10 Ways to Improve your Japanese Quickly!

Friday, July 13, 2018

Learning a new language can seem very daunting even for someone who has come from a multicultural and multilingual society like me. Growing up, I learned to speak English, Malay (my national language) and Kadazan (my native language). After that, I started to learn Japanese when I was just 11 and Korean when I was in secondary school.

I often get asked how I learned my Japanese and I always make it seem like it was really easy. In reality, it was really difficult. There were many times when I was discouraged cause I wasn't able to see any improvement. So I learned on and off for 15 years. I'm still not great, but I can hold a simple conversation and understand when I need to. I believe everyone has been through this, so I decided to create a list of things that helped me!


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1. Watch anime, TV shows, and movies


I was 11 when first I watched my first anime in its original Japanese dub. I remember reading Dragonball and Slam Dunk manga in Malay and watching Sakura Wars on TV in Malay but I had no idea all of these things were in Japanese. I was so in love with Samurai X and Gensomaden Saiyuki that I started copying all the words they would yell out in the anime.

My first Japanese word was not a greeting or an introduction.
It was "ばか"(baka), which means idiot. Then I learned "ばかさる" (stupid monkey) and うるさい (shut up). I basically learned all the bad words and started using them in real life. haha

Anime is also a good way to learn new vocabulary, which is why I love to watch anime with everyday themes like Lucky Star, K-On! and Ms Kobayashi's Dragon Maid.

**You can watch the animes with English subs using the links above

2.  Get some language books



My first Japanese language book, if I recall correctly, had a simple black and yellow cover. I forget what it's called or who published it and I never got to the end of the book because I didn't like how formal everything was. Some years ago, I found it tucked away in a cupboard in my room and realized that it was actually a book meant for businessmen who wanted to learn some Japanese. lol

Nevertheless, I learned a lot of new greetings from that book. Basics like "Hajimemashite" and "Konnichiwa", which were alien to me began to replace my informal "Ohayo" and "Oi, Baka"s.

I got a few other books after that. One was Japanese for Dummies (Yes, I had that book) and Making Out in Japanese, volumes 1 & 2.

The latter did nothing to improve my formal speech, but I began to learn a lot of inappropriate slang. And boy did I put them to good use. 😂😂😂


3. Watch Japanese YouTubers


Now, you might be wondering why I'm recommending YouTubers when my first tip was to just watch anime, TV shows and movies. Well, these YouTubers, especially my favourites which I list here, use a lot of every day Japanese in their videos.

Watching these kinds of videos and listening to the kind of Japanese they use helped me learn new vocabulary, slang and even improved my listening. If you find it difficult to make out or follow Japanese speakers, I highly recommend you watch YouTubers. It's very good practice.

If you want to improve faster, copy them! This is exactly what I did. Literally used the same funny or interesting phrases I hear on the videos so I can improve my pronunciation. Plus, it helps me sound more like a local when I have conversations.

4. Download some apps

This was something I did when I first got my iPhone 4. Yes, waaaaaaay back when.
I was obsessed and determined to learn Japanese.

You can find a whole host of apps for your needs. If you just want to learn conversation, they have apps for that. Wanna learn kanji? No problem. Taking the JLPT? They have apps for every level!

If you wanna learn on the go, just open up your app store and download the hundreds of free apps or invest in a few paid ones.

5. Scroll through Pinterest

Surprisingly, Pinterest is a great way to learn Japanese. Not only can you find lots of resources, they come illustrated with cute images.

I legit have a whole board of just random Japanese phrases, words, tips and more!



6. Take classes

Okay, I swore to myself for a very long time that I didn't need classes. Why the heck should I pay for classes when I can teach myself with all these free sources? I mean, what can I learn in a class that I can't learn by myself right?

Well, I was wrong. haha

I went to a language school called ICLS. They offer a whole range of language classes from beginner English to French too. I took their beginner class not knowing that I could totally skip a grade into intermediate. I remember totally shocking the classroom with my self-introduction cause all 6 of them were absolute beginners.

Classes, especially full-time classes, make you more immersed in the language you're learning. You're forced to use it in class. Forced to do those pesky exercises and take tests and quizzes. It trains your brain to think Japanese and you also get to make new friends with the same passion as you.

7. Make some friends


The first ever Japanese friend I made was a penpal I found on one of those old janky websites with a neon coloured background and default Arial font with hearth raining down from the header. Her name was Kaoru and she lived in Fukuoka. That lasted a while but we don't keep in touch anymore.

After that, I found another penpal, Tooru from Tokyo. I practised pronunciation with him and while I helped him with his English. He even showed me around Tokyo when I went there for my first time.

Later, I made more friends when I attended college and met even more people when I went to ICLS for classes. ICLS has a weekly meeting where they invite Japanese people who live locally to come and interact with their students! Non-students are also allowed to come and join as it promotes cultural exchange for everyone. I met a bunch of students from Okinawa who I still keep in touch with today.

8. Talk to yourself

This tip may sound weird but I swear it helps.

Coming from a small town, I didn't have anyone who shared the same interest in Japanese as me. I had no one to practise with and that was when I started having conversations with myself. My family could probably testify cause I always have these practice conversations of random situations while I'm showering. lol

If you ever took Japanese classes which had those conversation modules that made you use the new vocabulary in a dialogue with your classmates, yeah, it was like that. I'd literally ask a question to myself and answer it by myself. 😅😅😅


9. Ask Google

When in doubt, I ask Google-sama.

I feel like this is a total no-brainer, right? But you'd be surprised by how many people just don't look to Google for help.

Unlike when I was 11, we now have Google to teach us everything we want to know. All you have to do is type out your question and you get access to videos, virtual classes, exercises, and more.
I personally use Google Translate (with all its flaws) to learn new phrases and learn kanji.

10. Don't be afraid of making mistakes!

I know that not everyone is the same. What may make sense to me might take you a little longer to master. You might not want to use your Japanese because you're a beginner and are afraid to make mistakes in front of your new Japanese friends. 

I've had one of those moments that made me wanna just crawl into a hole and never come out again. 
It was in primary school and I had learned Japanese (all informal) by myself when they invited a representative? I'm not sure who he was but he was someone in education and me being my shameless 12-year-old self, grabbed the opportunity to have a conversation with a real Japanese person. I made it through the simple introductions; nice to meet you, what's your name and then he asked me a question I never came across in all my time self-studying. 

"あなたは何歳ですか?"
"How old are you?"

This question haunts me to this day.

Of course, I now know the meaning of the question and how to answer it but that fear of being so lost in the middle of the conversation still pokes at me like a loose bra wire. 
I still have situations like this now but I'm not afraid to ask what a word means. Plus, if you have good friends, they'll correct you! 

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Here's a quick recap of everything I've talked about:

1. Watch anime, TV shows and movies
2. Get language books
3. Watch YouTubers
4. Download apps
5.  Scroll through Pinterest
6. Take classes
7. Make some friends
8. Talk to yourself
9. Ask Google
10. Don't be afraid to make mistakes!

I hope these simple tips help you on your journey like they've helped me.
Do you have a favourite source to learn Japanese? 
Tell me all about it in the comments below! I'd love to hear about it. ❤

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