Study Tips Part II by Kinch
Submitted by kinch
First and foremost, I think it's important to stress that planning and strategy is a vital part of any study. Make set goals for yourself, build a plan, and stick to it. Working on the theory of "I'll study whatever I fancy at any particular time" is a bad way to start. There are numerous study materials out there: Textbooks, audio courses, games, children's books, grammar books, vocabulary lists, songs, tv shows... the list goes on. Finding a good resource for beginners is often an excellent first step.
Another part of your plan should be variety. Listening to the same audio lessons is okay, but after a while it looses the impact. Spice things up a bit, using some of the resources listed above. A textbook will often provide you with basic grammar. Then you have vocabulary lists. Once they get boring, kick back with some audio lessons. After them, you can try your hand at games or children's stories. Remember what I said earlier about practicing every day? If you can utilise all those things (particularly vocabulary) in your daily practice, you'll be off to an excellent start.
There are several tools out there designed to help you memorise things. Two that spring immediately to mind are Super Memo, and MindLifter. These tools work on the same principle as Pimsleur (or maybe it's the other way around). The idea is that after a while, your brain starts to forget things. If you're prompted to recall that thing just before you forget it, the next duration for forgetting will be slightly longer, and so you need to be reminded of it again. I've spoken to people who swear by those applications and say that they now can keep a list of several thousand items memorised simply by spending a few minutes a day refreshing the items that are due to be forgotten. I've found both those tools (particularly Super Memo) to be very, very difficult to get working properly, and have yet to have my own success with them. Your mileage may vary.
Here's another memory tip. Sleep. Sleep deprivation has been shown to have devastating effects on the brain, learning, and memory. Staying awake for those few extra hours of learning may seem like a good idea, but all the research seems to indicate that the sleep would be more beneficial. Most discussions recommend the minimum of 7 or 8 hours sleep per night for studying. While on the topic, diet and exercise are also touted as being important. The brain apparently uses 20% of the oxygen we breathe in. With diet and exercise, you have better blood circulation, and more oxygen going to the brain. Again, this is open to personal interpretation.
Here's something to try to avoid doing. It's a mistake I've made over the last few months. Library building. I have downloaded every single Japanese learning resource I can find. Books, audio, webpages, video shows, and more. I have copies of numerous things taken from my local library. If I had to make a conservative guess, probably close to 2GB of stuff is just sitting here. But I don't know which of it to use. Why? No study plan. If you're working you're way through a course that you know will take you another few months, don't download an extra course. Stick with the one you're on. Finish it. Then you can look for what to do next. I'm sure that if I learned everything that I have here, I'd be fluent in Japanese. But making a good study plan when you have an over-abundance of items just makes it harder.
How to Begin
Write out a plan. Write out which audio course you want to start with, which textbook, which games, which... whatever. It's up to you. You can find numerous recommendations both on the web, and on these pages, and I will provide some of my own. You will need a tutor. Someone who speaks the language better than you. If you're not doing a course at school/university, you need to find friends who are skilled in Japanese, who you can ask complex grammar questions, and who can answer them for you. Personally, I recommend Japanese natives who speak English. There are lots of them out there, and the Japanese page's Friends page is a good place to start. You may even be surprised to see the Japanese person knows more English than you. I certainly found that out (one of my Japanese friends knows what a 'copula' is, whereas I don't. I still don't. I know it's a grammar thing, but I have no idea what it's supposed to represent, nor do I much care). Try to get as many friends as you can, and spend as much time writing letters to them (or online chats). Practice practice practice. If you're actually communicating with someone, it's all the better. Another thing I would recommend (although it's a subject of some debate) is to learn hiragana/katakana as much as possible. This is another part of your plan that I forgot to mention earlier. Kanji. You need to decide now whether you will study kanji, and how. Kanji is almost like another language on top of japanese that you have to learn. It's of course vital to learn if you're going to be reading a lot of Japanese. But each person must decide on their own. Even if you have no plans of reading kanji at all, I still recommend learning to read hiragana as fluently as possible.
Next (this will depend partly on your study resources) you need to decide how you're going to advance. There are many vocabulary lists available. For example, you could choose to focus on the JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) words, in the hope of passing that. You can focus on the 1945 Jouyou kanji, and use them as a basis for learning. You can find a children's school textbook for grade 1 and learn the way a child would learn going through the Japanese education system. It's up to you, and each will have benefits and limitations. Do a bit of research before-hand, choose your path, and write it into your plan. Maybe you'll focus on business words? Or entertainment? Or maybe the important words for personal communication? It's up to you, and it depends partly on your goals for the language.
Well, there's an idea on how to start, and some things you might try. I had a few other things to say, but they might have to wait until part #3. For now, hopefully this will get you started on the right track.