Tips for Overcoming Your Language Study Rut
By Kyle Von Lanken
On December 20, 2014
To any of you studying the Japanese language with aims to someday be fluent, I’m sure you know the struggle that is studying the language. With tons of context specific words, several phrases that have no English counterparts and around 2,000 or so kanji to learn in order to be able to read any book aimed at adults, the task can be daunting to say the least.
Perhaps you are already aware of these facts and have even made some significant strides in your Japanese study; however, you might feel stuck in a rut to the point where you feel like you aren’t getting any more proficient in the language.
With the exception of the well accepted idea that it is difficult to gauge your own day-to-day progress, perhaps you truly are stuck. If this is the case, here are a few of my tried and true methods for getting out of your rut and back into your language learning groove.
These days, being able to read kanji on a computer is a simple browser extension away. Unfortunately though, unless they are used correctly they can end up being more of a crutch than a help for your kanji study. In other words, what are you going to do if you come across a kanji you can’t read in a book?
部首 (bushu), or the individual radicals which make up kanji, were unfortunately not taught to me in any of my Japanese language classes back in America. It was only until I studied abroad in Japan that I learned them at a Japanese school, and my kanji study became a lot easier.
Even if you come across kanji you don’t know, you can use resources like jisho.org’s “kanji by radical” section where you can select each individual bushu in the kanji ordered according to stroke count. The iPhone app “imi wa?” also provides a similar feature for bushu lookup.Photo by Philippe Charles
It is my recommendation to make bushu a priority in your kanji study if you haven’t already, followed by practicing writing them and implementing them into your Japanese speech as much as possible (without forcing them or using them out of context, of course.)
You may come to find that at a certain point grammar study begins to take the back seat and you will realize that vocabulary knowledge is by far the most important in understanding and speaking Japanese with a decent level of proficiency.
While I fully acknowledge the importance of using textbooks and similar study materials as a means of aiding in language study, I consider this but one type of resource—having multiple resources at your disposal will only maximize your success.
I will tell you what I usually tell me Japanese students learning English from private lessons (except in this instance, for Japanese study of course): for both listening practice and increasing vocabulary, watching Japanese dramas (or really any Japanese programming with commonly used speech) with Japanese subtitles will help immensely.
You should use a DVD for your television or a video file on your computer that you can pause and seek with. For each sentence, phrase or word you don’t understand you can simply pause, rewind and listen to the phrase again while reading the subtitles. After that you can use an electronic dictionary to look up the new vocabulary and write it down with your native language’s closest meaning.
After doing this a couple times with the same episode, watch it again with no subtitles. You may come to find that you now understand words and phrases you didn’t know before, and you can begin integration of these into your daily Japanese conversation, be it in Japanese society or a Japanese language class. The kanji from the subtitles should also have been valuable for your study.
What are some of the methods you’ve used for getting past Japanese language learning plateaus?