Social media is a great tool for the budding learner of Japanese, and there are a number of excellent blogs and websites that laud the benefits of Twitter as a language learning tool (see JETAABC’s post about Twitter here). There are fewer tips about using Instagram to learn Japanese.
An example of a photo/account found using the #ハイキング hashtag.
To be sure, Twitter and Instagram share a lot in common: They are essentially media to share short bursts of information – the former in the form of 140 characters or less, and the latter in the form of photos and comments. Though Twitter does feature photo sharing options, the fact that Instagram necessarily involves photos and allows over 140 characters per comment gives it that extra dimension. A learner can not only read the comment and respond to it, she can also get more information about the post from the photo.
Using Instagram as learning tool is dead simple – much like using Twitter.
First, (after getting your own account set up) start looking for themes or topics you’re interested in. This can be done by searching by hashtag, or by randomly using the screen in which Instagram suggests people/accounts you might like based on the sites that you are already following. I personally enjoy mountain sports (hiking, skiing, camping…etc), and following people who live in some of my (old or current) stomping grounds (Fukuoka, the French Alps, Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest). The ability to choose topics that interest you should give you that extra incentive to learn.
Once you’ve populated your account with people and things you’re interested, start surfing away. Many accounts I follow post at least 1 photo per day, and some provide a comment/explanation of what the viewer is looking at. Here is where the study/work comes in.
If you can read and understand the entry, you’re now able to maintain your Japanese level via the comments. You can also comment on the photos, invite the people to come follow you, and actually develop a following of Instagram friends. There are even some very active Instagram communities, i.e., groups of aspiring (and extremely talented) Japanese photographers who meet up every once in a while to take photos and get their Instagram on. If you feel your Japanese is up to it, why not join in?
Even if you can’t read the comments right away, fear not. A quick screen shot, followed by Google Translate (or a similar app) will translate the words you don’t know and allow you to grow your vocabulary in areas you are interested in. Leave comments, ask questions, or just enjoy learning about people who share the same interests as you in Japan.
Though some may poo-poo social media like Instagram as shallow and a waste of time, I’ve found it an incredibly rich environment to learn about (and get to know) people living in Japan (or Japanese speakers living outside of Japan) who share my interests. It’s also a great way to learn about amazing places you’d like to go, gear you’d like to get, or adventures you’d like to try. So, with that said, make Instagram part of your New Year’s Japanese learning resolution!