Last week marked approximately two months since I moved to Japan. The past couple months I have been able to improve my Japanese language ability greatly. I am by all means still a beginner, but I am starting to be able to successfully communicate with people with the rough amount I know. The improvement has been slow and steady and studying Japanese can be quite difficult, but the more I am able to speak to people in Japanese the more I am motivated to continue to study. What I would like to highlight are the methods that have worked best for me when trying to learn Japanese.
My favorite way I have learned Japanese is from speaking with Japanese friends I have made at school. I have a hard time retaining words just from hearing them, so what I have begun to do is carry a notebook to write any new words or phrases in. If I am not carrying the notebook I will use the notes app on my phone, but I always make sure to copy them back into the notebook when I have an opportunity. Especially with Japanese, I think the act of writing out the words by hand helps with long term retention. Just as importantly, I make sure to take the time to review the notebook when I have downtime (usually when commuting on the subway). As I watch the notebook get more full my language progression feels more recognizable. The visual representation of my progress keeps me motivated, which is very important when trying to improve in a foreign language.
Another large contributor to my improvement in Japanese has been my Japanese class I have been taking. Typically in the past I have struggled in foreign language classes, both to stay motivated and general class performance, however in this class I am highly motivated and doing very well. The largest and most obvious difference between this class and my others is that I am living in a host country that almost exclusively uses the language I am studying. The language immersion means that whenever I learn something in class I am able to constantly and instantly reinforce it in my mind. The course I am taking is also predicated on teaching what is most practical instead of just grammar concepts which makes class more enjoyable. Having an environment to make mistakes and ask questions is essential for making strides, and quite often when I have a question my friends cannot give me an adequate answer for I can always go to my professor for a better explanation.
Studying language is difficult and we all learn best in our own ways. Generally, I have seen the most progress when I just try and make mistakes and improve off of them. Whether it is my friends guiding me or my professors, I do not know where I need help until I am already struggling. I am grateful to have people to help me improve in my weaknesses, and I will be trying my best to continue learning Japanese the best I can while studying abroad in Tokyo.