We all have days when we’re unmotivated to put in the time. We all endure embarrassing linguistic and cultural gaffes that can make it hard to get back on the horse. And we all encounter learning plateaus when lots of effort leads to little perceived progress. All normal, but frustrating nonetheless. When such challenges inevitably arise, I find it helpful to read the accounts of experienced language learners who have faced (and overcome!) similar hurdles. While reading about language learning is certainly no substitute for actually learning a language, we can gain a great deal of vicarious wisdom from these linguistic “Yodas” who have journeyed before―and farther than―us. To that end, here are five of my favorite language learning blogs that can help keep you motivated through the ups and downs of language learning and provide useful tips to overcome the most common obstacles.
Does this sound familiar? You stare at a given kanji (漢字・かんじ, “Chinese character”) for a few minutes, trying to will the strokes into memory. You write the kanji out a few dozen times, hoping the muscle memory and repetition will help it stick in your head. You move on to the next kanji, and repeat the same process. You flip the page over and try to write the first kanji again without looking at the model. What the heck! Where did it go!? At this point, most learners then blame themselves, assuming they simply “have a bad memory” or “aren’t studying hard enough.” The truth is that the problem lies not with your memory or motivation but with your method. Unless you have a photographic memory, this “visual memory” approach is simply not an effective way to learn highly complex information like kanji. So how should we learn then? The answer is “imaginative memory.” Read the article to see what it is and how to use it.
We have been conditioned by well-intentioned mothers to believe that television will “destroy our brains.” This might well be true if one spends their time watching “reality” TV shows that don’t actually reflect reality, the sensationalist 24-hour news cycle, and tasteless drivel that neither entertains nor educates. But if you watch television in Japanese, this otherwise time-wasting and brain-wasting activity can become a constructive form of language learning that even mommy should be able to get behind! Video is also one of the best ways to create a fun, effective, foreign language immersion environment no matter where in the world you happen to live. Here now are my top ten favorite tools for using online video to learn Japanese.
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.
Question: What do boiling water and learning kanji have in common? Answer: Just as you only need a certain temperature to boil water, you only need to know a finite number of high-frequency kanji to read blogs, manga, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. This is the minimum effective dose (MED), a powerful tool to save you lots of time and effort in your Japanese language learning journey.
Though I completely agree with Benny Lewis that HB 2.0 is the best “app” for learning a language, there are some pretty darn ninjetic smartphone apps that can help you improve your Japanese listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills from the convenience of the mobile device right in your pocket. A search of the Apple App Store reveals an overwhelming number of Japanese language apps, but sadly (or perhaps, fortunately) the vast majority are not very useful. To save you time and help you focus on actually acquiring Japanese instead of wasting time searching for tools, I have tried dozens and dozens of apps over the years and have narrowed down my list to just my top five favorites.