Let’s face it. You can only remember so much. The more you study the more you will remember, but you only have so much time. When it comes to learning Japanese, or any language for that matter, there is a lot to learn. You need to remember hundreds and eventually thousands of Japanese words, grammatical structures, and pronunciations. Not to mention kanji for those who want to be able to read and write. It can all seem a bit overwhelming at times. Especially if you are just getting started. The key is to be selective in what you learn.
When I decided I wanted to study in Japan, I tried to learn every single Japanese word and phrase I could. I figured I would tackle learning Japanese through pure quantity. This was a huge mistake. Having a large vocabulary is very important to speak a language fluently, but I wasn’t very selective in my learning. I would study every word that I came across regardless of how rare or useless it might be. I spent a lot of hours studying, but my level of Japanese didn’t improve very much. Basically, I had learned a bunch of Japanese words I couldn’t use. Since I couldn’t use them often, I also forgot them quickly.
So what should you do with words that you are unlikely to use or at least don’t need to use for a while? I recommend two options. The first is to skip them completely. This will help you free up time to learn words that will help you get speaking sooner. The second method is to write them down as you come across them in a dedicated notebook. You still won’t study them, but you will have them written down to study them at a later date when you decide you need to learn more advanced words.
When I first started doing this I felt guilty. Like I was taking the easy road, and that I wouldn’t get good at Japanese if I didn’t learn all I could. What if I needed this word down the road or couldn’t communicate well because I didn’t now advanced vocabulary. Luckily, I was completely wrong. Since I was studying less material and had more time to practice material I would actually use, my Japanese improved much faster. There were times (many times) that I couldn’t understand certain words, but it never stopped me from communicating well. Once I had the basics down strong, picking up new words as I came by them naturally was pretty easy. The confidence I gained in my Japanese ability helped me even more.