How to Study Japanese: Advice from Senpai

Senpai (先輩・せんぱい) means one's senior at school, in his/her work place, or in martial art and other training clubs, where experience is highly regarded. In traditional Japanese culture, the senpai is expected to teach, guide, and support his/her kohai (後輩・こうはい) 'new-comers, junior'. Here is valuable advice from your senpai about how to study the Japanese language.


For J1 Students

J1A is unlike any of your typical classes at Berkeley. Class size is much smaller compared to your huge Math1A class in Pimentel, for example. You also have different teachers every day of the week, rather than hearing the same professor talk every lecture. Whereas most classes are only 4 units, Japanese class is worth 5 units which means you need to put in a little more effort than usual. Moreover, you have class Monday through Friday, so you're learning something new everyday and it would be difficult to fall behind. On top of all of that, we're busy college students. This just translates to the fact that we have so much to do with so little time. But wait! I'm not trying to scare you about this class or anything like that. On the other hand, here are a few suggestions to help you study more efficiently for J1A:


Go to class

Sleeping in and skipping can be tempting at times especially if your class is at 8AM, but avoid the temptation. We all know that attendance is part of the grade, but more importantly, it is in class that you get to practice speech and grammar patterns. The teachers' explanations can help clarify any misconceptions that you may have. You'll also learn from them about any common mistakes that you should avoid, or any sections that you should particularly study well in preparation for the written quizzes.


Read the book

Going to class is good, but going to class without reading the book is another thing. Most of class time is devoted to doing exercises, and you won't really be able to do them if you don't know what's going on. Ideally, you should read the chapter/section before class begins, but from experience, it's pretty difficult to keep up. I think that if you remember the grammar pattern at the beginning of the section -- for example, "A からB まで" means "from A to B; from A as far as B" -- that is, if you look over the main point of the section, along with a few sentence examples, then you're good to go.


Think and Analyze

When you're reading the sample sentences in the book, think about why things were structured in a certain way. Even if you generally understand what the sentence is saying, explain to yourself why the verb is in plain form, or why は was used instead of が, for example. Relate what you've learned in the past to what you're currently learning. Form your own sentences using everything that you've learned so far, and have your sensei take a look at it.


Office hours and tutorial sessions

At one point or another, you'll get lost when you're thinking things through by yourself. Don't agonize over it if you don't understand. Go to office hours and talk to your sensei to see what you're missing. Even if you don't have any questions and even if you completely understand what's going on in class, I'd still encourage you to go to office hours/tutorial sessions. Go over the grammar points again and re-do the exercises and come up with new answers. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You may think this is boring, but constant repetition is essential. Learning a language is cumulative learning. The fact that you know it today doesn't mean that you'll still remember it next week. The more repetitions you make, the better are the chances that you'll remember in the long run.


J1A is definitely unlike most of your classes at Berkeley. It's fun, and its knowledge is something you would probably use in the future, as opposed to the delta-epsilon proofs you have to go through in Math1A. The suggestions that I outlined here are pretty straightforward, and I'm sure you have your own strategies as well. Just remember that taking J1A is not just taking a class -- it's learning language and culture which definitely takes more than an hour a day of study. ですから、がんばってくださいね!

Arashiyama Japanese is difficult, and if your exposure to the language before J1A was as nonexistent as was mine, consistent and committed study habits are extremely important. Everybody learns differently, but these are a few tips based on the study system I have worked out.

  • Hopefully, you have already made flashcards for, and completely memorized both hiragana and katakana. If not, do so immediately. Some people come into class with previous knowledge about the Japanese alphabet, and for them the first part of the course is a breeze. For the rest of us, we have to learn the characters as quickly as possible so as to not fall behind. Once this is done, flip through to the end of the book and start practicing reading words out loud; don't worry about what they mean, just practice to shorten your recognition time. Practice from the vocabulary lists. If you try to do reading passages or grammar sentences, you will probably have trouble telling where words begin and end.
  • Doing well on the vocabulary quizzes is crucial; not only are they a relatively large part of the final grade, but not knowing words in exercises, reading passages, and conversations means that you will get a lot less out of class time. Unfortunately, the only effective way I have found to learn vocabulary is to make flashcards. I write the English on one side, and hiragana on the other; usually, when studying I break the stack of words for the week into about four smaller sections. I go through a small stack hiragana → English until I can do it quickly without missing any, and then switch to English → hiragana (the hard direction). If I haven't mastered all the words after going through all the small stacks, and then the whole stack at the end, I will start going through English → hiragana, but writing down the answers this time. The whole process usually takes me about three solid hours for one week's worth of words; breaking the time up over several days may be good for retention, but for me, I am too busy to do so, and doing the whole list the night before the quiz maximizes my score. I also try to run through the whole stack right before class just to make sure they are fresh in my mind.
  • Studying for kanji is very difficult, and is pretty easy to ignore at the beginning when they are easy; I fell behind first semester, and I am still trying to catch up. Don't make the same mistake! Now, I make flashcards with hiragana on one side, kanji on the other (hopefully, you will already know the hiragana words; if not, it is a good review to solidify them in your mind. I have never had any luck trying to learn both kanji and hiragana at the same time.) I go through the flashcards kanji → hiragana first; this should be really easy, and will usually take about 30 minutes to master. The difficult direction is hiragana → kanji. Don't bother doing this in your head. Kanji is all about detail, and the only way to effectively study is to write down the characters as you go through the cards. The first few weeks are super easy, because every character you see is new and interesting. The rest of the semester will be very difficult, because then they get much more complicated, but all start to look alike. Don't despair, though. After a while (probably not until J1B, though) you will start to recognize radicals, and the conceptual meaning of compound words will start to make a lot more sense.
  • The written quizzes can be hard, but staying on top of vocabulary and kanji helps a lot; there have been plenty of times when I would have gotten an "A" on the test, but I missed a lot of points on the kanji section, or didn't know important words in the reading passages. As far as the grammar goes, class time is the best way to master that. Otherwise, the homework exercises are very similar to the test questions. I always look through the homework first (if I have time to even do that...) and then make flashcards for translating homework example answers from English → Japanese. Even though this isn't a perfect way to study, it will help you remember the general structure to which your answers to the test questions will definitely need to conform. Doing a homework problem even if you have done it three times still will probably help you on the test, so if you have time to review them exhaustively, do so. Later on in the course, making flashcards for the various verb forms (i.e. dictionary form, nai- form, te- form, etc.) will help immeasurably.
  • Speak up in class. This is intimidating, especially when you know for sure that your answer is wrong, or that you don't know all the kanji in a passage, but it will help you learn, and the teachers will appreciate it.
  • If you can, go to office hours with questions, or to just generally review. Unfortunately, I work all day after class, so I can testify to the fact that you can do okay in the course even if you can't ever make office hours or conversation tables. However, based on the few times I have gone, it is a big help to have the grammatical concepts reviewed outside of the normal class environment.
  • Eat as much sushi, and drink as much sake as possible. It helps with your pronunciation.

In the interest of full disclosure, even all this stuff has not given me perfect grades in Japanese; I have gotten "A-" both semesters so far, and will probably get the same this semester. However, compared to the beginning of my Japanese experience, I now spend my time much more effectively (leaving more time for lab research and studying for MCB classes ... YES!). I hope it helps. Ganbatte kudasai!

Akinaichu I took one year of Japanese in high school, but got nothing much from it but hiragana and katakana, so I started over with J1A at Berkeley. Three years and a semester abroad later, I'm in J101. Certainly I am determined to become good at Japanese, and even someday fluent. If you're taking J1 to get a very simple conversational ability, of the "get around in Japan" kind, you might be frustrated. I feel our Japanese program is aimed towards a relatively long-term study of the language, with a steady development of the fundamentals. A different course of study, perhaps with your own books or tapes, might be better if you just want to quickly learn how to say "Where is the train station?" But if you want to seriously develop your knowledge of Japanese, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better program. However, I can't say it's easy, or won't take much work. I don't want to scare you, but it's good to know what you're getting into. As you'll probably be told over and over, it's true that studying a little bit here and a little bit there,like going home every day and going over what you did in class, is so much more effective and easier than setting aside one big block of time a week to sit and study for hours on end.



Pronunciation is not something that gets a lot of attention in class, because it might make you feel more self-conscious, and self-consciousness is your biggest enemy in speaking a foreign language. Besides, everyone gets pronunciation down sooner or later. But here are a few tips to make it sooner rather than later.

  • The sooner you get hiragana down pat, the sooner you can start writing down -- and thinking of -- Japanese words using it, and there's nothing more important to pronunciation than seeing Japanese words as "made of" kana, not romaji. Kinen and kinen look the same in romaji, and even if you make one of them kin'en like some romanization systems do, the difference is not obvious. But look at きんえん and きねん and it's obvious. Likewise with きいて and きて.
  • Focus on the sounds in Japanese that don't exist in English. ら is romanized as "ra," but that's not what it is. Neither is it "da" or "la." Someone just decided to write is as "ra" because we have no better letter for it, but it's really something in between all three, with a single click of the tongue, like the Spanish single "r." If you don't feel confident that you have it, ask someone for help, because they might not correct you of their own accord if you're just starting Japanese. Two other sounds to watch out for: ふ, which is somewhat between "fu" and "hu," and ん, which is its own syllable and sounds differently to our ears depending on what comes after it. Followed by a ぷ, for example, it sounds to us like an "m," which is why てんぷら is often romanized as "tempura."
  • Also focus on the exceptions: the sounds that don't always sound like they do when you're learning kana. These are mainly -u syllables, like す and し in です and した respectively. The "u" part of the syllable is deemphasized, and not pronounced very clearly. This is called "elision" by linguists.


Though it's completely different from English, Japanese grammar isn't hard once you learn the patterns, like the way a sentence consists more or less of "noun phrase, particle, noun phrase, particle, . . ., verb," and the way you get the pre-ます form of an う-verb from the dictionary form by changing the last syllable from the う-column to the い-column of the same row. The more you speak, the more easily these things will flow off your tongue (don't be shy!) and the more you listen, the more you'll intuitively understand subtle differences like that between は and が.


Here's a big one. Some tips and comments in no particular order:

  • The more you learn, the easier it is to learn more. You can learn to write individual kanji more easily because you'll recognize some of the pieces, and you can learn the meanings and readings of new compounds more easily because you'll already know the individual kanji that form them. So starting to learn kanji is hard, because you have no base of kanji and kanji parts, but don't give up and it'll get easier.
  • Take the S classes (J1AS, J1BS, etc.) if you can. They help (the more trouble you're having, the more they help), take just an hour a week, and they're fun.
  • Know correct stroke order. It seems silly at first, and it's also hard at first. But if you start out learning correct stroke order, it'll become so easy you rarely have to think about it, and it actually helps. If you learn some simple patterns (like usually horizontal then vertical, usually outside then inside, etc.), and some set Kanji pieces (called bushu or “radicals”), you'll be able to figure out a new Kanji's stroke order. The reason it's important is that the "correct" stroke order is the one that makes it easier and faster to write and remember kanji, and it can even make your Kanji more distinguishable. This applies to kana too, like シ and ツ, ン and ソ.
  • Understand the on and kun readings; most kanji have at least those two readings, and in general (though there are exceptions), the on reading is used when the kanji is used in combination with other kanji, and the kun reading is used when it's by itself. So if you see a combo you've never seen before, try to think if you've seen the individual kanji in combination before, and how they were pronounced.
  • Bushu (“radicals”) are very useful in learning kanji. Some bushu carry meaning -- kanji that they appear in tend to have meanings related to one thing, like 泣, 流, and 洗, which are all related to water because they have the "water" bushu. Some bushu, on the other hand, carry sound -- many Kanji with that bushu have the same on reading, like 観, 歓, and 勧, which all can be pronounced kan. Bushu are also useful in learning how to write kanji. If you've never seen 暗 before, it could be scary -- 13 strokes! But if you just think of it as two 日s and a 立, it's not that bad.
  • When writing a kanji, imagine the square it should fit into. If it's got lots of stuff stacked vertically, you'll have to write each part as short as you can, and if it's stacked horizontally, keep each piece narrow.
  • When practicing writing kanji, I used to find that I'd write each one ten times without thinking and not remember in the slightest. Repetition is important, but more important is trying to hold in your mind everything about the kanji each time you write it: the meaning, the reading, the bushu, and how it looks overall. Write over and over as fast as you can, and you'll end up needing more total time to learn it, I think.
  • For kanji that you get mixed up or have trouble with, try to think of mnemonics. When I was learning 困, which means something like "to be in trouble," I thought to myself, it's like a tree (the middle part, 木, means tree) trapped inside a box! When it tries to grow, it'll certainly be in trouble. Silly, isn't it? But it sure helped me. Mnemonics are something you can't really get from other people; you have to come up with them yourself, because the process of coming up with it helps you a lot.
  • If you're reading something with kanji that you don't know, and you have to write the readings above the kanji (called furigana), keep trying, every single time you read it, to look only at the kanji, not at the furigana. Even without really working at it, you might eventually absorb the reading.


Jim Breen's internet Japanese dictionary WWWJDIC is invaluable. Google the word "WWWJDIC" and you'll find a dozen mirrors. It lets you search Japanese to English using Japanese text or romaji, and English to Japanese. It has kanji lookup methods, stroke order diagrams, and example sentences. But you'll also probably eventually want a real dictionary, and when the time comes, I think you'll find an electronic dictionary much faster than a paper one. Dedicated electronic Japanese dictionaries like the Canon WordTank can be extremely expensive, up to $400, so I recommend getting a cheap Palm OS PDA of any kind (you can get a used one on Ebay for less than $40), and then downloading a free Japanese dictionary; the two main ones are called Dokusha (looks nice, has more kanji lookup methods and a kanji compound search) and PADict (has fast English to Japanese lookup, stroke order diagrams, and you can draw kanji to look them up.) The tricky thing about Japanese dictionaries of any kind is looking up kanji you don't know the reading for. There are a variety of ways to look up kanji by looking at them and turning them into some numbers; I've found the easiest to be the “SKIP” (System of kanji Indexing by Pattern) system, which WWWJDIC and Dokusha support.

Getting more practice

Of course practice is the most important thing for a foreign language, and it's not always easy to find ways to practice speaking, hearing, reading and writing Japanese in America. Here are some things I've done.

  • If you like reading fiction for fun, what better way to practice reading Japanese than that? Start with children's books, and don't let yourself feel silly. Eventually you'll be able to read young adult fiction, either originally Japanese or translations from English.
  • Japanese anime and music are great for listening practice, especially if you work at it by watching an anime episode twice, once for the story, and then once without looking at the subtitles. Listening to a lot of Japanese in many different situations is the best way to get an intuition for the differences between similar words.
  • Keep a journal in Japanese.
  • Find penpals. There are lots of penpal-matching internet services, and your teachers might have connections too. A major point of learning a foreign language is to be able to communicate in it; it's easy to lose sight of that by studying in isolation.
  • Talk to yourself in Japanese. In your head. Or when no one's around.
  • Don't be shy. Seriously think about what will happen if people hear you make a mistake ?- nothing!
  • There's nothing better than an exchange program, but only after you've built up some base of knowledge. The more you know already when you go to Japan, the more you'll learn there.

Ama no Hashidate There are only a few basic principles to go by.

  • First, though the going may seem rough, it's actually always a good idea to read the text of the lesson yet to be taught the next day. Just get a cursory view of the material without getting too worried about understanding how everything works right away. All you're doing is getting first impressions. Then in class you'll be able to draw on those vague impressions to understand the point of what's taught in class.
  • Secondly, make sure you do the drills, Homework, listening exercises, and kanji exercises. Whole bit. Yes, it's a well-greased machine and you're being ground in the mill. But the more routine it is, the more things are seeping into your unconscious mind. So, since it's a chore to remember all the details, having your syllabus at your fingertips is the key to help you navigate through the maze of assignments effortlessly. It'll be a breeze after your first few weeks of school.
  • Thirdly, ask, ask, and ask more questions. You're learning a foreign language, and your mind is probably more active than the course is able to handle. So anything you wonder about, or just doesn't seem to fall into the logical patterns taught you, are things that have fallen between the cracks. Asking the tutor questions has been, in my experience, the most rewarding of all. You're less likely to be intimidated in front of tutors rather than sensei's. And oftentimes, the tutor can offer you fresher perspectives and approaches. You'll be surprised at how a question over a tiny point can turn out to be a much larger way to understand the system of language.
  • Lastly, good luck! You'll be fine, once your first few weeks of frustration are over and you realize you've built yourself a foundation that'll never go away.

ArrowBack to top


For J10 Students

Fushimi Inari I am writing in regards to how I have been working in order to get proficient grades in J10A last semester as well as this J10B this semester. I vividly remember late summer last August going to take the placement exam for J10A and not really knowing how to say causative, passive, or causative-passive sentences. My kanji was that of a J1A student; I didn’t even know how to read 上手! I completely failed the exam but Kambara-sensei told me to do my best and try hard even though things were looking grim.

I feel that I was at a disadvantage because I was the only freshman in the section, and I was also taking 19 units for my first semester. But I decided to take the chance and put everything I had into studying Japanese. The beginning was tough but I developed a lot of good habits for studying. I think the biggest life saver was note cards. I made note cards for everything you could think of: kanji, vocabulary, grammar, and basically anything else I had to memorize. I would carry them around everywhere I went and anytime I would have a break I would sit down and go through them. I mostly focused on the kanji because that was my weak point (and still is).

Also last semester I took both the grammar and kanji supplementary courses. With these classes along with the regular everyday lecture I was eating, drinking, and sleeping Japanese, which kept me up to pace with everyone else.

Over the winter break I frequently visited my grandma who lives about 40 minutes away and would speak with her in order to keep me up to pace. So when I returned this semester it wasn’t a very hard transition.

A really weak point that I have is particles. In community college we really didn’t learn how to use particle properly and that would consequently take a significant chunk out of my exam grades. So this semester I have been attending office hours regularly every week and Shibahara Sensei has been teaching me really well. When I don’t have a problem with particles, I usually just attend office hours and chat with Shibahara Sensei, which has greatly helped my listening abilities and speaking abilities.

I would like to thank Kambara sensei for giving me the chance to take the J10 courses, I definitely have enjoyed them and I hope that I worked up to Kambara Sensei’s, Urayama Sensei’s, and Shibahara Sensei’s expectations. I have learned so much in this course I cannot thank you all enough!

Mizaru Japanese 10 may seem intense compared to Japanese 1. Once you get used to the pace you will be alright, assuming you keep on top of studying. To begin with, you should understand the class schedule in order to keep on pace. Even though I study hard, I STILL forget to turn things in on time! Always check the schedule! If you have taken J1 you will probably be surprised that the test may only span one lesson and that the quizzes are at least twice a week of 10 words or kanji.

Here are some study habits that help me; try them and see if they work for you. Any of these things may work, but if I can just stress a few things you should absolutely try they would be reading out loud, writing while you memorize and continuing to review and preview all week long, not just right before the quiz or test.

Hypothetical Weekend:

In order to prepare for the upcoming lesson, I find it important to study quite a bit before hand. I make sure I have about three hours total during the weekend to preview and memorize.

1st- Vocab for Monday Quiz

First I read the list of words once or twice out loud and slowly so that I can absorb them. Then I fold a sheet of binder paper in four lengthwise, cover the kana and try to write them from the English. Say the word out loud as you write! I cannot stress this enough, it cuts memorization time down a lot. Unless the kanji for the word is particularly difficult, I try to write first the kana for the word and then the kanji. In J1 I thought flash cards worked pretty well. But in J10 you have to learn a lot of kanji and flash cards generally test you on only the sound aspect of a word. Therefore it is great if you can combine writing and speaking into one task. Even if you do not know the word, try to write it in Japanese before you look at the answer, the kanji too. Once you have finished a set, try doing it again or take a break and come back to it. Once you have done this maybe three times, take a break for a while.

2nd- Kanji Homework

With at least some idea of the kaiwa vocab turn to the kanji shukudai. Yes, it is probably due way off on Thursday, but if you do it on Sunday you will be saving your self time and absolutely improve your quiz and test scores. Write out each word on the kanji homework and SAY IT OUT LOUD. If you still do not know the meaning of the word, look it up in the book. Some of the kanji are from the yomimono, so you do not need to learn the words yet, but it will benefit you to just get somewhat familiar with them now. Do not look up the readings for the words unless you absolutely cannot remember. Come Monday, everyone will be impressed that you somehow “already know the kanji” and you can actually practice reading them without kana. In class you will be reinforcing what you studied and therefore you are more likely to remember the kanji later.

3rd- Read the Kaiwas

Yes, out loud. And as you come across the underlined points stop and read the grammar explanation. You don’t need to memorize the grammar because they spend a lot of time on it in class, but you should read it once to get an idea.

4th- finally come back to the kaiwa vocab and keep writing them all out until you know them.

Monday: I find that waking up 10 or 15 minutes early and writing the vocab one more time right before class really refreshes your memory. You will forget all the vocab words right away if you do not make an effort to review them. If possible write them every day, or at least a few times a week. Think of it as maintenance. If you lose muscle you have to work much harder to gain it back than if you had of just kept doing little workouts to maintain it.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: If possible go over homework at office hours before it is due. Try to go to office hours at least once a week. If you do not have questions try actually speaking Japanese! Daily repetition and reinforcement is key.

Wednesday: For the Kanji quizzes I use the same folded paper and writing method as for the vocab. First cover the kanji and write them from the kana, then go back and write the kana for the kanji you just wrote. Do this as many times as it takes. And do say it out loud. Also continue practicing even after the quiz.

Repeat these steps the following weekend with the new vocab, the new kanji that will appear and read the yomimono and it’s grammar points.

When I prepare on the weekend I actually save time during the week. More is less! so 一週間中がんばって!

  1. Kanji - Writing kanji over and over to memorize them works for some people, but not for others. If it doesn't work for you, it's helpful to try to understand the meanings of the components for each individual kanji. For instance, the kanji for えいきょう (影響) seems very complicated at first. However, the first character of this word means "shadow" and the second character means "sound", so "shadow sound" can be a way to say "influence".

    If you look at the individual components of this first character, there is the character for sun/day (ひ、日) and part of the character for shape (かたち、形). A shadow is a shape that is made in the sun, so this makes sense for the first character. The second character means "sound". The character for sound, (おと、音) is part of this kanji. In this way, you can dissect many kanji characters that look complicated and make "stories" for each kanji so that they are easier to memorize.

    Even if you do prefer writing the kanji over and over, don't do it mindlessly; make sure to think about what each component might represent.

  2. Grammar - Before class, skim over all of the explanations of the grammar for that lesson. Even if you don't understand every point, read through the grammar explanations so you get the gist. After class, as soon as possible (on the same day is the best) go over the day's lesson and re-read that portion in the book. If you go over the lesson right before the test, you will probably have forgotten a lot and will waste time trying to recall information.
  3. Conversation - It is hard to practice conversation in class because time is limited, so office hours/tutorial sessions/conversation table are highly suggested. Often when people learn foreign languages they become proficient in reading and writing, but not as much in speaking, so try to fit in these extra tutorials etc. in your schedule.
  4. Vocabulary - For me, what works best is to make a vocabulary list with the English words on one side and the Japanese words on the other side. When I write down each word, I say it out loud and try to make a connection between the English and Japanese words; for instance, I ask myself if I have heard something similar to this word before. After making the list, I say the entire list out loud again and repeat this every day until the quiz. Saying the list out loud takes less than 5 minutes but it helps to memorize the words.

Nara In order to attain a good grade, I really had to be on the ball.

Before every kaiwa and vocabulary quiz, I would memorize the necessary vocabulary the night before. I find it also very helpful to study right before class, the morning of.

Before the kanji quizzes I'd practice remembering the hiragana by looking at the characters and then after that, I would try to write the kanji characters just by looking at the hiragana. After repeating this process a few times, I find that I know it perfectly. I also found it useful to memorize kanji radicals as helpful hints.

Completing the homework packets at least a day before the due date help greatly because it gave me a chance to ask fellow classmates about certain things I didn't understand, such as the kanji on the homework that I didn't recognize or something.

For the listening exercises, I found that knowing the vocabulary is essential to understanding the conversations more easily.

For the oral quizzes and such, my partner(s) and I always wrote it up early in order to make necessary changes before memorizing and talking through my writing with the Senseis really helped.

I think keeping up and asking for help when I need it, allows me to do well in the class.

Nebuta Unlike some students I know who have a knack for picking up foreign languages, learning a new language doesn't come easily to me. I have to put in a lot of effort to master any significant amount of material.

When I took the J10 series at Berkeley, I tried to take advantage of all the learning resources made available to the students by the Japanese department. In particular, the supplementary grammar and kanji classes were very useful. These classes were pretty low-key, meeting only once a week. However, they provided fun and valuable exercises and introduced new approaches to learning the material that were not covered in the regular lectures.

In particular, the grammar class taught us how to deconstruct sentences into components that facilitate their comprehension. I found this to be extremely useful as Japanese sentence construction is quite different from what we are used to in English.

Similarly, the kanji class provided a unique opportunity to work on various kanji exercises with other students.

In addition to these supplementary classes, the tutorial sessions and conversation tables were another valuable, and somewhat underutilized learning resource. I often found myself to be one of only a handful of students at these sessions, which often resulted in a personal and engaging learning environment for interacting with native speakers. It’s a good idea to go to tutorial sessions with a couple of questions or an idea of what material you'd like to be discussed.

I found that one of my major barriers in learning how to speak Japanese was getting over my embarrassment and fear of saying things the wrong way, but the friendly environment of tutorial sessions have helped me realize the importance of learning how to articulate my own ideas.

The Japanese classes cover a lot of useful grammatical structures, kanji, and vocabulary, but busy with the demands of other classes and obligations. I later ended up forgetting some of this material if I didn't put effort into reinforcing it.

I'd highly recommend doing what you can to increase your exposure to the language as much as possible, and for me that means trying to speak up in class and taking advantage of the various additional learning resources provided by the Japanese department.

Kyoto Everyone knows that in order to learn a language well, they must devote many hours to studying and practicing it. However, it is not always clear how these hours should be spent. I will discuss this issue and suggest some solutions to this problem in the context of Japanese at Berkeley.

The Japanese language program at Berkeley is structured in a way that facilitates learning at a rapid pace, combining reading comprehension, grammar, written and oral communication into a different semester programs. This is especially true of the Japanese 10A and 10B curriculum, which concentrates greatly on the comprehension and application, rather than simple acquisition of vocabulary and basic grammar patterns. Thus, Japanese 10A and 10B is a large jump from Japanese 1A and 1B, where the focus is on memorization of vocabulary and solidifying the basics. However, with sufficient studying and preparation, this leap is not problematic.

So the question is posed: How does one study for Japanese? From my experience, studying for Japanese requires dividing the language into its different constituents. Acquisition of new vocabulary, comprehension of material, and written, oral communication are three general areas that come to my mind. Studying for each of these areas requires different approaches and techniques.

Acquisition of new vocabulary seems very simple. You simply memorize the words, how to read them, and what they mean, right? This is what I thought when I started learning Japanese. For quizzes and tests, I would simply go over the words, their meanings, cover up the meanings, and then try to recall them. At first, this method worked very well, but, eventually, this rote memorization method began to fail me. I would take the quiz and then all of it would drain out of my brain, so when I saw those same words in a sentence, I wouldn’t have the faintest clue what it meant. Now, after a year and a half of Japanese, I have learned that the easiest way to learn and retain new vocabulary is to remember them in context of reading material or sentences. In the second year textbook, the vocabulary comes from conversation skits and a reading at the middle of the chapter. It helps a lot to write down the pronunciation of new words in the conversation skits, look up their meanings, and then reading over the conversations two or three more times. After doing this, I find that I have a better understanding of the conversations in the book and of the vocabulary words.

Reading things more than twice is very important. By making it a habit when approaching the textbook and other reading materials, you will greatly improve your reading comprehension. Usually, after looking over the conversations and filling in readings of new vocabulary, you can get a general sense of what the writings discuss. However, more often than not, the details of what is being said are not very clear. This is where repeated readings help. With each reading, you can figure out what specific parts or phrases you cannot understand. Usually, when I don’t understand a sentence, it is because I am reading it wrong, or because I forgot the meaning of a verb tense. Another possibility is that I am not thinking about what I just read. These kinds of comprehension problems are usually solved after I read the material over a few more times. But, sometimes there are just certain portions that make absolutely no sense. This is where asking questions becomes important.

When you run into things that you cannot understand even after repeated tries and much thought, the best thing to do is make a physical note of it and go to office hours. Usually, I underline the unknown phrase or sentence in the book and tag the page with a post-it. At office hours, the teachers are more than happy to go over the day’s grammar points and answer questions. Sometimes it may be an example used to explain something during the day’s lesson, or something the teacher mentioned briefly in class. If you have any questions, the teachers are always the best people to answer them. Additionally, in going to office hours, you can practice speaking Japanese.

As a Japanese language student in America, there are not many instances in which you can practice speaking Japanese. Office hours is a very good opportunity and environment to help you improve your speaking skills. Often, asking the teachers your questions in Japanese forces you to compose your own sentences and think of methods to use your vocabulary to make the teachers understand you. It also gives you the courage to begin speaking in Japanese, however broken it may be. The teachers are perfectly happy to sit and chat with you so you can practice your speaking skills.

This year, because I had a lot of questions about readings and grammar examples, I began go to office hours more frequently. In the office, I would pull out my book and try to articulate my question in Japanese. The results were often broken sentences with long pauses in between with much pointing and gesturing. Getting myself to speak in Japanese was often very hard, because I was scared of making mistakes. But, because I didn’t understand material and had questions, I had to force myself to speak understandable Japanese. The teacher would always wait patiently while I paused and stared into space, sometimes suggesting verbs or helping me complete my sentences. After making over ten or twenty mistakes during the course of the hour, you learn to overcome your fear of saying things wrong. Also, saying the wrong things allows you to learn how to say things correctly. Listening to the teachers and the way they talk, you learn to emulate their speaking and verb pattern usage. Every time I go to office hours, I make lots of blunders, but I also learn how to say more things in Japanese and feel more comfortable with the language.

Written Japanese is another story altogether. Oftentimes the amount of writing you need to do when completing homework assignments gives you sufficient practice of grammar patterns and their applications. However, remembering how to write Kanji and incorporating them into your writing is a slow process. The reason for this is probably because you do not use all the Kanji you learn every day, so you forget them very easily. The same goes for old grammar patterns that you learned on day one of Japanese 1A or 1B. I’ve found that it is much easier to learn and review grammar points or Kanji if you use them in your daily life. What do I mean by that? The easiest way for me to remember something is if I put it into my own words. If I create a sentence using a new grammar pattern that allows me to understand it thoroughly, I find that I can remember and utilize it better than if I don’t. The easiest way to go about doing this that I can think of is to write in Japanese atleast a few times a week. I often utilize my online blog for this purpose, composing entire entries in Japanese about my day and my thoughts. In writing these entries, I try to use as many new grammar points as I can. Even if the sentences are very simple, by applying the grammar from class to express your own thoughts, you can increase the speed at which you can compose Japanese sentences in your head. At the same time, you are reviewing old Kanji, new Kanji, old and new sentence patterns. Review of old words and vocabulary is often just as important as learning new ones in maximizing your ability to understand the language in written and spoken form.

In conclusion, reading things over many many times, taking notes, asking questions, practicing speaking and writing, and going to office hours will maximize your ability to learn Japanese well.

ArrowBack to top