Learning another language is not only learning different words for the same things, but learning another way to think about things - Flora Lewis
If you are learning a new language like Japanese, the first important principle to understand that to learn more Japanese words is not synonymous to learning the language. Remember that words are just one of the many means to communicate what one feels and thinks. They are merely tools or a medium to convey one's thoughts and ideas. In that sense, some of the most valuable words that you learn are the ones that help you communicate with maximum ease.
For example, in your effort to increase Japanese vocabulary, you end up learning 50 new words. But you don't pick up an important word like "no", which is probably more critical to know than a word like "fast". In practical terms, you will have difficulty communicating your thoughts without the word no, which would have effectively doubled the number of ideas and expressions you could have expressed. The word fast, on the other hand, merely helps you to modify your ideas to a certain extent. Are you seeing the difference?
These are judgment calls that one must make while learning a new language and vocabulary. And these calls are subjective in nature because the same word may have different importance to different people.
So, effectively, a word does not have to be absolutely necessary to learn just because they find mention in Japanese vocab books. Rather, you should decide how important a particular word is for you. And emphasize listening skills so you get better at contextualizing.
A basic principle of deciding which words in the Japanese vocabulary to learn or not could be to categorize the words into beginner, intermediate, and advanced. The three sub-divisions help you decide the purpose of a particular word while learning a new language.
Increase Japanese Vocabulary by Building Your Core
Japanese vocab practice is an excellent way to increase Japanese vocabulary. You can learn more Japanese words through Japanese vocab books or Japanese vocab apps. But before you do any of that, you may want to understand the core principles of Japanese vocabulary.
The Pareto Principle
When you are trying to learn new things- a new language or a new technique - you must put in some efforts in order to get the desired results. The Pareto principle states that 20% of your efforts determine 80% of the results you achieve. You can apply the same principle to learning a new language.
There is a standard theory about learning new languages that states that you only need to learn a few thousand words to get a good grasp on 70% of the language comprehension. But there is another school of thought that says,
- Most new learners would want to break that 70% comprehension barriers.
- The value of actively learning new words diminishes over time.
This has given rise to a new theory that says that people need 98% comprehension level to read comfortably in a new language.
Experts opine that that first 1000 words that you learn constitute about 78% of the comprehension rate of an average novel or a movie. Thus, the first 1000 must be memorized well. The subsequent 1000 words make up about 8% of the comprehension rate, while the next 1000 yields another 3%.
What it means in real terms when you want to learn more Japanese words is that you would have a fair understanding of approximately 90% of a given non-specialized dialogue or text by learning about 10 words daily for the first 12 months of your course.
The Best Japanese Vocab Books to Help You Learn
You can use the self-learning tools to improve your Japanese vocabulary. But the language can't be learned in this mode alone. You must seek the guidance of teachers and experts who have the answers to your questions. Also, understanding that not everyone can afford the costs of a foreign language school, Japanese vocab books are an affordable way to learn more Japanese words.
Recommended Japanese Vocab Books to Learn From
Minna no Nihongo
It is one of the most popular language book series in Japan, endorsed by almost 99% of Japanese schools to teach language to their students. You may, however, find this book to be a little outdated and not easy, especially if you are a beginner. The plus point about the book is that it follows the JLPT (Japanese-Language Proficiency Test) principle which allows you to monitor and assess your progress and make course corrections.
This book is designed by the Japan Foundation, the organizers of the JLPT. But it doesn't necessarily follow the JLPT order. It is more reflective of the European language system and uses simpler methods to explain grammar and vocabulary.
The other advantage of using this book to learn it contextualizes the concepts in real situations making them more relevant for the learner.
A great favorite among language learners in Japan, the Genki gives tough competition to the Minna no Nihongo as the most popular Japanese language book. It is designed for university language courses with a special focus on exchange students.
Exciting & Free Japanese Vocab Apps for the Beginner
Just like English or French language apps, there are many trending and fun Japanese vocab apps that learners use to engage in collective and self-learning. Technology has drastically changed the face of education, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has made learning more cheaper, faster, and efficient.
The Five Best Japanese Vocab Apps
The Japanese Dictionary App Imiwa
Imiwa is a free app and packs quite a punch in terms of its high-value content. It is available offline with extensive Japanese to English translations, both in sentences and words. It also explains the kanji stroke order.
Anki Flashcards App
With this app, you can learn as many as 1000 Japanese words in less than 3 months. All you need to do is dedicate 30 minutes everyday to learn more Japanese words. The app is available both in online and offline modes.
Tae Kim's Japanese Grammar Guide
This app is engaging and charges a nominal subscription amount to learn one of the most difficult aspects of the Japanese language - grammar.
If you are serious about learning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana mnemonics, then this is the app to download and subscribe. Dr. Moku is the protagonist in the app who uses funny picture associations to drill the kana into your head. It literally makes it impossible for you to forget any of it!
NHK Easy Japanese News
If you're looking for relevant Japanese content vis-à-vis the latest in Japan, then this app is the closes thing to perfection that you'll get. Use this to perfect your Japanese reading skills and learn about the latest event in country . The app also has an in-built audio feature that expands the spectrum of learning.
You can also increase Japanese vocabulary through quizzes.
Learn More Japanese Words through Kanji
If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart - Nelson Mandela
To study a new language, you must make every single day of learning useful. And choose carefully what you are learning on each day. So, when it comes to learning the Japanese language, you can help your Japanese vocab practice by learning kanji. The latter helps you associate the character with a group of words which makes it easier to form sentences and have fluent conversations.
There are three categories of alphabets in the Japanese language:
- Hiragana あいえおう
- Katakana アイエオウ
- Kanji 方位絵尾卯
Hiragana is where you start your journey with the Japanese language. It is the ABC of the language. Next comes Katakana, which involves the learning of foreign words adapted into the Japanese language.
Kanji is the last leg of the Japanese language learning. It is a logo-graph and can be read in different ways, depending on the context and usage. At the end of your Japanese language learning, you would have learnt to write and read about 2,200 kanji.
Due to the complicated nature and difficulty level of kanji, most people prefer to study it in the last phase of the learning journey. But some experts are of the opinion that if you start with Kanji, it is sure to act as a head start to increase Japanese vocabulary.