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How to Learn Japanese

Simon Reynolds
extent). Learning hiragana is worthwhile but there is less “instant gratification” as without a vocabulary you
will have to look unknown words up in the dictionary. You will not be able to read notices or newspaper
articles without a thorough knowledge of kanji.
Finally, and this is the course I recommend, you could learn kana and kanji. As stated, there are about 100
kana. These should be learnt first and shouldn't pose too much difficulty. The main hurdle is the kanji. There
are 1945 jouyou (everyday use) kanji and about another 100 name kanji (names are notoriously difficult to
read). Each kanji may contain up to 30 strokes (although the majority contain much less than this) and can
have several pronunciations.
Learning kanji is difficult but not impossible and the skill is sure to impress most people you meet. There are
several other reasons for learning kanji, the chief one being that they are essential to read real Japanese and
distinguish between the many homonyms inherent in Japanese. In addition, many consider they are
aesthetically pleasing. The topic of learning kanji is covered in more detail below.
Approaches to learning
Now that you have decided to learn Japanese let’s look at some effective ways to study. Previous experience
studying other languages will help you a little as you will know what kind of methods work for you and you
will have some kind of idea of the time and effort involved.
Japanese is very different to English and thus harder for English speakers to learn than a relatively similar
language like, say, French. Koreans tend to pick up Japanese quite quickly as Korean and Japanese
grammar share some similarities. Likewise, Chinese people have a tremendous advantage with the writing
system as they learn kanji at school. A background in either of these two languages would definitely be
beneficial; however, it is perfectly possible to learn from scratch. Indeed, English speakers actually have one
advantage over Chinese speakers as Japanese borrows many words from English.
Finding a teacher
Once you have read a couple of books and articles and memorised the most common phrases, it's worth
finding yourself a teacher. Most people will not become fluent in Japanese without some kind of teacher.
Sadly, it has been my experience that good Japanese teachers are hard to find.
A good teacher should want you to improve, make learning interesting (up to a point), speak at a level you
can understand or almost understand and correct your mistakes and give you feedback. They should adapt
their teaching methods to suit your learning style. They should not leave you behind to concentrate on more
advanced students nor hold you back at the pace of lower level students.
A good teacher is not necessarily a professional; by having an understanding of what you need as a student
you can turn friends or language partners into effective teachers. A good teacher does not necessarily have
to speak English well; certainly, the less English they use in class, the better.
It's essential to remember final responsibility for your improvement rests with you, not your teacher. If you
don't put the intellectual effort in, you will not reach your goals.
Let's look at some of your options.
Language schools
There are many private language schools in Japan and these usually charge around 2-3 thousand yen per
hour for a group class of anything up to 10 students. Students can be from various countries which can lead
to problems as the English speakers struggle to keep up with the Koreans and Chinese. Find a class where
you do not struggle at the bottom or become bored at the top. Many schools will operate a level system
based on exams.
You will likely have to pay in advance to enter a school like this so I strongly suggest caution before spending
a great deal of money. Do other foreigners recommend the place? What difference did it make to their
Japanese? I have seen many people drop out of such courses for a number of reasons ranging from a
change of employer and schedule to inability to keep up with the homework.
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