‘Appy Mondays – News Easy Japanese

The second installment for this series is a review of News Easy Japanese, another reading comprehension app.

News Easy Japanese (CLcosmos Ltd, free)

  News Easy Japanese- screenshot

This news reading comprehension app issues 3-4 articles each day covering current affairs, in the vein of NHK Easy Japanese, having been written using simpler language than standard newspaper articles but still use a lot of the vocabulary that does crop up.

Furigana can also be toggled on or off. Each article comes with sound clips where the article is clearly read and spoken at a steady speed facilitating easier reading comprehension. The items highlighted in green can be clicked on, and give simple definitions of the item in Japanese. I really like the Japanese-Japanese dictionary as it gives you the opportunity to understand new vocab using words you (hopefully) already know, and is especially useful for distinguishing between words which have appear to have similar English meanings.

  News Easy Japanese- screenshot

As you can see above, the app also has articles on various weather phenomena you may likely come across living in Japan (typhoons, tornadoes, heavy snow, heavy rain, tsunamis and earthquakes). This is useful for picking up relevant vocabulary relating to weather warnings which you may come across on TV. Being from the UK, earthquakes are not something I am used to, so having the opportunity to brush up on dealing with earthquakes is always helpful.

The only real downside of this app is that it does not have any offline functionality. Apart from that, I can definitely recommend this app to JLPT N3/ intermediate level learners looking to practice their newspaper reading comprehension, especially if you are looking to move away from Japanese-English dictionaries.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars 



‘Appy Mondays -NHK News Reader

Hello and Happy New Year! I hope 2017 will be a great year for all 🙂

Today’s post is the first of a new series called ‘Appy Mondays, where I will be reviewing some of the many Japanese language learning applications that are about. This series will focus on apps available on Android as I currently only own Android devices at present. I am also all about free or low cost apps whenever possible, and the cost will be factored in to all reviews.

First up is NHK News Reader (AOVILL team, free)

  NHK News Reader with Furigana- screenshot

This app provides access to the latest NHK articles, with additional functions suited for Japanese language learners. Articles are split by topic, but the main landing page will always show the main headlines. Each article has option to show furigana above kanji, and each comes with an accompanying video showing the corresponding item as read on Japanese TV, which is generally identical to the text (the text differs sometimes when people are interviewed and their speech has been paraphrased). As these videos are from Japanese TV the speed is at natural speed (ie. fast), so it is good for testing your real world Japanese comprehension. Article lengths do vary but the articles are for the most part not too long, and are best suited for a 15-30 minute reading session.

The option for furigana is always helpful for learners, but there is no integrated dictionary within the app. This would not be much of a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the app does tend to freeze. I found that this always happened when I tried to switch apps to look a word up in the dictionary whilst in the middle of reading an article, the app screen would go blank when I returned to the app. This is a shame because unless you have a physical dictionary to hand, you would of course be switching apps frequently. I often use my journey to work for studying Japanese for example and so this app would not be suitable for using on the commute. Your device has to be connected to the internet to use the app, which makes sense as there are integrated videos, but it would have been nice to have the option to view the articles themselves offline.

I should say that the app is free, but there is a paid version for £3.99. However looking at the reviews for the paid version, the extra cost does not add functionality that I would be expecting, namely the ability to view articles offline and an integrated dictionary. Overall, as a free app it may be worth trying out if you are around JLPT N2 level and looking for authentic news articles and video to work on your newspaper reading comprehension. It is a decent free app, but I could not recommend it or its paid upgrade app as an essential resource for intermediate/ advanced learners with the bugs it currently has.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Update: if you are interested in other reading apps, I recommend TangoRisto  – which is free and improves upon a lot of the issues I had with this app!

Podcast Review: Korean Kontext Podcast by the Korean Economic Institute

Like all great discoveries, I came across this podcast by chance whilst browsing my favourite podcasting app Podcast Republic for East Asia related podcasts.

Korean Kontext is a weekly series of podcasts which provides news and analysis on issues affecting the Korean peninsula. These are put together by the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI for short), but it is not only economic issues covered. There are a wide range of topics, ensuring that the peninsula is explored from a political, social and cultural perspectives, with the help of guest speakers each week who add their specialist expertise. Whilst there is inevitably a focus on the US-Korea relationship, the discussions are largely impartial, so listeners should not be put off by this.

I think that this is a wonderful podcast for those like me who are wanting to learn more about the Korean peninsula, as well as those who already follow developments in US-Korea relations and are interested in hearing issues discussed from a different perspective. Korean Kontext is great for the daily commute as each episode is between 20 and 30 minutes long.

Just to give you an idea of topics covered, I have picked out a couple of my favourite episodes so far:

A look into Korean Literature (14/10/2016). With Han Kang recently winning the Man Booker International Prize for her novel ‘The Vegetarian’, Korean literature found itself in the international spotlight. The podcast does a great job of covering issues regarding Korean literature in translation, including how it can be further promoted on the back of The Vegetarian’s success. I felt like this was a good introduction to the state of Korean literature and provided some recommendations that I will definitely be looking in to. If the podcast sparks your interest in Korean literature, it is definitely worth looking into the following links as well.

A Primer on Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 Crisis (21/10/2016). The podcast charts sequence of events from the ill fated mobile phone up until its eventual discontinuation, and discusses both the short and long term implications that the crisis may have for Samsung, chaebols and the Korean economy at large. There has been a lot of negativity in the press, and the KEI experts offer a more pragmatic approach the analysing the actual impacts of the crisis, citing a change in senior management in particular as a positive sign of change. Since this podcast was released Samsung finds itself potentially embroiled in the political scandal regarding Park Geun Hye, but more recently there has also been the promising news that Samsung is increasing its efforts in the auto tech sector, so the KEI experts may not have been proven wrong just yet!

Book review: Why Taiwan Matters: Small Island, Global Powerhouse, Shelley Rigger (2013)

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Prior to reading this book, I didn’t know much about Taiwan except a) lots of electronic items are made there b) it was previously a colony of Japan.  My interest in Taiwan was heightened recently upon the recent election of Tsai Ing Wen, partly due to her status as the first woman to do so – I didn’t really understand why this event was seen as controversial.

Fortunately this book provides a very comprehensive introduction to Taiwan’s social, political and economic history, as well as putting together interesting theories as to how Taiwan might be able to move forward vis-a-vis the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Whilst the author explains everything from an impartial perspective, her passion for the country and belief in its future is evident throughout.

I felt that the book did a particularly good job on fleshing out how the different ethnic groups have come to coexist and how this has informed the people’s perceptions on what it is to be Taiwanese.  It also highlighted the importance of democracy to the country, as well as how this is a key issue of contention with the PRC.  The section that I found the most interesting was the section on the Taiwanese economy; it is impressive how Taiwan was able to leverage its economic power to build cross-strait relations, despite the volatile nature of political relations. This use of economic power to build relations does draw some parallels with Japan, the key difference between the two nations being that Taiwan was the source of wartime aggression whereas Japan was the perpetrator. As a previous scholar of Japan, I feel the book has helped to inform my knowledge of Taiwan, China and wider regional relations. Similarly, it has reinforced the strategic relevance of states such as Taiwan and Japan to the US in terms of East Asia relations.

I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone interested in Taiwan’s development and its relationship with the PRC in particular.

P.S You can hear the author Shelly Rigger discuss her book here, worth a watch!