Have you ever taken part in a play? Did you have to memorize lots of lines of dialog for your character? Do You Want To Learn Japanese? Then Become An Actor!
No, I’m not talking about starting on the big screen, or even in a local play. But rather I’m talking about the habits and methods that actors use in order to learn their lines and then deliver them perfectly.
These same techniques can also be used to help you with your Japanese studies. Who knows, you might even become so good at it that people mistake you for a native when they hear you speak!
A Quick Note Before We Begin
In this post I’m going to be talking about how to get better at “acting” for the most part. But I want you to be thinking about how everything I mention applies to learning Japanese.
Some of it will be easy, like when I say “how to memorize your line for the play,” what I’m really talking about is “how to memorize a phrase in Japanese.”
Other things, you might have to read between the lines to see how it connects.
If you’re ever not sure about any part of it, just leave me a question in the comments and I’ll be more than happy to clarify.
The incredible thing is that actors and actresses memorize hundreds and thousands of lines, and deliver them perfectly in an incredible variety of accents from all across the world.
Everything that they do to be superstars can be applied to learning Japanese as well! Keep that in mind, and read on!
The Two Elements of Each Line You Learn
When you are learning your lines, or in this case Japanese phrases, there are two primary aspects that you need to be aware of.
The first element is: the actual words, or what your character is saying.
If someone says: “Look! It’s my friend!” You would need to know and understand all of those words in order to comprehend what’s being said.
Pretty simple, right?
The second element is: the delivery of the lines, or how your character says it.
Are they excited about seeing their friend and they express this by speaking rapidly? Are they upset with the friend and you can hear the anger in their voice?
Remember, it’s the exact same words in both instances, but how those words are said can completely change the meaning!
This is the part of conversation where you “read between the lines” and understand the true message that is being spoken.
It is generally understood that communication between people is done primarily through body language and tone of voice, with the actual words that are spoken representing as little as 7% in some cases [source].
You really need to know both to become great, let alone good, at conversations. The situations you will find yourself in are a little different when you only know the first element or the second element of the lines.
If you know what the words are, but miss how they are said, you will probably misinterpret people and possible annoy them as well.
This is especially true when sarcasm is employed and you accidentally take it literal.
- “Oh, I’d love it if Janet came over”
- Said sincerely = it’s OK to invite her to the party.
- Said with sarcasm = you had better not invite her.
The reverse is also pretty interesting. Have you ever watched a Japanese show or movie and, even though you weren’t exactly sure what the person on the screen said, the context of the situation and the way that they said something actually helped you to understand what was going on quite a bit?
You can easily tell how well (or terrible) two people’s relationship is going, even if you can’t understand what they’re saying.
This is a way to enjoy Japanese materials that are still a little above your level, but it’s not all that great when you are talking to actual people!
They kind of expect you to understand the words coming out of their mouths! Who knew?
The best situation is, of course, when you understand both!
But to get to that point, you have to really pay attention and practice, practice, practice!
Four Techniques You Should Use
When you think about actors, you realize that their job is to become another person so that they can act and talk how that other person naturally would.
So how do you go from the person you are now, to the character you want to (temporarily) become?
These methods are some that actual actors use in order to learn and perform their roles perfectly.
<1> Run through your lines and visualize the scene happening in your mind’s eye.
The first thing you have to do is go over lines and read about the scene. This is important as it will tell you both what is being said, and how.
Then once you’ve gone over it once or twice, you want to start imagining it in your mind.
See the environment and ask yourself where this is happening. What are the living conditions and how does that affect the person’s mood and temperament?
See the people and ask what are the relationships between them. What are the emotions they are feeling as they speak?
Then you want to say the lines yourself as if you were the character yourself. Try to say the line correctly, and also deliver the “un-spoken” part of it as well.
Do you think your character would deliver this particular line confidently, like they’ve said it a thousand times before? Or would they be a little unsure of themselves in this particular scene and have a tremble in their voice?
What this should do is help add emotion to the words and phrases, which will then make them come to life and live inside of you.
Once they are there, you can call upon them at a moment’s notice!
<2> Write your lines on a piece of paper from memory.
I’ve talked before about memory hacks that you can use to memorize vocabulary. One of the things I talked about was recalling specific information, and then reproducing it by writing it down on paper.
This is also a common way that people remember what they’re supposed to say when they are working on memorizing their lines.
Simply put, there is a hand-brain connection that gets activated when you write things down.
Try writing out a complete phrase several times to help solidify it in your memory. It’s okay to refer to the source material if you draw a blank, but don’t give up until you can write it all down correctly in a single go.
This will help you to put the actual words themselves into your long term memory. Once you can use them in a mostly unconscious way, you can then turn your attention to the emotional aspect of it.
<3> Watch other people deliver the line first, and then mimic what they do.
One of the primary ways that children learn is through imitation. They see mommy and daddy doing something, or saying something, and then little Bobby (or Sally) does it too.
If you’ve ever heard a little kid drop the F-Bomb unexpectedly, you can be sure that they are simply repeating what they heard, even if they (probably) don’t understand the significance of it.
When it comes to acting, a common technique is to watch other people who have already mastered the role you are learning.
You watch what they do, and hear how they speak, and then you try it out for yourself as well.
You can even watch several actors who are all performing the same character so that you can get a couple of variations on a particular line of dialog.
Then you can do it yourself exactly how they did it, or change it ever so slightly to make it more of your own special performance. As long as you’re true to the character, it should be alright.
<4> Pretend you ARE the character! In this case, a Japanese person (or a spy!)
One of the most powerful techniques for change, in any area of life, is to change your identity.
This is because the person who you see yourself to be, will then determine what you do and how you behave.
An athletic identity means that you work out a lot, practice your spot a lot, and hang out with your teammates.
A musician identity means you listen to lots of music in your particular genre. You play your instrument all the time, and constantly look for ways to get better.
Let’s say that your character as an actor, is an actual Japanese person.
So what is the identity of a Japanese person? Well, look at the things that they do all the time:
They read Japanese books and manga. They watch Japanese shows and anime. They observe and participate in the Japanese customs and culture, such as the concept of different social status and insiders vs. outsiders.
In other words, when you behave like a Japanese person and think like a Japanese person, your abilities in the language go up as well.
But you don’t have to literally become Japanese to do so. You can simply act like a Japanese person would by taking on a role when you study and practice Japanese.
Having trouble seeing yourself as a native? Don’t worry, you can pretend that you’re a spy instead!
Perhaps you only talk to people on the phone and you are required to make them think you’re a native with just your voice.
Or maybe you need to “decode” their written language so that you can share that information with your commander and your unit.
In any case, you have a vital mission of learning and understanding the Japanese language to a high degree so that you can perform your duties excellently.
After all, your country is counting on you!
The point is to stop thinking and acting like yourself for a brief time, and start acting in a way that will promote your Japanese skills.
You Not Only Learn What Things Mean, But Also When To Use Them.
By utilizing these four techniques you can not only memorize the new words and phrases, but you can also ingrain how to use them deep in your mind.
Learning how to use a phrase is not quite the same thing as learning what it means.
You might know that 「マジで」 translates as “seriously” but do you know what types of situations are appropriate for you to use it in?
When you learn how to use something language-wise, it becomes a part of your communication ability and you stop thinking so much about what exactly is being said, and more on enjoying the conversation and having fun.
And That’s A Wrap!
That’s all there is to it. Now get to practicing, people!
If you’ve got any questions, or anything you would like to add, then do so by leaving a comment below.