Whenever people ask me how to learn Japanese, I always recommend doing this as early as possible. A great idea from learn-japanese-adventure.com. They say: “The association normally holds many activities to help the locals to learn to speak Japanese. These activities include dialogue sessions with native Japanese, speech contests, Japanese language courses and other cultural activities, aiming to foster the relationship with the local people, as well as helping the locals to appreciate the beauty of the language.” A quick Google search revealed well over 7 such groups in New York, for example.
As a way into a Japanese community, focus on learning songs that are relevant to your age group. “Karaoke is basically the unofficial national sport, says Jessica Aves. Japanese people love when foreigners can belt out their songs (the older it is, the louder they'll react) so get your practice in early. Karaoke groups are also a great way to make friends.” She tells you exactly which bands to listen to! [Note: Get your Japanese song lyrics from utamap.com]
James explains: “A lot of Japanese learners get quite shockingly embarrassed when they find out that the line they just repeated from Dragonball Z in the middle of the civilised dinner is the equivalent of shouting out “you motherf*****”. Some popular anime (popular in America at least, and mostly reserved for little boys in Japan) uses the kind of language which is in the real world almost exclusively reserved for Yakuza. Using that in polite company will make you look like a big foreign jerk.”
André Pinto wrote to me from Japan with a different point of view: “Learn the -masu and polite forms before the casual ones otherwise you may end up like some people in here who speak to the university teachers like they do with their friends.” [Which of these two views do you agree with? I have a very clear opinion on this…!]
William Peregoy wrote this piece of advice: “The Japanese don't like speaking formally…Drop the textbook formality, drop the complexity of polite forms, focus on the dictionary forms of the verbs first, speak casually, and make friends. That way, you can start having fun in the language quicker, and not worry so much about being formal and polite.”
“Whether it be your significant other who won't speak to you in Japanese, or the cashier at the store who insists on practicing his 6th grade-level English despite the obvious fact that your Japanese is waaaaaaaaay better, never forget that you — and only you — are in charge of your language learning. If you need to enroll in Japanese classes or private lessons to get the practice necessary, then do so. If you need to immerse yourself in a Japanese-only environment, then go for it. But blaming others for not speaking Japanese with you is unfair,” says Amy Chavez.
Get your Japanese questions answered for free at stackexchange.com. EXTRA: Learn these 28 insane Japanese conversation starters to start talking with anyone!
Japanese can fry your brain. Judith Meyer got in touch to offer some ideas for what to do when that happens: “If you're having an off day or if your brain is already tired of studying, see if you might be able to watch Japanese videos, for example your favourite anime. This is a way to keep Japanese active in your brain without the strain of studying a textbook or doing Anki. Some recommended video resources: For absolute beginners: Let's Learn Japanese. For upper beginners: Erin's Challenge. For everyone: Understand Your Favourite TV Series in 30 days. Judith's put down 71 other ideas for learning Japanese in a an e-book.
Why not? The Matador Network says: “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!” Note from Olly: Kickstart your Japanese by learning hiragana in just a few hours. Click here to find out how.
Once you've finished the last season of Breaking Bad, start getting your daily TV fix with Japanese dramas. If you've been studying with text books, this approach will give you some valuable exposure to less formal, everyday language. Gooddrama.net is your one-stop-shop.