One of the best ways to learn something well is to teach it to someone else. If you have to explain something several times over and over again to someone, it becomes an easy way to learn the thing yourself.
So, naturally, the best way to learn a new language is to teach others what you know about the language. This will help you reinforce what you already know as you are teaching someone else. You are also helping a fellow studier in the process. This is one of the reasons why I started the JLPT Boot Camp blog.
But there are some issues with running a blog. First of all, you have to go through all the work of setting one up. New blogging platforms like WordPress.com and blogger make it simpler, but not completely foolproof.
The other issue with blogging is that there isn’t exactly a built in way to review. In other words, once you’ve created the post or other kind of content it just sits there and probably won’t be seen again by your eyes unless someone makes a comment or suggestion.
And some people blogging just isn’t there thing. I mean, music isn’t my thing, so why should I learn guitar, so that I can play Japanese songs? Seems like some extra work if I’m not really into it.
An Alternative to Blogging
So teaching something is a good way to learn something, and blogging is a good way to teach something, but that might not be your thing. What’s the alternative to that then?
Well, there are several alternatives you can use. One method that I’ve been using recently is teaching myself grammar through little mini lessons. I was able to basically teach myself all the N1 grammar expressions in about a month using this method, so it can be pretty powerful.
This method involves doing some recording and using that recording to help you review the grammar. I have found that recording audio is really helpful because there are some great tools that can help you review the grammar on a regular basis automatically.
Find some Grammar to Review
First, you will need some kind of grammar textbook to work with. This can be a Minna No Nihongo book if you are just starting out with N5 and N4 or it can be a So-Matome or New Kanzen Master book for the N3 and above levels. For more details about different books, check out the guide on how to select a good book.
After you have gone through a particular section of the book and did all the exercises, isolate the grammar points that you have learned. There is usually a grammar section in every textbook that will present the grammar point they are focusing on for that unit. For the So-Matome and New Kanzen Master series this is pretty easy, the grammar phrases are pretty clearly marked in each section.
Now, grammar can be pretty tricky, some grammar points might have several rules. For example, for the は particle, there are probably at least 7 or 8 rules or pieces of information that you need to know about it. So, it is important to break down one grammar point into several pieces. This way, your brain won’t be overloaded with all the extra information at once.
You may also want to look up the grammar point in a reference book of some kind. I’ve listed a few grammar resources that you can use to find more information about a particular grammar point so that you have a better idea of how to use it. Generally speaking though, a good textbook should have an ample enough description of the grammar point for you to understand what is going on.
Start Recording Mini Grammar Lessons
After you have found a good grammar point, and you are pretty familiar with it, it is time to do some recording. A smartphone works great for this, the iPhone has the Voice Memo app and Android also has an app simply called Voice Memo or there are a few alternatives you can use as well. Alternatively, you can just use Audacity and a computer microphone to record your voice that way, too.
Once you have your audio recording gear setup, it’s time to do some recording of the particular grammar point. The main idea behind these recordings is to give as much information as you need to understand the grammar point clearly, but not too much as to bore your future self to death because you’ll be listening to these recordings on a regular basis in the future.
At first, recording these mini grammar lessons will seem a little awkward, and you’ll notice that you might even leave out a few things by accident. But, over time, you will get better at explaining the grammar points and understanding what is important about each one. It’s a powerful way to take a different direction with how you study your grammar.
When I did this, I recorded the audio and then listened to it for a good 20 minutes or so a day on my walk to work. I was able to learn all the grammar from the So-Matome book in around a month, which is pretty powerful.
Another thing you can use audio for is to use for notes on mistakes you made on the questions. Usually at the end of a particular section of a book, you will have some questions to check your understanding of the grammar point.
Try to analyze why you made those mistakes. If you made the mistake because you just didn’t know the grammar point, you need to really go back and review. If you made the mistake because you confused one grammar point with another, make a note of it.
For example, if you got は and が confused, try to understand what the difference is between them. Then, record some notes on what those differences are, so you won’t make the mistake again. Try to imagine that you are the teacher and you are explaining the answer to a student who has gotten it wrong.
1) Say the grammar point you are focusing on in Japanese. This is to help you focus on the main point of the ‘lesson’. We are going to shuffle these audio files around and so they’ll pop up randomly and you’ll need to be able to focus quickly on the point.
So for example, if you are studying the particle は, you would say ‘the particle は’. If you are studying some of the higher levels, which are more phrases than grammar points, you could say something like ‘the phrase ついでに’. Some of the higher level phrases are two parts, so you can say something like ‘the phrase もし なになに たなら’, where なになに needs to be filled in with something.
2) Say a sentence that uses the grammar point in Japanese. This is to help give you context and a feel for the grammar point. I feel like it is important to see the grammar point being used before you go into any rules about it.
For example, if you are studying は, you could make a simple sentence like ‘これは ほん です。’. At the higher levels, there are usually example sentences in the textbook that you can practice with. The So-Matome series in particular has lots of great examples using the grammar point.
3) Say the English translation of the sentence. This is to check your understanding of the grammar point and how it is used. Alternatively, you can use the Japanese re-wording of the particular sentence if you want a good challenge, but I prefer the English translation because it gives me one more way to look at the grammar point.
4) Repeat 2 and 3 as many times as you prefer. The point here is to give as many examples as you need to show all the usages, but be careful not to bore yourself with too much. Usually 2 or 3 examples are enough to get the point across.
5) Finally, finish off the recording by explaining the meaning of the grammar point and its usage. Be sure to mention how it is used. For example, can be used with a noun? Can be used with just adjectives? Also, note the connotation of the grammar point if there is one. Is it negative? Or affirmative? Is it used to declare something?
6) Stop the recording and save it off. You can now put it into rotation with your other audio flashcards.