The brains ability to tune out various sounds and distractions is very helpful when you are trying to focus on something. However, it becomes a problem when your brain tunes out the thing you are trying to focus on. When it comes to learning Japanese, your brain can be quite lazy. Training your brain to recognize Japanese (rather than ignore it) will help you learn Japanese quicker.
Choose Interesting Materials
Learning a language should be fun. Learning Japanese is not an exception. One of the easiest ways to make learning Japanese easier is to choose materials that you are interested in. This works well because the part of your brain that views learning Japanese as work and wants to tune it out is overridden by the part that is interested in the chosen topic.
I am very interested in cars. So while it can be difficult for me to focus on an outdated Japanese greetings video, I have no problem gluing myself to the screen to watch Japanese TV shows about cars. I will also watch it again and again to make sure I understand. Not just because I want to learn Japanese, but also because I want to see the car videos again.
It is important that you study all of the most common Japanese words and phrases, but I have never really found this to be a problem when using “topical” Japanese when studying. You will still learn the basics, as well as the special words used within your field of interest. Choose topics that interest you and learning Japanese seems a lot more fun. Tim Ferris of The 4 Hour Work Week, who speaks several languages, gives also uses this method when learning languages.
Repetitive Focus Sessions
This method is a little harder and feels more like work, but quite useful. When you first start learning Japanese your brain doesn’t immediately recognize Japanese words and tunes them out (even though you may understand). By completely focusing your attention on listening you will realize that you can actually understand. As you do this repeatedly, you start to hear words and recognize meanings rather than just sounds. Each time you understand is like a light bulb going off inside your head. That feeling is quite rewarding.
Intensively focusing can be quite tiring, so I recommend that you do this in short sessions. Practice for a bit and then take a break. However, like anything, the more time you spend with the material the easier it gets.
I am currently learning to play the sanshin, a traditional 3 string instrument of Okinawa. I am also learning to sing traditional folk songs of Miyakojima宮古民謡（みやこみんよう）. Since Miyako”go”, or Japanese spoken in Miyako is so different and unrecognizable (even to native Japanese) this is the method I use to learn the words. It’s kind of like learning to sing in another language without understanding the language…at all. When I listen to the songs my brain wants to focus on other things. So I have to “train” my brain to pay attention by really focusing. Eventually my mind starts focusing on the words rather than tuning them out. It just takes a little bit of time.