Learning Japanese | or, what to after the Michel Thomas Method

Since listening to the Michel Thomas Foundation Course, I've been intensifying my learning of Japanese. I'm not sure if I'm learning in a sustainable way, but I'm enjoying the journey and will ride the wave of motivation while it lasts :) In case I inadvertently take a break and later want to come back to it, I'm going to write down a few words on what I'm doing at the moment. Perhaps it'll be useful to someone else too.


I just finished the **Michel Thomas** Advanced Course, listening to one lesson in the bus every morning for the last while. When I initially picked up the Foundation Course, I was hoping to learn some conversational Japanese without worrying about the writing system ; however I really enjoyed the Advanced Course, which taught me lots of things I either never learnt or more likely completely forgot about since my initial stint at Japanese 10 years ago.

The Michel Thomas Method is wonderful to build confidence, and the Advanced course introduces you to many interesting grammar structures using the -て and -た forms. I'm looking at Japanese Pod 101 to get my audio fix now -- their content seems very good, despite the spammy feel of their sign-up process. They actually offer a lot more than audio.


To get back to writing, a text book seemed appropriate to start learning "proper." I'm using the kana version of **Japanese for Busy People**, mainly because I was eager to begin learning and it was available at my local bookshop, and the Amazon reviews are good. Don't use the romaji version. I'm enjoying it, there are plenty of exercises and they try to use pictures as often as possible to help with retention, there's a CD included with the book and some of exercises are audio (listen then answer the questions in the book). It doesn't expand on grammar rules a lot though, so one should make sure to go back to the grammar pages regularly. For those not in a rush and with the money to spare, the Genki series looks to be fairly good.

Kanji & Vocabulary

One of the things I'm determined not to be discouraged by this time is kanji. I got myself the very nice and sturdy **White Rabbit flash cards**...

...Unfortunately after 40 or 50 kanji the ideograms, readings and meanings stopped sticking into my head. It was time for context. See below! The cards are still good to have around for recall, just not as a single learning source.

For vocabulary, I'm also testing **Iknow.jp**, for which I luckily obtained a 4 month free subscription. It doesn't focus on kanji as much as I'd like, but you learn to recognise words and sentences with both audio and text, which is quite good. They have several courses that together teach thousands of words of vocabulary.

In general, to guide my learning of kanji I'm using the kanji list recommendations for the Japanese Proficiency Level Test. Weakest level is N5 and requires about 100 kanjis (reading a newspaper requires about 2000!). I'm also curious at the TextFugu approach of teaching the radicals first, which seems to make more sense to me and is another avenue to explore.

Kanji in context

I tried a bilingual manga, which was a mistake (the English sticks out more prominently than the Japanese, and probably doesn't encourage focusing as hard on recognising kanjis). What I will warmly recommend are the wonderful **Japanese Graded Level Reader** book series. I'm going through Volume 0 at the moment (300 words/story, about 300 words of vocabulary overall) which read like simple children stories and I find them as confidence building for reading as the Michel Thomas method was for listening. Each volume contains 6 booklets entirely in Japanese, in which new concepts and words are repeated a lot so that between the repetition and the pictures, the reader can figure out the meaning of most of the story. It's very cute, and you learn about Japanese culture as well. Very much recommended. There are many volumes for different levels.

After I read one of the aforementioned "Reader" booklets, I add the kanji and grammar expressions I don't yet know to a set of **Anki** flashcards, with the help of jisho.org and Tae Kim's guide to Japanese grammar if needed. Anki's a wonderful piece of software! You can synchronise for free between different machines to make sure the Spaced Repetition algorithm keeps up no matter where you go through the cards, and it has a Maemo port (ankiqt900), among many other platforms. I'm still figuring out how best to make cards ; sometimes having the kanji on its own, other times including context.

Finally, I bought the first volume of a manga I'm interested in that has furigana, and I'm still exploring what's the best way to read, and learn, and create flash cards out of it without ruining the flow, losing interest or having to make 20 flashcards out of every bubble... (ahem!) I don't expect the process to be fast in any case :)

勉強しましょう。(<- let's begin testing the unicode resilience of this lil' blog!)

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