• The first and most important thing is, you must have a genuine interest in learning the language. If you are not really interested, you are not going to retain much. One of the first things about Japanese that interested me was kanji. I was fascinated by the idea of being able to read characters that my family and friends could not. Even if I couldn't understand what I was reading, I could pronounce it! I mean with other languages like French or Italian, anybody can have a stab at pronouncing the words, not knowing what they meant, but nobody can just pick up a Japanese book and start reading out the words without having studied a decent amount. This aspect was really appealing to me.
  • Start with the two phonetic scripts, Hiragana and katakana. At first they are daunting but nothing once you get into the two thousand-odd general use kanji. Some people use little flash cards, however I used some really easy to remember learning aids. For example, the hiragana for the sound "u" looks like an old woman being hit on the back with a stone. "uh", she cries.
  • Once you can recognize the characters, read voraciously. Read anything you can get your hands on. Manga are great for this. Not the hardcore maniac ones that are "cool"- you won't learn anything useful from them, not just yet anyway- more like the light weekly variety. Try Jump or big comic or Crayon Shin chan or something like that. These might be hard to come across outside of Japan but have a look around, your local Japan foundation or even at a nearby soba place often have old ones laying around.
  • Catch as much Japanese tv or watch as many Japanese movies etc as you can. Especially good are trendy dramas. They tend to have easy to follow stories (more often than not about cheating on one's lover) with relatively easy to understand conversations. If you watch them on video and get wrapped up in the story enough, you'll be pausing the tape to look up any words you don't know because you want to. This is how I learned the words for pregnant woman, circumstances, and one's wife and family. Also Japanese variety shows are good because they always super-impose on the bottom of the screen what everyone is saying. I think this is to re-inforce the "jokes".
  • Karaoke. This is a big one. Japanese pop songs, like the afore mentioned trendy dramas are full of corny expression that really do come handy in day to day life. Great for improving vocabulary.
  • Live in Japan. This is the most obvious, the most effective and unfortunately, the most expensive method. However if you can get to Japan, as tempting as the cities are, try to live in a smaller town. Lets's face it, if it's speak Japanese or starve, that's a pretty good incentive.
  • Do not be afraid of making a fool of yourself. I once asked some new friends if they would like some mango ice cream. Only thing is, I mispronounced mango and everyone literally couldn't stop laughing at me for thirty minutes. The word that I unintentionally said is too crude to write here, but in English it begins with a "c" and is often considered the most offensive word in the English language. Everyone makes mistakes and people are going to understand that you are learning and instead of ridicule you, they will admire you for trying. Japanese people for the most part appreciate someone doing their best, regardless of the end result, just look at the karaoke phenomenon.
  • listen to Japanese people speak. This is also very important. Pronunciation is very important in Japanese. Try and imitate the sounds of the people you hear talking. Just be careful to only imitate people of the same sex as you. If you are a guy talking like a girl, it maybe be sorta cute for a while, but not for too long. Also, a woman speaking manly Japanese is very unattractive.

      These are the things that I found helped me to become reasonably fluent in Japanese. Of course everybody has their own methods of learning a new language, I just thought I'd share these and I hope that someone finds them useful.

      As Starrynight kindly reminded me, it also helps to take lessons. So obvious I missed it.

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