Between working 20-40 hours a week and doing a postgraduate degree, I haven’t had time to sit down with my Genki textbook and study Japanese in the ‘traditional way’ recently. Even though I really enjoy taking my time to learn something new, my schedule has been fighting against me but I’m refusing to give up or go on hiatus. Learning Japanese is something I’ve wanted to do for years and now that I’ve started, I don’t want to stop. So I’ve found some easy steps to still fit language learning into my everyday life despite having no time.
- Sacrifice 10 minutes at the end of each night
I know this sounds pretty stupid, especially if you have no time to start with, but ten minutes is enough to learn at least one new thing, or revise one you’ve already learnt. Obviously this isn’t always going to work, particularly if you finish work at 10pm like me, but this can be slotted in at any time of day. For example, I use Japanese study as a break from the rest of my studying because it breaks up the work I have to do into sizeable chunks and simultaneously keeps me in a studying mind-set.
Obenkyo is a mobile app which is perfect for learning how to read Japanese. With tests in katakana, hiragana, and kanji, it covers all the bases needed to understand Japanese writing. The best part about this app is that it doesn’t require an internet connection so even if you don’t have wifi or you’ve run out of data on your phone, you can still use it. Because of that, it’s easy to use it on the bus, or waiting for an appointment, or any five minutes you have spare whilst on the go. It also has content for all five JLPT tests, and can quiz you on vocabulary, particles and grammar on top of the Japanese alphabets. For more information, click here and here.
Obenkyo is available for free on Google Play and is compatible with Android devices.
Mondly is another app, but unlike Obenkyo, the lessons change every day. I find this works better to motivate you, because you don’t really know what you’re going to get. It chooses the topic for you so it may just teach something useful you wouldn’t have thought to search for. It also has push notifications to remind you to take your daily test. The lessons and tests are merged into one and only last a maximum ten minutes per day, and there is also a longer weekly test that you unlock if you complete all the daily tests for that week. It’s a challenge, which is great for keeping up motivation. Like Obenkyo, this app is free but there is the option to pay a fee and unlock all of the lessons. This way you can choose which area you’d like to study or you can actively decide to revise a topic. I’m on a student budget, so I’m sticking with the free version, and it can get repetitive sometimes but covering old ground isn’t always a bad thing. Mondly can display its questions or answers in both Japanese and Romanised
alphabets so don’t worry if you can’t read kanji. I’ve been using this every day for the past four months and I’ve only missed one day so far, so it does well to keep people engaged.
Mondly is available for free and is compatible with all devices.
- Write Kanji everywhere
One thing which I find really helps in kanji memorisation is to just write it everywhere. From the margins of university notes to the back of my hand, as long as it’s somewhere that I can see regularly, I’ve probably written kanji on it. Not only does it help you remember what it looks like, it cements the stroke order in your mind so you can write it better next time. The main place where I write in Japanese is my notepad with all of my to-do lists in. If I know the Japanese for whatever I’m eating for lunch, I’ll add it into my plan for the day. If I don’t, I’d look it up. I’ll write 電車 if I need to get the train anywhere. To me, this solidifies what the symbols actually mean and is a much more practical application of the language than just repetition.
- Listen to Japanese
This is possibly one of the most obvious study tips, but listening to the language on a regular basis definitely helps. This method is great for perfecting pronunciation, because the more you listen to; the easier it is to replicate the sounds you’re hearing. The majority of music on my phone right now is Japanese and the audio player app I use (BlackPlayer) has the option to copy lyrics into each song’s file. This way, I can read the lyrics as I walk to work and pick out words which I find interesting to look up in my dictionary app (JED). Regularly listening to Japanese music is a tactic in immersion learning, which is one of the most effective methods, although using this tactic alone doesn’t have the same challenges as full-immersion. However, it doesn’t have to be music – you can find podcasts online like learnrealjapanese. If you listen to enough, you can start to pick up grammar as you recognise similar sentence structures.
Obviously, every learner has their own different requirements to study effectively and these techniques are not complete replacements for textbook learning, but I’ve found these to be useful in keeping myself focused on Japanese. This way, when I do go back to traditional language study, I won’t have forgotten everything. The key to retaining a language is regular practice and these methods are great for multi-tasking and fitting this practice into everyday life – even if you have a busy schedule.