Learning Japanese-the quickest way

by Jim
(Pembroke, MA USA)

I lived and worked in Japan from 20-27 years old. I was always fascinated by Japan since I first studied about the country in 5th grade geography class. Being the eternal procrastinator, I didn't pick up a language book until a few months before I left. Once I got there, I quickly found out the little Japanese I had learned was stiff, formal, and outdated, drawing many amused looks and chuckles.

Most foreigners at the time (mid-70's), tended to live in clusters in different parts of the city and socialized only at work and the few places that catered to the expat community. I purposely moved to a working class neighborhood where I had no choice but to learn quickly. I carried a pocket dictionary and a memo pad everywhere I went adding several words and phrases every day.
Again as the eternal procrastinator, I waited until a month before I left for Japan to learn the two Japanese phonetic alphabets (hiragana and katakana by rote), and the first 100 Chinese characters (kanji). Now, train station names in Japan are written in Chinese characters, hiragana, and Roman letters. Also, having a tolerable singing voice, I learned to read even more from the karaoke bars. Within a month, I had little trouble shopping by myself and using the subway. In six months, I could engage in non-technical every day conversations with ease, though I ended up learning the local Osaka dialect before standard Japanese which actually helped the learning process because I made friends more easily. I later picked up a four volume set called "Learning Japanese" by the University of Hawaii Press. From there my progress exploded exponentially.
Unless you live near an ethnic neighborhood, nothing can beat total immersion in a foreign country-which is why I have no patience for younger foreiners who come to the US and after several years, speak little or no English. But that's a topic for another day......

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