Keep a notebook for new words when you see or hear them. A great way to increase your retention of words is to use flashcard rings. These are small, blank cards (usually 150 to 200) on a handy little ring that makes keeping them together very easy. They’re really cheap and available at almost any stationery store, convenience store and 100 yen store. You can also find flashcard programs for some phones or on mobile sites(check out Anki, mentioned below), and it is a nice way to get some quick study time on the train.
Again, keep a notebook for when you come across new kanji. Jot it down so you can show it to a teacher or look it up when you have a chance.
Start by memorizing the kanji that represent things you’re exposed to daily, like place names and co-workers’ names, and work your way up. There are good introductory texts available for learning, which you can find in the (last page of this section). The proficiency exam (next page) is a great motivator, and not an impossible goal.
A great FREE application for your computer (and your iPod Touch/iPhone) is Anki. It’s a great flashcard application that takes into account how well you remember the kanji (hard, good, easy) and how long it takes you to remember it. How often each card appears is based on this information (“easy” cards show up less often, “hard” cards or cards you get wrong show up more frequently). This application allows you to make your own flashcards, so it can be used to practice not only kanji, but also vocabulary and grammar as well!
There are several kanji flashcard applications for you iPod Touch/iPhone users available at the App Store through the iTunes store online. Most are relatively inexpensive, so trying out various applications may be worth your while–especially if you have a long train commute in the mornings/evenings. Along the same lines, you may be interested in buying an electronic dictionary. The Canon Wordtank is highly recommended and can be purchased from within Japan through various Internet retailers or at electronics stores such as Joshin Pit or Yamada Denki. It offers a mountain of information, specs, comparisons and much more.
For those of you that would rather not spend the money on an electronic dictionary, which can be quite pricey, but have a Nintendo DS, there are several “games” that you can purchase that allow you to not only look up but also practice your Kanji. “Kanji Sonomama”, “Kanpeki Kanji Chikara”, and “250mannin no Kanken(1,2, or 3)” are games that can be useful to your studies.
Finally, you’re sure to run across kanji during your various net-surfing activities. While more a reference than a study guide, Rikaichan can be very useful when it comes to remembering kanji you run across again and again. Rikaichan can be downloaded for both PC and OSX from a number of sources. If you prefer Google Chrome, they have a port of the same extension called Rikaikun.
VARIOUS METHODS OF SELF STUDY
Here are some less direct, more hands-on approaches you might try:
- Listen to language tapes, which will usually be slower and easier to understand than everyday speech. Such CDs often come with textbooks. You can also find podcasts that are geared towards students of Japanese, at all different levels of difficulty.
- Watch TV and videos. “Dramas” provide a good exposure to conversational Japanese. Watching movies dubbed in Japanese, or with Japanese subtitles, is another fun way to study. Friday Night is “movie night” in TV Land, during which you can usually see a well-known Hollywood movie dubbed in Japanese. These are great for a laugh, and you might just learn something! Don’t feel like you need to have great Japanese ability to watch. Jump in and the rest will follow in time!
- Spend time with Japanese people. Make friends or find a boyfriend/girlfriend! This is a great way to practice conversational Japanese (though not necessarily the polite forms of speech).
- Ask your co-workers questions that you already know the answers to.
- Learn to read the teachers’ room schedule board. Confirm changes with your teachers instead of waiting for them to tell you. This may mean learning the Kanji that represents each of your classes, as well as the kanji in your JTEs’ names. This would be good to do even if you don’t study.
- Get involved in the community. Many JETs are involved in sports clubs, martial arts, or traditional arts such as flower arranging, tea ceremony, or calligraphy. Not only can this immeasurably enrich your stay in Japan, but you’ll be exposed to conversational Japanese as well.
- Read children’s books. Swallow your pride. They’re written in the syllabic scripts (hiragana and katakana, not kanji) so they’re a good way to study for beginners. As your reading ability improves, books for older children start using basic kanji with furigana (the reading of the kanji in hiragana) provided.
- When you are ready, find parallel text books. Often written on modern subjects or using classic tales (Western and Eastern) you will have both the target language and the translation next to each other in a single volume. Usually found near foreign language sections. One of the best parallel texts is “Hiragana Times”. It’s a monthly magazine specifically crafted towards English-speaking foreigners studying Japanese, and contains articles on interesting places in Japan, as well as unique aspects of Japanese culture which may remain unknown to those who aren’t completely absorbed in Japanese society. The subscription is a reasonable 6000-8000 yen per year and highly recommended for those looking for some compelling reading material with which to practice their reading skills. It may even give you something to talk about next time you visit that izakaya.
- Keep a record of your progress in your studies, or even better, keep a journal using Japanese. It’s recommended that you show your journal to a Japanese friend or teacher every once in a while and take note of the mistakes you made. You can also keep a journal on and it will be corrected by volunteer native speakers (although you should try to return the favor).
- Play, don’t work. Find Japanese video games and try to learn from those. This is even better for playing cheesy old games from when you were a kid. If you have an old Nintendo DS, Japanese games will work on it (no region protection!)
- Listen to Japanese music. To improve your reading speed greatly, try singing your favorite Japanese songs during karaoke (you might find that you take a liking to it!)
- Try to speak Japanese with other JETs. Forming a regular group might help.
- Write lots of nengajo (New Year Cards) during the holiday season.
- Take advantage of the ludicrously quiet holidays and study!