Study Tips    

On Your Own
The ideal situation is to have some exposure to English every day. This keeps things fresh in your head and makes English a living language, rather than just something you study sometimes. The trick to achieving this: make it fun! Also, it's a well-established fact that a few minutes of frequent study/practice is much more useful than a mammoth two hour cram session once a week. So, once a day if possible, try some of the following.
1. Read
The single best thing you can do on your own is read. Choose a fun book. Something you like. Something that's not too easy nor too difficult. Good kids' books are a great idea. Don't look up words you don't know: it destroys the flow of reading as well as making the whole thing seem like work. Simply circle them, guess the meaning, and ask your teacher the definitions at your next lesson.
2. Listen
Audio books are good. Load one on your iPod and you're all set. You can also listen to lots of interesting and entertaining content on the Internet. BBC Internet radio has everything: from comedy, drama and news to religion, gardening and soap operas. And it's all free! If you prefer to practice your ear with American accents, check out Voice of America.
3. Watch
Rent an English DVD. Switch on the Japanese subtitles and off you go.


Which PC?

There are several reasons why Apple Mac computers are super fantastic for Japanese students learning English or English students learning Japanese.

1. Japanese-English Dictionary and Thesaurus
When you're reading a web page, reading or writing an email, or doing just about anything on a Mac, you can right-click and use the Japanese-English dictionary and Thesaurus. The Dictionary tells you the definition (in English or Japanese); the Thesaurus tells you other words with similar meaning (synonyms). Here's a short video demonstrating the Dictionary and Thesaurus.

2. Japanese-English Mac
With Windows you have to buy the Japanese version of XP or Vista and also the Japanese version of applications like Microsoft Word etc. If you want English you have to buy the English versions, which may or may not work on your PC. With an Apple Mac computer you can simply choose any language you want, any time you want. Everything changes in less than a second. That means the OS and all the applications too. Here's a short video demonstrating the language choice feature.

3. Listen to any English text
The Mac can read any text on your screen. Just select the text and use any hot-key you choose to start the mac reading to you. It's not as good as a native speaker, but it's still quite useful.

4. It works great!
Macs are beautiful and work so much better than Windows PCs. This means you'll love using your computer and will use it much more than you ever used a Windows PC. All the great language tools in Mac OS X will help you study English every single day and have fun doing it. And Macs can even understand English and Japanese! Here's a short video showing how the Mac can understand an email message and helps me add an appointment to my calendar.


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.

Read Aloud
Reading is always useful. Reading aloud will help with:
1. Fluency
2. Pronunciation

Because this is more controlled than free conversation, your teacher should take the opportunity to correct all you pronunciation errors.
3. Memory
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.

Just Speak!
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?

Good luck!



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