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Humm.. I have been here a month... Before I came I taught myself to read hiragana and katakana... slow as molassas in winter, but I could do it...... As far as vocabualry, I had almost none.
When I first got here, I couldnt even tell the start and finish of a sentence, the inflection of a question, or hear even the most basic words that i had already learned. I was soo overwhelmed that everything I had learned was gone... for about 2 weeks... slowly it came back... Eventually, i was able to access the knowledge that I had from studying before I came.
Now, I go to japanese classes 2 to 4 times a week.. for 1 to 2 hours... I am in a full immersion invironment.. I self study 1-4 hours each day. I always have flash cards with me.
Now that I am here... my comprehension grows daily, my vocabulary is at 150 or 200 words... but my speaking skills still suck, I am still barking out verbs basic form..... I completely understand 45% of my cousins 4 year old speech... and maybe 30% of a normal adults speech, that is IFthey slow down and use simple words. In normal conversation, I am lucky if I comprehend one word every other sentence.. although... I am beginning to recognize the sound of the individual words! Overall it isnt hard to understand the jist of what is being said. Most everyone is patient! Everyone understand hand signals and pictures scribbled on paper. Even with no mutual language between my hosts and me, we have had very few misunderstandings.
I would try to learn the phonetic alphabets if possible! It has made it much easier for me to hear the individual sylables, and we can communicate with writing and a dictionary if all else fails... If i am unsure about what I heard, I can usually figure it out because I am familiar with sounds that are available (as opposed to english).
hi i am planning on moving to japan as soon as i get my ESL certificate and bachelor in english.. in the meantime i am taking an audio course called the Pimsleur approach (try http://www.pimsleur.info/#Japanese for good prices).
Excellent course on learning japanese (and many other languages!). It is taught from the standpoint of - when ur a child u learn to speak and put words together and then later learn reading and so on. No random lists of words or stupid things u would never used in everday language. Just straight useful stuff and tons of repitition so it sticks in your brain.
Only thing, its a bit expensive (volume 1 is 200-300$ for 30, 30min lessons on CD) but worth it. There is a 20$ starter kit thats 8 lessons (or a 50$ kit thats 16 lessons). Also, both come with 50-100 discounts on purchase of volume 1 course. Probably you could check ebay for a used set also.
And of course there is a "travellers" version which has useful phrases for getting around if u dont want to be fluent.
Not much. I did a month or two of language exchange with a Japanese student and it was really helpful. I learned enough basic greetings to get me by at first, but the most important thing I learned was the pronunciation of the sylables. Hours of 'a i u e o ka ki ku ke ko' which seemed really stupid at the time but was actually really important. The pronuncation is really precise so if you don't say it right you might not be misunderstood.
A good phrasebook is also helpful.
With some basics, it's easy to pick up more Japanese while you're here. Learning hiragana and katakana are a big help, then you can study anywhere- reading signs on the train, the words on the TV screen at karaoke etc.
Where in Canada are you? I was living in Vancouver before I left for Japan so it was really easy to find a language exchange partner. Is that possible where you live?