Difficult Japanese words (for me to pronounce)

It is said that Japanese pronunciation is easy for native English speakers, but I think that this can make them complacent. Whilst a lot of sounds in Japanese also exist in English, there are still lots of differences between these sounds. This means that there are still quite a few difficult words to say in Japanese.

After reading this SoraNews24 article on the hardest Japanese words to pronounce, I had a think about the Japanese words that I find difficult with. My list is as follows:

暖かい あたたかい/ atatakai = warm 

笑われた わらわれた/ warawareta = was laughed at 

現れる あらわれる/ arawareru = to appear 

恋愛   れんあい/ ren’ai = love, romance 

範囲 はんい/ han’i = extent, scope 

全員 ぜんいん/ zen’in = all members 

婚約 こんにゃく/ kon’nyaku = engagement 

雰囲気 ふんいき/ fun’iki = mood, ambience 

遠慮 えんりょ/ en’ryo = hestitation, restraint

旅行 りょこう/ ryokou = travel 

料理 りょうり/ ryouri = cooking, cuisine 

This was actually a useful exercise for me, because it got me thinking about the types of sounds I need to keep working on to improve my pronunciation.

I then came across the following video by JapanesePod101 which brought up a lot of similar sounding words to my list.

I’m assuming a lot of these words are trickier for those that only speak English. However, I think 暖かい -> 暖かくなかった would be on most people’s lists – I can never remember if I have said enough た’s!

That word aside, I can pretty much characterise my difficult Japanese words into about three rough categories:

Words which mix w- and r- sounds:

  • 笑われた わらわれた was laughed at
  • 現れる あらわれる to appear

As a child, I always used to struggle with differentiating w- and r- sounds in English; for instance, I remember pronouncing “rainbow” as “wainbow” by accident quite a lot! This is quite common with young children and you usually grow out of it.

For some reason when it comes to Japanese I get tongue tied when I have to quickly switch between w- and r- sounds!

Words that have ‘n’ as a consonant in the middle

  • 恋愛 れんあい love
  • 範囲 はんい extent, scope
  • 全員 ぜんいん all members
  • 婚約 こんやく engagement
  • 雰囲気 ふんいき mood, ambience

‘N’ often sounds like its English counterpart, but depending on its position within words it can sound more like a ‘m’ or a ‘ng’.

This difference in sound reflects how the Japanese ‘n’ is more nasalised following certain sounds.

In addition, the other thing that I find difficult is not blending the sounds together when ‘n’ is followed by a vowel. For example, ‘renai’ should be pronounced so that the sounds ‘ren’ and ‘ai’ are separate – unfortunately it often comes out as ‘ren nai’ or ‘re nai’.

Words which have lots of r sounds, especially include ‘rya’/ ‘ryu’/ ‘ryo’

  • 旅行 りょこう travel
  • 料理 りょうり cooking

My pronunciation of the Japanese R has improved with some practice, but I struggle a lot with the ’rya’ and ‘ryo’ sounds in particular.

Words with ‘n’ followed by ‘r’

  • 遠慮 えんりょ reserve, constraint

Further examples – 心理 しんり/ state of mind, 管理 かんり/ management, control

The word 遠慮 combines two of my biggest pronunciation difficulties! Fortunately, Dogen explains how to pronounce this particular sound combination in this clip from his excellent pronunciation course.

Tips for tackling difficult Japanese words

As this is very much a work in progress for me, I am still looking at various methods to improve my pronunciation. There are a couple of things that I think are helping so far.

Train your ears and your mouth

Firstly, I’ve been reading about how I should be making the sounds in terms of mouth shape and tongue movement. When I listen to spoken Japanese now, I pay more attention to how the sounds are made, especially for difficult Japanese words.

I think that this ear training is an important first step in making your pronunciation more accurate. Dogen’s course mentioned above covers this in a lot of detail and is helping me a lot. I’ve also been dedicating some time to shadowing, which I am intending to write about in another post. I’ve been using Japanese tongue twisters as a warm up exercise!

Record myself and listen back to it

One thing I might do more often is to record myself speaking – as embarassing as it feels to do this, it is much easier to pick up on your own mistakes this way.

I’ve been learning Japanese for a relatively long time and so these bad pronunciation habits are probably ingrained into how I speak. For this reason, I am not expecting quick results and intend to focus on developing a regular pronunciation practice routine in order to improve how I sound in Japanese.

Remember, just because you find certain words difficult now doesn’t mean that you will never be able to pronounce them more accurately!

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I imagine that a lot of these words will be much easier for speakers of other languages. I often hear that Japanese pronunciation is easy for Spanish speakers.

Which words do you find difficult to pronounce? Do you think the languages you already speak help you with Japanese pronunciation? Let me know in the comments!

Kickstarting a new language learning habit

We are almost at the end of 2018 – can you believe it? It is naturally the time of year when we reflect on the last 12 months, and set our goals for 2019.

If you haven’t quite met your goals for this year, now is the perfect time to reset for next year. And what better way to do so than in the form of a language challenge?

Why do a language challenge?

Language challenges are a great way to develop new habits, which is ultimately the best way to achieve your goals. I like language challenges because they offer what often feels like an easier way to start a new habit. When you know that you only have to stick to something for one week or one month, it doesn’t feel as hard to get the motivation to keep going.

I think it’s a great way to get back into language learning if you’ve had a break for whatever reason (sometimes a break can be more beneficial than we think). There is also a sense of community around people doing the challenge at the same time, especially on social media.

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There are many types of language challenges out there. Some focus on developing a particular skill (eg. speaking), and some are more focused on exposing yourself to a language in some way every day. It’s worth having a look around to see if you can find a challenge that tackles one of your weak points.

You could always make up your own language challenge tailored to the skills/knowledge you want to work on. For example, you could set yourself a challenge to:

  • Learn x number of words
  • Watch x number of films/ episodes of a TV show
  • Speak for x minutes every day
  • Read x pages in your target language every day

How to make the most of your language challenge

Normally the first couple of days of a language challenge are super exciting, but as the reality of following the challenge hits it can be tricky actually complete them. These are some of the things that have really helped me with past language challenges:

  • Think about when you are going to dedicate time to complete the challenge

Have a think about the best time of day for you to dedicate to the challenge. It is very easy to start a challenge and then give up because you are too busy to actually finish! Take a look at your schedule and try to identify any so-called ‘dead time’ in your day, which could be spent more wisely on completing the challenge.

There are going to be certain days when you are busier than others. If there are any large events coming up, have an idea of how you might be able to work around it. There’s no harm in missing a day here and there should you not have the time – just add them on to the end of the challenge.

  • Think about what you want to achieve

This could simply be getting to the end of the challenge, which is absolutely fine!

Getting to the end of the challenge is can be the beginning of something bigger. I do think that pursuing a challenge is to bring about some sort of change in your way of thinking.

With languages, it could be something like getting the confidence to speak your target language, or getting a deeper understanding of the culture(s) that the language is connected. These are most likely going to be your motivators for actually getting to the end of the challenge.

  • Find a way to track your progress

I am really keen on tracking my progress with challenges in some way. This could be in the form of a bullet journal, crossing dates off in a calendar, or using an app. Having that visual representation of the challenge in front of you can be an extremely powerful thing for your motivation!

  • Keep in touch with others doing the challenge.

Social media hashtags provide a really good way of finding out how everyone else is doing. Sometimes it is that little extra push we get from seeing others in the same boat that helps you stay on track.

It is important to say that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others too much – ultimately your journey will be different from others, and there are some things that others may find easier than others and vice versa.

Even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the challenge, don’t beat yourself up. Always focus on the positives and if needed use the opportunity to think about approaching things differently next time.

List of Language Challenges

Here is a list of language challenges out there that I know of:

General Language Challenges

Eurolinguiste Language Learning Challenge (general language learning challenge)

Joyoflanguages Language Diary Challenge (speaking)

Lindsay Does Languages Instagram Language Challenge (speaking/writing)

30 Day Record Yourself Challenge (speaking)

Italki Language Challenge (speaking/ tutoring)

Noun Verb Adjective Challenge (writing – I’ve written about this challenge here*)

Japanese Language Specific Challenges

Manga Sensei’s 30 day Japanese Challenge (for complete beginners)

LearnJapanesePod’s 5 day Japanese Self Introduction Challenge

JapanesePod101’s 10 day Hiragana Challenge and 10 day Katakana Challenge

JTalkOnline’s Improve Japanese Reading Challenge (2-week challenge)

Kotobites 30-day Writing Challenge (writing, but you could use it for speaking too!)

I know that the above list is only scratching the surface of the many challenges out there. If there are any cool language challenges you have come across, please let me know in the comments so that I can add them to the list!

Studying languages more effectively with the Pomodoro technique

I have a confession to make – I am a serial procrastinator. As much as I love learning Japanese and blogging, there are days when I can’t seem to get round to doing either of them. There are also days when I set quite a lot of time aside to write a blog post for example, but only end up with a half-finished post.

If I am honest with myself, my lack of productivity on days like this is normally because of two things:

  1. I haven’t thought through what my goal actually is and what I need to get it done
  2. I pick up my phone to check an email and somehow end up wasting time on somewhere like Facebook/ Twitter/ Reddit

Fortunately, the Pomodoro technique has helped to reduce my “bad productivity days” not only with blogging but with language learning too!

About the Pomodoro technique

Pomodoro is the Italian word for ‘tomato’. The Pomodoro technique is a reference to those tomato shaped timers used for cooking.

Time management expert Francesco Cirillo came up with the Pomodoro technique which has 6 easy steps:

  1. Choose a task you’d like to get done
  2. Set the Pomodoro for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings
  4. When the Pomodoro rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. Take a short break (5 minutes)
  6. Every 4 Pomodoros, take a long break (usually 20 minutes)

Benefits of the Pomodoro technique

There are numerous benefits to the Pomodoro technique:

  • It’s easier to get focused and stay focused – 25 minutes is long enough to get things done, but not so long that you get bored.
  • Avoid distractions such as social media (you can check them on your breaks of course!).
  • Short breaks give your brain time to recharge – studying for a long time without breaks is counterproductive.
  • You soon work out how much time you need to dedicate to longer tasks. This is especially good if you have a deadline coming up!
  • Easy to track how time has been spent. This is to make sure that you are spending time working towards the goals that are relevant to you.

I had been using the Pomodoro technique for certain tasks that I struggle to motivate myself for such as tidying my room. It was only recently that I realised that it can be easily applied to language learning too.

Language learning requires a lot of energy. Sustaining the level of concentration needed to study effectively becomes more difficult over longer study sessions. From my own experience, studying for long periods of time without a proper break usually leads to frustration and burnout.

How I use Pomodoro for languages

For me, the Pomodoro technique is particularly useful when I am working towards specific goals, such as studying grammar for the JLPT or working on improving my pronunciation. For regular daily study, I have a series of mini goals that I spend 10-15 minutes on (see my Habits over Goals post).

I particularly struggle with studying for the JLPT. Finding the motivation to study grammar, drill vocab and do mock tests can be extremely difficult, even when the test is only a few days away. This is an example of how I am using Pomodoros for my JLPT prep (I am working towards the JLPT N1 exam in December):

Before I start a session, I decide on a specific goal and how I am going to achieve the goal.

For example, I will spend 25 minutes reviewing JLPT grammar points from my Kanzen Master textbook. I usually stick to one learning resource only, as referring to more than one usually leads to procrastination.

I then set the timer to 25 minutes and prepare to study

At this point, I also make sure I have my noise-canceling headphones, some water, and any other tools I might need within easy reach.

I choose to listen to music during my Pomodoro study sessions. I always used to find music distracting. But I realised that I absolutely cannot listen to music with words, because I usually start singing along! There are some great instrumental videos on Youtube if you search “study music”. My personal favourite things to listen to are Ghibli soundtracks and chilled hip hop.

Work on task for 25 mins, then take a short break

As soon as I start playing my study music, I know it’s time to get focused!

Sometimes I extend the Pomodoro length to 30 or 35 minutes if I feel like I am in deep focus, and taking a break after 25 minutes would be counterproductive. If I do this, then I usually reduce the number of Pomodoros accordingly.

I make sure that on my breaks that I physically get up and take a short walk, drink some water and grab a snack if I am hungry.

Complete 3 or 4 Pomodoros, then take a long break.

Review progress made and make notes for next session

I think it is important to look back on your session and review any issues you came across. The questions that I often ask myself include:

Did I identify some kanji/ vocabulary that I need to review?

Do I need to refer to another resource to clarify my understanding of a grammar point?

By doing this, I can make adjustments for my next session that will help me work more effectively.

How I track my Pomodoros

One of the best things about the Pomodoro technique is that the only tool you need is a timer. Having said that, there are a lot of apps out there that can help with tracking your Pomodoro sessions. Here are a couple of apps that I personally use:

Google Chrome Extension – Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant

I use Google Chrome as my browser, and there is a simple but extremely useful Chrome extension called Marinara that I use for blogging (as I normally need to be connected to the internet!)

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The icon on the far right shows a Pomodoro in progress

By clicking on the Marinara icon I can jump straight into a Pomodoro session. When each session is done, I get a popup to remind me to take a short or long break depending on how many Pomodoros I have completed.

Marinara has a countdown timer, which I find motivating when I feel my concentration slipping – knowing that I only have a couple of minutes to go helps to keep me going!

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You can adjust the length of the Pomodoros and how the extension alerts you to the end of a Pomodoro if you wish. Marinara also tracks your Pomodoro activity which is quite nice too.

Pomotodo App (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows)

When it comes to offline Japanese study sessions, I make use of Pomotodo. By creating an account, you can make to-do lists and track Pomodoros completed; these can then be synced to track your productivity across multiple platforms.

Pomotodo also has a few other useful features. For example, the mobile version allows you to block the use of certain apps whilst a Pomodoro is in progress. You can set daily, weekly or monthly goals and also see what times of the day or week you are most productive

Pomotodo is very user-friendly and I love the clean, simple design. The app is free but has a Pro version costing $3.90 per month – I don’t think that the Pro version adds enough value to be worth purchasing it though.

Using the Pomodoro technique has confirmed to me that the most important thing is not the length of time spent on a task, but rather how you use the time spent. Defining what goals you have and how you are going to achieve them is also key to using your time effectively. I only wish I had come across this technique before I last took the JLPT!

Do you have any time management hacks (for language learning or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments!

Stay motivated learning Japanese with these 7 tips

It’s always exciting when you first begin studying a language. However, as time goes on it is easy to forget how to stay motivated learning Japanese.

Learning Japanese is a long journey, with a bit of a steep learning curve. There will be times when we lack the willpower to keep going. I’ve been a little bit unwell recently and after a few days rest I have found it hard to start studying Japanese again.

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

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Watch a video of something that reminds you why you started learning Japanese 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 or reading a book is a great way of getting and staying motivated learning Japanese.

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 Japanese language 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 most important part. With more practice you will learn what sounds more natural.

When you want to stay motivated studying Japanese in particular, 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. It is also a great incentive to keep studying.

This is one reason why journalling in a foreign language is a great idea. It is so easy to look back through your journal and see all the new things you have learned!

Having taken some time away from studying Japanese, I do tend to think about the words I used to know. 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 your current study routine. It is incredibly difficult to stay motivated learning Japanese when you have too many flashcard reviews or grammar points to learn. 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, causing you unnecessary stress. Instead, try setting 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.

Taking a different approach to your learning such as the Pomodoro technique has really helped me to have more effective Japanese study sessions too.

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 can help. 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 that I turn to when I need to stay motivated learning Japanese.

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 practice my writing skills.

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. When working towards a bigger goal like the JLPT, I tend to treat myself if I’ve hit my smaller 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. Somtimes 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!

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 Aidzuchi (filler words)

We all have moments when we are struggling for that word or phrase during a conversation – but how do we express that in Japanese?

In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called aidzuchi (相槌/ あいづち). Aidzuchi does not translate well into English but refers to filler words, such as um, erm, like, well that we use all the time when speaking to keep the flow of a conversation going.

Some examples of filler words you might hear include:

へー, うん, え, うわ, そうですね, さすが, なるほど, その通り, 本当に, やっぱり

These short words or phrases do not necessarily have a distinct meaning on their own but are super powerful phrases for Japanese learners to make use of. There’s nothing worse than producing an accurate sentence in Japanese, only to end up saying the distinctly un-Japanese “erm” in the middle of it!

When used well, it has the double benefit of increasing the fluency of your speech, whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.

Compared to English, aidzuchi 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 necessarily mean you agree with it). Nodding also counts as aidzuchi!

 

Types of Filler Words

They can serve several purposes in Japanese:

  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, まったくです
  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

This video by Wakuwaku Japanese gives a great overview of useful aidzuchi you can drop in to casual conversation:

 

Common Japanese Filler Words

Here are some of the most common filler words you will encounter:

あの/ ano

This is often used at the start of a sentence when trying to get someone’s attention, as in “Excuse me”. It is also often used instead of “um” in the middle of speech.

 

はい・ええ・うん (hai/ ee / un)

As in “yes”, but really just used to indicate that you are listening (think “uh-huh” in English).

 

そうですね/ sou desu ne

This phrase (and variants of it) can have many purposes. In the context of a conversation it often means “yes, I hear your point of view”.

 

It can also be used when someone has asked a question and you are thinking of an answer (like えぇと below).

 

えぇと/ eeto

This little word is basically used in place of “Hmm” or “let me see”, ie. used when thinking about what to say next.

 

へー・えー・うわ (hee / eee/ uwa)

Used when expressing surprise and/or shock at something

 

本当(ほんとう)・まじで (hontou/ majide)

Both of these phrases mean “really” used to express surprise. まじで is more casual sounding of the two.

 

なるほど・そうなんです (naruhodo / sou nan desu)

Used when you have been given an explanation for something – could be translated along the lines of “I see”, “I get it” or “That makes sense”.

 

やっぱり/ yappari

やっぱり is a more casual form of やはり. It is often used in response to something you expected to hear.

This word can have different nuances depending on the situation – this post by Maggie Sensei explains it better than I can!

 

確かに(たしかに)/ tashika ni

This phrase means “surely” or “certainly” and shows that you agree with the speaker’s opinion.

 

その通り(そのとおり)/ sonotoori

This is used to express agreement what the other speaker has said and has the meaning of “exactly” or “that’s right”.

 

Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful aidzuchi when chatting with a friend.

Line Stamp Chocotto

Source: https://twitter.com/CHOCOTTO16

So the next time you are practicing Japanese conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some aidzuchi!

***One thing to note: as in English, the overuse of filler words tends to come across as very casual. For this reason, I would refrain from using too much aidzuchi in formal situations and with people senior to you.

A good way to show that you are listening to what is being said without using aidzuchi is to paraphrase what the speaker has said, and end the sentence with ね (“right”). This is also a great way to confirm that you have understood information correctly as a language learner!

 

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.

Engrish_Example

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.

beer-1669298_1920beer-1669298_1920beer-1669298_1920

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

beer-1669298_1920

Or you can change the counter itself…

ビールを三本 (さんぼん/sanbon) ください

duff-872502_1920duff-872502_1920duff-872502_1920

(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

water-1585192_1920water-1585192_1920water-1585192_1920

(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!

Screenshot 2017-09-02 at 18.15.23

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)], 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!

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 14.14.02.png

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.

 

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 14.20.33

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.

 

Screenshot 2017-08-19 at 14.24.01

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.