Have you wondered why some people learn a language better than others? I've had a long time to think about this subject, because I've spent most of my adult life using my second language - English. When I moved to the U.S 16 years ago, I spoke very little English. After many trials and errors I began to realize some essential knowledge that applied to acquiring English that no one had taught me. And then I realized that the same principle applied to learning Japanese, while teaching Japanese to Americans. Here are 6 tips for learning Japanese:
1. Let go of your fear of being embarrassed
I think this is the most important aspect of learning any language - let go of your fear of being embarrassed.
When we're trying to speak a language we don't know very well, it is natural to be self-conscious. We want to pronounce words correctly while appearing intelligible. But being concerned about these things won't help you improve the language. You're going to make mistakes and possibly going to embarrass yourself. The sooner you accept that, the faster you'll become fluent.
And here is a good news: No one cares about your mistakes as much as you do. So don't worry about it and move on.
2. Speak clearly and loudly
Japanese people speak to each other as if they were whispering or mumbling. But if you spoke in this matter with your beginner's Japanese, they can't understand you.
Believe it or not, sometimes it is a simple matter of speaking loudly, clearly, and slowly that will help a person understand you. This is related to the first point - Don't be afraid of making mistakes. So when people don't understand you, here is what I want you to do: First, repeat exactly what you just said, but do so more clearly and loudly. Then, if the person still does not understand you, try a different word or a sentence.
3. Practice it every day
Learning a language is very much like learning to play a musical instrument. It's better to practice it 15 minutes every day than 1 hour once a week. Learning a language takes discipline, commitment, and willingness to do the same thing over and over again until you master it.
4. Develop a good sense of hearing
Having a good sense of hearing is imperative to learning a new language, because it requires you to distinguish subtle nuances in sound. I believe that being a musician has helped me learn new languages over the years.
So how does one develop a good sense of hearing? For starters, turn down the volume when listening to music or watching TV. Listening to loud sounds can damage your ears, and it has long term consequences.
5. Learn Japanese from a person of the same sex
This is very important if you want to learn casual/informal Japanese, because Japanese men and women speak quite different when speaking casually (We speak polite forms similarly).
Over the years I've met many American men who speak Japanese like Japanese women, because they learned it from their Japanese ex-girlfriends or female friends. As you can imagine this is not the most attractive thing.
6. Find a person who wants to understand you
How well someone understands you has partly to do with how well you speak the language, and partly to do with how much they want to understand you. You probably already know this, because it's the same thing even when two people speak the same language.
In my first year in America when I spoke little English, people who understood me the best were those who were interested in what I was trying to say and who cared enough to make that effort. Whenever we're having a conversation, it's a two-way street.
I hope you'll find a Japanese person who is willing to spend his/her time and energy to understand you. This is probably the fastest way for you to learn Japanese.
If we spoke a different language, we would perceive a somewhat different world. ~Ludwig Wittgenstein
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