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.
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.
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.
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.
I love podcasts, as I find them a great way of brushing up on my Japanese when I’m on the go (I’ve written about why I like them so much in a separate post). Fortunately I have found a new podcast which is great for my work commute: Bilingual News Podcast.
This weekly bilingual news podcast is hosted by Michael and Mami. Each episode is usually at least an hour in duration but the nature of the podcast makes it easy to listen for 15 minutes or so at a time.
Why do I recommend it?
Each podcast covers a number of current news stories from around the world which are usually read out by Mami in Japanese, then Michael follows up with the story in English. There is then a discussion in both languages around the topic.
I really like the podcast as you get to hear the article in Japanese first, then the English translation which allows you to check your comprehension before they delve into the given topic. Whilst the article summary uses the type of vocabulary and grammar constructions you would find in a written article, the discussion that follows is always in more everyday Japanese. Mami normally sticks to speaking Japanese and Michael English, although they do both switch between the two languages.
There is an accompanying app which has transcripts for each podcast along with other useful functions such as the ability to make notes, vocab lists, use the dictionary functions and access essays. Whilst the transcripts for the first 3 episodes are free, This has a subscription fee of 240 yen a month. I have not tried it myself but as a relatively cheap subscription it sounds like good value for money.
Newspapers can be especially tricky but I think listening to this podcast, especially while reading the transcripts will really help you get used to the nature of the type of language that gets used in newspapers and how it differs to standard spoken language. I think if you already enjoy news digest podcasts and are looking to listen to something similar but in Japanese this is a good start. I would also recommend this if you are preparing for the JLPT, or if reading a newspaper in Japanese is something you would like to work towards.
Check out the podcast from the official website, and if you do enjoy the podcast make sure to show the team some love on Twitter or other social media 🙂
Japanese is so vocabulary rich that knowing when to use similar words and phrases can be a bit of a nightmare for language learners. どうして, なぜ and なんで can all be translated as ‘why’ in English but it is the level of formality which largely differentiates the three words.
なぜ orginated from the older term なにゆえ. It is the most formal of the three and is the word most often used in the written language rather than in speech.
なぜ日本語を勉強していますか? naze nihongo wo benkyou shiteimasuka?
Why are you studying Japanese?
なぜ昨日のパーティーに来なかったの? naze pa-ti- ni konakatta no?
Why didn’t you come to the party yesterday?
In a lot of cases, どうして can be used interchangeably with なぜ, but is considered to feel less formal. The word is a contraction of an older term どのようにして, and therefore can sometimes be used to mean ‘how’ rather than why’ in English.
どうして知っているの? doushite shitteiru no?
How did you know?
どうして昨日そんなに早く帰ってしまったの? doushite kinou sonna ni hayaku kaette shimatta no?
Why did you go home so early yesterday?
なんで is the most informal of the three terms. As you can imagine, this word tends to be used more by young people than other age groups.
なんで私が? nande watashi ga?
なんでそんな所に行ったの? nande sonna tokoro ni itta no?
Why did you go to that place?
どうして is probably the word you’ll hear used the most and is therefore your safest bet for everyday use, but make sure to choose wisely depending on what setting you are in.
So we are in the final days before the July sitting of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). The listening test is, of course, a big part of this, which can be tricky but at the same time is an area you can score pretty highly with a bit of practice.
Even if you haven’t spent much time preparing for this part of the JLPT so far, here are my last-minute tips for tackling the listening test:
1) Practice timings by doing a mock test in exam conditions
The exam has different types of listening questions, and depending on the level you are taking the composition of questions will be slightly different. It is important to practice the test under timed conditions to give yourself an idea of how long you have for each of the question types when sitting the real thing.
At the beginning of the test the questions are more straightforward, but at the same time, the thinking time for each question is pretty short. You do not want to be caught out early on in the exam where it is relatively easier to pick up marks.
You can find example question papers for each JLPT with answers and the transcript on the official website.
2) Listening to anything and everything in Japanese just before the exam
Especially when preparing for a language exam outside of Japan, you want to go into the test room having set your brain to Japanese mode.
3) Maximise use of the reading time by making notes
By preparing yourself for what you might hear, you can use the actual exam time for listening (instead of stressing about what is being asked of you in each section of the test).
The questions are written out in Japanese on the question paper, so use the reading time to make notes (if you have practised the exam previously, you shouldn’t have to spend too much time working out what each question is asking of you).
Highlight words on the question paper that give you an idea as to what type of information you are looking for, often indicated by question words like どこ, なに, どんな, いつ, どうして.
Make a mental note of what the differences are between the potential answers in the multiple choice sections, and for questions accompanied by a picture you could jot down the appropriate Japanese vocab for key items in the picture.
4) For the longer conversation questions, keep track of key points in the dialogue signposting the flow of the conversation
Listen out for conjunctions during dialogues. Words like でも, しかし, それから and その後 may precede essential information for answering the question correctly.
When I sat the N2 exam this was really helpful to bear in mind, as the conversations can lead you towards one answer and then indicate the correct answer mid-way or at the end of the dialogue.
5) Writing something is better than nothing!
These exams do require concentration for a long period of time, and if like me it has been a while since you last sat an exam the whole day can be pretty daunting. This may seem obvious, but if you find that you’ve missed a key bit of information on one question, put something down on the answer paper and move on to the next question.
If you are reading this and about to sit your exam, good luck!
More importantly, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back once it is all over – whatever the outcome of the exam is, getting to the stage of sitting the exam at any level is an accomplishment.
Never heard of the JLPT? Check out my post about the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
Have you sat the JLPT exam before? How did you find the listening portion? Let me know in the comments!
Welcome to my series of app reviews relating to Japanese language study. Today’s app review is of the Japanese reading app Mondo.
Have you been studying Japanese for a while but scared of reading articles in Japanese? Looking for a simple Japanese news aggregate app with dictionary lookup functionality? Then Mondo is definitely the app for you!
I have had this app installed for some time, but after playing around with the app to understand more fully all of the features it has I can definitely recommend this to intermediate learners looking to improve their article reading skills.
How Mondo works
I have reviewed other reading apps before as part of this series, but what sets this app aside from these others is that it offers a better reading experience for learners by including dictionary lookup and a flashcard feature amongst other things. I’ve outlined some of the app’s main features below:
Article reading. All articles have a word lookup function when you highlight a word or phrase and includes a recording of its pronunciation by a native speaker. You can toggle furigana on or off, and some articles have links to the English translation to check your understanding of the Japanese text.
Vocabulary lists. Words you come across in articles can be bookmarked, which then can be viewed later and added to a vocabulary list. There are also preset lists, with lists such as all levels of the JLPT, Joyo (general use) kanji and business-related language. You can then test yourself on this vocabulary in the form of electronic flashcards, Anki style. My only gripe with this is that with the preset lists testing from English to Japanese, the English terms can be so obtuse at times that coming up with the correct Japanese term can seem nearly impossible sometimes.
Handshake is a feature you can use to find Japanese language learning partners. You can choose a partner by swiping right on the people you are interested in chatting with – if you get a mutual handshake, you’ve just found a language exchange partner! The obvious similarities to Tinder here have put me off trying this feature out, but it could be a good alternative to a dedicated app like Hello Talk.
Study log. When reading articles, the app measures how long it takes you to read the article, and how long you have spent reading in total. It also measures Characters per Minute (CPM) which is used as a benchmark for what level the app considers your language learning level to be.
My thoughts on Mondo
I think that the above features packed into one app for free represents a really good deal. It is worth mentioning that there is a premium version of the app, which gives you access to audio recordings of each article (the free version lets you listen to one article every fortnight) as well as short dialogues by native speakers and costs 480 yen per month.
For 1800 yen per month, the premium membership also grants you access to Japanese language teachers who are there to help you out with any Japanese related questions you may have. Given the prices, I am not sure if the premium membership represents good value for money, but as a free app, I am impressed by its current offering.
Reading in Japanese is crucial for increasing your language skills. Especially if you are looking to study towards the JLPT, reading in Japanese on a regular basis is an essential habit. Reading speed for the JLPT becomes even more important at the higher levels, where being able to read quickly and pick out the key points is necessary to score highly.
Therefore as an avid reader, I was immediately drawn to the concept of tadoku (多読) when I happened across it some months ago. Developed in Japan as a way of improving English skills for non-native speakers, tadoku focuses on reading as much material as possible. Importantly, you read without getting hung up on unfamiliar words and phrases.
There are four golden rules for tadoku:
Read something at your level
Don’t use your dictionary
Skip over the words and phrases you don’t understand
If something is too difficult, stop reading it and read something else
Why is tadoku effective?
After a while, the context of the text you are reading helps to fill in the meaning of the words. Often we want to look up a word in a dictionary, and then work out what it means by reading the next sentence or two. Generally, 80% comprehension is enough to understand the remaining 20% through context.
You get a feel for what words and phrases appear more naturally in everyday language. Similarly, you learn common vocabulary when you read extensively in a specialist field.
Most importantly though, tadoku is supposed to be fun because you only read texts that you are motivated to finish.
Initially, I was skeptical of the idea of not needing to look up every word I did not know. However I decided to choose materials that were easy enough for me to follow but also things that I was genuinely interested in reading. That shift in thinking was enough for me to want to give tadoku a try.
Armed with a couple of really useful reading apps, I started looking for things to read. I mostly read novels, but I also enjoy reading manga from time to time. I often write about easy manga recommendations on the blog too.
Finding Japanese reading materials
My first thought was to look for reading materials where I already knew the story. Many people prefer translations of stories they are familiar with in English. With this in mind, I picked up translations of ‘Little Women’ and ‘The Great Gatsby’ from Aozora Bunko.
I recommend Aozora Bunko if you are looking for stories in Japanese to read for free, and I will be writing a follow-up post on how to make the most of this amazing resource. As great as Aozora Bunko is, the website is more than a little dauting for Japanese learners. I have written a few Author Spotlight posts which tend to feature authors whose works are on Aozora and are appropriate for Japanese learners.
However what has been most effective for me is to read books relating to films/ dramas I have watched. Examples of texts I have read include Nodame Cantabile, 1 Litre of Tears and A Silent Voice.
I’ve done a few posts on free online resources for Japanese reading which might help:
The magic of tadoku is that you can read anything you want to read. If you want to read Harry Potter in Japanese, go ahead and order it!
Being in Japan certainly helps keep the costs down as second hand books can be bought online on from Book-Off very cheaply.
If you are outside of Japan like me, it’s a little bit more difficult. In terms of physical books, I normally look out for books on eBay or Amazon in my home country where possible for used books.
I know that CDJapan, Amazon.jp and honto.jp ship internationally, although due to fairly high shipping costs it is advisable to buy in bulk to get the best value for money.
Buying digital books/ eBooks
If you prefer digital books, you have two book reading websites with companion apps at your disposal: ebookJapan and Bookwalker. I personally use both and can vouch for the convenience of being able to buy digital books and manga from outside Japan. You can pay with international cards on both websites, and with Bookwalker you can navigate both the website and the app in English.
If you are based in Japan, I would look into getting a Kindle ebook reader to read Japanese books digitally. I bought a Kobo reader in Japan and can buy ebooks for the device via the Rakuten Kobo store (I was living in Japan at the time, so I am not sure if this would work for others who are not in the country).
The best thing about these two websites above is that you can try before you buy, by making use of the 立ち読み button. This allows you to read a sample of the book. I definitely recommend spending some time doing this before buying anything. You can save yourself a bit of money by first assessing the registers and the style of language used to see if it is appropriate for your language level.
Keep an eye out for my Manga Recommendation posts which may give you ideas of what you might like to read depending on your current level.
Tracking your reading in Japanese
If you are using an ebook reader, you will already be able to check your stats on how much you have read. However, if you are reading physical books, you may find using a website like Bookmeter helpful.
Bookmeter is basically the Japanese version of Goodreads. You can put together lists of books you are reading or would like to read and post reviews. As you register more books, you get recommendations on books based on what you have already read and enjoyed. The website is all in Japanese so I would recommend this website more for intermediate to advanced learners.
There are tadoku contests if you are planning on trying to read extensively and would like to compete against others.
How have I been getting on so far?
Initially my focus was to try and read as far as I could get on my train journey to work. At first, it was quite difficult, having started a new book (死神の制度 by Isaka Kotaro) and progress was slow. After a few days, I had sped up considerably. I felt like I was enjoying the book for its content rather than stressing about reading a book in Japanese!
For me, the best thing about trying this method has been to remind me of how far I’ve come with my language learning. Tadoku also gets you to enjoy native language materials without getting bogged down in the finer details of the language. After all, that’s why I started studying Japanese in the first place! My main goal in the short term is to keep reading regularly. Writing about what books I have read on the blog is also a good way to stay accountable.
Have you tried the tadoku technique? Are there any texts or resources you have found particularly useful for boosting your reading skills? Let me know in the comments.
Both spoken and written forms of Japanese contain lots of onomatopoeia. Despite this, few textbooks spend much time explaining Japanese onomatopoeia in detail. I highly advise learners dedicate time to study this fascinating part of the language.
Using onomatopoeia helps to vividly describe an action or state. Take the verb 笑(わら)う warau for example; this can mean to smile or laugh depending on the context. By adding different onomatopoeia we can change the nuance of this verb:
ニヤニヤ笑う niyaniya warau to grin, smirk
クスクス笑うkusukusu warau to giggle, chuckle
ゲラゲラ笑う geragera warau to burst into laughter, crack up
We Japanese learners can often guess the meaning of some words in context. However Japanese people tend to use onomatopoeia in a much broader sense.
Types of Onomatopoeia in Japanese
There are three Japanese terms that fall under the umbrella of onomatopoeia (オノマトペ):
Giongo mimics a sound – think of ‘bang’ or ‘crash’ in English
ざあざあ (zaazaa) = sound of pouring rain/ rushing water
雨がざあざあ降っている ame ga zaazaa futteiru
The rain is pouring down
がちゃん (gachan) = slamming or clanging sound
花瓶が床に落ちてがちゃんと割った kabin ga yuka ni ochite gachan to watta
The vase crashed to the floor
Giseigo mimics a voice (usually of an animal) – think of ‘woof’ or ‘meow’ in English
わんわん (wanwan) = a dog’s bark
犬がわんわん吠えている inu ga wanwan hoeteiru
The dog is barking
おぎゃー(ogya) = a baby’s cry
赤ちゃんがおぎゃーおぎゃーと泣く akachan ga ogyaa ogyaa to naku
The baby is crying
Japanese uses gitaigo to mimic a state. This is pretty uncommon in English; there are terms like higgledy-piggledy (meaning ‘in a messy state’) which have a similar feel.
We can break gitaigo into three categories:
Firstly, words that indicate a state or condition, e.g.
きらきら (kirakira) = sparkling, glittering
星が空にきらきらと輝いている hoshi ga sora ni kirakira to kagayaiteiru
The stars are sparkling in the sky
つるつる (tsurutsuru) = smooth
ラーメンをつるつるとすする raamen wo tsurutsuru to susuru
I slurp the noodles
Secondly, words that describe how an action is being performed, e.g.
My older sister is fluent in Spanish because she lived in Spain for 5 years
のろのろ (noronoro) = slow, sluggish
彼は亀のようにのろのろ歩いた kare wa kame no you ni noronoro aruita
He walked as slow as a snail
Lastly, words that indicate feelings or emotions, e.g.
イライラする (iraira suru) = to be irritated
私は食事をしないとイライラする人だ watashi wa shokuji wo shinai to iraira suru hito da
I’m a person who gets annoyed when I haven’t eaten
びっくりする (bikkuri suru) = to be surprised
そのニュースを聞いてびっくりした sono nyuusu wo kiite bikkuri shita
I was shocked to hear the news
Slightly changing the sound of the onomatopoeia can also add further nuance, for example:
ドアをトントン叩(たた)くdoa wo tonton tataku to knock/ tap on the door
ドアをドンドン叩(たた)く doa wo dondon tataku to bang on the door
How I study Japanese onomatopoeia
If I come across a new onomatopoeia, I look it up in a dictionary or ask a friend to confirm the meaning. Then I make a note of it in my vocabulary notebook. When I do this, I always write it down as a phrase or in the context of a sentence rather than the word on its own.
Since these words are often hard to translate into English, having example sentences or phrases are essential. Studying them in the context of sentences will be helpful for not only memorising onomatopoeia but also using them naturally in conversation. This is especially true for gitaigo which is less intuitive to English speakers.
Onomatopoeia is very frequently used with specific verbs. Others are formed into verbs by adding する, so remembering the onomatopoeia as a verb means you will know the meaning of it even when it appears without する.
わんわん –> わんわん吠(ほ)える wanwan hoeru = to bark
にこにこ –> にこにこ笑( わら)う nikoniko warau = to smile
You’ll notice in some of the examples in this post that some onomatopoeia can take the particle と, often when with a verb. There isn’t a specific rule on when to use と. My recoomendation is to make a note of which words use it in your example sentences or phrases.
Resources for learning Japanese onomatopoeia
Referring to a decent Japanese-English dictionary is fine for giving an idea of a rough meaning, although you may find that there is not a direct English translation.
I’ve listed a few sites below that might help your studies:
There is a great website called the Onomato Project which lets you practice onomatopoeia in the form of online quizzes. Each word is accompanied by illustrations and example sentences. If you use Anki, you might find the shared Onomatoproject Anki deck a better choice for studying on the go.
However, if you are an intermediate learner, then I fully recommend going straight to a Japanese resource called Sura Sura, which is an online Japanese onomatopoeia dictionary. It may not have every word you are looking for, but for the onomatopoeia that is on the site, you will find a simple explanation in Japanese, accompanied by a photo which helps illuminate the meaning.
Each onomatopoeia also has example sentences and notes on things like the etymology of the word and how it differs to others with a similar meaning. Best of all, each page has a link to Twitter showing tweets from native speakers using the word you are looking up.
I also recommend the マンガを読もう section of the NINJAL website above which has some extremely helpful comic illustrations.
The above websites show just how useful it is to have visual context for learning how onomatopoeia is actually used. Therefore pictures, manga, and TV are especially good places to see these words in context. Sometimes I will draw a picture (despite being terrible at drawing!) alongside new onomatopoeia in my notebook.
PS. Think you’re pretty good with onomatopoeia in Japanese? Check out this video below and see if you can spot them all!
Do you have any special tricks for learning onomatopoeia? Let me know in the comments!
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:
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.
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.
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.
Today’s manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Usagi Drop (うさぎドロップ), a manga series created by Yumi Unita.
Author: Yumi Unita (宇仁田ゆみ)
Genre: Slice of life
No. of volumes: 10
Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations
The main character is Daikichi Kawachi who, despite not knowing anything about raising a child, becomes the guardian of a 6-year-old girl called Rin. Rin is the illegitimate child of Daikichi’s late grandfather, who he meets for the first time at his grandfather’s funeral. Seeing that his other relatives want nothing to do with Rin, he takes it upon himself to look after her rather than have her adopted.
Why do I recommend Usagi drop for Japanese learners?
I really like this manga as it is packed with both funny and touching moments, and it is particularly heartwarming to watch the relationship between Daikichi and Rin develop. It is also interesting to see how Daikichi copes as a single parent, having to learn (with a bit of help from his friends) what it takes to be responsible for another person.
Not only has the manga has also been serialised in English but there is also an anime and a live action film that was released in 2011, so if you enjoy the story it may be worth checking these out as well.
Recommended Japanese language level
Whilst there is no furigana, the manga is not too difficult in terms of vocabulary used. Being a slice of life manga, the vocabulary is mostly related to everyday activities. It does, however, require knowledge of more casual speech, for example:
そっスカ? = そうですか?
終わんの早エなー = 終わるのが早いな
Aside from the above, I think it is an accessible manga for intermediate or JLPT N3 level learners.
You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button.
If you do try Usagi Drop (or any of my other manga 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!