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Language classes are a lot of work, but can be extremely rewarding and fun. At the college or university level, language study tends to be at least double the speed that it was at the high school level, and could be potentially overwhelming to study a foreign language. I’ve been studying Japanese for over three years now and these are some personal discoveries that I have made and offer as tips for students studying a foreign language at the university level

       Continue Conversation Outside the Classroom.

  • Just because class ends for the day does not mean that practice does too. Make friends with people in class and do your best to speak in the language as much as possible. Strike up conversations with your teachers outside of class. They greatly appreciate seeing students enthusiastic about the language. Find a penpal. Go to that authentic Italian restaurant and order in Italian. This is great practice when you are studying a foreign language.

    Foreign films and television shows.

  • Besides being a fun excuse, following a TV drama or movie in the language you are studying can greatly improve your listening skills. Try to listen for vocabulary or grammar points you just learned. Students who do so also tend to have a more natural pronunciation and flow with how they speak. Just remain aware that television and movies also use a lot more slang and informal language — interesting to compare to what you learn in class, but sometimes not the best to use in front of professors and fellow classmates.


  • Like watching TV shows, this also helps with listening skills and pronunciation. Certain lyrics to your favorite song can also help you remember vocabulary for that next quiz.

    Make exchange student friends.

  • Is there a way to meet international students on your campus? Are there language exchange programs or clubs with foreign students who want to practice learning English with someone? This is a great way to practice speaking skills and experience how people your age talk, which can be different from what is taught in the classroom. These exchange students are often eager to find a mentor-like person they can practice English with, and you can practice their home language with them.

    Read as much as you can.

  • Pick up a comic book, novel or magazine and try to see what you can read. Try to read signs or ads in the language you’re learning.

    Social Networking Sites.

  • Follow a twitter accounts that tweet a vocabulary word a day. Change your facebook to the language you are learning.

    Study abroad.

  • One of the best things to do as a student of another language. Daily language practice, real world situations instead of text book situations, as well as a chance to understand and experience another culture. And of course, a chance to learn all that slang and find out how people actually talk.

    Take a break.

  • University language classes take up a lot of time and effort, so sometimes you have to take a step back and just breathe. It is really easy to get caught up in the details of grammar rules or the endless lists of vocabulary. It can be really helpful to pause to look at the larger picture: To pick up on patterns in the language or even just ro remember why you love this language so much and endeavored to learn it.

Learning another language is not easy, but it can be fun. College level language classes cover a lot in a short time and require a lot of work and commitment, but you will be amazed how much you have learned even after just one year.

Tips specifically for Japanese:

Word Association.

  • This isn’t necessarily just for Japanese, or even language study in general. Making associations can help with everything from remembering vocabulary to those daily to-do-lists.

For example, associating words with images:
川(kawa)is a simple example. It means river, which it quite obviously looks like.
親(oya) is an often used example in class. The left side contains what looks like 立 (“to stand”) on top of 木 (“tree”), followed by 見 (“to see”). This word means “parent(s)” and can be remembered by thinking of parents on top of a tree, always watching their children.
比べる(kuraberu)which means “to compare.” I remembered this one because the two 比 look similar but are slightly different if you compare them, thus how I remember the definition.

According to Harry Lorayne, a best-selling novelist known for his memory techniques, the most outlandish associations are the best. After all, we tend to remember things if they are odd.

For instance, when I was first learning hiragana, I remembered て (te) by thinking of it as a picture of a dog’s butt and its tail. The beginning of the word “tail” sounds like te. (The butt is the curved part on the right, the tail is the horizontal line on top)

Stroke order is important.

  • Keeping stroke order consistent helps to recall it later. A character’s stroke order is also used to look it up in dictionaries.

    Learn radicals.

  • They can be helpful for remembering words or remembering parts of kanji. For instance, 持つ(もつ, “to hold”)has a 扌 on the left, which is the radical form of 手(て, “hand”)on the left. To “hold” something involves using your hands, which help you to remember to write it as 持つ and not 待つ(matsu, “to wait”)

    Learn the kunyomi and onyomi readings of kanji.

  • Kunyomi refers to the Japanese reading of kanji.Onyomi refers to the Chinese reading of kanji. Knowing the different readings of kanji will help you learn the hundreds of kanji that you will have to learn. For example, 東 (“east,” the to in Tokyo) can be read ashigashi (kunyomi) or tou (onyomi). Knowing the different readings makes your learning of kanji much more efficient.

消 (“to erase”)
onyomi: shou
kunyomi: kesukieru
* Remembering that 消 can be read as shou makes learning a kanji like 費主義 (shouhishugi, “consumerism”) easier. You remember that the 消 is read as shou and piece together the other characters that you know how to read in order to remember this kanji.

  • Helpful websites:

– Online dictionaries: Denshi JishoTangorin
– Rikaichan – Very useful tool that allows you to look up the meanings just by hovering your cursor over words. For Firefox and Google Chrome users.
– Stroke Order Movies
– Twitter accounts: learnkanjiJapan_Lang, or follow your favorite Japanese celebrities and try to figure out what they’re saying!
– Useful pages at Radicals0203Counters

Photo courtesy of Miguel Efondo via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).


Need any more help with studying a foreign language in College? Check out the video below!
Language Learning Tips

What are some other tips for studying a foreign language? Let us know in the comments below!