I’ve always loved listening to and speaking in other languages. Learning a new language is like becoming a different person, entering a different world. You express yourself differently, your voice changes, and you see the world in different colours. That’s why I believe learning a language should, first and foremost, be fun. I had to learn French in middle school and can now barely speak it because at that time all I wanted to do was learn Japanese. I started learning the language several times but with many breaks. 1,5 years ago, since December 2020 to be precise, I got back to learning Japanese as it has always been my comfort language (and yes, I’ve started watching anime again). I could listen to Japanese people speak all day long. The language just has such a calming effect on me, and it’s the cutest language in the world (and that’s a fact). Now, I’m still very much a beginner, and unfortunately, don’t learn it as much as I want to, but since I’ve been learning it for almost two years now, and also learnt some Korean throughout the years, I’ve started using some techniques which have proven themselves. Not only do I learn the language, but it’s also fun! Also, I’m writing this blog post in a ‘foreign language’. My native language is German but English feels more ‘native’ to me than the language I grew up with, so I think I’m a pretty good example of learning a second language successfully.
Now, without further ado, here is how I learn Japanese; and I hope these tips can help you too, whatever language you want to learn.
I’m starting with the most important thing first. Immerse yourself in your target language. If you can’t do that, I’m sorry, but then you should probably not bother learning it. Turn on the radio, watch movies, read children’s books or comics, read articles, follow Instagrammers, watch youtube videos, – everything in your target language! Think of yourself like a vacuum and you can hover over and devour everything on the internet. Look up words, sentences, idioms, everything you can get your hands on: use it to learn the language! This is the best way to learn a language; that’s how you did it as a baby! Learning a language should be 40% learning grammar, vocabulary, etc., and 60% immersion (probably even more). As your vocabulary is growing, use the language to speak to yourself. It may be weird at first, but you’ll get used to it. Honestly, I don’t care if people hear me speaking to myself in Japanese. I love the language and it makes me happy, so I would never get embarrassed. No person can deny it: the best way to learn a language is to move to that country (or even go on holiday there). But since that’s often not possible for most people, well, do what you can. Or save enough money to move there. But you can already learn the language right where you are, right now. That’s the great thing about the internet: it’s really all at your fingertips. Every language in the world.
2. Use Social Media
As already hinted at, use everything on the Internet to your advantage. I’ve got a Japanese board on Pinterest, follow Japanese learning accounts on Instagram and tik tok, watch Japanese YouTubers, follow mangakas and Japanese singers, voice actors, etc. on twitter, and check ameba as much as I can. You can also join groups on Facebook or meetup and find learning buddies! The most important thing is to listen and notice how people speak, write, etc. If you want to speak like real people, textbooks just won’t cut it, you have to listen to native speakers!
2. Find a tandem
This is actually quite crucial (if any Japanese person reads this, do you want to become my tandem partner? haha). There are apps and homepages like tandem, hello talk, interpals,.. that help you find native-speakers of the language you’re learning and who learn your native-language.
3. Watch movies and read books/mangas in your target language
You can download the extension ‘Language Reactor’ to your browser which allows you to watch movies and shows on Netflix (and other streaming services) with two subtitles: your target language and native language. What is really helpful is that you can add Futakana (or Romaji, but go for Futakana) to the Kanji so you know how they’re pronounced. Though beware, if the movie or series isn’t Japanese (your target language) the dub and subs will often differ! The best way is to watch movies from the country of your target language. So, if you’re an anime fan you can watch anime and learn Japanese, how amazing is that?! (animelon is a great platform that provides Japanese and English subtitles plus a lot of information on grammar and the meaning of words). First, read comics (or mangas,manwhas,..) and children’s books in your target language. Don’t immediately go for adult books or other difficult readings. If you’re learning a European language, I would recommend ‘The Little Prince’, as the language is simple and the story is great.
4. Don’t put yourself under pressure
A language won’t run away from you. You don’t have to learn it as fast as possible. It’s important to (always) expose yourself to it; like listening to songs, the radio, watching movies, etc. even if you don’t study. Just surrounding yourself with your target language helps you a lot when you don’t have the time to study. I’ve been trying to learn Japanese for 10 years on and off, now I don’t feel any rush, I have minor goals like watching anime without subtitles, reading mangas in Japanese, and eventually reading books in Japanese, but that’s all part of my future. I could be 30, 40, or 50 when that happens, and that’s okay. As long as I don’t lose my passion for the language, what could go wrong?
5. There is no shortcut / try different methods
I’m terrible when it comes to organisation. I write down vocabulary in a small notebook (in case I’m outside and want to learn some words), a big notebook, a note app on my ipad, and buffl (great vocabulary app to revise words!) so yeah, it’s a mess, but I can’t help it. It kind of works for me?! I’ve got words everywhere. Sometimes I write a couple of words down on vocabulary sheets or try to write down all the words I’ve learnt on duolingo on a big piece of paper. Speaking of duolingo, I think it’s a great auxiliary tool – but it should definitely not be your only exposure and tool to learn your target language. I think it’s a great motivator to learn on a daily basis, but don’t be sad if you break your streak. I almost managed to do my daily tasks for a year when I’ve lost it and had to start a 0 again. Ever since then I’ve stopped caring. I’ve also got a notebook for learning Kanjis (speaking of Kanjis: I first made the mistake to try to read and write all the Kanjis by heart, but it’s somehow impossible for me to remember some Kanjis such as ‘cleaning’, so being able to read them is now enough for me. The more you read in Japanese the more Kanjis you’ll learn. I’d say the most important things to learn are vocabulary and grammar. Then comes Kanji.) I’ve also got a notebook for writing down grammar rules, I bought a ‘Japanese Dictionary for Japanese’ and also use homepages such as tofugu, YesJapan, and Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese. I use the JapanDict for words (and yes, also google translator at times), and tanoshii Japanese for Kanji.
Find out the best way that works for you: maybe you’d rather attend a class and have a teacher? or you can’t be bothered and learn everything online? or you just buy all the textbooks from amazon? think of what works best for you and then do it.
Don’t be discouraged when you make mistakes. There’s so much to learning a language; it’s a great journey and adventure! Give yourself treats when you’ve worked hard, seek out people who speak your target language and enjoy the process. Of course, there will be things you will dread to learn (I should finally start taking counterwords seriously..) but, like most things in life, it’s a rollercoaster ride. You will have days that are amazing and you love the language, and on other days you want to abandon it. That’s okay. Don’t give up, keep coming back, and all will work out for you. As they say in Korean: 화이팅 ‘FIGHTING’ or in Japanese ファイト ‘FIGHTO’ (for anyone who’s not familiar with it; it’s a cheerful expression, doesn’t actually mean you should fight someone).