I speak Japanese. I don’t speak it perfectly and I make grammatical mistakes but I honestly don’t care; I get it done. 9 out of 10 times I can say what I want to say, understand what they are saying to me and I can laugh at Japanese comedy on the rare occasions it’s funny.
I never went to a language school and I never took a course. Despite that I’ve negotiated contractual terms in Japanese and I’ve interpreted for Japanese speakers here and abroad.
The point, I guess, is that despite never committing too much to the language, I learned enough to get paid for speaking it and I never spent much time, effort or money to do so.
How did I learn Japanese?
I learned Japanese first, by having it screamed at me in Ihara gym. Nobody there spoke English and they didn’t care that I didn’t speak Japanese. So, that was step one. The moral of this part of the story is to go find an activity to do in Japanese.
Next, my linguistic ability made a quantum leap of sorts when I was arrested and spent several months in Jail. There’s no English in there, lots of time though, so I learned some kanji and the meaning of important words like “Tanto-san” and “shikkō yūyo“.
Later, after I decided to fix my life, I opened my own business and this also introduced me to using Japanese in a way I hadn’t before, and that helped with more advanced concepts and discussions.
So, during these times, how did I learn new words, phrases etc? Well, I kind of tried every thing at one time or another. But, if it didn’t work immediately, if I wasn’t using words and phrases from the source that same day, I would ditch it. So, these are the things I found immediately applicable and useful. The other stuff might work for that other gaijin but this is what worked for me.
No Textbooks, but…
I hate textbooks.
“Smith-san, kore ha nan desu ka?” Customs agent.
“Kore desu ka?” Mr. Smith.
“Hai, kore ha nan desu ka?” Customs agent.
“Kore ha hammu desu.” Mr. Smith. He has successfully imported a ham to Japan.
That is a real excerpt from a textbook someone shoved in my face when I first arrived here back in the day. It sat on a bookshelf for a while, then in a closet, and then got pitched into the garbage.
However, there are a few books I’ve run into which really were useful.
Making out in Japanese actually helps. It’s a silly book, but it provides some pretty straight forward phrases one can memorize and then spit out when the time comes. I’ve used all kinds of phrases from this book and I probably still do, I just can’t remember what they are. From saying “Hi” to telling girls to toss your salad, this book has it all.
Japanese from Zero! 1: Proven Techniques to Learn Japanese for Students and Professionals (Volume 1).
When I first got arrested, I could speak some Japanese but I couldn’t read at all. Someone brought me this book the second week I was in there and I devoured it. It’s not a terribly tough thing to do when all you’re allowed to do all day is sit indian-style on the floor in a cell and stare at the wall. I don’t recommend going in the can, but if you want to discover a passionate reason to study Japanese, that’ll do it.
Well, that’s it for text books. I told you, I don’t like them unless they are my only source of entertainment and method to keep my sanity whilst rotting away in a Japanese jail. But those are two that worked well for me.
Lots of people have gone on and on about Rosetta Stone Japanese and it must work for some people. It didn’t, however, work for me but that’s probably because I wasn’t prepared to shell out two hundred bucks for it. If you have some basic Japanese under your belt, I recommend these videos. Although some of it is pretty obtuse and useless, other parts are found in daily conversation all over the place. I watched some of these while riding an exercise bike. Pretty painless and it’s free. We like free.
I don’t read Comics but…
Tim Ferriss has talked about reading Manga in various languages to learn them. Yeah, I did that and it worked but not based on Tim’s recommendation, but the cop who handed me the books between the cell bars. Reading manga is a good tool to use. The Japanese is often rather simple and lots of them have the kanji spelled out in hiragana as well. I read GTO, because that’s what they had, and I retained a lot of it.
Did I find a new passion and respect for this fantastic Japanese art form and continue my love affair once I was free? No, not at all, I have never read a comic sense and have no plans to. But, if you are attacking the language, it might help.
Look, nothing we can do about it, I know it sounds lame and the concept seems too basic to work, but Pimsleur Japanese works. In fact, if you’re a beginner, it works for everything. I’ve used it to learn crash course Thai, Chinese, Japanese and to brush up French. It isn’t too pricey, it’s relatively simple, and you get a lot of actual speaking and listening in. Granted, there’s no lecherous butt-sex talk on these, but there’s no explaining the ham in your suitcase either; a happy compromise.
But that leads us to…
Porn. If you watch porn, and the figures say you probably do, watching it in Japanese actually helps. Nobody is saying anything too complex, in fact it’s all pretty useful if you missed your immunization for yellow fever, and like Tim Ferriss says about Judo text books, the grammar transfers. Cool Tim, but you can keep the Judo books, I’m good here. If the wrong person catches you, just reference this post and blame it on your burning desire to grow linguistically.
Finally, and probably the most enjoyable method…
While making color coded flash cards I’m sure is a blast, the more pleasurable way I found to learn Japanese was in bed with a Japanese woman. Both during the act and afterwards, the opportunities to rap in nihongo are abundant and it’s amazing the things that come up in conversation in these situations. If you are having trouble finding a partner for this, perhaps try here, and if that fails try here.
Remember, just speak. Don’t hide in gaijin groups and avoid places and people that will challenge you linguistically. If you step up and try to speak it, chances are you’ll surprise yourself with what you can actually say.
If you have any ground breaking tips and tricks, or links, that have helped you learn Japanese, please post them in the comments for others to reference.
Great read as usual GA. Nothing at all beats the “most enjoyable method”, so I won’t even try. However in addition to the inferior methods, watching J-Dramas with English Subtitles is up there. You would then, after some months switch to watching with only Japanese subs, until you’re comfortable enough to watch without any.
Please take note that you should be able to read Japanese subtitles after just a few months of pursuing the more “enjoyable method” during which all of your M Line (text message) exchanges will be in Japanese no doubt. If it’s worth the effort, you will spend enough hours decoding, decrypting and deciphering all the Kanji, emoticons and Janglish.
Good point. The phone is a pretty indispensable tool for learning easy kanji, if one is so inclined. Also, I didn’t include this, but I’ve watched movies I really like and have seen many times, western ones, with Japanese dubbed over. I know what the English is so hearing it in Japanese is fun. Plus I then don’t have to sit through a Japanese drama.
Great post! Good advice and great podcast on learning Japanese. DOMO ARIGATOU!
Tondemonai desu! Yoroshiku!
Eric, the links in the last paragraph don’t work. (not that I’m looking for new lanaguage partner or anything! (Cough cough)
Here’s something I posted in a Facebook User Group. Still keeping a low profile, so feel free to attribute it to ‘anonymous’ (for now) if you think it is post-worthy.
‘Yokoso Kyoto’ … or should that be ‘Yoko-chan, Kyoto’?
Ladieeeees and Gentlemen … I present to you the Japanese version of ‘Make America Great Again’. Shit. Like America Inc., they also forgot to add the swastika.
psst … Any others out there still remember when ‘I think I’m turning Japanese’ meant something else?
Hmm … that poster might be good for something after all. 😉
I second the Making out in Japanese book. It’s fun to carry around, try out and get reactions when you first get over here.
I like your gym and prison immersion. I have to read about your prison experience if you’ve written about it!
In hindsight, spending more time at the skatepark, where it’s easy to make Japanese friends and shoot the shit, would have been better for my Japanese than staying in and studying so many textbooks.
A no-English-speaking girlfriend has been great. But also has been limiting in the long run since I haven’t spent any or enough time in jail / the gym / or the skatepark too.
Let Forest Gump or Something About Mary play in the background on repeat in Japanese is another idea.
The movie idea is good. What I did with those is I’d play movies I knew by heart, I love con-man movies so I used Oceans 11,12,13 and let them play with Japanese dubbed in and Jap subs running. I learned a good bit here and there with those on. FYI, I was never in prison, just jail. I imagine in Prison the immersion is even deeper. All the gaijin I met who actually went to jail spoke and read Japanese very well once they got out.