You’ve got a full day ahead: work, school, errands, chores, social obligations, family time. And in the midst of all of this, you’re trying to learn Japanese! What is the best way to get a Japanese lesson into that packed schedule?
The best way to learn Japanese if you’ve got a hectic schedule is not to stop sleeping and fill your nights with hours of kanji. Instead, supplement your traditional study time with fun, immersive experiences involving conversation, music, or even watching TV. Your effort to learn Japanese by adding these habits to your days is the best way to reach your goal quickly and painlessly.
While the best way to learn Japanese may differ from student to student, there is some agreement on the most universally effective methods to use. Here are a few that may help you learn Japanese even with a busy schedule.
Why Immersion Methods Work for Busy People
How is immersion different from normal study? It involves incorporating Japanese into your busy schedule rather than trying to force it in, mimicking the way babies learn languages. Read a student-friendly Japanese newspaper, listen to a news broadcast as well as podcasts in Japanese, and speak in the language every chance you get, mistakes and all. Mix and match these methods as you learn Japanese until you find a balance that works for you.
Pile It On: Love listening to podcasts while you putter around the house or binging on old CDs while driving? Swap out your usual audio experiences and listen to everything you can find in Japanese. Fill your life with the language, from movies, to music, to radio. This practice helps with pronunciation and intonation, and even if you don’t understand much at first, it’s a great way to augment your studies.
Get Pronunciation Help: Japanese students invariably need some pronunciation coaching to improve their accents and intelligibility. Use an audio tool like Speechling’s feedback help to work on your accent. There is also an audio dictionary that is useful for proper pronunciation and reinforcement on tricky words. You can even slow down the playback if you get stuck.
Scroll Away: You know you spend a lot of time scrolling through social media anyway. Make it productive by changing the language to Japanese for lots of practical practice. Follow Japanese accounts on your platform of choice and watch the videos that pass by. Save some of the videos you like the most and use them as repetitive practice, looking up words you don’t know. The more times you hear it, the more you’ll pick up each time.
Online Course: Along with more personal coaching, you can choose from many online courses. This means you can learn at your own pace. Some online courses, like Speechling, also provide personal coaching for the best of both worlds.
Vocabulary Lists: Build your vocabulary daily with common words—make it part of your morning routine. Use them frequently in as many contexts as possible: weather, transportation, eateries, clothing, money, health, and emergencies, for example. The best way is to work up from foundational words to intermediate/advanced vocabulary. This creates confidence instead of frustration.
Flashcards: At some point, everyone uses some form of flashcards to learn new concepts. Get the most out of them for switching out your Angry Birds app for an app or language-learning site that provides this tool and jumping on it when you’re sitting in a waiting room or on your lunch break. The most effective sites allow you to practice the same sentences, keep track of your progress for you, and provide feedback from a coach.
Slang: Related to learning common words and phrases, slang is part of daily conversation, no matter what language you’re speaking. Japanese is no different, so learn the most common slang phrases. If you do this, you’ll be able to talk to other students or native speakers in everyday language rather than only stilted textbook phrases.
Master the Basics: There are two basic Japanese alphabets, hiragana and katakana, that you’ll need to master before moving on to the more famous, complex Japanese kanji characters. The general alphabet is hiragana, while katakana is used for words that are derived from other languages.
Tackle Kanji: Kanji is a written language adopted from Chinese in which the characters often look like the words they represent. Some characters, like 木 (tree) or 山 (mountain), and are made up of only a few lines. For all your writing practice, mentally return to grade school and get a workbook. Schedule a block of time each day for practice when it works for you. The main thing is to be consistent.
Join a Study Group: For many students, the best way to tackle writing is to join a study group of others learning Japanese. Short periods of practicing together can speed your progress by providing support and gentle correction among group members without overburdening your busy life. A group is also helpful when you become discouraged; members can support and encourage each other.
Sing: Find some Japanese songs—there are innumerable karaoke videos on YouTube to choose from—and listen to each multiple times. Learn a handful of them, paying attention to how the words are pronounced along with their meanings. Then get some friends together and go somewhere to try it out. Simply search for Japanese karaoke in your city and pick one out. Look at the subtitles as you sing. If that’s too intimidating, many of these places allow groups to rent a private room so you can practice and sing without fear. Have a good time with friends and learn some Japanese!
Read for Fun: To expand the concept of reading Japanese in unconventional ways, try some comics (manga) and children’s books. These books often insert Japanese characters (called Furigana) next to common words to help basic level students. And it’s much more interesting, and effective, than using only traditional textbooks.
Listen and Watch for Fun: Podcasts, anime, and subtitled or dubbed Japanese movies provide other non-traditional ways to immerse students in the language. A group of both native-speakers and students watching or listening together—which will soon lead to conversation— will be a fun, effective way to learn Japanese.
Learn Japanese No Matter How Busy You Are
It might be tempting to say that you are too busy to take on learning a new language. Compounding this, all the experts offering different methods and tools to use if you do choose to begin can be daunting. But, there is no one way to learn anything; it is more effective to find what works for you. By immersing your life into the language and using several methods at the same time, you can find a balance that works for you and makes learning Japanese fun rather than a chore.
Wondering where to start? Learn basic vocabulary using a site like Speechling with coaching available, and then use those words every time you can. Get a group of others learning the language to support each other and have fun as you try speaking Japanese in real situations. Then, practice, practice, practice! Before you know it, you’ll be able to enjoy Japanese music, movies, and manga as much as you enjoy a relaxing English TV show.