Everybody said learning a new language should be fun, and they thought it should be easier for those who are currently living in the country of the language. Let’s face reality – as a foreign student, learning Japanese in Japan can feel like jumping into a deep pool with limited swimming skill, or worse, without knowing how to swim at all. There are often more struggles for those whose linguistic ability is not a strength at heart too. However, it is true; anyone can be great at a foreign language, as long as they invest time and effort into developing it with appropriate methods in right direction. I faced a lot of stress trying to speak Japanese fluently – the more I tried, the more I learned about my mistakes. This did allow me to learn how to improve it. Here are some of the steps I have been fortunate to figure out how to achieve a more effective way of learning Japanese.
Set a goal – imagine your success level
Imagine what it is like when you reach the highest level of Japanese proficiency. In another words, picture yourself in a situation where you are absolutely confident with your Japanese skill. You’re superb at expressing your thoughts, ideas, emotions however and whatever that’s on your mind – without the fear of being judged. For me, it was to visualize myself being able to hold public debate speech in Japanese. The objective is to set a clear, long-term goal for yourself and to stay focus – keep on track. Once you can visualize where you are going to be in the final stage of learning, you will be more determined to keep learning regardless of how hard the process is.
Look around – absorb yourself
Pay attention and gather as much information from input sources as much as possible. If you are not in Japan, gather Japanese sources from anime, song lyrics, magazines, books, Japanese teachers – literally any Japanese you can find. If you are in Japan, it is even easier since you can gain access to almost everything in Japanese: advertisements, TV shows, news reports, native speakers etc. Gathering does not mean to go wild and collect all sources of information into piles, just for you to panic about it afterwards. Absorb information mindfully and read with intention of trying to understand the content. Figure out how you can use the piece of information for yourself. For example, when I go shopping, I would notice all the ‘SALE’ signs and try to figure out what’s written on it, in order to not miss good consumer deals. At home, I would turn on the TV and jot down anything I could hear from the programs in Hiragana, and later on translate them to understand the content. By actively acquiring the information conveyed in Japanese, you would be able to utilize the language as a tool more than a subject. Naturally, you will become more aware of the context, words and grammar of your choice.
Think in Japanese
Once you have gained your input, you will be able to develop an alternative voice in your head that speaks the language or make inner speech within yourself. Allowing your mind to wander in Japanese is a great way to be more responsive when you speak the language since you would form your expression directly from your thought in Japanese, instead of thinking back to English/your first language. Grosjean offered me a great perspective on how bilingual and trilingual people think in his article Thinking and Dreaming in two or more languages. I have since then applied the tactic in my daily life to get along with Japanese conversation.
Use simple speaking sentences
A common obstacle for language learner worldwide is that we sound, or afraid to sound, like an idiot. Initially, unable to speak Japanese at a sophisticated level bothered me tremendously. However, I soon realized that this fear is the number one cause, hindering my progress with the language. It stopped me from reaching out to the native speakers who can help me improve. It stopped me from gaining experiences just because I thought I was not good at it. Soon later, I determined my task – to overcome my fear of judgment and be courageous to be silly in speaking Japanese. Gradually, I was encouraged by my fellow friends, and soon I found that the barriers were mostly made by me and not from those who I interact with.
The above list is just a small fraction of my Japanese learning journey. This helped me boost my Japanese level of Japanese and has made me significantly more confident in handling the language. Some other tips would be to gather your partners in crime and have chill time by speaking Japanese, keeping a handy vocal list with sample sentences, learning Kanji with picture books and practice writing on erasable board, etc.
Overall, my principle has always been the following for learning a new language: Listening -> Speaking -> Reading -> Writing. Self-study can be tough and lonely – this is why I also suggest you get as much extra help as you can. With a proper learning agenda and the open resources available out there, I believe you can achieve any language learning goal you of your desire.