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Jun 10, 2012

Another Self-Taught Japanese Success Story

Much to my delight, I've found another student at my university who learned Japanese entirely on her own. I asked her to share the story of her experience with learning independently and she kindly obliged. So here (with some minor editing) is another success story.

I started studying Japanese on my own simply because no formal Japanese lessons (or native speakers) were available where I lived. Basically, I knew I was on my own with this one. I have no idea what inspired me to start. My motivations are rather mysterious to me even now. Through a lot of trial and error in selecting books from Amazon and local bookstores, I learned kana, some kanji, and very basic grammar. I then put Japanese on hiatus to pursue other things, but, again, mysteriously picked it up while also taking Spanish and Chinese classes in school. And that's where things got serious.

I learned much of what I know from, by far the best self-teaching resource out there. Until a couple of months ago, I had a premium subscription to that site, but a basic subscription is sufficient to get most of the good stuff. What's great about the site is that the lessons are centered on podcasts, and podcasts = listening comprehension. I did plenty of reading in Japanese, but JP101 was essential to my listening and speaking skills. How do you get speaking skills from podcasts? Repeat what the hosts say, exactly as they say it. That's the part that most people skip, but it really does help. Keep in mind that I was a beginner and needed to learn even basic pronunciation. But still, reading out loud/repeating what others say is important to me even at my current level. Try a lesson from this site and see how you like it. (Also, each lesson comes with a transcript and vocab list and grammar explanation). You may not be able to access these without a subscription, but even just listening to the lessons is helpful.

Okay, the best grammar book for beginners is Japanese: The Manga Way by Wayne P. Lammers. For more advanced learners who want to learn through authentic Japanese stories, try the Read Real Japanese series (there's a short stories edition and an essays edition) and Breaking into Japanese Literature. These books have English glosses to help you through the story. For intermediate learners, Japanese for All Occasions is great and comes with a CD of the dialogues. For learning kana and kanji, the Kanji de Manga and Kana de Manga books are fun and effective.

Also, another piece of advice: watch Japanese dramas/movies without subtitles or with Japanese intra-language subtitles. Or, for more difficult language, play the English-subtitled version, but cover the subtitles on your computer screen with a paper or something and only refer to them when you're really confused.

Other things I learned...let's see...

Practice every single day in some way, even if it's just singing Japanese songs to yourself (don't judge me). It's easy to let self-study slip through the cracks of one's hectic life, but that CANNOT HAPPEN if you want to learn anything.

When you do have free time, spend just about every minute of it studying Japanese. That may sound like hyperbole, but that's exactly what I did. No one ever saw me without a Japanese book or notebook in my hands/bag.

Read tons of books, but try to find ones that are as close to your level as possible (you can usually tell after reading the first few sentences if a book is too easy or too difficult).

Don't believe that stuff you may hear about relying on context to infer the meaning of words. If you want to actually learn those words one day and not just "get by", LOOK THEM UP. Studies show that you probably won't correctly guess the meaning or use of a word just from the context. Note the context, but don't rely on it.

When trying to learn a new word, write it down a few times (in kanji, of course, if applicable). Say it out loud. You're never going to get quizzed on this stuff in self-study, so you have to quiz yourself.

FLASHCARDS. Whether they're paper or digital, they work.

Write things by hand as much as possible. It may be the age of computers or what have you, but it's been proven that people remember things better when they write them by hand.

Oh, oh, this was a big one for me: find the Japanese translation (or original) of a book you really, really love in English. Chances are, you know such a book very well, so you'll be able to recall the content well without referring to the English version. Then read it in Japanese. You'd be shocked how much more you learn about language structure and use when you don't have to focus on comprehension.

Oh, and don't get Rosetta Stone. Or anything remotely like it. All of those programs cover only very basic Japanese.

And there you have it! For having learned entirely separate from each other, there were quite a few beliefs we held in common. When I saw her comments about Rosetta Stone I couldn't help but laugh. Hopefully hearing the story of another successful self-teacher has given you more ideas and motivation for your own Japanese journey. I'll be checking out the resources she mentioned and write articles about them, so be looking forward to it!

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1 comment:

  1. Just curious, did taking chinese make it easier or harder to learn japanese? I too became fascinated with japanese at first but with no programs near me and plenty of chinese people I thought chinese would be really great. I love the language, but going back to japanese I find myself reading the kanji in chinese... x__x

    Thanks for the article! I'm going to check out japanesepod now :)