Three Keys to Learning Japanese
Are you having a tough time learning Japanese? If you are, it’s understandable. For people who think in English, Japanese is a very difficult language to learn.
Aside from the inconvenient fact that written Japanese employs three different alphabets, the main reason that we have so much trouble learning this language is that Japanese grammar is fundamentally different from the grammar used in European languages.
On the positive side, Japanese sounds a lot like Spanish, and it’s relatively easy to pronounce. It contains nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs, and there are reasonably logical rules that tie these elements together. Japanese is a fascinating language, and naturally you should try to learn it if you will be visiting Japan.
I’ve been studying this difficult language for over thirty years and have tried a number of courses, textbooks and study methods during that time. Based on my experiences, I’ve identified Three Keys that I believe can help you to learn Japanese.
KEY #1. Since your time is limited, use AUDIO LESSONS.
It will take quite awhile for your English-thinking brain to start thinking in Japanese. You will need to spend hundreds of hours reviewing phrases and sentences in order to acquire a reasonably firm grasp of basic Japanese vocabulary and grammar. Where will you find the time for this study?
An excellent solution to the problem of insufficient time is to use Audio Lessons. Since audio lessons don’t require you to stare at a book or a screen, you can use them while you do other activities that you need to do anyway, like exercising and commuting. As a bonus, if you exercise more often while using them, audio lessons will probably make you healthier.
KEY #2. To strengthen your memories, develop MNEMONICS.
Japanese words can be hard to remember. Kuukoo means airport. Kyuukoo means express train. Kookoo means high school. Kookuu means aviation. What can you do to help your brain remember all of these similar terms?
MNEMONICS are small stories designed to help you remember new words. They can also be used as aides for remembering Japanese kana and kanji characters.
Possible mnemonics for the four Japanese words mentioned above include “my cookies got cold at the airport,” “I wore my cute coat on the express train,” “Koko the gorilla visited my high school,” and “we ship Coke by aviation.”
It shouldn’t take very long for you to think of simple mnemonics for most Japanese terms. If you get stuck, try using a dictionary or a search engine. Since mnemonics are just trivial things that you will typically discard after using a new word about ten times, they don’t have to be perfect.
KEY #3. To speed up memorization, use FLASHCARDS.
Many people use flashcards, especially electronic flashcards, when they are memorizing difficult terms. If you haven’t tried electronic flashcards, you may not realize how much fun they are, or the extent to which they can reinforce your memory.
Flashcards are an example of “active recall testing,” a learning technique that has been shown to be more effective for building strong memories, compared to “passive” study methods like reading textbooks or merely listening to audio recordings.
Electronic flashcards are an efficient tool for memorizing Japanese written characters and vocabulary. Ideally you should try to make your own flashcards, rather than getting them from someone else, since you will remember them more easily if you make your own. Also, if you make your own cards, you will be able to write your mnemonics on the “answer” sides.
Many people use the “Anki” app to create and use flashcards on their computers and electronic devices. I’ve used Anki, but it seemed to have a rather steep learning curve. By contrast, I’ve found the “Flashcards Deluxe” app easier to use. Flashcards Deluxe allows me to create decks of flashcards on my computer, store them in Dropbox, and then use them on my electronic devices (such as an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod Touch). See How to Learn Kanji for more information.
2-2-15 Warning for Apple users: After I upgraded my iPad and iPhone to Apple's latest operating system (8.1.2) in December 2014, several apps, including Flashcards Deluxe, would no longer display all Japanese kanji correctly, i.e., some kanji would only display in a Chinese format. To fix this problem on your iPad or iPhone, after installing the latest upgrade, go to Controls, General, Language and Region. Then click on Add Language, Japanese. When asked if you want to "Change to Japanese," select "Keep English."
Of course, these Japanese Audio Flashcards Lessons are also flashcards. Instead of employing visual questions and answers, as paper and electronic flashcards do, they use audio questions and answers – see the next section.
JAPANESE AUDIO FLASHCARD LESSONS (JAFL)
After completing my third Japanese audio course about five years ago, I needed to find another course that would allow me to continue my study of the language. Not finding anything suitable, I started working on my own interactive audio lessons with the help of my wife, who is a native of Kyushu in Japan.
JAFL (Japanese Audio Flashcard Lessons) rely on audible rather than visual cues, but otherwise they are similar to flashcards. They consist of sentences or phrases spoken in English, followed by answers spoken in Japanese. After listening to a question in English, a student pauses playback and thinks about how to translate the question. When the student is ready, he or she says the translation aloud and then resumes playback to hear the correct answer in Japanese.
JAFL lessons come with a complete transcript, which you can print and carry with you. The transcript is completely customizable. If you think of new mnemonics while you are using these Japanese lessons, you may add them to the transcript for future use.
Next, read Page 2. Advantages of JAFL Lessons
Or look at some of the other pages on this site:
Page 6. Learn Japanese Grammar
Page 9. Japanese Grammar Quiz
Page 10. JAFL Contact Form
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Here is an introductory video from 2012 titled “Japanese Audio Flashcard Lessons.” If you would like to see subtitles while you watch the video, click the Play button, click on the CC button at the bottom of the screen, and then click “English.”