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.
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!
What if you could make your Netflix sessions more effective by learning Japanese at the same time? I’ve recently joined Netflix and it is turning out to be a pretty good resource for studying Japanese, even though I am not in Japan currently.
It turns out that there are quite a few Japanese TV dramas, anime series and films available internationally, with the list of Japanese language content increasing every week – great news for language learners!
How can Netflix be used for Japanese study?
The Japanese content on Netflix is a good way of working on your Japanese comprehension, as you can choose whether to have the English language subtitles on or off.
Changing the subtitles for shows on Netflix is simple: just look for the speech bubble icon in the bottom right corner of the play menu which will allow you to change the language of the subtitles displayed, or change the language of the show if there is more than one available.
As you can see from the above, my Netflix is in Japanese, so the list of languages under 音声 (おんせい) refers to the audio language and 字幕(じまく) shows the language subtitle options.
Setting your home country to Japan changes the language of the interface to Japanese, but also gives you access to a greater number of Western shows with Japanese subtitles too.
The best ones to watch in terms of Japanese study are the Netflix originals (known as Netflixオリジナル作品) as you more often than not have the option to choose Japanese subtitles or Japanese closed caption (CC).
Here are a couple of ideas on how you can incorporate watching Netflix into your study routine (depending on your language level of course!):
You could watch a series that you already have watched inEnglish and then rewatch with the Japanese subtitles. This helps you focus on how much of the language you can understand without looking anything up, as you are already familiar with the characters and story. The main advantage of using Japanese subtitles is that it will be much easier to pause and look up new words or phrases in the dictionary as and when you encounter them.
Watch using Japanese subtitles only, or try watching without any subtitles to really test your listening comprehension skills. Whilst this seems the most difficult and scary to do, the nature of TV will help fill in a lot of the important context of what is happening. It is also the best way to get used to the language being spoken at a natural speed (rather than at a slow speed as it tends to be in most language study materials).
Watch with dual subtitles. Chrome Extensions such as LLN: Language Learning with Netflixallow you to watch Netflix with two lots of subtitles. This gives you the opportunity to compare the two languages as you watch – the best of both worlds!
Whilst I don’t always watch things more than once, I find that rewatching a series allows you to more accurately identify what aspects of the language you need to focus on (ie. is it vocabulary that is hindering your comprehension or is it grammar?) as you do not need to pay attention to the storyline as much. If it is not vocabulary or grammar, then it is often your listening comprehension letting you down.
What I find most useful about Netflix is that some videos can now be downloaded for offline viewing on the app which now makes it much easier to study on the go. The main downside with Netflix at the moment, however, is that there is not much in the way of variety: rom-com and food lovers, in particular, are likely to find something to enjoy here, but others may struggle.
I hope that more Japanese language content is to be added in the future; fortunately, there has been a steady stream of new content over the last few months. Netflix will notify you when content that relates to your interests is added.
One thing I’ve noticed which I hope will get fixed is that the subtitles are in white, which can be a bit tricky to see depending on the scene.
List of Japanese language content currently streaming on Netflix UK
I’ve compiled a list of Japanese language TV shows, films and anime that I’ve found on Netflix UK below (those that have options for Japanese/English or no language subtitles are given in brackets). I try to update this on a weekly basis!
NB: this does not include content that has been dubbed into English (eg. Pokemon X & Y, Yugi-oh!).
Dramas & TV
Ainori (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Atelier (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Blazing Transfer Students (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Erased (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Good Morning Call [Seasons 1 & 2] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Hibana: Spark (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Japanese Style Originator (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Jimmy: The True Story of a True Idiot (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Kakegurui [Live Action] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Love and Fortune (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Love and Hong Kong (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
My Little Lover (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Million Yen Women (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Mob Psycho 100 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Playful Kiss Season 1 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Playful Kiss Season 2 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
REA(L) OVE (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Re:Mind (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Samurai Gourmet (Japanese/ Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)
Saboriman Kantarou (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Smoking [Season 1] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Spiritual House (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Switched (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Terrace House: Boys and Girls in the City (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Terrace House: Aloha State (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Terrace House: Opening New Doors (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
The Could’ve-Gone-All-the-Way Committee (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
The Many Faces of Ito (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
009 RE: Cyborg (English/ no subs)
A.I.C.O Incarnation (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Aggretsuko Season 1 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Aggrestsuko: We Wish You a Metal Christmas (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Ajin: Demi Human (English/ no subs)
Aldnoah Zero (English/ no subs)
Angel Beats (English/ no subs)
Attack on Titan (English/ no subs)
Back Street Girls Gokudols (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Baki (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Batman Ninja (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Black Butler [Season 3] (English/ no subs)
Black Lagoon (English/ no subs)
Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail (English/ no subs)
Bleach [Seasons 1-3] (English/ no subs)
Blood Lad (English/ no subs)
Blue Exorcist (English/ no subs)
B: The Beginning (Japanese / English/ no subs)
Case Closed (English/ no subs)
Children of the Whales (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Code Geass : Lelouch of the Rebellion (English/ no subs)
Cowboy Bebop (English/ no subs)
Cyborg 009: Call of Justice (Japanese audio description/ English/ no subs)
Cyborg 009 vs Devil Man (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Death Note (English/ no subs)
Devilman Crybaby [Season 1] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Dragon Pilot (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Durarara!! (English/ no subs)
Elfen Lied (English/ no subs)
Erased (English/ no subs)
Eureka Seven Seasons 1 & 2 (English/ no subs)
Fate/ Apocrypha (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Fate/ EXTRA Last Encore Season 1 (Japanese CC/ English /no subs)
Fate/ Stay Night (English/ no subs)
Fate/ Stay Night unlimited Blade Works (English/ no subs)
Forest of Piano (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Fullmetal Alchemist (English/ no subs)
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (English/ no subs)
Gunslinger Girl (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Gunslinger Girl –Il teatrino- (English/ no subs)
Gurren Lagann (English/ no subs)
Hero Mask (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Hi Score Girl (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Hunter X Hunter (English/ no subs)
ID-0 (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Kakegurui (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Kill la Kill (English/no subs)
Knights of Sidonia (English/ no subs)
Kuromukuro (Japanese/English/ no subs)
Last Hope [Parts 1 & 2] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Little Witch Academia (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Lost Song (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Magi Adventure of Sinbad (Japanese/English/ no subs)
Mobile Suit Gundam UC (English/ no subs)
Mushi-shi (English/ no subs)
One Punch Man (English/ no subs)
Rurouni Kenshin (English/no subs)
Saint Seiya: The Lost Canvas (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Samurai Champloo (English/ no subs)
Samurai Flamenco (English/ no subs)
Seraph of the End: Vampire Reign (English/ no subs)
Sirius the Jaeger (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Space Dandy [Seasons 1 & 2] (English/ no subs)
Steins Gate [Season 1] (English/ no subs)
Sword Art Online (English/ no subs)
Sword Art Online II (English/ no subs)
Sword Gai (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Terror in Resonance (English/ no subs)
The Asterisk War Season 1 (English/ no subs)
The Disastrous Life of Saiki K Season 1 & 2 (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
The Seven Deadly Sins (English/ no subs)
Tokyo Ghoul (English/ no subs)
Trigun (English/ no subs)
Vampire Knight Season 1 & 2 (English/ no subs)
Violet Evergarden (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Your Lie in April (English/ no subs)
Yuki Yuna is a Hero (English/ no subs)
A Silent Voice (English/ no subs)
Battle Royale (English/ no subs)
BLAME! (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Bleach [Live Action] (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Blue Exorcist: The Movie (English/ no subs)
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods (English/ no subs)
Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection F (English/ no subs)
Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry (English/ no subs)
Fairy Tail: Phoenix Priestess (English/ no subs)
Fate/ Grand Order (English/ no subs)
Flavors of Youth: International Version (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Full Metal Alchemist [live action] (English/ no subs)
Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos (English/ no subs)
Garden of Words (English/ no subs)
Gantz: 0 (Japanese/English/ no subs)
Ghost Pain (English/ no subs)
Godzilla (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Godzilla: City on the Edge of Battle (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Godzilla The Planet Eater (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Halo Legends (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Harlock Space Pirate (English/ no subs)
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (English/ no subs)
Little Witch Academia: The Enchanted Parade (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Lupin III: The Castle of Caligostro (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Magi: The Labrinth of Magic (English/ no subs)
Manhunt (Japanese CC/ English/ no subs)
Persona 3 the Movie: #2 Midsummer Knights Dream (English/ no subs)
Steamboy (English/ no subs)
Sword Art Online The Movie: Ordinal Scale (English/ no subs)
The Birth of Sake (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
The Eternal Zero (English/ no subs)
The Many Faces of Ito [Live Action Movie] (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
The Seven Deadly Sins the Movie (Japanese/ English/ no subs)
Tokyo Ghoul: Jack (English/ no subs)
Tokyo Ghoul: Pinto (English/ no subs)
So is Netflix worth it for Japanese learners?
At this stage, there is not quite enough content for me to recommend subscribing purely for learning Japanese (there appears to be a good selection of Korean and Taiwanese dramas compared to Japanese content), but if you already have a subscription I definitely recommend checking the Japanese language stuff out.
Of the content I’ve watched, some of my favourites from the above list are Midnight Diner, My Little Lover and Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you are interested in reading more about Japanese content on Netflix, check out this post where I write in greater depth about my top 8 TV shows, anime and films.
However, my absolute favourite TV show on Netflix, especially in terms of learning about Japanese language and culture is ‘Japanese Style Originator’ as each episode focuses on different aspects of traditional Japanese culture. There are 54 episodes, some of which are up to 2 hours long so there is plenty to get your teeth stuck into!
What would be your recommendation for something to watch on Netflix? Have I missed anything from the above list? Let me know in the comments!