September means the start of university, and I've got quite a few readers in my Twitter feed who have just begun nihongo classes, including at least one with my old sensei at SDSU -- cool! A few of them have been asking me for advice on how to properly study Japanese, so here are some random thoughts.
- Take it a day at a time, a chapter at a time. While hiragana can look like snakes wriggling on the page, keep at it and you'll get it down. Before long your brain will be reading without thinking, just like in English.
- Try to avoid asking why about Japanese grammar, since there's usually no reason why a language's rules are organized the way they are. Treat it like a mountain you must shape yourself around as you climb it.
- I found memorizing Japanese sentences patterns and switching out the various parts useful. They become like mathematical equations in that way, and are less threatening.
- Find some ways to reinforce what you're learning. I watched Japanese dramas, translated JPOP songs and read lots of manga. Everyone will have his own preferred studying method -- I learned to read kanji using the "MKG" method (manga, karaoke bars and Japanese girlfriends).
- Avoid learning in romaji, or Romanized Japanese. Textbooks like the Genki series or the White Rabbit study cards "force" your brain to memorize words only with hiragana, kanji etc., which helps your pronunciation by a factor of 100.
- Build connections with Japanese people. Trade English/Japanese lessons with someone, or explore "new" tools for communication like Twitter.
- Study for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). I found attacking each level of the test was a fun goal that helped me study. The sign up period for this year is August 27-Oct 1, and the test this year is December 5...that's 87 days away.
- Basically, you won't always understand the concepts you're learning currently, and that's okay -- by next semester you'll have them down, though it won't help your test scores this semester ^_^
Good luck, and remember that J-List has a few hundred items to help you learn Japanese!
Rei enjoys some ramen while studying Japanese. No, that's not a Photoshop at all.