5 secrets to learning the Japanese language

A common situation faced by Japanese language learners is that they often find themselves being able to read and write the language well, but when it comes to conversation, words don’t flow as easily as compared to understanding written Japanese. Why is this so?

The reason is that learners usually learn through reading and writing rather than listening and speaking. Once you are able to recognise and read the characters, you should try to listen and speak. Conversation should be a spontaneous activity; it should not be a case of you still trying to construct the sentence in your mind and keeping the other party waiting.

I shall share with you five of my secrets to learning the Japanese language.

1. Set realistic expectations

When you decide to learn Japanese, you probably imagine yourself being able to speak like a native Japanese. But learning Japanese is a journey, not a destination. If you imagine yourself speaking Japanese language like a native Japanese in just 3 months’ time, it’s impossible. Language learning is a long term process which takes a lot of commitment, discipline and hard work. Set realistic goals. Speak short practical phrases rather than trying to construct a long sentence. The conversation will be over by the time you have finished constructing the long sentence. Start with a few words, followed by short phrases, then progress to short sentences and finally long sentences.

2. Listen, listen, listen 

Imagine that you are a baby. All human beings spend two years as a baby just listening to what other people are talking before we start saying a few words. We need to get used to listening to the Japanese language before we can even pick up words and respond. Listen to the Japanese language on a daily basis. There are so many Japanese podcasts, dramas and songs available on the internet. There is no excuse for saying that you have no time to listen.

3. Interest, interest, interest

Just making up your mind to learn Japanese is not enough. You need a strong interest to motivate you to keep going. Be it Japanese culture, food, anime, cosplay, manga, J-pop, drama or travelling to Japan, make it what drives you. Keep the fire burning. First understand “why” you want to learn the language, then the “hows” and “whats” will fall in place. You will realise that this interest will play a big part for you in mastering the language.

4. Think in Japanese 

If you can speak a language, you are probably thinking in that particular language. So thinking in Japanese will help you to be able to speak Japanese. When you want to find out what time it is now, ask yourself : Ima nan ji? Take a look at your watch or a clock, and say “ah, shichi ji da”. (Ah.. it’s seven already). A conscious effort to think in Japanese will further improve your ability to articulate well in the language.

5. Speak, speak, speak 

Don’t feel shy trying to speak the language. Practice makes perfect. If you are learning the Japanese language but still feel shy to speak it, it won’t bring you anywhere. Don’t worry too much about offending people if you don’t speak the polite forms. It is okay. Would you mind if a native Japanese speaks to you in broken English? If you don’t mind, I am sure the native Japanese won’t mind you speaking broken Japanese to them. They will admire you for trying to speak the language to them.

In conclusion, once you have made up your mind to learn the Japanese language, make it fun, enjoy the journey, and keep going.

Joe Tan