Ways to stay motivated in your Japanese studies

Learning Japanese (or any language) is a long journey, no matter what articles you read that promise fluency in 6 months.

Inevitably, there are going to be times along our journey when we lack the motivation to keep going. I’ve been a little bit unwell recently and after a few days rest I have found it hard to motivate myself to get studying again.

Here are some of the things I try to do when I need to find motivation to study Japanese:

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  • Watch a video of something that reminds you why you started learning in the first place.

It’s easy to lose sight of what initially drew us to our target language. Whether it be the culture, connecting to your roots, or to watch your favourite TV show without subtitles, there’s so many things that learning another language gives us an opportunity to experience. Whatever it is, watching a video relating to that topic is a great way of getting you back on track.

I personally find watching videos of people who have been able to learn Japanese to a high level really motivate me to keep studying. Kemushichan’s videos are always inspiring for me; my other personal favourites include Dogen and Renehiko.

 

  • Visualise your goals.

Take some time to think about your language learning goals. What is it that you want to achieve in the future with your target language; is it passing language exams? Holding a conversation with a native speaker?

If this is something you haven’t decided on yet, I recommend taking some time to define your goals in detail. When I am lacking in motivation, I remind myself of my short-term and long-term goals and how I will feel being able to achieve them.

When it comes to setting short-term goals, you might find the #clearthelist language challenges helps you to formulate and work on the goals more effectively. Here is an example from the amazing Fluent Language from May 2018.

 

  • Make sure to celebrate little victories.

Every time you feel yourself making progress, make sure to pat yourself on the back. It is easy to be demotivated when we experience setbacks, but it’s important to acknowledge the positives at the same time.

Let’s say you were having a conversation with a native speaker, but it was a little stilted. Whilst the conversation may not have flowed the way you wanted it to, you managed to get your point across and this is always something to celebrate. After all, languages are a form of communication, and being able to communicate is the important part – with more practice you will learn what sounds more natural.

When you are lacking in motivation, thinking back to the progress you have made will really help.

 

  • Take time to look back at what you’ve achieved.

This is similar to the previous point, but I find comparing what I understand now to what I understood either a few months ago or even when I first started really helps put my progress in perspective.

Think about what level you were at the start of the year – it’s quite likely that you have made more progress than you think and is a great reminder to keep going!

Having taken some time away from studying Japanese, I do tend to think about the words I used to know but have forgotten the meaning of. In order to combat this, I like to I look back at my old study notes to remind myself of the progress I have made since then.

 

  • Make or evaluate your study routine.

Sometimes a lack of motivation is linked to the nature of your current study routine. If motivation has been a consistent problem recently, it might be worth taking a look at your routine.

Are there any things that need changing? It might be that your expectations are too high and you need to set yourself a series of smaller goals every time you study. My post on simplifying your language routine might give you some ideas on how to do this.

 

  • Surround yourself with positive people.

The people that we choose to surround ourselves with can have a large impact on our motivation. By surrounding ourselves with people who understand our journey, we can get support and encouragement from them when we are struggling to carry on. This can be in the form of other language learners, teachers and tutors.

You might not know any Japanese learners in your area – don’t worry, because this is where social media is incredibly useful. I’ve found Twitter and Facebook groups in particular to be a great place to find inspiration, share stories and ask questions when you get stuck (Twitter is super popular in Japan so is especially useful!). There are also lots of great blogs out there for learning Japanese that I turn to when I need to stay motivated.

Language challenges are a great way to feel involved in the language learning community. For example:

I’ve also done my own 30-day Japanese writing challenge before which really helped motivate me to keep practising my writing skills, which I don’t practice as much as I should.

 

  • Make sure to reward yourself when you’ve finished your study session

Having a reward to look forward to at the end of the session is important, especially when faced with something that seems particularly daunting (for me, this is usually my kanji flashcard reviews!). I will treat myself to an episode of a TV show or time to play video games, with a bit of bonus time after a particularly long study session. When working towards a bigger goal like the JLPT, I tend to treat myself to something more special if I’ve hit my weekly study goals.

I hope this post helps if you’ve been finding yourself in a bit of a slump lately. The hardest part of studying is normally just getting started, so finding enough motivation to simply start is often all you need. The best thing I can recommend is to build helpful language learning habits wherever you can.

 

Have you got any tips or tricks for boosting your motivation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

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Keeping it Simple: tips for simplifying your language study routine

I’ve been experimenting with my study routine recently, and I’ve realised that it has become much easier to stick to my study plan now that I have made some changes. Since focusing on better habit building, I feel like I’ve been making more progress.

Especially with the internet at our fingertips, there are more language resources than ever before; we can instantly download an app or watch a video if we want to start learning a new language.

The problem is really that we have too much choice.

Japanese language resources, in particular, are in abundance online. Combined with the difficulty level of kanji and grammar, learning Japanese can feel overwhelming whether you’ve been studying for 3 days or 3 years.

Here are three of the changes I have made recently that have not only simplified my own routine, but also stopped me from feeling overwhelmed:

 

Evaluate my study space

I don’t actually have a dedicated study space myself – I normally sit on my sofa or bed to study.

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I wish I had a desk like this! 

One thing that has helped me despite not having a desk is having a study notebook or novel near me at all times, whether that be in my work bag or on my bedside table. When I was studying for my school exams, I always used to put my study notes in a place where I couldn’t avoid seeing them, such as near my glasses or house keys.

Just seeing my Japanese notes on a daily basis, especially first thing in the morning, reminds me to fit in some time to study whenever possible.

If you do have your own study space, I suggest having a look at it to see how it can be improved. Only have the items that you really need for your studies (dictionary, textbooks, pens, pencils) and hide anything which could be a distraction. Having a tidy space will make sure that when you do sit down to study, you will be able to fully focus.

Similarly, with online resources, it is a good idea to put the apps or websites you use in a prominent position on your phone or internet browser. If online distractions are a problem for you, there are plenty of helpful apps out there to minimise distractions.

For example, I make sure I have a list of podcasts that I add to on a weekly basis: this ensures I always have something to listen to when I do have some spare time. This leads me nicely on to the next tip…

 

Identify dead time

I’ve written about using your time most effectively in my other post on Getting Your Language 5-a-day. The post mainly deals with splitting up language learning into smaller chunks and identifying ‘dead time’ which can be better spent working on your target language.

Our lives obviously vary from week to week, and so if you haven’t looked at your schedule recently it might be worth taking some time to re-evaluate your dead time.

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It’s important to be realistic about how much time you have to study, so that you can adjust your expectations based on how busy you are.

Don’t think that only having small amounts of time isn’t long enough for studying Japanese – consistency is better than the length of time you study for. By keeping up with that 5-10 minutes daily, you’re going to be making more progress than a longer study session of 1 hour a week.

The benefit of this for me is that I’ve realised that I actually have lots of time in the day to listen to Japanese than I thought. I especially enjoy listening to podcasts while doing housework.

 

Decide on what resources to focus on in advance

If you know exactly what you want to study and how you’re going to do it, you will be able to ensure you maximise your study time and minimise distractions. Studying Japanese (or any language) is better in short sessions, and knowing which resource I am going to use beforehand prevents me from wasting time before I’ve even started studying.

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Not pictured: my haul of Japanese textbooks and resources!

This also gives you the chance to assess what resources work better for you than others. There really are so many resources out there for Japanese, that when a new shiny app or website comes along, it is easy to forget about a tried and tested resource.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try out new resources, especially if it appears to suit your learning style. If something isn’t working for you, it is much easier to identify if you are using it consistently rather than sporadically.

In my case, I am working towards the JLPT again, so my study is more focused on vocabulary and grammar from textbooks (I like the Shin Kanzen master series so I am using their grammar textbook in particular).

 

Tracking habits

I am a big believer in cultivating good habits in order to help achieve your study goals, and for the past few months I’ve been using the Habitica app to track my language learning. On the app, I have a list of Japanese study habits to achieve daily (basically to listen/read/write/speak Japanese), which I can tick off when completed.

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There is a great Japanese learning challenge on Habitica which I recommend if you already use the app!

The biggest change I have noticed since using a habit tracker is that my mindset regarding Japanese study has changed. I do not strictly schedule study sessions at certain times of the day, so I just fit study in when I can.

When I do have a spare 5 minutes, I now think “what can I do in Japanese in 5 minutes” rather than “it’s only 5 minutes, I’ll check Facebook”.

Habit trackers are a really useful way of positively reinforcing new habits – I get so much satisfaction from ticking something off my daily goal list. Even after a long day, the fear of losing my habit streak has pushed me to open up a book or to finish my flashcard reviews.

There are tons of apps out there which allow you to track your habits and/or study time. Alternatively, if you use a bullet journal there are lots of cool ways to visually represent your habit building offline.

 

So this is my list of things that have helped me. Are there any changes you have made to your study schedule that have really helped you? Let me know in the comments!

Japanese Loanwords (gairaigo): 5 things to remember

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Foreign words imported into Japanese (known as 外来語 gairaigo) is an increasingly large part of the Japanese language. Japanese loanwords are easy to spot, as they are written in katakana rather than hiragana or kanji.

The use of loanwords is often touted as a way for learners of Japanese to quickly increase their vocabulary. This is somewhat true and fortunately for beginners, common Japanese words are indeed borrowed from English.

 

Computer コンピュータ (Romaji: konpyuutaa)

Piano ピアノ (Romaji: piano)

Hamburger ハンバーガー (Romaji: hanbaagaa)

 

However, loanwords in katakana are not always what they seem and therefore can cause issues for some learners for a few reasons:

  1. Pronunciation differences
  2. Loanwords are not always from English
  3. Loanwords from English can be false friends
  4. Pseudo-Anglicisms
  5. Abbreviations

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

 

(1) Pronunciation differences

Japanese is a phonetic language, unlike English. This point can cause confusion for Japanese beginners, as items are written in Japanese based on their pronunciation, not their spelling.

For example, the country Cuba is キューバ not クバ.

 

(2) Loanwords are not always from English

English native speakers tend to think of Japanese loanwords as being from English, but this is often not the case.

Portuguese loanwords

パン (pan) bread

イギリス (igirisu) the UK

キリスト(kirisuto) Christ

コップ (koppu) cup

 

Dutch loanwords

コーヒー (koohii) coffee

ランドセル (randoseru) backpack used by Japanese schoolchildren

ゴム (gomu) gum; rubber

コッコ (kokku) cook

 

French loanwords

アンケート (ankeeto) survey, questionnaire

コンクール (konkuuru) competition

ズボン (zubon) trousers

エステ (esute) beauty salon

 

German loanwords

アルバイト (arubaito) part-time job

エネルギー (enerugii) energy

テーマ (teema) theme

カルテ (karute) a patient’s medical records

 

(3) Loanwords from English are often false friends

English loanwords do not always retain their meaning when used in Japanese. Some words take on additional meanings in Japanese, and others have completely different meanings to their English counterparts.

These so-called ‘false friends’ are fairly common, so make sure you check with a friend or refer to a dictionary when you come across new words.

 

Examples of Japanese-English false friends

ペンション (penshon)

The word pension refers to the payments one is entitled to after they retire, but in Japan a pension refers to a type of lodging or inn

 

ホーム (hoomu)

This is a shortened version of プラットフォーム means railway platform

 

カンニング (kanningu)

カンニング in Japanese refers to ‘cheating’ (ie. on a test) and is often used with the verb します.

 

(4) Pseudo Anglicisms/ Wasei-Eigo

Pseudo Anglicisms are words borrowed from English in other languages but do not actually exist in English in the way an English speaker would recognise or use. Japanese has a lot of these, known in Japanese as 和製英語 wasei eigo.

 

サラリーマン (sarariiman)

Literally ‘salary man’, this refers to a male office worker

 

ベビーカー (bebiikaa)

pram, stroller, pushchair

 

チャームポイント (chaamupointo)

‘Charm point’ is used by people when describing an attractive feature about themselves or others.

 

(5) Abbreviations

Abbreviations are pretty common in Japanese. For example, けいたいでんわ (keitai denwa 携帯電話) is the correct word for mobile phone, but it is usually shortened to just けいたい (keitai 携帯).

When some words are imported into Japanese they become quite long and so it makes sense to abbreviate them. Loanwords are often shortened to four syllables, which makes it easier to remember but on the other hand, makes it more difficult to work out what the original word or phrase was.

Japanese

English

Original Japanese word

パソコン PC, personal computer パーソナルコンピューター
コンビニ Convenience store コンビニエンスストア
デパート Department store デパートメントストア

 

So what is the best way to tackle Japanese loanwords?

This post isn’t intended to scare you from learning any loanwords, as they are incredibly useful.

It is best to treat loanwords as Japanese words, even if they sound similar to English. ‘Relearning’ words that are already familiar to you might sound counterintuitive but could save you from embarrassment later on.

Asking a Japanese friend or tutor is a good way to confirm the correct meaning of any word. Failing that, searching Google images (not Google Translate!) comes in really handy for checking whether that new katakana word means what you think it means.

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.

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

 

Best Chrome Extensions for learning Japanese

Reading the title you may be thinking, “but how is a browser going to assist my language learning?” As it turns out, there are a couple of nifty extensions available for Google Chrome that I think are essentials for Japanese learners.  Here are 3 extensions that I use all the time for boosting my Japanese skills:

Rikaikun (also known as Rikaichan on other platforms such as Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari).

This is an incredibly popular extension and is a must have for Japanese learners. With this extension activated, you can go to a page in Japanese and hover over any word and the reading and English meaning will be displayed in a handy pop up box. With this, tackling a website entirely in Japanese is a lot less scary!

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It is also worth noting that Rikaikun is pretty good at recognising the root of conjugated verbs as well as place names, which is can sometimes be an issue with lookup apps.

 

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This is useful when you need to practice the te form!

 

Mainichi

Mainichi is a handy extension which will show you a new piece of vocabulary every time you open a new tab in Chrome. The word is shown in kanji, kana and romaji with a helpful pic – handy for reviewing or learning a new piece of vocabulary.

 

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I think the pictures are really cute

 

You cannot choose the type of vocabulary that appears but I have found that there is a good mix between simpler and more complicated everyday vocabulary. Besides Japanese, there are also options for Korean and Mandarin Chinese if you are also learning those languages.

Pocket

Pocket is not specifically for language learning but I use it a lot for Japanese study. The Pocket app allows you to save a page for offline viewing later.

The Chrome extension allows you to add new pages to read later with a click of a button and will sync with the app if you have this installed on another device. I find this useful for saving news stories online – together with Rikaikun, you can make short work of tricky articles. If you install the app on another device you can start reading on your laptop and carry on reading on your mobile.

Are there any must have extensions (on Google Chrome or any other browser) that you cannot live without? Let me know in the comments.