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Many first-time visitors to Japan make a crucial mistake before their plane even lands. Because they’ve assumed that “everybody in Japan speaks English,” they make no effort to learn any Japanese at all, or worse—they try to learn it on the fly while they’re in a foreign country, under stress. Here’s why you should learn Japanese before you visit Japan!

Japan is not bilingual. Even though most Japanese schoolchildren take English in school, and many adults are able to read English characters, those who don’t use English for work or school may not speak it very well. Their educational emphasis is on reading, not conversation, and thus many Japanese people are extremely hesitant to embarrass themselves by speaking poorly. In addition, older Japanese, particularly those in rural areas, do not speak English at all. If you are planning to interact with anyone who is not young or urban, you’ll want to learn some Japanese.

You may also have heard that most Japanese signs are printed in two languages—Japanese and English. This is true in Tokyo, and to a lesser extent in smaller cities. However, again, think about the bilingual signs you see in American chain stores. Just because the signs are bilingual, does that mean the sales clerks are? Not at all—and the same is true in Japan. The more Japanese you know, the easier your trip will be—and that’s another great reason you should learn Japanese before you visit Japan.

Suppose, however, you’re just making a short business trip to Tokyo and you have no intention of venturing out of the most Westernized areas. You know your Japanese contacts speak English very well. Why learn any Japanese? The best reason may lie in one of the Japanese people’s most distinctive characteristics: respect. Learning to greet your hosts in their own language shows you respect them enough to have put effort into this meeting. At the very least, learn to say “Hello,” “How do you do?” “Nice to meet you,” “Excuse me,” “I’m sorry,” and “Goodbye.” The Japanese may just be the most polite people on earth, and these simple phrases will earn you many brownie points.

So why should you learn Japanese before you visit Japan? You’ll make it easier on yourself as you try to navigate a country so different from yours. And even if you speak Japanese with a strong accent—which you will—your willingness to put forth the effort will impress your Japanese hosts tremendously, and earn you the respect that may just seal the deal!

For some free Japanese audio lessons join the Rocket Japanese free trial below and learn to speak Japanese fast.

Did you know that if you can already speak French, Italian, or Portuguese, you’ll have an easier time learning Spanish? It’s true! All four languages are members of the family of Romance Languages. This doesn’t have anything to do with love; it means that in the fourth to sixth century, all four languages developed from Latin, the official language of the Roman Empire. And like the members of any family, they have significant differences but significant similarities, too.

For example, let’s look at a simple sentence in all four languages: “She gave me the blue book.”

French:  Elle m’a donné le livre bleu.
Italian: Lei mi ha dato il libro blu.
Spanish:  Ella me dio el libro azul.
Portuguese:  Ela me deu o livro azul.

The first thing you should spot is their startling resemblance. Aside from two very different words for “blue” – “bleu” or “blu” in French and Italian versus “azul” in Spanish and Portuguese – the sentences are very similar. The words for book (“livre,”  “libro,” and “livro”) are nearly identical. And the various pronouns for “She” – “elle,” “lei,” “ella,” and “ela,” – really don’t vary that much either.  Many people who can speak one or more Romance languages find they can read another without too much effort.

Notice also the identical sentence structure of those four Romance sentences. Whereas in English we’d say “She gave me the blue book,” or “She gave the book to me,” the word order of sentences in the family of Romance languages is quite different from English: “She me gave the book blue.” If the only language you speak is English, you’re going to find Spanish word order very strange. But if you’re already familiar with French, it won’t seem strange to you at all.

It’s not obvious from this small selection, but all Romance languages have gendered nouns; this means there will be two ways of saying “the” – a masculine one and a feminine one.  For example, in Italian, “the bed” is “il letto”; “the chair” is “la sedia.” Now, there is nothing sexual about beds and chairs; just consider gendered nouns a peculiarity, and remember to learn the correct article every time you add a new noun to your vocabulary.  Bear in mind, though, that just because a noun is masculine in French doesn’t mean it will be masculine in Spanish or Portuguese.

So how does all this information help you? If you’ve learned French in school, it will be easier for you to learn Italian today. If your grandparents spoke Portuguese, you should be able to pick up Spanish without much effort. Just look for words and syntax that remind you of other words in the Romance language you know. The Romance family of languages can be your best friends as you master a new form of communication!

Why learn a foreign language? There are as many reasons as there are languages to learn. You may want to travel. You may want to do research. You may want to translate your grandmother’s diary or take a job overseas. Whatever your reason, it’s important to you, so here are some tips on how to learn a foreign language easily and quickly.

Most experts in foreign language education agree that students should begin by listening to the language, allowing it to imprint itself upon their subconscious. When you first hear a foreign language, all you’re consciously trying to do is understand it. Even before you comprehend the meaning, however, your brain is subconsciously acquiring a sense of how that language ought to sound, and this is a step toward being able to speak it on your own. So choose a system of language training that emphasizes listening and speaking rather than conjugating lists of verbs right off the bat. Listening is the first major step in how to learn a foreign language.

Two excellent online programs are the Pimsleur language courses and Rocket Languages. The Pimsleur series, developed by American linguist , is entirely audio-based and is founded on years of intensive study on how to learn a foreign language. Pimsleur was fascinated by the way children acquire language without any idea of its formal structure, and he used his findings to develop a program focused entirely on listening and speaking. This is somewhat different from the Rocket series, which supplements its audio foundation with software games and an interactive forum – a more multi-faceted approach.

Whichever program you choose, make sure that you listen carefully to the audio script, and when you’re asked to repeat a phrase, say it at the same tempo and with the same variations in pitch as the original speaker. Be sensitive to the tiny nuances of tone and rhythm, and repeat frequently (the Pimsleur program has specific recommendations on how often to repeat words you’re trying to learn). Repetition is the second important step in how to learn a foreign language.

Practice your new language every day, as often as you can. Don’t think that only the time you sit in front of the computer “counts.” Talk to your plants, your cat, or yourself in your new language. Although people who learn foreign languages as adults will always retain a trace of an accent, your pronunciation will improve in proportion to the effort you put into practicing it. Speaking extemporaneously is the third important step in how to learn a foreign language.

So whatever program you select, choose one that allows you to listen, repeat, and speak. Don’t be afraid that you’ll sound silly when you talk to native French speakers; in all likelihood, they’ll be impressed with your effort, and they’ll help you by practicing with you. Now that you know how to learn a foreign language, go find a program that’s perfect for you, and learn!