Japanese is a tough language to master. In fact, all foreign languages are. At the beginning, you learn so much so quickly. But, then it gets to a point where continuing to improve is such a struggle. Many students get discouraged at this time, but I’ve found some ways to keep your love of learning Japanese alive and well. Here are three of them that get you speeding up your fluency.
1. Learn with a partner
Everyone knows you have to practice your Japanese to improve. But, it’s hard to speak or use what you’ve only studied by yourself. So what can you do? First, take advantage of italki’s language exchange program and find yourself a partner. Or, search for a language partner in your native country. Learning with someone else is simply more fun. And, when learning is fun, it’s also lot easier.
If you can’t find a partner, turn your italki teacher into one -- don’t just passively listen and repeat your lessons, but have conversations with him or her! How can you do this?
For your next lesson, come up with a topic that you would like to talk about and start talking! Don’t always depend on your teacher to bring up topics. Answer your teacher’s questions, of course, but you also need to ask your teacher questions as well (and don’t only ask about grammar or the meaning of a word). There are so many things you can ask about -- Japanese culture, for example. Why do this? Because, asking questions in another language is a crucial skill. You can answer questions all you want, but you still won’t know how to ask questions until you try. This was actually the case with some of my own students until I pushed them to ask questions.
2. Take notes
Do you have a paper and pen? Get them out and start using them.
If you use SKYPE, you can also use the SMS or chat function to take notes on what the lesson is about. At the end, you can copy the transcript to a file and go over what you learned or still have questions about. If you don’t understand something, ask your teacher to type what he or she is saying. Suddenly, that word will make sense to you, and so will the pronunciation.
In Japanese, we have many ways to say or to express things that you just can’t learn from textbooks. As you already know, we speak in a more natural way than is shown in your textbooks. As soon as you start conversing with your teacher, you’ll notice this. Of course, studying grammar with textbooks or worksheets may be necessary, but along with that, take notes on what a native Japanese speaker says in regular conversation. Then you will see the language in a whole new way.
Another important thing: don’t rely too much on an online translator, but use a real dictionary if you need to. Using an online translator is helpful, but it doesn’t help you memorize words so much. However, a real dictionary is more useful because it gives you a more thorough explanation and has some good examples. You also have time with a real dictionary to copy down the word, its meaning and examples of how it’s used.
3. Raise your goal
When I started learning English for the first time, my purpose was to write a fan letter to my favorite foreign singer. I was only a child， but I asked my mother to buy me a small dictionary and to, hopefully, let me go to an English language exchange group.
Thankfully, she did. So I went to the language group for six months, but I still had no writing skills. All I learned were just easy greetings and phrases. I was still very far from my goal. So, I changed my goal. My new goal was to be at a communicative level.
Big change! But, it worked. I started learning English on my own for some months and when I entered junior high school, I had no problem with my English; I had already reached the average level for a junior high school student. It was still hard to speak to a native, but I had enough vocabulary and grammar to speak to students of my own age.
So, what is your goal? Do you just want to know some easy Japanese words and phrases? Then make your new goal to be an upper-intermediate Japanese speaker.
Or, do you want to reach a fluent conversational level? If this is your goal, then aim higher; aim to be a proficient speaker. With a higher goal you can always achieve the lower one. So, from my experience, I recommend that you make your goal higher than your original aim. I’m sure it will work for you as it did for me!
Edited by Ilene Springer