conversational partner
The text step to get more comfortable with speaking in Japanese is to practice with another person. This exercise will make you more comfortable with having natural conversations with people, that you would not achieve as quickly if you study alone.
4.) Read books you know well in Japanese
This trick is more effective if you are already comfortable with hiragana, katakana, and some kanji. To start with, you should chose a book you know very well, and that you have already read in a language you are fluent in. It could also be beneficial to try this with a children’s book. When I was doing this trick, I used the first Harry Potter book. I would read a page of the book in Japanese, and then would write each sentence in a notebook where I translated it into English. It was a fun activity because I liked the book and I was able to find subtle differences in the book in English versus Japanese.
5.) Repetition: repeat, repeat, repeat
Your Japanese will not improve if you do not repeat what you learn over and over until you have a strong command of that subject in Japanese. It is important to stick with it, and try to practice everyday even if it is only for ten minutes. You will start to notice your improvements, but it does take time. Be patient and work at it everyday. Good luck!
Extra Language Learning Resources
For extra resources for learning Japanese, make use of YouTube videos. It is very helpful to hear the words being said out-loud and then repeating them to yourself.
You can also download Duolingo for a mobile classroom for learning a language. The app is free and very useful. You do not need to put in too much time with each Duolingo session, and it is easy to use on the move.
Probably the most extensively used textbooks by Japanese language instructors, the Genki books are great textbooks for students just starting to study the language. They include a variety of exercises and examples that explain the proper and natural applications of Japanese.