Learn Japanese with Active Recall

“Active recall” means “learning by answering questions,” and it’s a highly interactive, enjoyable and effective way to learn a language.

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.

Ohori Japanese Garden, Fukuoka
Ohori Japanese Garden, Fukuoka

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?

Small stories that are designed to help you remember new words can serve as  MNEMONICS, or memory aides. 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 ACTIVE RECALL. 

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,” 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.  “Active Recall” can be described as “learning by answering questions,” and it’s a highly enjoyable way to learn a language.

Electronic flashcards are an efficient tool for memorizing Japanese 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.  Flashcards Deluxe is a free app that allows me to create decks of flashcards on my computer and then use them on my electronic devices (such as an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod).

These Japanese Audio Flashcards Lessons are based on the “Active Recall” learning method and can be thought of as audio flashcards.  Instead of employing written questions and answers, as paper and electronic flashcards do, they use audio questions in English and audio answers in Japanese – see the next section.

Our book Learn to Read in Japanese is also based on the “Active Recall” learning method, but the language order is reversed. “Questions” are written on the left side of each page, but this time they appear in Japanese. Students do their best to translate them into English, and the correct answers are shown in a small font on the right side of each page.

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JAPANESE AUDIO FLASHCARD LESSONS (JAFL)

japan18After completing my third Japanese audio course, 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 Noriko, 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.  Like flashcards, they employ “Active Recall,” a highly efficient learning technique. 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.

Unlike the Pimsleur audio lessons, these JAFL lessons come with a complete transcript, which you can print and carry with you. The transcript includes both Japanese text and romaji, and it 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 3. A Comparison of Three Japanese Language Courses

Page 4. Comments, and the History of JAFL Japanese Lessons

Page 5. Recommended Japanese Study Methods

Page 6. Learn Japanese Grammar

Page 7. Try the first JAFL Japanese lesson

Page 8. JAFL Japanese Lessons Download Page

Page 9.  Learn to Read in Japanese

Page 10. Japanese Grammar Quiz

Page 11.  JAFL Contact Form

These lessons are entirely free.  However, if you would like to help us with our expenses and quickly enhance your Japanese reading skills, please consider buying our book, Learn to Read in Japanese.  It packs an enormous amount of useful information into 550 pages and, within a relatively short period of time, it will help you to start reading fluently in Japanese.

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.”

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If you would like to leave a public comment, please use the “Leave a Reply” box at the bottom of the Comments and History page. To contact me privately, please use the Contact Form on the Contact page, or send me an email at administrator@japaneseaudiolessons.com.

Next, Read about the advantages of these Japanese language lessons
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