Do you find that no matter how much you study, no matter how many days in a row, how many hours you spend a day or points you rack up with apps like Memrise, that you don’t feel like you’re progressing? Maybe it’s because you’re studying Japanese but not using it? This blog covers the importance of using Japanese, now just studying it.
In a previous post called Why Repetition is Important I talked about the importance of studying little and often, which focused on the practice of studying Japanese. In fact, most of J-Talk focuses on studying Japanese whether it’s using Memrise or focusing on the JLPT exams, but focuses little on the importance of using Japanese.
Don’t get me wrong, studying Japanese is very important and boosts your Japanese ability, but it is most effective when combined with using the language.
When You Study
When you study Japanese you’re probably drilling kanji, vocabulary, grammar, going through text books. You might be taking classes or studying on your own. You are, more likely than not, in a country where you are not surrounded by Japanese and the only exposure you get is from your studying.
Trying to memorise kanji, vocab etc is fine, but more often than not you are training your brain to recognise those items in that particular context. I.e You’re using memrise and you think you know that kanji, you get it right every time it comes up, but as soon as you see it out in the wild you have difficulty reading it or knowing it’s meaning. This is obviously a problem because say you study really, really hard for the JLPT and you take the test. But do you find that the day after the exam a lot of what you’ve been studying is gone?
Learning Japanese is all about building strong neuron pathways in the brain, and you need repetition and consistency to build those pathways so you can easily remember the language. But you also need give your brain a work out! When you study, especially if it’s with something familiar, you’re not giving your brain the work out it needs to easily remember the Japanese you’re learning.
This is why using Japanese is important.
The Importance of Using Japanese
Quite often when you hear or read a kanji or vocabulary, your brain will forget it very quickly, (which is why repetition is important). But if you start to actually use it and force your brain to remember it without looking, then you will remember it better and faster.
Using it means:
- Writing it down.
- Saying it out loud.
- Using it in a conversation (whether written or spoken)
- Using it with a native person (whether in a class or online)
The best practice is to use it with a native person. You will force your brain to remember words, phrases and grammar, and it may be slow at first but you will get better the more you use it!
Benny Lewis’ Blog Fluent in 3 Months talks about the importance of speaking a language to learn it. He says there’s no point studying at all, but I disagree, and think a healthy balance of the two is much needed.
How You Can Use Japanese
One obvious answer is, go to Japan! If you study at a school you’ll be learning the language and using it all the time. Especially if you stay with a host family who can’t speak English, definitely the best way to boost your Japanese skills.
Just save up, and go study there for a week or even 3 months! This post Studying Japanese in Japan gives you advice for finding schools, and saving up the money and time to go.
Feel like you don’t have enough money to studying in a school? Then why not try volunteering? This post, A Cheap Way To Visit Japan looks at the pros and cons of WWOOF, working on organic farms in Japan in exchange for food and housing.
Other ways you can use Japanese is by meeting native Japanese people by taking lessons, going to MeetUps, online forums, skype, etc. Practising Japanese With Natives goes over the different ways you can meet native Japanese people and practice using Japanese with them.
Finally, one of the best ways to use Japanese is to read it. Read novels, manga, newspapers, websites, anything! And reading out loud will help a lot! These materials are often written by native Japanese people for other Japanese people rather than a textbook which is aimed at non-Japanese speakers. It exposes you to language that you’re not familiar with and pushing your brain to understand what you’re reading is a great way to get it used to using Japanese.
The important thing is to just start using it. Whether you’re speaking or reading, or preparing a trip to Japan. Don’t think “I can’t do it, I need to study more”, just do it. You will improve so much faster and begin to realise that you might remember a lot more from you studies than you thought you did.
Do you have your own suggestions for using Japanese?
Or your own experience on how using the language helped you?
Let us know on our facebook page!