As with the study of any subject, you need to have self-discipline. Set a certain amount of time that will be devoted to the study of Japanese, and try to make a regular schedule. Don't rush yourself and set yourself achievable goals. The ideal method to study a language is to be exposed to the native environment with access to native speakers and have your own personal tutor. These are, however, not necessary and self-study can be rewarding in itself.
Setting goals is vital
If you are serious about learning to read and write Japanese, you must first master kana (hiragana & katakana). These are the two syllabaries, and are phonetic just like the English alphabet. Unlike English, however, Japanese pronunciation is almost perfectly regular, meaning that for the most part, one symbol stands for one sound, and there are very few pronunciation rules to learn. As a result, hiragana and katakana can easily be mastered, though fluency in reading will take longer.
The kana are few enough that one can learn them by rote. To reach fluency, one eventually has to drop mnemonic devices anyway. For that transition period, or even for the few that prove difficult to memorise, mnemonics can come in handy.
Once you have mastered the kana, you will be able to pronounce all the kana characters you come across, even if you don't know the meaning. Not to worry, though, once you build up your vocabulary, you'll be amazed how much more you can comprehend.
You should begin to learn kanji immediately, as it is very time-consuming. The sooner you start, the sooner you will become proficient.
There are a number of ways to learn the kanji.
- In Japanese skills, they are taught by rote.
- One can learn the radicals.
- There are etymology-based mnemonics, and
- pictorial-based mnemonics.
- Calligraphy (書道 shodō) can be a mnemonic and pleasurable way to practice kanji.
To learn via radicals (the pieces that make them up), you only need to learn the relatively few components (approximately 200), and pretty soon you will be able to guess the meaning and pronunciation of a new character with some accuracy just by looking at it.
Writing kanji is an entirely different business; think of kanji as something elegant, an art. Calligraphy is commonly studied and a highly revered art in Japan. Skillfully written characters and proverbs are often hung on walls or displayed in museums, and sell for as much as paintings do in the West.
A good strategy to learning all of these characters is to realize that it isn't anything like English, Spanish, or other European languages. When memorizing the sounds of a character, try to forget your native language, and think phonetically, rather than in your native alphabet.
Note: As mentioned earlier, it is important not to rush yourself. The more you try to learn in one go, the easier it is for you to forget.