With Your Teacher
Make sure you make a note of new vocabulary during the lesson. Write down new words with the definition in Japanese. If you have time, also jot down a quick sentence showing how the word is used. When you get home, transfer your new words to a small notebook used only for vocabulary. This is an important step for two reasons. Firstly, every time you read and especially write a word, it becomes more familiar and part of your passive vocabulary. Secondly, you can keep this small notebook in your pocket or bag. Keep your notebook neat and tidy and concise so that you can easily scan the vocabulary. Then, when you have two minutes to spare, sitting on a train, waiting for a bus, waiting for the waiter to bring the next beer, you can have a quick glance at your new words.
So, you will have written every word twice and after a few weeks read them many many times. And here's why this is so important: Passive and Active vocabulary (also know as Receptive and Productive). Passive vocabulary is the words that we recognise and understand. Active, the words we actually use in conversation. Most people have a passive vocabulary at least twice as large as their active. This of course is especially important for people learning a second language. Quite simply, constant repetition in one form or another is the only real and proven way to move words from passive vocabulary to active, so you can actually start using them in everyday conversation.
Reading is always useful. Reading aloud will help with:
Because this is more controlled than free conversation, your teacher should take the opportunity to correct all you pronunciation errors.
When you read aloud three activities are involved: looking, speaking and hearing. This means you are much more likely to remember new vocabulary. And, of course, reading out loud is a rudimentary form of kinesthetic learning.
Retell the Story
When you chat with your teacher or English speaking friends, the topics tend to be repetitive (what's new, work, hobbies etc.). This means that you usually only use very familiar (active) vocabulary. If you are reading a book with a plot, like a children's book for example, retell each chapter to your teacher using your own words. Because the events in the story are quite different from the events in your life, this will force you to search hard for the right words and help passive vocabulary become active.
When you speak English are you thinking in Japanese? Stop! Don't say another word! Even if you're a beginner and only know 400 English words, force yourself to think with them. It will seem difficult at first, but thinking in Japanese, translating, then speaking English is a block to your progress and fluency.
These tips are a mix of common techniques and my own methods used as a French language student and also as a University student. They all require some small effort, but the benefits are real.
If you have any other study techniques that work for you, please send me an email and I will add them here.
If you're learning English to communicate rather than pass a test, don't worry about making mistakes. Don't sit silently trying to find the perfect words and perfect syntax. Just speak! It's all about communication, right?