After taking my last formal Japanese class in mid-2009, I’ve only had self-study to rely on in keeping up my study of the language. Starting in 2010, after graduating college, returning from my second trip to Japan, and getting settled in my then-new job at the YMCA, I decided to have my own periodic Japanese self-study sessions so I won’t forget the things I’ve learned and also so I could continue to learn more of the language, albeit at a slower rate than I did when I was taking actual classes. And surprisingly, my passion for the language has allowed me to keep up the motivation for those study sessions since, though the rate did fluctuate. I recently fell behind on my studies due to the long hours at my new job, but the other day I decided to finally make up for lost time and spent all day hitting the books and flashcards…and much to my surprise, I didn’t forget that much =D So today I want to share how I conduct my Japanese self-study sessions, which may perhaps be helpful to those of you who are also learning the language…
How I conduct my study sessions has changed a bit over the years, though my goal has been the same since I started: because my years of taking Japanese classes in college helped me get a good grasp of the grammar of the language, my main focus in self-study is learning new kanji and new vocabulary, with grammar practice on the side. When I first started self-studying, I used three sources to help build my kanji knowledge – two kanji dictionaries and a set of kanji flashcards.
The two kanji dictionaries are each helpful in their own way. “A Guide to Reading and Writing Japanese” lists all the 2,000 or so kanji along with their different pronunciations, meanings, and a few words they’re used in (it’s also romaji-friendly). “Elementary Kanji Dictionary” also has all the kanji, but is more like a dictionary in that it simply lists a whole bunch of words each kanji is used in and you can look up each kanji by radical or stroke order, as well as pronunciation (and there’s no romaji in it). That set of flashcards I have wasn’t all that useful since it’s only the beginner set and I already knew a lot of the kanji in it. But it still had a bunch I didn’t know and the cards were good for quizzing myself and learning a few new words.
So what I would do as far as kanji study was get out my notebook of lined paper and simply write down one kanji after another, as well as some of the words listed for each that I found in the dictionaries (I focused on the words I didn’t know so I could learn both kanji and vocabulary at the same time XD) I would leave space for each kanji so I could practice writing it over and over. For each session, I would review and practice writing the kanji I had learned in the previous session and then start on some new ones. After spending a while with kanji, I would then move on to rereading my old Japanese textbooks from college.
The head of the Japanese department at my university actually wrote that yellow book there =)
It’s really good practice rereading Japanese books you used in school as you’ll recall many things you may have forgotten since learning them in class. I would go through a lesson or two in the book, place a bookmark, and then come back to that spot for the next session. And once I finished reviewing one textbook, it’s on to the next one! I would also review the lessons and do the self-quizzes in a few other Japanese grammar books I have, pictured below.
And lastly, to finish up my study sessions with something fun, I would spend a little time reading one of my Japanese anime-related books, whether it’s a manga, artbook, or something of the sort.
That’s pretty much how my study sessions went until about a year ago. I didn’t get much studying done in summer of 2011 due to lack of time and motivation…I maybe had one study session a month at the most. After quitting my old job soon after, unemployment bestowed me with a ton of free time and thus I decided to seriously get back into Japanese study and revise my old study methods.
The first thing I revised was my kanji approach. I realized that I was learning them rather slowly in my old study sessions because I was focusing too much on being able to write them. While being able to write Japanese is still important, in this technological day and age, it’s not nearly as important as being able to read them, especially for someone not currently living in Japan. So I decided to just focus on being able to read and recognize the meanings. Thus I ditched my old method of writing the kanji on paper and made my own flashcards.
On the front of the card I write the kanji, along with up to three words that use it, while on the back I’ll write the meanings and pronunciations. So far the flashcard method has been a great help and it makes it a lot easier for me to quickly quiz myself =) In each study session I’ll review the kanji I learned in the previous session and, depending on how well I do, I’ll decide whether I’m ready to make more flashcards for new kanji or not. I also separate the cards into three piles: one is “kanji I know very well and don’t need to study as much,” one is “kanji I sort of know but still need to work on a bit,” and one is “kanji I’m still struggling with.” Thankfully the latter two piles are not very big…yet =P
And, like it has been since I got it in 2008, the above DS Kanji Dictionary has been extremely helpful, mostly because I can look up all these kanji and words I learn and see them used in many sample sentences. It’s one thing to learn a word on its own, but seeing how it’s used in an actual sentence with context is indispensable.
Though I did change my method of kanji study, I’m still continuing to reread my old college textbooks. I’ve reached the most difficult book I have, the textbook I used in my last Advanced Japanese course.
I had to scribble a lot of notes in that book!
The book is all in Japanese except for a few grammar explanations and English definitions in the glossary. It basically contains just excerpts from various Japanese newspaper, magazine, or other articles. My class struggled big time with this book and I’m still having difficulty with it now…but I’ll slowly get better at it with each reread ;)
I also decided to add listening comprehension to my studies. I did do listening practice occasionally in my old study sessions because I had a couple of CD-Roms that had software games for learning Japanese vocabulary and taking quizzes. They were fun when I first got them many years ago, but most of the material was below my level by the time I graduated college, so I began using them less and less. So now I’m using something else.
The above book is one I got as a gift several years ago when my Japanese level was not very high. Since the book is all in Japanese and is aimed at a high intermediate level, I couldn’t understand how to use it back then, so I put it away for a long time…until just about a year ago when I finally took it out again and realized that I could now understand it! It’s a listening comprehension text that uses audio CDs for its lessons. It starts off with practice on being able to distinguish the differences between syllables that are very similar such as “おと/oto” and “おっと/otto” or “りゃ/rya” and “りや/riya.” Then the majority of the first CD has a bunch of mini chapters where you first listen to vocabulary words involving a certain topic, such as “deciding on college classes,” and then you listen to a dialogue that uses some of the words, putting a check mark next to the ones you hear (and the speakers talk very fast!) I haven’t yet gotten to the second CD, which does something totally different, but it looks like it’ll be good practice too. I’m so glad I rediscovered this helpful book =D
And lastly, I’m still continuing to read various manga and other fun things as a way to end each study session.
In addition to manga in Japanese, I also read random things like the Weiss Schwarz instructions and the Japanese version of the Disneyland Park guide =)
And as a sort of extension to my study sessions, I occasionally write on Lang-8, which is a site where people learning a language can write journal entries in that language and native speakers will correct their writing. I only write there once in a while and not as part of my study sessions, but it’s still quite helpful. After all, being able to correctly construct your own Japanese sentences completely out of your head (with the occasional help from a dictionary) is very different from just practicing through textbooks and kanji cards ;)
And that’s pretty much all there is to say about how I’ve been doing my Japanese self-study over the years. I hope you found what I said helpful to you if you’re also learning Japanese, or at least interesting if you’re not ;) Even though it’s going to be a struggle to keep up my studies now that I have my almost-full time job, I’m going to try. I just downloaded a Japanese-learning app for my phone called Obenkyou, which has been very helpful for quick bursts of kanji practice. I shall continue to 頑張ります! ^_^