Language learning

4 Podcast Recommendations for Japanese Learners

This is a follow up to a previous post, where I wrote about some Japanese language podcasts. I wanted to find some podcasts that were a little bit easier for those who might find some of the podcasts mentioned in my previous recommendation a bit too difficult to study with intensely.

These recommendations are almost entirely in Japanese, but have been produced by people who want to help others learn the language:

Nihongo con Teppei

Teppei speaks English and Spanish fluently and is a Japanese tutor on italki. His podcast is a conversational one in which he talks about aspects of his daily life and Japanese culture.  Teppei almost always speaks in Japanese with the occasional English word. He speaks casually but will explain any certain words and phrases in simple Japanese.

Each episode is about 20 minutes long which I think is a good length – he releases about 2-3 episodes a week. I recommend the podcast for beginner learners who want something of a listening challenge or intermediate learners.

You can download the episodes from his website, or find the podcast on platforms like Spotify and iTunes.

JLPT Stories

JLPT stories is designed to improve your listening skills, with bitesize stories written and performed by native Japanese speakers. Each episode is targeted at a different level of the JLPT and is usually about 3 minutes long. There are a few different narrators and there is a good mix of male and female speakers (Japanese listening material tends to be female dominated in my experience).

The content varies but is usually about everyday topics. The speaking is at a natural speed, but for the lower levels of the JLPT there are more pauses in speech to allow learners to follow it more easily. It might still take you a couple of listens to catch everything though!

Download the episodes from the JLPT Stories website, or find the podcast on Stitcher, iTunes and Spotify. The website has a transcript with an English translation and explanation of some grammar points for all episodes. This gives you quite a few options in how you can use this resource to study, which I really like.

Let’s Learn Japanese from Small Talk

This is another conversational podcast run by two Japanese girls who are currently living in the UK. The aim of the podcast is to provide casual listening practice for Japanese learners. Each episode has a main theme (normally an aspect of Japanese culture) although sometimes they go off topic!

Like Teppei’s podcast, they speak as Japanese people actually speak but will clarify any tricky words and phrases, usually in Japanese and English. As a British person, it is interesting to hear about UK-Japan cultural differences from a Japanese perspective!

Again this is best suited to learners who are learning how to speak more casually in Japanese. There are lots of useful little phrases which I have picked up from this podcast and their twitter account.

I’ve linked to the podcast on Stitcher, but it is also available on iTunes and Spotify. There are vocabulary lists for the episodes on the podcast’s blog page, but from what I can see this is something they’ve started doing recently.

Nあ Casual Nihongo

If casual forms of Japanese are something you find difficult, then this is the podcast for you!

Nあ Casual Nihongo is hosted by Dai, who decided to create the podcast after working as an assistant Japanese language teacher in Australia. This podcast is in Japanese but is aimed at teaching learners a more natural way of speaking compared to what you get in textbooks. Each episode follows the same structure:

  • Answer a listening comprehension question
  • 5 new Japanese phrases to learn (with explanations and examples)
  • Casual conversation (this gets repeated)

The conversations are a natural speed, which might take some getting used to. To make things easier, the podcast’s website also has a script for the conversation part of the episode, with the new phrases that are introduced highlighted for you. Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into making the podcast accessible for learners who already have a bit of a foundation in grammar and vocabulary.

One thing – Dai is based in the Kansai area, so people interested in the Kansai dialect will find this useful!


I really like podcasts for listening practice – if you want to know how I use them in my studies check out this post.

Have you got any great podcast recommendations or tips on improving your listening? Please tell me in the comments.

The 5 Second Rule

I really wish you could put your spare motivation into a bottle to use when you need it the most. Getting into a new routine is difficult sometimes, but I have seen making use of a new trick to boost my productivity: The 5 Second Rule.

The 5 second Rule is often used to refer to this myth that if you drop a piece of food on the floor but pick it up within 5 seconds, it is still safe to eat.

American TV host and motivational speaker Mel Robbins has written a book with the title The 5 Second Rule. The idea of the 5 Second Rule is simple, but if you are keen to get a feel for the book’s content I recommend checking out one this great summary video:

The gist of the book is that in order to develop better habits, you need to reduce the time you spend thinking about an action you might take. When you get an impulse to do something, you have 5 seconds to take action.

So if you find yourself thinking something like: “I should read an article in Japanese” “I should do my Anki reviews” “I should turn off the English subtitles

…You need to actually follow up on that thought in 5 seconds or less. After that point, you will most likely hesitate for too long and think of an excuse not to do it, especially if it is out of your comfort zone.

This works for reinforcing good habits and getting rid of bad ones. In fact, Mel used this method to tackle her bad habit of using the snooze button too much in the morning.

Apparently, the brain is very good at picking up on these impulses to take action whenever we are in close proximity to certain stimuli. For example, if you leave your Japanese textbook on a table that you walk past every day, you most likely have an impulse to pick up the textbook.

Acting on these brief moments of inspiration can have an extremely powerful effect, especially if you are a big procrastinator like me. Most of the time, it is the getting started that is the hardest part of my study lessons. Using the 5 second rule makes you feel much more in control of your habits, helping to reduce stress as well.

I started using the 5 Second Rule with really small things which made things feel much less scary. Together with making other changes like putting my Japanese books in easy to reach places has made a big difference. So far I feel like I have been able to make more time for Japanese study, mostly grammar stuff which I rarely look forward to starting. The truth is that I am using my time more effectively that I now feel like I have a bit more time left to focus on other interests.

What one thing has helped you to be more productive recently? Let me know in the comments!

Tadoku Tuesdays (5) What I’m reading in May 2019

Tadoku Tuesdays are back! As I did in the last post (which was something like 8 months ago!), I am going to write about a couple of books I have been reading, as well as any new additions to my book collection.

The Novel I’m Reading: 君の膵臓を食べたい/ I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by 住野よる/ Yoru Sumino

I’ve heard a lot about this novel, not least because of its unusual title. I bought the book last year but I only started reading it about a month ago.

The main character (who I only know as boku) finds out that his classmate Sakura is suffering from a terminal pancreatic disease. This secret brings together two characters who are very different; whereas Sakura is sociable and cheerful, the boy prefers solitude. As they spend more time together the boy learns Sakura’s approach to life brings its own rewards.

I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but unfortunately I haven’t been captivated by it just yet. I want to like this novel more but the idea that boku is an anti-social high school boy feels like a very familiar trope. I will finish the novel as I want to see if the story develops into something a bit more interesting.

The book has been pretty straightforward to read so far, especially as there has been lot of dialogue between the two main characters. Based on what I have seen, it seems pretty accessible for JLPT N3 learners.

There are also manga, live action film and anime film adaptations of the novel which I would like to watch when I have finished with the novel. The anime film seems to have a lot of positive reviews so I will probably watch this first.

The Novel I Recently Finished: 三毛猫ホームズのクリスマス by 赤川次郎/ Jiro Akagawa

This is a collection of short stories by famous author Jiro Akagawa. Every so often I find myself wanting to read a mystery, but I am not always interested in tackling a whole novel (especially if I am focused on reading another novel). Jiro Akagawa has written a huge amount of books, with the Calico Holmes series being the biggest and most well known. I happened to buy the book before Christmas and chose this one based on the title (only the last story is related to Christmas though).

Despite the title, we read the story from Yoshitaro Katayama’s perspective. Yoshitaro Katayama is a detective who probably isn’t a natural fit for the job – he isn’t good with dead bodies or talking to women.

Together with his sister Harumi, they often find themselves involved in some strange situations which call upon their investigative skills. Whenever the Katayama siblings are stuck, their cat Holmes usually helps point them in the right direction. There are also a few other returning side characters who also provide support as well as comic relief.

I enjoyed the variety of stories and the relationship between the Katayama siblings. Yoshitaro and Harumi often make up for each others’ shortcomings, even if they do bicker a lot. I was surprised that Holmes wasn’t really the main character but I think his role in the stories works really well. From a language perspective, the writing style is easy to follow too. I’d recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners who like mystery stories that aren’t too demanding.

I found out this week that there is a live action drama adaptation which I am interested in watching, although reviews seem to be mixed.

Books added to my To Be Read pile:

Again I am staying focused on my goal of buying fewer books, but I did pick up one eBook a couple of months ago as it was on sale – ペンギン・ハイウェイ/ Penguin Highway by 森見登美彦/ Tomohiko Morimi.

This novel was released back in 2010, however a manga and film adaptation was released last year. I know that the novel is about a boy who wants to find out why penguins have suddenly started appearing in his town. Since the main story is about a young boy, the language used seems to be pretty simple with short sentences.

I’m looking forward to reading it as it seems like an odd but charming story. I’ll probably follow it up by watching the anime film adaptation at some point too.

So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at these books on the ebookJapan website and read the previews (look out for the “試し読み” button) if you are interested in checking them out.

What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Where to find and buy Japanese music online

Following my post on 15 Easy Japanese Songs, I realised that finding Japanese songs from outside the country can be pretty difficult.

Unlike music from other parts of the world, the Japanese music industry is a little bit more old fashioned, and so it can be difficult to find some music online due to copyright issues. This is less of a problem with contemporary artists, which have generally been embracing more modern platforms.

I hope this post will help give you some ideas on where to find your next favourite Japanese song.

Places to discover Japanese music

The Oricon Music chart will give you an idea of what is popular in Japan right now. Although all in Japanese, the website is pretty easy to navigate. If you are into pop/rock or idol music, you will most likely find a couple of artists to listen to just from the charts alone.

YouTube

No matter what genre of music you prefer, YouTube is a pretty great place to start looking. The YouTube channels for major Japanese record labels include:

Spotify

Spotify helps to fill in some of the gaps left by YouTube. The playlist feature is a great way to be exposed to different types of music based on what you already like.

Here are some of Spotify’s own Japanese music playlists to get you started:

There are plenty of user made playlists too – search ‘Japan’ or ‘Japanese’ to find them! If you are lucky to be based in Japan then you will be able to access a much larger library of music.

Deezer

I’ve also tried Deezer which has also some Japanese songs (although I feel they are a bit trickier to find compared to Spotify). The user created playlists are a great place to start looking, though there are a few official ones too.

I noticed that on Deezer it is possible to view the lyrics to some Japanese songs, although it seems to be a Premium feature.

Japan Top 10 Podcast

Another place to keep up with Japanese music is the Japan Top 10 podcast. Japan Top 10 iis a regular Japanese music podcast showcases a variety of music. Their artist spotlight posts are a good way to find out about popular artists both past and present.

Where can you buy Japanese music?

Once you have an idea of what music you like, the next step is actually purchasing it.

I live in the UK, but I have found that you can often find Japanese music on most digital music platforms. If you prefer physical music then you still have a range of options (though I suggest you buy a few CDs at a time to make shipping costs more economical).

Digital music

iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play Music

iTunes is undoubtedly your best bet if based outside of Japan – it definitely has the widest range of Japanese music.

If you don’t have iTunes, it is possible to find some Japanese songs on Amazon Music and Google Play Music. Compared to iTunes though, this is often limited to artists who are fairly well known and may only be part of their discography.

For most of the artists I looked at, songs that are available on Amazon Music are usually available on Google Play Music.

OTOTOY

There’s also a Japanese website called OTOTOY, which is Japanese music-focused but is also internationally oriented (you can view the OTOTOY website in English, Japanese, French or Traditional Chinese). There are interviews and news features on the website, although these are all in Japanese. Most importantly, you can download Japanese music digitally which can be paid for in a few ways including (international) credit cards and Paypal.

I’ve found the range of music includes a greater range of up and coming artists, although you can find music by popular artists such as Aimyon, Sekai no Owari, Greeeen and Shiina Ringo too.

The main downside to OTOTOY is that the costs of digital downloads is noticeably higher than what I pay for Western music. I normally pay 99p ($1.29) for one song, but OTOTOY charges 250 yen ($2.30/ £1.77).

Physical music

Physical CDs are still super popular in Japan, and whilst brand new CDs can be expensive, second-hand CDs can be bought fairly cheaply.

I also recommend checking out Amazon Japan, CD Japan, HMV Japan and YesAsia (all links take you to the English language versions of their website). Buying in bulk is a good idea not just for shipping costs, but the potential import fees you may have to pay.

It’s always worth checking out eBay – you never know what second hand bargains you might find!

I have a Japanese Music Mondays series on the blog’s Instagram and Facebook pages, with the aim of introducing Japanese music that to a wider audience. I try to cover different genres – if you have any suggestions please let me know!

Duolingo Japanese Course Review

I see a lot of people asking: is Duolingo any good for learning Japanese?

From my perspective as a long time Japanese learner, I believe that it can be a useful place to start learning the language.

However, if you are serious about learning Japanese, do not make Duolingo your only resource. As great as the app is for allowing you to practice Japanese and many other languages, it does have some limitations.

About Duolingo for Japanese

Duolingo is a free app for learning various languages. The Japanese course is designed to help you learn the basics through a number of lessons. Each lesson covers a different topic and introduces relevant vocabulary.

People who are not new to the language can take a proficiency test to jump ahead to later lessons.

Duolingo has you practicing new words in a few ways. Often this is by translating them from Japanese to English or vice versa, writing or rearranging sentences and filling in the missing word.

Duolingo has a crown system. By completing all of the lessons within a topic, you level up a crown for that topic. As your crown level increases, the complexity of the sentences does too.


Advantages and disadvantages of Duolingo for Japanese

What I like about the Duolingo Japanese course

There are some obvious benefits to learning Japanese with Duolingo:

  • It starts from teaching Hiragana. Katakana and kanji are gradually introduced, and they doesn’t use lots of romaji, except at the beginning.
  • The audio is clear. You can repeat it as much as you need to, which is great for shadowing. There are also sometimes options to hear the audio a little bit slower if you need it, by clicking on the button showing a tortoise.
  • Vocabulary is introduced by theme. With a new language, the amount of vocabulary to learn can feel overwhelming at times (particularly with Japanese). Introducing words and phrases by topic gives learners a better idea of how to form sentences around that topic.
  • It encourages you to make language learning a daily habit. Doing a little bit each day is much more effective than once a week. I think the Duolingo streak is a fun way to try and stay consistent with your learning.
  • The Duolingo community is friendly and helpful. During lessons, you can click on the comments button to see discussions regarding sentence translations.
  • If you are competitive, it is easy to compete against friends or other learners on the Duolingo leaderboard.

What I don’t like about the Duolingo Japanese course

On the other hand, the disadvantages of the Japanese course as I see it are:

  • Grammar is not explained at all (in the app, that is). Duolingo relies on inference to learn grammar, ie. by seeing a sentence pattern repeatedly you will work out what it means. This is usually fine for languages with a similar structure to English. Unfortunately, Japanese grammar is so different from English that it is hard to pick up on the differences simply from observing phrases in two languages.

For example, when Duolingo gives you the sentence:

アメリカ人です

= I am American

I would want to know why the Japanese doesn’t include the word ‘I’.

Fortunately, the desktop version does have grammar notes, which can be viewed before you start a lesson.

I think that these explanations are clear and cover a lot of the basics. However, sometimes the sentence patterns change within the same lesson but lack any explanations on why this happens.

An example of this that is introduced in the Food lesson is the sentence:

ごはんは食べません= I don’t eat rice

I would be confused as to why は is being suddenly used rather than を. Even on the Desktop app, the notes prior to this lesson introduce を as an object marker and there is no mention of how は could be used at all. I think it would be particularly difficult to pick up particle usage from the course.

The comments section goes a long way in filling some of the gaps in grammar explanations.

Having said that, I would be a little wary of some of the comments. After all, they are from fellow learners who may unintentionally give out incorrect information.

This is why a lot of Japanese learners would benefit from using other resources for grammar alongside Duolingo.

  • When it comes to hiragana, katakana and kanji, the focus is on recognition. Together with the fact that most questions are multiple choice, it is easy to think that you have learned all the kana when you are not studying it on a deeper level.
  • The introduction of katakana and kanji feels abrupt without explanation (again, I am referring to the app). This would be very confusing to learners without any background on how the various writing systems work.

It would be good for the app to explain how the pronunciations of kanji can vary – for example, 何 kanji is introduced within the first few lessons, but it appears in example sentences as both なに and なん.

Similarly, some vocabulary needs explanations, especially since a lot of English words can correlate to a number of different words in Japanese. Sometimes water is 水, sometimes it appears as お水.

  • Example sentences and their translations can feel a little off.

Part of this is because some Japanese phrases do not have an English equivalent. I have seen a noticeable improvement in this since the Japanese course was first released in beta. This is because of the many people who have been reporting suggestions on what should be accepted, which Duolingo have then added to the course.

Of course, this is a tough issue to address, but Japanese learners should be aware that the phrase Duolingo tells them is not necessarily the definitive answer in all situations.

What I think Duolingo needs to continue improving on is giving greater flexibility when it comes to writing the right answer. Japanese can be quite ambiguous, so there are many ways to interpret even the simplest sentences.

duolingo-japanese-course-itadakimasu
According to the comments, there are a few acceptable translations including “bon appetit”

Overall impressions of Duolingo for Japanese

Overall I feel that Duolingo is a fantastic starting point for those who are interested in learning Japanese. However in my opinion, the cookie-cutter format that Duolingo uses isn’t really compatible with the Japanese language.

By completing the whole tree, you are going to cover a lot of basic Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar. The sentences that you cover do increase in complexity but you will most likely reach an upper beginner level (JLPT N5) by the end.

This is great if you are thinking of travelling to Japan in the future. In fact, the last lesson on the Japanese language tree (at the time of writing) is about the Olympics!

If you like the style of Duolingo, but want to try something that addresses some of the issues I raised above, then I recommend checking out Lingodeer. Lingodeer is an app which has a similar format to Duolingo, but is more tailored to East Asian languages. I wrote about the app in my post on the best 7 Japanese learning apps on Android.

By writing this post, I do not mean to discourage people from learning Japanese if Duolingo is their only option. The more people study Japanese, the better! Japanese is a relatively recent addition to Duolingo and there are updates and improvements being made all the time.

I do however think it is important to be aware of the limitations of the course as I see it at the time of writing. At least you can be aware of what things you may need to be careful of or learn via another resources.


What to do alongside or after the Duolingo Japanese course

If you do have a long term goal of learning Japanese beyond beginner level, here are my top tips on making the most of Duolingo Japanese.

1) Use the Desktop version of the course

The desktop version of the course is going to help you understand the structure of Japanese much better than trying to guess grammatical rules.

I do think that it is best to study basic Japanese grammar from other resources where you can. Sometimes grammar makes more sense when you can see the same topic explained in different ways.

When it comes to textbooks, Genki I will help you build a solid foundation in Japanese grammar and comes with a workbook to practice with too. Online alternatives to Japanese textbooks include Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide and Human Japanese.

2) Practice hiragana, katakana and kanji outside the app/ website.

For learning kana you can use apps such as JustKana, Japanese Kana Dojo (iOS, Android), Dr Moku (iOS, Android), RealKana (iOS)

Marvellous online resources for kanji practice include Kanji Study app and Kanshudo.

If learning to write Japanese by hand is something you want to do, then make sure you are practising this alongside apps or online resources.

There are also some books you can get that focus on learning kana and kanji, such as the Basic Kanji Book.

3) Review vocabulary regularly.

The spaced repetition in Duolingo will only help you so much, and with a wide range of topics it can get hard to keep track of everything you’ve learned.

Make your own flashcards based on the vocabulary you encounter in the app. Either physical flashcards or flashcards on a program like Anki both work really well.

Duolingo has a sister app called Tinycards which you can find the flashcard decks for the kanji and vocabulary introduced in the Japanese course. The app is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!

4) Get in some real world listening and speaking practice

You want your learning to be as active as possible. I recommend trying out the following things depending on your interests:

Listening – Netflix, YouTube, podcasts

Reading – Watanoc, Hirogaru, children’s stories

Speaking/ WritingItalki, Hello Talk, Japanese classes, language exchanges and meetups

I want to end this post by saying that I believe that the most important thing in language learning is consistency in your studies rather than what resources you use (although some are definitely better than others!).

My How to Start Learning Japanese page has a lot more resources for beginners.

There is going to be an update to the Japanese course on Duolingo very soon (known as Japanese 2.0). This update will significantly increase the number of skills, kanji learnt and grammar that you learn. I look forward to giving it another try when it is officially released!

Chrome Extensions for Japanese learners – Part 2

I wrote a post about some useful Google Chrome extensions for Japanese learners quite a while ago. Since then I’ve found some more useful extensions that others might be interested in.

Duendecat

Duendecat is similar to Mainichi, which I mentioned in my first post on Chrome extensions. This extension will show a random Japanese sentence/ hiragana/ katakana/ word/ kanji when you open a new tab.

Extensions that allow you to study when you open a new tab are a great way to get in a little extra practice. I’m a big fan of studying Japanese through sentences, so I really like that Duendecat has this option as the default.

Initially, the sentence will appear in Japanese on its own. However, clicking on the Japanese sentence will make the English translation appear. I’ve found that there is a wide range of sentences covering various levels of formality.

duendecat-chrome-extension-learn-japanese

As you can see, furigana is provided above each kanji. Hovering over the kanji gives you the onyomi and kunyomi readings as well as a short English translation. If you use Wanikani to study kanji, then this is even more useful. You are able to set the difficulty of the sentence to match your Wanikani level. To set this up, just go to the options and add in your Wanikani API key.

By the way, the Duendecat website works in a similar way to the extension. You can study a range of sentences that are within your Wanikani level.

I think that the extension is a good one for beginners as they master hiragana, katakana and move on to kanji. I highly recommend it if you plan on using Wanikani.

Yomichan (*also available on Firefox)

I am a big fan of the Rikaikun extension, but I have found it less and less reliable recently. Fortunately, there is an alternative, called Yomichan. Having switched to this, I can say that this is one of the very best Chrome extensions for Japanese learners to have installed.

Like Rikaikun, when the extension is enabled, you can hover over a Japanese word to get its furigana reading and English meaning. Yomichan requires you to hold shift and hover over a word.

yomichan-chrome-extension-learn-japanese

You can then click on any of the kanji you look up to learn more about it:

yomichan-japanese-learning-chrome-extension
The kanji lookup feature provides plenty of useful information

If you just want to look up a word, you can use the Search function to look words up and get the same information.

Yomichan has a few additional features that set it apart from Rikaikun. Firstly, native speaker audio is available for a lot of words. Secondly, Yomichan offers integration with Anki (using a plugin called AnkiConnect), allowing you to instantly create flashcards from the words you look up.

For Yomichan to work you need to install at least one dictionary from their website which is very straightforward. JMDict is going to cover the majority of words you might need to look up, and is available in a number of languages besides English. There are other kanji, slang and name dictionaries available to download too. You can also import your own dictionary files using Yomichan Import.

Clearly a lot of hard work has gone into making this extension and it is an amazing tool for Japanese learners. It happens to be free but donations can be made via the homepage if you are able to.

LLN: Language Learning with Netflix or Subadub

I’ve given two options here as both extensions are to do with Netflix and subtitles. Readers on the blog will know that I do like Netflix for Japanese TV shows and films.

Dual language subtitles are really useful because it allows you to compare the differences in structure between the two languages. I had wished that you could enable two sets of subtitles on Netflix, and now you can with LLN: Language Learning with Netflix. If you are familiar with Viki’s learn mode, then this is pretty similar.

Subtitles are given in your target language with a translation into English. There are a few other options which this short video describes:


LLN supports a wide range of languages. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the integrated dictionary available for other languages does not support Chinese, Japanese or Korean.

This leads me to my alternative recommendation, Subadub.

Subadub is a bit different from LLN since Subadub provides enhanced language subtitles for your target language.

subadub-chrome-extensions-learn-japanese

The subtitles in subadub are readable text, which means you can copy and paste them. You can also use this in tandem with Yomichan to look up vocabulary and then add it to Anki.

The subtitles can also be downloaded in full if you like to make flashcards to study with. I think Subadub is a great resource for an intermediate level learner as a way of getting used to only having Japanese subtitles.

So those are my latest discoveries when it comes to Google Chrome Extensions for Japanese learners. Are there any extensions that you find useful (related to language learning or not)? Please tell me in the comments!

Langjam and little discoveries

As you might know from the blog’s Instagram page, I took part in Langjam last weekend. I thought I’d do a little post about my experience, even though I didn’t make as much progress as planned.

What is LangJam?

Language Jam, (often referred to as Langjam) is a challenge where people interested in languages sign up to study a new language for a weekend.  

When you sign up, you input the languages that you already know and are then randomly assigned a language from the list available from the challenge. There’s a real range of languages covering all continents and various writing systems.

The language I was given to study was Swahili, which I was very excited about.

The “Whitecard” option gives you another language choice if you aren’t keen on the first one you are allocated

There is a prep phase for your language in the run up to the Langjam weekend where you have time to gather resources, read up on the language and start learning new scripts if applicable.

This was much needed as I basically knew nothing about Swahili. My knowledge was basically limited to the fact that it is spoken in a few different countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, and that Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase.

In my prep phase, I learned some interesting facts about Swahili. I didn’t know that Swahili has links to Arabic: Swahili can be written in the Arabic script and share some vocabulary. I also learned that there are a few other Swahili words referenced in The Lion King:

  • Rafiki = friend
  • Simba = lion
  • Pumbaa = foolish, silly, negligent
  • Nala = gift

I decided to join Langjam near the end of the prep phase, so I didn’t have much time to gather resources. In the end, I mainly used SwahiliPod101 and Duolingo as my main resources. I have mixed feelings about Duolingo, but the Swahili course seems pretty good.

My LangJam experience

Unfortunately I ended up being pretty busy over the weekend and didn’t get much time to study anything in depth. On the other hand, it has been really fun to follow how other people have been getting on with the challenge via the hashtag #langjam.

Swahili is a fascinating language and I hope that one day I will be able to develop some proficiency in it. I will stick with the Duolingo lessons as they are short and sweet, but my focus will remain on Japanese for now.

So it seems that nani can mean ‘what’ in English, just like Japanese! (it normally means ‘who’ though)

Doing the Langjam challenge reminded me of one very important thing; the joy of discovering new things about a language. Learning new words and phrases, sentence structures, writing systems, pronunciation can all be a lot of fun at the start.

That feeling we get from all of these new discoveries is so important for sustaining motivated in your target language. Sometimes even though we are settled in our language learning routines, we can be lacking that little spark that keeps you engaged. This is something I have tried to embody in my learning since finishing the challenge.

I love discovering new Japanese music and getting engrossed in Japanese dramas, so I am now trying to dedicate a little bit more time to both of these fun activities (not forgetting the ‘boring’ stuff too!).

If Langjam sounds interesting to you, keep an eye on the website and the social media channels to be notified of the next challenge (it gets held a few times a year).

Have you started any new languages recently? How have you found it so far? Let me know in the comments!

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!

2018 Year in Review: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

2018 has come and gone in what feels like a very short time. I thought it would be fun to look back on the year in terms of my Japanese learning, which will help inform my goals for 2019.

I didn’t want to make this post too long and boring so I have chosen to write about two things that I think have gone well this year and two things that I need to work on for next year.

The Good: Developing a better Japanese reading habit

I am slowly working my way through a pile of Japanese novels that I have on my bookshelf, which is a very nice feeling. I try to pick books that are manageable for my current level, as I use the tadoku approach to learning. You can see some of the books I have read this year from my Tadoku Tuesdays posts:

I use Bookmeter (basically the Japanese version of Goodreads) to track the books I am reading/have read/ want to read, which has been very helpful.

I’ve also picked up some helpful tips and book recommendations from other bloggers such as Inhae’s blog Inside That Japanese Book. This has really kept me motivated to keep reading (and more importantly, finishing) books.

I feel that reading more has generally helped me with all aspects of Japanese, but mostly with learning to recognise grammar and vocabulary in a wider range of contexts. Reading speed is really important for the JLPT and obviously reading more has helped with that too.

Reading physical books, in particular, is a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and more importantly means I am not staring at a mobile phone/tablet/computer screen. This is definitely something I want to keep up next year.

Rediscovering Japanese Music

I used to be really interested in Japanese music but I have been listening to way more podcasts than music in the last couple of years. I spent some time this year catching up with the artists that I used to listen to a lot, which was a lot of fun 🙂

I can’t believe I forgot how catchy this song is!

There’s a lot of great Japanese artists that can be hard to find beyond the idol stuff, especially if you are new to the language. This is what inspired the 15 Easy Japanese songs post, and later the Japanese Music Mondays series on Instagram and Facebook.

It’s so important to have fun with the language you are learning, and I think music is a highly accessible way to do just that. This is definitely something I will write about next year. In fact, I am already working on a couple of follow up posts about Japanese music for next year as well. Another benefit of this is that I have spent more time on Japanese websites reading about new artists and new music releases.

The Not-So-Good: Kanji kanji kanji (and writing in general)

Improving my Japanese writing was one of my aims for the year, but I haven’t been as good at writing consistently. I have struggled the most with kanji since I fell off the Anki bandwagon a few months back. Because I read regularly, my kanji recognition is OK but when writing in my journal I spend a lot of time looking up how to write kanji which I used to know.

My aim for next year is to make sure I stay on top of my kanji practice. I am making a new set of physical kanji cards and review a smaller amount of Anki cards daily.

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The act of writing kanji helps me remember them more effectively so I will be doing more kanji writing practice. I recently found my Kanji Kentei game for the 3DS (an educational “game” aimed at Japanese people reviewing their kanji) so I have been using that to revise kanji too.

Scheduling Japanese practice

This year has been fairly busy, which means that I have had to work harder to make sure I am getting my daily Japanese practice. As a result, I have become much more interested in productivity and habit-forming, which I have written a few different posts about:

The Pomodoro technique has been incredibly helpful in getting stuff done, especially when it comes to writing blog posts. I have also found tracking my progress on an app (I use Habitica) has helped keep me accountable too.

Unfortunately, there have been some days when I realise as I am falling asleep that I haven’t done anything Japanese related at all. Of course, those days are inevitable sometimes but I want to make sure I can have as few of these as possible. 2019 is looking to be an even busier year for me, so I want to make the most of it!

I have been doing some research into timeboxing and how I can use this to make sure I am working towards all of my goals, not just language learning.

Looking forward to 2019

I am planning on some changes to the blog in the very near future, so watch this space. The plan is to keep posting on a weekly basis, and potentially a bit more often if time allows.

I haven’t yet finalised my Japanese learning goals for 2019, but so far I want to read at least one novel a month, and to sit the JLPT N1 by the end of the year.

Have you decided on your language goals for next year? What are they? Please tell me in the comments!

PS. As this will most likely be my last post of 2018 (and my 100th post!!), I want to end this post by thanking everyone who reads this blog. At the start of this year, I had only been posting for a few months and I had no idea how many more people from all over the world would be reading, liking and commenting on the blog. I am genuinely thankful and will keep working hard!

PPS. Happy Holidays 🙂

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!

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