If spring was the practice round for the #stayhome era, with fresh stay-at-home requests inbound, winter is a chance to perfect the stuck-indoors lifestyle. Make use of January (and February?) to get a head start on that perennial of New Year’s resolutions: studying Japanese.
There are five main areas you can start focusing on if you’re giving up Friday nights at the pub: grammar, vocabulary, reading, speaking and writing.
Grammar: Most language learners have heard about the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test at some point in their studies. It continues to be a significant test if you’re looking for a certification that can help get you a job, almost all companies in Japan require it as proof of linguistic ability when hiring.
Even if you’re not planning on taking the test any time soon, JLPT-oriented textbooks are a great way to upgrade your grammar game, as most of the grammar and vocabulary presented in them is used frequently in both colloquial and written Japanese.
Vocabulary: There’s now a Google Chrome extension for Netflix that makes learning vocabulary a lot more enjoyable, even when you’re binge-watching. Language Learning with Netflix lets you see subtitles in two languages, which allows you to compare the original audio with whatever languages you’ve selected. What’s more, you can change the playback speed and look up unknown words in a pop-up dictionary. For beginners, I recommend watching “Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories” for some good, food-related chat.
Reading: Let’s be real, if you don’t know your kanji then you don’t stand a chance of reaching fluency in Japanese. There are plenty of apps that can help with this, including WaniKani, which offers 2,000 characters.
Once you’ve upped your kanji game, try reading the traditional Japanese children’s stories that are available online thanks to Tom Ray at the University of Oklahoma. Beginners can get caught up on the news in Japanese via NHK’s News Web Easy, while intermediate and advanced learners can download the LINE news app to introduce you to any topical kanji that populate the headlines.
Speaking: Since in-person learning will continue to be a challenge this year, a lot of people are looking for online options to improve their speaking skills and “meet” new people. Online language-learning platform Italki is quickly gaining ground as students can choose an online teacher depending on their goal — you can choose a professional teacher, who provides very structured learning plans or a community tutor. Pricing and the length of each session is set by the teacher.
Writing: There’s no digital fix to this one: keep a journal in Japanese. The low-tech way of slowly memorizing kanji stroke count and regular writing exercises worked best for me when upgrading my own Japanese writing skills and, at the very least, keeping a notepad to write down things you see and hear when watching TV, reading the news or venturing outdoors will improve your vocabulary.
Start easy by setting up weekly writing challenges and make sure to include new kanji and vocabulary in every entry. Keep writing until you feel comfortable setting harder challenges for yourself.
As the saying goes, “new year, new me.” Upping your Japanese ability can go a long way in helping you feel more like a part of this country.
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