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Learning While I’m Having Fun: My Experience Learning Japanese

I think many people worry about how they should study Japanese. I didn’t major in Japanese language as an undergraduate student, and I’m currently studying at graduate school in Japan. I’ve put together some interesting and effective learning methods that I used to improve my own Japanese language ability in a short period of time to enter my ideal graduate school. Let’s take a look at them together here:

To overcome vocab difficulties: Memorize words in example sentences

When I learned Japanese for the first time, it was a big challenge for me to learn how to pronounce and write vocabulary in Japanese. Even though I could remember a lot of words, I couldn’t use them well in real conversations.

To solve this, I changed the way I tried to remember words. Rather than simply learning the word alone, I focused on fixed combinations with other words, and usage in sentences. For example, to remember the word “morasu” (“leak/reveal”), I used the sentence, “No matter how busy my father gets, he doesn’t let his dissatisfaction show.” (Chi chi ha donna isogashikutemo fuman wo morasu koto ha nai) By using this method, I was able to quickly understand not only the meaning of different words, but how to use them in sentences and in different contexts. Later, say I want to express the meaning of the word “fuman” (“dissatisfaction”) – in my mind, the fixed expression “fuman wo morasu” (“to reveal dissatisfaction”) will naturally become associated with it.

With this method, you can create a positive cycle of memorizing example sentences → applying them in conversations → reinforcing your memorization. This has helped me to start using boring vocab in interesting sentences, and helping me to evolve from “memorizing words” to “using words.”

Practicing pronunciation: Practice with characters from Japanese dramas

The thing that troubled me most in my Japanese language study was pronunciation. This is because even if the Japanese language is made up of the same fifty sounds of its syllabary, the meaning of the word may be completely different depending on the pitch of the tone. This made me a bit reluctant to speak Japanese because I was so anxious about whether my pronunciation was correct.

I love Japanese dramas, so to overcome this, I started shadowing to match the drama’s dialogue. I realized that the actors’ pronunciation was clear and unambiguous, and I thought it was a good way to practice the correct pronunciation. Since then, I’ve consciously imitated and shadowed the dialogue and tone of dramas. The level of difficulty was low to begin with, so I chose TV dramas about regular life, like “The Full-Time Wife Escapist” or “Tokyo Love Story.” Normally, I played it at 0.5 times the speed, listened carefully to the tone and pronunciation of each dialogue, and imitated the way the characters talked with my own mouth. If I couldn’t understand what they said after listening a number of times, I wrote down the words and pronunciation that I didn’t understand and looked up what they meant. When I was able to reproduce the dialogue of TV dramas about everyday life smoothly, I turned my attention to Japanese dramas about different occupations, which are a level up in vocab difficulty. Some examples are “Your Home Is My Business!” and “Naoki Hanzawa.”

These dramas were rich in honorific expressions, and helped me to learn colloquial expressions in the workplace.

At first it was time consuming and easy for me to stumble, but when I was able to completely recite a drama’s dialogue, I realized that I could easily repeat back the dialogue with accurate pronunciation even at regular speed. With this method, my Japanese pronunciation has become more natural, allowing me to have confidence in speaking Japanese!

To overcome the barrier of reading: Speed up by reading a lot

The reading portion of the JLPT was a bottleneck for me. The sentences in the reading section were always long, and at first I read them slowly. I wasn’t understanding the sentences with a Japanese style of thinking, either, so my test results weren’t very good.

In order to raise my score, I decided to incorporate reading Japanese into my daily habits. For the beginner levels of the test (N4, N5), I read simple news articles like NEWS WEB EASY every day. These are short, with easy-to-understand explanations, and there are phonetic readings provided for the kanji, so it’s easy for Japanese beginners to read. I used the spare bits of time I had, like when I was riding on the train, to read a little bit and improve my test prep. When I began preparing for the advanced levels of the JLPT (N1, N2), to really improve my reading comprehension, I looked for a novel written in the original Japanese that might attract my interest. Novels are long and use difficult language, but I’m interested in their content, so it was easy to immerse myself in the world of novels. This method helped me to unconsciously improve my reading speed and ability.

After acquiring this habit, even if I encounter a word I don’t know in a sentence, now I can guess its meaning from context. It’s much easier to understand what the author wants to express. With this, I was able to get 58 out of 60 points on the reading comprehension part in the N1 test!

There you have it: a part of how I studied Japanese words, pronunciation, and reading comprehension.

Learning Japanese is a step-by-step process and requires sustained efforts, but above all it’s important to find a learning style that suits you. I recommend trying a variety of methods, find your own way of learning, and you’ll be able to learn more effectively. The more you learn, the more interesting it’ll be!