Language resources

Appy Mondays: Beelinguapp Review

Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese version of the foreign language audiobook app Beelinguapp.

 

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Beelinguapp is a reading app aimed at helping language learners to improve their reading skills. The apps allows you to read a number of stories available at Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced level. Besides Japanese, Beelinguapp is available for French, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish, German, Chinese, Hindi, Turkish, English, Arabic, Italian and Korean.

 

How Beelingua works

The app is host to a range of stories available for you to study. The selection is mostly fairy tales and well-known children’s stories, although there are also some non-fiction articles on topics including culture and science. Not all articles are available for free, as indicated by the currency signs in the top right corner.

 

 

Click on an individual story to download and add it to your collection. Opening up the story from your collection then brings up the text in two languages of your choice (I was using Japanese-English, but you can choose any two languages from the ones I listed earlier).

The story comes with full audio which can be adjusted for speed to your liking. In the Karaoke Reading mode, the sentence being spoken is highlighted as you go along, making it very easy to follow. You can click on the sentence to hear that specific sentence on its own.

 

 

There are also a number of ways to customise your reading experience:

  • Option to toggle English translation on or off if you wish. You can also set the app so that the target language is in one window, and the English is in the other (known as Side by Side Reading).
  • Ability to adjust text size
  • Change reading screen to Night Mode

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By long pressing a word or phrase, you can choose to add it to your Glossary for viewing later. There isn’t a dictionary in the free version, but you can add your own notes alongside each word (so you could, in theory, look up the words separately and add the furigana readings and English translation yourself).

A handy feature is that you do not need to have the app fully open if you just want to listen to the stories; you can happily use your phone for other things whilst listening to the audio. At the end of each story, there are reading comprehension quizzes in the target language to test your understanding.

Like most apps nowadays, Beelinguapp is a freemium app. The Premium version has no adverts, new texts added weekly and the ability to translate individual words. For these extra benefits, Premium membership costs £13.49 for the year, or £3.09 per month (the first month is often discounted).

 

My thoughts on Beelinguaapp

There are a lot of things to like about Beelinguapp, namely:

  • There is a nice choice of stories/ articles on offer – even for the free version of the app, there is a fair amount of variety.
  • The design of the app is excellent – it is very sleek, colourful and user-friendly
  • Audio quality for Japanese is extremely good
  • Ability to test your understanding at the end of each story with quizzes

You can tell that the app was made with language learners in mind; the app itself is a joy to use.

On the other hand, the main problems for Beelinguapp for me are the difficulty of the texts and the lack of furigana.

I’m not sure how the difficulty levels were decided on as the ‘Beginner’ texts were pretty tricky (at least for Japanese) in terms of vocabulary and grammar. To some extent, this is down to the content of children’s stories not always being everyday language. Having the audio and English translation helps, but with the English translation not being literal, it would be very tricky for beginners to parse sentences.

I think that in order to improve the reading experience for Japanese learners of all levels, the ability to turn furigana on alongside kanji would be necessary. Without furigana, I feel that the learning curve for the content available is just too steep for beginner learners in particular. Japanese learners who are already at an intermediate level might find this app sufficient for practicing their reading, especially if following the tadoku method.

When it comes to Japanese study in particular, Beelinguapp suffers from the same issue as the Drops app I reviewed previously. The same app is available in different languages, but due to the different writing system and word order, this one-size-fits-all model of language learning app doesn’t work for Japanese as well. I suspect Beelinguapp would work better for languages that are more closely related than English and Japanese.

The dictionary being behind a paywall is a frustrating choice, as for me, the benefit of using reading apps like Tangoristo and Mondo is that you can use the app to study without having to have a dictionary with you to look up the words you do not know. Ultimately, if you are looking for an app to practice your Japanese reading, I would recommend these two apps over Beelinguapp (some of Mondo’s articles come with audio too).

As an audiobook app, I think it does work quite well for those who like to practice dictation or shadowing thanks to the clear audio. I do not know of any other audiobook apps that are aimed at language learners, so I do feel that it goes some way to filling a gap in the market.

Overall, the free option is sufficient in variety and features to be a useful app for listening practice – just be prepared to have a dictionary at hand!

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!

My favourite free/cheap Online Japanese Resources

The cost of learning with textbooks can be a barrier to those who are just starting to learn Japanese. However, there are plenty of online Japanese resources which are great no matter what your budget is.

Most people are told that in order to study Japanese they should make their way through Genki textbooks 1 and 2. There is of course nothing wrong with this method (it is tried and tested after all).

Unfortunately Genki books are not cheap at around £40 (over $50) for the textbook. This doesn’t include the costs of additional materials such as the workbooks either! So if your funds are limited, buying a Genki is not an affordable option for people studying on their own.

Online Japanese Resources to the rescue!

On the other hand, the internet is packed with online Japanese resources that are actually pretty good! So I thought it would be a good idea to introduce some websites to help those looking to study Japanese without a textbook. When I think back to the Japanese language classes I have attended, textbooks were never used so I definitely think it is possible to self-study without using a textbook.

Having said that, I believe textbooks are useful because they provide a methodical framework in which to work your way through learning the basics of a language. Online resources do not always provide this same framework to follow, which can make it difficult to know what to study next. Fortunately, most of the ones I mention in the below list do not have this issue.

I recommend looking at grammar lists for the beginner level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT for short). Even if you aren’t planning on sitting the exam, you can get a feel for essential grammar and vocabulary. If you are new to Japanese your focus should be on essential words and phrases, sentence structure and how particles work. Check out my How to start learning Japanese page to get some further ideas and resources.

Here is a list of various online Japanese resources that I think learners can work through like a regular textbook. You could also use this as supplementary material to a textbook or class that you are already studying with.

Websites

Tae Kim – Probably the most well known on the list and for a good reason. Tae Kim’s website offers a comprehensive introduction to Japanese. It also tries to take a different approach to a lot of textbooks. It is being updated all the time too.

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

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

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

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Apps

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

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

If apps are your thing, you might like my post on the The Best 7 Android Apps for studying Japanese!

Japanese Grammar Reference sites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Worksheets and Quizzes

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

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

Japanesetest4you – This is an all round useful website for learners, with grammar and vocabulary lists for each level of the JLPT. You can practice a bunch of mock questions online.

JPDrills – JPDrills is pretty new to the game, but from what I’ve seen is pretty good. Access to the full website requires a subscription, but you can sign up to practice a bunch of Japanese questions for free. This is a helpful resource if you are working towards the JLPT.

The above are all websites that I have tried and thought could be useful for other learners. If you are looking for even more online Japanese resources, check out my Japanese Resource Masterpost!

Japanese Author Spotlight: Niimi Nankichi

As evidenced by how much I tend to write about reading resources on this blog, I love to read. Whilst I am getting better at reading in Japanese thanks to Tadoku, reading native materials can sometimes be a long and arduous process. So when I get frustrated with trickier books, I like to switch to easier stories. This is where Niimi Nankichi comes in.

Niimi Nankichi was one of the most prolific children’s writers during the 20th century and is often compared to Hans Christian Andersen. He wrote his most famous work ごん狐 (ごんぎつね) when he was 18 years old. Unfortunately, he died from tuberculosis at just age 29, but during his time as a primary school teacher, he penned a great many stories for his young students.

Fortunately, these stories are not only accessible for Japanese learners but are also available for free on Aozora Bunko. As with a lot of children’s literature, whilst the vocabulary used may be a bit dated or less common (such as names of plants and animals), the grammar used is straightforward. For this reason, I recommend reading these armed with a dictionary or a lookup tool like Rikaichan to make the whole process a bit quicker!

There are rather a lot of Nankichi’s stories at Aozora Bunko so I thought I would highlight a few stories here:

ごん狐/ ごんぎつね

Nankichi’s most popular story had to be on this list. This story is all about a mischevious little fox called Gon. Whilst it may not have the ending you would expect from a children’s story, it does have a very important message (much like the rest of Nankichi’s works). It is not the quickest read for Japanese beginners but is split into chapters which allow for a natural break between reading sessions.

There are also a number of videos on Youtube for the reading of this story, but the one below is my favourite (not too fast or slow and no distracting background music!)

狐のつかい /きつねのつかい

This is a much shorter story than ごん狐 which also happens to have a wolf as the main character. A wolf is entrusted with an important errand, but things do not quite go to plan. I’d say this is a fairly straightforward story – I would recommend it to JLPT N4 learners, but N5 learners may be able to give this a go if you’ve covered nearly all of the grammar.

ひとつの火/ ひとつのひ

In this story, the narrator discusses the impact of a simple favour he carries out for a cattle farmer. Like きつねのつかい, the language used in terms of grammar and vocab isn’t too difficult aside from a couple of phrases (eg. ~てゆく= ていく, ~てくれ = instead of ~てくれる).

二ひきの蛙/ にひきのかえる

This story is about 2 frogs who start off on the wrong foot – can they learn to settle their differences? This story is short and has a cute ending. In terms of grammar, I’d say this is more difficult than the above two stories. This is due to the dialogue between the two frogs being more casual in nature (eg. sentence ending ~だぞ; わすれるな as a more manly way of saying ‘don’t forget’ instead of わすれないで(ください)). Fortunately, the vocabulary used is straightforward – so overall, it is still accessible for N4 learners.

Have you read Nankichi’s stories before? Which stories would you recommend? Let me know in the comments!

‘Appy Mondays: HiNative

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

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

Why is the app recommended?

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

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

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

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

Manga Recommendation: 日本人の知らない日本語

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Top Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

Youtube is an amazing resource for language learning, especially Japanese. So amazing, in fact, that it can be a bit difficult to know where to start.

Whether you are looking for another resource to help explain a tricky grammar point, or are looking for short clips of people speaking real Japanese, there should be something to help you learn you on Youtube. I’ve introduced four Youtube channels below that are great for Japanese language learners:

Bilingirl Chika/ Japanagos

Japanagos

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

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

 

Easy Languages – Japanese

Easy Lang Japanese

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

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

 

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Japanese Ammo with Misa

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

Misa has also done quite a few videos introducing different aspects of Japanese culture, in addition to has really useful videos on how to learn kana as well as Japanese study tips.

 

Nihongo no Mori

Nihongo no Mori

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

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

 

Looking for more Youtube channel recommendations? I’ve done a post on three more cool Youtube channels for learning Japanese that you may also enjoy.

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

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

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