My learning has mostly been me just learning individual words and recognizing individual kanjis and hiragana and then trying to use them when ever I can.
Is this the right approach or is there a better way?
Japanese is an East Asian language. Like Chinese or Korean it has a different writing system. How can you tackle it?
In my opinion, you shouldn't worry too much about writing in the beginner stages of the language unless it has to be with phonetic alphabets.
Once you have reach an Intermediate level, you should start taking writing system seriously in order to advance with the language. When that time comes, mnemonics is one of the best ways of learning characters.
If I were studying Japanese, I'd worry about the culture involved. As westerners, we must delve into the cultures of the Asian languages. The differences in the way of living, thinking and behaving are significative enough to do that. Otherwise, it's difficult to learn properly.
That's what I can tell you about Japanese in particular. I used to study Chinese so I have some idea of what it's like to learn a very different language.
Good luck in your learning!
In my opinion, the best learning method rank is this.
1. A language school. Preferably 5 days/week, 4~5 hours/day.
2. A personal teacher.
3. A book, a study plan to follow (ie, 2/3lessons/week) and actually follow the plan.
First of all, I'd like to point out some things. Each language is unique. It has its distinctive features that make it different from the rest. A language can be distinguished by its phonetics, its writing system and its grammar. However, all languages share one thing: they are systems of sounds and symbols that let different human ethnic groups communicate with each of its speakers. They are for real communication rather than for individual study.
As I said above, languages are united by its purpose but you can distinguish them by its features. Why do I point that out? Because I think that even though every language has its tips and tricks, there is some advise that applies to every language. There are certain things that you have to take into account no matter what language you are learning.
One of the best things you could do when learning a language is to diversify your learning. Do different things in your language learning routine. Study with books if they appeal to you. Listen to music or radios. Join a language course. Read articles in your language. And finally, find some natives to practice.
Are u a begginer? That's must not be a problem! You can also do many of the things I listed above. Nonetheless, you should focus on building your vocabulary and pronunciation firstly (if that's your case) without forgetting to put the language into use if you can.
Also, I think that having a teacher or tutor is very important (if you don't have them close to you, try italki) as they guide you in your learning and press you (in a good sense) to raise your level.
That's all for the general advise on learning a language. I'll write about Japanese below.