Friday, July 03, 2009

Improve Your Japanese Reading Skills through Instant Messaging

In my previous post, How Long It Took Me to Learn to Read and Write Japanese, I briefly touched the subject of using online chatting as a means to improve your Japanese literacy skills. Today I would like to expand on that idea.

Instant messaging, or IM in short, is an easy way to get in touch with people from around the world, so why not use it as a supplementary platform in your Japanese studies? You can quickly find people on the interwebs who are looking for buddies to chat with. In instant messaging you exchange typed messages in real time; so whenever someone submits text, it (almost) instantly appears on your screen. IM conversations involve two or more people.

Windows Live Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and Skype are some of the instant messengers that I have used to connect with Japanese people.

You might be thinking, Then why not use Facebook? After all, it's the most popular social network in the world... You're right, it does have a lot of potential, but there are two things that retard the learning process:

  1. Friend invites. On Facebook, we must first become "friends" with people that we want to exchange messages with. If we're just looking for people to have casual conversations with, I'm sorry but we don't want to waste time waiting for the other party to accept our friend request. And if the person happens to be a total freakshow, we've just wasted even more time that we could have invested in chatting with people via IM.
  2. Latency. While Facebook does have a built-in IM feature, it's not their main focus (I've turned mine off). Facebook is based on micro-blogging—posting updates, in the form of text, pictures, and multimedia, that appear to other friends when they log in. Micro-blogging is real-time messaging, but shooting updates back and forth would be viewed as flooding. Facebook's updates are NOT comparable to instant messages—that's like exchanging voice mails with your friends instead of calling them.

If you find a Japanese-speaking IM buddy, you can instantly start improving your reading skills. It will become a dynamic training ground for you where you can learn to recognize commonly used kanji, compound characters, and all in all condition your brain to work in Japanese mode.

I noticed that when I was learning to read Japanese, it was impossible to read hiragana and katakana at natural speed. Many of us are used to seeing Latin characters everywhere, but the shift from Latin to Japanese is a big step for our brains. We need a lot of repetitive practice to get used to recognize strings of text written in a foreign system. Chatting with people online will provide you with the appropriate conditioning to eventually make your brain conform to Japanese text.

You will need to devote some time to this to get substantial results, but you will quickly start to feel the improvements kicking in.


Anonymous said...

How true, but where to find Japanese people to chat with over MSN, Skype?

Eric said...

You might want to become a member of a Japanese social networking site like and look for people with similar interests as you.

I've also personally had success connecting with people from Japan via IRC.

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