I had no prior experience with Japanese before coming here (save a few Japanese CDs a month or two in advance). I came knowing absolutely nothing about how the language worked. But, once here, I went to my local bookstore and got my hands on a few books that taught me the basic rules. This allowed me to do some very rough communication. My Japanese skills are still quite rough around the edges, and I know just enough Japanese to get me into trouble. I try my best to be realistic about studying, though. I don’t expect to wake up tomorrow and instantly know how to speak fluently, or know all my kanji, it’s a process.
When I study Japanese, I just try to be thorough. I know that grammar, listening, speaking, reading, vocabulary and writing are all important factors for good Japanese. I have a textbook that teaches me the essential grammatical basics that I need to create basic Japanese sentences. Without understanding general grammar (subject object verb vs. subject verb object) the other factors become markedly more difficult for me. If your grammar is sound, I believe you can learn the other elements far more quickly. Though grammar is the foundation of Japanese study, I try not to neglect the other aspects.
When I study, I start by warming up: I review my kana (hiragana & katakana) and as many kanji as I can think of. This helps to switch my brain to Japanese mode. My personal study then begins with learning new grammar structures using a well-respected, beginner’s textbook. This usually takes between 10 and 30 minutes depending on how challenging the grammar concept is. From here I like to move on to move on to some workbook/writing practice for 10 to 20 minutes. Next it’s time for the listening. I’ve got loads of Japanese to choose from, but usually I used the Genki CDs because I think they get progressively more challenging. I finish up the study session by trying to learn 2-3 new kanji and their respective meanings. As far as speaking goes…I’m in Japan, so I try to make sure that I engage in at least one conversation (even if it’s short) per day. I try to make sure I use some of the more difficult concepts that I’ve practiced. If I screw up, I screw up. The alternative, not practicing because I’m to scared to make mistakes, won’t help me to become any better at speaking.
This is my method for studying. Sometimes it’s effective and sometimes it’s not. But I know if I’m consistent, I will get better.
How about you? What methods do you use for learning Japanese? Any special tips or advice?