Learning Japanese Part Two – The Ecstacy

After becoming more and more frustrated with my slow progress I stumbled upon a website. All Japanese All The Time. The tagline on the website is “How To Learn Japanese, On Your Own, Having Fun and To Fluency”. The guy learned Japanese to “native-level fluency” in 18 months, while living in America. That includes reading and writing over 2000 kanji. Obviously, I was intrigued. Basically, his method has three parts.

The first part is that you should be listening to native Japanese ALL THE TIME. Like 24 hours a day, even while sleeping. If you live in Japan, you just turn on the radio. If you don’t, you have to be a little more creative. DVDs, internet radio, whatever. Eventually you’ll start picking out words, then phrases, then sentences, then eventually you’ll understand most of it. This listening should run alongside the other two parts.

Part two is that you should learn to read. The method he (and actually, millions of other people including many universities) advocates is to use a book called Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig. This teaches you the English meanings of the kanji (but not the Japanese words). So, you know that 女 means woman, even if you don’t know it’s pronounced onna. This seems counterintuitive, but believe me, being able to read is a massive step up. The method connects the English word to the kanji, and then later you connect the Japanese word to the English word, and the Japanese word-kanji connection makes itself. A way better explanation of the RTK system and a review of the book can be found here.

The third part is that you should learn to understand 10,000 sentences. Not learn them off by heart, just be able to understand them. You know how you know when something just sounds wrong in English (or your native language) even though you don’t know all the grammar rules and names of types of verbs? That’s what he’s aiming for with Japanese. You’re trying to feel the language rather than just cram it in. Obviously, 10,000 sentences is a lot to keep track of, so using a spaced recognition system program for your computer takes care of all of that. I use Anki.

It takes a long time, but it works. It’s not even his method, he adapted it from various studies and from the methods used by a bunch of Polish guys to learn English. I figured that my own methods weren’t working, so I might as well give this a try.

I continued renting dvds from the library, and started working my way through Remembering the Kanji. Straight away kanji started popping out at me everywhere I looked. Signs that were just gibberish to me now made sense. I realised that the warehouse near my house sold tools. All sorts of useful things!

My first breakthrough came when one of the kids in my class used a word that I had heard many times while watching The Incredibles – it means hurry up, and just from the context I was able to put it together. The words that you learn like that you never forget, unlike the ones you try to cram in from a textbook. After that more and more words started cropping up all over the place – and I could understand them.

The menu at my local restaurant is still a mystery, but at least I know what’s fish 魚 and what’s beef 牛.

All in all, the AJATT method is hardcore, and sometimes I do feel like I’m drinking the kool-aid, but then I learn something new and that little victory spurs me on.

So, my recommendation is this.
1) Learn the kana. It’s essential if you’re planning to move to Japan.
2) Read the AJATT blog.
3) If you live in Japan, turn on the tv. Don’t turn it off. If you don’t live in japan, get an amazon.jp account and buy yourself some dvds you’ve already seen. (I would never advocate getting stuff for free from the internet. Nooooo.)
4) Start ploughing your way through Remembering the Kanji. Join the Reviewing the Kanji website. It’s an srs for Heisig’s book specifically. It has some good statistics features, but mostly it’ll save you typing in over 2000 entries in kanji into your own srs.

Good luck.


2 Responses

  1. […] writing the previous two posts about learning Japanese (click for parts one and two) I’ve changed tack a […]

  2. “If you live in Japan, turn on the tv. Don’t turn it off.”

    Good advice! I would add:

    “If you live in Japan, turn on KeyholeTV. Don’t turn it off.”

    KeyholeTV is a free program which lets you stream several Japanese TV channels over the Internet, and works on Mac, Windows and Linux:

    I’m a big fan of it 🙂

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