Alternative title: So how do I go about learning Japanese—or any language—anyway?
As I draw closer to the two-year mark in my Japanese language studies, I always wonder if the way I’m studying is the most efficient or useful. With such a huge number of learning resources out there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and not know where to start, or where to go from where you might find yourself in your studies.
For example, I expect most people who have tried to self-study Japanese on their own have come across the following things:
- All Japanese All The Time (AJATT)
- Rosetta Stone
- Remembering the Kanji (I’ll refer to this as RTK)
I have a particular interest in AJATT, not because I find his method (1. Memorize the Kanji via RTK 2. Memorize sentences 3. Now you’re fluent) especially useful, but because he lays out a self-study method very different than what is found in your average Japanese 101 class. In that respect, AJATT is unique, and the author’s inspirational blog posts are always fun to read. It’s also quite popular among the self-studying crowd, so I’ll address it briefly first.
To start, I don’t think AJATT is incredibly useful. The first step, RTK, asks learners to memorize how to write and the English meaning of each Kanji individually, but nothing else. As a result, I expect that the learner who starts with RTK is sure to find himself frustrated by the amount of study time he has put in compared to the amount he will be able to actually read or understand in Japanese.
Nonetheless, I am not against RTK as a method; in fact, I think it’s incredibly useful for remembering how to write Kanji and differentiate similar Kanji when reading. I just don’t think I would use it FIRST—to me, that seems the least helpful time to learn Kanji, when the student has had no other Japanese input.
How to Self-Study Effectively: Do it with Resistance!
One thing to note is that I actually have not self-studied Japanese—I took classes at my university. I don’t think classes are a bad idea, not because I found the textbook used (Nakama) very good, but because taking classes causes what I like to call resistance, or some sort of discomfort while learning.
A good teacher in a language-learning class will force you to constantly use the language you’re learning. You’ll have to use specific structures, talk with your equally-confused peers, and in general feel some sort of discomfort as you try to say something or use a new vocabulary term but have initial trouble doing so.
That’s what you should feel when you’re learning a language. The feeling that it’s hard, and that things aren’t going smoothly. Because when that feeling hits, you’re learning. However, the self-studier can easily remove any resistance in his learning by skipping reviews, or doing easier tasks; there is no teacher forcing him to interact or speak in a language using structures or vocabulary that are just above his level.
Perhaps the most dedicated student will plow through and always force himself to reach the resistance state, but in general, we’re lazy. The old adage that I could learn everything in college for the same price as a few late fees at the library rings true at first, but simply reading a book in the library without any pressure removes resistance, and in that same way, removes a good deal of the learning in the process.
School as an institution is something we resist. We don’t want to be there. We don’t want to go to class. We don’t want to do this stupid five-page essay assignment. By having others tell us what to do and giving us deadlines on when to do it, we experience resistance. But again, this resistance, in my view, is when we are learning the most. On average, the hard class will teach us more than the easy class—resistance follows that same idea.
How do I incorporate resistance into my self-studying?
I will actually save specific ideas and methods that I have devised for later posts, but for now, two of my better recommendations:
Pimsleur acts as a teacher, forcing you to respond and use the language; it’s very effective, and I would say the best resource to have when you’re in your beginning stage of learning. Shadowing forces you to use the language as well, and allows for not just aural learning, but practice in reading (and writing, if you go far enough) as well.
I will go into how these work (especially shadowing, since it seems vastly underrated in my opinion) in a later post. Until then, good luck studying!