I recently had the chance to talk to an American living in Japan, who had mastered the Japanese language. He told me he first took some free language lessons online, but those didn't clear up much so he followed a local language course in his home town. Slowly, he managed to build up his knowledge and eventually he learnt Japanese but as he told me, it was a long, hard process that almost drained him of his energies.
Since I noticed this is the case with more and more people that start learning Japanese, I decided to write up a small guide featuring a few fun ways to learning Japanese "organically" instead of following a strict, boring and oftentimes annoying step process.
Now I'm not a scientist, but I do know that when we have fun doing something, we automatically learn new information without even knowing it. Take a medieval themed PC game for example. While playing it and having fun, you'll also be learning bits and pieces of history. The following Japanese fun learning methods are based on the same concept.
Fun Ways to Learn Japanese - Anime and Manga
Oftentimes these two terms are confused. Manga means "comic book" in Japanese, whereas the Anime refers to the animation of a Manga comic. Think about the X-men comics... they were "Manga" first (the actual comic books), after which they became Anime (the cartoons) and nowadays, they're a movie series. Anyway, it doesn't really matter what you call them, Anime and Manga are a good way to learn Japanese naturally and they're quite fun to watch/read.
One particular advantage of Anime and Manga is that most of these comic books or cartoons have a limited word and phrase list in use. You'll be amazed how quickly you can catch on to these basic words, so Anime can be used as a starting point to your Japanese learning process.
Fun Ways to Learn Japanese - Movies and Music
I'd rate movies a much better learning source than music, but hey, if you're into Japanese music, why not use it as a helping hand in your learning process? Movies have the advantage of offering the audio-video combination which helps you understand what's going on easier. They can also be subtitled in English, which can be a good or a bad thing, depending on the quality of the subtitles (however, since Japanese words often have extensions in English translations, subtitles can be more harmful than helpful).
One movie I found particularly interesting in this sense was "The Last Samurai" starring Tom Cruise. I won't go about the movie's plot, suffice to say that an American veteran finds himself trapped in a Japanese samurai settlement, learning their ways and learning how to speak Japanese. While the Japanese folk are teaching Tom Cruise some of their language, you'll be picking it up as well.
Fun Ways to Learn Japanese - Flash Cards
Flashcards are well known to be a great way to learn a new language, but they're even more useful when learning Japanese. Using flash cards to learn Japanese is fun and it will boost your vocabulary in no time. If you can't find suitable flashcards on the Internet or in local stores, try making your own! Just cut up some cardboard in matching sizes, write an English word on one side and the Japanese translation on the other and practice with it. Try splitting the cards up in nouns, adjectives, verbs and so forth so they're easier to handle. You can also try drawing up what the word on the flashcard illustrates and it doesn't really matter how skilled you are in drawing: even a rough sketch or a silly stick figure will help your brain memorize words easier.
I didn't add raw conversation in between these fun learning methods, simply because if you're that far into the Japanese learning process as to be able to hold out a conversation, then you really don't need the above mentioned methods. I found that learning Japanese, more so than any other language, is like a rolling snowball. The further down the hill the learning process is, the faster it goes and the bigger your knowledge base gets. Once you get started, it's easy to become fluent in it. Just remember, learning Japanese is only as hard as you let it become.