How to Go About Studying Japanese

Minoru Aizawa, JCMU’s Japanese Language Coordinator in Hikone, discusses tips for students looking to improve how they go about studying Japanese.

Language learning is not about acquiring knowledge but acquiring skills.

In learning to type, for example, it is relatively easy to know where each key is, but it takes lots of time and practice to be able to type with a high level of speed and accuracy.

The same can be said about language learning. It may not be so difficult to memorize vocab items and grammatical rules, but it usually takes a considerable amount of practice and experience to be able to utilize them fluently and accurately. This is especially when using the language in a real-world situation, as being able to work through and analyze all of what you have learned in mere is a constant necessity.  In short, merely knowing about the language is simply not enough – there is no such thing as “instant gratification” when learning a foreign language.

Japanese is often considered to be one of the more challenging foreign languages to master for nonnative speakers, especially for those whose native language is English. This is largely due to what is called “language distance”: there is virtually nothing in common between these two languages. In this sense, even tasks such as memorizing vocabulary terms may not come easily to learners of Japanese. So how does one go about successfully improving their own foreign language capabilities?

One technique to employ when studying vocabulary terms is to write each of the words and phrases you are practicing several times in a notebook while reading them aloud or listening to audio materials that use them. It is, of course, beneficial to use flash cards, but this alone will not help one retain the information for a long period of time. By reading, hearing, and speaking the terms one would like to learn, it stimulates and strengthens their memorizing process.

As for reading, each sentence in the textbook passages should be carefully examined to understand how grammar patterns are contextualized.  The entire passage, then, should be read aloud as many times as time permits once its meaning becomes clear.  Many language specialists have agreed on the great benefit of “reading aloud” to internalize the grammar patterns, vocab items, and the logical expansion of the language. Memorizing these dialogues would be helpful, as it better helps students make connections between the pattern being studied and how it is used.

Students’ writing skills can be reinforced by producing their own original Japanese sentences on a regular basis and having an educated native speaker correct errors. Writing essays on some topics of interest would greatly benefit one’s ability to utilize the language in a nuanced way. It would be even better to make a presentation based upon what is written, as it would require a lot of revising and practicing before the actual presentation. This would all be a boon to Japanese learners and would assist them in swiftly improving their ability to use the language on a daily basis.

I have written so far about some general tips for beginner students looking to improve how they go about studying Japanese. We have been putting these ideas into practice within the language program at JCMU while trying our best to improve our own language instructions. Students might find that we in the Japanese program at JCMU are all very demanding of our students, but this is because we consider it our top priority to help them acquire a strong foundation in Japanese in a limited period of time. We hope that this, in turn, supports them in their pursuit of mastering the language after our program.

If you are determined to tackle Japanese and to improve your language skills to the fullest, JCMU is the place to come.  We would be excited to see you in person in Hikone!

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