He adds: “Also, speak with a real native every single day! Private tutors who live in Japan on iTalki are only $5/hour – and you thought everything in Japan was expensive!”
Benny Lewis from fluentin3months.com sent me this contribution: “Controversial as this may be, and as much as others will definitely disagree with me, I highly recommend avoiding learning Kanji for the initial months (not always) if your goals in the language are more spoken based. If you are more focused on reading, ignore this tip, but working through just Kana (and Romaji) means that I have almost the same amount of work I'd have to learn a non-related European language to get to the same spoken level.”
John Fotheringham from Language Mastery got in touch with this interesting take on Japanese learning and motivation: “Today's Japanese learner has unprecedented access to high quality teachers and resources, but it is critical to understand that no book, course, or teacher can ever get the language into your head for you. This is not The Matrix, Neo. Languages are acquired, not taught, meaning that fluency rests not on how many hours your butt has been in a classroom, but by how much meaningful exposure and practice you've had. Fortunately, the Internet allows you to find interesting listening and reading input and opportunities to practice speaking and writing output no matter where in the world you live or how little money you have. The limiting factor is no longer access, but motivation.” John's written a guide on how to learn Japanese that is essential reading for anyone learning the language – click here to check it out.
NHK News Web Easy is the kind of site that the internet was made for. Up-to-date news made easier for Japanese learners, with audio recording and accompanying text (complete with furigana, definitions and some word filtering tools). Once you've mastered the easy version, you can click on the link to view the original full-length news report in black-belt level Japanese. Amazing stuff!
Just keep listening until you understand! How is this possible? Khatzumoto explains himself: “One of the more apparently “controversial” pieces of advice I've offered is to simply immerse in audio keep listening whether or not you understand the target language. It'll all just start to make sense. No doubt I am not the first person to have suggested this. At best I simply pushed the idea to its logical extreme…”
The secret is to use things or do things that you already like. Khatzumoto gives more detail: “If you lack certain strengths or have a lot of weaknesses, then exploit your weaknesses for the purpose of learning Japanese. If you like playing video games, watching movies or even playing sports, simply make sure you do all those things in Japanese and/or with Japanese people (I played with a soccer team made up entirely of Japanese students plus me; too bad I don't like soccer). You could go running and play Japanese music while you do it…there's enough stuff out there for all your tastes.”
Instead, bombard yourself with as much reading material as possible. Tae Kim says: “I personally recommend the “deluge” method of dumping your brain with TONS of interesting content. This means ploughing through pages of books and manga, hours of dialogue, and conversation practice forgetting more words than remembering them. Don't sit around wasting time entering and reviewing what you've already seen, just get more, more, and MORE STUFF!!! You'll be surprised at how much just seems to stick somehow like osmosis. Some people feel this is not effective because they end up forgetting so much stuff. They don't realise that the fact that they even remember forgetting it means they're learning it.”
Japanese Lingualift says: “The first pillar of intensive language learning is an SRS system such as Anki or Kleio and a good deck of sentences. Learning from sentences instead of individual words or characters will let you learn more efficiently, force you to learn in balanced manner, and motivate you as the additional context often makes the process more interesting and many of the sentences are readily usable. What's good about sentences is that you not only learn new words and Kanji, but also understand how to use them in context, and what their nuance is depending on how they are used.” He goes on to say: “As you have no time to waste, it's probably best to use a precompiled sentence deck shared by other users.” Interesting – do you agree?
Instead of having single words on your flashcards, or even complete sentences, challenge yourself by having the target language as a blank in the middle of a sentence. Khatzumoto gives this example. He goes on to talk about monolingual or bilingual flashcards: “Bilingual [flashcards] are good for when you lack the knowledge — or the context — to happily handle monolingual cards. Beginners, noobs and nervous nellies should focus just on bilingual cards. Just as with old skool sentence cards, don't go writing your own translations. If you're noob enough to need a translation, ya shouldn't be rolling your own.”
Although it’s pretty easy to teach yourself the finite syllabaries of hiragana and katakana, the essential stroke order is often casually discarded by language learning newbies. In English, writing your letters oddly is just a character quirk; in Japan it will be assumed that you couldn’t be bothered to learn it correctly. This assumption of laziness can also be attributed to you if you don’t learn to hold your chopsticks properly. There is a difference between finishing a pen stroke with a sudden stop or with a swoosh. Stroke order is an essential of learning the basics of kanji, so don’t skip it!