As a woman who has gotten As in her accelerated Chinese course (and has to take it again next year...) and is now trying to tackle Japanese, here are some tips on learning a second (or third) language.
- Know what you know. Can you speak French? That'll help you learn Spanish and vice versa. Can you read Chinese characters? You'll catch on to Japanese kanji pretty easily. Understanding where your knowledge lies will help you learn a new language very, very easily.
- Reminisce on old study habits. If this will be your third language or more, remember how you learned earlier languages. Did you learn by watching others? Reading books from that culture? Or did you take classes? If that worked before, it'll work this time around, too.
- Listen to music from that culture. Believe me, actually hearing the vocabulary you're learning will help so, so much. While it may be hard to understand as a beginner, it will help you understand pronunciation. Listening to Japanese music has helped me learn how to speak well. In fact, I can speak pretty well. I just have no idea what I'm saying. By listening to the band Puffy Amiyumi (they also have a variety of English songs), I have learned the meaning of the words "Urei" (Worry) and "Shiawase" (Happiness).
- Read books from that culture. I am a big manga fan. While the books may be translated into English, most mangas have culture notes at the beginning and end. This has helped me understand how to use honorifics and about other common sayings and traditions.
- Watch shows and movies from that culture. This will help you understand sentence structure, pronunciation, and most importantly-- context. You may also pick up different vocabulary words along the way. By watching anime, I picked up the terms "Hai," (Yes) "Nande," (What/Why) "Mate," (Wait/hold up) "Fuyukai desu," (Most unpleasant/is unpleasant) and "Mata" (Again).
- Buy a textbook. You can only learn so much on your own, so get some materials. It'll help you make sense of things.
- If possible, take classes at your local university. You will learn much better in a classroom setting, because you will be left with no choice: get good at it or get a bad grade. If you can't motivate yourself on your own, then it's time to go back to school.
- Travel to a country in which the language is spoken. Many students from my school go to China every year. Now, I am a middle-class girl who is saving her money to go to Northwestern (assuming I'll get into Northwestern) who really doesn't want to pay for that. But if you can, do it. Surrounding yourself in the culture will force you to use your language skills, and thus causing you to get better.
- Be dedicated to your language! Learning a second/third language can be difficult. Make sure to constantly remind yourself why you want this, and you will get it! It will take time. Months, years even. But you can do this.
Sayonara, Mina san! ("Goodbye, everyone!" in Japanese)
再见，大家！("Goodbye, everyone!" in Chinese)