I was thinking yesterday that I should take a look at how far (or not far as the case may be) I have come down the road toward learning Japanese. I think that what motivated this was an event that happened a day or two ago. I was looking at a page from みんなの日本語(Minna No Nihongo) which is written entirely in Japanese, and someone looked at it and asked, “What language are you trying to learn?”
My mouth said, “Japanese.”
My brain said, “Trying to learn? What do you mean ‘trying to learn’? I am learning.”
Of course that made me ask the question, “How well am I doing?”
Now, it isn’t a race. I’m not working against a deadline, but I am enjoying learning Japanese, and I have a natural impatience that makes me want to get ahead quickly. Also, while I am a science geek and, I suppose, at least a normally bright guy, I am nowhere near being a genius, and I have no special gift for languages, so, whatever I’m doing, pretty much everybody else can do, too.
So, how far have I come?
I can actually tell you exactly when I started. Day 1 of learning the Kanji was June 16, 2015. I am writing this on November 19, 2015, so I have been studying Japanese for just over five months. I just posted an easy reading section on my hobby of bike riding. Looking at that, I’m pretty pleased with how far I have come in the time I’ve spent. (I am sure that there are plenty of people out there who could have done more in the same amount of time, but I’m not troubled by that. Considering that learning Japanese is just a hobby, I’m pretty satisfied that I have used the time well.)
Let me stress that I have no special gift for languages. If I can do it, so can you.
Here’s what it takes:
- Do it. Don’t sit around thinking about it. Do it. Don’t make excuses. Don’t think about how hard it is, and especially don’t listen to anyone who tells you Japanese is too hard to learn. Just do it. (Sorry if I’m sounding like a shoe commercial here.)
- Put serious and consistent effort into it. If you only have fifteen minutes a day to study, then make it your goal to study hard for that fifteen minutes every single day. You might miss a day here and there, sure, life happens, but make it your goal to study every day.
- Have a study plan. For my money, and I’m trying to spend as little as possible here, the Hacking Japanese Supercourse is fantastic. I think that it has been my springboard to success. Is it the only possible method out there? Of course not, but I don’t know of a better method.
- Make use of good resources. If you don’t any good resources, find people who do. Read (dare I say it?) a blog by someone who is willing to give you his honest opinion about what works for him. Do some internet searches. (The Supercourse, which I stumbled across courtesy of google, is jam packed with lists of resources. Many of the resources that I mention here, I first learned about there.)
And, that’s it.
To be honest with you, I have heard from many people who want to learn Japanese. The ones who haven’t succeeded yet are the ones who haven’t been able to follow steps 1 and 2 above. (Please understand, I’m not knocking these people. Sometime life gets in the way and stuff that you’re studying just for fun (or personal growth, if that sounds better) will have to get put on hold.)
Oh, and I know I said, “that’s it” above, but I could also add this one:
- Don’t spend your time looking for gimmicks to make it effortless. Learning a new language takes work. There are ways to maximize the results you get from your effort, and there are ways to make some parts of the learning process more fun, but studying is still work. Just accept that from the beginning.
My opinion is worth the price you pay for it (a good point to keep in mind, since it’s free) but here are the resources that have helped me the most:
The Hacking Japanese Supercourse – a study plan that doesn’t teach you Japanese but which teaches you how to learn Japanese
Anki – spaced repetition system flashcards. Niko, the author of the Supercourse, has lots of nice anki flashcard decks available for free.
Memrise – more spaced repetition learning, but you see the cards more often than you do with anki.
Cafetalk – skype lessons. It is so cool to sit at home and have a face to face lesson with a Japanese teacher in Japan who can correct your grammar and your accent on the spot.
If you know of a great resource that isn’t on this list, please tell me! I want to make use of every great resource that I can.