The Quick ‘Why’ Guide: どうしてvs なぜ vs なんで

Japanese is so vocabulary rich that knowing when to use similar words and phrases can be a bit of a nightmare for language learners. どうして, なぜ and なんで can all be translated as ‘why’ in English but it is the level of formailty which largely differentiates the three words.

なぜ

なぜ orginated from the older term なにゆえ. It is the most formal of the three and is the word most often used in the written language rather than in speech.

なぜ日本語を勉強していますか?     naze nihongo wo benkyou shiteimasuka?

Why are you studying Japanese?

なぜ昨日のパーティーに来なかったの? naze pa-ti- ni konakatta no?

Why didn’t you come to the party yesterday?

どうして

In a lot of cases, どうして can be used interchangeably with なぜ, but is considered to feel less formal. The word is a contraction of an older term どのようにして, and therefore can sometimes be used to mean ‘how’ rather than why’ in English.

どうして知っているの? doushite shitteiru no?

How did you know?

どうして昨日そんなに早く帰ってしまったの? doushite kinou sonna ni hayaku kaette shimatta no?

Why did you go home so early yesterday?

なんで

なんで is the most informal of the three terms. As you can imagine, this word tends to be used more by young people than other age groups.

なんで私が? nande watashi ga?

Why me?

なんでそんな所に行ったの? nande sonna tokoro ni itta no?

Why did you go to that place?

どうして is probably the word you’ll hear used the most and is therefore your safest bet for everyday use, but make sure to choose wisely depending on what setting you are in.

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JLPT exam prep: 5 Tips for Nailing the Listening Test

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Unfortunately, you don’t get these snazzy headphones in the real exam

So we are in the final days before the July sitting of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). The listening test is, of course, a big part of this, which can be tricky but at the same time is an area you can score pretty highly with a bit of practice.

Even if you haven’t spent much time preparing for this part of the JLPT so far, here are my last-minute tips for tackling the listening test:

 

1) Practice timings by doing a mock test in exam conditions

The exam has different types of listening questions, and depending on the level you are taking the composition of questions will be slightly different. It is important to practice the test under timed conditions to give yourself an idea of how long you have for each of the question types when sitting the real thing.

At the beginning of the test the questions are more straightforward, but at the same time, the thinking time for each question is pretty short. You do not want to be caught out early on in the exam where it is relatively easier to pick up marks.

You can find example question papers for each JLPT with answers and the transcript on the official website.

 

2) Listening to anything and everything in Japanese just before the exam

Especially when preparing for a language exam outside of Japan, you want to go into the test room having set your brain to Japanese mode.

 

3) Maximise use of the reading time by making notes

By preparing yourself for what you might hear, you can use the actual exam time for listening (instead of stressing about what is being asked of you in each section of the test).

The questions are written out in Japanese on the question paper, so use the reading time to make notes (if you have practised the exam previously, you shouldn’t have to spend too much time working out what each question is asking of you).

  • Highlight words on the question paper that give you an idea as to what type of information you are looking for, often indicated by question words like どこ, なに, どんな, いつ, どうして.
  • Make a mental note of what the differences are between the potential answers in the multiple choice sections, and for questions accompanied by a picture you could jot down the appropriate Japanese vocab for key items in the picture.

 

4) For the longer conversation questions, keep track of key points in the dialogue signposting the flow of the conversation

Words like でも, しかし, それから and その後 may precede essential information for answering the question correctly. When I sat the N2 exam this was really helpful to bear in mind, as the conversations can lead you towards one answer and then indicate the correct answer mid-way or at the end of the dialogue.

 

5) Writing something is better than nothing!

These exams do require concentration for a long period of time, and if like me it has been a while since you last sat an exam the whole day can be pretty daunting. This may seem obvious, but if you find that you’ve missed a key bit of information on one question, put something down on the answer paper and move on to the next question.

 

If you are reading this and about to sit your exam, good luck!

More importantly, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back once it is all over – whatever the outcome of the exam is, getting to the stage of sitting the exam at any level is an accomplishment.

Never heard of the JLPT? Check out my post about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.

Have you sat the JLPT exam before? How did you find the listening portion? Let me know in the comments!

‘Appy Mondays: Mondo App Review

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese reading app Mondo.

Have you been studying Japanese for a while but scared of reading articles in Japanese? Looking for a simple Japanese news aggregate app with dictionary lookup functionality? Then Mondo is definitely the app for you!

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I have had this app installed for some time, but after playing around with the app to understand more fully all of the features it has I can definitely recommend this to intermediate learners looking to improve their article reading skills.

 

How Mondo works

I have reviewed other reading apps before as part of this series, but what sets this app aside from these others is that it offers a better reading experience for learners by including dictionary lookup and a flashcard feature amongst other things. I’ve outlined some of the app’s main features below:

 

  • Article reading. All articles have a word lookup function when you highlight a word or phrase and includes a recording of its pronunciation by a native speaker. You can toggle furigana on or off, and some articles have links to the English translation to check your understanding of the Japanese text.
  • Vocabulary lists. Words you come across in articles can be bookmarked, which then can be viewed later and added to a vocabulary list. There are also preset lists, with lists such as all levels of the JLPT, Joyo (general use) kanji and business-related language. You can then test yourself on this vocabulary in the form of electronic flashcards, Anki style. My only gripe with this is that with the preset lists testing from English to Japanese, the English terms can be so obtuse at times that coming up with the correct Japanese term can seem nearly impossible sometimes.

 

 

  • Handshake is a feature you can use to find Japanese language learning partners. You can choose a partner by swiping right on the people you are interested in chatting with – if you get a mutual handshake, you’ve just found a language exchange partner! The obvious similarities to Tinder here have put me off trying this feature out, but it could be a good alternative to a dedicated app like Hello Talk.
  • Study log. When reading articles, the app measures how long it takes you to read the article, and how long you have spent reading in total. It also measures Characters per Minute (CPM) which is used as a benchmark for what level the app considers your language learning level to be.

 

My thoughts on Mondo

I think that the above features packed into one app for free represents a really good deal. It is worth mentioning that there is a premium version of the app, which gives you access to audio recordings of each article (the free version lets you listen to one article every fortnight) as well as short dialogues by native speakers and costs 480 yen per month.

For 1800 yen per month, the premium membership also grants you access to Japanese language teachers who are there to help you out with any Japanese related questions you may have. Given the prices, I am not sure if the premium membership represents good value for money, but as a free app, I am impressed by its current offering.

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play storeYou can also find out more about the app on the official website.

 

PS. If you are on the lookout for a similar type of reading app, check my previous reviews:

‘Appy Mondays – TangoRisto

‘Appy Mondays – News Easy Japanese

‘Appy Mondays -NHK News Reader

 

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

Tadoku – reading your way to Japanese fluency?

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Reading in Japanese is crucial for increasing your language skills. Especially if you are looking to study towards the JLPT, reading in Japanese on a regular basis is an essential habit. Reading speed for the JLPT becomes even more important at the higher levels, where being able to read quickly and pick out the key points is necessary to score highly.

Therefore as an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases.

There are four golden rules for tadoku:

  1. Read something at your level
  2. Don’t use your dictionary
  3. Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
  4. If something is too difficult, stop reading it and read another one

 

Why is tadoku effective?

  • After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words you would have wanted to look up in a dictionary. Generally, 80% comprehension is enough to understand the remaining 20% through context.
  • You get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language, or in a specialist field depending on the subject matter.
  • Most importantly though, tadoku is supposed to be fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.

Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of not needing to look up every word I did not know, but I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try. Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read.

 

Finding Japanese reading materials 

Free resources

My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people prefer translations of stories they are familiar with in English. I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko. I do recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free – I hope to do a follow-up post on how to make the most of this amazing resource. I do write Author Spotlight posts which tend to feature authors whose works are on Aozora and are appropriate for Japanese learners.

However what has been most effective for me is to read books relating to films/ dramas I have watched; examples of texts I have read include Nodame Cantabile, 1 Litre of Tears and A Silent Voice.

I’ve done a few posts on free online resources for Japanese reading which might help in your search:

 

Paid resources

In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon where possible as used books are usually much cheaper than buying new.

I know that CDJapanAmazon.jp and honto.jp ship internationally, although due to fairly high shipping costs it is advisable to buy in bulk to get the best value for money.

If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards on both websites, and with Bookwalker you can navigate both the website and the app in English.

If you are based in Japan, I would look into getting a Kindle ebook reader to read Japanese books digitally. Similarly, I bought a Kobo reader in Japan and can buy ebooks for the device via the Rakuten Kobo store (I was living in Japan at the time, so I am not sure if this would work for others who are not in the country).

koboereader

My Kobo E-reader

 

The best thing about these two websites above is that you can try before you buy, by making use of the 立ち読み button, which allows you to read a sample of the book. I definitely recommend spending some time doing this before buying anything because you can assess the registers and the style of language used and see if it is appropriate for your language level.

Keep an eye out for my Manga Recommendation posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read depending on your current level.

Tracking your reading

If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However, if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful.

Bookmeter is similar to Goodreads where you can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read, post reviews and get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.

There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read extensively and would like to compete against others.

 

How have I been getting on so far?

Initially my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my 30-minute train journey to work. At first, it was quite difficult, having started a new book that was not one that I was familiar with (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro, which is a really enjoyable novel and accessible for JLPT N3 and above) and progress was slow. After a few days, I had sped up considerably and was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in a foreign language, which is a great feeling.

For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning and how to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language – after all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to not lose my understanding of the language and this will certainly go a long way towards making this possible.

Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.

Japanese Onomatopoeia: Giongo, Giseigo and Gitaigo

If you’ve been exposed to Japanese for even the shortest period of time, you will have no doubt heard some sort of onomatopoeia being used. Japanese is incredibly rich in vocabulary when it comes to onomatopoeia, which means Japanese students need to dedicate some time studying this fascinating part of the language.

Using onomatopoeia helps to more vividly describe an action or state. Take the verb 笑(わら)う warau for example; this can mean to smile or laugh depending on the context. By adding different onomatopoeia we can change the nuance of this verb:

ニヤニヤ笑う niyaniya warau to grin, smirk

クスクス笑うkusukusu warau to giggle, chuckle

ゲラゲラ笑う geragera warau to burst into laughter, crack up

 

Whilst we Japanese learners can often guess the meaning of some words in context, it is worth noting that onomatopoeia is used in a much broader sense than in English.

 

Types of onomatopoeia

There are three Japanese terms that fall under the umbrella of onomatopoeia (オノマトペ):

 

擬音語/ぎおんご Giongo mimics a sound – think of ‘bang’ or ‘crash’ in English

ざあざあ (zaazaa) = sound of pouring rain/ rushing water

雨がざあざあ降っている ame ga zaazaa futteiru

The rain is pouring down

 

がちゃん (gachan) = slamming or clanging sound

花瓶が床に落ちてがちゃんと割った kabin ga yuka ni ochite gachan to watta

The vase crashed to the floor

 

擬声語/ぎせいご Giseigo mimics a voice (usually of an animal) – think of ‘woof’ or ‘meow’ in English

わんわん (wanwan) = a dog’s bark

犬がわんわん吠えている  inu ga wanwan hoeteiru

The dog is barking

 

おぎゃー(ogya) = a baby’s cry

赤ちゃんがおぎゃーおぎゃーと泣く akachan ga ogyaa ogyaa to naku

The baby is crying

 

擬態語/ぎたいご Gitaigo is used to mimic a state – this is pretty uncommon in English; there are terms like higgledy-piggledy (meaning ‘in a messy state’) which have a similar feel.

We can break gitaigo into three categories:

  1. those that indicate a state or condition, e.g.

きらきら (kirakira) = sparkling, glittering

星が空にきらきらと輝いている hoshi ga sora ni kirakira to kagayaiteiru

The stars are sparkling in the sky

 

つるつる (tsurutsuru) = smooth

ラーメンをつるつるとすする raamen wo tsurutsuru to susuru

I slurp the noodles

 

  1. those that describe how an action is being performed, e.g.

ぺらぺら (perapera) = fluently; thin/ flimsy (paper/ cloth)

姉は5年間スペインに住んでいましたので、スペイン語がぺらぺら

My older sister is fluent in Spanish because she lived in Spain for 5 years

 

のろのろ (noronoro) = slow, sluggish

彼は亀のようにのろのろ歩いた kare wa kame no you ni noronoro aruita

He walked as slow as a snail

 

  1. those that indicate feelings or emotions, e.g.

イライラする (iraira suru) = to be irritated

私は食事をしないとイライラする人だ watashi wa shokuji wo shinai to iraira suru hito da

I’m a person who gets annoyed when I haven’t eaten

 

びっくりする (bikkuri suru) = to be surprised

そのニュースを聞いてびっくりした sono nyuusu wo kiite bikkuri shita

I was shocked to hear the news

 

Slightly changing the sound of the onomatopoeia can also add further nuance, for example:

ドアをトントン叩(たた)く doa wo tonton tataku to knock/ tap on the door

ドアをドンドン叩(たた)く doa wo dondon tataku    to bang on the door

 

How I study onomatopoeia

 

When I come across a new onomatopoeia, I look it up in a dictionary or ask a friend to confirm the meaning, and then make a note of it in my vocabulary notebook. When I write it down in my notebook, I normally write it down as a phrase or in the context of a sentence rather than the word on its own.

Having example sentences or phrases to remember what kinds of situations these type of words are used in is essential. Studying them in context will be helpful for not only able to memorising onomatopoeia but also using them naturally in conversation. This is especially true for gitaigo which is less intuitive to English speakers.

Onomatopoeia is very frequently used with certain verbs so it is best to memorise them together with this verb. Others are formed into verbs by adding する, so remembering the onomatopoeia as a verb means you will know the meaning of it even when it appears without する.

わんわん –> わんわん吠(ほ)える wanwan hoeru = to bark

にこにこ –> にこにこ笑( わら)う nikoniko warau = to smile

You’ll notice in some of the examples in this post that some onomatopoeia can take the particle と, often when being used with a verb. There isn’t a specific rule on when the particle is used, so it is best to make a note of which words use it in your example sentences or phrases.

 

Resources for learning Japanese onomatopoeia

Referring to a decent Japanese-English dictionary is fine for giving an idea of a rough meaning, although you may find that there is not a direct English translation.

I’ve listed a few sites below that might help your studies:

OnomatoProject

Onomatoproject page screenshot

There is a great website called the Onomato Project which lets you practice onomatopoeia in the form of online quizzes. Each word is accompanied by illustrations and example sentences. If you use Anki, you might find the shared Onomatoproject Anki deck a better choice for studying on the go.

Sura Sura

However, if you are an intermediate learner, then I fully recommend going straight to a Japanese resource called Sura Sura, which is an online Japanese onomatopoeia dictionary. It may not have every word you are looking for, but for the onomatopoeia that is on the site, you will find a simple explanation in Japanese, accompanied by a photo which helps illuminate the meaning.

sura sura japanese onomatopoeia screenshot

Each onomatopoeia also has example sentences and notes on things like the etymology of the word and how it differs to others with a similar meaning. Best of all, each page has a link to Twitter showing tweets from native speakers using the word you are looking up.

 

National Institute for Japanese Language and Linguistics website

 

Screenshot showing japanese onomatopoeia

I also recommend the マンガを読もう section of the NINJAL website above which has some extremely helpful comic illustrations giving you an idea of what situations each word is used in.

 

The above websites show just how useful it is to have visual context for learning how onomatopoeia is actually used. Pictures, manga, and TV, therefore, are especially good places to these words in context, so sometimes I will either draw a picture (despite being terrible at drawing) alongside new onomatopoeia in my notebook.

PS. Think you’re pretty good with onomatopoeia in Japanese? Check out the video and see if you can spot them all!

 

Do you have any special tricks for learning onomatopoeia? Let me know in the comments!

 

Top Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

Youtube is an amazing resource for language learning, especially Japanese. So amazing, in fact, that it can be a bit difficult to know where to start.

Whether you are looking for another resource to help explain a tricky grammar point, or are looking for short clips of people speaking real Japanese, there should be something to help you learn you on Youtube. I’ve introduced four Youtube channels below that are great for Japanese language learners:

Bilingirl Chika/ Japanagos

Japanagos

Chika is a Japanese-American who produces Japanese and English language learning videos. Her main channel is aimed at Japanese speakers learning English, but I have found it to be a really good resource for picking up differences in language usage between English and Japanese. Chika is really engaging and I always find that I can learn something new from her videos.

She also has a separate channel for her Japanese language lessons and vlogs called Japanagos which is also a fun and educational channel. I recommend checking out Japanagos if you are new to Japanese, and moving on to her main Bilingirl channel if you are at intermediate level. She is often travelling so both channels are good if you would like to follow her vlogs.

 

Easy Languages – Japanese

Easy Lang Japanese

The Easy Languages Youtube channel covers a lot of different languages with a series of videos interviewing speakers of each language about different aspects of that language and the cultures connected to it. The Japanese series has 19 videos which are all about 5-6 minutes long.

I like this series as each video is fairly short, contains natural language and each video has Japanese (both kana and romaji) and English subtitles.

 

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Misa has some really great videos on fundamental aspects of Japanese grammar and usage. This is my top recommendation for beginners to the language as she has a very good way of explaining things.

Misa has also done quite a few videos introducing different aspects of Japanese culture, in addition to has really useful videos on how to learn kana as well as Japanese study tips.

 

Nihongo no Mori

Nihongo no Mori

The Basic Japanese series is really helpful for clear and informative explanations of key grammar points for beginners.

If you are looking to take the JLPT N3 or above, this channel is full of great videos for you as well. There are videos aimed at the JLPT levels N3, N2 and N1 with each focusing on a different aspect of the JLPT test (reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary). A lot of the lessons cover differences between similar looking grammar points, which is particularly useful for those pesky multiple choice questions.

 

Looking for more Youtube channel recommendations? I’ve done a post on three more cool Youtube channels for learning Japanese that you may also enjoy.

If the above do not take your fancy, you may find that jumping into Japanese videos by searching the Japanese term for something that interests you is the way to go.

How has Youtube helped your language learning? Are there any channels that you think do a great job of promoting the Japanese language? Let me know in the comments!

Manga recommendation : Usagi Drop うさぎドロップ

Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Usagi Drop (うさぎドロップ), a manga series created by Yumi Unita.

Quick Facts

Author: Yumi Unita (宇仁田ゆみ)

Genre: Slice of life

No. of volumes: 10

Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate

Furigana: No

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations

 

 

Plot Overview

The main character is Daikichi Kawachi who, despite not knowing anything about raising a child, becomes the guardian of a 6-year-old girl called Rin. Rin is the illegitimate child of Daikichi’s late grandfather, who he meets for the first time at his grandfather’s funeral. Seeing that his other relatives want nothing to do with Rin, he takes it upon himself to look after her rather than have her adopted.

 

Why do I recommend the manga?

I really like this manga as it is packed with both funny and touching moments, and it is particularly heartwarming to watch the relationship between Daikichi and Rin develop. It is also interesting to see how Daikichi copes as a single parent, having to learn (with a bit of help from his friends) what it takes to be responsible for another person.

Not only has the manga has also been serialised in English but there is also an anime and a live action film that was released in 2011, so if you enjoy the story it may be worth checking these out as well.

 

Recommended Japanese language level

Whilst there is no furigana, the manga is not too difficult in terms of vocabulary used. Being a slice of life manga, the vocabulary is mostly related around everyday activities. It does, however, require knowledge of more casual speech, for example:

そっスカ? = そうですか?

終わんの早エなー = 終わるのが早いな

Aside from the above, I think it is an accessible manga for intermediate or JLPT N3 level learners.

You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

 

If you do try Usagi Drop (or any of my other manga recommendations), please let me know how you get on the comments.

I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!