I thought I’d share Theo’s post on Japanese language study. It has a great list of resources and tips for learning Japanese based on his experience. He is producing a game for learning hiragana and katakana, which should be released this year. I’m looking forward to it, since I could do with improving my katakana recognition. Apparently the game is sufficiently entertaining that even native Japanese speakers enjoy it. This is similar to my goal with my Gnomeville comics for French.
Theo’s point about the limitations of using anime is a good one. Language is huge, and it is used in different ways in different situations. He has some great suggestions for alternative, more useful resources.
I agree with Theo’s comment about flash cards and Anki. There is a difference between knowing a word (learning) and using it (acquisition). This is why focusing on the four skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking are important, with extensive reading being the way to get maximum comprehensible input, if done properly.
One additional resource I would mention for reading in Japanese at the early stages is the Tadoku extensive reading books. I use extensive reading principles in all the languages I learn. Japanese is the most challenging of these for me, since it has a different writing system to European languages. At my current beginner level I read level 0 and 1 of the Tadoku.org books (assumed vocabulary of 350 characters) with some difficulty, so really the books are just a little more difficult than the ideal for extensive reading, but I read them anyway. Fortunately the level 0 ones are designed so that you can follow most of the stories via the pictures, so can deduce what some of the words mean from context, especially where it is a retelling of a well-known fable or folk tale. I have a range of other books from Australian and New Zealand publishers that are easier, but less entertaining. To supplement this I have some Japanese children’s books (ehon). The Kimono Japanese textbook series for adolescents also has entertaining comics in each chapter, which can be used to supplement reading.
I certainly pick up vocabulary through the repetition of reading, despite not trying to translate everything. For example, the Tadoku books frequently use 言いました (iimashita = said), which I picked up through reading them, and the Level 0 books have several that are about daily life in Japan, providing essential phrases and cultural knowledge. The children’s picture books taught me animal names and noises, as well as some colours and expressions. Maybe they’re not as important for adults as other vocabulary, but they’re part of language nevertheless.
The best approach to extensive reading for vocabulary acquisition still isn’t clear, but it does improve language, and surprisingly, not just reading skill. One study found that it even improved speaking, more than some traditional methods of language teaching. Also, just 10 minutes per day pretty much guarantees at least some improvement, with more likely to be better. So keep reading, but don’t stress about unknown words or grammar. Look up meanings if you want to, as you will retain vocabulary better that way – especially if you try to guess the meaning first, but don’t let it slow down your reading too much.