In Part 1: Japanese Learning is Like Fishing – Separate Your Writing Lines First, I talked about how learning the three writing systems (Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji) should be the first things you learn when studying Japanese.
Carrying on with the fishing analogy, next I’ll explain how words are the hooks and lures needed to catch
that hot chick the biggest fish in the lake. To be honest, I’m not quite sure how long I can carry on this analgoy, but hey it’s fun.
Hit the jump so we can start tying off our hooks and lures.
So by now you’ve spent a week or two really unraveling that big ole ball of knotted line that is Hiragana and Katakana. Maybe you signed up for Wanikani or tinkered with Kanji Damage and Anki. The next step is to start filling that fat mushy brain of yours with words. I mean a shit-ton of words. That mush isn’t going to fill itself, you know what I’m sayin?
The reason why I push so strongly about starting Kanji study soon after learning Hiragana and Katakana is because you’ll learn an un-godly amount of Japanese words through Kanji.
During my three years of self-study, I put off studying Kanji for maybe 1 1/2 years to 2 years and thought I’d learn all the Kanji I need to know passively. Well, that didn’t work out so well and I saw minimal gains in vocabulary knowledge.
Since pushing myself to learn Kanji, word recognition and vocabulary have sky-rocketed and it has actually become my strong point.
The main reason why I stress learning vocabulary is because it’s the beginning stages of communication. You may not be able to speak like the human you are, but by just knowing words you can iterate the words you need to say. In other words, you can now hook in that hawty across the bar with your caveman speech. You sharp-witted devil.
Here is where things start to get a bit tricky. There are a number of different ways to build up your vocabulary. If you signed up for Wanikani, you’ll naturally be learning vocabulary as you learn your Kanji. The downside to Wanikani vocabulary learning is that, yes, you will learn vocabulary, but the site doesn’t give any context to how words are used. You’ll learn the word, which is good, and afterall that is the purpose, but you won’t know under what circumstances to use it.
Japanese is a tricky language in that there are different levels of politeness and within those politeness levels there are specific words to each level. Without any context it’s a bit hard to determine their usage. For example, 参ります (まいります) is a humble way of saying “to go” and “to come”, whereas 行く (いく) and 来る (くる) are the normal ways to say “to go” and “to come”. Long story short, It’s a bit odd to use 参ります with your friends. On the other hand, if use use 行く or 来る with someone on a boss status, it’s not the correct usage, but they’d be understanding in knowing that you’re not a native speaker. Otherwise s/he is a real jerk face.
So now, you’re probably wondering, “What do I do now Mr. Kuma-Sensei!?!”
Well my prefer method is to use the Japanese Word Speed Master books (日本語単語スピードマスター) for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Say what you will about the JLPT as a test, but the vocabulary books are extremely thorough. There is a natural progression and words are divided up into categories. So maybe you’re curious about all the weather words, there’s a section for that. Maybe you want to learn sport words, there’s a section for that. Though my personal favorite part of these books is that they provide example sentences and translations for all the words. You can see how they are actually used! Hook Line and Sinker.
Combine that with a good SRS program like Anki and you got yourself a pretty good study regimen going.
1.JLPT is a language proficiency test for Japanese that is held once or twice a year depending on your location in the world. It is usually regarded as the gold standard of Japanese language proficiency, however there is much debate about its usefulness both professionally and personally.