Acquiring vocabulary is a necessary aspect of learning any language. Every language has its own tricks about vocabulary that learners can use – often times tricks related to their own mother tongue or English. In Japanese, Chinese and Korean speakers generally have an easier time learning Chinese due to Kanji and the similarity of some words. In this article, we will be discussing strategies on how to acquire Japanese vocabulary, primarily through learning kanji.
To understand vocabulary acquisition, one must understand the way the Japanese language is comprised. Many words in Japanese are formed by merging 2 or more words in kanji. This is especially prevalent in nouns. On the other hand, verbs and adjectives in Japanese comprise of native Japanese words in the form of the 訓読み (kunyomi) reading, but there are also quite a few words that are formed with 2 kanji. Since learning kanji will help you understand the meanings and readings of most words in the language, it is recommended for vocabulary acquisition that one studies it fervently. However, the importance of Japanese readings will often come helpful. Fortunately, there usually aren’t many of them compared to the number of kanji that is necessary for learning, and most of the times the obscure Japanese readings are found in names.
The most helpful way of learning this relationship is through reading. I recommend reading light novels or manga and taking note of every single word that comes off as unfamiliar – marking down the reading and meaning of those words. Eventually, you will realize the relationships between some of these words. By reading manga and light novels, you will also learn some exotic words and language, such as slang, that you won’t usually learn from textbooks. In addition, the absence of furigana in common words in light novels should make it easier for you to remember some words. If you absolutely need furigana, however, then you can resort to reading manga instead.
An example of a light novel
Through my experience, vocabulary acquisition is generally a lot more efficient the more you read. This way, you know the kanji for the words you are learning and knowing that kanji will be very helpful in the future. As long as you take notes of each new words, you will generally learn a lot more new words each day and find out the overall meaning of each kanji. For example, the noun 火山 is comprised of 2 individual kanji: 火 and 山. Individually, the kanji is usually read in the Japanese reading, but when combined, they are read in the Chinese/phonetic reading. Note that 火 means fire and 山 means mountain, so the 2 combined would directly mean “fire mountain”. The word actually translates to volcano in English, but “fire mountain” does to an extent allude to volcanoes.
While reading is a great way to expand your vocabulary, I tend to stumble when speaking in Japanese because I could not remember which exact word I wanted to say. This is natural since reading is a passive way of learning whereas speaking makes use of the active side of the language. Therefore, do not skimp on speech when focusing on vocabulary acquisition, as using words when speaking will definitely help you remember those words. Language exchange programs, therefore, may be a great way to solidify what you have learned through reading. More information can be found on this article: http://japan-work.com/archives/6430
In the end, vocabulary acquisition mostly depends on a combination of reading and speaking. Through my experience, reading is usually the best way to acquire vocabulary, as you can learn many kanji from reading and use them to learn even more vocabulary. Reading has to be solidified by speaking and listening through active learning, however, so both reading and actively going to exchange programs may be your best bet. If reading and going to exchange programs does not suit your learning style, try downloading some smartphone apps or learning via youtube channels. If you are keen on learning vocabulary via your smartphone, this article should prove useful: http://japan-work.com/archives/7071