I’m recalling the first time I came to Japan and I saw the first Japanese text in my life. It was on one of the trains in Osaka and woman was reading a book. As you might know Japanese books have a different layout to western books and I think I don't have to mention the multitude of characters a Japanese text has. The skill of being able to read in Japanese was something that seemed simultaneously unachievable and extremely fascinating for me. So probably I could say that my first motivation was connected to reading rather than speaking.
How to learn Japanese effectively - a method that worked for me
Obviously, you can't start with literature when you're learning a new language so I started making my own flashcards to learn the characters and I enrolled for a private language course. There was a negligible initial cost for that, however when considering the opportunities I have access to now with my Japanese skills I don't regret spending some money in order to do the first steps.
The most important thing is to get started. Most of us don't have the motivation to stoop over a text book and start learning a new language. You can try to acquire the required basic skills in a local language school end in a few months you will be able to read and write a few simple sentences.
Don't waste too much time going to the language school! Try to get to a certain level and quit the school in order to have more free time to learn by yourself. Of course the best option is to go to a country where do they speak the language you want to learn. And this is what I did. This not only gave me access to the spoken language but also I was able to buy books whenever I wanted to. In the unfortunate case of not being able to go to the country, you can find a Japanese foundation around where you live. Usually they have a well equipped library and you can borrow Japanese books for free.
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It was about two years ago when I opened my first Japanese book. As soon as I experienced some kind of advancement I felt that this is the most effective way to learn a language and I decided to read every single day. For me, being a scientist excitement lies in exponential growth. So what does this mean?
The first book you will read in Japanese will be extremely painful. I guarantee that you will not find any joy in it. Nevertheless you mustn't give up. You will find your first scrapes of bliss from the second book. You will experience that the number of words you don't know drops exponentially as you proceed with reading the book. So basically you start off with knowing zero words in Japanese and you will eventually get to a point when you know almost every single word in a given book.
So while I was reading these books I tried to focus on words I didn't understand and as soon as I encountered one of them I looked up the meaning in a dictionary, created my own flashcard and kept repeating the same process. Now I have about 5000 flashcards in my wardrobe and I can admit that it was time-consuming to create them. Originally, I thought flashcards are really good because you can revise your new vocabulary whenever you have some free time. For example, one or two days before I was going on a trip I was very busy with creating my Japanese flashcards so that I could spend my time effectively on an airplane or when transferring between flights.
I usually create decks of a 100 flashcards and sadly, I realized that after I have reviewed them a few times I memorized all of them and I got bored and I didn't even want to take them with me. On the other hand though, it also means that my brain memorized words faster than I expected.
These days when I read a book in Japanese I don't even have to use the dictionary and I don't even create my own flashcards. Simply there are no more words for me to remember. I think for any learner after two years of consistent reading in Japanese it would take a few months to find 100 new words and therefore it is meaningless to keep creating the cards.
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So finally, let me show you a few books I read in Japanese in the first year. With the advance of modern technology and smart phones, many people, especially people marketing cell phone applications will try to persuade you to use digital content to learn a language.
I would vote for completely the opposite. Buying second hand books costs essentially no money and you can avoid the distraction caused by advertisements in the application or on the websites you would be using to learn a new language. Amazon in Japan is a perfect source to buy books for pennies and they deliver to your house in a few days.
My personal favorite as of today is Yukio Mishima. My first book was the first part of the tetralogy The Sea of Fertility, the Spring Snow. Later on I realized that this was one of the most difficult books I have ever read in my life. Yukio Mishima has a very unique writing style and he uses extremely advanced Japanese to express extremely abstract things.
An another book I enjoyed reading was The Temple of the Golden Pavilion also from Yukio Mishima which is, profanely speaking about how to set the Golden Pavilon on fire. When I visited the Golden Pavilon in Kyoto, I had different thoughts in my mind so I found this new way of looking at the Golden Pavilon very interesting.
And finally if you would like to improve your business Japanese I can recommend you Tax Heaven from Akira Tachibana. This book is about a Japanese guy doing business in Singapore and you can have some insight into the Japanese underworld.
In the 21st-century the method of reading books in order to learn a language is extremely underrated. However, I found that it is an essential step because it boosts your imagination, it helps you to form sentences and it corrects your grammar constantly.
Reading books is very important and I can't emphasize the importance of books enough, but you might get to a certain point when you want to be more creative. The opposite of consuming content is creating content. You can create Japanese texts by translating English into Japanese or simply by just writing down your own thoughts in Japanese. It is always good to have someone to proofread your translations or writings and I believe this is one of the final steps of learning a language. We can say that you have completed the race when a native person looks at a text written by you and s/he corrects nothing.