One of the things I continually harp on this blog is the fact that you can’t rush Japanese. It’s too big. No matter how much you memorize, or how much you cram down your mind and then forget, you’re not going to get much closer to fluency with the language. I think there are two reasons for that.
The first reason is that there are actually two different vocabularies in Japanese. This isn’t something that’s played down per se, but I don’t think it’s emphasized. There’s the native Japanese words, and there’s the jyukugo. They are generally pronounced entirely differently, have different origins, and the kanji are read differently. But they’re all treated the same – as part of the Japanese language, which makes it very confusing. Rote memorizing jyukugo is almost impossible.
The other is that in order to become fluent with Japanese, you have to start thinking like a Japanese person. This means leaving all of your preconceptions about what a language should be at the door, and just accepting it for what it is. Everything’s backwards, and until you can actually internalize it, you’ll be forever struggling with it.
This is one of the reasons that I am finding wanikani so valuable. It truly is spaced repetition. So when a review pops up, after I’ve seen and answered it enough, the pronunciation and meaning just immediately pop into my head. If it doesn’t, then it resets until I remember it. Sometimes the mnemonics are helpful, sometimes not, but I’ve noticed that as I progress from master towards enlightened on certain words and kanji, that the recall becomes faster, and I can read the particular word just as fluently as I can an English word. In context, it’s still difficult, but the words themselves become easier as the repetition continues.
But as I keep saying, it’s a very slow process. Anyone who says “I’m going to Japan in two months and I need to learn enough Japanese to get around” is better off getting a translation app and studying common phrases, because that’s about all you’ll get. It’s almost a lifetime commitment, because there’s no way you’re going to become fluent in it in less than two years.
But, I think, it can be done, and that’s also very important. It’s not hopeless. It’s just that patience is needed.