How to improve my Japanese?
Japanese belongs to the Japonic (or Japanese-Ryukyuan) language family, and its relationship to other languages, such as Korean, is debatable. It is an East Asian language spoken by approximately 128 million people, a majority of whom live in Japan, where it is the national language. While there are many dialects and accents in Japan, experts agree that the largely monolingual status that exists here is very unusual. Japanese is an agglutinative, mora-timed language with simple phonotactics, a pure vowel system, a phonemic vowel and consonant length, and a lexically significant pitch accent. Word order is normally subject–object–verb with particles marking the grammatical function of words, and sentence structure is a topic–comment. Sentence-final particles are used to add emotional or emphatic impact, or make questions. Along with kanji, the Japanese writing system primarily uses two syllabic (or moraic) scripts, hiragana (ひらがな or 平仮名) and katakana (カタカナ or 片仮名). Latin script is used in a limited fashion, such as for imported acronyms, and the numeral system uses mostly Arabic numerals alongside traditional Chinese numerals.
Lets now have a look at the various tips that will be helpful for improving your overall Japanese skills; For ther benefit of all learners, I shall divide these tips in three sections; Section A, Section B and Section C.
Starting with Section A:
Define Short-term and Long-term Goals for your learning.
Sit down and in a calm frame of mind and think. Focus on the aims, aspirations and expectations you have from your Japanese learning. Devise a comprehensive learning plan, where you map language learning topics with time required to learn them, in a realistic, not idealistic manner under short term and long term plans. Evaluate the best approach you can take, to ensure you follow the learning plan, as devised. Assess the amount of time you can invest in. You could choose if you want to target your understanding of Japanese speech in news, radio, documentaries under a short term plan. Say you want to be proficient in listening within 3-5month; plan around that! Also, formulate your long-term goals. Think of what you would want to achieve in the long term, say fluency or expertise in the writing of Japanese script! Subsequently, plan on how you would like to go about putting your plans into action.
Review your goals at regular intervals to measure achievement vis-a-vis your plans. Tweak your goals based on this measure as required so you know it’s all working for you as planned.
Plan to learn the unique accent
You’ll probably need to push your Japanese accent in order to enhance it. This is likely to sound absurd to your ears. As if you’re making fun of the Japanese. That’s fine. Exaggerate your Japanese accent: it may sound strange to you at first, but everyone else will appreciate it. In that regard, watching a few videos of people imitating a Japanese accent may be entertaining. They will really teach you a lot!
Listen to as many audio resources of the dialect you choose.
Focus on listening to Japanese to get a hang of the Japanese speech, pitch, tone, accent, speed, rhythm and to effectively train your ear to get used to sounds and identify Japanese when exposed to the language anywhere. Listening helps you connect with the language. After hearing it adequately read the audio transcript to assess your understanding of what’s actually spoken and what you understood. Every new language would sound nothing more than some noise at the beginning. Unfamiliar, confusing, and baffling! The first step is to become familiar with the individual sounds of the language, to learn to differentiate words from each other and to have a few words and phrases resonating in your brain.
Read along and read aloud.
After multiple listening sessions, it’s time to follow the shadowing technique. Develop a sense of how words are spoken, where the speaker stops to breathe, and what words are conjoined and spoken together. Read the transcript loud, along with the audio, speaking the words correctly, aping the accent as you speak! Learning characters would not be sensible if you don’t have any sense of the words to begin with. You will get to learn the characters eventually so, you could skip the characters in the beginning; instead, try to get a little momentum in the language.
Study consistently using the Pomodoro technique, a few minutes multiple times a day rather, cramming it for 6-7 hours on the weekend. Your daily schedule should cater to your goals and learning style.
Use Spaced Repetition System apps such as Memrise or Anki to enhance the quality of your learning.
You could either use the existing flashcards or create your own. Shorter repetitive content is better than crammed monotonous learning!
Release yourself from getting compulsively consumed in complicated grammar explanations.
Focus on patterns. Patterns will not only enable you to see how the language works but also give you frames around which you can build your first conversations.
Read whatever you can get your hands on. Articles, news, blogs of interest on subjects of your choice such as food, fashion, travel etcetera.
Introduce yourself to learning Japanese honorifics, culture, art, sculpture, literature, architecture, history, beliefs, religion, value system, way of life, socially and legally acceptable and unacceptable behaviour.
Keep a Japanese dictionary handy.
You could also use online dictionaries.
Maintain a journal or a diary.
Record phrases, fillers, conversation connectors in the journal and diary, to be able to hold your first conversation.
Don’t be deterred by mistakes!
Don’t beat yourself up for incorrect pronunciation. You can neither pronounce what you don’t register or hear, nor imitate sounds and intonations that don’t reverberate in your mind. In order to build up the ability you need to listen to hundreds or even thousands of hours to allow the brain to absorb the new language. You can’t rush this process. Trust that, it will gradually improve and get better!
Identify your unique learning style
Some people learn better through visualizations, while others may find that writing things down is what helps them. Knowing how you learn can help you learn more effectively.
Look for activities that combine listening, reading, speaking and writing
One of the best ways to learn Japanese is to work on activities that combine different areas of learning Japanese. While you would still need to focus on the separate categories of listening, reading, speaking and writing, a combination will help you assess your learning.
Seek a conversation partner to improve your Japanese speaking
To speak good Japanese you will need to practice speaking with a native speaker who you could help you learn and improve. Look for someone around you, in your neighbourhood, nearby community or online with apps like Tandem, Hello Talk, Italki, Languagepartners or Conversationpartners etcetera.
Make learning lively and interesting
Watch Japanese movies with English subtitles and English movies with Japanese-speaking subtitles. Hear and sing along Japanese songs. Watch Japanese TV, Talkshows, Documentaries etcetera to enjoy learning.
While there are many dialects and accents in Japan, experts agree that the largely monolingual status that exists here is very unusual. Most countries have many major languages that are commonly spoken within their territories. Little is known of the language’s prehistory, or when it first appeared in Japan. Chinese documents from the 3rd century recorded a few Japanese words, but substantial texts did not appear until the 8th century. During the Heian period (794–1185), the Chinese had considerable influence on the vocabulary and phonology of Old Japanese. Late Middle Japanese (1185–1600) included changes in features that brought it closer to the modern language and the first appearance of European loanwords.
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