Sound more like a Japanese native with あいづち

In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called 相槌/ あいづち. あいづち does not translate well into English but refers to little phrases that help to facilitate a smooth conversation in Japanese. We do use this in English too, but it is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not mean you necessarily agree with it!).

Therefore when used well, it has the double benefit of keeping the conversation going whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.

The most common あいづち are  へー, うん, え, うわ,そうですね, but actually あいづち can serve several purposes:

  1. As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
  2. Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったです
  3. Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
  4. Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから

Here are some more you may hear:

さすが; なるほど ; その通り, 本当に, やっぱり

Nodding also counts as あいづち!

Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful あいづち.

Line Stamp Chocotto

Source: https://twitter.com/CHOCOTTO16

So the next time you are practicing conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some あいづち!

One thing to note: be careful about your use of あいづち with people senior to you, it can sound too casual.

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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.

Using sentences to study Japanese (and other languages)

Studying using sentences is incredibly beneficial for studying any language for a couple of reasons:

  • It gets you used to sentence structure, which you can then adapt to use when speaking or writing
  • Helps you to learn vocabulary in context – important for words with similar meanings in your native language

This article from Fluent in 3 Months explains it better than I can, but the brain is good at spotting at remembering patterns. As we are learning to speak our first language, we hear sentences spoken by others around us and so we build up a bank of sentences for our native language(s) in our brains.

This is why it is very easy for us to spot when something sounds unnatural in our native language(s), even if we are not sure why. With learning a new language, we have to follow the same process of learning what phrases and sentences are natural or not.

Engrish_Example

Sometimes, you just know when something has been put into Google Translate

Studying sentences alongside grammar rules will help the grammar to stick in your mind more effectively. Once you’ve understood a grammar point, you can then focus on making sure that you can implement in in your own speaking/writing – which is why I think keeping a journal in Japanese is such a good idea.
Let’s say for example that you are studying counters in Japanese, and come across the counter ‘hai’ which is the counter for glasses.

beer-1669298_1920beer-1669298_1920beer-1669298_1920

If you also memorise the sentence [ビールを三杯ください/ ビールをさんばいください/bi-ru wo sanbai kudasai] meaning Please can I have three glasses of beer, you are not only memorising the counter ‘-杯/はい/hai’ but internalising several other Japanese grammar rules at the same time.

  • That after 三, -はい becomes ばい
  • That counters are used after the particle を
  • That ください can be used when making a request (especially when ordering food and drink)

You can then experiment with substituting in different vocabulary, for example using a different number with the same counter…

ビールを一杯 (いっぱい/ippai) ください

beer-1669298_1920

Or you can change the counter itself…

ビールを三本 (さんぼん/sanbon) ください

duff-872502_1920duff-872502_1920duff-872502_1920

(Just like with -はい, the -ほん counter has a sound change to -ぼん when following 三).

Or you can change the drink to something else…

水 (みず/Mizu) を三杯ください

water-1585192_1920water-1585192_1920water-1585192_1920

(NB: probably a good idea if you’ve been ordering beer all evening)

… and this is all by changing just one word in the original phrase we learnt!

With Japanese, context is key to understanding grammar and vocabulary, so I believe that studying using sentences is more important coming from English. Adding Japanese audio in the mix is even better for learning to distinguish similar words, especially as Japanese has different pitch accents for similar words.

So how can I implement this into my language study?

With new grammar points, try writing out an example sentence you already know to be correct, then try changing different vocabulary as in the example above. You can always ask on an app like HiNative or a friend to check your new sentences to make sure they still make sense.

When learning across new vocab, look the word up in a dictionary or ask a friend to give you an example of how that word is used in a sentence and write it down for review later.

When making your own flashcards (real or online), make sure to write these sentences together with the vocabulary. If you are using Anki for vocabulary study, you’ll notice that a lot of decks introduce sentences at the same time.

I also highly recommend Delvin Language, which offers sentence and listening practice at the same time!

Screenshot 2017-09-02 at 18.15.23

You can learn new vocabulary via sentences taken from real life speech in dramas and documentaries, with all furigana and meanings provided for words and grammar points you may not know yet.

I hope the above post has helped – if you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments!


Japanese sign image source: with attribution By Info2Learn (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

Disney Songs in Japanese

I recently wrote a post about using songs to learn Japanese. In that post, I didn’t personally recommend any particular types of songs as I believe that you should try to focus on songs you like listening to instead.

However, later on, it dawned on me that Disney songs are a really good way of studying language via songs, especially as a beginner learner.

If you’ve grown up with films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (my 90’s kid bias might be showing a bit here!), then listening to the Japanese versions of familiar songs from these films is an enjoyable way of learning new vocabulary. Another advantage of using Disney is that being aimed at kids, the lyrics are normally more straightforward in nature in terms of both grammar and vocabulary and do not have any slang that can often trip up language learners.

How to find song lyrics

I find the best way of finding the Japanese song titles of Disney songs is looking on Wikipedia. For example, if I was looking for the Japanese titles from Frozen I would go to the relevant page and look for information on international releases:

Screenshot 2017-08-18 at 21.34.33

Frozen happens to be a particularly popular film so I could find the song titles under the ‘Japanese release’ tab towards the bottom of the Wiki page for the Frozen soundtrack.

However you may need to go to the English Wiki page first and then select the Japanese version of the same page from the menu on the left hand side. Then look for a category 主題歌 (しゅだいか ‘theme song’) or 挿入歌  (そうにゅうか ‘soundtrack’/ ‘featured songs’)  to find song titles – for the most popular songs the English tends to be given in brackets alongside the original Japanese.

Once armed with this information, the website I’ve found the most useful for tracking down Disney song lyrics is this one. Although skewed towards the most popular Disney films of the 1990s, this is the best site I have found with lyrics grouped by the film’s name.

If you are struggling to track down song lyrics, then simply googling the Japanese (or even the English) song title + 歌詞 (かし ‘lyrics’) should lead you to a website with lyrics.

Fortunately a lot of Japanese Disney songs can be found on YouTube with Japanese subtitles too. It helps to know the Japanese title before searching but you may have luck with the English title and if you add ‘Japanese’ on too.

The YouTube channel Nobuyoshi Takeuchi has a large number of Disney songs so is the best place to start.

My favourite Disney songs in Japanese are:

  • Colours of the Wind/ カラー • オブ • ザ • ウィンド [ポカホンタス/ Pocahontas]
  • Belle/ ベル [美女と野獣/ Beauty and the Beast]
  • Love is an Open Door/ 扉を開けて [アナと雪の女王/ Frozen]

What are your favourite Disney songs (in English, Japanese or another language)? Let me know in the comments!

Studying Japanese with Songs

Early on in my Japanese learning, listening to Japanese songs accidentally became part of my study plan. I do not really listen to new Japanese songs much nowadays but every so often I will go back to artists I know I like and study the vocabulary from their latest songs. Language learning is all about fun, so if you love music I recommend trying this out at least once.

Whilst I would recommend studying songs as part of your language journey, there are some pros and cons to consider.

The good: Of course studying something you enjoy helps vocabulary to stick.

The bad: This is true in any language but not all songs reflect how language is actually spoken as lyrics tend to be more poetic. Similarly, song lyrics do not always make sense, so take unusual grammar structures and vocabulary with a pinch of salt.

Here are the steps I follow when I use songs as study materials:

Step 0 – Find a song you like.

I would have a Japanese friend recommend some songs or artists to listen to. I generally find ballad style songs to be a good choice because these are more likely to tell a cohesive story than a dance track for example. This is Step 0 because I’m assuming when you read this post you already have a song in mind to study with!

Step 1 – Find the song lyrics.

Google is your friend here: simply search for the artist name and/or song title, then add ‘歌詞’ (かし‘kashi’ meaning lyrics). The website I often use is called Uta-Net (all in Japanese). Just type the artist or song name into the search box and click on the red button to search.

Screenshot 2017-08-18 at 19.39.34

Step 2 – Listen to the song with lyrics.

How much can you understand just by having the lyrics in front of you whilst you listen? You might surprise yourself with what you can pick up at this stage – I often find that seeing the words written down helps you to pick out the words you already know.

Step 3 – Arm yourself with a dictionary/ Japanese friend and get meanings for the vocabulary and grammar structures you are unfamiliar with.

Use this exercise to get a feel for the overall meaning of the song. I wouldn’t worry too much about finding an exact translation into English as this is not always possible.

However translating can be a fun exercise to check if you have grasped the general meaning of the song. Again Google is really useful for finding a fan page of your favourite artist which may have English translations that you can compare your version to. Can’t find a translation? It may be worth posting your own and making translations a new hobby!

As previously mentioned, there may be kanji usage or grammar that doesn’t necessarily appear in everyday Japanese so make a note of it here. If you have a language notebook make sure you only jot down the most commonly used kanji or correct grammar structures. If you are a fan of flashcards, I would make new flashcards of the most common kanji/ vocabulary that crops up at this stage.

Step 4 – Listen again when you have looked up unfamiliar words and phrases.

How much do you understand now? It should be much more now that you have a better grasp on the song meaning.

 

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Don’t be afraid to pick up a microphone (or hairbrush) in the name of language learning!

 

Step 5 – Karaoke!

Japan is the home of karaoke and I couldn’t possibly write an article about Japanese songs without mentioning it. If you live in Japan I recommend you take the opportunity to go for an hour and try singing a couple of songs, no matter what your singing ability. Having to follow the Japanese lyrics onscreen is not easy but if you go regularly you will really build up your reading speed, especially when it comes to kanji.

Not in Japan? Try searching for a song you like on Youtube and see if you can find a karaoke version/ lyric video to practice with.

Bonus: if you play an instrument you may finding actually playing and singing along to songs helpful too. If you play guitar (or sometimes attempt to play the ukulele like me) you can find chord tabs for popular songs by Googling the song title together with コード (chords). I tend to use a website called Gakki.me.

How do you use songs as part of your language learning? Let me know in the comments!

Journalling in a Foreign Language

I came across a video by Hyunwoo of ‘Talk to Me in Korean’ which encouraged writing in a journal on a daily basis to aid language learning, especially if you are unable to immerse yourself in other ways (i.e. you have no native speakers nearby to talk to).

 

I’ve become acutely aware recently that my speaking and writing skills in Japanese have suffered a lot and so I am keen to build these skills back up again. As it happens, I ended up with two 2017 diaries so journalling in Japanese is a great way of putting the spare diary to use.

I have been doing this for a couple of weeks and I am really enjoying it so far. One thing I immediately discovered is that I absolutely have to write out the diary entries. Writing in my diary seems to engage my brain in a different way to typing something out on my phone, although I have always found that writing things out helps me to remember things more easily.

I think this is even more important where the writing system of your target language differs to your native language(s) – in the age of predictive text, you can end up solely relying on your ability to recognise words rather than producing them. For Japanese, I have found it much easier to pinpoint which kanji I need to review if I cannot immediately recall how to write it.

But I don’t know what to write/ I have just begun studying a new language!

Don’t worry about the content of your entries – even writing out a new word you have learned a few times will help to consolidate your knowledge. This is the time to experiment with new words and phrases you may have learnt but try to put these into sentences where possible. Some people find writing out sentences that they already know to be correct is helpful for revising new grammar points and vocabulary.

How do I check whether my writing is correct?

For short sentences and phrases, Hi Native is a wonderful app for getting quick feedback – check out my previous post on this to learn more.

For longer pieces of writing, I highly recommend a website called Lang-8. Aimed at language learners, you can publish posts and ask native speakers to read and correct your work. Japanese friends, of course, may be happy to do this for you but sometimes getting input from complete strangers can provide a fresh perspective. Being fellow language learners, I have always found the community on there to be extremely helpful with anything I need help with. Make sure that you return the favour and review other people’s writing.

Finally, don’t forget to periodically look back what you have written. I hope to compare my entries at the end of the year to the day I started and see that I have made some progress!

Do you journal in Japanese/ another language? Have you found it useful so far? Let me know in the comments.