Learn to Think in Japanese
The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is study Japanese for up to an hour. Later, when I eat breakfast, I try to watch NHK or read an article out of the online Asahi Shinbun or the online Japanese Wall Street Journal. On my way to and from work, I listen to Japanese music. I also like to listen to Japanese music at work when I can. During my lunch break, I watch NHK for an hour if I’m in the office. At dinner, when my non-Japanese-speaking family isn’t around, and when I’m not out with my friends, I watch NHK or a rerun of some Japanese variety show (SmapXSmap, Arashi etc) from the Internet or a disk. When I take shorter breaks throughout the day, I flip through Japanese magazines or I’ll read a chapter of some manga (it has to be RAW – in Japanese — or I won’t learn anything) or a Japanese novel. I try to do another hour of intense study (textbook study) before I turn in for the day, but sometimes it’s hard to squeeze that in. Before bed, I like to watch an episode of one of those 11-chapter J Drama’s we all love. If I’m not in the mood for a J Drama though, I’ll read something in Japanese (manga or a novel). Finally, I like to fall asleep to NHK. Now, if you add that all up, it’s somewhere between 3 and 4 hours a day of what I like to call “Relaxed Study” and 2 hours a day of “Intense Study”.
Intense study is pretty straight forward. It’s just memorization of vocab and kanji, practicing or reviewing grammar, or reading out of a text book. It’s the standard kind of study that you find in any good college level Japanese class. The point of Intense Study is to learn more Japanese. Learn more words, learn more Kanji, learn more grammar, and learn how to use it all.
Relaxed Study is, I think, the key to my success in Japanese. In relaxed study, you can’t (and don’t really even try to) learn any new Japanese. The point of relaxed study is to simply encounter Japanese. Let Japanese language surround you, let it push all the English out of your head for a little while. Just enjoy listening to it or reading it. If you don’t know something, just move on. You don’t have to understand everything. The point is not to understand it all in detail, but to simply encounter as much as possible. In Relaxed Study, all I want to do is enjoy recognizing and reinforcing Japanese that I’ve already learned in my Intense Study.
I usually fall asleep to NHK at night. I call this “falling asleep in Japanese.” Well, when I do that, I almost always dream in Japanese. I mean real Japanese. When I wake up in the morning, I am frequently still thinking in Japanese, and this goes on until I get to work. It’s 12 hours (from before sleep to work the next day) of almost complete language immersion.
Make Japanese a backdrop to your day. If you hear Japanese on and off all day, and you allow yourself to forget your English while you do, then your brain will actually start to work in Japanese, even when you’re not studying, and you won’t even notice that you’re doing it.