Habits over goals

habitsovergoals

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:

habitwilldurant_1_original

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10 Japanese words which sum up the New Year period in Japan

We are in the last few days of the year and it is almost 2018, the year of the dog in the Chinese zodiac. The New Year, or お正月(おしょうがつ) as it is known in Japanese, is one of the biggest celebrations in the Japanese calendar.

There are a lot of traditions associated with the New Year period, so what better way to learn a bit about New Year in Japan than to learn some new vocabulary? Here are ten words which should help you get a feel for how New Year is celebrated.

1. 年賀状/ねんがじょう Postcards

The custom of sending ねんがじょう cards started hundreds of year ago, as a way of sending new year’s greeting to relations who were too far away to visit in person. These are normally sent to the post office around 15th December in order to ensure delivery on 1st January.

Whilst the popularity of electronic messages are growing, the custom of sending cards is still widespread – you can buy premade cards or design your own. Modern cards even make use of VR!

2. 門松/かどまつ Kadomatsu (literally ‘pine gate’).

As the name suggests, these pine decorations are put in pairs in front of homes to welcome the kami Toshigami. It is believed that Toshigami visits homes to bring happiness on New Years’ day if he is invited into the home with かどまつ. かどまつ tend to consist of pine, bamboo, plum flowers and flowering kale. These are normally put out around Christmas time and stay outside until about 7th January.

3. 年末のお掃除/ねんまつのおそうじ End of year cleaning

This is the time of year when Japanese people undertake a thorough clean of their homes. It is thought to help purify the home to help welcome Toshigami in the new year. It is a great time of year to discover new cleaning products and tips. You may end up finding things you thought you had lost during the year!

4. 紅白歌合戦/こうはくうたがっせん Red and White Song Battle

Screenshot 2017-12-26 at 20.47.43

The こうはくうたがっせん (usually abbreviated to こうはく) is a singing competition that takes place in the evening on New Year’s Eve (大晦日/おおみそか in Japanese). The competition has been a regular fixture on broadcaster NHK for over 60 years. Each year sees popular artists split into two teams, a red team for the female participants and a white team for the male participants (hence the name of the contest) who sing to become the overall winners of the competition.

5. はつもで First temple visit

The first visit to a shrine or temple to wish for health and prosperity for the coming year, called Hatsumode, is considered essential during the first few days of the year. Most people will do this before dawn on New Year’s Day, although some people visit on New Year’s Eve in order to witness 除夜の鐘/じょやのかね where a bell is rung 108 times just before the end of the year. Each ring of the bell signifies the 108 worldly desires thought to cause suffering in Buddhism.

6. おみくじ Fortune

During the first temple visit of the year, many Japanese people will write their wishes on little wooden plaques known as 絵馬・えま. They may also take the opportunity to get their fortune, called おみくじ. You draw out a paper slip and hope for a good result for the coming year!

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7. 御節料理 おせちりょうり Osechi ryouri – New Year’s dishes

おせちりょうり is an assortment of dishes traditionally eaten during the first few days in the new year. Each food is thought to bring different types of prosperity for the coming year and are presented in a special box resembling a traditional bento box. You can read more about the kinds of おせち dishes at Just One Cookbook.

8. 餅/もち Mochi rice cakes

Aside from おせちりょうり, もち is eaten during the New Year period. Many communities will take part in the tradition of 餅つき/もちつき, the process of pounding the rice to make the rice cakes.

You may also come across 鏡餅/かがみもち in a Japanese house around the New Year. かがみもち (literally ‘mirror rice cakes’) are traditional decorations formed with two round pieces of もち stacked on top of each other and adorned with Japanese fruit that symbolise good omens for the forthcoming year.

9. お年玉/おとしだま Otoshidama

New Year’s for Japanese children is a lot like Christmas for children in the West, in that it is when children receive gifts from parents, friends and relatives. The gifts are in the form of おとしだま, gifts of money for children as a blessing for the coming year and are usually presented in a special envelope.

10. 福袋 ふくぶくろ Lucky bags

Around the New Year, many shops will sell lucky dip bags containing a number of the store’s items at a good price. Certain shops’ ふくぶくろ are extremely popular so you may need to line up outside the store to get hold of one. Even convenience stores sell lucky bags!

FamilyMart_fukubukuro_in_Japan_20100204

By Nissy-KITAQ (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

So that is my list, which turned out to contain quite a bit more than 10 new words!

What is your favourite New Years’ tradition (Japanese or otherwise)? Please let me know in the comments!

‘Appy Mondays: Human Japanese

Apps for learning Japanese tend to focus on a certain aspect of the language, such as learning kana or learning vocabulary. This is fine as a supplement to classes or following a textbook, but not so much when self-studying. There are few apps that offer a more comprehensive approach from the very beginning, and Human Japanese is one of them. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest solely relying on one resource, Human Japanese is free at the earlier levels (called Human Japanese Lite) and is a pretty good alternative to one of the popular textbooks.

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The app starts from the very beginning, starting off by familiarizing you with the sounds of Japanese and how they differ from English. The app then takes you through hiragana before moving on to basic Japanese grammar and vocabulary across 44 chapters. You must complete each chapter before moving on with no option to skip (although this can be changed in the settings). At the end of each chapter, there is a quiz to test your learning. I would say that the app does a good job of covering reading, writing, speaking and listening equally.

One of the main advantages of using an app over a textbook when self-studying is having audio integrated into the app; Human Japanese takes advantage of this by having lots of example sentences and audio.

Human Japanese App Screenshot

I think this is a good choice for those who have had no prior experience learning Japanese (or any language for that matter) as it takes you through the basics of Japanese whilst imparting a lot of relevant and useful information along the way. This does mean that the app is text heavy, which could well be intimidating and it may not feel like you are making progress as quickly. Even so, I highly recommend this for newcomers to Japanese who are intending to study the language in some depth. There are a lot of things explained in the earlier chapters that I wish I had learned from the very beginning! One aspect to Human Japanese that I like is that once downloaded the app can be run entirely offline, which reduces the temptation to go online and get distracted.

The lite version gives you access to the first 8 chapters or so – if you like these chapters, you can purchase the full app for £9.99. The app is available on Android, Apple Store, Windows Phone, PC & Mac. I suggest taking advantage of the ‘Sneak Peek’ feature and look at the previews of each chapter (especially if you have already started studying Japanese).

There is also a Human Japanese Intermediate which may be suitable if you have already studied the basics – the official website has chapter lists to give you an idea of which app may be the best for you. The intermediate version of the app probably finishes covering the main aspects of grammar for JLPT N5 and a bit of JLPT N4, but also has chapters on things like sentence ending particles -の/ んです, よ, な which are often left to a later stage of Japanese learning.

Do I need a textbook to study Japanese?

Do I need a textbook to study JP(3)

This is a question that comes up quite a lot. Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2, and then focus on immersion and vocabulary building. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).

Unfortunately, Genki books are not cheap at around £40 for the textbook (not to mention the costs of the workbooks) and so are not an option for people studying on their own with little money to spare. On the other hand, the internet is a rich source of Japanese learning resources, so I thought I would introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without the use of a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.

Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow (fortunately most of the ones I mention do), in which case I recommend looking at grammar lists for JLPT N5 to give yourself an idea of which aspects of the language to focus on learning first, even if your intention is not to take the JLPT. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work.

Here is a list of various resources that I think could either be worked through like a regular textbook, or could be used as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you may already be making use of:

 

Websites

Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list, Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive which tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time

Imabi – This is a great place to start if Tae Kim isn’t for you. This online grammar guide starts from the beginning of learning Japanese right up to advanced level and each level is split into a number of lessons, enabling you to work your way through the website just like a textbook. Best of all this is entirely free – needless to say, this is a must visit resource!

Erin’s Challenge – if you’re a visual learner you may find supplementing your study with this website useful. Erin’s challenge is a website put together by the Japan Foundation with a series of videos featuring Erin, who becomes a school exchange student in Japan. Each short video covers a different topic as she gets used to her new life in Japan, which also comes with explanations of key grammar points and phrases used which you can then test yourself on.

Marugoto – The Japan Foundation website has a number of free online courses aimed at those self-studying Japanese called Marugoto. If you aim is to build practical communication skills in Japanese then I recommend the ‘Katsudoo’ course, but if you want to study Japanese in more depth then choose the ‘Katsudoo & Rikai’ course.

 

Apps

Human Japanese – Whilst not free in its entirety, the ‘lite’ version of this app is free and gives a pretty good indication of the app’s approach to learning Japanese. I’ve written a separate post on this app as I think it is worth the cost of entry for complete beginners to Japanese.

Lingodeer – this (free!) app is more like Duolingo than Human Japanese in that you follow a series of lessons covering different aspects of vocabulary and grammar. Having said that, it covers topics in a way that makes it very accessible for Japanese learners – you can then follow up the lessons with some of the sites below to reinforce your understanding of the content. It also does a pretty good job of testing you on the content of the lessons in different ways, which is really important when self-studying.

 

Grammar Reference sites

It’s always good to have somewhere else to check out grammar explanations if they are not making sense straight away. Here’s a list of places you might find useful:

Jgram – I think of Jgram as a database of Japanese grammar points which the community contributes to. You can search for grammar points by the (old) JLPT levels or use the search function to look up something specific. Each entry has notes and example sentences which is helpful for getting a new perspective on a grammar point.

Maggie Sensei – Everything on the website is presented in a really fun and easy to digest way. As well as explanations of grammar points, you will also find posts on aspects of Japanese culture. I also like that vocabulary is listed by theme rather than difficulty.

Wasabi – Wasabi’s online grammar reference is similar to Tae Kim in layout and style. I think Wasabi’s guide is particularly good for learning to distinguish between grammar points which have similar English meanings.

Japanistry – The Japanistry grammar guide works quite similarly to the Tae Kim guide but is a great reference site for the foundations of Japanese grammar.

日本語の森 (Nihongo no Mori) – This YouTube channel has lots of videos on grammar points aimed at all levels of Japanese learners. The playlist that I’ve linked to called ‘Ekubo Basic Japanese Lessons’ starts from the very beginning, but there are a number of playlists focused on different levels of the JLPT.

 

Worksheets and Quizzes

MLC Japanese – full of handy printable worksheets and quizzes. There is a lot of content for JLPT N5 & N4 in particular, but you can find study plans and JLPT material for the upper levels (old levels level 2 and level 1).

Memrise – has a number of electronic flashcard decks, including decks on the main textbooks including Genki, Tae Kim’s guide and at the JLPT

 

These are all the sites I am currently aware of, but I will add to this list as and when I come across other new resources!

Writing Challenge Roundup

We are now into December, so that means that the 30 day Japanese Writing Challenge for November has finished. Doing this challenge was definitely harder in practice than I had thought it would be when I was planning it!

writingchallenge_1_original

If you’ve missed my previous posts on it, see the links below:

Intro Post

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

Week 5

Here’s a few things I realised during the challenge:

  • Having a dedicated journal near me at all times made it easier to sit down and write every day

I have a smallish notebook that I bought for jotting blog ideas down in – I chose to use this for the writing challenge because I always make sure to have it in my bag. Whenever I opened my bag during the day I would see it and that would remind me to write something down when I had a spare 5 minutes.

  • Having a writing prompt everyday took the stress out of deciding what to write about

This allowed me to focus on how to express myself in Japanese more than usual.

  • There’s a lot of kanji that I recognise but have forgotten how to write!

I’m so used to typing Japanese on my phone that when it comes to handwriting thinking of the co. There were a few days that I only had time to write my answers on my phone and not in my journal which made writing a much quicker process. For me, handwriting Japanese aids my memory so I will be focusing more on this in the future

If you’ve enjoyed this challenge and are looking for regular writing prompts, I recommend checking out this Hatena blog page (in Japanese). Each week they post a new writing prompt for bloggers to write about.

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If you scroll down the page you can read other people’s posts in relation to the weekly prompt, which is great reading practice!

I would really like to put together some other 30 day challenges in the future, so watch this space! The challenge can be taken at any time and at your own pace – it’s ok to miss a day out if you need to.

Please let me know how you found the challenge in the comments 🙂

Kotobites November Writing Challenge: Week 5: 27th – 30th Nov

Welcome to the 5th and final week of the Kotobites November Japanese Writing Challenge. In case you missed it, please take a look my intro post on what this is and why I’m doing it – you can do as little or as much as you can!

writingchallenge_1_original

Here are the writing prompts for Week 5 (up to 30th November):

27th Nov (Monday) 27日(月曜日)

将来の夢はなんですか。

しょうらいのゆめはなんですか。

What is your dream for the future?

 

28th Nov (Tues) 28日(火曜日)

どこにでも行けるなら、どこを旅行したいですか。

どこにでもいけるなら、どこをりょこうしたいですか。

If you could go anywhere, where would you like to travel to?

eiffel-tower-2906526_1920

 

29th Nov (Wed) 29日(水曜日)

今はまっていることはなんですか。

いまはまっていることはなんですか。

What are you obsessed with right now?

 

30th Nov (Thur) 30日(木曜日)

口癖ありますか。

くちぐせありますか。

Is there a phrase/saying you use often? (note: could also be a verbal tic – think Homer Simpson and “D’oh!”)

homer-2006750_1920

 

Hints for beginners

  • Looking to get your writing checked? I recommend Lang-8 (if already a member – unfortunately, they are no longer taking new registrations), HiNative or ask a friend/language partner.
  • Following the sentence structure of the question is the easiest way of constructing the answer. Feel free to expand on the questions as much as possible or adapting the question – whatever suits your stage of learning.

This marks the end of the Writing Challenge – well done if you’ve made it this far!

If you’ve missed week 1, week 2, week 3, or week 4 click to catch up on the writing prompts. If you’ve managed to get to the end of the writing challenge, please let me know how you’ve found it in the comments 🙂

Kotobites November Writing Challenge: Week 4: 20th – 26th Nov

Welcome to the Kotobites November Japanese Writing Challenge. In case you missed it, please take a look my intro post on what this is and why I’m doing it – you can do as little or as much as you can!

writingchallenge_1_original

Here are the writing prompts for Week 4 (up to 26th November):

20th Nov (Monday) 20日(月曜日)

今一番欲しいものはなんですか。

いまいちばんほしいものはなんですか。

What item do you want the most at the moment?

 

21st Nov (Tues) 21日(火曜日)

楽器が弾けますか。(弾けない人は、弾けるようになりたい楽器ありますか。)

がっきがひけますか。(ひけいないひとは、ひけるようになりたいがっきありますか。)

Can you play a musical instrument? (If you can’t: is there a musical instrument you would like to learn to play?)

instrument-2010525_1920

 

22nd Nov (Wed) 22日(水曜日)

宝くじを当たったら、何をしますか。

たからくじをあたったら、なにをしますか。

If you won the lottery, what would you do?

 

23rd Nov (Thur) 23日(木曜日)

好きな祝日は何ですか。

すきなしゅくじつはなんですか。

What is your favourite national holiday?

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24th Nov (Fri) 24日(金曜日)

明日世界が滅亡したら、最後の食事は何を食べたいですか。

あしたせかいはめつぼうしたら、さいごのしょくじはなにをたべたいですか。

If the world was going to end tomorrow, what would you eat as your last meal?

 

25th Nov (Sat) 25日 (土曜日)

一番好きなことわざは何ですか。

いちばんすきなことわざはなんですか。

What is your favourite saying?

 

26th Nov (Sun) 26日 (日曜日)

虫は好きですか。

むしはすきですか。

Do you like insects?

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Hints for beginners

  • Looking to get your writing checked? I recommend Lang-8 (if already a member – unfortunately they are no longer taking new registrations), HiNative or ask a friend/language partner.
  • Following the sentence structure of the question is the easiest way of constructing the answer. Feel free to expand on the questions as much as possible or adapting the question – whatever suits your stage of learning.

If you’ve missed week 1, week 2 or week 3, click to catch up on the writing prompts. If you have already started on this challenge, feel free to check in and let me know how you are getting on 🙂