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Learning How To Learn Japanese, Part 1: Obligatory Introduction

Kenshin_sama

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Index

 


Part 1: Obligatory Introduction (current)
Part 2: How to Anki
Part 3: Productivity Apps

Hello and welcome to my Learning How To Learn Japanese guide series! My name is Kenshin_sama, and today I’d like to go over a basic overview of what these guides will be about. What I aim to accomplish with this series is share some of the observations I made while studying in hopes that they aid you in finding a sustainable method for yourself. While many of the techniques I discuss can be applied to almost any area of study, I’ll be writing these guides specifically for those who want to learn Japanese.

Guide format:
After dedicating several hours to writing this guide, I came to the realization that I’ve put in far too much information to consume all at once; and after some deliberation, I decided to break my guide into a series of smaller guides to provide moderate break points and make it a little less intimidating. Each guide will be dedicated to certain lifestyle aspects or learning techniques that can make the process of learning Japanese easier. Every time I create a new guide, I'll add a link to an index at the top of each entry for convenient navigation.

What you should know before you start learning Japanese:

Gaining proficiency in any new language is going to require a substantial time investment throughout the entirety your life; make sure you can justify that kind of commitment to yourself before getting started. There are plenty of reasons you might want to consider learning Japanese other than for increased enjoyment of your hobbies, but make sure they’re enough to keep you motivated.

The key to studying effectively is studying consistently. In the wise words of James Raymond Watkins, “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” If you can spend more time studying, great, but it is imperative that you take the time to study almost every day, even if it’s only for a short duration.

I’m not sure if this is still a commonly held belief, but I think I’ll go ahead and address this argument in case you get the wrong idea. It is not impractical to learn a completely new language as an adult. You may have heard it said on occasion that the best time to learn any new language is at a young age. I’m not willing to verify the accuracy of that statement since it’s not exactly relevant to this guide (I’m not writing this for 5-year-olds), but I can say with some certainty that it is never too late to get started. I’ve heard plenty of stories about people who’ve started learning their second language in their late 20s or older, and have achieved fluency in that language with enough practice. Just know that it’s perfectly normal to suck at learning a new language at first; your age is not to blame.

Afterword:
Thank you very much for reading. It was not my intention to make the introduction post this long, but I wanted to be sure I made some of my points as clear as possible. I'd greatly appreciate it if any of you would be kind enough to share your thoughts on this guide. In part 2, I’ll be going over a certain method of learning Japanese grammar through Anki. I'm almost positive that this method won't take over as the primary go-to for learning grammar, but I figured it'd be worth sharing anyways since it's working well for me and I haven't seen it brought up in any other JP guide (at least the ones promoted on this site). Hope to see you there!



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Nice, doesn't hurt to have a new guide on JP every now and then. Even if you don't take in much of what you read it certainly is interesting to hear how other people learn a language.

I look forward to seeing how others got innate in the language. Personally hard learning grammar books/dictionary books/sheets haven't really done any wonders for me compared to the arguably more lazy route of just reading, watching JP shows, looking up stuff and taking down notes of things you don't understand until you "understand" the grammar / sentences (and look up the things you've forgotten every now and then).

Edited by Weiterfechten

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1 minute ago, Weiterfechten said:

Nice, doesn't hurt to have a new guide on JP every now and then. Even if you don't take in much of what you read it certainly is interesting to hear how other people learn a language.

I look forward to seeing how others got innate in the language. Personally hard learning grammar books/dictionary books/sheets haven't really done any wonders for me compared to the arguably more lazy route of just reading, watching JP Youtube/shows, looking up stuff and taking down notes of things you don't understand until you "understand" the grammar / sentences (and look up the things you've forgotten every now and then).

Thanks. :)

To me that feels like a more difficult than reading a book, but that's mostly because I perform better in a structured environment. But hey, any method's fine as long as you're able to learn.

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The key to studying effectively is studying consistently. In the wise words of James Raymond Watkins, “A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” If you can spend more time studying, great, but it is imperative that you take the time to study almost every day, even if it’s only for a short duration.

I once saw a polyglot study guide (polyglot is usually defined as knowing at least 5 languages). Apparently they use many different study techniques, but they all have a few things in common:

  1. study at least 30 minutes each day.
  2. have fun while studying. Make sure it will not feel like a chore you have to do even if you don't want to.
  3. don't study more than one language at a time.

The part about studying every single day is important because the human brain has a place for foreign languages. You need to trigger it with the language of your choice daily. If you only trigger it occasionally, you won't get it into the mindset of the language in question. It's not the amount of time you spend, it's how you spend it. 30 minutes a day is way more beneficial for remembering what you study than a 5 hour study session every Sunday even if the daily study only sums up to 3.5 hours weekly.

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36 minutes ago, tymmur said:

have fun while studying. Make sure it will not feel like a chore you have to do even if you don't want to.

Yeah, that was the hard part for me. It wasn't until I put greater thought into my approach that I began to enjoy learning Japanese. If I'd figured this technique out when I first started learning, I'd have been reading VNs a long time ago. Thanks for the comment.

Also, any thoughts on studying every day as opposed to studying 6 days a week? I'd like to think the latter is more effective since it gives your mind some time to cool down, but I can't say I'm overly familiar in this area.

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For me, I think the most important part is to give you objectives. Let me explain myself:

Let's be honest here, no matter how you look at it, learning japaneseis hardly funny: it's hard (more or less), very different from our own langage, and fucking scary (Hi Onyomi and Kunyomi...) but as long as you really want to reach a goal, this is not impossible, so that was not the main problem for me.

On the internet, you can find a lot of guides for beginner, really, so when you want to start to learn japanese, you know where you'll start (kana and the syntax), and you have more than enough information about that on the internet. But the main problem is after that: once you reach an advanced level, you'll want to start reading something (books, manga or visual novel and stuff) and that's where the complicated stuff begin: Reading the real stuff hardly looks like what you learnt. I learnt over 1 000 kanjis, learnt all the syntax explained on 2 japaneses books and Tae Kim's guide, all the possible conjugation for ichidan and godan, but even so, I happen, from time to time, to see a sentence with only basics words, but the sentence itself doesn't make a fucking sense (because there might be a word I never saw used like this or because the purpose of one word is not the same explained in the books). That's the limit of someone is trying to learn japanese by himself: the japanese showed in a book for people aiming to learn japanese won't be the same japanese you'll find in a japanese book aimed for japanese speaker. From this, it's not a matter of fun anymore, I could hardly tell if I was good or not, so I stopped from time to time as this point because I had a hard time to understand what I lacked and how to improve. Just saying that having fun in learning japanese won't prevent you to face this problem.

I guess the real solution would be something like a translated script (from a visual novel for example) with long sentance, and explain why the sentence is translated this way and not this way, with some explanation here and here. I am just explaining how I see things and the main problem I encountered while learning japanese, and since you want to do a guide and we are in a community about Visual Novel, it would be nice if you could use those to teach the "true japanese".

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^ I always found this to be a nonissue; my approach is I don't worry about getting everything 100% all the time and if it doesn't seem important I just accept an incomplete understanding. Reading other sentences, helped by context, will further my knowledge until I either can actually look what I need up somehow or it just clicks into place. If it actually seems important, ask a more experienced friend, or in some channel like #learn-japanese in the r/visualnovels discord, etc.

Honestly though the clever way to avoid having to ask other people for help (which I will fully admit I strongly dislike most of the time) once you're somewhat experienced is almost always to try to google it. In Japanese. Someone will probably have wondered about it before. Or maybe the Japanese dictionary definition of a word (which you can read using a j>e dictionary lookup tool in your browser) will be more complete and contain the meaning you're looking for.

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14 hours ago, Kirashi said:

On the internet, you can find a lot of guides for beginner, really, so when you want to start to learn japanese, you know where you'll start (kana and the syntax), and you have more than enough information about that on the internet.

I'm not trying to compete with other guides, though. I'm really only interested in sharing a method that I found useful for learning the grammar. It's mostly because, in my opinion, the stage of learning that I'm currently at feels kinda neglected as far as application goes.

14 hours ago, Kirashi said:

But the main problem is after that: once you reach an advanced level, you'll want to start reading something (books, manga or visual novel and stuff) and that's where the complicated stuff begin: Reading the real stuff hardly looks like what you learnt.

That's the crazy thing about languages; there are far too many complications to teach it reliably in a book. Otherwise, there'd be no reason for schools (in most developed nations at least) to put so much emphasis on language study from pre-K to college (and even they can't always make a capable wordsmith out of a native speaker).

Do also keep in mind that it can take well over a decade (likely two) to become proficient in Japanese. Unless you're some sort of god-tier linguist with more than 25 languages under your belt, the path to learn Japanese will be a long one. Be patient with it.

14 hours ago, Kirashi said:

From this, it's not a matter of fun anymore, I could hardly tell if I was good or not, so I stopped from time to time as this point because I had a hard time to understand what I lacked and how to improve. Just saying that having fun in learning japanese won't prevent you to face this problem.

If learning Japanese is anything like learning your native language, then I think your goal should be to read for fun rather than for improvement. I remember how I used to struggle to read Harry Potter when I was 10, but I didn't beat myself up when I came across a word I didn't know or a few sentences I couldn't completely comprehend. That never kept me from wanting to read more books throughout the years, and English comprehension is no longer an issue for me (hasn't been for years). As long as you continue to immerse yourself in a language over a long period of time, you will learn it.

14 hours ago, Kirashi said:

I guess the real solution would be something like a translated script (from a visual novel for example) with long sentance, and explain why the sentence is translated this way and not this way, with some explanation here and here.

Huh, that's something I actually want to do. I'm nowhere near good enough to do this now, but once I become more proficient in programming, I was thinking about designing a desktop app that would act as a base for anyone who wants to write helpful guides on individual VNs for up-and-coming Japanese readers to reference while reading. Sadly, that is going to be something of a stretch goal since I'm still only learning the basics, but it is something I could devote myself to while learning how to code stuff.

Considering how hard it is to translate VNs already, I don't think it'd be practical to include a translation explanation as well. I'm not sure if my approach would garner much attention either, but I do think there'd at least be a wider range of Japanese readers who'd be willing and able to explain the mechanics of difficult sentences rather than translate it outright. Also, while it may be necessary to translate the language in your head when you first start reading, you will eventually need to get in the habit of treating Japanese sentences like Japanese sentences. I don't think reading a translation will do much to help you progress.

 

 

Also, if anyone's curious, part 2 is still in editing~ My first week back at college had me a little more preoccupied than I expected, but I'm finally caught up on everything for now so I'll have some time to work on the guide tonight. Sorry for the delays!

Edited by Kenshin_sama

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