Japanese is spoken by 125 million people worldwide, making it the 9th most-spoken language in the world in terms of native speaker population. It is also associated with one of the most powerful national economies in the world.
The decision to study Japanese should not be taken lightly as it can be very challenging mangakakalot. However, given its complexity relative to most other languages, learning and mastering Japanese can be a very rewarding experience.
I have personally been a student of the Japanese language since 1989, having passed the first level (most difficult) of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test in 1995. Since then, I have taught, listened, written, read, spoken and worked with the japanese language in various business and social settings for a combined total of thousands of hours. Along the way, I have learned a number of lessons concerning how study Japanese more efficiently that i would enjoy sharing with you.
Cognitive neuroscientists tell us that the use of language requires the cooperation of multiple parts of our brains. For me, this theoretical finding plays out in my life whenever I polish my Japanese skills. I have found that to improve my speaking ability, for example, reading books is only indirectly helpful. To really improve my speaking ability, I need to – you guessed it – speak regularly. It is helpful to look at your learning process in terms of four distinct but interrelated dimensions: speaking, listening, reading and writing. I suggest creating a chart and logging the number of hours you are practicing each of these areas each week. That way, you will easily be able to recognize if you have been neglecting one or more of them. Hint: if you have no study partners, practicing speaking by reading dialogue aloud.
For the first four years of my exposure to the japanese language, I studied only theory of Japanese but got no real practice with native speakers. However, a year or two later I was stepping off of the airplane for the first time in Japan and suddenly the whole world transformed itself into one giant textbook (I know, what a nerd, right? ). Suddenly, the theoretical understanding I already had gained a new dimension of significance, and at that moment I ceased to see Japanese as merely a concept but rather as a real, living language. It was an epiphany which really helped speed up my learning. Tip: do something every day to reinforce the connection in your brain between what you are learning and how people actually use Japanese every day, such as watching free videos on Youtube, renting movies, making a friend who is a native speaker, and reading manga.
Most beginner-level textbooks use a lot of romajii, or Romanized spellings of Japanese words. I suggest learning the 50 basic hiragana symbols (and soon after, 50 katakana symbols) and thereby jump right into studying kana-only materials. This will help you get over any feels of intimidation you have about the writing system and before you know it you will be learning and mastering kanji. The creation of Manga as well as its presentation is quite different than American Comics. Manga is printed in black-and-white format while American comics are the majority of the time in full color. Also, when you look at a graphic novel or Manga you will notice a difference in the size. Manga is frequently smaller than traditional American comic books, usually digest-size and roughly half to one-third the size of American comics. But where the American comics are generally thin like a small magazine, running about 32 pages, Manga comic books are thick and can be hundreds of pages in length!
In page count, Manga is quite similar to graphic novels, which are often just collections of the ongoing American comics. But unlike American graphic novels, which are usually just a collection of monthly comics in a single unified story or story arc, Manga books are often apart of an even bigger story and a complete Manga storyline can run thousands of pages.
Another difference between traditional American comics is that mainstream American comics are often created in a sort of assembly-line fashion. They have a writer (story), a penciler (initial sketch), inker (uses a pen to ink over the sketch), letterer (adds dialog) and a colorist (colors the inked sketch). Most Manga books are done by a single creator, who combines all those chores (except coloring).
Also Manga story lines usually move at a much quicker pace. Due to the high page count, one reads a Manga book at an accelerated pace. Manga books almost always have fewer panels and less dialogue (rambling) per page than American comic books. The price for Manga is also more than the average comic book and a bit more than a standard paperback novel, the small size of Manga and black-and-white printing rather than full color keeps the cost down. The lack color is made up when you consider the story development that it’ll have with the amount of pages it has.