Is it possible to teach yourself Japanese? While the best way to learn a language is always a private teacher or tutor, there are some things you can do at home to learn the basics. Here, language teacher Carol Beth L. weighs the pros and cons of Japanese lessons vs. teaching yourself.
Can you teach yourself Japanese? The simple answer is, yes. Like many new skills, given the right tools, some people can teach themselves. I have known people who have taught themselves Japanese—or another language—without much help from teachers, professors, or formalized classes. At the same time, teaching yourself another language requires that many factors come together symbiotically. Perhaps a better answer is, it really depends.
Teaching yourself anything requires a certain discipline, knowledge of your learning style, and ability to research and find resources to help you. Japanese is no different.
Pacing and Discipline
Professors, tutors, teachers, and classes often help students pace themselves and motivate them to study. If you have trouble keeping yourself on task and setting aside regular time to study, then self study may not be for you. Additionally, Japanese has a reputation for being one of the most time-consuming languages for an English-speaker to learn, making regular study time and practice vital.
Linguistic Understanding and Study Skills
Teachers, tutors, and professors are great resources to help students understand or remember things that are otherwise confusing. They know where students struggle, and they can understand how to help their students grasp a difficult or challenging concept. Professionals can also provide study tools that may help you learn the language. Many of their assignments will reflect techniques you can use—repetition, humor, flashcards, etc. If you have not learned a foreign language before, or if you have had difficulty with languages in the past, you may not want to go solo this time around.
As an independent student studying on your own, finding helpful resources is vital. Finding a textbook usually isn’t too difficult; there are usually both new and used textbooks floating around on Amazon or Craigslist. When it comes to textbooks, however, professors or tutors can be help you find the right one for your specific needs. Textbooks will provide a written guide to reading and writing the language. As you develop your linguistic knowledge, write a daily diary, find a pen-pal with whom to correspond, or write short essays.
Remember, if you want to teach yourself Japanese, it’s also helpful to spend time listening to and speaking the language. Sometimes textbooks come with CDs or links to websites that include audio. These can be helpful, but you should also look for additional resources like videos or social groups. Rent Japanese movies, watch YouTube videos, and look for Japanese conversation groups in your area.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Learning Japanese on your own can have certain advantages. An independent student I once met commented that after having studied on his own , it was difficult to find a class at his level. When he tried to take classes at a university, they insisted on placing him in low-level classes, which he felt was a waste of time. He became frustrated, and went back to studying on his own. Many independent learners also find that studying independently gives them more freedom to go at their own pace—either faster or slower than typical university classes. Private tutors also have this advantage, as you can set your own goals, and they will support your learning style.
Learning a language on your own can be difficult, but with the proper motivation and study skills, it’s definitely not impossible to teach yourself Japanese. Most students, however, can typically benefit from guidance from a professional tutor, teacher, or professor. If you think you have the time and discipline to learn on your own, give it a try, you can always find a teacher or tutor if you are struggling or feel like you need additional help.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She also studied Japanese in high school and college. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!
Photo by Tony & Wayne.