How (not) to “DIY: Learn Japanese”

The effectiveness of this method has not been tested scientifically. Any brain damage, feelings of slight discomfort and breaking of disbelief is to be held on one’s own account.

Yune

I couldn't find a relevant picture, but Yune is always relevant.

I can still recall this moment clearly. Around 2005, I was watching Air TV and its beautiful opening, Tori no Uta, started playing. I was reading the karaoke with the English lyrics and the concept of romaji was rather obvious. Then I took note of recurring bits and parts. I started to read with the line of kanji (Chinese characters). And so I began learning Japanese.

Karaoke helped me out a lot during the first few months of just trying to figure things out (note: I was a clueless 12- or 13-year old at the time). It started with learning a few hiragana symbols, a kanji here and there. The things I saw frequently in the karaoke were more easily remembered. Particles like は, こ,  に or simple kanji like 水. It wasn’t much but it was a start.

Afterwards I started getting a basic grasp of how sentences flowed, a few standard expressions, getting familiar with the SOV structure. I didn’t figure these out consciously of course, but I was feeling how the language flowed. In my opinion one of the most important things to try to grasp when learning a language.

Only then did I start learning the grammar. And I used the Wikipedia page on Japanese grammar for it. Vocabulary is something I was and still am learning along the way, because, in learning any language, vocabulary is a lot of memorization and memorization is boring.

To help that, I try to visit a lot of Japanese sites of interest, follow Japanese twitter accounts, ask people to converse in Japanese with me. Say they type a kanji I don’t know, it will be my curiosity that drives me to the translation and hopefully the end result will be a newly learned character.

I wouldn’t recommend this way of starting out learning a language to anyone. I learned all of this out of curiosity and that’s fine, really! I love being able to speak other languages and having a driving factor is most important. Anime is generally really simple and easy to understand. Feeling the language is still important. Understanding the grammar is something that goes without saying. But there’s still a high risk of learning something in the wrong way. For instance, when I started out I didn’t have a clue about stroke orders. I relied on sometimes shoddy translations. You actually risk getting the wrong feel out of it and that is lethal.

The goal for next year is to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test 3, or simply JLPT3 (there are 5 levels, with JLPT1 being the highest level). I think it’s a very realistic goal. I also think it’s a good way to test my skills and to see at what level I’m currently at. Should I be satisfied with my result, I’ll aim for JLPT2 the year after that. It’s the year I’m planning to go to Japan. Of course, that means I’ll have to do a lot of memorization.

For those of you who were expecting a way to DIY Learn how to Japanese, here’s an ordered list of things you should do:

  1. Memorize all hiragana (1 week)
  2. Memorize all katakana (1 week)
  3. Learn basic grammar (?? weeks)
  4. Immerse yourself in the language (lifetime)
  5. Learn vocabulary (lifetime)

You can see my teaching skills and experience come into play.

If you have any specific questions or are just curious about the intricacies of the Japanese language, I really like the (English-speaking) “Japanese” question board on StackExchange. If you have any sites like these I’d love to hear it.

Maybe a bit too relevant.

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