I consider myself at a lower intermediate level. I want to improve my Japanese vocabulary and grammar in order to expand my reading and speaking skills. I know enough Japanese to get around and have a small conversation. However, reading grammar books is not cutting it and I dont feel like making flash cards from index cards with vocabulary to memorize (though if it's necessary, I will).

Eventually, I would love to take the JLPT. For now, the only thing that is helping me a little bit is listening to music in Japanese and looking over the lyrics. I came to the point to replace the lyrics from romaji to kana and kanji. I sometimes try to read news articles in Japanese as well. "Thinking" in Japanese grammar certainly helps a lot. Somehow, if I listen to music and repeat the lyrics over and over again to myself, I begin to know their meaning. When I was a kid, I know realize the meaning of Japanese children's songs I've been singing.

What do you suggest?

PS: as a funny note, upon waking up one morning, I was thinking of this person I really like(ed) and somehow, my mind said 「I miss your 事」because I could not find any other way to express this feeling in English (or my native language).

Thank you!!

  • Hello @user1087 and welcome to JLU. Subjective questions about learning methods and tips fall outside of the scope of this forum. – Dave Jan 23 '12 at 5:17

To get better at Japanese as a whole, you need to practice every aspect of the language on a regular basis. That means reading, writing, listening, speaking, AND knowing under what situations/conditions certain things are appropriate and inappropriate (this often gets left out of study guides). No point in systematically learniing keigo if you aren't also taught that it can actually be inappropriate to use at certain times, for instance. For example, overusing keigo with people that are on your "inside" circle of people (family, friends) can actually come across as patronizing or insulting. Anyway, I'll go ahead and tell you what I do, and you can maybe see if it works for you.

First thing to know is that Japan loooooves qualification tests. There are qualification tests for pretty much every aspect of life, professional and personal. I totally would not be surprised if there is a test for measuring how well you can wash dishes or do laundry. I personally really like this system, and I focus my overall goals around qualification tests. I don't believe, however, that the JLPT is an accurate measure of skill, which is why I think it's also a mistake to solely study just for one qualification test. I just use qualification tests as an overall goal marker. One thing to know as well is that you need at least JLPT Level 2 before any serious Japanese company with a Japanese environment will consider you, if your goal is employment in Japan that isn't English teaching.

There are three Japanese language tests that are very relative and very important:

  • Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), which you already mentioned
  • Kanji Proficiency Test
  • Business Japanese Proficiency Test (BJT)

What you choose as a goal marker should depend on what your overall goals are. If you just want to get a job in Japan, you can safely focus on just JLPT and BJT, skipping the kanji test all together (that doesn't mean you can skip studying kanji, though!). If you want to study the language as a whole for personal enrichment/knowledge, you can focus on the JLPT and the kanji test, skipping the BJT all together (that doesn't mean you can skip keigo, though!).

My personal method of study is pretty lifeless, but it works for me. Basically, I just pick one qualification test (say, Kanji Level 4, or JLPT Level 1), I pick up a book or two on JUST that topic, and work through it, cover to cover, no excuses, no burning out.

Then to supplement that as I'm going through it, I read one Japanese news article per day. But as I read it, I also copy it by hand into a notebook, even the stuff that I understand. This is particularly helpful in just keeping writing skill up, since you rarely need to actually write kanji by hand anymore. I also go through the article, and without any self-deception or cutting myself any slack, ask myself, "do I understand this sentence 100%, including all grammar, vocabulary, and kanji?" The answer is quite often, "no." Even if I "get the idea" or understand it 99%, there's most often at least some kanji that I know the on-yomi for, but not the kun-yomi, for example. So I ruthlessly then make flash cards for every single element that I didn't know, whether it be a grammar point, or just one kanji.

For me, flash cards are key. Primarily because by MAKING the cards myself, I end up researching and writing out the content I didn't know, and by just doing that, I pretty much memorize it before I even have to actually use the flash card.

Listening and speaking with Japanese people is the best way to get your listening and speaking practice in. The key that most people screw up, is they don't stop a conversation when the other person says something they don't understand. Nodding your head and smiling is a huge mistake. If the other person says something you don't get, don't make an assumption that "it probably means this or that," stop the person right there and say, "sorry, what does that word mean?" I've never met any Japanese person who isn't happy to help out.

However, if there's not always a Japanese person around to practice with, Japanese TV is your best friend. Not only is it super entertaining because it's so whacky, most TV shows are like an hour or less, so you can watch the same thing several times to fill in the blanks without burning out. The key is to watch the same thing more than once, and to imitate what you hear, keeping the inflections and tones intact. Works best if you're alone, so you don't get embarrassed.

So I do the above, consistently, every day, mixing things up until I finish the book for the test that I'm aiming to pass. By that point, I can pass the test with flying colors, and I learned a whole bunch of other stuff along the way including new speech patterns and new vocabulary.

Like I said, this all totally depends on personal preference and how you learn. The key to any method of learning though I think, that I see time and time again, and that I'm sometimes guilty of as well, is self-deception. Don't study for the sake of getting to the end of a chapter so you can stop studying. You have to really want to be studying. You also can't use excuses to not study, like "oh I have a cold today, I'm just going to take it easy today," because then you start doing stuff like that, and eventually you find excuses to work yourself down to like one or two days a week, and then eventually you just stop, saying you'll come back to it soon, but never do. The key is consistency, not letting up, and being hard on yourself.

  • Ahah, looks like this was closed as I was writing my answer :) Oh well. Good luck to you, OP. – CptSupermrkt Jan 23 '12 at 2:18
  • 1
    "Don't study for the sake of getting to the end of a chapter so you can stop studying." :) – silvermaple Jan 23 '12 at 3:11
  • Thanks! :) I am reading news articles. So, should I copy vocabulary that I dont know and make them into flashcards? – user1087 Jan 23 '12 at 3:11
  • That's what I do, and I love it. But I know a lot of people find that becoming a flash card drone drains them out really fast because it can seem so systematic and lifeless. Only way to find out if it works for you is to try :) – CptSupermrkt Jan 23 '12 at 3:28


  • Active vocabulary - conversation
  • Passive vocabulary - books
  • Listening skill - listening
  • Grammar - goes along the way of previously stated. Means you'll find grammar you don't know in the process. Then you'll look into grammar books, ask here, ... whatever

I think those are pretty much language independent.

  • Thanks! The problem is, there are no people here to speak in Japanese with. The only thing I have is to use a site called lang-8 to talk to other people in Japanese. For passive vocabulary, Im trying my best to read articles in Japanese :) – user1087 Jan 23 '12 at 1:24
  • @user1087 So are you looking for a Japanese voice chat website too? – user1016 Jan 23 '12 at 13:48
  • @Chocolate If you know of one, I'd be ever so thankful if you can provide the link. – dotnetN00b Jan 28 '12 at 20:14
  • @dotnetN00b san, Yeah I know one... koebu.com/live You can create an account and enter people's live channels, where you can voice chat and text chat with the host of the channel and guests too. (But I hear there're some unkind/rude/nasty people there... Not everybody's good and nice.) Ah and you can create your own channel too. – user1016 Jan 30 '12 at 9:19

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