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5 Tips to Make Studying Japanese Easier

In the last post I talked about the importance of frequency of study when learning Japanese. The more often you study, the quicker you will learn Japanese. The easier it is for you to study, and to get at your study materials, the more likely it is that you will actually sit down and study. Below are a few tips to keep your Japanese study materials handy and make sure you don’t skip your study sessions.

  • Keep your materials out- It is always good to be tidy and put things away. However, if your study materials are not in plain view then you will be less likely to studying. Out of site out of mind. Find a place to store them that is in view and easy to get to.
  • Study reminders- I have found it best to designate a specific time each day to study. To make sure you don’t forget, set up various reminders. This can be as simple as leaving a post it note where you will constantly see it (on your computer or refrig) or setting up alarms on your cell phone or calendar.
  • Minimize your study Materials- I love to collect Japanese study materials. I felt the more materials that I had the more I would learn. The problem is that when you get too many you don’t know where you should start and what you should study. Not knowing where to start can keep you from not starting at all. Keep your study and your materials very simple and it will be easier to get started (and to finish).
  • Enjoy your study time- Try to have fun while you are studying and don’t take it “too” serious”. If you enjoy the time you study Japanese you will be a lot more likely to continue studying without missing a study period. Also, don’t forget to give yourself small rewards when you complete your goals. Rewarding yourself for finishing  is a great way to help enforce new habits.
  • Start now- If you are thinking that you need to create a good study schedule or to get back on track, then there is no better time to start than now. Starting now puts you on track and doesn’t let you forget about it.

In the beginning you may find it difficult to keep to a frequent schedule, but the longer you maintain it the easier it gets. And of course the more often you study the easier you will retain the Japanese words and phrases and the Japanese characters you are learning.

The Secret to Learning Japanese

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We’ve all met them. The people that seem to speak Japanese easily and read and write kanji. They handle daily activities like making important phone calls easily and don’t seem to get nervous about making mistakes. The student in your class who just seems to “get it” quicker than everyone else. Obviously, they must know something that you don’t. There must be some secret to learning Japanese that is allowing them to learn quicker than you. So what’s the secret?

Simply put, “the secret” (if it can be called that) is hard work, diligence, and lots of exposure.

There is no short cut to learning Japanese. To get fluent in Japanese you need to spend time to memorize the words and structures well and then use them repeatedly.

There are however, some common habits with those who learn Japanese faster and become better Japanese speakers than others. The great thing is that all of these habits can easily be copied.

  • They study often and on a regular basis
  • Enjoy their study time
  • They go out of their way to find ways to use their Japanese
  • Aren’t afraid to make mistakes
  • Surround themselves with the Japanese language

Finding ways to use your Japanese is very important. It not only gives you practice, but helps you learn if the materials you are using are relevant or not. The people who did the best in my Japanese classes in college were not limiting themselves to the slightly outdated material in the textbooks. They watched movies in Japanese and chatted with friends on messenger in Japanese as well. This helped them learn a lot of common Japanese phrases they could use in everyday situations.

So now you know the secret (or lack there of) to learn Japanese. Put the above methods to work and improve your Japanese!

Why You Shouldn’t use the JLPT to Study Japanese Words

jlpt books

For those who don’t know, the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) is a test offered by the Japanese government. Many companies here in Japan will also require that you have passed JLPT 2 (business level) or JLPT 1 (native speaker)  in order to consider someone for a position who’s first language isn’t Japanese. If this is what the Japanese government requires and also what companies use as a benchmark for hiring, then it should make perfect sense to study the Japanese words on the JLTP right?

The problem is that the JLPT wasn’t set up to teach conversational Japanese or even useful Japanese. The content itself is also outdated and many of the words are outdated. I have listed some words from the JLPT 4 (the easiest level) to give you an idea of what I mean.

  • kakushi kamera -hidden spy camera
  • chou nekutai- bow tie
  • haizara- ashtray
  • ko-toshi-coated paper
  • mannenhitsu- fountain pen

As you can see these words are by no means used in everyday speech. With the exception of haizara (ashtray) you will probably never need to use any of these words. Let alone waste time studying them when you are first starting to learn Japanese. Since the number of rare and unused an outdated  words only increase in the more difficult JLTP tests, this goes even more so for Japanese learners studying at a more advanced level.

Instead, study materials with the most common Japanese words and phrases. This will allow you to learn the Japanese language much faster and much easier. The quicker you learn to speak Japanese, the more you will enjoy it. The ability to communicate in a general conversation allows you to learn even faster since you can learn hear words in conversation you may not have known to study otherwise.

Purpose of the JLPT

Just as a side note, for those who are planning to take the JLPT,  I highly encourage that you use study materials specifically written for the JLTP. As mentioned above, the JLPT does not test on your ability to communicate in Japanese. Instead it focuses more on your ability to read and understand formal Japanese, awkward stories and  outdated conversations, and all the words that go along with this. Having materials that are designed for the JLPT will help prepare you the style of the test.

Related articles

How to Learn Japanese Words

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In the last post, Common Japanese Words I discussed why choosing the right materials  is crucial in learning Japanese. I also discussed why it’s important to study certain Japanese words in priority over others. In this post I will talk about how to study Japanese words in ways that will help you learn more words and know when to use them. These tips should also save you from wasting a lot of time.

Study Common Japanese Phrases

Japanese words are the base of the Japanese language, and the more you know the better you will be able to communicate. Now everyone has their own way to learn words. Probably the most common of these being the flash card method. Putting the Japanese words on one side of the card and your native language on the other side. Then going though these cards repeatedly until your remember the the words.

Now I am not going to bash flash cards. They certainly have their purpose and can be very helpful. I learned a lot of words using flash cards However, it can be easier and quicker to learn words when you learn them in context. Learning words in Japanese phrases helps you see how the word is actually used and helps you get a better feeling for it’s true meaning. Since people speak in sentences and not words, learning the phrases will help you speak more fluently.

One tip I recommend when making flash cards is to include a sentence or phrase containing the word. It is important to be able to use different words to make your own sentences, but there are also a lot of set phrases which are used again and again. Learning these common Japanese phrases will help you learn Japanese words and communicate more effectively.

Don’t Try to Learn Every Word

There are a lot of Japanese words that are no longer used in modern society or are used so rarely that the time spent to learn them will not bring back a good return for your time. Since you will not have the chance to use them on a regular basis, it is also very likely that you will soon forget them.

The amount of time I spent learning words that I would never use probably nearly doubled the amount of time it took me to speak Japanese.

One way to limit this is to choose the right materials. If your main purpose is to speak Japanese, then purchase materials that have commonly used Japanese words for speaking. Not all materials and books are equal, so be sure to take your time evaluating them. Several minutes evaluating a book could end up saving you hours and hours of valuable time later. If you know someone who speaks Japanese (preferably a native speaker), ask him or her to help you evaluate the materials/course. They will be able to spot quickly if the learning materials are outdated.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Second to choosing the right materials is practicing continuously. I studied in college for two years before studying in Japan, but it wasn’t until I was actually here that my speaking ability really increased. The main reason for this was the frequency that I was able to use the Japanese words I was learning and put them into context.

For obvious reasons, it is more difficult to use Japanese outside of Japan, but there are a few options. First, put in as many hours as you can learning the materials. Repeat the words and phrases out loud. If you are attending school then use the tutor labs and join a Japanese club. Make friends on Skype where you can spend time speaking with people in Japan. Watch Japanese movies or anime. Watching movies allows you to rewind and hear things again. The more you listen the better you will get.

The point is to get as much repetition with the Japanese words as possible. You will start noticing that certain words and phrases will be repeated again and again and pretty soon you won’t have to think about the meaning.

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