Hmmm… before we get started I have a confession – I don’t know where the pitch accent is for Dōgen… Oh well – anyway, let’s plough ahead.
Firstly, who is Dōgen (道元)? Well it turns out that he is a 13th century monk who makes humorous Youtube videos in Japanese, mostly making fun of foreigners in Japan, including himself. It is very Zen.
Here are Dōgen’s top tips for learning Japanese
Only ever watch the Japanese dubbed versions of Western films and TV shows.
100% immersion is the only way.
Switch your computer and phone OS to Japanese. You’ll see – there is no going back. And once you do know how to go back you won’t have to.
100% immersion is the only way.
Talk to everyone in Japanese – including other foreigners who are learning Japanese. Including your mother even if she is not learning Japanese.
100% confusion is the only way.
Mutter to yourself in Japanese.
100% institutionalisation is the only way.
Focus only on phonetics – especially pitch accent. Everything else is of secondary importance. You won’t be able to say anything but at least you will be spared the humiliation of putting the pitch on the wrong syllable of that nothing.
Summer Rane (Summer Sensei) is a 32 year old American YouTuber and author (and TV personality in Japan) who does English language teaching videos for her large Japanese audience. She is very fluent in Japanese. Summer was born and raised in Seattle and did not have any family or other initial connections to Japan as a child. But she says that she was attracted to the Japanese language and culture from an early age.
In a recent video she offered tips on how to best learn a foreign language based on how she was so successful in learning the Japanese language.
Here are her five top tips:
1.) Don’t be shy to imitate
Immerse yourself in the language – surround yourself with the sounds of the language as much as possible. And don’t be shy to imitate what you hear.
2.) Balance study of grammar textbooks and exposure to natural language
Summer talks about being obsessed with Japanese and seemingly spending every waking hour immersing herself in the language. She took Japanese class everyday at school and in the evening she studied books and watched Japanese dramas. She emphasises that exposing yourself to the sounds of the language as it is spoken colloquially is critical.
Further on this point, there is also a video of an interesting discussion between Summer and Dogen – another expat in Japan who is extremely proficient in Japanese and who learned it as a foreigner – that is, not within a family situation. In the discussion they talk about the most efficient language acquisition strategies for foreigners and Dogen (only half jokingly) says that watching the same movie over and over again is an idea that worked for him.
3. Seek out all opportunities to practice
Summer talks about her family hosting Japanese exchange students, participating in Japanese speaking competitions and going on Japanese (summer) camps.
4. After learning the basics, go and study and live in the country
Summer enrolled at university in Japan and ended up staying on in Japan for 10 years. She initially taught English there. Obviously living and working in Japan maximized her opportunities to interact with Japanese people and use her Japanese functionally as much as possible.