If you’re passionate about getting fluent in Japanese, the last thing you want is to put all your attention on drills and tests. You need authentic language learning opportunities that’ll get you comfortable having real conversations with native speakers. In this article, we’ll show you three effective but engaging tips for learning Japanese right from your own home. These ideas can provide awesome supplements to any structured Japanese courses or programs you’re pursuing, or they can stand alone to boost your skills in new ways.
1. Ditch the Handwriting Drills
Students of Japanese often spend far too much time memorizing stroke orders, and not enough time on what’ll prove the most useful in their studies: learning to read, speak and listen. In real life, most of us type on our phones and computers and rarely write by hand.
The same even applies to native Japanese speakers. There’s a growing phenomenon of Japanese people forgetting how to handwrite kanji because they hardly ever have to. On the flip side, it’s not unusual to meet students who’ve studied Japanese for several years, and can handwrite far more kanji than their native Japanese counterparts, but struggle to use the language in real-life settings.
Of course, being able to write the 仮名 (かな — kana) is naturally very important, but over 2,000 joyo kanji? You need to read them to be fluent, but do you really need to handwrite even half of them?
With the limited time that you have available in your studies, and so much to learn before achieving native fluency, consider putting handwriting on the back burner and focusing instead on the skills that’ll add more immediate value to your Japanese studies. Use your reclaimed time to read more, talk more, watch more and basically practice using the language in a way that the Japanese are actually using it themselves.
That said, this doesn’t mean you can get away with not handwriting any kanji, especially if you’re planning to spend time in Japan. There’s still a lot of bureaucracy and forms in Japan; it can be rather embarrassing when you can converse fluently even on arcane academic subjects but need to use Google to look up the kanji for your address.
The clerk at Town Hall will probably look pretty confused when you have a nice long chat about the ins and outs of local government and then watch your ardent struggle to write down where you live.
2. Learn Casual Japanese from Manga
As anyone who has even just have a passing interest in Japanese pop culture knows, there’s a manga for pretty much everything. From history to statistics, the Japanese learn about all sorts of fascinating educational subjects through manga, so you can double-down and practice your Japanese language skills while broadening your horizons as well.
Of course, life isn’t all about winning at Trivial Pursuit, so for something lighter, more entertaining, but also just as useful to your Japanese studies, you can skip the educational-manga genre entirely; so much can also be learned by following the exciting adventures of an alien girl with a squid on her head.
By studying with manga, you’ll be learning lessons that don’t generally come in textbooks. Japanese is a living language, with slang, casual speech, and all sorts of words that you wouldn’t use at your university or at the office, but that people use every day with their friends and family. Studying with manga is all about getting exposure to the fun stuff!
A lot of this sort of casual speech is used in anime, too, but the benefit of manga is that it’s happening as fast or as slow as you read, and you’ve got plenty of time to Google terms that you’re unfamiliar with, instead of frantically pressing pause and rewind every time you miss something.
3. Learn What You Love
Pairing your passions with your Japanese study in this way will do wonders for your motivation to learn. Studying Japanese won’t be a chore—it’ll be something you’re inherently driven to do.
Think about the ways that you learn best, what you love and adapt it to your free-study time. Are you an oral or a visual learner? Do you feel like reading some fashion magazines today, or are you in the mood to watch some documentaries? Pretty much all the things that you enjoy doing in English, you can work toward being able to do fluently in Japanese.
There are a ton of Japanese-language films and shows on sites like Netflix and Hulu, and you can buy Japanese magazines on websites like YesAsia. With the huge number of Japanese media out there on the web, you can make your language learning experience a whole lot of fun!