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The Secret To Remembering Japanese Words


Learning The Japanese Language

The Japanese Language is generally viewed as a difficult language to learn. And with three alphabets, a completely different syllable system, and a different grammar structure, those claims aren't unsubstantiated. However, using the right methods, learning to speak Japanese doesn't have to be painful. One of the most important aspects of learning Japanese will be to memorize Japanese words. You can't communicate if you don't understand the vocabulary. This page contains a few tips to help you learn and recall Japanese words a little quicker.

Thinking in Japanese

"A picture is worth a thousand words". This idea also holds true for learning Japanese (or any language for that matter). Most Japanese textbooks and language books give word lists in English and then the corresponding word in Japanese. The common way to study of course is to memorize that the Japanese word is the equivalent to the English word (car=kuruma). While this is logical, it's not really efficient. Instead, it is much better to link the Japanese word to an image of the actual object or activity.

Connecting the Japanese word to the actual thing will help you in a Few of ways. First you will tend to learn the meaning of the Japanese words quicker. The stronger and more vivid the image is in your head, the longer and quicker you will remember. I recommend that you create a little story for each image and relate it to the Japanese word. Even finding ways to work in the pronunciation. You will remember these stories much easier and much longer than you will with just repetitive review of words.

This method will help you recall the words much quicker. Since you have tied the Japanese words to the obect or activity, you have effectively cut out one step for your brain to process. Your brain processes kuruma=an object you drive in, rather than kuruma=car, car=an object you drive in. This may not seem like a big deal, but conversations move very fast. The quicker you can recognize words the easier it is to understand what's being said.

By removing English words from the process you start to think in Japanese. When you see objects you have learned the Japanese word for they will start popping into your head. Since Japanese is a very different language from English, the further you can remove yourself fro thinking in English, the easier learning Japanese will become.


Study Often

The more frequent you study, the easier it will get to remember words. Obviously the more time you put in the quicker you will learn. However, how often you put in the time is also important. It is better to study for an hour a day than to have two three-hour sessions per week.

Studying a language takes a lot of focus, and creating images and stories to remember words takes even more. It is extremely difficult to focus for a period of three hours. The time you spend studying during these long sessions won't be as efficient. Since these study sessions are infrequent, you will also forget much of what you learned. Thus requiring more time on review and leaving less time to learn new material.

Studying for shorter periods of time, but more frequently gives a couple of advantages. Shorter sessions are easier to fit into your schedule. Let's face it, learning a language takes time. The one thing we all seem to have less and less of. It's much better to study for small amounts of time than to not study at all because you were too busy. You are also much less likely to avoid the study sessions since they don't seem as difficult. Sitting down for a three hour study session can seem a bit overwhelming. An hour is much more doable.

Having said that it is important that you realize learning the Japanese language will take time. The more time you are able to put into it the quicker you will learn. If you are in a position to study two or three hours everyday, then by all means go for it. The quicker you get to the point you can communicate, the funner and easier learning Japanese is.

Japanese Study Tools

Studies in memory have shown that the best time to review something is right before you forget it. This can be hard to do if you are using a deck of flash cards or a notebook. Luckily there are a few programs to help. One of them is even designed specifically with learning Japanese in mind. I have listed two great programs below. You can also find other Japanese study tools here.

  • Anki- A free flash card program for your computer that uses spaced timing to help you learn quicker. After viewing each card you will be asked to rate how easy it was. t Depending on your answer the program will show it sooner or later. There are set decks of cards you can download or you can create your own. You can also add audio. Anki was built with Japanese in mind and has a few features that make creating cards in Japanese easier.
  • Mnemozyne- similar to Anki, but with a very different interface. There are available decks of cards to download and you can also create your own. Mnemosyne has less overall features, but does allow you to break decks of cards into categories which can be very helpful. 
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I recommend that you try both programs and see which one works the best for you.


Daisy on July 15, 2012:

I really like this article. I've just started to learn Japanese last week. I use Anki as often as possible. I also watch raw Japanese tv series and movies to help me with my study. Heck, I even joined a Japanese online community online for better learning. So far, I'm doing good.

@Alex on April 25, 2012:

I am sure your are aware of existence of concrete and abstract meanings.

@Alex on April 25, 2012:

I am sure your are aware of existence of concrete and abstract meanings.

Alex on February 02, 2012:

I wonder what would be an image for "incompetence", or "deadline", or "betray" or "extraordinary"?

japanese words (author) from Japan on September 24, 2009:

Steve, thanks for the comment. You are certainly on the right path. watching Japanese videos is a great way to get Japanese listening practice. To get the most learning out of your movie watching you might find this article helpful:

As far as video games, they tend not to work so well for me. I become to interested in completing the game and end up skipping a lot of the story parts that contain audio or text.

Steve R McDowell from Atlanta on September 24, 2009:

I have been studying Japanese for a few years, but all while taking other very time consuming classes and trying to have SOME time for myself. I completely agree with your entire hub. Practicing frequently is VERY important, and I have forgotten plenty just from not practicing often enough.

One way that I practice is by enjoying some Japanese entertainment (videos or video games) that are entirely in Japanese and doing my best to understand them, and looking up words that I don't understand yet. Have you done this, and do you recommend it? So far, I'd say it's helping me to understand things better, but isn't helping me to learn to speak better very much at all.

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