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Learning Japanese : my background and tips

by - 4:35 AM

A reader asked me to write an article to tell how I learned Japanese. Having been a little sick and busy last weekend, I couldn't do what I had planned for the blog, I was thinking about republish old articles. This request was made at the perfect time.
So here you are : my background and my tips to  how learn and improve in Japanese !

Béné no Fukuoka ! - Studying Japanese


As written in this article, my first contact with the Japanese laguage was through Jpop and my first words were learned from a Card Captor Sakura magazine. As I wanted to study more seriously, I bought my first book called  Japanese by manga. What I liked ? It was illustrated and with French explanations. it was enough for me.

I brought this book everywhere with me whether at school or on holidays. Thanks to it, I learned the Hiragana and Katakana in just few days. This book also offers grammar for beginners so I tried to learned alone but I had difficulties. There was missing explanations and the whole book was a bit confused. I bought several other books like Manekineko, Mikado, 40 Japanese lessons (it might me French books only) and so on but I was never fully satisfied.

On a 2005 Saturday morning, my mom made me a surprise and took me to a Japanese school in Paris. Thus for 4 years, I studied Japanese in that school. I improved the most during the first two years. We studied in a specific workbook made by the school and everyone was at the same level.
The last two years, I started studying in an advanced group but the level differences between students were huge : some didn't even even know how to read katakana so lessons were very slow. Of course, there was a level test the first day but aside beginners, the school divided the students according to their disponibilities. I tried to ask for private lessons but they weren't decided to let me do that...

With the Japanese school, I went two times in Tokyo to study one month at the Sendagaya Japanese Institute. The first time, I went with a friend and we were staying in a ... pretty special host family. We almost never had a chance to speak with our host parents and as I was with a friend, iI used a lot of French so I didn't improved that muc. The second year, I went by myself, was living in my own place and I could really experience the Japanese daily life. I started to improve a lot, especially in the conversation and listening topics but all disappears quickly when I cam back to France.
I went a third and last time to this school the year after but not using the French Japanese school support.

In June 2010, I passed my graphic design degree taking Japanese in option. I had to prepare 5 texts I liked. The D-Day, the examiner asked me to choose the text that I wanted to be interviewed to and I chose the Tale of the  Princess Kaguya. After making me rading it a bit and asked me  few lecture questions, she asked me a lot about myself and my relationship with Japan. Result ? 100 points.
The French system may be abstract to most of you sorry ><

From September 2010 to early 2011 I studied again by myself as the school didn't suit me anymore. Then I had private lessons with for a little more than a year : the teched was a Japanese woman living in a town not so far from mine and who came every Saturday afternoons. Thanks to her, I mainly improved my spoken Japanese and learned a few cultural things like how to use a abacus or the Japanese cuisine basics . Then I went to study in Fukuoka. You know the rest of the story.
Studying at school wasn't enough, I also worked a lot by myself. Even today, even though I stop studying full time, I still open my books occasionally to aim to bilingualism. Someday I hope.


Learning Japanese

Choosing he right teacher

If there is something that nobody can expect to make me change my mind is about choosing the right teacher. I think and remains convinced that only a native can teach the language in a right way.
Breaking news : Japanese is a tonal language, less than Chinese but tonal anyway and the (French) ear can't do the tons difference well.
Only a native Japanese teacher will spot your mistakes and correct them properly, without accent. An example: the word "hashi" is pronounced in different way depending on whether one wants to say "bridge" (橋, emphasis on ha) or "chopsticks" (箸, emphasis on  shi) .
In grammar, a non-native teacher can be useful because it is sometimes difficult to understand  but you can do without that help (as I did).

Which books ?

For the begginers until JLPT N3 level, I recommend Minna no Nihongo books which are easy to understand and well explained. For the advanced levels, I really like the Shin-kansen master (新完全マスター) series, especially made to prepare JLPT test. On an other hand, avoid the Nihongo so-matome 日本語総まとめ) books. Cheaper but awfully explained.

How about learning Japanese in Japan ?

Without a doubt, it is the best way to learn. Imagine : study a language in an environment that is entirely dominated by it is probably wha is the best. It cost so much money but it worth the saving. There are formulas starting from one week, up to 3 months, for people who can't / don't want to get a visa and there are also longer, from one to two years formulas. Whatever your preference, progress will be quickly visible.

Speaking about schools in Japan, I have to mention a really silly thing that I saw on Facebook : the person said that people studying in Japanese schools have no merit because they paid for it and they just have to attend classes. Basically you only have to sit facing the teacher to learn, without working beside. Isn't it the silliest thing ever ?

My tips to improve in Japanese

People often ask me how I came to have "this level in Japanese". Be judge of its own level is a very difficult thing, and frankly I'm not satisfied at all, but at least I realize that I speak it almost fluently. To achieve this, I used a lot of tips to get better day by day. Take your memo !

On the internet

There are plenty of ways to progress in Japanese using the internet. During my early learning years (well, until I start this blog), I had a blog in Japanese and I was talking about my daily life. If the beginnings were hard because I didn't have enough knowledge to write a structured text, it allowed me to grow up and to not rely on using an automatic translator. For platforms  the best known and most used is Ameblo.  I didn't like it so much so I choose for Yaplog which looked more friendly to me

On Twitter, you can follow  accounts of Japanese who like the same things as you : artist, music, celebrity or whatever. It will improve your reading, your vocabulary and you would also be able to make friends ! About friends, finding penpals is still a good things but avoid people who want to practice their English because you will end up to write in this language all the time.

 

Remembers

In France, I had a kanji poster in the reastroom and vocabulary cards in the shower room. If you tend to laze around in the shower like I do, it's a chance to chill out in front of some Japanese words. Even without reading the words carefully, you will end up to memorize them automatically.

 

Speaking alone

Maybe I am a weirdo but I I tend tospeak to myself a lot (when I am alone only, of course) and I mainly used  Japanese. It gave me reflexes and allowed me learning to think in Japanese rather than translating sentences in my head : my speech rate became faster.

Listening and watching Japanese

Watching or listening to the Japanese TV is great exercise. You willwork your listening skills and will get used to the normal speech rate, always too slow in the CD provided with the learning books. No need to try to understand everything right away.
The dramas are also a good solution : a word in a particular context or in a situation that you like will always be easier to remember than a long vocabulary list. But beware of subtitles. It is a nice help at first but you will end to up to look only at them.
A nice thing to see progress and become motivated is to wtahc an anime or a drama weeksor months after to see the work done. In general you will be amazed.

Being motivated and passionate

Speaking of motivation, one of the great secrets to become good in Japanese is to be passionate and motivated. If you don't have the motivation you won't do any thing good.
Do you use the "I am busy" excuse to proscratinate ? Lear that you would have always time to write on or two kanji in a corner of paper, listen to lessons in public transport or while walking (in your earphone please :)) or have a quick glance at the vocabulary cards I mentioned above. It takes a few minutes and the results will be quickly visible.

Ready to learn Japanese ? What are your tips ?

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