Advice from an Infidel
Don't be an Infidel
I've been studying Japanese for well over 14 years now and for all that I've not made the progress I should have. In my many attempts to take short-cuts and try different methods, I often set my self back three steps for every step I took forward. Sometimes in searching for a better way, I would find one, but then I would be dissatisfied and drop a good thing in search of something even better. In short, I'm an expert on what not to do. What I'm going to do here is dedicate this page for all new students of Japanese in hopes of getting them to benefit and learn from my mistakes so you don't spend more time and effort learning Japanese than necessary.
It will probably take me a few weeks to get this page fully fleshed out. I've a lot to say on this subject.
Follow good study habits
While everyone thinks they know what consists of good habits, there are a few not-so-well-known points, and studying a language requires a few specialized habits as well.
The three month rule
Studies have shown that it takes about 3 months to create a new habit. Once something--in this case studying--becomes habitual, it is much easier to continue even when some other activity or change of attitude would distract you or cause you to give up. So make 3 months of habitual study your first goal.
Many short term goals are better than few long term goals
One of the most common mistakes a new Japanese student makes is to make memorizing the 1950 jouyou kanji a high priority. While this is a good long term goal, and the new students do at least realize it is a long term goal, they fail to see the big picture. Even if you do use a program like Heisig's Remembering the Kanji it won't save you from having to look up just about every new word you encounter. The truth is, you don't need to learn 1950 kanji before you can start reading productively, so setting a goal like this can actually set you back contrary to how it may first appear. expand on this on another page
Instead, set up a basic short term goal. Study a minimum of 15 minutes a day, with at least five minutes of review. This is what you would do if some activity came up, like a family reunion that would prevent normal study.
Let your textbook determine the rest of your short term goals for a while. Generally, I try to do one set of workbook exercises a day with 10-15 minutes of review. If you keep plugging away at your textbook, you will find yourself achieving many of your long term goals when you look back and consider how much you accomplished.
The breaks are as important as the effort
Like a sponge, even though we can ultimately manipulate a practically unlimited amount of information, the rate we can absorb information is limited. For most people, this is about 15-30 minutes of uninterrupted study. Ideally, after 30 minutes of study, take an hour break, then come back later for another 30 minutes.
When you break off in this way, you will notice yourself thinking over the material just studied. This is your brain attempting to assimilate the information and is an important function of breaking. Allow your brain to do its thing by going along with it. For example, if your brain decides to start repeating a certain word or drawing a kanji in your mind, then repeat the word aloud and imagine drawing the kanji in your head. In general, this will involve zero strain, if you do find yourself straining--just a little--to remember something, so that you feel that remembering is just at the edge of your conscious thought. If possible, go back to your reference material immediately and look it up, close the book, and try to remember it again. At this point, you've usually assimilated the info into long term memory.
The brain is designed to absorb information and correlate it, but not in any particular order. When we study a list of 20 words, we have no control over the order those 20 words are learned. Luckily, the brain doesn't stop working when we close our books. Learning to effectively utilize breaks will more than double the effectiveness of your study time.