‘Appy Mondays: HiNative

Ever had a burning question for a speaker of your target language but no one around to ask? HiNative is the app for you! This app has been around for some time but before trying it out myself I was quite skeptical, but I am a definite convert.

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It helps that the app’s mascot is super adorable!

Why is the app recommended?

When you create an account you can specify what languages you are learning and which languages/ countries you are already familiar with. Based on these choices you can see questions and answers on your language pairs which you can then contribute to. You can also record audio and ask native speakers to critique your pronunciation!

It is particularly good for those who are learning languages where local native speakers are in short supply, which makes it a good choice for Japanese learners. There can be times whilst you are learning a language when friends who speak the target language are less likely to correct you on errors. Therefore getting a complete stranger’s input on whether something sounds natural or not is always a good idea. It is certainly true that when learning Japanese, the best thing is to ask a native about issues such as word usage; no matter how good your dictionary may be, it cannot always capture the unique nuances that certain words may have.

I thought that HiNative was solely about language questions, but it can be a great way of asking questions about the culture(s) you are interested in. I saw lots of questions about music and TV recommendations, food culture, sports, etiquette, travel which sparked some interesting discussions. Ultimately as a language learning app, it attracts people enthusiastic about other languages and cultures and so people do their best to be encouraging. This kind of supportive community is just the thing you need to keep yourself motivated during your language learning journey. Even if you only have 5 minutes while waiting for the bus or brewing a cup of tea, you can be doing something productive by using this app.

You can find the HiNative app on the App Store or Google Play store for free (though there is a premium version available) – find further details on the official website.

Manga Recommendation: 日本人の知らない日本語

Today’s recommendation is manga series called 日本人の知らない日本語 (nihonjin no shiranai nihongo) by Nagiko Umino. Despite the meaning of the title (something along the lines of ‘The Japanese langauge that Japanese people don’t know’), this is a highly recommended manga for students of Japanese.

The manga is written from the perspective of Nagiko, who works as a Japanese language teacher. The manga focuses on her experiences of teaching international students Japanese and what she learns about her native language in the process.

You are bound to find at least one story that you can relate to as a Japanese language learner. It is often funny, but manages to always be sympathetic to the plight of the international students whilst being incredibly informative.

Each chapter normally begins with one of the international students posing a question about an aspect of the language. Nagako often responds by explaining the history behind this aspect of the language as part of her answer. For example, there is a chapter about the origin of hiragana and katakana which I found particularly fascinating.

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It turns out that hentaigana like the above were in use until the 20th century!

Having this historical background really helps to flesh out how the language has developed into its current state and help you remember the Japanese correctly.

At the end of each story there is a mini essay about the topic covered, normally emphasising to the Japanese audience this is aimed at what struggles learners of Japanese often have and why. There are also mini quizzes testing you on an aspect of the language covered in the chapter (with answers). From a learners perspective this is a good way of checking that you’ve understood what was covered.

In terms of language level I think JLPT N3 level and above learners will get the most out of all of the content (including the mini essays at the end of each chapter). N4 level learners however may be able to follow a lot of the dialogue with help from a dictionary. Reading this manga may just help you avoid the pitfalls that a lot of us fall into on our language journeys!

If you find the manga a bit too tricky, there is a drama adaptation that aired in 2010 which is also worth a watch. If you do watch the drama, you might want to check out the drama’s official website which recaps the main grammar points and vocab from each episode.

Have you read this manga or watched the drama? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

 

Podcast recommendation: Bilingual News Podcast

I love podcasts, as I find them a great way of brushing up on my Japanese when I’m on the go. Fortunately I have found a new podcast which is great for my work commute: Bilingual News Podcast.

This weekly bilingual news podcast is hosted by Michael and Mami. Each episode is usually at least an hour in duration but the nature of the podcast makes it easy to listen for 15 minutes or so at a time.

Why do I recommend it?

Each podcast covers a number of current news stories from around the world which are usually read out by Mami in Japanese, then Michael follows up with the story in English. There is then a bilingual discussion around the topic.

I really like the podcast as you get to hear the article in Japanese first, then the English translation which allows you to check your comprehension before they delve into the given topic. Whilst the article summary uses the type of vocabulary and grammar constructions you woild find in a written article, the discussion that follows is always in more everyday Japanese. Mami normally sticks to speaking Japanese and Michael English, although they do both switch between the two languages.

There is an accompanying app which has transcripts for each podcast along with other useful functions such as the ability to make notes, vocab lists, use the dictionary functions and access essays. Whilst the transcripts for the first 3 episodes are free, This has a subscription fee of 240 yen a month. I have not tried it myself but as a relatively cheap subscription it sounds like good value for money.

Newspapers can be especially tricky but I think listening to this podcast, especially while reading the transcripts will really help you get used to the nature of the type of language that gets used in newspapers and how it differs to standard spoken language. I think if you already enjoy news digest podcasts and are looking to listen to something similar but in Japanese this is a good start. I would also recommend this if you are preparing for the JLPT, or if reading a newspaper in Japanese is something you would like to work towards.

Check out the podcast from the official website, and if you do enjoy the podcast make sure to show the team some love on Twitter or other social media 🙂

On Reaching Your Language Goals

So we have reached July, and hopefully I am not the only one wondering where the first 6 months have gone. Now is as good time as any to look back on the first half of the year and review any targets you have set for the year.

Do you remember what your new year’s resolutions were?

Have you not got round to setting them yet?

The problem with new year’s resolutions is that they are often too big and too vague to actually achieve. I suggest that if you are reviewing your resolutions or setting goals for the first time this year to do two things:

1) Break them down into smaller, more concrete goals

2) Work out what steps you need to take to achieve them

For example, if your goal this year was to learn Japanese, I want you to think about what it is about Japanese you want to master. Do you want to be able to understand an anime, travel to Japan, read a Murakami novel in the original language or something completely different? It is important to think about this because the nature of your goal will ultimately determine your approach to learning Japanese. All of the previous examples would require would require a different emphasis on listening, speaking and reading respectively and reflect varying levels of proficiency in Japanese.

Now that you have thought about what it is you want to achieve, think about the timescale you want to set to achieve these goals. Some goals will have a more clear cut end date – If your trip to Japan is to see the cherry blossoms in Kyoto then you probably have until next March to study, and if you’re sitting the JLPT then you would be looking towards the next sitting of the test in your country.

If an end date for your goals is not clear cut, then I suggest looking at a monthly check in. If your goals are language related, keeping a journal of what you have learnt will make it easy to review what you have learnt at the end of the month and to set targets for the next month. This is especially good where your target is a longer term goal (like learning to read Murakami).

With your smaller goals in mind, you next need to think about how you are actually going to achieve it. This is often the trickiest part, but is also the step that will ensure you keep on track. In regards to learning Japanese, this would relate to which resources are you going to use to learn basic phrases, kana, kanji and grammar.

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Fortunately even lazing around on Netflix can count as language learning 😉

The great thing about language learning in general is that there is a great range of activites that double up as language study. However the type of language learning activities you focus on need to be targeted towards your goal – learning kanji isn’t going to be necessary for a short trip to Japan but is essential for understanding Murakami! Do you have a Japanese friend that you can practise with? Is there a Japanese class in your area you can attend? Are there beginners textbooks you can lend from a local library? This may feel like an expensive endeavour but there are lots of free resources out there – most of the resources I recommend on this blog are free.

Finally consider when in your day you will realistically be able to fit in language learning activities and work around this. Make it your aim to fit in at least one activity a day, because consistency reaps the most rewards with language learning. I find that bullet journals or to do list apps such as Bright Todo are useful for keeping yourself accountable for maintaining, although setting daily reminders in your preferred calendar app works just as well.

If you can set yourself small goals and put together a realistic plan of how to go about achieving them, the world really is your oyster when it comes to learning Japanese, or any language for that matter. I’ll leave you with one last quote which I think ties in really well with today’s topic:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.”

The Quick ‘Why’ Guide: どうしてvs なぜ vs なんで

Japanese is so vocabulary rich that knowing when to use similar words and phrases can be a bit of a nightmare for language learners. どうして, なぜ and なんで can all be translated as ‘why’ in English but it is the level of formailty which largely differentiates the three words.

なぜ

なぜ orginated from the older term なにゆえ. It is the most formal of the three and is the word most often used in the written language rather than in speech.

なぜ日本語を勉強していますか?     naze nihongo wo benkyou shiteimasuka?

Why are you studying Japanese?

なぜ昨日のパーティーに来なかったの? naze pa-ti- ni konakatta no?

Why didn’t you come to the party yesterday?

どうして

In a lot of cases, どうして can be used interchangeably with なぜ, but is considered to feel less formal. The word is a contraction of an older term どのようにして, and therefore can sometimes be used to mean ‘how’ rather than why’ in English.

どうして知っているの? doushite shitteiru no?

How did you know?

どうして昨日そんなに早く帰ってしまったの? doushite kinou sonna ni hayaku kaette shimatta no?

Why did you go home so early yesterday?

なんで

なんで is the most informal of the three terms. As you can imagine, this word tends to be used more by young people than other age groups.

なんで私が? nande watashi ga?

Why me?

なんでそんな所に行ったの? nande sonna tokoro ni itta no?

Why did you go to that place?

どうして is probably the word you’ll hear used the most and is therefore your safest bet for everyday use, but make sure to choose wisely depending on what setting you are in.

JLPT exam prep: Nailing the Listening Test

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Unfortunately you don’t get these snazzy headphones in the real exam

So we are in the final days before the July sitting of the JLPT. The listening exam is of course a big part of this, which can be tricky but at the same time is an area you can score pretty highly with a bit of practice. Here are my tips for tackling this section of the exam:

  • Listening to anything and everything in Japanese just before the exam. Especially when preparing for a language exam outside of Japan, you want to go into the test room having set your brain to Japanese mode.
  • Practice timings by doing a mock test in exam conditions. The exam has different type of listening questions, and depending on the level you are taking the composition of questions will be slightly different. It is important to practice the test under timed conditions to give yourself an idea of how long you have for each of the question types when sitting the real thing. At the beginning of the test the questions are more straighforward, but at the same time the thinking time for each question is pretty short. You do not want to be caught out early on in the exam where it is realtively easier to pick up marks. You can find example question papers with answers and the transcript on the official website.
  • Maxmise use of the reading time by making notes – by preparing yourself for what you might hear you can use the actual exam time for listening insteaad of stressing about what is being asked of you in each section of the test. The questions are written out in Japanese on the question paper, so use the reading time to make notes (if you have practised the exam previously, you shouldn’t have to spend too much time working out what each question is asking of you). Highlight words on the question paper that give you an idea as to what type of information you are looking for, often indicated by question words like どこ, なに, どんな, いつ, どうして. Make a mental note of what the differences are between the potential answers in the multiple choice sections, and for questions accompanied by a picture you could jot down the appropriate Japanese vocab for key items in the picture.
  • For the longer conversation questions, keep track of key points in the dialogue signposting the flow of the conversation. Words like でも, しかし, それから and その後 may precede essential information for answering the question correctly. When I sat the N2 exam this was really helpful to bear in mind, as the conversations can lead you towards one answer and then indicate the correct answer mid-way or at the end of the dialogue.
  • Writing something is better than nothing! These exams do require concentration for a long period of time, and if like me its been a while since you last sat an exam the whole day can be pretty daunting. This may seem obvious, but if you find that you’ve missed a key bit of information on one question, put something down on the answer paper and move on to the next question.

If you are reading this and about to sit your exam, good luck! More importantly, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back once it is all over – whatever the outcome of the exam is, getting to the stage of sitting the exam at any level is an accomplishment.

‘Appy Mondays: Mondo

Have you been studying Japanese for a while but scared of reading articles in Japanese? Looking for a simple Japanese news aggregate app with dictionary lookup functionality? Then Mondo is definitely the app for you!

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I have had this app installed for some time, but after playing around with the app to understand more fully all of the features it has I can definitely recommend this to intermediate learners looking to improve their article reading skills. I have reviewed other reading apps before as part of this series, but what sets this app aside from these others is that it offers a better reading experience for learners by including dictionary lookup and a flashcard feature amongst other things. I’ve outlined some of the app’s main features below:

  • Article reading. All articles have a word lookup function when you highlight a word or phrase, and includes recording of its pronounciation by a native speaker. You can toggle furigana on or off, and some articles have links to the English translation to check your understanding of the Japanese text.
  • Vocabulary lists. Words you come across in articles can be bookmarked, which then can be viewed later and added to a vocabulary list. There are also preset lists, with lists such as all levels of the JLPT, Joyo (general use) kanji and business related language. You can then test yourself on this vocabulary in the form of electronic flashcards, Anki style. My only gripe with this is that with the preset lists testing from English to Japanese, the English terms can be so obtuse at times that coming up with the correct Japanese term can seem nearly impossible sometimes.
  • Handshake is a feature you can use to find Japanese language learning parterns. You can choose a partner by swiping right on the people you are interested in chatting with – if you get a mutual handshake, you’ve just found a language exchange partner! The obvious similarities to Tinder here have put me off trying this feature out, but it could be a good alternative to a dedicated app like Hello Talk.
  • Study log. When reading articles, the app measures how long it takes you to read the article, and how long you have spent reading in total. It also measures Characters per Minute (CPM) which is used as a benchmark for what level the app considers your language learning level to be at.

I think that the above features packed into one app for free represents a really good deal. It is worth mentioning that there is a premium version of the app, which gives you acccess to audio recordings of each article (the free version lets you listen to one article every fortnight) as well as short dialogues by native speakers and costs 480 yen per month. For 1800 yen per month, the premium membership also grants yo access to Japanese language teachers who are there to help you out with any Japanese related questions you may have. Given the prices, I am not sure if the premium membership represents good value for money, but as a free app I am impressed by its current offering.

Find out more about the app on the official website.

PS. If you are on the lookout for a similar type of reading app, check my previous reviews:

‘Appy Mondays – News Easy Japanese

‘Appy Mondays -NHK News Reader

Tadoku – reading your way to Japanese fluency?

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As someone who is an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases – if you get stuck on something, you simply move on. After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words you would have wanted to look up in a dictionary. You also get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language, or in a specialist field depending on the subject matter. Most importantly though, tadoku centres around fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.

Initially I was sceptical of the idea of not needing to look up every words I did not know, but I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try. Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read.

Finding reading materials

My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people favour translations of stories they are familiar with in English. I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko. I do recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free – I hope to do a follow up post on this on how to make the most of this amazing resource.

However what has been most effective for me is to read books relating to films/ dramas I have watched; examples of texts I am reading include Nodame Cantabile, 1 Litre of Tears and A Silent Voice. In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon where possible. If you do not mind bulk orders, I hear that both Amazon.jp and honto.jp ship internationally. If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards and navigate both the website and the app in English.

The best thing about these two websites above are that you can try before you buy; you can assess the registers and the style of language used and see if it is appropriate for your language level. Doing this has also led to me picking up some new material to read. Keep an eye out for my Manga Monday posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read.

Tracking your reading

If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful. This is similar to Goodreads where you can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read, post reviews and get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.

There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read intensively and would like to compete against others.

How have I been getting on so far?

At first, my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my 30 minute train journey to work. At first it was quite difficult, having started a new book that was not one that I was familiar with (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro, which is a really enjoyable book and accessible for JLPT N3 and above) and progress was slow. After a few days I had sped up considerably and was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in a foreign language.

For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning and how to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language – after all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to not lose my understanding of the language and this will certainly go a long way towards making this possible.

Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.

Japanese Onomatopoeia オノマトペ/擬態語/ 擬声語

If you’ve been exposed to Japanese for even the shortest period of time, you’ll have noticed that onomatopoeia (known as オノマトペ or 擬態語/ぎたいご or 擬声語/ぎせいご in Japanese) is very frequently used. Japanese in incredibly rich in vocabulary when it comes to onomatopoeia, and is used in a much broader sense than in English, and so it can pose a bit of a challenge for learners. Fortunately onotmatopoeia is the easiest type of vocabulary to remember if you bear the following in mind:

Types of onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia can be broadly split into 5 categories:

1. those that imitate a voice of some kind, e.g.

わんわん = a dog’s bark

おぎゃ= a baby’s cry

2. those that imitate a sound, e.g. 

どんどん = drumming or pounding sound

がちゃん = slamming or clanging sound

3. those that indicate a state or condition, e.g. 

ぐちゃぐちゃ= soggy

つるつる= smooth

  1. those that describe how an action is being performed

うろうろ = aimless, wandering

のろのろ = slow, sluggish

  1. those that indicate feelings or emotions

イライラする = to be irritated

びっくりする = to be surprised

Context is key to memorising them

Having example sentences, or remembering what kinds of situations these type of words are used in are essential for being able to memorise onomatopoeia and use them naturally in conversation. When I come across a new onomatopoeia I look it up in a dictionary or ask a friend to confirm the meaning, and then make a note of it in my vocabulary notebook. When I write it down in my notebook, I normally write it down as a phrase rather than the word on its own depending on what type of onomatopoeia it is.

This is because are very frequently used with certain verbs so it is best to memorise them together with the said verb. Others are formed into verbs by adding する, so remembering the onomatopoeia as a verb means you will know the meaning of it even when it appears without する.

わんわん吠(ほ)える = to bark

にこにこ笑( わら)う = to smile

Referring to a decent Japanese-English dictionary is fine for giving an idea of a rough meaning, although you may find that there is not a direct English translation. I also recommend the onomatopoeia dictionary on the Nihongo Resources website for getting the general meaning of onomatopoeia in English.

However if you are an intermediate learner, then I fully recommend going straight to a Japanese resource Sura Sura, which is a online Japanese onomatopoeia dictionary. It may not have every word you are looking for, but for the onomatopoeia it does have on the site there is a simple explanation in Japanese, accompanied by a photo which helps illuminate the meaning. Each onomatopoeia also has example sentences and notes on things like the etymology of the word and how it differs to others with a simiar meaning. Best of all, each page has a link to Twitter showing tweets from native speakers using the word you are looking up.

I also recommend the National Institute for Japanese Language and Lingustics website, in particular the マンガを読もう section which has some extremely helpful comic illustrations giving you an idea of what situations each word is used in.

The above two websites show just how useful it is to have visual context for learning how onomatopoeia is actually used. Pictures, manga and TV therefore are especially good places to these words in context, so sometimes I will either draw a picture (despite being terrible at drawing) or write down in my notebook where I have taken my example sentences from.

Have you got a handy way of remembering onomatopoeia? Let me know in the comments.

PS. Think you’ve got onomatopoeia down? Check out this video and see if you can spot them all! 

 

 

3 Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

Youtube is an amazing resource for language learning. So amazing, in fact, that it can be a bit difficult to know where to start. Whether you are looking for another resource to help explain a tricky grammar point, or are looking for short clips of people speaking real Japanese, there should be something for you on Youtube. I’ve introduced a few channels below that may be of some help:

Bilingirl Chika/ Japanagos

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Chika is a Japanese-American who produces Japanese and English language learning videos. Her main channel is aimed at Japanese speakers learning English, but I have found it to be a really good resource for picking up differences in language usage between English and Japanese. Chika is really engaging and I always find that I can learn something new from her videos.

She also has a separate channel for her Japanese language lessons and vlogs called Japanagos which is also a fun and educational channel. I recommend checking out Japanagos if you are new to Japanese, and moving on to her main Bilingirl channel if you are at intermediate level. She is often travelling so both channels are good if you would like to follow her vlogs.

Easy Languages – Japanese

Easy Lang Japanese

The Easy Languages Youtube channel covers a lot of different languages with a series of videos interviewing speakers of each language about different aspects of that language and the cultures connected to it. The Japanese series has 19 videos which are all about 5-6 minutes long.

I like this series as each video is fairly short, contains natural language and each video has Japanese (both kana and romaji) and English subtitles.

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Misa has some really great videos on fundamental aspects of Japanese grammar and usage. This is my top recommendation for beginners to the language as she has a very good way of explaining things.

She also has really useful videos on how to learn kana as well as Japanese study tips.

Nihongo no Mori

Nihongo no Mori

The Basic Japanese series is really helpful for clear and informative explanations of key grammar points for beginners.

If you are looking to take the JLPT N3 or above, this channel is full of great videos for you as well. There are videos aimed at the JLPT levels N3, N2 and N1 with each focusing on a different aspect of the JLPT test (reading, listening, grammar and vocabulary). A lot of the lessons cover differences between similar seeming grammar points, which is particularly useful for those pesky multiple choice questions.

 

If the above do not take your fancy, you may find that jumping into Japanese videos by searching the Japanese term for something that interests you is the way to go.

How has Youtube helped your language learning? Are there any channels that you think do a great job of promoting the Japanese language? Let me know in the comments!