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.