I often get questions like: "Is it hard to learn Japanese?" or "What is the best way to learn it?". Now, I'm not a teacher nor an expert on the subject, but I do have some tips for aspiring learners of the Japanese language. If you're interested in learning Japanese, consider the following tips:
1. Learning a language takes effort. No matter what language it is, you need to work hard to learn it. If you're serious about learning a new language, be it Japanese, Russian or even Esperanto, be prepared to invest a lot of time and effort. If you don't have a clear goal in sight, it's easy to lose motivation. So be clear on what your goals are, do you want to learn just a few phrases so you can get by as a tourist, or do you want to become fluent?
2. The easiest way to learn is to be taught. Of course, this may differ individually, but I find it much easier to learn if someone who knows the subject at hand is there to guide me. I believe this holds especially true for languages, since you'll need to hear it spoken to pick up on pronunciation and intonation. Look for language courses in your area, either at a university or some other language school. If you have friends who speak the language, ask them to teach you.
3. Use good learning material. This, in combination with number 2, will help you greatly. I recommend getting hold of a textbook in the language you want to learn. In the case of Japanese, the "Genki" series of textbooks are quite good for the beginning Japanese student. The books will insure that you learn useful phrases and sentence patterns as they become relevant.
4. Make use of entertainment as education. This one, when used right, can be very effective. If you're interested in Japanese, you probably know about some animes or TV dramas available for viewing on the internet. Watching anime can be helpful for picking up words and phrases, but you should not rely on it too heavily, as the language used in animes differs significantly from "real" Japanese. In anime, characters use so-called "role language", which basically means they speak in a very stereotypical manner, a manner in which ordinary people do not speak. So don't think you can learn Japanese solely from anime. However, as long as you are aware of the role language and know to avoid using it, you can still use anime and dramas as listening comprehension exercises.
5. Speaking of listening comprehension, let me tell you of a trick that has helped me a lot, perhaps even more than anime: Music. If you know of a good Japanese band, try listening to their songs every now and then. As you learn more, you will start understanding and picking up more of the lyrics, and eventually you can even learn more words from the songs themselves. If you don't know any Japanese bands, I recommend giving Bump of Chicken a listen. (Yes, it's a funny name isn't it?) A lot of their songs are fairly easy to follow, and it is largely thanks to them that I remembered a lot of grammatical conjugations. (After studying them in school, of course.) For example, this song:
When I first started out, I could maybe pick up and understand about two-three words out of the entire song. Now, I understand the whole song, and know the lyrics by heart. Music is powerful, and used right it can be a very effective study tool.
Well, that's all for now. I hope this helped anyone of you who are interested in learning Japanese. If you really want to learn, you can do it! Good luck!