Having readied yourself mentally and emotionally for getting started on self-learning, it’s time to get to the actual learning part of your journey. Here we’ll take a look at real, useful things you can to get started.
The first real step in learning Japanese on your own is making a practical plan. This should include goal setting, a breakdown of what you need to do to accomplish that goal, and then putting that plan into action. Let’s take a look at how you can do this for your own learning needs.
One of the key points to goal setting when learning any language is to be realistic. This means you should balance the time you have with your needs, while remembering that you are, indeed, human. I’ve seen people set goals like “I want to be near-native fluent in two years” while they have a full time job, and this simply isn’t realistic. The time and focus it would take is, frankly, inhuman.
Instead, think about where you are now and what you think you can accomplish in a reasonable amount of time, and find a concrete way to measure it.
A useful mnemonic for this is SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. A goal that fits these points is much more likely to be something that you can stick to in the long run.
O Achieve JLPT N5 in one year.
O Read three children’s books from a 100-yen-shop within 6 months.
X Speak better. (Not concrete, no timeline, no way to measure it.)
X Have a conversation. (What’s a conversation? For how long? When? With who?)
Define Your Path
This is actually the tricky part, because once you have a goal, you need to break down what you should actually learn to achieve it. Some goals are easier than others. JLPT levels, for example, have defined test ranges, with kanji, vocabular, and grammar lists. Other, more independent goals are harder to define.
One way to start is with self-assessment. Figure out how much you know, then try your goal. What was in your way? Where did you feel some possibility? With a self-assessment, you can analyze your needs based on real data.
Obviously, if you’re starting from zero Japanese, there’s a very easy place to start: learning hiragana and katakana. Then, some basic vocabulary and kanji are in reach. But for some people with a base, it might be a good idea to take a test like the J-CAT (www.j-cat.org) to see your current level and adjust accordingly.
Once you’ve broken down those steps, you can work out a plan. It might look something like this:
Goal: Read three children’s books in 6 months.
Week One: Learn hiragana and katakana. Practice pronunciation and writing.
Week Two: Work on vocabulary using (resource)
Week Three: Review hiragana and katakana by writing out vocab
And so on…
You might notice that a plan often looks like micro-goal setting. That’s a great way to look at it! Follow that same SMART goal setting system for these micro goals if you’d like.
Be sure to take your own learning styles into account, and what you feel comfortable doing. If you’re more audio oriented, maybe work in a plan using lots of listening. If you prefer talking, l integrate shadowing (speaking along with audio materials) or conversation.
The key is to keep it concrete, with specific actions at every step. A concrete plan is a huge help to keep you motivated and on track. Don’t pass it up!
Once you’ve set a goal, and got your plan in place, then it’s time to get to work. Find materials, start practicing, and get going on the path of education. This is a wide-open, of course, and you might be confused, but don’t worry! A future article will give you some concrete ideas on materials you can use, and ways to choose some that will fit you.
Concrete goal setting and planning is essential for effective long-term education success. Think about ways to keep yourself motivated, as well. Rolling assessment is a good way to see your progress in real-time, and keep yourself going. Just don’t give up!