Should you listen to a language at a slow speed or normal speed?

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I like to listen to Olly Richards’ “I Will Teach You a Language” podcast, and I happened to listen to Episode 232 called “Why you shouldn’t listen to slow audio”. He argued that the content that you listen to is more important than whether it is being spoken at normal speed or not.

Having given it some thought, I agree with him in that when people struggle with listening skills, it is usually down to the content being too difficult rather than the speed at which it is spoken at. This does pose a frustrating problem for us language learners: we struggle to listen to our target language, which is in part because we haven’t been exposed to the language enough.

Despite this, I think it is important to persevere with listening to something in your target language, even when you do not understand anything at all. This is why it is so important to find something in your target language that you enjoy, whether it be an interview with your favourite music artist, a TV show or anime.

 

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Finding something you love to listen to is the best way to stay motivated

 

Looking back, it is having this motivation to watch or listen to something at native speed that eventually improved my own listening comprehension skills. When I was studying for a Japanese exam (GCSE Japanese, which is probably closest to JLPT N5) I went from struggling with the exams to finding them fairly straightforward within a few months.

Looking back, the only thing that changed within those few months was that I began to watch a lot of Japanese TV/ drama (sometimes with English subtitles, sometimes without). Being a beginner in Japanese, it was extremely difficult to pick out what was being said apart from a few words here and there. However, the most important thing that happened as a result of doing this was that I got used to Japanese spoken at a native speed rather than at a slower speed. Combined with revising the vocabulary covered in my test, this made tackling the listening section much easier.

Similarly, I found that just spending more time listening to Japanese as it is naturally spoken helped with the listening section of the JLPT test (I have some last minute tips on how to tackle the listening section here).

Eventually, you want to get to the point where you understand your target language at a native speed, so it is important to start working towards this as early as possible. Therefore, as a language learner, maintaining a balance between material you listen to as immersion and material you use to study is key, as I wrote about in my post on podcasts.

So, the next time you are testing out your Japanese listening skills, try listening at regular speed before slowing things down. By listening to the material more than once, you might find that you are able to understand more than you initially thought!

I’m interested to know if you agree with Olly and I or not and why – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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Habits over goals

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We are now in 2018 and I firstly want to say Happy New Year and 明けましておめでとうございます (明けおめ for short) to everyone who reads the blog!

Being the start of the year it is often the time of New Years’ Resolutions (新年の抱負・しんねんのほうふ). I’ve written a bit about working on your language goals previously but wanted to expand on a very important point.

Focus on creating new habits rather than the goals themselves

Goals are great things to have, but they need to be supported by establishing the right habits which help achieve them.

What is the difference between goals and habits?

Goals have an endpoint and solely rely on willpower to achieve. Just by setting goals, you can feel a false sense of completion which can be dangerous.

Habits, on the other hand, are easier to complete as they are less complex. Normally it takes 30 days for an action to become a habit – after this point, they become even easier to stick to.

For example, if your goal is to complete a 5km run (and you do not run at all currently), your initial focus should be on making time to run 2-3 times a week. If your goal is to pass the JLPT N5 in December, then focus on studying Japanese for 30 mins a day (see my post on getting your language 5-a-day for ideas!)

Focusing on habits means that there is a possibility we exceed our goals. We might end up running 10km instead of 5km or we might be ready for JLPT N4 instead of JLPT N5 by the end of the year.

The key is to make the habit as simple as possible. If you were to set the task of reading one page of a Japanese book every day, you would probably find yourself reading more than this when you have the time because (hopefully) you really enjoy the book you are reading! Whether you meet or exceed your task for the day, this sense of achievement helps you stay motivated towards your end goal.

I’ll leave you with a quote from philosopher Will Durant which sums up the point of this post:

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Get Writing in Japanese with the Kotobites November Writing Challenge

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As you may know, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It is aimed at anyone who has ever wanted to write a novel who set about writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59pm on 30th November. I think that whether you reach your target or not, the sense of community that surrounds the event each year is a great way to get motivated in November and beyond – read more about it here.

I was reminded about NaNoWriMo recently and this got me thinking about writing in Japanese. I don’t think I am up to the task of writing a full-length novel in Japanese, let alone English yet, but I wanted to think of ways to write about a bigger variety of things in Japanese. I currently write in my language journal several times a week (I try to write every day, but there are days when I don’t get round to it). I do want to write something every day, but I often find I end up writing about the same sorts of things such as going to work or what I ate for dinner, which gets boring quickly.

So I want to use November to get myself (and anyone else who is interested) writing every day with the November Writing Challenges!

On this blog I intend to provide writing prompts for each day of November. Depending on your level, some days will be trickier than others, but I hope you can give at least a couple a try. At the end of the month, I’m hoping I’ve managed to write something a bit more interesting, and continue to write creatively going forward.

If you’d like to get involved let me know in the comments – we can do this!

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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

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Or you can change the counter itself…

ビールを三本 (さんぼん/sanbon) ください

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(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

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(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!

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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