It’s almost a year since I started teaching myself Japanese and I think it would be best to share some of my experiences in certain aspects. Obviously, learning a second language takes a lot of commitment and it’s not easy like buying Rosetta Stone (which is a big waste of money) and expecting instant gratification. It took a lot of effort since it’s learning by doing.
On the surface, Asian languages tend to be difficult since most of them use logograms, also known as Chinese Characters along with different grammar rules. With practice and constant studying, it’s just like learning any other language, except it takes a bit more time to have a basic understanding
Aside from that, here are some observations I had after one year of studying.
It gets easier once you know all the basics.
While I have learned three years of Latin in high school and have familiarity with subject-object-verb arrangement, learning the basics was different since Japanese use a mix of Hiragana, Katakana (for foreign terms) and Kanji along with the grammar rules. Although the conjugations may look intimidating, after some practice, it will become easier. Not only that, some of the conjugations like the て-form and short past tense forms have similar conjugations, but use different endings.
After finishing my elementary textbook, I started my intermediate studies. When I read through the first two lessons, I noticed that most of the intermediate/advanced grammar is a bunch of phases and rules that builds on top of the basics. Here are some examples of a bit more complex sentences:
If you don’t register to vote in the elections, you can’t possibly vote in November.
Haruka might be 18 years old since she just graduated from high school.
Although Professor Michiko is kind, she made the students take a lot of tests.
You are not supposed to drive a car without having a driver’s license.
I admit that learning without a teacher can be difficult since you don’t know whether or not the sentences are right or wrong. You are pretty much on your own. Despite this, Lang-8, which I mentioned in one of my posts, is particularly useful. You can see the mistakes pointed out by native speakers so you don’t make them again.
Using Other Media (Anime, Games, Manga, etc) for Practice
The plus side to learning a language is of course reading, listening or playing media in the language you are learning. Obviously, video games are one of the reasons why I learned the language because of the notion that some video games will never get localized. Since Playstation 3, PSP, Vita and the Nintendo DS are region free, it’s easy to import or download Japanese games and play them besides the fact they are a bit more expensive. However, not all games are useful for language studies since some of them don’t have that much text to read. On the other hand, text heavy games like role-playing games and visual novels are ideal as you can apply what you have learned while learning new vocabulary. Not only that, you can get an actual feeling of actual Japanese, especially if the characters talk. From my experience, I had a lot of fun playing these games while having a basic understanding of the story. The only work I had to do is look up words I didn’t know and using radicals to find Kanji that I do not know. Just like video games, printed media and audio can help too.
Learning some Aspects of Japanese Culture
Although I’m an American with Chinese heritage, it’s interesting to see how much culture there is in the Japanese language. Besides the different levels of speech, there is the honorific speech, which is used for people you respect (like your boss or Professor) as explained in my other post. In a way, this shows that the Japanese for the most part are humble. It has been seen in various instances like when a company admits that they make a mistake and take responsibility.
On the other hand, there is gender specific speech, which you might notice already. This is similar to Valley Girl speech, except it adds specific endings to the end of the sentence for emphasis as seen below:
痛いわよ。 (It hurts!)
この花がきれいなの？ (Is this flower pretty?)
While I decided against taking the JPLT this year because I don’t know enough vocabulary and it’s my final semester of college, I’m getting used to the Japanese language. When I started a year ago, I thought it was going to be difficult, but now I am proven wrong. With enough motivation and dedication, now I can read some with a dictionary besides me. With my completion of my Intermediate Japanese textbook, I hope to become more confident in understanding things in Japanese. Even so, I realize that people have different learning styles and might require classroom instruction. Still, learning a language should be rewarding experience and one should have some fun doing it.
If you see this text, this site has stolen my content. If you are affected by content thieves, look this domain up on a Whois Service, look up the IP and send a DMCA takedown with the host provider. STOP STEALING CONTENT AND MAKE YOUR OWN. Also, MATRIXAT, go fuck yourself you fucking thief!
9 Comments… read them or add your own.
I agree with your main point “it gets easier once you know all the basics”. I’m on my 6th year in Japan now and the more I listen to Japanese or observe how people speak, the more I’m able to pick up more complicated phrases. I was so frustrated about kanji on my 1st year because it had onyomi and kunyomi readings, I thought I wouldn’t be able to speak and understand Japanese ever! xD Endurance is really important when learning Japanese, I guess. ^^;
I hope you don’t mind but I’ve noticed a mistranslation in some of your example sentences:
(If you don’t register to vote in the elections, you can’t possibly vote in November.)
I think this is just a typo. The Japanese sentence means “If you register to vote in the elections” ^^; So instead of すれば, it should be しなければ.
（Although Professor Michiko is kind, she made the students take a lot of tests.）
The が should be は because the sentence is saying Professor Michiko IS kind. は is equivalent to an equal. Professor Michiko = kind. Your sentence would mean “It is Professor Michiko who is kind”, giving the readers an impression that there are other teachers, but they’re not kind. Your usage can be used in this sentence:
「美智子先生の方が優しいのに、『優しい先生賞』に選ばれたのは光先生でした。」 = It is Professor Michiko who is kind, but Professor Hikari was the one chosen for the “Kind Teacher Award”. (Err…a random award I made up. xD)
This sentence means “(The students) made the teacher take a lot of tests.” It should be 「先生は生徒にテストをたくさん受けさせました。」 The に pertains to the person who took the tests, which is “the students” in this case.
(You are not supposed to drive a car without having a driver’s license.)
運転免許を持たないで車を運転しないことになる。 (I added the missing を)
The Japanese sentence actually means “Not having a driver’s license is equivalent to not driving a car.” This phrase is kind of…a 決まり文句 or a set phrase.
WをEして（で）Rする（しない）ことになる。 = Eing W is equivalent/equals to R. (Sorry for my crappy explanation. xC)
The Japanese for your English translation should be: 「運転免許を持たずに車を運転してはいけません。」
I hope this helped even a little and I wish you luck in learning Japanese! 頑張ってね！^_^v
Thanks for pointing out the mistakes… Of course, I was writing the sentences while studying for a test, so they were a bit messy. Aside from that, I think living in Japan would obviously make learning the language a bit easier as one has to use their language to interact with other people. The problem with just studying the textbook on your own or have class instruction is it doesn’t make a person use it on a daily and constant basis. Besides the teacher if he/she is a native speaker, there is most likely not a person that speaks Japanese fluently unless one manages to get a hold of someone to talk to over Skype or something.
You’re welcome. 🙂 I’m amazed at how dedicated you are with self-studying because to tell the truth, that’s really difficult. I’ve chatted with a few people through Skype or Yahoo Messenger before, all of them wanting to learn Japanese but they weren’t as dedicated and hard-working like you. So every conversation I had with them bore no fruit at all. ^^; They either quit or didn’t show up again.
Yes, I may have an easier way because I’m living in Japan but my first 2 years were horrible. I was in middle school back then and had to learn Social Studies, Math etc like the other Japanese students but I could not understand a single word they were saying. X_X I started to speak short and easy sentences on my 3rd year, really late. ^^;
Sorry for the late comment~
It’s great to see how dedicated you are to your Japanese studies despite doing it 100% on your own and not being motivated by the fact that it’s required schoolwork or anything – just your own passion =) I almost bought the Rosetta Stone set several years ago but they only sold it at a beginner level and I was already beyond that. Since you say it’s a waste of money, I’m glad I didn’t buy it ^.^
In addition to playing video games raw, I’d also recommend watching anime raw. Kids anime is great for this since they typically use easy words and easy situations to understand. I’ve been watching the latest Pokemon episodes raw since 2006 and I’d say it’s helped maintain my listening comprehension skills.
The problem with Rosetta stone is that it doesn’t work well with Asian Language, not just Japanese, but Chinese and Korean. They mostly show phrases and words, which doesn’t really help since the grammar is more complex, let alone the characters used in these language that the software doesn’t teach at all.
On the other hand, I think motivation is also a key in continual studies… While classroom instruction is good since students can ask stuff what they are unclear, they are also doing it for a grade and have to do assignments, which can explain why some may drop out because it takes a considerable amount of effort. People expect instant gratification when in reality, it doesn’t work that way in real life. It took me about almost a year to have a basic understanding with an electronic dictionary in front of me.
But one of these days once I finish the intermediate textbook, start watching Anime without subtitles and see how it goes. I should probably understand 60% with the vocabulary and expanded grammar.
I once tried to learn Japanese and I felt I was getting good until I just didn’t have the motivation as I am like with a lot of things, I start off all excited, then realize it’s really hard so I give up. I’d love to know how to overcome that, esp self-study because you don’t have much pressure.
I am also Chinese and luckily I still know how to read the simple Kanji so I find that helps a lot because often when I’m reading Japanese, I can recognize some words. But it’s remembering them that’s hard.
Watching Anime to learn is really difficult because they speak really fast and you literally don’t know what each word means, so it’s hard to put it together.
Sometimes I think translating will help learn a language, because you literally have to look up all the words to see what they mean.
Remembering the characters are difficult since there are different readings, but the writing systems were easy to pick up. Only took about two or three weeks to get them fully memorized.
But aside from that, motivation does play a role. I was able to do it since I took time studying during my free time and also translated raw Japanese from video games while having an electronic dictionary on my iPhone and add them to a list, which I will eventually have on flash cards. From studying elementary level for about a year, the grammar isn’t too hard to grasp. It requires practice such as writing sentences and having them checked through a language exchange such as Lang-8, which I recommend.
Translation is a good idea, I tend to do that to improve Chinese, but it feels so hard since I don’t know any Japanese. At least I’m a fluent Chinese speaker and learned up to grade 2 (school) so I have some ideas. What are your recommendations for really good dictionaries online?
I would be so happy if I could understand, I think writing/reading isn’t as important because what I really want to do is to understand the language so I can watch Anime without subs (I just really don’t like reading><)
While I am Chinese although I was born in the states, I never went to Chinese school. Still, I know how to use radicals to look up the Kanji I don’t know.
For me, I use imiwa on the Iphone since its free. There is zkanji and Tagaini Jisho, which are also free software based dictionaries.