YouTube spotlight – 2 channels to watch if you’re learning Japanese

I’m always on the lookout for YouTube channels that are useful for Japanese studies. This post is a follow up to other posts I have written about Youtube channels for Japanese study:

I wanted to put together a quick post about a couple of channels I have found recently that I think are particularly good for Japanese learners.

Great for beginners: Nami Ohara

Nami Ohara is a Japanese teacher based in Newfoundland, Canada. I discovered her videos some time ago and strongly recommend them to Japanese beginners.

I am a big fan of her videos which help introduce different aspects of Japanese culture and traditions. In these videos, two young children called Kyoko and Kenta ask their teacher (Ohara sensei) about the topic of the video.

The videos are all in Japanese but have furigana readings and English meanings for the vocabulary and phrases used in the videos. I think these are a great way to practice your Japanese listening and learn some new words at the same time. The speech of these videos is much more natural Japanese than what you might encounter in textbooks, so you get used to Japanese as it is actually spoken.

If you are studying towards the JLPT, then you might be interested in her JLPT listening practice videos. These are in the same format as the listening questions you will encounter in the final exam. She currently has listening practice videos for JLPT N5 up to and including N2.

Besides the JLPT specific videos, there are a number of listening quiz videos aimed at beginners too. Each video is based on a different theme such as nationality and age.

If you want to learn some children’s songs, there’s plenty to be found on the channel too!

Clearly, a lot of effort goes into her videos, and I hope that by posting about her channel more Japanese students will discover her content.

Japanese grammar explanations in simple Japanese: Sambon Juku

Sambon Juku is a YouTube channel mainly run by Akkie, a Japanese language teacher. I first learned about this channel through a video collaboration he did with YouTuber Kemushi-chan. After checking out his channel, I can highly recommend it to Japanese learners!

Akkie has a number of videos covering various topics relating to Japanese study. Most of his videos are explanations for different Japanese grammar points. Akkie’s videos are all in Japanese but he explains everything in a very clear manner and is very easy to understand.

If you are an upper beginner and above, I think you will find the grammar videos particularly useful. Having said that, videos on this channel all have subtitles in both English and Japanese. This means all Japanese learners can understand the explanations whilst getting some listening practice.

For example, the above video on the differences between は and が is wonderful and probably the best I have come across on this topic, summarising the key differences in usage with plenty of examples.

The channel also has a growing number of videos covering JLPT grammar points for levels N3, N2 and N1. If you like the channel Nihongo no Mori, then you will likely enjoy this series as well.

I always like to look at different explanations of the same grammar point. Sometimes the way one textbook or website describes things can be unclear, or not have enough example sentences to understand certain nuances.

JLPT videos only have Japanese subtitles, but there are normally two sets (one with kanji and kana, one with kana only) which allows you to find the readings for any words you want to look up.

It just so happens that the two channels I’ve covered today have JLPT specific content, but I really think anyone studying Japanese can find some value in the videos!

What are your favourite YouTube channels? Let me know in the comments!

The Best Japanese foods to eat in Winter

Winter in Japan brings with it a whole host of seasonal dishes that often make for the ultimate comfort food. Having lived in the northern island of Hokkaido, I quickly learned that eating the right dishes were essential to surviving the long winter!

Here are just a few Japanese dishes that I recommend eating to keep warm in the cold season.

Nabe (鍋) – hotpot goodness perfect for winter in Japan

鍋 (なべ) itself means ‘cooking pot’, but is more generally used to refer to one pot dishes that are made in the pot, which are usually soups and stews – perfect for winter. These large pots are normally used to cook nabe dishes on top of a portable stove.

Ishikari_nabe_by_naotakem.jpg (800×600)
Ishikari (Hokkaido) style nabe with ikura/ fish roe. Source: naotakem CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Cooking nabe is often a very social event where a group of people gather around the table to eat. Everyone adds ingredients to the pot before enjoying their freshly cooked meal. If you have the chance to go to a nabe party, go – it is a great experience!

There are a few well-known types of nabe, including ちゃんこ鍋/ chankonabe (a hearty stew famously eaten by sumo), and 湯豆腐/ yudofu (a simple dish of tofu simmered in a konbu seaweed broth, usually served with ponzu sauce). Nabe also varies by region, such as the Ishikari (Hokkaido) style nabe featured above.

This post is going on focus on three of the most popular nabe dishes: sukiyaki, shabushabu and oden.

すき焼き Sukiyaki

Sukiyaki consists of thinly sliced beef and other vegetables, cooked in a broth made from a mix of soy sauce, sugar and mirin. Ingredients often used in sukiyaki are tofu, cabbage, mushrooms (shiitake, enoki) and spring onions.

Cookingsukiyaki.jpg (480×384)
Source: Kapichu [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons

Once cooked, the beef can be dipped into raw egg just before eating. At the end, udon noodles or mochi can be added to soak up the remaining broth.

Being a winter dish, it often makes an appearance at 忘年会 (ぼうねんかい bounenkai/ end of year parties).

しゃぶしゃぶ Shabushabu

Shabushabu might just be my personal favourite, and it is not just because of the name! Shabushabu gets its name from an onomatopoeic term referring to the process of boiling the meat and vegetables which constitute the dish.

It is important that the meat used is sliced thinly – this allows it to cook in the boiling water in a matter of seconds. You can then dip the meat in a sauce before eating: popular sauces include ponzu and gomadare (sesame sauce).

Chef Mako Okano explains shabushabu in this great video which showcases the types of foods that tend to be used.

A lot of places offer shabushabu 食べ放題 (たべほうだい/tabehoudai – all you can eat) for 60 mins or more for a good price. This makes shabushabu an economic choice in the winter, even for large groups of people.

おでん Oden

Being both filling and warming, oden is the perfect winter food.

Oden is one of the oldest nabe dishes, as it’s origins can be traced back to the 18th century. It is a dish consisting of boiled eggs and vegetables simmered in a soy flavoured dashi broth. There are regional variations, but the most common ingredients are daikon radish, potatoes, chikuwa fishcakes and konnyaku noodles.

The above video takes you through some of the many things you can add to your oden dish!

Oden can be eaten at specialist oden restuarants and traditional yatai stalls, but nowadays can also be found at convenience stores, supermarkets and even vending machines.

冷たーい_アサヒ生ビール_2016-12_(31507528706).jpg (4704×3136)
You can buy oden from a range of places, but it is hard to beat the traditional yatai food stall experience! Source: Keiichi Yasu [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Winter snacks to keep you warm

If you aren’t quite hungry enough for a whole meal, you often pick up other warm Japanese snacks at street stalls or convenience stores:

肉まん Nikuman

Nikuman are steamed pork buns – basically the Japanese version of Chinese baozi. The buns are made from a flour-based dough, and the filling is usually made with pork, spring onions and shiitake mushrooms. You can buy these cheaply from convenience stores, where they are kept nice and hot!

Nikuman_Kagurazaka.jpg (5184×2916)
These nikuman are a bit more expensive than what you would find at the convenience store! Source: Japanexperterna (CCBYSA) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

The nikuman pictured above are more traditional, but convenience stores often do special types of nikuman, including ピザまん (pizza flavour nikuman),  カレーまん (curry nikuman). Each store has their own unique flavours, so it is well worth visiting a few different places to see the many varieties available!

焼き芋 Yakiimo

Sometimes the simplest foods are the best ones, and yakiimo is a great example of this. Yakiimo literally means ‘baked potatoes’. Imo are Japanese sweet potatoes, which have purple skin and are sweeter tasting than their Western counterparts.

Supermarket's_Yakiimo_in_Japan_2010.jpg (821×1095)
Source: Kanesue [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

In the colder months, there are usually street vendors and little food trucks that sell freshly baked yakiimo.

Not only are Japanese sweet potatoes delicious when baked, but they are also known for having many health benefits – I recommend trying them at least once!

焼き餅 Grilled Mochi

Mochi (rice cakes) are a popular snack all year round but is especially popular in the New Year period. They can be eaten in many forms, but a nice way to eat in winter is to grill it, which is known as yakimochi (meaning ‘grilled/ baked mochi’).

I became a little bit obsessed with yakimochi after I was first introduced to it. All you need to do is grill the mochi until it is toasted and has expanded. The gooey warmth of mochi when it is grilled makes it a lovely snack to warm you up in the winter!

I hope this post inspires you to try one of these dishes if you haven’t already. There are a lot of various Japanese ingredients mentioned in this post – if you want to learn more, I suggest checking out the following websites:

Japan Visitor’s Food Glossary

NHK World’s Japanese Food Glossary

Japanese Cooking 101

What is your favourite winter dish (Japanese or otherwise)? Please tell me in the comments!

10 Instagram Accounts to follow if you’re learning Japanese

To be honest, I had been putting off joining Instagram because I thought it was too hipster and filter heavy for me. However, I recently decided to join the platform on a whim. Fortunately, I have found it to be a great resource so far for learning Japanese.

Instagram has over 800 million users, and from my experience so far, the language learning community on there is very active and friendly. In the short time I have been using the platform, I’ve have been able to:

  • learn about new language resources
  • get Japanese manga and novel recommendations
  • learn or revise helpful Japanese phrases
  • find daily motivation for my language learning motivation

…amongst other things. You can also change the language to Japanese if you want to immerse yourself a bit more!

How can language learners use Instagram?

Learn and revise vocabulary

Being a highly visual medium, I think that Instagram is particularly good for learning vocabulary. Using images alongside vocabulary is a great way to help memorise them, which is of course where Instagram shines. Instagram allows you to do short videos, which you can use to practice your speaking skills too.

Find posts on topics that interest you in your target language

The heavy use of hashtags on Instagram can be considered annoying, but you can use hashtags to find people and posts that relate to topics you care about.

Make sure to get involved!

Moreover, the Instagram community is all about engagement – commenting is a great way to practice your language skills and maybe even make friends! There is also a translate feature if you get stuck understanding a post or comment.

A word of warning though… Instagram is very centered on aesthetic and it is easy to waste time looking at the many pictures of cute stationery, cups of tea/coffee and grammar textbooks. Don’t let scrolling through Instagram become a replacement for other types of study!

With that said, here are 10 Instagram accounts that I highly recommend to those studying Japanese.

1) j_aipon – Particularly helpful for Japanese newbies

This account is run by a Japanese girl who likes to post content for beginner Japanese learners. Her posts are mostly simple sentences covering key grammar points and vocabulary. Some of these posts have audio of example sentences too.

All of her posts have romaji, so if you have just finished learning hiragana and katakana, this is a good place to start (until you feel more comfortable reading kana – which can take more time than you think!).

Her Youtube channel has some videos on learning kana, as well as simple Japanese listening practice too.

2) You Know Japanese – Learn katakana words

Loanwords can be surprisingly tricky for Japanese learners, but I think that overall words in katakana are a quick and easy way to acquire vocabulary in Japanese. This account will help you get to grips with the many, many words written in katakana that are borrowed from English.

If you have just finished learning katakana, these posts are a good way to practice your reading (there is romaji if you get stuck too)!

3) JapanesePod101 – Learn themed vocabulary and useful phrases

JapanesePod101’s podcasts are a fun resource (although they come at a cost). You may not know that their Instagram page is full of cute images with useful and practical phrases for Japanese learners.

I really like the posts where the vocabulary is centered around a specific theme, which is nice for short and sweet study sessions.

4) NihongoLingo – learn Japanese slang!

View this post on Instagram

まさか | No Way! 😭😪😍 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• 意味 | Meaning: Something you cannot believe, 信じられないこと。 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• *Apologies in advance for the long post* 😯 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• ちょっと長いメッセージを乗せてごめんなさい。😌 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• I want to thank YOU for following this Instagram 😭. I post these photos because I want to change the way that English or Japanese is taught. I think that learning native-level slang is essential to sounding and interacting like a native-level speaker. I started this project 5 months ago, but I know I’m helping you guys grow, because you’ve told me. Your support goes a long way, and for that I am always grateful. This weekend we are releasing something VERY special, and I hope you are looking forward to it 🙂 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• このページをフォローしてくれてる皆さん、本当にありがとうございます。5ヶ月前にこのプロジェクトを作ったばかりですが、英語や日本語を勉強してる人のためになっていれば嬉しいです。アカウントを作った理由は自分の経験から、どんな言語を勉強していても、その言語のスラングを習うことは必要だと思ったからです。いつもサポートしてくれてありがとうございます。今週末ぐらいに特別なことをreleaseするからストーリーで見てくださいね。😊 ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• Be sure to watch our stories for updates (^-^) ••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••• #igersjp #igersjapan #lovejapan #instajapan #nihongo #learnjapanese #studyjapanese #Japanese #Jepang #JLPT #english #nihongo #nihongoclass #japaneselesson #learningjapanese #sensei #japaneselanguage #日本 #日本語 #英語 #先生 #学生 #ญี่ปุ่น #японский #Nhật #japonais #일본어 #nihongolingo

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If you want to brush up on your Japanese slang, then this is the account for you! Each post covers a slang word in Japanese with the English meaning.

I like that each post has explanations of the word/phrase in both Japanese languages, along with examples and a fun image. This gives you a range of options on how to study, especially if you like to make your own flashcards.

5) Daily Kanji – Daily kanji vocabulary

As the name suggests, posts from this account are all to do with kanji vocabulary. Each word include furigana, romaji and English translations. The images that come with the vocabulary are all from anime, which is another plus if you are a fan!

6) Yoko.illustrations888888 – casual phrases in Japanese and English

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今日のひとことはこちら!(4枚あります) 1. Maybe I’ll have a beer.(メイビー アイル ハヴ ア ビア) ビールを頼もうかな(びーる を たのもう かな/BI-RU O TANOMOU KANA) . 2….. . 3….! . 4. Actually on second thought I’ll just have a soda.(アクシュアリー オン セカンド ソウト アイル ジャスト ハヴ ア ソーダ) でも やっぱり ソーダにしよう。(でも やっぱり そーだ に しよう/DEMO YAPPARI SO-DA NI SHIYOU) . Actually on second thought(アクシュアリー オン セカンド ソウト)は、 「(でも)やっぱり🙄」という意味です。 . 最初に考えていたことを考え直して、 「でもやっぱり〇〇にしようかな」と言いたい時に使います。 . ちなみに会話文では省略して、 ”Actually…..” だけでも、 ”on second thought…. “だけでも、 「やっぱり…しよう!」という言い方に出来ます。 . ただ、文章で書く際は、Actually on second thought と、両方書くようにしましょう。 . ちなみに今日の文章は、私がポートランドで主催する、日本語と英語会話の練習ミートアップで、アメリカ人のメンバーの方に教えていただきました😇(ありがたや〜) . よくアメリカ人は会話の中で、 “…..though.” (ゾウ/even though とか、although の略) を文末に付けるんですが、未だにこのthoughが使いこなせないので文章例などを教えてもらいました🤫 . 『これ使えると格好いいのになー🤤』と個人的に思ってるので、いずれマスターしたらイラストにしたいと思います。笑 . そしてついでにこの”on second thought “も教えてもらいました。(上の文あんま関係なかった🙄) . 文章をメモしてきて、あとで家でイラストを付けたんですが、結果4枚にもなってしまいました。見づらかったらすみません😵個人的には楽しかったです😇 . さて、いよいよ本日の投稿で1週間連続して投稿した(はず)なので、これからはぼちぼちマイペースで投稿していこうと思います😎 . イラストを描くぞー!😙と意気込むと、意識して英語のフレーズを吸収しようと頭が働くので、これからもあまり間を空けずに描いていこうと思います🤯 . いつも見てくださって本当にありがとうございます!😇 これからもどうぞよろしくお願いいたします!🤗 . #onsecondthought #actually #though #japanesephrases #japanese #nihongo #penguin #japaneseart #manga #bar #animal #英語 #カッコいい #アメリカ人 #ミートアップ #meetup #ポートランド #日本人 #留学 #語学学校 #語学留学 #留学生 #visitjapan #ハリウッド映画 #洋画 #海外ドラマ #ビール #動物 #モブ #漫画

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Yoko is a Japanese person living in Portland, Oregon in the US. Yoko illustrates casual but useful sentences in Japanese and English (with furigana and romaji too!). These sentences are written in a very natural way in both languages. I love the illustrations a lot too!

7) Kisslingo – Great for JLPT and writing practice

The Kisslingo account covers useful Japanese words, phrases and grammar. If you are working towards the JLPT, I would look out for their JLPT question practice posts too.

I particularly like their writing prompt posts where they share a picture and ask you to describe what is happening in the photo in Japanese. This is a great way to practice your Japanese writing, no matter what your language level. What’s more, someone from the Kisslingo team will correct your Japanese for you!

8) Kannoooaya – daily Japanese phrases

Like Yoko mentioned above, Aya posts illustrations of phrases in both Japanese and English pretty much every day. The posts are aimed at Japanese people learning English – but since she includes furigana, Japanese learners can also use them to study.

9) Nihongo Flashcards – Japanese onomatopoeia

I’ve written before about how important onomatopoeia is in Japanese. If you are looking to improve your knowledge of these words, this account is for you.

I love the cute illustrations. The words also have explanations and example sentences which help to show how the onomatopoeia is used!

10) Everyday debudori – short comics on everyday life

For more advanced Japanese learners (no furigana used here), following this account allows you to read short comics based on everyday life. I find these little comics both relatable and funny, and the images help fill in the context of any words or phrases I am less sure of.

So that’s it for today’s post. Please follow the blog’s Instagram at @kotobitesjp if you do use the platform!

Do you use Instagram for language learning? If so, how? Let me know in the comments 🙂

japanese_study_instagram_accounts

Clozemaster Review

I strongly believe that studying with sentences is an effective way to learn new vocabulary. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend checking out Clozemaster – a website and app that is built around this concept.

What is Clozemaster?

Clozemaster is designed to complement the use of other sentence based language learning apps like Duolingo. There are a huge variety of language pairs available, with new ones being added all the time!

The “cloze” of Clozemaster relates to a cloze deletion test, where you are given a sentence with a missing word and you need to identify what the missing word is. Cloze tests are therefore a great method of learning to use words and grammar in context.

How does Clozemaster work?

Each language has its own bank of sentences, the number of which does vary depending on the language pair. For many of the popular languages, you can follow the Fluency Fast Track, which is designed to cover the most frequently used words in that language. In the free version, clicking ‘PLAY’ will start a round of 10 sentences to review.

As I mentioned above, Clozemaster is all about filling in the correct missing word from a sentence.

For example, you are given a sentence in Japanese, and with a specific word missing. The clue for the missing word will be in the English translation of the sentence.

You have the option of multiple choice or text input before you start each round. If you are in text input mode and get stuck, just click on the “?” button to the right of the Japanese sentence to view the 4 multiple choice options.

Writing the correct answer earns you points – the closer you are to mastering the word, the more points you earn. Text input gives you twice as much points compared to multiple choice, so this is what I choose unless I only have a very short time to practice.

At the end of each round, you get some quick stats on how you did:

As you can see from the image above, you can set yourself a daily points target and email reminders to get in your daily practice too. My daily goal is 200 points currently, but I normally aim for 500-1000 depending on how much time I have.

Studying using the Play button is for learning new words (although some words that you have encountered before will appear too). For words that you have seen before, you will want to click on Review instead.

The Review function is based on spaced repetition intervals like those used in Anki and Memrise – the more often you answer correctly, the longer it will be before you see that same sentence again. Reviews tend to earn you a lot more points than studying new sentences.

Cloze Listening – listening practice with sentences

Clozemaster also has a listening practice feature called Cloze Listening, as shown above. To access this, click Play and then choose “Listening” from the drop-down menu (the default is vocabulary). Cloze Listening is where you hear the sentence first, then have to fill in the missing word in the sentence.

I think this makes for great listening practice as well as for learning vocabulary in context. Unfortunately, having a free account only allows you to do one round of 10 sentences to do every day.

Leaderboards and levelling up

The points you earn from your study sessions allow you to level up. Every time you do level up you get a fun little gif as a reward, which never fails to put a smile on my face! There are two types of levelling up – one for your whole account and one that relates specifically to each of the language pairs you study.

Every language pair has its own set of leaderboards, where you can try and score the most points for that week. I didn’t think that I would care about scoring highly on the leaderboard at first. However, if there is someone I am close to overtaking, I will do the extra reviews to move up the leaderboard!

The Clozemaster App

I tend to use the web version of Clozemaster, but there are apps available for iOS and Android. I have used the Android app and I do not have much to say about it. I mean that as a good thing – because I have not had any issues using it at all.

The fairly plain style of the website translates well into an app, and having the app is really convenient for a quick study session. It is synced to your account, so it is easy to switch between the website and the app if you need to.

Make sure you have some sort of Japanese keyboard installed so that you can type in Japanese. From what I can see, there is no support for romaji in direct input mode when using the app.

Clozemaster Pro comes with extra handy features

Clozemaster is another freemium site – it is free to sign up and practice any language. However, you need the Pro version to do things such as:

  • Customise the number of reviews you want to do in each session and control how often you review new words.
  • Get unlimited access to cloze listening practice
  • Download the Fluency Fast Track sentences or sentences you mark in your Favourites for offline study.
  • View more stats related to your study sessions
  • The ability to click on any word and search for the meaning using Google Translate
  • Get access to additional features such as Cloze-Reading, Cloze Collections and Pro Groupings.

Cloze-Reading is designed to help you boost your reading skills. This is where there are several missing words from a native piece of text in your target language which you then need to fill in.

The Cloze Collections function is in beta currently, but allows you to curate your own bank of sentences. This can be a mixture of sentences from within Clozemaster and sentences that you add yourself. I think this would be especially useful for language pairs that do not have a large number of sentences already on Clozemaster.

Pro Groupings allows you to break down the large bank of sentences into smaller ones. For Japanese, Pro Groupings gives you the ability to focus your learning on words from different levels of the JLPT.

Pros and Cons of Clozemaster for learning Japanese

After using the free version of Clozemaster for a couple of months, I have found it to have more pros than cons:

Pros

  • A huge range of languages to choose from
  • Sentences use words in order of frequency, so you learn important words first
  • Able to expose yourself to a range of sentence patterns
  • Can practice both reading and listening skills
  • Review intervals are spaced to help you retain vocabulary
  • If you’re competitive, the leaderboard will motivate you to get your score as high as possible

Cons

  • Japanese sentences and English translations are taken from the Tatoeba database, which is known for not being 100% accurate.
  • You have to type most vocabulary in kanji (as opposed to hiragana), which might be difficult for complete newcomers to Japanese.
  • No audio for Japanese within the vocabulary review section yet (this does exist for the most common language pairs)

Overall thoughts

I’m sure that the cloze deletion sentences can be replicated in something like Anki easily, which is what I would recommend to people who like a high degree of customisation. There are also excellent websites such as Delvin Language and Supernative which are specifically for Japanese and do have audio to go with their sentences.

However, for me Clozemaster is great because of the gamification aspect, as well as the fact I can practice on the go via the app. I would also give Clozemaster a go if you are learning (or maintaining proficiency in) a number of languages, as it is super simple to switch between languages and track your progress in each.

I really like Clozemaster, but I am not sure that for Japanese the features are fully fleshed out enough for me to justify the subscription cost of $8 per month at the moment. Having said that, there are new features being built into Clozemaster all of the time and I will certainly keep an eye out for any which might change my mind.

The good thing about Clozemaster is that you do not even have to sign up to try out the site – just choose a language pair and click Play to get started (which is what I did for a few days before even signing up)!

Whether you find that Clozemaster is useful for you or not, one thing I recommend checking out is the Language Challenge of the Day (or LCOD for short). These little challenges are fun ways to use your target languages in different ways every day.

Do you use Clozemaster? Do you find the website/ app useful? Please let me know in the comments!

Easy Manga Recommendation: Tsuredure Children

Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Tsuredure Children/ Tsuredure Chirudoren (徒然チルドレン), created by Toshiya Wakabayashi. This is a very funny but heartwarming manga which those who are upper beginners and above should be able to enjoy!

Manga Quick Facts

Author: Toshiya Wakabayashi (若林稔弥)

Genre: Romantic comedy, slice of life

No. of volumes: 12

Recommended for: JLPT N4

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, an anime

Picture Source: ebookJapan website

Plot Overview

This 4-panel manga is a series of short stories involving different students at a high school. The stories are usually to do with romance, mostly relating to awkward confessions of love and first dates. They often remind you of how hard it can be to show your feelings for someone as a teenager. Some stories follow the same characters and are loosely connected to each other.

Tsuredure Children started as a webcomic when it started in 2012, which was then serialised in Shonen Jump magazine.

Why do I recommend the manga?

The premise is really simple, but the manga is genuinely amusing and accurately portrays all of the awkwardness and excitement of high school romance. The cast of characters come across as a bit wacky but ultimately charming and relatable for the most part. You really do come to root for a happy ending when reading these stories! I think that the 4-panel manga format is effective in telling these stories – they are just the right length for them to be entertaining and engaging.

Recommended Japanese language level

Thanks to the straightforward plot, this manga is very easy to follow. There is furigana for all kanji and speech tends to be short and not too grammatically complex. On the other hand, the characters are in high school and speak casually.

On this basis, I consider this manga to be appropriate for JLPT N4 or upper beginner level and above.

As always, you can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website to get a feel for its difficulty by clicking the white ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

The webcomic is actually available online to read for free on the official website – the only difference is that this version does not include furigana.

There is an anime adaptation of this manga which is available on Crunchyroll and Funimation.

If you do try reading any of my recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

I’ve written a few different posts on easy manga to read (check out the posts under the manga category). If you do like this recommendation, you might also like:

Happy Reading!

Subtitles and language learning

When I’m watching Japanese TV, I try to make use of Japanese subtitles instead of English subtitles as much as possible. But until recently, I had never given much thought to whether native-language or target language subtitles are better for language learners.

The following is a list of what I think are the main pros and cons for using native language and foreign language subtitles:

Native language subtitles

  • No matter what your level, foreign language content is accessible, which is great for listening practice. This is good for themes requiring specialist knowledge and/or vocabulary.
  • You can begin to make associations between words in your target language and words in your native language. I find that this is most likely to happen with everyday vocabulary.

Target language subtitles

  • Helps you to recognise common sentence patterns and vocabulary. For example, with Japanese, I found watching TV really helped me to understand more casual types of speech. Since we only studied polite language (ます/です) in class for quite a while before learning the plain form, this made things much easier when it was introduced.
  • You can focus on how certain situational phrases are used. This is especially good for phrases that don’t really translate to English, such as 失礼します (shitshurei shimasu) and お疲れ様でした (otsukaresama deshita) in Japanese.
  • It is much easier to recognise the words that you do not understand (and then look them up in the dictionary). Even in our native language, we often mishear things, and when we use native language subtitles it is easy to overlook words that we don’t know the meaning of.

As the above shows, both types of subtitles can have their own benefits. The choice between target and native language subtitles often depends on your language level and familiarity with the source material.

One way to make have the best of both words is to watch something without any subtitles, then again with target language subtitles, and then with native language subtitles. Fortunately, YouTube, Netflix and Viki make switching subtitles pretty easy.

Viki is especially good as dual language subtitles are available using the Learn Mode. This feature already exists for Korean and Chinese and is now in beta mode for Japanese.

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You can click on any word from the target language subs to get the English meaning – really useful!

My experiences with Learn Mode so far have been very positive and you get both benefits of native and foreign language subtitles.

Transitioning to target-language subtitles

As you progress in your language learning, you will be able to benefit even more from target-language subtitles. Here are my tips on moving towards using them over native language subtitles:

  • Choose something that you are really interested in, especially if you plan on watching it multiple times.
  • Try to choose something that is not too complicated. I recommend starting off with shows that closely relate to everyday life – because choosing something on a niche topic unrelated to something you already have knowledge of will only succeed in leaving you demotivated. Cultural differences can exacerbate this problem too.
  • Doing a bit of homework in your native language before watching anything helps a lot. This could be:
    • Reading the synopsis of a film in your native language
    • Reading the original book if you plan to watch a film adaptation (and vice versa).
    • Watching the trailer before watching the film
    • Reading a (spoiler-free) review

I might even write down names of key characters and locations. I find that doing this helps a great deal when you are actually watching a TV show. It means that you are not wasting precious time trying to remember the name of the main character’s sister!

  • Break shows down into smaller chunks. It’s much easier to watch TV series rather than films because TV episodes are shorter.
    • Watching without native language subtitles requires a high level of concentration which is hard to sustain for a 90+ minute film.
    • TV shows also have the advantage of being much easier to follow as you get used to how characters speak.
    • If you do choose a film, try watching it over a number of sessions to build your confidence.
  • Have a notepad handy and make a note of words and phrases that you didn’t understand or find interesting. I then look these up at the end of my listening session and add to my vocabulary list to review later.

…and if I get stuck?

Don’t beat yourself up if there is a phrase you just don’t understand. It is highly likely as a learner that you will encounter:

  • A slang word/ phrase
  • An idiom or saying
  • A word pronounced in a strange way (or said in different accent)
  • A pun
  • Words that merge together when spoken quickly
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Keep calm and carry on, even if you are feeling like this!

When you come across things like this, you could record a clip of what is being said and ask a friend or language partner to explain what is going on.

In some cases, I find that continuing to watch the show can help – later developments in the story might fill in gaps from what you missed earlier.

If you can turn on English subtitles, don’t be afraid to turn them on. Just because you do not understand something right now, doesn’t mean you will never understand it.

Obviously, the ideal situation is not to have any subtitles at all. Becoming too reliant on subtitles is unlikely to improve your listening or reading skills in your target language. One thing I try to do is to read native language subtitles as quickly as I can so that I can focus on the spoken language.

Sometimes you have to take the plunge and watch things without any subtitles – how much you do understand might just surprise you!

What is your stance on this? Do you go for native language subtitles, target language subtitles or none at all? Let me know in the comments!

I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

As the title suggests, my relationship with Anki has its ups and downs. I haven’t been using Anki for Japanese vocabulary reviews on a regular basis for a couple of months, which I have been feeling guilty about recently.

The main reason for my guilt is that when I am consistent with Anki, I retain so much more information. Unfortunately, the problem I have is that I always end up falling off the bandwagon.

A few months ago, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with Anki reviews. I felt that I was retaining more vocabulary, especially in conjunction with daily tadoku reading. At first, I could get my reviews done in 20 minutes or less, which felt achievable even on a busy day.

But then I realised that I was spending more and more time reviewing cards – my review sessions were now at least 40 minutes. I began to dread opening up Anki and seeing how many minutes it would be until I finished my reviews, especially if I had missed a day. I stopped reading in Japanese as much because I felt that I needed to prioritise flashcards instead.

It seemed as if my Japanese study was being entirely dictated by Anki reviews and not any of the more exciting stuff. So at that time, sticking with Anki didn’t feel like the sensible choice and I stopped using it.

For the record, I do like Anki (and similar spaced repetition programs) a lot, but I find that after a couple of months I get burned out and have to take a break. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been in this situation, so I thought I would take a step back and think about how to be more consistent.

On reflection, here’s where I think I was going wrong:

I was learning stuff that was not important to me

I was using shared decks, which can be great, but it meant that there were words I was learning that I didn’t have any real interest in learning. I usually add interesting words I come across directly from Akebi (a wonderful free dictionary app) into Anki, which I find easier to learn because I discovered them in a context that interests me.

Eventually, I want to transition to making all of my flashcards myself but thinking more carefully about what vocabulary I want to learn is a good first step.

I was trying to do all reviews in one long session, rather than breaking it down into smaller chunks

Using the Pomodoro technique could work, but as I find it difficult to focus solely on flashcard reviews for 25 minutes at a time, I will change the time spent a little bit. I think I should be looking at focusing for 10 minutes at a time, perhaps at different times of day (eg. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during my lunch break, 10 minutes in the evening).

I wasn’t balancing flashcard reviews with the fun stuff

Flashcards are not a replacement for reading, listening and speaking the language. For every 10 minutes I spend in Anki, I want to be spending another 10 minutes practicing Japanese in another way that I enjoy (such as reading, or watching TV shows).

The limit on the number of new cards was too high

If you miss a day, the number of cards that I had to review the next day was very disheartening. Going forward I will experiment with how many cards I can comfortably review in about 20 minutes, and set a limit accordingly.

I wasn’t being honest with myself about whether I had actually learned the card or not

It is very easy to conflate recognition of a kanji with knowing how to write it, which doesn’t help me in the long term. So following on from my previous point, I want to limit the number of cards I review, and then I can spend more time reviewing each card in more depth.

There are a lot of ways to customise Anki, and I think that making better use of these will help me stay engaged with my vocabulary reviews.

It’s going to be a bit tough getting back into the rhythm of daily Anki reviews again, but I hope my new approach means I can keep an Anki habit for longer!

You need to be careful with おまえ (omae) – the potential pitfalls of pronouns in Japanese

Japanese has a lot of first-person pronouns (‘I’) and second-person pronouns (‘you’) in particular, the choice of which is dependant on the relative status of who you are and who you are talking to. In English, we use pronouns all the time and when talking to a superior we tend to change our phrasing rather than vocabulary to show respect.

So when we hear words such as in Japanese TV shows and anime, it is easy to think that pronouns such as 私 (watashi) or 俺 (ore) for ‘I’, and お前 (omae) or あなた (anata) for ‘you’ are largely interchangeable.

A case that came up in the news recently goes to show why the choice of pronouns in Japanese is so important. The incorrect use of the pronoun お前 led to the resignation of Ryoichi Yamada, a superintendent in Niigata prefecture.

In June 2017, a boy committed suicide as a result of school bullying. On the 11th October, Mr. Yamada arranged a meeting with the boy’s family to offer his apologies and discuss what can be done better going forward.

Unfortunately, during this meeting he referred to the father as お前 when asking a question. He did later apologise for using the word, but the damage had been done and he tendered his resignation the following day.

Why was using お前 inappropriate?

お前 is a highly informal word meaning ‘you’. As you would expect for an informal word, you would only use it . Even so, a close friend could take offence at being referred to as お前. It is more often used used amongst males than females. With this in mind, it is not hard to see why there has been outrage over his choice of words.

In this case, Mr. Yamada had taught the boy’s father in the past. This is the reason why the superintendent may have thought using お前 would have been acceptable. However given the situation, one would expect the superintendent to be using extremely humble language, and so the use of お前 was highly insensitive.

I would be very wary of using words like this, especially as a beginner to Japanese. Part of the following video by Japanese Ammo with Misa explains from a Japanese perspective why learners should refrain from words like omae.

Note: the whole video is great, but I’ve set it to start from the part where she talks about Japanese pronouns.

Tips on using pronouns in Japanese

Pronouns are generally not used often in Japanese, as the context indicates who the topic of conversation is. For instance, if I say:

魚が好きです。

さかながすきです。

It is assumed that I am the one who likes fish even though I didn’t use the word 私(watashi).

Therefore, it is more natural not to use pronouns at all.

If you do need to refer to a specific person, it is better to refer to a person using their actual name:

小原さん、いつアメリカに来ましたか。

おはらさん、いつアメリカにきましたか。

Ms. Ohara, when did you come to America?

You can also refer to someone using their occupation or status.

Words can be used in this way include 先生, 課長, 博士:

先生はいつアメリカに来ましたか。

せんせいはいつアメリカにきましたか。

Teacher, when did you come to America?

お巡りさん、東京駅はどこですか。

おまわりさん、とうきょうえきはどこですか。

[Police] Officer, where is Tokyo station?

If you are interested in knowing the different words for ‘you’ in Japanese, this video on second-person pronouns explains the contexts in which you can and cannot use various words.

Pronouns are a tricky thing to get used to, and there are also gender and regional differences in usage too. I recommend sticking to the above tips until you’ve been exposed to the language enough to get a feel for when certain pronouns should be used.

5 Things I Learned from my Year Abroad

My year abroad experience in Japan was almost five years ago, and is sadly becoming a distant memory.

I still remember how excited I was to finally be going to Japan. My year abroad was something I had been looking forward to for a long time. I had never actually visited Japan before!

At the same time, I was so nervous to jump on a plane and fly across the world. What if Japan wasn’t what I expected it to be?

Fortunately, my year abroad was a positive experience for me and I am glad that I gave myself the opportunity to do it. A lot of things in my life have changed since then, but it is only now that I look back that I realise that it changed me in more ways than one. There are so many things that I learned on my year abroad experience that I am thankful for.

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Travelling Light = less stress!

This might seem like an odd thing to include, but this is a practical thing which still serves me well today. It is worth saying that I was (and still am) a hoarder!

Before going to Japan, the prospect of packing my most important belongings into a 23kg suitcase felt impossible. Some items I did need for Japan included makeup, painkillers, deodorant and comfortable shoes. Of course, I did want to prioritise some sentimental items, such as pictures of family and friends.

However I realised after a few months that after all of the time I spent trying to decide what I needed to take, there was a lot of stuff I didn’t use at all.

Every time I have been travelling since then, I think carefully about what items I really need to take and pack solely on that basis. Thanks to the year abroad, I am a much lighter traveller than I used to be.

It’s important to let go and embrace imperfections

I have always held myself to high standards, especially when it comes to learning. Learning a language requires you to let go of that need for perfectionism, because us learners do make mistakes. There’s no point in getting hung up on that time you used the wrong word, or couldn’t understand that conversation.

As long as you can make yourself understood (in the politest way possible), you are making progress. Whenever I struggled with obsessing over my failures, I tried to think of the time when people were clearly happy I could speak some Japanese, or was able to translate something for my friends.

Open yourself to new things

Of course, you are in your target country to learn about that country’s language and traditions. There are bound to be certain things that you encounter that are completely new to you, both good and bad.

Your year abroad experience inevitably gives you the opportunity to mix with people you would not have crossed path with overwise. Learning about other languages and cultures aside from Japan was a real highlight of my time abroad.

Embrace the opportunity to have new cultural experiences whenever you can!

A greater sense of self

People I met who had already gone on their year abroad told me that I would end up learning a great deal about myself as well as Japan. I never truly understood what was meant by this until I was a couple of months into my exchange programme.

It’s funny how much you think you know about your home country is easily tested when you get people asking things that you’d previously never given much thought, such as “Why is the UK flag known as the Union Jack?”.

I spent a lot of time worrying about how I would be treated in Japan. I am British born and bred, but my grandparents are from the Caribbean. So naturally, I stood out like a sore thumb in semi-rural Hokkaido!

Fortunately, I never had any discrimination issues whilst in Japan, but having dark skin and afro hair did mean a lot of pointing and staring. It did ultimately make myself feel much more comfortable in my own skin, as I learnt to embrace what made me different (as well as the many things I had in common with the people I met).

People come and go

The year abroad can only last so long. My fellow students were from a wide variety of countries and it was inevitable that most of these people I would never see again after the year had ended.

Whilst this is kind of sad, it reminds to you treasure things as they happen in the moment. You will always have those memories of the experiences you have from your time abroad.

Overall, I feel that the year abroad gave me the chance to appreciate the wider world, as well as the life I was fortunate to have back home. Whilst I do not live in Japan now, I would certainly go back on a longer-term basis should the right opportunity came along.

If you have the chance to work or study abroad (especially as a student), I fully recommend it!

‘Appy Mondays: Ohayou App Review

Welcome to ‘Appy Mondays, my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the JLPT listening practice app Ohayou.

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How the Ohayou app works

When you first log into the app, you have to create an account with an email and password or link the app to a social media account. I decided to go with the first option. Whichever you choose, the app should automatically log you in whenever you access it after this.

The listening tests are grouped by JLPT level, and on the far right there are non-JLPT specific listening exercises too. Each JLPT level has a number of tests, which have to be downloaded before they can be accessed. Fortunately, downloading is usually very quick.

There are various types of language questions, which correspond to the types of listening questions you will encounter in the JLPT:

The above table, taken from the official JLPT website, shows the different types of listening questions included at each level of the exam.

Depending on the level of the JLPT you are working towards, the types of listening questions you get in the exam will vary. Fortunately, the Ohayou app has pretty much all of the listening question types in the test. The non-JLPT listening exercises include practice for hiragana and katakana, as well as counting and calculations in Japanese.

Once the test has been downloaded, you can jump into listening practice. Each test has 20 questions which follow the format of the JLPT test, which are multiple choice. For lower levels of the JLPT the answers may be pictures, but they will be entirely in Japanese otherwise.

Clicking the ‘Check’ button after listening to the question show you if you answered correctly. You can then choose to listen to the question again or continue on to the next one. You can also rewind or fast forward 10 or 20 seconds using the arrows, which is really helpful if you need to hear a particular sentence again.

My thoughts on Ohayou

Ohayou is a very convenient app for JLPT listening practice and is a great app to help build confidence for the listening section of the exam. For all of the listening exercises I tried, the audio was very clear too.

One of my biggest tips for the listening section of the JLPT is to familiarise yourself with the format of the exam. The listening comprehension tests are the same as those you find in the JLPT so anyone preparing to take the test (especially for the first time) will find this very useful.

The non-JLPT exercises were a bit of a mixed bag for me. I thought that the hiragana and katakana tests were good – I would recommend them to those who had just finished learning the scripts and want to test their listening skills.

I tried the tests relating to counters, which I think are useful especially for reviewing common but irregular counters like ひとり and ここのつ, but the audio quality was not as good as the JLPT tests. It sounded as if the audio had been recorded from someone’s TV or perhaps had been recorded with the TV on in the background. Needless to say, this kind of distracting noise could just as easily happen in a real-life situation, but I found it a bit disappointing.

I need to mention that whilst the app is free to use, additional features can be bought with for money, although these features can be ‘paid’ for using points you gain by using the app.

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You can pay 400 points (US $2.99) to remove ads permanently, and 1000 points (US $4.99) to view all transcripts and access to one-click definitions of any word. For once, it is nice to come across a freemium app that does not require a monthly subscription!

Completing the tests for the first time earned me 2 points each, so at that rate earning enough points to unlock the premium features in full is probably near impossible without paying for them. There was also the option to earn 5 points by watching a video ad, but despite watching a couple of ads my points total never increased.

In the app’s defense, it is possible to purchase the transcript for individual questions or tests. So if there is a particular test that you are struggling with, you can spend 15 points to purchase the transcript. I would be wary about becoming overly reliant on transcripts for listening practice, as you will not have that benefit in the actual test. Generally, I found that if I got any answers wrong, listening to the question a couple more times made it clear where I went wrong.

I can’t really see the value of paying the $2.99 to remove ads – I didn’t think that the ads were intrusive enough to justify it. Having access to all transcripts for $4.99 could be useful, especially if you are planning on taking all levels of the JLPT in turn (and so would be using the app quite a lot).

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

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