Japanese FAQs: How & Why to Learn Kana

In this excerpt from my Master Japanese guide, I answer a number of frequently asked questions about why and how to learn Japanese kana. Even if you only want to learn to speak Japanese, I highly recommend investing the time to learn hiragana and katakana as they will help you improve your pronunciation and significantly expand the number of language resources available to you on your learning journey.

The Art of Learning & The Road to Mastery

There are many great books about learning out there, but one of my favorites to date is “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” by Josh Waitzkin. The book shares core learning principles that have allowed Josh to master multiple diverse disciplines, including chess (the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher is based on Josh’s childhood, during which time his impressive chess skills led to him being called a “prodigy”, a word he doesn’t particularly care for as it discounts the massive amount of practice, effort, and psychological tactics he relied on to win eight National Chess Championships), Taiji Push Hands (Josh has won a number of medals in the sport, the World Champion Title in 2004, and went on to coach others to victory themselves), and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Josh holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which he obtained training under Marcelo Garcia, considered to be one of the world’s best practitioners and teachers of the art). So what do chess and martial arts have to do with language learning? Quite a bit, actually. Mastering any skill requires that you travel down the same basic road. Whether you are learning the Japanese language or a Japanese martial art, you will encounter many of the same challenges, pitfalls, and joys on your journey. And, many of the same metalearning techniques can be applied. Here are few key learning principles that Josh shares in the book that can be of big help in reaching fluency in a foreign language.

Why Uncertainty is Good For You: Language Learning Lessons from “Antifragile”

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder is the first book I’ve read by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but it will certainly not be the last. The book is actually the fourth in a four-volume series on uncertainty the author calls “Incerto”, which also includes the previous works Fooled by Randomness (2001), The Black Swan (2007–2010), and The Bed of Procrustes (2010). Taleb sums up the basic premise of the book as follows: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” This is definitely true of language acquisition. The safe, predictable, highly structured nature of classroom-based academic language study does not prepare one for the messy interactions that one will encounter in the real world. To reach fluency in a foreign language, one needs randomness, not a lesson plan. Read on for a few of the best language learning lessons from Antifragile.

Interview with Benny Lewis of “Fluent in 3 Months”

Benny Lewis, also known as the Irish Polyglot, is one of my heroes. Not only has he demonstrated that it’s possible to reach conversational fluency in a matter of months, not years as most believe, but he lives his life as a full-time traveler, language learner, and technomad, and has managed to build the most popular language learning blog on the planet along the way. Benny’s philosophy on self-guided immersion is right in line with my own, as exemplified in the following quote from his new book: “…where you are isn’t what decides whether or not you’ll be successful. Attitude beats latitude (and longitude) every time. It’s more about creating an immersion environment, exposing yourself to native speakers, and doing everything you can in that language.”