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Learn Japanese: 5 Expert Study Tips From Bobby Judo

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Need some inspiration to help you learn Japanese? How about some advice from an expert? Bobby Judo is a TV and radio host in Japan. Although he was born in America, Bobby speaks fluent Japanese and hosts a popular YouTube series to help students learn Japanese. Here, Bobby talks about his own journey with Japanese and shares his expert advice for Japanese-language students… 

I had a passing interest in Zen Buddhism when I was in high school, and a very, very strong sense of wanderlust. My family didn’t travel much, and I always told myself that when I was old enough to go by myself, I wanted to go as far and see and do as much as I could.

I heard about the JET Program, and since I already had a positive image of Japan, I decided I was going to apply. So I already had it in my head to get a job in Japan, before I started studying. I took a year of Japanese at the University of Florida. After I graduated, I lived in New York for a year, and worked at a sushi restaurant; I made obnoxious attempts to practice with every Japanese person I encountered.

This wasn’t the best way to learn Japanese, so to save you some time, here is some advice to help you in your Japanese-learning journey.

Supplement Your Studies

Supplement your studies by using Japanese as much as you can in social settings. Find friends with similar interests, Japanese or non-Japanese, and spend time doing things that you enjoy IN Japanese.

For me, this was cooking and sports. I was never into anime or manga, and I know a lot of people read Japanese stories or novels, but I could never enjoy reading in Japanese like I do in English, plus those activities tend to be solitary.

Whatever new words or grammar points you learn, force yourself to use them in conversation. Even if it doesn’t work out; trying and failing increases your chances of remembering.

Ask Questions

Always ask for an explanation of anything you don’t know or understand.

Pretending you understand is the best way to make sure you never do.

Always Carry a Notebook

Carry a notebook. Write down any words, phrases, and grammatical structures you come across in daily life/conversation. Look them up later. Set aside a time, once a week or so, to review all of your new Japanese terms for that week.

With this method, you will interact with each new piece of language a minimum of three times, which improves your chances of retention.

Take Advantage of Learning Resources

I really got a lot out of the 日本語総まとめ book series, designed for JLPT takers. They’re great for individual study, and super comprehensive. Also, The Daily Yo-ji blog is great.

I recommend watching movies with Japanese subtitles. Lots of people will say, watch Japanese movies… but for me, I found that watching a Hollywood movie with Japanese subtitles worked so much better.

Comprehension happens instantly, and then you get to look at a naturalized translation into Japanese, so it’s like “Oh, when I want to say something like this, THAT’S how a native Japanese speaker would express that sentiment.”

I always use the example of an English-speaking character saying: “What was that?!” with the Japanese subtitle, 『今のなに?』 It never would have occurred to me that a word that means “now” should go into a translation of “what was that?” but it’s very natural in Japanese. “I miss you” translated as 『会いたい』 is another great example of this.

Get a Japanese-Speaking Job

This  is pretty difficult if you don’t live in Japan, but it’s the best thing you can possibly do to learn Japanese.

I worked at a handful of restaurants, a bakery, and then once I started getting TV and radio work, it gave me a real and immediate NEED to improve my language skills.

Learning Japanese Can Change Your Life

Learning Japanese is pretty much responsible for my current life; my family and my career. I’m a regular on local TV and radio, I’ve published two books in Japanese, and I’m slowly gaining national traction.

I love everything that I’m doing, and I never would have started down this path had I not set out to learn about a different culture, and experience life in a different country. I encourage you to learn not just about Japanese, but to be open to experiencing and seeing things from different perspectives.

It gives you a much broader view of the world, and presents all kinds of possibilities for your life that never would have occurred to you before.

Good luck and have fun!

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Photo by Ivana Vasilj

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