Tadoku Tuesday: What I’m reading in October 2017

I have quite a lot of novels and manga to read, but remembering where I am with each one is tricky. I’m going to write a post every month about what I’m reading, as I always have several books on the go at the same time and read little bits as and when I can – hopefully, this will encourage me to actually get to the end of the books I’m reading! You might find something to try reading yourself.

There are 3 things (2 novels, 1 manga) that I am currently reading:

「フリーター、 家を買う。」 by 有川浩

This novel is about a young man called Seiji who has been flitting from job to job since he graduated from uni and left his first job after 3 months. When his mother is diagnosed with depression, he decides to try and turn his life around with the aim of buying a house that his mother can live in away from the stressors contributing to his mother’s condition. I’m not even halfway through this so far but I’m really enjoying it. There are quite a lot of words that I could look up (I am taking the tadoku approach) but for the most part, I can make sense of the text, helped by the fact that there is a fair amount of dialogue. I enjoy reading coming of age stories and this sort of falls into this category. It also covers a lot of interesting topics such as depression, Japanese company culture and ‘freeters’ (people who make a living from a series of part-time jobs).

If I had to guess the language level of this, I would put this as JLPT N2 level in terms of grammar and maybe a bit higher in terms of kanji used. I am aware there is a drama adaptation starring one of the members of Arashi, but I haven’t got around to watching it yet.

「1リットルの涙」 by 木藤亜也

This is the true story of Aya Kito, who was diagnosed with a degenerative disease at the age of 15. She kept a diary and used this to document her personal experiences as long as she could and later died at age 25. Her diary was then published as a book, which also was adapted into a film as well as a drama starring Erika Sawajiri.

This is not the easiest read because of the subject matter, but it is a very compelling story. Aya goes through a variety of emotions as she realises the growing impact of her condition. I am about a third of the way through the book so far, but what I am struck by is how she shows a great deal of emotional strength despite what is happening to her at such a young age (where I am currently she is still only 15/16 years old).

In terms of language level, I guess this book is probably JLPT N3 level. There is a film as well as a drama version starring Erika Sawajiri.

「夢色パティシエール」 by 松本夏実

With the other 2 books above on the go, I needed something a bit more lighthearted to read. 14-year-old Ichigo Amano gains a place at the prestigious St Marie Academy on the merit of her extraordinary palette but has no experience in baking. Will she manage to catch up with her classmates and realise her dream of becoming a patisserie chef?

I will most likely do a separate post on this manga as I have found it a pretty easy read so far and has furigana over the kanji, which I think makes it readable for JLPT N4 learners. There is an anime version that can be found on Youtube which will give you an idea of what to expect, but I would say it is pretty typical of shoujo manga.

What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments 🙂

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‘Appy Mondays: Akebi

I have always intended to talk about Akebi on this blog as I have used it consistently for several years when I do not have my electronic dictionary to hand. If I was asked to recommend a Japanese dictionary for an android user, I would always go with Akebi – there are other apps out there that work in a similar way, but I find Akebi to be the most user-friendly and reliable of the ones I have tried.

Akebi is a Japanese-English dictionary app with a few additional features which make it useful for Japanese learners:

  • When you search a Japanese word in Akebi it will give you the English definition and indicate other useful things such as how commonly the word is used and whether the word usually uses kanji or kana. For verbs, it will indicate whether it is an ichidan/godan verb, or if it is transitive/intransitive.
  • Example sentences from Tanaka corpus are also provided underneath the definition. The app does sometimes pick up sentences that are not relevant to the word you searched but is about as accurate as jisho.org which draws from the same database of sentences.
  • For words that are comprised of more than one kanji, it will indicate the meanings of the individual kanji which can then be tapped on in order to learn more about them.
  • The app also has kanji/ vocabulary lists which can be sorted into 常用 (common use) or JLPT level.
  • Similarly, you can create your own lists and then add words as and when you look them up. These can then be turned into flashcards which you can review in the same way as Anki. Whilst I haven’t used this myself in depth this is a neat way of creating your own personalised JLPT study list based on words you’ve looked up rather than a premade list.
  • If you need more information on how to set up lists there is a really easy to follow tutorial for doing so. There are actually tutorials for all aspects of the app which is really useful for newbies.
  • You are able to search words by typing in kanji, kana or romaji. In addition to this, you can search for kanji by writing it on the screen. The app will then bring up a number of suggestions as to what the kanji you are writing could be. I have found this kanji writing search to be very responsive – provided you more or less follow the correct stroke order, it will identify the relevant kanji. Having said that, even when I wrote kanji using the completely wrong stroke order it managed to identify it correctly!

As you can see there is a lot to like about Akebi, whether you use it solely to look up words or not. I can easily recommend this to all Japanese learners irrespective of level, especially because the app itself is free from the Google Play Store!

Using podcasts to study Japanese

Podcasts for Japanese study

Podcasts are great for language learning because you can use them to get used to the rhythm and sounds of a language and are often educational at the same time. I’ve recommended a couple of podcasts on the blog before but I thought that it would be best to put together a post that explains why I love using them for language learning.

There are two main ways that I use podcasts for learning Japanese:

1) Podcasts for immersion. These are the podcasts I like to play as background noise while I am doing something else.

I try to pick up as much as possible and may listen to the podcast more than once, but I do not worry too much if I come across something that I do not quite understand. I download the NHK daily news bulletins for this purpose, but I normally catch up with current affairs in English first before listening to give me an idea of what might come up in each bulletin.

Example podcasts: NHK daily news (there are morning, noon and evening podcasts every day), ひいきびいき (two presenters talk about a given topic each week – the podcasts can be lengthy but I find the episodes on topics that interest me very entertaining!).

2) Podcasts for study. These are the ones that I will study to make sense everything that I hear.

Depending on what your language level is, this may include some that mix English and Japanese. I might use a bilingual podcast to go over a grammar point or review some vocabulary.

I also listen to podcasts entirely in Japanese, but unlike the podcasts in the first category, I am using them to study more actively. For example, I will review the podcast together with the transcript (if available) and look up the words and phrases I didn’t understand.

Example podcasts: JapanesePod101, News in Slow Japanese, Bilingual News Podcast

I also use podcasts to:

Learn about Japanese culture. Culture is so closely intertwined with Japanese that knowledge of culture greatly informs your knowledge of the language and vice versa. For example, I am trying to improve my knowledge of Japanese history and so I have started listening to the Samurai Archives Japanese History Podcast.

Boost my language learning motivation. Sometimes finding the motivation to study is difficult. For times like these, I listen to a couple of podcasts that relate to motivation and language learning in more general terms.

One of my favourites is the SpongeMind podcast (I recommend this in particular for Korean learners, as each episode is available in English and Korean), where the hosts Jeremy and Jonson discuss different aspects of language learning in each episode and always impart useful advice.

What do you use to listen to podcasts?

I like to use Podcast Republic (available on the Google Play store) to listen to my podcasts as it is free and very user-friendly. By clicking ‘Add Podcast’ and then searching for the podcast name, you can easily subscribe and download podcast episodes for all of the podcasts I have mentioned in this post.

Alternatively, you can get the podcasts by going through the websites linked above and downloading them manually onto any device – you can then listen to these through specialised podcast apps such as Podcast Republic or any other music playing app you already have.

As I have entirely Android devices I do not often use iTunes, but iTunes is a great source for podcasts – reading the reviews can give you a good idea of whether you’d enjoy the podcast before you listen to it.

What I find particularly useful about podcast apps like the one I use is that you can skip forward or backwards by 15 secs in order to listen to a key piece of info again or for shadowing.

Which podcasts do you listen to? Please let me know in the comments (especially if they relate to Japan, Japanese or language learning!).

Going back to Japanese study after a break

JP study after a break

September means going back to school/ work/ university after summer the summer holidays. It might be that you’ve taken a break from language learning too.

Sometimes with learning a language, you can be incredibly motivated to begin with, but then life gets in the way and by the time you remember about your plan to learn Japanese you feel like you’ve forgotten everything!

I myself have taken breaks away from learning Japanese – here’s what I do to ease myself back into the language.

  • Writing: Writing in my journal helps me to use vocab and grammar I may have forgotten – I tend to use this as the basis for my grammar study, ie. I will go back over a grammar point if I’m not confident in using it anymore (especially if I’m not working towards the JLPT).
  • Listening: Listening to podcasts helps me set my brain into ‘Japanese mode’. You might find that watching a TV show or film helps with this too.
  • Reading: I’m using Anki to help get my vocab and kanji skills back on track, together with reading articles on NHK News Web Easy.
  • Speaking: Speaking is probably the hardest to practice when coming back from a break. I suggest building your confidence by talking to Japanese friends about topics you are familiar with at first – focus on what you can say rather than what you cannot say.

Here’s a few key things to bear in mind after having a break:

• Don’t be afraid to go over ‘easy’ material.

• If there’s something that doesn’t make sense in the resource you’re using, try to find an explanation somewhere else.

• Make sure you have a goal to work towards. Having a goal, however small, will remind you why you decided to study the language in the first place.

Remember, language learning is much more about the journey itself than the destination – having a couple of stops along the way is nothing to be ashamed of.

‘Appy Mondays : TangoRisto App Review

I haven’t gotten round to doing one of these posts in a while (believe me, it’s not down to lack of apps to review!) but I was inspired to write one after coming across the app TangoRisto.

This app is a reading app but is tailored towards the needs of Japanese learners. Some reading apps are better suited to intermediate or advanced learners, but this has a lot of features which enable beginners to get reading in Japanese as soon as possible.

TangoRisto takes its articles from NHK News Web Easy (for beginner-intermediate learners), Top NHK News (for intermediate-advanced learners) and Hukumusume (fairy tales in Japanese).

Screenshot 2017-09-12 at 20.09.14

When you select one of these from the main menu you can choose an article to read. Once selected, you can view the article with a few extra features including:

  • Toggle furigana on or off, or toggle furigana on for kanji split by JLPT level
  • Option to bookmark articles for offline viewing
  • Tap on any word for an English definition
    • If a verb has been conjugated it will indicate how it has been conjugated/ the politeness level as well as the verb in its dictionary form.
    • When you tap on the vocabulary again you get further information on the word: it can then be bookmarked and added to a vocabulary list to review later offline.
    • There is an option to search the word on websites such as jisho.org, Tangorin, Google as well as the Japanese Stack Exchange where you can ask questions on usage.
  • Toggle the glasses on or off to see different vocabulary highlighted in different colours according to their JLPT level (eg. N5 words and grammar are underlined in orange)
  • Full vocabulary list for each article

The ‘glasses’ feature on this app I think is especially useful for learners because it helps learners identify what kind of vocabulary or grammar they tend to get stuck on, which you can then use to adapt your learning – particularly useful if you are working towards the JLPT. Being able to view articles and vocabulary lists online is also a really useful feature to have (I wish more apps had this to be honest!)

All in all, a great app that I am sure will get even better over time 🙂

The app is available for free on the Apple Store and the Google Play Store, so there really is no reason not to check this out! Find out more on the app’s official website.

3 More Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

They say you can learn anything from YouTube, and Japanese is no different. I have done a post on this previously, but since then I’ve found three more channels you might find useful on your language level journey.

Good for beginners: Bond Japanese

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 21.40.30

Bond Japanese is a very good resource for newbies to Japanese, I certainly wish it had been around when I was a beginner. The channel has lots of helpful bite size videos on learning hiragana as well as basic grammar, common phrases and greetings. The language videos are presented by Marina who speaks clearly and does a great job of covering basic grammar points.

I find that at times, the spoken conversations can be quite a step-up in difficulty from the grammar or vocabulary covered but all dialogues have the Japanese on screen together with the English translations. At the very least this means you get used to natural conversation sooner rather than later.

My favourite videos to watch are the ‘Stroll Around’ series which focuses on different places in the Tokyo area. Through this series, I’ve certainly discovered a few places I’d like to visit next time I am in Japan.

For intermediate learners: Chop

Chop is a bit of a strange one and is a fairly new channel, but I am oddly fascinated by it!

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 21.46.27.png

This channel focuses on super short videos which introduce Japanese, perfect for those looking to build their vocabulary. Each video has a short skit which can be summed up in one Japanese sentence containing the new word at the very end, along with furigana and an English translation. These skits are funny and often a bit strange, but I think this is what helps the vocabulary to stick in your head.

Whilst the type of humour will not be everyone’s cup of tea, if you do find them funny then this could be an entertaining way of getting in a couple of minutes’ study when short on time. Each week there is a ‘Weekly Chop’ which is a compilation of the skits from that week (there tend to be 3-4 videos uploaded per week).

The accompanying website has a full vocabulary list for all of the words that appear in each skit.

For intermediate/advanced learners: Talk in Japan

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 21.52.00.png

Talk in Japan has a large number of videos aimed at Japanese learners from JLPT N5 right through to N1. I would be hesitant to recommend the grammar/ vocabulary videos to those just starting out as all videos are entirely in Japanese with English subtitles which could feel a bit overwhelming.

Having said that, if you are working towards the JLPT (especially for N3 and above) then I can recommend their videos on each aspect of the test which is targeted towards each level. I like the grammar point videos as they are normally less than 5 minutes long, do a pretty good job of explaining usage and are accompanied by example sentences and a short dialogue at the very end. There are also some videos on business Japanese etiquette in addition to Japanese culture and cooking videos which you may find useful as well.

All of these channels are up and coming rather than established channels but I hope you find them useful and can support them as they continue to grow!

What is the JLPT and is it for me?

If you are new to learning Japanese, you may have heard about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, or JLPT for short. It is something that myself and other Japanese language bloggers often refer to as an indication of one’s Japanese language level.

In the UK, the applications for the next sitting in December, have just opened and the results were published for the July exam very recently With this in mind, I thought it would be a good time to write about the JLPT exams for those who know nothing about it.

What is the JLPT?

The JLPT was developed as a way of measuring non-native Japanese speakers’ proficiency in Japanese. There are 5 levels to the JLPT as follows:

N5 – Beginner proficiency

N4 – Upper beginner proficiency

N3 – Intermediate proficiency

N2 – Upper intermediate proficiency

N1 – Advanced proficiency

The exact composition of the exam depends on the level you are taking, but all cover reading (with different emphasis on kanji, grammar and reading comprehension) and listening skills. If you pass, you will receive a snazzy certificate for your efforts.

The exam can be taken either inside or outside Japan – check out the official website for information on test centres in your country.

How do I know which level to take?

If you’ve been studying for a while, you might not have an idea of what level you are currently working at. The official JLPT website has some sample questions which can give you an idea of which level you are working at – alternatively, you may want to check out the resources mentioned below.

Is it worth it?

The answer to this ultimately depends on your current situation and future goals. I would definitely recommend it if you are looking to work in Japan, especially if you would like to have a bilingual role. A lot of Japanese companies look for business level (=JLPT N2) or native level (=JLPT N1) proficiency, so having this on your CV may well help you get your foot in the door. I’ve summed up what I believe the main pros and cons below:

Pros

  • JLPT is a well-recognised qualification
  • A good way of measuring your own progress particularly if you are self-studying

Cons

  • Can be expensive (in the UK it costs £75 per sitting)
  • Can only take it 1-2 times a year depending on where you live
  • Does not test speaking proficiency
  • Especially at higher levels, grammar points can get obscure

There are more cons than pros in the above list, but the pro of having a widely recognised qualification is a great advantage for those wishing to pursue further studies or employment in Japan (this is not to say that not having a JLPT qualification will prevent you from getting a job!).

How do I study towards it?

There is a heavy emphasis on vocabulary and grammar, so a lot of study is needed to cover all of the materials at each level. For this reason, textbooks are a popular choice although there are some wonderful (and free!) online resources too:

Textbooks

For level N5, there are not many JLPT specific textbooks available. If you are working through a textbook such as Genki, then you should cover a lot of the grammar expected at this level – refer to the online resources below for lists of grammar points, vocabulary and kanji in the test.

For the upper levels, there are two series of books that are quite popular: Nihongo Sou Matome and Kanzen Master. I have not used Nihongo Sou Matome myself but it is very highly regarded.

kanzenmasterjlptn1

I have personally used the Kanzen Master series of books (pictured above – there are individual books for grammar, vocabulary, kanji and listening comprehension) which are a useful means of preparing you for the test.

Online Resources

There are a number of websites with vocab, kanji, grammar point lists and listening exercises – here are a couple of my favourites:

  • Tanos JLPT is a great place to start if you’ve just decided to take the plunge. The website has vocabulary, kanji and grammar lists which you can start to work your way through.
  • Japanesetest4you is a website filled to the brim with practice tests for all aspects of each level of the JLPT. As i’ve mentioned previously, it is really important to practice in exam conditions so that you have an idea of how to manage your time on the day!
  • MLC Japanese has lists of key vocabulary and kanji, worksheets with exam-style questions and study plan ideas for the JLPT.
  • Nihongo Pro has free vocabulary, kanji and grammar quizzes for all levels of the JLPT.
  • Flashcard apps like Anki and Memrise have a number of shared decks for each level of the JLPT

Classes

If you are lucky enough to be in Japan or a major city overseas, you may be able to find a JLPT prep class – for example in London, the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) runs JLPT prep classes in the run up to the exam.

This is a general overview of the JLPT test – if you have any further questions about the JLPT please let me know in the comments.