Having problems trying to improve your Japanese? Hate using the automated online translators? Experiencing difficulty trying to read those blog posts on Japanese blogs?
I had the same problem as most of you guys, despite having exposure to Japanese manga and lessons, my Japanese improvement progress was still often at a standstill, which pisses me off ^^;
But first, let me get started on why I chose Japanese.
The Big Why
It all started when I was in my 3rd or 4th year into anime and otaku goods (Back in 2004 I think). I was in an online community (Hongfire.com) as well which often deals with anime, manga, eroge etc and I wanted to know more about these without having to wait for translations so I began trying to pick up some of the language.
After graduating from secondary school, I made a swore with a friend (met on hongfire.com) that we would be in Japan one day, to live and work there. He kept his part of the promise, as he’s currently studying there while I’m still stuck here at the moment (Will work/stay/go there someday!).
Upon entering polytechnic (2005), I took up this Japanese elective module which was offered and started off with learning hiragana, katakana and basic phrases. After taking about 4 Japanese modules/courses (Dec 2006), I decided that it wasn’t sufficient enough and the pace I was learning at was just too slow. I started taking Japanese lessons outside. Also started reading Japanese manga (RAW) during April 2006.
My Japanese reading capabilities started to improve ten fold as I was able to read and understand more about manga stories and what the characters are talking. Also remember downloading those Japanese language packs that were available on bittorrent containing videos of people doing conversations. Just took JLPT 4 recently and passed (I’m more of at JLPT 3 standard actually ^^;). Must take JLPT 2 this year!
How do I get started then?
Firstly, I would like to clear the misconception of me being Chinese, I have the head start in Kanji. I have to admit Chinese was one of my most terrible subjects back in school, and I was diagnosed with dyslexia back in 2003 but that’s a different story which I believe it’s total bullshit and the specialist just wanted to scam some money off me.
Okay, for beginners, I think it would be first wise to learn the written systems – Hiragana and Katakana. This is utmost important as you will then be able to read basic phrases and words which is useful for your vocabulary.
I remember using the memorization technique recommended by one of my friends. That is to write out “あ い う え お、か き く け こ” etc several times before covering them up and trying to write them out without referring. Continue with that and you will be able to finish both Hiragana and Katakana in one day!
Once done, you will need to revise and look at the characters from time to time. I used flashcards and reading manga with furigana aided in recognizing the katakana and hiragana characters.
You might also want to pick up textbooks such as “Minna no Nihongo” (Japanese for everyone) and try to start learning from there.
Another method I highly recommend is to enrol for Japanese classes. it is probably one of the better ways to learn Japanese as you are ‘forced’ to use it at least once a week ^^;
For Intermediate level, I have to assume you know at least a certain amount of Japanese and also basic grammar usages and stuff. It would really help to try to read Japanese blog sites and websites. If you’re experiencing problems trying to read those blog posts or have trouble understanding them, I would recommend you use Rikaichan.
Rikaichan is a Japanese dictionary Firefox extension for browsing the web in Japanese. I have only found it recently and was resorting to using WWWDJIC, J-prep and Google translate to aid in the difficult kanji words.
It is very niffy as once you have it installed, you will only need to highlight the text you want to know and Rikaichan will automatically find the definition for you. Very handy if you have rudimentary skills in reading.
You can grab Rikaichan here and Firefox below.
You can also try WWWDJIC, which I find really neat.
Have left out the Advanced section as I do believe by the time you’re at that level, you will know what to do in order to improve already.
Other methods also include doing translations, blogging in Japanese etc which might or might not be suitable for you so do experiment yourself to find out. Setting goals such as attempting JLPT, wanting to marry Hirano Aya, or just wanting to know more about that moe character or even just having the desire to know more about the Japanese culture will help.
I also believe it is the passion which enables one to do anything. Subconscious hacking does help in a way as well, so as Auto suggestion. And of course, it is not just thinking about it, but also, applying what you have learnt in order to improve and grow (practice!) – that’s how the world works.
Wow, looking back, this is actually a pretty long post. I think I better stop now and go practice some Japanese before you guys start to nod off ^^;
Update: Forgot to mention this but you might also want to check out bangin’s blog entitled “Japanese words of anime fans, by anime fans, for anime fans“on Japanese terminology which is really useful. I learnt quite a bit from there myself.