There is only one way to learn Japanese.
There are various ways to learn about Japanese but only one way to learn Japanese.
Learning about a language is what you do with textbooks, classes etc.
It can be useful in helping you to learn Japanese. But learning about a language won’t in itself make you learn the language. That is why most people who learned about French or Spanish in school can’t speak it. That is why most Japanese people who do years of compulsory English barely know it beyond a few phrases.
To learn a language as opposed to learning about it there is only one way. You have to use it. Not practise it. Use it.
What does that mean? You are practising a language when you engage in staged activities purely for the sake of the language. You are using a language when you are doing things you would still be doing even if you were doing them in your native language. When you are actually making it your means of communication or understanding.
We have always advocated using Japanese by watching Anime (with or without Japanese subtitles), playing games, reading and other activities.
When you use a language you take a drop in “age”. You are limited in what you can do by your ability. This can give you a huge incentive to improve. You are doing what all small children do: struggling with language itself. Learning to understand and grow. Not dabbling in a “subject” through the medium of your native language.
Anime, games, books, manga and the like are excellent ways of using Japanese. However, they all have one thing in common. They constitute passive use of the language. You are receiving plenty of Japanese input, but you are not communicating. You are not engaging in the give‐and‐take of communication that is the primary function and the lifeblood of language.
The Cures at this site have communicated regularly in Japanese since early on in our Japanese adventure. However, there seem to be relatively few online opportunities to do this. There are dozens of sites for chatting about Japanese in English, but really nothing much for learners who want to use their Japanese. That is why we are trying right now to put that right.
Why such sites don’t exist seems to be for a number of reasons. The main one (and I suspect the others are often rationalizations of this) is that people are more comfortable talking in English about Japanese. Of course they are. Using language is about getting out of your current comfort zone and slowly establishing a new one in Japanese (but having said that, our solution tries to make using Japanese as comfortable as it can be).
If the minute you put your textbook (or even your manga) down, you snap straight back into English, even when you are thinking about Japanese, your chances of really learning it are minimal.
So how do you start communicating in Japanese?
Our proposed solution is The Kawaii Japanese Forums. The purpose of these forums is to create a safe and gentle place where you can discuss anything and everything in Japanese. Talk about games, share music videos, compare the seasons in your part of the world with those of other members. Whatever you like (so long as it’s polite).
This way you start actually using Japanese interactively. If it goes well we may start Skype meetings where people can chat via voice. But don’t get scared. You can stay with nice safe text forums as long as you like!
A few questions about the only way to learn Japanese
Q. If I am talking Japanese with other non‐Japanese people may I not cement in mistakes?
A. This fear is common and rather exaggerated. We discuss it in detail here. Briefly it is much more important to use language than to worry about a few mistakes. Mistakes are part of the learning process. One should avoid them if possible but not be paralyzed by them. If you wait till you are perfect to use Japanese actively, the chances are you will wait forever.
Q. How early should I start actively using Japanese?
A. How keen are you to learn? You will get most out of the forums if you are upper beginner or above, but we Cures all started actively using Japanese before that. You learn by doing, and doing also makes theoretical learning easier. However, to participate before upper beginner level will take a lot of ganbari. If you are thinking “that sounds too hard”, it probably will be. If you are thinking “I’ll give it my all and manage somehow” then you probably will.
Q. Is there anything that can help me in following the Forums?
A. Yes. we recommend installing Rikaichan or Rikaisama. This will help you with words or kanji you don’t know. We also recommend a screen magnifier. Kanji at regular text size can be difficult to read when you aren’t very used to reading Japanese. This can help a lot.
Q. Ok. I’m on my way. Where were those Forums again?