Chapter III: 5 Steps to Mastering Japanese (Or Any Language)
In Chapter I, you learned the basic formula and tips that will put you on the path of becoming fluent in Japanese. In chapter II, we gave you an outline of all the material you should learn and master at each level.
In chapter III, we will talk about how to reach all of your language goals. Most books teach you Japanese grammar and vocabulary, or give you tips on how to study it. Very little books, if any, teach you HOW to be successful and actually master Japanese.
The steps in this guide can be used to not only learn and master any language but can also be applied to any goal that you have.
We have a lot of information to cover so let’s get right into it!
Step I: Knowing What You Want and When You Want It
I bet you have already heard about the power of setting goals. Well, it is absolutely true. If you have never set goals before, you need to stop right now and create some.
A goal is something that you want to achieve. It can be something huge like wanting to be a billionaire, or it can even be something like wanting to sleep by 10:00pm every night.
Whatever it is, having and setting goals are very, very, very important if you want to be successful. Yes, I wrote “very” 3 times. It is that important.
Why Are Goals Important?
There are 3 major reasons why goals are important.
The first reason is that goals show you exactly what you want. You can’t get something if you don’t even know what it is you want. Imagine you’re a pilot getting ready to fly a plane. If you don’t know where you’re going, then it’s impossible to get there. It’s the same with goals. If you don’t know clearly what you want, then you’ll never get it.
The second reason is that goals provide you with focus. Goals will help you focus on things you need to do for success, as well as showing you what you need to give up to be successful. If you want to learn 2,000 kanji characters in 6 months, but you watch 8 hours of YouTube a day, you know that’s not going to work.
Imagine you were a pilot again. Setting goals also is like a checklist of things you need to do before you take off. If you check all of the items in your list, you’ll have a good flight.
The third reason is that goals provide you with both motivation and inspiration. Do you want to know how to be motivated to learn Japanese? The first step to being motivated is setting goals!
Wait…how can goals be motivating and inspiring?
When you set goals, you give yourself hope, something to look forward to. Until you have goals, all you have are daydreams, even delusions.
When you put your dreams down on paper, then it becomes REAL. You’ll feel it when you write it down. You’ve committed to something that you want to do. You now know what you want, when you want it, and how you’re going to get it. That is very motivating in itself.
When you write down your goals, you’ll even feel inspired. You might even realize that there’s a lot of other things you want to achieve. When you start working on your goals, and even accomplishing them, it starts off a chain reaction. You’ll want to create more goals and then set higher standards for yourself.
This sounds like some sort of sci-fi fantasy, but it really is true. Most successful people in life set goals, and if you want to learn Japanese, you should set goals too.
How to Set Goals: In 5 Easy Steps
- Specific, clear, and concrete goals.
- Time limit
- Confident language, like you know it will happen. I will
- What you will give, and what you will give up.
- Why? What’s your reason for wanting to achieve this goal?
The first thing you need to do is to write down exactly what you want. Do you want to become fluent in Japanese, or do you just want to learn enough Japanese for your week long trip there?
No matter what it is, write it down.
Don’t hold back either. Don’t be afraid to write something down even if you think it’s impossible. If you want to become fluent in Japanese and learn 5,000 kanji characters, it might seem impossible. It’s not!
If you really want something, you can achieve it. So turn your dreams in goals and write them down!
Just be sure to write very specific, clear goals with a time frame in which you want to accomplish it.
Here’s the wrong way to write your goals down: “I want to become fluent in Japanese.”
What does that mean? The word “fluent” is subjective. Do you mean you want to speak as well as a native speaker? Or does fluent mean you can talk to native speakers well enough to get our point across? Do you want to be able to read and write Japanese too? When do you want to become fluent? In 30 years?
After you write down what you want to achieve, it’s time to put some thought into it. Why do you want to achieve it? The reason for this is very important. It will drive you to put in the work you’ll need to do to find success. Be sure to include what you intend to do to reach you goals. When and how much work will you put in?
The Correct Way to Write Goals
Here’s how your goals should be written:
“I want to be able to read, write, and speak Japanese at a near-native speaker level. This means I will learn all of the 2,136 jou you kanji, and be able to read 90% of a Japanese newspaper. I will be able to talk to a native speaker about various topics for 20+ minutes with ease, with few to no “misunderstandings. I will be able to watch Japanese TV shows, movies, and anime and understand without subtitles.
I will accomplish all of these goal within one year, by February 1st, 20XX. I will do this dedicating myself to studying for 1 hour, 6 days a week without fail. I will accomplish this goal so I can make my dream of living in Japan come true, meeting and connecting with many people and experiencing Japan on the deepest level possible.”
That seems like it’s long, but it only took me 2 minutes to type that out. DO NOT skip this step. Even if you think your goal is small, do it.
Maybe you just want to finish studying one Japanese textbook to get a good grade on a test. Set a goal for it! What if you just want to learn how to write your name in Japanese? Set a goal!
Setting a goal will be the first step in making your dreams become a reality.
Just be sure to write it down, and read it over daily.
Step II: Creating a Study Habit: A Plan to Achieve Your Goals
LISTEN UP! This is the most powerful thing you can do to become fluent in Japanese. This technique is the secret for learning anything. What’s the secret?
Make studying a habit.
I bet you think this is the crappiest piece of advice you have ever heard. It’s common sense and you’ve probably heard it a million times before.
But have you ever made studying a habit? Have you ever made a schedule for studying, and stuck with it? Most people have never done this.
This is the most powerful thing you can do to reach your goals. Whether you want to become fluent in Japanese or just want to learn enough for a vacation in Japan, making studying a habit will make you accomplish your goals.
You need to create a study schedule that will help you to achieve your goals.
You need to plan, in advance, the times when you will study Japanese. Almost no one does this, but it is the key that will open doors to mastering Japanese.
Just make sure to create a schedule that is consistent, but also realistic. When you first create a study schedule, you might feel super pumped and want to study 5 hours every single day. It this realistic though? Can you really spend 5 hours a day studying Japanese? If you have a full-time job and 3 kids, this is not realistic.
Think about how much free time you have in a typical day. You probably have quite a bit of free time, even though it might not seem like it at first.
How many hours do you spend doing activities like watching TV, surfing the Internet, or just sitting down doing nothing? You can use some of that time to study. But how often and how much should I study per week?
Intensity vs Consistency
There are 2 major factors you need to consider when making a study schedule.
The first is intensity of study. How long and how often will you study? Generally, the more intense your studying (longer and more often), the faster your Japanese will improve.
If you want to learn Japanese fast, you need to be intense with your studies. Just remember to make it realistic. You don’t want to burn yourself out by studying way too much in the beginning.
If you have a full-time job, an hour a day would be awesome. You could learn a lot in an hour per day. You could even learn a lot with 30 minutes of study per day.
If you don’t have a job and can dedicate your days to just studying Japanese, the sky’s the limit. You could easily study for 6 hours a day if you have nothing else going on. If you follow the advice in chapters I and II in this guide, you could become very, very good in weeks with 6 hours of study per day.
The second factor is consistency. Setting goals gives you the map to find success, but consistency is what gets you to your destination.
You need to have a study schedule that is consistent. If you study for 3 hours every other month, you won’t learn much. You need to constantly practice anything to master it.
Imagine you’re learning a new classical piece by Chopin on the piano. Can you master that song if you practiced it only once every month? No way! You need to practice at least a few times per week.
Most people want to achieve their goals as fast as they possibly can. This causes them to rush, and even skipping important steps in the process. They try remember 2,000 kanji in a week, or try to become fluent in speaking Japanese in one month.
What happens to people who rush is that they actually learn LESS than someone who took their time, but mastered the material. Because they tried to cram a lot of information into their brain in such a short time, they end up forgetting most of it. They then have to go back and restudy the material they forgot. This process usually repeats itself over and over.
In the end, they end up taking just as much time, if not more than someone who took their time to learn everything well the first time around.
Of course, if your study intensity is high, you’ll learn Japanese faster. However, being consistent with your studying is much more important than how long or how hard you study.
It is much better to study for 30 minutes a day than it is to study for 3 hours twice a week. Your brain can process information and remember things much better when you consistently work on one thing at a time.
Even 10 or 20 minutes a day can lead to amazing results in just a few months. I have met people who work over 90 hours per week and have a family to take care off. Even they have an extra 20 minutes per day to work on their goals.
Consistency is the key to becoming fluent in Japanese. It really is.
So no excuses! Just take action! Just doing a little each day will lead to massive results in no time.
Step 3: Attitude and Mindset
This is the most important step on this list. So why did I put it at number 3?
Even though it is essential to have the right attitude to learn Japanese, most people don’t realize how important it is. When looking for tips on how to learn a language, most people skip the sections talking about attitude and look for advice on studying, which book they should buy, etc. People want concrete answers to their questions, not some mumbo-jumbo about having the right attitude.
Please don’t skip this section. Your attitude and mindset are the key factors in determining how much Japanese you will learn, and how quickly you will do it. And the amazing thing is that your attitude is 100% under your control.
You might not have access to the best resources, or maybe your job keeps you busy all day. These things can be difficult to change, but you can ALWAYS change your attitude and mindset.
What kind of mindset and attitude should you have for learning Japanese? Let’s look at some of the major qualities here.
1. Always Pushing Forward
When learning Japanese, there will be times where you’ll feel frustrated, unmotivated, and even hopeless. This is completely natural. I went through all of these emotions, and even “gave up” a few times.
I’m here to tell you that these obstacles are there to help you. Each time you study something that you don’t understand or are having lots of trouble remembering, it’s a test.
It’s a very simple pass or fail test. If you don’t give up and continue to work at it, you pass. If you give up and never try again, you fail.
I “gave up” many times…but it was always temporary. I would take a break from studying for a few days, weeks, and even months. But I would always go back and work on it. And you know what? Everything that I thought was impossible to learn, or was difficult for me to remember, I can now use with ease.
Whenever I speak Japanese, I can use those words and grammar without even thinking about it because I put in the time and effort to learn it.
When you feel frustrated and want to give up, that is a sign that you’re ready to reach the next level. If something is super easy, that means you aren’t challenging yourself. If you don’t challenge yourself, you’ll stay at the same level and never improve. So being frustrated or even feeling helpless means that you’re close to reaching the next level. All you need to do is stick with it and you will eventually learn the material.
Japanese isn’t rocket science. No word, grammar pattern, or kanji in Japanese is impossible to learn.
2. Be Okay With Not Knowing Everything
Many people who learn Japanese sometimes gain a bit of an inferiority complex. They get bothered or even offended when they hear a word they don’t understand. This is especially true if someone at a lower level knows what the word means. This happens quite often. I have studied Japanese at various places around the world, and I have seen this happen everywhere I went. I am guilty of this too.
Sometimes, when I’m talking to someone in Japanese, they’ll use a difficult word to explain something. They’ll even ask me if I understand what they are saying. Sometimes, I would just tell them that I understand even though I didn’t. This type of ego doesn’t help you out at all.
Having an ego is the enemy of learning. If I didn’t have an ego, I would have told the person I was talking to that I don’t understand. They would have probably explained the word to me, which would have been great. I would have learned a new word that would be very easy to remember since it was used in conversation.
If someone asks you what a word means but you don’t know it, it’s 100% okay to say you don’t know. In fact, just admitting you don’t know is the best way to learn something new.
This also applies to learning Japanese. You might feel like you need to study every vocabulary word you can find. You hate it when you read something and there’s words or kanji in there that you don’t know. This is absolutely normal.
Do you know every word in English? No ways! Yet as a native speaker, I bet you have no problems speaking, reading, or writing in English.
Once you reach an advanced level of Japanese, it’s better to improve your knowledge of the words you already know rather than to learn new ones (many of which are specialized words not common in everyday conversations). How can each word be used differently and creatively?
Just remember that it’s okay to not know everything. Don’t build up your ego to the point where it will interfere with your learning.
Attitude: The Factor That Determines How Much And How Quickly you Learn Japanese
The way you react to certain situations and how you deal with problems can help you or hurt you when learning a new language.
As mention above, seeing each obstacle you face as a test, or a challenge to keep pushing forward will keep you on the road to success.
But you should also have an attitude of a friendly and curious child. Just like when you were 6 years old. You wanted to know everything, and you asked questions all the time. You weren’t afraid to talk to people, and more importantly, you weren’t worried about making mistakes when you were speaking.
This is exactly the attitude you want to have to learn and master a language. You want to try to speak to people and not be afraid of making mistakes. And when you realize that you said something wrong, you are quick to fix it.
Children don’t have a magical ability to learn a language that adults don’t have. What they do have is a desire to learn, and have no fear in trying and making mistakes. Since they don’t have an ego yet (most young kids at least), they simply correct their mistakes and go on. Even if they can’t say or do something correctly, they keep trying over, and over , and over again.
That is why they can learn any language they come in contact with. Follow their example and do what they do. You’ll be able to master any language like they do too.
Step IV: Great Minds Think Alike
In “Think Rich, Grow Rich,” one of the greatest books about achieving success, there’s a chapter talking about a “mastermind” group.
A mastermind is a group of like-minded people who share similar goals. You both teach as well as learn from other members in the group. You also support one another, as well as keep each other liable. If you start procrastinating, your group can help you get back on track.
If you can find people who want to learn Japanese too, forming a group can be an awesome way to achieving your goals. Not only are you more likely to put in more effort to keep up with your group, but it’s also a lot more fun when you can study with more people. You can also help each other out.
In chapter I of this guide, we talked about how teaching is a great way for you to master Japanese. Having a mastermind group provides you with the opportunity to teach others.
The only problem is finding people who want to learn Japanese. You might not know of anyone who is interested in learning Japanese. Don’t worry, here are a few ways to find people who share the same goals as you.
1. Meetup.com: Great site to find people who share the same interests as you. If there’s studying Japanese group in your area, create one and see how many people you can get to join.
2. Local Universities/Community Colleges: If you live near a university or community college, check to see if they offer Japanese courses. If they do, chances are good that they might also have a Japanese club, or even a language club that you could join.
3. Creating an online Skype group: There are lots of places like Craigslist to put in ads to find people with similar interests. I don’t really trust Craigslist too much, so I recommend going to Japanese related forums to search for people there. There are a TON of these Japanese forums/pages. Facebook alone has hundreds, if not thousands. Join one of these Facebook groups and see if anyone is interested in creating a mastermind group with you.
Step V: Taking on Challenges
Did you know that improving your Japanese comes down to a decision, which is totally controlled by you? If you want to take your Japanese to the next level, you not only have to push through the hard times (step 3), but also rise to challenges and get out of your comfort zone.
The biggest fear most people have is speaking with native speakers. This is especially true if the person you talk to is someone you just met (online or in real life).
You must decide to get out of your comfort zone and start speaking. It will improve your Japanese by leaps and bounds if you do so. I’ve said several times in this guide that hiring a good online teacher to practice speaking is probably the best way to learn Japanese fast. It does take a lot of courage to do this though. But you are in control of your decision.
Even when you’re studying material from a book, you should challenge yourself. Study material that you have a hard time with. Don’t just do exercises in the book. Go out and do more study exercises on your own. Always seek to challenge yourself, and rise up to meet your challenges. If you do, you’ll be well on your way to mastering Japanese.
Chapter IV: Troubleshooting – Common Problems and Frustrations
Now that we have learned the techniques to achieve success with your learning Japanese goals, let’s head over to chapter IV to find answers to common problems, frustrations, and questions people have while learning Japanese
The Best Way to Learn Japanese Chapters