Well, it’s that time of year, isn’t it? Some of you are getting out of school for summer break, and some of you haven’t had to go to school for decades. Some of you took Japanese classes at school, and some of you are self-taught. Either way, summer makes it really easy not to continue studying your Japanese (or anything, for that matter). I’ve thought through some tips to keep the study-love going during the lazy season.
Don’t take a break
This is an easy trap to fall into. “I’ll just take a couple of weeks off and then I’ll really study after that.” WRONG. Though this may actually work for a few people, it’s best not to take a break. Stick to your schedule. For every day that you don’t practice, it gets a little bit easier to not study the next day, and then the next day, and then pretty soon you’ll be taking the entire summer off. A whole summer is a long time not to practice something, especially something as forgetful as a language (not to mention the kanji. Oh god, the kanji!). Don’t stop studying just because it’s summer, but also…
Don’t Overdo it!
When people get inspired or motivated, they often burn themselves out as well. Don’t start the summer with the expectation that you will study four hours a day. A few exceptional people might be able to do this. You and me, you know, the “normal people,” can never do this. Make a schedule, take scheduled breaks, just don’t overdo it. It all depends on you, but I’d suggest studying 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Yep, that’s it. Better yet, if you only have thirty minutes to do something, you’ll most likely find more efficient ways to do it, or you’ll study harder during those thirty minutes. Thirty minutes a day will be tough enough for most people. It’s not the actual studying that’s hard, it’s sticking with your schedule, no matter how short it is.
An Opportunity for Review
When you start your “summer studies,” it might be good to take this opportunity to review – especially if you are formally taught Japanese at school. Whether you understood everything or not, it’s good to go back and solidify your knowledge. One of the Japanese professors at my university had to take Japanese 1 twice when he was in college, due to transferring schools. Although he was a bit peeved to take the same class twice, he came out a much better Japanese student in the end. That first year is really important when it comes to pronunciation, how you read, how you write, grammar, etc., so why not take summer as an opportunity to really get to know those things? You cover a lot of stuff in Japanese class, and it’s impossible to feel really comfortable with everything. Spend a couple of weeks going over your previous lessons. Become a pro in stuff you’ve already done! A good site for Japanese review (and learning) is the cool frood over at Tae Kim’s Guide to Japanese. Everything is nicely laid out and there are plenty of examples.
Have a Little Fun!
Pshhhh, it’s summer, enjoy yourself a little. I know I promote all this “studying stuff” and it doesn’t seem that fun, but that’s what you have to deal with when you want to learn another language. Still, there’s an opportunity to try new things and study “differently.” When you’re in school, it’s hard to come up with the time to do anything except your homework (that and socializing, working, etc). Now that it’s summer, you probably have a little extra time. Why not try something else? Here are some “alternative” Japanese study methods that will give you a new view of your Japanese studies. Check them out!
Lang-8: I’ve been pimping Lang-8 for a few weeks now. It’s a great service for people who want to practice reading and writing Japanese. It’s kind of a language social networking website. The premise is pretty simple: You write journal entries in the language you are learning (i.e. probably Japanese), natives in that language will correct your journal entries for you, and finally – if you’re a nice person – you’ll help some people who are learning your own native language. I’ve learned tons since using the site six-eight months ago.
Start a Blog (in Japanese): It has never been easier to start a blog. You can get a blog for free over at wordpress.com, blogger.com, or livejournal.com. I’m a big WordPress fan, but all of those will work (and are very easy to set up). I have a blog in Japanese over at Koichiben.com, where I talk about American culture and the English language (kind of the Bizarro version of Tofugu). If you start at the beginning and read all of the articles, you’ll see a vast improvement. I’m learning new things every time, and I even get the articles edited first via the kind users at Lang-8. I know a few other people who have blogs in Japanese, and it’s been very helpful to them as well. If you can get people to visit it, then it’s like you have to update it every once in a while, which means your Japanese has to get better. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy blogging, so blogging in Japanese only seems like the natural thing to do for practice, and almost any level of Japanese learner can do this, as long as they have some basics down. Heck, you can even throw some ads on there and attempt to make some money from it (though, don’t expect more than pocket change unless you become ridiculously popular).
Start a Vlog (in Japanese): This is also a good way to get people to visit your blog if you do that as well. That’s pretty much how I built Koichiben up. One of the disadvantages to only blogging in Japanese is the lack of speaking practice. Starting a vlog along with your blog will help round out the experience a little bit. Another option – if you don’t want people to see you – would be to start a podcast in Japanese.
Plan a Trip to Japan: You don’t even have to actually go (though that would be awesome). Just planning a trip to Japan will expand your Japanese, get you more familiar with the geography, help you understand how trains work, teach you about Japanese money, and tell you about some of the history of the country. It might even inspire you to study Japanese harder, since you might end up wanting to actually take this trip you planned someday. This isn’t Japanese study per se, but it is surprisingly educational if you take it seriously. There are a bunch of websites out there about traveling to Japan. I think the Tofugu team primarily used Japan-Guide for our last trip. Still, to find the really cool places, sometimes you have to delve into the Japanese website world and poke around. This is where your education really begins.
Get Familiar with Culture, Current Events
Do you all know what an RSS reader is? If you do, then you know how amazingly convenient and addictive they can be. I use Google Reader to organize all the things I want to read on the internet. Basically, an RSS reader lets you subscribe to websites (this website included), so that whenever they update with new content, you’ll get it sent directly to your reader. This means you can read all your favorite blogs in one place (or, sometimes, only parts of them). If you haven’t already, you should subscribe to Tofugu’s feed! Anyways, enough self-promotion.
There are tons of websites out there that do Japanese news, culture, etc. Tofugu, believe it or not, is only one of them (ZOMG, what?). There are a bunch of other sites that cover cool Japanese things, and you can subscribe to all of them via RSS. Here’s just a few of my favorites: PinkTentacle and WhatJapanThinks. Also, there’s this sweet website that is like a Digg just for Japan-related things: JapanSoc.
I always think it’s important to learn culture when learning language, but I’m going to save that for its own article sometime. Just let it be known that there are many aspects of the Japanese language that make absolutely no sense unless you understand the cultural background. And by cultural background I don’t mean anime, in case you were hoping. Anyways, learning about the culture and reading up on Japan’s current events will help paint a more realistic and well-rounded picture of Japan, which in turn will make you a better language student. Very abstract, but I really believe it!
Figuring out a Schedule that Works for You
Actually, figuring out a schedule is the easy part. Sticking with it is difficult. There are so many ways to figure out and stick to a schedule, but only some of them will work for you. I’m not here to tell people how to schedule their time, but maybe you can help. How do you schedule Japanese study time? How do you stick with it? Let us all know – the more the better. I don’t think there’s one “best” way, so the more ideas we throw out there, the higher the likelihood we’ll figure something out that works for somebody!
Anyways, I wish you all the best of luck in studying your Japanese this summer. Tofugu will be right there with you, getting angry if you don’t study, so don’t slack off too much.