Here are a few tips for those of you studying Japanese. Keep in mind that your own learning styles may differ to mine, try and find what works best for you.
Listen to Japanese daily. The single most important thing when learning a language is listening. Living in Japan makes things alot easier as you cant really avoid hearing Japanese. Watch Japanese TV, listen to Japanese music, go to the movies, anything to improve your listening ability.
I also recommend listening to a podcast called ‘Japanese POD 101’. They offer free lessons almost daily, and also have a premium subscription service with additional content.
Find ways to use and enjoy the Japanese you learn. You should try to find ways to use the Japanese you are learning. Speak with anyone you can, and make sure you are enjoying the conversation. Ill give you an example of what I mean.
I watch alot of anime, so I now have a fairly large Japanese slang repertoire. I usually try to speak in slang to my students, which gives them a good laugh. They usually love to teach me slang too, and I enjoy this kind of conversation.
My point being, enjoy your use of Japanese. While it is a tool, you should enjoy the language otherwise its going to be alot harder to learn.
Reading and Writing
The written form of the Japanese language is a pain in the ass. Hiragana (ひらがな) Katakana (カタカナ) and Kanji (漢字) all make up their written language. While learning Hiragana and Katakana are fairly simple, many students find Kanji a problem.
One of my friends recommended “Remembering the Kanji” by James W. Heisig. This book teaches the meaning of Kanji by breaking it up into parts, and associating meanings with the parts that make up a character. For example we have the character “exquisite” (妙) which is made up of the characters “female” (女) and “few” (少). To remember this Kanji, a short story is made similar to the following; There are only a few females in the world that look exquisite. This makes the characters much easier to remember. The only problem I have with this method is that it requires remembering only the meaning of the character, and not the reading (covered in another of his books). Also, some of the stories are complete and utter nonsense, by which I mean they aren’t really related to the Kanji, or are just too silly to comprehend.
Another great way to learn Kanji is by reading Manga. Japanese comic books usually have Kanji with Hiragana written above or next to them (onyomi).
“Reviewing the Kanji” (link) is a great complementary website to use in conjunction with “Remembering the Kanji”. You can add the flashcards (same number/ordering as the book) and then test how many you have remembered. The site also offers an option to review failed Kanji, where you can add your own story to the Kanji, or view other peoples stories. Highly recommended if you intend to study the Heisig way.
Japanese Pod 101 (link) also offers online learning resources, but requires a paid subscription to access most of their content.
There are alot of great tools online to help you, they are just a quick search away.
Oh, one more thing. If you are serious about learning the language I would highly recommend getting a private tutor at the very least. My Japanese is still very basic, filled with grammatical errors (like my English) and slang but I have studied it for more than 2 years (in New Zealand) and a year in Japan. My writing skills are worse, but I’m slowly getting better.
Does anyone out there have any other ‘Must Have’ ideas or tips for learning Japanese?