I fell in love with Japan as a country when I started watching Japanese anime in my childhood. As I was watching anime while it aired on TV and Indian broadcasters only aired dubbed versions, I had to watch the dubbed versions. As a result, even though I came to know of many things about the Japanese culture, I never picked up their language. Cut to 2015, when I visited Japan for week as a part of the Sakura Science Exchange Program, I learned a few greetings words in Japanese. However, that’s all the Japanese I knew before I decided to come to Japan for my undergrad life. Fortunately, I found the FGL program at Tohoku University which is taught entirely in English. The IMAC-U course under FGL Program at Tohoku was the perfect program for me (to know more about IMAC-U, please read my previous article here). I applied to Tohoku and got accepted with a scholarship. After getting my acceptance letter, and before joining university, I had almost three months of time to prepare for coming to Japan, but the majority of the Japanese I learned was after I arrived in the country.
Tohoku University has a program called “Survival Japanese,” in which they give lessons about basic Japanese language skills for surviving the daily life in Japan. This course proved very helpful for picking up basic phrases to get through daily life with almost zero Japanese knowledge. But the course only taught speaking, not reading or writing. For learning the Japanese alphabets, I resorted to a YouTube channel called “Learning Japanese 101”. The videos proved very useful for learning Katakana and Hiragana. Kanji was still far from my grasp of understanding.
Picking Up The Pace
Once the Japanese language class started, things escalated quickly. Learning vocabulary was the next challenge. I referred to the book, “Genki Vol-1,” for learning the vocabulary. This book is very useful for beginners and I really recommend it. The best feature about the book, in my opinion, is the explanation of Japanese grammar rules in English.
The most important thing required to learning a new language is getting over the fear and embarrassment. I used to speak wrong Japanese in convenient stores, supermarkets, and public transports but I continued speaking with the natives because that’s the fastest way of picking up the language. The best thing about Japan is that the Japanese people always appreciate my efforts to communicate with them in Japanese even though I speak wrong sometimes.
After I built up my vocabulary to some extent, I started reading Japanese novels and short stories, which are written using Hiragana. Whenever I would come across words that I could not understand, I referred to a Japanese-English dictionary app on my phone to find out the meaning of the word. This process proved very helpful in learning new words. This added new levels of interest in learning Japanese.
Learning Kanji was the most challenging part of the journey. The way the teachers were teaching Kanji in class, was not making sense to me. I started searching online for help and asked my friends for help. One of my friends suggested a book called “Learning Kanji through stories.” This book is by far the best tool for learning Kanji, in my opinion, as it helps to memorize Kanji by connecting them with a fun relevant story which clicks in my brain every time I see the Kanji in my daily life.
Practicing writing Kanji over and over again is also a beneficial way to memorize them. The stroke order was quite alien to me, as I had no previous experience with Chinese writing system. It took a bit of time to master the stroke order, but I think that it’s really important to understand the correct stroke order from the beginning so as to avoid complications when writing complicated Kanji characters.
If you are considering Japan as your study destination, I recommend that you learn the basic Japanese phrases, at least the speaking part, before coming to Japan. Even though you might not face difficulty in your university life if you choose a course which is entirely taught in English, you will face difficulties in your daily life in Japan if you have zero Japanese skills. Big cities like Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto are quite convenient to foreigners with little knowledge in Japanese as a lot of Japanese people can speak or understand English in these cities, but the scenario changes drastically as you move to smaller cities like Sendai, where you rarely find a Japanese person who can speak or understand English. Also make sure to make a lot of Japanese friends with whom you can practice Japanese conversation to polish your language skills and expand your vocabulary. Going online is perhaps the most affordable and easiest option to learn the language. Make use of YouTube and app-based dictionaries to learn the language.