Twitter is a form of social media that took me some time to figure out, although I guess I still have a lot to learn, both as a consumer and generator of content.
While I still debate the usefulness of reading random thoughts of famous people, there’s no doubt that getting a real-time stream of information from friends and those with shared interests is a very valuable thing. The tricky part is avoiding spending hours reading random posts that don’t really educate you in any meaningful way.
However, Twitter does have a different use for those studying a foreign language. While there is surely value in the Japanese content of the right people (like Japanese game designers), I’m more interested in the differences between the type of language used in Twitter posts and other written language (like books and magazines).
First of all, one of the defining characteristics of Twitter posts––short length––has a major effect on the type of language that is typically employed. For example, abbreviations(like dropping the ends of verbs) are used frequently, and since Japanese is already a heavily context-based language (meaning things that can be omitted usually are), this makes understanding for non-native speakers that more challenging. Also, many tweets are written with the assumption that the audience knows about what is going on in their life, which adds further difficulty. This may lead you to various Internet searches to figure out what they are talking about, exposing you to culture that you wouldn’t otherwise have come across.
Second, while you can find your share of marketing-related posts on Twitter, one other common use is (as mentioned above) just putting down random thoughts about what is going on in your life.
While this can be terribly boring (unless it’s by someone you really respect, and even then it of debatable worth), there is a certain casual tone that can be a valuable resource to those learning Japanese (or any other language) as a second language––especially if you are not living in Japan. This means you may see words used commonly in casual, informal conversation but less in literature. For those considering living in Japan, finding and following people who report on day-to-day stuff can be a fresh way to study.
While I think it’s a good idea to set a daily time limit on using Twitter in your native language(s), when dealing in a foreign language I feel that even just reading random tweets (regardless of the richness of the content) can be very educational and fun at the same time. Finally, since the tweets are short you can read in your spare cycles between other tasks.
If you decide to start reading Twitter feeds in Japanese for practice, I recommend having a separate account just for Japanese stuff (you can set the language to Japanese as well). That way you won’t get distracted by English tweets which are much easier to read in a glance. Also, because of the short lengths of tweets, I would recommend taking the time to look up every word you don’t understand once you commit to reading a Japanese tweet. Once you start getting comfortable enough reading tweets in Japanese you can eventually start to write responses to tweets in Japanese and also post your own Japanese tweets, trying to mimic the same abbreviated style. Fortunately, since tweets are generally less formal than other media like blogs or emails, I think you don’t need to be too concerned about making mistakes. Also, If you have limited your account to only those who speak Japanese, then you’ll more likely to get people actually reading and responding to your Japanese posts.
If you do change your Twitter account to Japanese, here is an older post of mine which gives a handful of Japanese twitter-related words to help you navigate around.