Recently I’ve been trying a lot of different methods of learning Japanese. My last post was about how great Hesig’s method of learning is and how learning the English meaning of the Kanji first is very important since it will give you a base to work from that can quite easily launch you into fluency.
But here’s the thing about Hesig’s method and learning all of the Kanji before anything else that I’ve realized: It’s boring. In fact, not only is it boring but it also lacks the most important thing you need when you’re working towards a goal, and that is a solid sense of progression.
Not to say that you aren’t progressing when you’re learning the English meaning of Kanji, because you definitely are. As of the writing of this post, I know the English meanings of nearly 300 Kanji, which is 270 more Kanji than I knew when I wrote my last post.
But despite that my progress has been slow because I find that just studying meanings of Kanji gets to be very boring. The reason? I never get to use the knowledge I’ve gained.
I don’t read a lot of Japanese. Since I don’t read Japanese very often, all these Kanji I now know never show up in my day to day life. The problem with that is that my brain subsequently files ‘Kanji Meanings’ under ‘Relatively Useless Information’ and the next time I go to study my motivation is in the toilet.
Worse, I avoid reading Japanese things because even with a solid knowledge of a few hundred Kanji, it’s very, very difficult to get a feel for what is being said, since most written Japanese also includes Katakana and Hiragana and if I don’t know what the combinations of those mean then I’m dead in the water anyway.
Don’t get me wrong though. I still think studying Kanji first is the way to go; but it’s not the only way to go.
I realized recently that I really enjoy using Pimsleur’s Japanese audio tapes, mostly because they give me a real sense of progress. I can have conversations with 桃 in the kitchen and actually understand what she’s saying. I also have the added benefit of being an auditory learner.
(Please don’t feel you should rush out and buy Piumsleur’s Japanese tapes. They are good, but I don’t think they’re for everyone and I also believe that it is entirely possible to learn Japanese for free so long as you find the right tools for you.)
Ironically, the tool that helped me learn the most Kanji was Smart.fm back when it was still free. In particular, there was a set of 30 Kanji that you could learn that had someone actually reading off the pronounciation of the Kanji every time it came up. It helped me attach the English meaning to the actual Japanese word and then if I ever heard it watching a movie I could say ‘Hey! They’re talking about Autumn/Cookies/Volcanoes/Pickled Beets!’ It was– and still is –extremely satisfying.
My point here is that auditory learning works for me. I retain it faster than I do if I study in a different way, and I see evidence of my progress almost right away, which is something that is integral to anyone’s motivation. More importanly, though: I like it. It makes what is really ‘studying’ not study but fun.
So my advice to you, speaking from experience? Find what works for you. We’ll post lots of different methods on Kanji and Tea as to what is working for us, what we find doesn’t work well for us and everything in between; but my suggestion to you is that if you find a method intriguing, no matter what someone said about it when you were first introduced to it, try it anyway!
It’s entirely possible that for you, auditory learning just doesn’t do it for you, but doing SRS (Spaced Repetition System) reps for your Kanji helps you retain the information very quickly. (I should note that I think everyone should use an SRS in some way shape or form, but you can modify that to any end.) Or, maybe audio programs are the way to go.
As long as you’re making progress towards learning the language, it doesn’t really matter how you’re making that progress. Try things, find what works for you and makes learning Japanese enjoyable and then be consistent with those things. Khatzumoto says quite often that the only way you can fail at learning Japanese is to quit. Khatzumoto is right.
Just keep going. You’re going to be spending that time anyway, right?
Learning Japanese At HomeOur goal for Kanji & Tea, aside from sharing our struggles and successes, is to help provide the everyday person with all the tools necessary to learn Japanese on their own through everyday immersion.
How did you learn your first language? Hands on and not through a text book! You listened, you watched, you absorbed. Well, what's stopping you from learning your second or third language that way? The answer is nothing.
You have everything you need to get started. All that's left is to just start.
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