Learning a new language can be tough, and Japanese is no exception. But one of the things you need to be careful about is forming bad habits with the language (grammar mistakes, incorrect pronunciation, etc).
But it’s kind of a paradox when you’re learning the language on your own. You want to avoid the mistakes, but how do you know if you’re even making them? What you need to do is learn how to find and correct your Japanese mistakes.
That’s what I’m going to show you how to do today.
Like I mentioned, it’s more geared for those people who are learning on their own, since people who have a teacher or tutor can simply ask whenever they need to.
How Are Bad Habits Formed In The First Place?
I think it’s important to understand where bad habits come from and how they are formed so that you can identify if it’s something you’re currently engaging in.
The first step to change is awareness, after all.
There can be lots of bad habits, depending on how deep you want to go, but some of them are super easy to identify and correct.
For example, if you want to know if you’re writing Japanese with incorrect stroke order, all you have to do is look up the correct way online or in a book and then compare it to what you do.
There’s not really a big need to go over the quick fixes like that.
The two major errors that most people struggle with are:
- Using incorrect grammar.
- Having bad pronunciation.
Let’s look at each one now.
#1 – Using Incorrect Grammar
Japanese is very different from English. Shocker, I know!
The structural difference of the language is one of the main reasons why Japanese is tough for English natives to learn. Most people who study the language do so with a grammar book that tries to explain the language like a mathematical formula.
This is a great tool for looking something up as a reference, but when used as the primary model of learning, it becomes really confusing!
Most people don’t even understand English grammar, and now they’re expected to learn the grammar for a language they don’t even fully know yet?
It can be done, but it should be handled in a very precise and easy way. But is that how most books teach it? Nope!
Usually you spend a whole chapter learning about particles, then one on i-adjective inflections, and finally the volitional form of verbs.. It’s way too much!
This is the main reason people struggle with Japanese grammar – They’re overwhelmed with too many abstract concepts for the new language. It then leads to mistakes since there’s not a solid understanding of how it works.
It’s really easy to mix up grammar rules early on.
#2 – Having Bad Pronunciation
It’s interesting to note that the primary way people learn languages is with their eyes. This can be great when the student already has a solid mastery of Japanese phonetics, but unfortunately this isn’t usually the case.
When you read something, you brain automatically “sub-vocalizes” it. That means you “hear it” in your head as your eyes take the words in.
This is great with English since you were already fluent in the spoken part when you learned how to read as a kid. But that’s not how it is for most students of Japanese.
What then happens is that you sub-vocalize new Japanese words with English sounds – Not good!
The majority of people learning Japanese can read and write better than they can speak and listen. It’s simply a result of the way that they study.
The main problem is that the written word doesn’t accurately reflect the spoken word. For example, the two words 箸 (はし) and 橋 (はし) don’t sound the same, even though they use identical kana.
What’s the difference? They have different pitch accents!
And 言う (いう) doesn’t sound like い.う but it actually sounds like ゆ when spoken. Is that confusing?
Add to the above, the tendency for people to stress certain syllables in Japanese words, and is it really a wonder that Japanese people have a hard time understanding foreigners?
In other words, there are aspects of the spoken language that cannot be learned through reading. But when reading is your primary method of input, you fall back on to your native language’s characteristics.
But that’s enough on how bad habits are formed. Let’s now take a look at how to find them and correct them!
How To Find And Correct Bad Grammar
Alright, let’s say that you want to find out if your grammar is wonky. How do you do it?
I would recommend that you try either writing out some complete phrases or record yourself talking in Japanese about any topic that might interest you.
Then you’ll want to post what you’ve written somewhere that others can view it. Videos can go on YouTube and a written paragraph could be submitted to a group on Facebook or something.
Then you’ll want to ask the community (or hire a professional tutor) to review it, with the intention of finding grammar mistakes only. I have a different recommendation for correcting bad speaking habits, so tell people to “only focus on grammar” if you recorded a video.
Be sure to tell people that you are only interested in answers to the following questions:
- What did I say or write that is incorrect grammar-wise?
- What is the proper way to say/write it?
It’s not enough to be told that you did something wrong. You need to fully understand what the mistake is, and how to correct it for future usages.
That’s how I recommend you examine your current understanding of Japanese and work on fixing any of the bugs that might be present. But how should you then move forward?
A best practice for learning grammar is to only learn a single new rule at any one time, and then try to find 5-10 Japanese example phrases that utilize the new grammar rule for you to study and memorize.
What this does is take an intangible concept that you just put into your conscious mind, and it moves it into your unconscious mind through the repeated usage of said rule with concrete examples.
So far I’ve only found one Japanese book that uses this approach. Hopefully I’ll encounter more in the future.
This process will get you to the point where you know correct grammar because you can both explain why it is correct, and also (more importantly) because it just feels right.
How To Find And Correct Bad Speaking Habits
Speaking Japanese presents its own problems, but they can all pretty much be summed up in one word: Sounds!
Here’s a list of common mistakes people make when speaking Japanese:
- Using sounds that don’t exist in Japanese (but do exist in their native language)
- Using stress on syllables in words
- Ignoring or using the wrong pitch accent pattern
- Fully pronouncing mora that utilize a (semi) silent vowel: すこし for example.
You could record yourself talking like you did with grammar, and then ask people to correct it, but I find that a sound problem is a systemic problem.
What I mean is that, if you use non-Japanese sounds, then ALL your Japanese words are experiencing that problem.
If you stress syllables similar to the way we do with English, then ALL your Japanese has that lovely gaijin accent.
So instead of trying to clear up a single problem like we can do with grammar, you need to engage in a couple of practices that will improve all of your Japanese at once, over time. Here’s what I recommend:
(1) – The first thing you will want to do is actively listen to more Japanese. I recommend that you pick a single movie or a few episodes of a Japanese show that you like and are willing to re-watch over and over.
What this will do is get you used to the exact words the actors are saying, and you can therefore stop focusing so much on what they are saying, and instead pay attention to how they are saying it.
Really focus on it. Ask yourself:
- What are the sounds and syllables that they are saying?
- Are there any silent vowels? Elongated vowels? Stop sounds (the small っ)?
- What is the pitch accent they are utilizing? Is it from high to low, or the reverse?
This is important because it will better allow you to do the next part.
(2) – The second thing to do is to spend some time practicing The Shadowing Technique.
When you hear a Japanese person say a word or phrase, repeat it out loud yourself and try to mimic it perfectly.
Use the same sounds, pitches, and emotions as they are. If they say it in a happy way, then you do too. Try to be a perfect replica of them when you practice.
Once you’ve done this enough, the correct way to say individual words “should” move into your long-term memory where you can stop focusing on it, and simply speak correctly.
There’s just one little problem: Your lying ears!
(3) – The third thing is embarrassing, but you need to record yourself speaking.
The main problem is that you don’t actually hear your own voice through your ears. You hear it through your bone.
Have you ever listening to a recording of your own voice before? Did you think it sounded off, and kind of weird? That’s because the voice YOU hear when you speak is not the same voice everyone else hears.
And here’s the kicker: Only the voice that OTHER people hear matters. You might think you nailed the word, but if the other person has a confused look on their face, then you know you messed up.
The recording process is simple:
- Listen to a native say something.
- Record yourself saying the exact same thing.
- Compare your recording with the native and make any necessary adjustments.
The main thing that you want to do is to make the entire recording process easy. Because if it’s easy, you’ll do it!
For example, I record myself with my copy of Rocket Japanese. Here’s a picture of it below:
It’s probably the fastest and easiest way to improve your pronunciation through recording yourself.
When I use it myself, I hit the top left Play Button to hear it once. Then I hit the Record Button and work my magic. Then I like to hear the native’s recording one more time before I listen to my own for comparison.
If I nailed it – Awesome!
If I didn’t, then I just repeat the entire process. There are several dozen of these in each lesson, so you’ve always got more than enough material to work on.
Use all three of these steps to improve and clean up your spoken Japanese. A little bit of work each day will pay off big time later on.
The Clean Water Method For Improving Your Japanese
One of the things that people worry about when they are leaning both grammar and correct Japanese sounds is this:
“Is the learning material I’m learning from perfect? What if I find a mistake in it?”
Here’s the thing I’ve noticed after using quite a few books and courses myself: They all have at least one mistake in them!
These language learning materials are created by real people, and real people make mistakes every now and again. That’s why the best way to overcome and deficiencies in the courses is to utilize what I call The Clean Water Method.
Imagine that you are a bucket. And the Japanese you are learning is the water that is being poured into the bucket.
Sometimes Dirty Water (mistakes) get into the bucket. How do you get them out? By pouring loads and loads of more (clean) water in!
Eventually the sheer amount of good water will either push the dirty water out (overflow) or the ratio of good water to bad water will be so enormous (your bucket grows as you learn more Japanese) that the specs of dirt will be completely insignificant.
In other words, flood yourself with lots and lots of Japanese materials, both educational things and stuff meant for natives to enjoy, and eventually you will naturally be saying 1,000 correct things for every 1 thing you say incorrectly.
Your Ability To *Notice* Will Determine Everything
So now you know how these bad Japanese habits are formed.
And you also know how to identify and correct the two biggies: grammar and speaking!
To top it all off, you’ve learned a secret of having perfect Japanese. Something that all natives do naturally: Drink ocean’s worth of Japanese materials!
The last piece of advice that I want to leave you with is this: Pay attention to what you’re hearing and reading!
Your ability to notice the sounds, and notice the grammatical constructions being used will do more for you and your success than anything else.
You remember that awareness is the first step to change, right? Be in a constant state of awareness by paying very, very close attention to the Japanese that you encounter.
That’s all for now. Let me know your thoughts be leaving a comment below. Thanks!