Learning Japanese: Vocabulary
Without Vocabulary, There's No Communication, Period.
___ apanese vocabulary gets tricky because not only do you need to learn how to pronounce the word, but you may also want to learn the kanji. Furthermore, you may also need to learn the different conjugations if you're learning verbs. And finally, the vocabulary word in question may have a different usage than the typical English definition.
For example, 分かる (wakaru) is generally translated to "to understand" and 知る (shiru) is generally translated as "to know." But the uses of 分かる and 知る don't automatically plug into sentences using this differentiation. 分かる is used a lot more often, such as in cases of "do you know how" or "do you know of a something" whereas 知る is used for do you know a person or do you know of a restaurant. This is why it is difficult to learn from Japanese without any context. And to further complicate things, some phrases might be considered rude while other phrases might be considered too polite.
Whereas learning to speak Japanese and learning about grammar works well with a tutor or learning program, vocabulary is better achieved with self-study. So how do we learn Japanese vocabulary?
All LingoVideocast lessons are accompanied by Anki decks
The best way for most people to learn Japanese vocabulary is through flashcards. The recommended program is any type of spaced-repetition program -- the most prominent and popular of these being AnkiSRS. We learn and retain best when we learn a bit by bit instead of trying to cram everything in at once. This is probably why many of us don't really remember much of what we learned in high school, because we just crammed in too much information for testing purposes. It's highly recommended to use the flashcards everyday. Anki allows you to set goals and reminders for your flashcard decks and also limits the number of cards you would go through at once so you don't tire yourself out too quickly.
Kanji Monsters is a challenging adventure game for learning Kanji
Personally, flashcards don't work for me because I get distracted too quickly. Something that has worked much better is learning by playing games. Games force you to take an action such as clicking a button or dragging an item. This more hands-on approach triggers more parts of the brain and improves memory retention. I think the future of learning vocabulary will be in phone games as games are no longer just for children. Vocabulary game programs like Memrise and our own Kanji Monsters have been highly praised for their effectiveness.
Meeting people and picking up new words is a great way to learn
The last two methods don't add any context to your vocabulary words. Conversations with natives will really help you learn how to use the words you study. It also improves your memory retention if you're speaking and hearing new words in a social setting. And the other great thing about having real conversations is that it helps with word frequency. You will find many words and expressions that come up frequently. When learning from flashcards, every word is given equal weighting. One trick I have with conversations is that I take notes of new words I learned, where I learned it, and who I was speaking with during the exchange. This really helps jog my memory.
Yotsubato is a good manga for learning basic words.