1. Watch Japanese anime, movies & drama serials. Listen to Japanese songs. A lot.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand a thing these movies or songs are saying at first. Watch them with subs, never dubs. The whole point of watching or listening to a truckload of Japanese media is to train your ears to get used to the nuances of the language.
2. Read Japanese books or magazines that interest you.
My Japanese teacher used to advocate reading the newspapers, but the problem was that there were too many difficult words, and I had zero interest in current affairs. Instead, I read manga, novels and magazines that featured topics that piqued my interest, such as fashion magazines and entertainment magazines that featured my favorite artistes. Children’s books are also a good start for beginners.
Such material may not be the most “orthodox” or educational, but at least you’ll be motivated to read. If the price of Japanese books and magazines is a concern, you can always chalk up the reading meter by surfing Japanese websites such as Rocket News!
3. Talk to yourself (or an imaginary person).
The point of this practice is to get comfortable with speaking the language. It’s not easy to find a language partner who can practice with you at the oddest hours of the day. I used to “talk” to Rukawa-kun (from Slam Dunk) whenever I didn’t have anything to do, such as when I was waiting for a bus, or when I was walking home alone. Since it’s an imaginary person you’re talking to, you wouldn’t have to worry if the topics are mundane and repetitive, or if your Japanese is “weird.” Just blabber on in as much Japanese as you can muster. If you’re conscious of the looks from strangers around you, just pick up your mobile phone and act as if you’re on the phone.
4. Keep a blog/diary—in Japanese, of course.
Again, it doesn’t matter what you write about. Just try your best to express your thoughts in words. If you need some help with words, you can always look it up in the dictionary. Using the dictionary and subsequently writing it out helps you remember the word better. Your blog or diary will also become a good gauge of how much you’ve progressed. After some time, you’ll be able to look back at your old posts, cringe at the horrible writing, and give yourself a pat on the back for being able to tell how bad it was. If you can get your Japanese teacher to read your blog and give you feedback, all the better.
That’s basically how I improved my Japanese while having fun. Like I mentioned at the start of this post, everyone has their own methods, so be adventurous and experiment with all sorts of methods and materials to find your own secret formula!