When learning a new language, it is tempting to look at the methods employed by a native-speaking society's educational programs. It's a logical approach, since it seems that such a tactic that has worked to educate countless generations should be applicable to yourself, right? Well, that may be true, but as far as efficiency and effectiveness goes for a foreign learner, you couldn't be further off base.
The worst part about following a typical language education system for a nation of native speakers is that you are not surrounded by said native speakers. Instead of hearing uses of words and intonations from masters of the language, you are relying on videos and literature to work on their own. Without being surround by a language's speaker's culture, you can expect an intense struggle at best, and frustration leading to outright failure at worst. So to alleviate these barriers and handicaps, people have put together "what you should learn first" styled programs, focusing on commonly used words, phrases, and hypothetical situations. Sadly, this introduces its own set of problems as you attempt to follow in someone's steps who may not be taking the same sized strides as you, and who may be journeying toward a completely different destination.
You should always keep in mind that the writers of any educational literature have a specific goal in mind, and that goal may not always coincide with your own. Perhaps you want to learn a language to get a job in a foreign land, so you read comprehensively for occupational conversations. But what if the writer ultimately geared the book toward the engineering field, and you plan to enter into agriculture? Sure, the general tone will be similar, but the flow and dynamics of the method may be far different than what you require. Perhaps you wish to simply travel to a country, so you read books on how to get yourself around a nation as a guest and a tourist. The basics will be there, but if they write with the underlying purpose of visiting museums and art galleries but you will be visiting fast-paced conventions and sporting events, then the tone and specific phrases will be left as a mystery to you.
Learning a language is one of the few times you can go ahead and place your wants first in life. If you want to learn navigate a series of restaurants and pubs on a foodie tour you and your buddies plan, then you are going to want to focus more on the pronunciation of foods and dishes while absorbing cultural tips about dining and drinking etiquette. It may be that you wish to experience live theater in a country, so maybe knowing how to ask for the soup of the day won't be as beneficial to you as would knowing how to ask for show times and learning about specific art districts.
Now, apart from achieving your personal goals, there is another very legitimate reason to approach your desires as a primary target for language study that lies in your ability to retain and recall information. Learning words and phrases that are fun for you allows you to associate the intellectual growing pains you will experience with pleasure in a less masochistic way, increasing retention without increasing stress levels. For example, I may not be able to recall the name of every United States vice president, but I could rattle off comic book, cartoon, and video game character names for days!
Of course, comics and video games may be a bad example for some of you, but I'm sure you can think of foods you love before foods you hate, and it's more than likely that you can recall your loved ones' names quicker than people who have caused you troubles (unless of course they are one in the same!), and this technique is what I plan to apply to learning Japanese.
With all of that said, I would like to ask what your goals for learning a language is, and what words and phrases you plan to work your practicing around. For today, I'm putting together a list (below) to practice based on my desire to one day take in Japan's nightlife.
Words and phrases that will be helpful for my means:
1) Bar - Bā
2) Beer - Bīru
3) (I'd like the) Check, please - O kaikei onegai shimasu
4) Heavy metal - Hebii metaru
5) How much is it? - Ikuradesu ka?
6) Live music - Nama ongaku ("On Gaku" is music)
7) Meal - Shokuji
8) Please give me a (...) - (...) kudasai (example: "Biiru kudasai")
9) Restaurant - Resutoran
10) Taxi - Takushii
11) Thank you (present tense) - Arigatou gozaimasu
12) Thank you (past tense, such as to thank a band for their performance) - Arigatou gozaimashita
13) Where is (...)? - (...) wa doko desu ka? ("wa" notes the subject, "doko des ka?" for "where is?")
14) Which way is it? - Dochira desu ka? ("Dochira" means "which" when talking about 2 objects)
15) Whiskey - Uiskii (the "ui" sounds like a single vowel)
As I learn more about the syntax of the language, I'll have more base vocabulary words to plug-and-play in sentences with. This will make simple phrases vastly more useful, and make them more likely to stick around in my memory for easy recollection. I would also recommend that while you are practicing these words, you delve deep and really visualize yourself using these words. Go ahead and do a little role playing, and see if you can't get a friend or two to help you act out some situations! Now if you'll excuse me, I need to ask about the price of my shokuji at this resutoran, and then call up a takushii to take me to the baa for a shot of uiskii and some nama ongaku! Maybe I'll get lucky and find that a hebii metaru band is playing. I just better be sure to ask for the check before I leave!
I hope this helped you, and I appreciate your reading my blog. Please leave any comments below, and thanks a lot! Dōmo arigatou!
\m/ (>_<) \m/