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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Lesson 1.5: Reinforcing What you Learn

As I said before lessons are the foundation of Japanese learning and what you take in as your foundation will help you better understand what you need in learning the language. But what about when you want to apply your knowledge beyond an academic setting? Here are a few things you can use to help immerse yourself in the language and build on what you know. 

1. Children's books & Manga

Since many people who study the language are hoping to be able to read these, these will make an excellent way to introduce you to a couple key things. Firstly, that romaji pretty much goes out the window when you get into their media, and secondly that you become introduced to newer and newer terms and ways of speaking to incorporate into your Japanese arsenal. One title I would recommend for this purpose is Yotsuba&!, and from there any titles that contain furigana(smaller printed Hiragana written along the kanji words for the younger readers/people learning about the language to pick up on that kanji's reading and build upon). Once you feel content in your knowledge of Kanji and kanji compounds(more on those later on), go for the titles that contain no furigana to translate and read(which is often the case with newspapers, magazines and many doujinshi, or self published litreature, popularly referring to comics, but also allpies to books and other such products).

PRO TIP: Don't take on Newspaper reading until your language skill is considerably advanced, enough so to pass the higher levels of proficiency tests. You'll thank me when you're not pulling your hair out

Recommended kids stories: Take a look here to see a sampling

2. Consume other Japanese media

This includes reading books(again, seriously advanced language skills needed) listening to music, watching Dramas and movies and so on. Not only will this help you better understand the pace and pronunciation, but how intonation and other factors can affect how your words are perceived. I don't really recommend using anime for this purpose, however, as what is said there can be as subtle as getting slapped by a ham, and about as fruitful when used. For both previously mentioned methods, a good Japanese-English/English-Japanese dictionary is indispensable to have in your collection, so be sure to snag one ASAP.

Recommendations: Crunchyroll(for subtitled works) and KeyHoleTV(to watch it live from Japan as it happens, and even backed by the Japanese gov't). For dictionaries, I highly recommend the (totally won't fit in your)Pocket Kenkyusha Japanese Dictionary, as it gives you a written pitch guide for each word, examples, syntonyms(similar words), antonyms(words with an opposing meaning), and even teaches about about the culture. If you're an absolute beginner, the Oxfords Beginners Japanese Dictionary will serve you well.

3. Make friends with other learners/Japanese penpals

This will help you in not only learning, but using what you know in a social context. And in this day and age, there are many means to actually write to them and talk to them. So by all means, go on and use them and improve your language skills. No use in knowing so many words and terms if you don't know how to use them.

Recommendations: PenPal WorldPenPal NetInterpalsJapan Guide Classifieds, and My Language Exchange, among a plethora of others out there.

And for the most important step of all...

Take classes & talk to people

No amount of book reading, pen pal'ing or media consuming can substitute for a class taught by a real teacher with other students with you learning the language and picking up the same stuff you do, especially not this(as I am also a student, and do get things wrong now and then). It doesn't matter if it's online or off, find a class, enroll and pay attention. If one does not strengthen the roots, the tree is soon to whither away. Now more than ever there are many ways to do it, use the will in you and use them.

The same goes for actually talking to people in Japanese. You may end up lost in a lot of initial conversations(since the Japanese you know will be very different from the Japanese they know) and lead to say things you might not agree with if you understood them, but doing it is how you realize where your shortcomings are and where you can improve yourself. Listen to the people around and let them teach you about different ways to speak, as well as how wildly different a person's range of vocabulary can be from one to the next. After all, what would the point of learning Japanese if it's not utilized in the ultimate setting: among the people who use it, who come from all ranges of life. Make mistakes, learn from them, and enjoy not only the process, but also the pure act of communication

Recommendations: Apricotweb(where I got my start speaking to natives) and Skype(I can't recommend this highly enough, especially since, provided you have a mic, it enables real time voice chat with people from around the world, without the cost of an international phone call)

(note, from this lesson on, I'll be using hiragana, Katakana and Kanji for what I teach, so be sure to have your system updated with the software needed to read Japanese characters)

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