When I came to Japan in October 2016, I could barely buy my groceries in the supermarket or convenient store. When I tried to buy a temporary simcard. My friend from Tokyo had to exit from her job and come help me. I could barely get directions to the station. People were afraid of me when I approach them in English.
Fast forward to 2020, I am conversationally fluent in Japanese. I can hold intermediate conversations. I can set up my internet bills and process documents in the city hall with less hassle.
I’m not gonna lie that my journey was easy and there was a time where I almost gave up. I practiced my ass off and in this article, I would like to share my journey and tips I have gathered over the past few years.
Ditch Romaji and start with Hiragana and Katana
One of my biggest mistakes and regrets was relying on Romaji when I started learning Japanese and I don’t want you to make the same mistake. After drilling yourself routinely with hiragana and katakana, practice along with some basic kanji lessons.
Learn the first 100 basic words and phrases with Hiragana, not Romaji. You can get tons of resources in Daiso (a dollar store), in bookstores, and on Amazon. Here is a link to my very first Kanji book.
Repitition is the Key
This does not apply to only Japanese but also other languages. Learning a language requires a lot of repetition. If I give you two situations, one: a learner allows a particular period of time every day, no matter how short it is, the other learner studies for a long period of time only on the weekends. Which do you think is a better and more effective way?
In my first year of studying Japanese, I would study every after work including weekends even if it’s only for 30 mins or 1 hour. I would learn new words and phrases, repeatedly review and use them. They easily stick to me.
Start conversing with people, Lots of conversations
I believe that a language is to be spoken and it should be practiced not memorized. After drilling with basic vocabulary and grammar, you can practice them with friends or language partners. You can easily meet a lot of motivated and driven language learners in Hello talk. Click the link to get the app.
Take this as a heads up, you will have lots of awkward and difficult conversations with people but the greatest return will be confidence in speaking and fluency. I’d say force yourself to speak and communicate with others.
I take online classes on italki every week. I highly recommend it. You can customize your lessons based on your learning needs and goals. Thousands of teachers offer cheap prices as low as 7 dollars. You can take classes at any time and any place that suits you.
Sing your way to fluency
Learning Japanese through songs is a great way to pick up grammar structures and new words. In English songs, some songs are written in the style of poetry but a lot of Japanese songs are written just like the way people speak. Learning them is a great way to level-up your Japanese.
I prefer pop as a matter of taste. Choose yours, any genre will do, listen to them many times, study their lyrics and you’re ready to go to Karaoke and sing your favorite Japanese songs.
Invest in books
Crack the books to improve your Japanese. It’s a good investment. The more you invest in them, the more accountability you hold to finish your books because you don’t want your money to be waisted. Here is a list of books I have used and studied.
- Minna no Nihonggo Minna no nihonggoII
- Genki 1 Genki 2
- Let’s try books
- JLPT books
- JLPT vocabulary books
- Kanji books
These techniques worked for me but may not work for you. Your path to fluency is unique. You can borrow techniques from my list and try. If it doesn’t work try another one. Do what feels right for you.
Never give up. Learning Japanese can be discouraging. You will lose your motivation and that’s okay as long as you know how to get back in track. You will feel like you are not improving but keep going. Keep your goals and never give up!
If you have any questions, post them in the comment section below.