You can often spot a new language learner by the scale of their language learning goals and daily habits. When we first start out in a new language, the excitement makes it easy to commit to big, hairy, audacious language learning goals and herculean daily routines. Perhaps we commit to listening to three hours of foreign language audio a day, reading one foreign language novel a week, or speaking with a language tutor for an hour every single day. We might keep this up for a few days, or even a few weeks, but eventually, our motivation will run out and we’ll fall off the pace. Perhaps we have a bad day at work, and cancel our tutor session. Or we have a fight with our spouse and don’t feel like studying any flashcards. Or maybe we get sick and opt to binge watch Narcos instead of listening to language podcasts. One missed day turns into two, and then three, and then weeks or months of zero language study. Most people (especially perfectionists like me) will then think, “Well, since I can’t do it all, I guess I will do nothing.” Fortunately, we can avoid this all-or-nothing-perfectionist trap by committing instead to a “minimum effective dose” of daily language study: a tiny, tiny amount of time and effort that we will hit each and every day no matter what.
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.
How to Change the Display Language on iOS, macOS, Android, Windows, Kindle, Facebook, Instagram & More
With just a few taps or clicks, you can change your smartphone, computer, social media accounts, web browser, and more into language learning powerhouses. Instead of studying random flashcards or boring textbooks, you can get fun, contextual, relevant exposure to your target language throughout your day as you do tasks you would already be doing anyway. Instead of trying to create new habits, this approach allows you to leverage firmly established habits that are already part of your daily routine. Instead of having to choose to spend time with the language, exposure becomes the default.
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.