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Apr 22, 2011

Become a Specialist in Japanese

When it comes to learning another language, we often lump everything into one big subject and say, “I'm learning Japanese!” In truth, languages span so many areas of knowledge and come in so many forms that if we attempt to learn languages in the way that we describe them – as everything lumped together into one big subject – we're going to be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of material. That is why we should instead aim to become specialists in all of the little parts of another language, such as Japanese, and allow the individual regions of the language to come together to give the illusion that we learned it all at once.

So what exactly does it mean to learn the parts of Japanese and then to put them together? I've already done this to some degree in simply providing steps for learning, such as first learning the kana, then learning the kanji, and then building vocabulary – with immersion going on the whole time. In each phase you work to master another segment of the language, but there are really even more divisions – especially in the vocabulary and immersion elements.

In vocabulary, there are many different broad areas of the language that you can learn. The most important of these is general use vocabulary, which is present in anything and everything. Beyond the general use vocabulary are areas like household, school, business, science, music, etc, which all have their own sets of words. Attempting to learn them all at the same time in great depth will leave you swamped with thousands of words and no end in sight. Which is why we need to break them up into their sections and become specialists of the areas that matter the most to us as individuals.

How do you go about doing that? Well, it really comes down to your immersion material. If music is important to you, then looking at Japanese music websites, reading Japanese books about music, and just keeping in contact with the Japanese music industry will bring you in contact with a lot of music related vocabulary. The same can be said for any subject – if you're interested in it and you stay in your immersion environment, then you will become a specialist in the regions of the language that matter most to you.

In addition to divisions of vocabulary in a language, there are much broader divisions. Listening, reading, speaking, and writing are all their own domains of a language and they don't necessarily overlap. In order to become good at the language you must first get experience with each individual part of it. This means that the only way to become good at writing is to write, the only way to be a good listener is to listen, and so on and so forth. Become a specialist in each region and all of the pieces will come together.

So what does this actually mean for how you should learn? Essentially, it just means that you should trust in your immersion environment to teach you what you want and need to know. Instead of getting all worked up about knowing it all and knowing it immediately, let your immersion environment and personal interest guide you through the language to the subjects that are most important to you

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  1. i find my mind used to get tangled up too much in how much of a huge load it'd be to learn Japanese. I kept looking at this huge plate of food and thinking I'd never be able to eat it all, but that's because I kept thinking about eating it all in one gulp rather than in spaced segments.

    I try not to think so much about it anymore, and it really makes a difference. I don't care anymore about how much Japanese I don't know, with time I'll know enough. I don't care about only understanding 60% of the manga I just read, because I'm sure when I come back to it again months later I'll have gained more knowledge. Even bumping it up to 65% is fine, because it shows progress.

    And it's better that way.

  2. >learn the parts of Japanese and then to put them together

    Just like puzzle pieces that put together the larger picture.

  3. Thanks for "the only way to become good at writing is to write, the only way to be a good listener is to listen," It help me realize things. My whole immersion environment is anime and for me its cool and fun memorizing lines from my preferred characters. I think becoming a specialist on a certain thing will help you on journey to specializing other fields. Thanks :D