My inspiration found me in the shape of a student I first met six months ago. She had just started taking English lessons, and though she was a beginner language learner, she took lots of notes, studied on her own, and was really fun to talk to. We had lessons regularly for a while, but then I didn’t see her for a month or two (at my company, it’s common for students to move between teachers). Recently, I had my first lesson with her since this short break, and I was amazed at how much her English had improved. Her grammar and understanding, even her listening ability, was on a level much higher than when she’d started.
Which made me focus on the truth about myself: I’ve been lazy. After a year and a half of living in Japan, my language is ability is quite lower than I’d intended. My excuses? Japanese is really difficult. It’s hard to find people to practice speaking with. I teach my own language all day and am too tired to learn another one in my off times.
And on and on. So now, here I am, with four months left of living in this beautiful country, and I’m just now getting serious with my studying. (To be fair, I’ve been studying the whole time. But it’s been pretty passive and sporadic.) I’m not one of those people who can sit down with a language workbook and pay attention for more than five minutes. But after teaching and talking to more than a hundred students over the past year, I’ve discovered a few secrets to more efficient language learning.
The main one? Immersion. Absolutely everything you can do/watch/listen to/say in another language should be done/watched/listened to/said. Netflix and chill? Put on the language dub (with or without subtitles). Listening to music? Choose some from the language you’re learning. Immerse yourself. Reading a book? Find one in *insert language* here. Even if it’s only a children’s book, you’ll see improvement.
Here’s how I’ve been studying (in addition to the above – practice what you preach, right?):
Memrise. It’s an app/website with hundreds of “courses” for every language. You learn through flashcards, memory tips, and lots of repetition. (Duolingo is also pretty good, but it doesn’t have a lot of material for Japanese yet.)
Audiobooks. I chose something I know very well: Harry Potter. It wasn’t particularly cheap (whatever 17 pounds is in yen) and I honestly only understand about 10% of it. But, through knowing the story and being able to pick out various words and phrases here and there, it’s helping me keep up with listening to Japanese at a natural speed (read: incredibly fast).
Kindle books. I’m actually able to read Japanese much easier than I can speak it. Weird, I know. But I’ve found a book of Japanese stories written in Japanese first, then English, and a whole load of vocab and grammar explanation. I got SO excited about running into kanji I didn’t know, being able to pick it up through context clues, and understanding most of what I read, and that’s the kind of feeling that keeps you motivated.
Tandem. A language exchange app similar to Hello Talk, where language learners can pair up with their opposite (for example, for me, someone who speaks Japanese and is learning English), and start conversations with each other. The apps have built-in editing and correcting tools, so you’re both the student and the teacher, for free. Where Hello Talk has a somewhat Facebook-like setup, Tandem is a bit more like Twitter, which I for some reason prefer. Both have messaging as the initial communication, but also have the ability to voice or video call if you want to practice in real-time.
My goal? To make it to N4 abilities before I leave. Wish me luck!