These are things that I wish I’d known when I’d begun learning a new language. My top 7 tips. #1 is the most useful of all: this is something I struggled with for a very long time, then it was like someone turned on the lights for me.
7) Listening – Practice listening to Japanese audio. I like to use Spotify: there are a number of podcasts that do this. Japanese YouTubers are also especially helpful. A lot of people talk on topics and hobbies that may match your own, like anime.
6) Subtitles – Do not watch anime with English subtitles to learn Japanese: you will learn almost nothing. If can feel productive, but ultimately you will only glean a few words at most in that specific context because your brain isn’t going to be able to interpret both grammatical forms cohesively in real time. A good way to watch anime and be productive is to turn on Japanese subtitles with Japanese audio, but I’d only recommend it for something you’re already very familiar with.
5) Varied Sources – I find that learning from multiple sources is helpful: I use different apps (bunpro, wanikani, lingodeer, memrise) and youtube channels (Japanese Ammo with Misa and Miku Real Japanese are my favorites) because I find I get bored if I just try to power through one source for the whole thing. This also means I end up reviewing a lot of the same material: I’m practicing more, but in different ways.
4) Consistency – Apps, youtube videos, podcasts, and chat rooms are all great methods for learning Japanese, but the only way that information sticks is if you’re consistently learning. Your class is a perfect start: it means you’re doing this at least weekly, which is great. Take advantage of that and build on habits: I like to review my recordings to see where I went wrong,
3) Pronunciation – A lot of us overthink pronunciation: turns out, pronouncing Japanese syllables is one of the simplest parts of the language. The disadvantage Americans have to that though is that we’re used to stressing certain syllables: “wuhtAHshi wah” sounds different than “watashi wa” if you listen closely: we’re used to adding in extra sounds by default, but it’s best to imitate Japanese by listening closely, then repeating each syllable as you hear it. One of the best things about the video recordings of our lessons is that you get to watch how you perform: I like to compare how I say things to how I heard native speakers. I try to close the distance, but it’s something that always needs practice.
2) Accent – This is different from pronunciation. I like Dogen’s video explaining the Japanese accent. English uses a stress accent: there are parts of a word you put stress on (like the word tomorrow) to show your accent. Unlike English, Japanese uses a pitch accent: whether your pitch goes higher or lower based on the part of the word shows the accent. Don’t worry too much about it: pitch accent is a long road, but putting in little efforts can help you sound much better.
1) Don’t Think In English – This sounds odd, but this is the most important tip. When I hear you, I can’t help but think your internal thoughts go something like this…
“I need to say ‘My name is Stephan,’ in Japanese. Okay, well ‘I’ is ‘watashi’ and I need to say ‘my’ so it’s ‘no’, then ‘name’ is ‘namae’, and I have to say ‘as for that’ it’s ‘wa’ and I have to add on ‘desu’ to be formal so… ‘watashi no namae wa Stephan desu.'”
It might not be exactly like that, but when you’re thinking in English, it takes cognizant and time effort to switch back and forth, like gears in a car. You don’t want to try to translating English to Japanese: that’s a nightmare. Instead, you’re trying to internalize Japanese: don’t involve English in the process. You’re already great at English: no need to practice.
Or when you’re listening to someone, you might experience….
“I heard the teacher say ‘Doko’ so that means ‘where’, then ‘ni’ which is about going places, ‘sundei’ which is living at a place, and ‘masu’ which means I’m doing it. Sounded like a question. Maybe it’s ‘where do I live?”
If you’re trying to translate word-by-word, that is extremely difficult: by the time you’ve probably translated the first word, most of the sentence is probably gone, or maybe you’re trying to hold the whole sentence in your head and the longer the sentence gets, the harder it is to decode it. The way around this is to not decode it at all: don’t try and bring it back into English in your mind. Instead, internalize what the Japanese means: not in English, but in its most truest form. It seems weird, but you’ve already done this: that’s how you learned English.