If you have made a new year’s resolution to start studying Japanese and you are getting a little tired of spouting “sumimasen” whenever it seems appropriate, or would like to go to experience a confusion-free trip to the supermarket, now is the time to get to grips with the language.
With somewhere between 2000 to 3000 kanji in common use, and many with several different readings, Japanese is undoubtedly daunting. It can be hard to know where to start or even how to go about it. The answer, of course, depends on your situation – available time and funds – and your personality –how you learn, why you’re learning and what motivates you.
So let’s get acquainted with the options…
Studying Japanese at a Language School
A Japanese language school is probably the first thing you think of when considering learning a language. This isn’t a cheap option with fees in Tokyo ranging from 65,000 yen to upwards of 300,000 yen a month, not including living costs. If you have the time and funds, however, attending regular classes are a way to ensure your learning stays on track.
There are vast differences between and within the schools that are out there, with classes geared at becoming conversational, gaining fast-track business level or passing the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT).
As someone who has trained in teaching English as a foreign language, I cannot stress enough the importance of teaching style. First and foremost, make sure that your class is a language immersion class for learning the language as intuitively as possible. Secondly, if possible, try to sit on classes from a couple of schools to see what the teaching style is like. The pace and process of teaching, as well as the workload, varies greatly, and you need to select a learning environment that fits your learning style.
- GaijinPot’s list of language schools
- Universities – several have a language school department
- Scholarships and exchange programmes – from the Japanese government or your home country organisations
- Japanese teacher training schools – if you are concerned about cost, these schools may offer cheap (or free) classes from trainee teachers
Japanese Private Tutors
If you don’t have the time or funds for a language school, private tutors may be a good choice to keep your studies on track, with fees starting from just 2000 yen per hour. One-to-one lessons naturally entail a lot less hours of contact time but are more concentrated in their focus, allowing you to hone in on specific material. They often suit those who like to ask questions and sometimes find a classroom environment too restrictive.
The one thing that many current and former Japanese language students stress is the importance of the teacher. This doesn’t just include liking them as a person, but entails thinking critically about how far their teaching methods are actually advancing your learning.
- Student-teacher introduction websites
- International cultural exchange centres – check any noticeboards for adverts
- Japanese teacher training schools – this is a cheap option as trainee teachers are keen to practise
Conversation Classes / Language Exchange Partners
Conversation classes, which are often run free of charge by volunteers, are a great way to ensure that you tackle topics that you might not otherwise in your daily interactions. However, make sure the structure of the class enables you to speak with different conversation partners in order to experience a variety of levels and ensure maximum exposure to new topics, vocabulary and grammatical structures.
Language exchange partners are very popular as a way to make friends as well as practise a language in a more informal environment. Pay close attention to the level of your speaking partner and the balance of English (or your native language) to Japanese. If your partner speaks better English than you do Japanese, the conversation will naturally be weighted towards the former. Reflect regularly on whether the balance of languages is approaching 50:50!
- Language exchange introduction websites
- Meet-up sites – these also include a variety of interests and hobbies (eg. CouchSurfing and Meetup).
- Ward offices – many run activities and classes for foreign residents
Teach Yourself Japanese with Self Study
All of the above study methods are underpinned by one inescapable fact: you have to sit on a chair and patiently tackle Japanese every day. And yes, your butt will probably get a little numb. It’s essential that you have a reason for studying that you can keep reminding yourself of – it’ll be your focus for staying motivated and on track.
One great thing about studying whilst living in Japan is that you are constantly surrounded by the language. So maybe, just maybe, you can count those Japanese cat videos as listening practice. And hanging out in bars could definitely be classed as essential conversation practice…
However you choose to study, make 2015 the year that you conquer nihongo. Ganbatte ne!