If you’re like me, you want to learn a language but you don’t have a lot of extra money to spend on a pricey product like Rosetta Stone (nothing against them!). You probably have random large sections of time where you don’t do much except vegetate. You probably don’t know where to start. You probably feel the weight of all of the things you don’t know sitting on your shoulders.
First off, relax.
Guess what, it’s very easy to teach yourself a new language! I promise! There are actually enough free resources out there that you really have no excuse not to pursue your goal. As long as you take baby steps and are vigilant in your studies, you can succeed!
So grab a seat, a notepad, a snack, some water, your writing utensil of choice, and let’s get to it!
First, I watched a lot of YouTube videos.
I wasted a lot of time envisioning myself being like the girl I saw on the internet who was from the UK and rattling off a probably very well written “about me” she had written for herself in Japanese (her second language). She seemed confident and didn’t hesitate when choosing words or sounds. It was enrapturing, to say the least. I found that video in the related videos for this video- the one that sparked my fascination.
If you’re one of those people that believe envisioning yourself achieving your goal is a good motivator, this will be an important first step. Figure out where you want to be. It doesn’t even have to be Japanese, though for me it was. Be sure that you have the self discipline to not find yourself on the weird part of YouTube! Stick to your goal!
Second, I started with the basics: learning how to read and write the alphabet.
Now, Japanese is very tricky to learn when your mother tongue is one of the Germanic languages. Japanese doesn’t use letters! They use syllabaries*. If that is too confusing for you, imagine that just like how each letter in the English alphabet represents one sound (a is ah, b is buh, etc); the japanese alphabet is ka, ki, ku, etc. Each syllabary is going to represent one sound.
It gets better! The Japanese language has three distinct methods of writing: hiragana, katakana, and kanji:
1. Hiragana is used for words that are native Japanese, for example, words like こんにちは (good afternoon).
2. Katakana is used for words that are loan words (they aren’t native Japanese), like コンピューター (computer).
3. Kanji is used for words that were taken from the Chinese language, but introduced by the Koreans, like 吸う (to smoke). Important fact: all three methods of writing are pronounced the same, they just have different connotations.
It may seem like obvious baby steps, but it is very important to learn how to read and write each sound in your preferred languages method of writing so that you have the foundation to build off of.
Here are some examples of when I first started learning Hiragana and Katakana:
Get on google, go to your library, do whatever you have to do to get your hands on the material- and read. Read until your eyes and brain start turning mushy. Listen to childrens songs teaching the alphabet! Write until your hands are uncomfortable.
Next, you assess yourself!
This is where I got stuck and wasted a good bit more time. Not only did I not know any words to practice sentence structure with, but I also didn’t understand sentence structure. I started making lists of related words and learning the grammar rules at this point. For example, understanding sentence structure is the most basic form of understanding written or spoken language, I think. In English: subject, verb, object: Joe (subject) plays (verb) ukulele (object). In Japanese, the verb always goes last in the sentence: ジョークン(joe-kun/subject) ウクレレ(ukulele/object) 演る(plays/verb).
This is where I say to you, start learning words as soon as you know how to read and write. I can not stress this enough. A good tip is to create a list of 10-15 words that interest you, like “colors” or “sex positions”, then find out your target languages word for each word you’ve chosen and write it down. Practice reading the words, practice writing them, say them aloud; absorb it in the best way that you know how. The sooner you start building your vocabulary, the better you will understand things later in your journey.
At this point, keep reviewing and updating your old information, especially if your target language isn’t your ‘daily driver’.
My favorite way to review is by making and using flashcards and listening to music. I also use this app called HelloTalk, where you can communicate via text, video, and photo with native speakers of your target language! (They are not endorsing me to say this, I just truly love the app.)
There are a few that I keep on my phone and ready to use at all times: Jisho (a free but extensive and convenient dictionary), HelloTalk, Human Japanese (great for beginners), Memrise (an incredibly fun game-style platform for beginners and masters) and Kana (I think this is only available on ios.)
You can do whatever works for you, all I can say is continue to learn new words. Continue to learn new phrases, grammar rules, syntax, etc. Continue to review as often as you can by reading, writing, and speaking. Practice! Practice! Practice some more!
Finally, read some more!
I like to read physical books so I like to make a bookmark out of notebook paper. I fold the paper into four sections. One-two sections have vocabulary words and phrases (with the definitions), one section has ideas and concepts that may be foreign to me, while the last section has quotes that I may want to remember. I always include the page number that I found each thing on, because I hate writing in books.
Read everything you can, all the time. Write down words you aren’t familiar with to look them up for later. Write down any quotes that are relevant or may inspire you to keep going on your journey. Write down anything that sticks out to you. You may even want to remember those later.
There you have it!
If all of that was a nightmare for you to get through:
Step 1: Learn how to read and write the target languages alphabet (or syllabaries).
Step 2: Start learning vocabulary words. Read them, write them, speak them aloud.
Step 3: Keep learning vocabulary! Learn the sentence structure. Review.
Step 4: Read! Keep learning new vocabulary and grammar. Review.
Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4; forever.
Step 6: Profit???
If you get stuck, drop me a line! I’m no expert on anything. I just love to help others! I’ll do my best to help you get unstuck. 🙂
*The dictionary definition of ‘letter’ is a ‘character representing one or more of the sounds used in speech; any of the symbols of an alphabet.’ While the dictionary definition of a ‘syllabary’ is a set of written characters representing syllables and [in some languages or stages of writing] serving the purpose of an alphabet.