One of the main reasons I was so interested in finding an internship in Japan is that I wanted to learn the Japanese language. I could have easily got an internship in America that payed double, but I chose this internship for the cultural and linguistic learning opportunities.
Sometimes I am a little surprised that some foreigners in Japan don’t even make an effort to learn Japanese. I figure if you live in Japan, you should speak Japanese (or at least try to). In America some people get mad when some Mexican or Chinese person speaks no English, and I’d imagine such people exist in Japan also.
I just figure that this is such a good opportunity, it would be a waste not to try to learn Japanese. I want to get all that I can out of this internship both technically and culturally. I’ve highlighted a few of my Japanese study habits that I have picked up in hopes that other people may find them useful.
Ahh kanji, the juggernaut of learning Japanese. For those of you that don’t know kanji are Chinese characters that the Japanese language borrows… there are tons of them and they all have different multiple pronunciations.
The best way I have found is just to read print, look up the kanji you don’t know in a dictionary/DS, and write them down. Do NOT use rikaichan. It may be convenient, but it does not help you learn kanji. It is like god mode in Doom.
Recently I have been reading a newspaper. Newspapers in Japan are crazy… they are a different type of language. They are very scholarly and have many kanji that even native Japanese have problems with. Nonetheless it is a good way to practice all different types of kanji. Usually reading the same article more than once is a good way to memorize kanji. It doesn’t have to be a newspaper though. Sit down with a notebook, dictionary, and your choice of Japanese print, whether it be a newspaper, manga, magazine, whatever.
One good thing about reading is that you start to recognize the kanji you learn everywhere. The other day I was reading a newspaper article about the new flu, 新型インフルエンザ. I didn’t know the kanji for “new type” (新型) or (しんがた) so I wrote it down. The very next day when I was coming back from the grocery store I saw a Nissan billboard for the 新型ムラーノ (The New Murano). It just goes to show how useful studying kanji is.
Living in Japan provides the greatest facet for learning how to speak in Japanese; everyone knows it. Speak every opportunity you get.
Speak in Japanese all you can. A lot of times people will want to speak to you in English because you are a foreigner, but usually if you show them that you have some Japanese knowledge they will speak to you in Japanese.
Language exchanges are nice too. It is good if you can get a weekly language exchange going though. Be sure to actually make it a language exchange though and not a pseudo-date. Speak in English for around 50% of the time and ask any questions. Be sure to correct your partner if they say something wrong and hopefully they will do the same to you.
For grammar all I can say is go beyond the simple stuff. Make it a point to use new, more complicated grammatical structures. Being able to use the more complicated grammar fluently is what separates “dumb gaijin” Japanese from sophisticated Japanese.
My study habits for vocabulary are pretty much the same as my habits for kanji. I carry around a small flash card book with vocab words and their translation. Every time I hear or read a word that I don’t know I find out the translation and write it down in this book. Later I can easily review the new words.
It is also the same as grammar. Go beyond the simple stuff. Once you have learned a certain level of Japanese it is easy just to stick with your known vocab… but in order to really master the language you have to go beyond this level. Make it a point to learn and use new words.
That is pretty much all that I can think of right now. I still consider myself extremely lucky for having this internship. Back in America I know people that would kill for a month, let alone a year to be Japan. I really want to make the most of it and learn as much as I can.