Here are eight effective ways to learn Japanese, based on my own experience as a student and journalist in Japan.
1. Study with a tutor. This is how I started out. Later when I moved to Japan, my Japanese friends were shocked that my first teacher was a Korean woman who learned the language during the Japanese occupation of her country.
2. Use interactive software. Rosetta Stone’s Learn Japanese is the best known and most widely respected software for learning to read, write and speak Japanese. It includes live online practice with a native Japanese tutor.
3. Go to a Japanese restaurant and try speaking Japanese with the staff. Warning: nowadays Japanese restaurants are sometimes staffed by people from various countries who may not speak any more Japanese than you do. But the food makes it all worthwhile anyway.
4. Chat with a Japanese friend, colleague, exchange student, romantic partner or spouse in their own language. That’s what it’s all about, right? An effective way to do a conversation exchange is to get together over a meal and spend the first half speaking English, and the second half speaking Japanese. Online chats are a helpful option too.
5. Hit the books. There are many good books for learning Japanese, but a few reference books are essential: A quick Japanese Phrase Book is crucial in the early stages of learning Japanese. I used mine until the pages fell out.
When I lived in Japan, I always carried a pocket-sized Japanese-English / Japanese-English dictionary such as the Oxford Japanese Mini Dictionary. Whipping this out was a lifesaver when conversations hit a roadblock.
“Essential Kanji: 2,000 Basic Japanese Characters Systematically Arranged For Learning And Reference” by P. G. O’Neill. is the classic guide for written Japanese. It still gets rave reviews because it is so useful and comprehensive. I used this classic myself virtually every day when I was learning Japanese.
6. Watch Japanese movies and TV shows. It helps if they have subtitles. I keep up my Japanese listening skills by watching NHK World, which has several shows in Japanese with English subtitles.
7. Quiz yourself with flashcards. While learning Japanese, I made my own handwritten flashcards and flipped through them while riding the Tokyo subway. But now you can buy a pre-made Japanese Hiragana and Katakana Flash Cards Kit or even scroll through the “cards” on a smartphone.
8. Go to Japan for total immersion. Interacting with Japanese society is the best way to learn Japanese, but it goes more smoothly if you know some of the language before arrival. Enjoy Japan!
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