I’ve been podcasting now for a little over 6 months with 36 episodes under my belt. I appreciate everyone that has tagged along for the trip. I was wondering if I could ask you little bit of a favor though.
I’d like to know what you’d like to learn about and hear about on the podcast. I have a lot of things planned for the next couple of weeks, but I’d like to customize the podcast as much as possible. So, if you have some time (just a few minutes), could you fill out a little survey for me. Thanks for your time and your support over the last 6+ months.
Starting from Scratch
This week, I want to say a few words about starting from scratch. I think a lot of people have trouble starting out in a language. It can be tricky to get a handle on the language. Especially when we’ve been taught incorrectly how to learn a language in high school.
I especially had a rocky start. I took a year of Japanese at a city college before I came to Japan. I did my best to study and practice the sentences and words that we were going over in class and generally got good grades. However, when I got to Japan, I felt like I could just barely speak the language. I could hardly order something at McDonald’s. I was a bit hopeless to say the least.
So, I kept up my studies of the language. I diligently did my homework and listened to Japanese conversations. I went through a silent period, which is what everyone is suppose to do right? Well, that silent period just kept continuing despite being in Japan for 6 months. And, I could still hardly make a hotel reservation.
My co-worker recommended a tutor and I immediately started my tutor sessions with her. It really started opening things up for me. I started getting conversation practice and being able to test out the new vocabulary and grammar that I learned. It really helped.
Note that I said tutor and not a class. Classes are good for some people, they are social; you can get a lot of practice with a lot of different people; there are other students that ask questions that you don’t think about. But, classes may not be for everybody. You might make solid progress just with a tutor instead.
How to Hit the Ground Running
If I had to start all over again, I would probably learn kana as soon as I could. Knowing how to read the language natively (the way it is suppose to be read) is invaluable. It can help you do more reading and will give you a jump start because you’ll be able to read some things in Japanese.
A good book to help you learn kana in about 3 hours (yes, it actually only takes about 3 hours) is Remembering the Kana (US Amazon). I used this book and completely eliminated the need for boring drills. Between this and Kanji Pict-o-Graphix (US Amazon) I mastered all the kana pretty quickly.
After learning kana, I would get three things, a grammar book of some kind, a phrase book, and some listening material. The grammar book, I would use as a reference and learning tool. I’d work through it slowly and not make it my primary thing to study from. You need grammar, but you don’t need to overdo it. Also it’ll be handy if it has an index of some kind so that you can easily look up grammar points that you encounter.
For a plain vanilla grammar book, I recommend Minna no Nihongo’s shokyu book. It is a bit pricey, but it packs the right grammar into one solid book. There are CDs that go with it, as well as a workbook. I never got the workbook or CDs, I practiced the conversations with my tutor. I think they would be handy if you have the time to study with them though. Please note, that this book uses exclusively kana, so be sure you are good at kana before starting this series. You may want to get the Translation and Grammar Notes for explanations of the grammar (in your native language) as well.
The second thing to get is a phrase book. This is useful if you are in country and you want to get started speaking to natives as soon as you can. There are two phrasebooks that are on the top of the heap. The Lonely Planet Japanese Phrasebook (US Amazon) and the Berlitz Phrasebook (US Amazon). The Lonely Planet guide seems to be more popular, but has mistakes. The Berlitz guide is bigger but has more correct phrases.
A new phrasebook has also come out from Tuttle – Essential Japanese (US). I like this one a lot because it seems to be sorted a little better than some of the other offerings. It also has a handy drawing of camping gear.
Will they have romaji? Yes, probably. Are they going to teach you any grammar? No, not really. The reason why I recommend a phrase book is so that you can jump headlong into the language without getting bogged down in grammar and vocab details. With a phrase book and you can simply open it up and say something out of it and you are in a conversation. Yes, it is a little embarrassing to do so, but the sooner you get hands on experience with the language the better.
The last thing I would recommend getting is some listening material to help you get used to hearing the language. I’ve been listening to Japanesepod101 for awhile now (3+ years). They have a lot of different levels and even if I listen to the beginner series I can learn new stuff. TIP: sign up for the mailing list and try it out for awhile. About every 3 months they have a sale. If you like it, you can buy a subscription then and usually save around 25%.
And the last thing to do is to ‘go native’ as soon as you can. This can either be reading online blog articles with Rikaichan (for Firefox) or Rikaikun (for Chrome) or watching JDramas, JMovies, talking to some native speakers. Anything will do, but having native-level exposure to the language from the beginning is a key to quick learning.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out? What are some of the mistakes you made?
P.S. I’m now in iTunes. If you like the podcast, please be sure to visit iTunes and leave me a review. If you have comments or suggestions for the podcast, by all means let me know in the comments below or contact me and let me know what I can do to improve the show. Thanks!