Language learning

Sound more like a Japanese native with Aidzuchi (filler words)

We all have moments when we are struggling for that word or phrase during a conversation – but how do we express that in Japanese?

In normal Japanese conversation, you are bound to have come across something called aidzuchi (相槌/ あいづち). Aidzuchi does not translate well into English but refers to filler words, such as um, erm, like, well that we use all the time when speaking to keep the flow of a conversation going.

Some examples of filler words you might hear include:

へー, うん, え, うわ, そうですね, さすが, なるほど, その通り, 本当に, やっぱり

These short words or phrases do not necessarily have a distinct meaning on their own but are super powerful phrases for Japanese learners to make use of. There’s nothing worse than producing an accurate sentence in Japanese, only to end up saying the distinctly un-Japanese “erm” in the middle of it!

When used well, it has the double benefit of increasing the fluency of your speech, whilst giving you a bit more time to think about what to say next.

Compared to English, aidzuchi is much more common in Japanese as it is used to show that you are paying close attention to what is being said (it does not necessarily mean you agree with it). Nodding also counts as aidzuchi!

 

Types of Filler Words

They can serve several purposes in Japanese:

  1. As affirmation, eg. うん, 確かに, よかったね, すごいね
  2. Expressing agreement, eg. 私はそう思う, まったくです
  3. Expressing surprise, eg. へぇ, まじで
  4. Inviting the other speaker to elaborate, eg. それで, そしたら, それから

This video by Wakuwaku Japanese gives a great overview of useful aidzuchi you can drop in to casual conversation:

 

Common Japanese Filler Words

Here are some of the most common filler words you will encounter:

あの/ ano

This is often used at the start of a sentence when trying to get someone’s attention, as in “Excuse me”. It is also often used instead of “um” in the middle of speech.

 

はい・ええ・うん (hai/ ee / un)

As in “yes”, but really just used to indicate that you are listening (think “uh-huh” in English).

 

そうですね/ sou desu ne

This phrase (and variants of it) can have many purposes. In the context of a conversation it often means “yes, I hear your point of view”.

 

It can also be used when someone has asked a question and you are thinking of an answer (like えぇと below).

 

えぇと/ eeto

This little word is basically used in place of “Hmm” or “let me see”, ie. used when thinking about what to say next.

 

へー・えー・うわ (hee / eee/ uwa)

Used when expressing surprise and/or shock at something

 

本当(ほんとう)・まじで (hontou/ majide)

Both of these phrases mean “really” used to express surprise. まじで is more casual sounding of the two.

 

なるほど・そうなんです (naruhodo / sou nan desu)

Used when you have been given an explanation for something – could be translated along the lines of “I see”, “I get it” or “That makes sense”.

 

やっぱり/ yappari

やっぱり is a more casual form of やはり. It is often used in response to something you expected to hear.

This word can have different nuances depending on the situation – this post by Maggie Sensei explains it better than I can!

 

確かに(たしかに)/ tashika ni

This phrase means “surely” or “certainly” and shows that you agree with the speaker’s opinion.

 

その通り(そのとおり)/ sonotoori

This is used to express agreement what the other speaker has said and has the meaning of “exactly” or “that’s right”.

 

Instant messaging apps such as LINE often have stickers (called スタンプ) which might remind you of useful aidzuchi when chatting with a friend.

Line Stamp Chocotto
Source: https://twitter.com/CHOCOTTO16

So the next time you are practicing Japanese conversation and get stuck thinking of an appropriate response, try adding in some aidzuchi!

***One thing to note: as in English, the overuse of filler words tends to come across as very casual. For this reason, I would refrain from using too much aidzuchi in formal situations and with people senior to you.

A good way to show that you are listening to what is being said without using aidzuchi is to paraphrase what the speaker has said, and end the sentence with ね (“right”). This is also a great way to confirm that you have understood information correctly as a language learner!

 

Using podcasts to study Japanese

Podcasts for Japanese study

Podcasts are great for language learning because you can use them to get used to the rhythm and sounds of a language and are often educational at the same time. I’ve recommended a couple of podcasts on the blog before but I thought that it would be best to put together a post that explains why I love using them for language learning.

There are two main ways that I use podcasts for learning Japanese:

1) Podcasts for immersion. These are the podcasts I like to play as background noise while I am doing something else.

I try to pick up as much as possible and may listen to the podcast more than once, but I do not worry too much if I come across something that I do not quite understand. I download the NHK daily news bulletins for this purpose, but I normally catch up with current affairs in English first before listening to give me an idea of what might come up in each bulletin.

Example podcasts: NHK daily news (there are morning, noon and evening podcasts every day), ひいきびいき (two presenters talk about a given topic each week – the podcasts can be lengthy but I find the episodes on topics that interest me very entertaining!).

2) Podcasts for study. These are the ones that I will study to make sense everything that I hear.

Depending on what your language level is, this may include some that mix English and Japanese. I might use a bilingual podcast to go over a grammar point or review some vocabulary.

I also listen to podcasts entirely in Japanese, but unlike the podcasts in the first category, I am using them to study more actively. For example, I will review the podcast together with the transcript (if available) and look up the words and phrases I didn’t understand.

Example podcasts: JapanesePod101, News in Slow Japanese, Bilingual News Podcast

I also use podcasts to:

Learn about Japanese culture. Culture is so closely intertwined with Japanese that knowledge of culture greatly informs your knowledge of the language and vice versa. For example, I am trying to improve my knowledge of Japanese history and so I have started listening to the Samurai Archives Japanese History Podcast.

Boost my language learning motivation. Sometimes finding the motivation to study is difficult. For times like these, I listen to a couple of podcasts that relate to motivation and language learning in more general terms.

One of my favourites is the SpongeMind podcast (I recommend this in particular for Korean learners, as each episode is available in English and Korean), where the hosts Jeremy and Jonson discuss different aspects of language learning in each episode and always impart useful advice.

What do you use to listen to podcasts?

I like to use Podcast Republic (available on the Google Play store) to listen to my podcasts as it is free and very user-friendly. By clicking ‘Add Podcast’ and then searching for the podcast name, you can easily subscribe and download podcast episodes for all of the podcasts I have mentioned in this post.

Alternatively, you can get the podcasts by going through the websites linked above and downloading them manually onto any device – you can then listen to these through specialised podcast apps such as Podcast Republic or any other music playing app you already have.

As I have entirely Android devices I do not often use iTunes, but iTunes is a great source for podcasts – reading the reviews can give you a good idea of whether you’d enjoy the podcast before you listen to it.

What I find particularly useful about podcast apps like the one I use is that you can skip forward or backwards by 15 secs in order to listen to a key piece of info again or for shadowing.

Which podcasts do you listen to? Please let me know in the comments (especially if they relate to Japan, Japanese or language learning!).

Going back to Japanese study after a break

JP study after a break

September means going back to school/ work/ university after the summer holidays. It might be that you’ve taken a break from language learning too.

Sometimes with learning a language, you can be incredibly motivated to begin with, but then life gets in the way and by the time you remember about your plan to learn Japanese you feel like you’ve forgotten everything!

I myself have taken breaks away from learning Japanese – here’s what I do to ease myself back into the language.

  • Writing: Writing in my journal helps me to use vocab and grammar I may have forgotten – I tend to use this as the basis for my grammar study, ie. I will go back over a grammar point if I’m not confident in using it anymore (especially if I’m not working towards the JLPT).
  • Listening: Listening to podcasts helps me set my brain into ‘Japanese mode’. You might find that watching a TV show or film helps with this too.
  • Reading: I’m using Anki to help get my vocab and kanji skills back on track, together with reading articles on NHK News Web Easy.
  • Speaking: Speaking is probably the hardest to practice when coming back from a break. I suggest building your confidence by talking to Japanese friends about topics you are familiar with at first – focus on what you can say rather than what you cannot say.

Here’s a few key things to bear in mind after having a break:

• Don’t be afraid to go over ‘easy’ material.

• If there’s something that doesn’t make sense in the resource you’re using, try to find an explanation somewhere else.

• Make sure you have a goal to work towards. Having a goal, however small, will remind you why you decided to study the language in the first place.

Remember, language learning is much more about the journey itself than the destination – having a couple of stops along the way is nothing to be ashamed of.

Using sentences to study Japanese (and other languages)

Studying using sentences is incredibly beneficial for studying any language for a couple of reasons:

  • It gets you used to sentence structure, which you can then adapt to use when speaking or writing
  • Helps you to learn vocabulary in context – important for words with similar meanings in your native language

This article from Fluent in 3 Months explains it better than I can, but the brain is good at spotting at remembering patterns. As we are learning to speak our first language, we hear sentences spoken by others around us and so we build up a bank of sentences for our native language(s) in our brains.

This is why it is very easy for us to spot when something sounds unnatural in our native language(s), even if we are not sure why. With learning a new language, we have to follow the same process of learning what phrases and sentences are natural or not.

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Sometimes, you just know when something has been put into Google Translate

Studying sentences alongside grammar rules will help the grammar to stick in your mind more effectively. Once you’ve understood a grammar point, you can then focus on making sure that you can implement in in your own speaking/writing – which is why I think keeping a journal in Japanese is such a good idea.
Let’s say for example that you are studying counters in Japanese, and come across the counter ‘hai’ which is the counter for glasses.

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If you also memorise the sentence [ビールを三杯ください/ ビールをさんばいください/bi-ru wo sanbai kudasai] meaning Please can I have three glasses of beer, you are not only memorising the counter ‘-杯/はい/hai’ but internalising several other Japanese grammar rules at the same time.

  • That after 三, -はい becomes ばい
  • That counters are used after the particle を
  • That ください can be used when making a request (especially when ordering food and drink)

You can then experiment with substituting in different vocabulary, for example using a different number with the same counter…

ビールを一杯 (いっぱい/ippai) ください

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Or you can change the counter itself…

ビールを三本 (さんぼん/sanbon) ください

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(Just like with -はい, the -ほん counter has a sound change to -ぼん when following 三).

Or you can change the drink to something else…

水 (みず/Mizu) を三杯ください

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(NB: probably a good idea if you’ve been ordering beer all evening)

… and this is all by changing just one word in the original phrase we learnt!

With Japanese, context is key to understanding grammar and vocabulary, so I believe that studying using sentences is more important coming from English. Adding Japanese audio in the mix is even better for learning to distinguish similar words, especially as Japanese has different pitch accents for similar words.

So how can I implement this into my language study?

With new grammar points, try writing out an example sentence you already know to be correct, then try changing different vocabulary as in the example above. You can always ask on an app like HiNative or a friend to check your new sentences to make sure they still make sense.

When learning across new vocab, look the word up in a dictionary or ask a friend to give you an example of how that word is used in a sentence and write it down for review later.

When making your own flashcards (real or online), make sure to write these sentences together with the vocabulary. If you are using Anki for vocabulary study, you’ll notice that a lot of decks introduce sentences at the same time.

I also highly recommend Delvin Language, which offers sentence and listening practice at the same time!

Screenshot 2017-09-02 at 18.15.23

You can learn new vocabulary via sentences taken from real life speech in dramas and documentaries, with all furigana and meanings provided for words and grammar points you may not know yet.

I hope the above post has helped – if you have any questions or suggestions please let me know in the comments!


Japanese sign image source: with attribution By Info2Learn (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Disney Songs in Japanese

I recently wrote a post about using songs to learn Japanese. In that post, I didn’t personally recommend any particular types of songs as I believe that you should try to focus on songs you like listening to instead.

However, later on, it dawned on me that Disney songs are a really good way of studying language via songs, especially as a beginner learner.

If you’ve grown up with films such as Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King (my 90’s kid bias might be showing a bit here!), then listening to the Japanese versions of familiar songs from these films is an enjoyable way of learning new vocabulary. Another advantage of using Disney is that being aimed at kids, the lyrics are normally more straightforward in nature in terms of both grammar and vocabulary and do not have any slang that can often trip up language learners.

How to find song lyrics

I find the best way of finding the Japanese song titles of Disney songs is looking on Wikipedia. For example, if I was looking for the Japanese titles from Frozen I would go to the relevant page and look for information on international releases:

Screenshot 2017-08-18 at 21.34.33

Frozen happens to be a particularly popular film so I could find the song titles under the ‘Japanese release’ tab towards the bottom of the Wiki page for the Frozen soundtrack.

However you may need to go to the English Wiki page first and then select the Japanese version of the same page from the menu on the left hand side. Then look for a category 主題歌 (しゅだいか ‘theme song’) or 挿入歌  (そうにゅうか ‘soundtrack’/ ‘featured songs’)  to find song titles – for the most popular songs the English tends to be given in brackets alongside the original Japanese.

Once armed with this information, the website I’ve found the most useful for tracking down Disney song lyrics is this one. Although skewed towards the most popular Disney films of the 1990s, this is the best site I have found with lyrics grouped by the film’s name.

If you are struggling to track down song lyrics, then simply googling the Japanese (or even the English) song title + 歌詞 (かし ‘lyrics’) should lead you to a website with lyrics.

Fortunately a lot of Japanese Disney songs can be found on YouTube with Japanese subtitles too. It helps to know the Japanese title before searching but you may have luck with the English title and if you add ‘Japanese’ on too.

The YouTube channel Nobuyoshi Takeuchi has a large number of Disney songs so is the best place to start.

My favourite Disney songs in Japanese are:

  • Colours of the Wind/ カラー • オブ • ザ • ウィンド [ポカホンタス/ Pocahontas]
  • Belle/ ベル [美女と野獣/ Beauty and the Beast]
  • Love is an Open Door/ 扉を開けて [アナと雪の女王/ Frozen]

What are your favourite Disney songs (in English, Japanese or another language)? Let me know in the comments!

Studying Japanese with Songs

Early on in my Japanese learning, listening to Japanese songs accidentally became part of my study plan. I do not really listen to new Japanese songs much nowadays but every so often I will go back to artists I know I like and study the vocabulary from their latest songs. Language learning is all about fun, so if you love music I recommend trying this out at least once.

Whilst I would recommend studying songs as part of your language journey, there are some pros and cons to consider.

The good:

  • Of course studying something you enjoy helps with learning vocabulary – repetition helps to memorise words more effectively.
  • Knowing popular songs makes a great talking point with friends or language partners.
  • It provides an insight into culture – language and culture are inevitably intertwined.

The bad:

  • This is true in any language but not all songs reflect how language is actually spoken as lyrics tend to be more poetic.
  • Song lyrics do not always make sense, so take unusual grammar structures and vocabulary with a pinch of salt.

 

How I study with songs

Here are the steps I follow when I use songs as study materials:

Step 0 – Find a song you like.

This is Step 0 because I’m assuming when you read this post you already have a song in mind to study with!

I generally find ballad style songs to be a good choice because these are more likely to tell a cohesive story than a dance track for example.

If not, I recommend checking out my list of top 15 Japanese learner- friendly songs. I’ve also written about using Disney songs in Japanese as they are a lot of fun to learn.

There is also an amazing podcast called Japan Top 10 which showcases music currently in the charts as well as episodes dedicated to some of the most popular Japanese artists.

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Step 1 – Find the song lyrics.

Google is your friend here: simply search for the artist name and/or song title, then add ‘歌詞’ (かし‘kashi’ meaning lyrics). The website I often use is called Uta-Net (all in Japanese). Just type the artist or song name into the search box and click on the red button to search.

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Step 2 – Listen to the song with lyrics.

How much can you understand just by having the lyrics in front of you whilst you listen? You might surprise yourself with what you can pick up at this stage – I often find that seeing the words written down helps you to pick out the words you already know.

Step 3 – Arm yourself with a dictionary/ Japanese friend and get meanings for the vocabulary and grammar structures you are unfamiliar with.

Use this exercise to get a feel for the overall meaning of the song. I wouldn’t worry too much about finding an exact translation into English as this is not always possible.

However, translating can be a fun exercise to check if you have grasped the general meaning of the song. Again Google is really useful for finding a fan page of your favourite artist which may have English translations that you can compare your version to. Can’t find a translation? It may be worth posting your own and making translations a new hobby!

As previously mentioned, there may be kanji usage or grammar that doesn’t necessarily appear in everyday Japanese so make a note of it here. If you have a language notebook make sure you only jot down the most commonly used kanji or correct grammar structures. If you are a fan of flashcards, I would make new flashcards of the most common kanji/ vocabulary that crops up at this stage.

Step 4 – Listen again when you have looked up unfamiliar words and phrases.

How much do you understand now? It should be much more now that you have a better grasp on the song meaning.

 

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Don’t be afraid to pick up a microphone (or hairbrush) in the name of language learning!

 

Step 5 – Karaoke!

Japan is the home of karaoke and I couldn’t possibly write an article about Japanese songs without mentioning it. If you live in Japan I recommend you take the opportunity to go for an hour and try singing a couple of songs, no matter what your singing ability.

Having to follow the Japanese lyrics onscreen is not easy, but if you go regularly you will really build up your reading speed, especially when it comes to kanji.

Not in Japan? Try searching for a song you like on Youtube and see if you can find a karaoke version/ lyric video to practice with.

Bonus: if you play an instrument you may finding actually playing and singing along to songs helpful too. If you play guitar (or sometimes attempt to play the ukulele like me) you can find chord tabs for popular songs by Googling the song title together with コード (chords). I tend to use a website called Gakki.me.

How do you use songs as part of your language learning? Let me know in the comments!

Journalling in a Foreign Language

I came across a video by Hyunwoo of ‘Talk to Me in Korean’ which encouraged journalling in a foreign language on a daily basis. I was inspired to give this a go myself, and I think it can have a positive impact on your language learning from day one!

Why is journalling in a foreign language recommended?

Keeping a language diary is a way to aid your language learning especially when you are unable to immerse yourself in other ways. For example, you might have no native speakers nearby to talk to. It is really important to practice your production skills in your target language, so writing is the next best area to focus on.

I’ve become acutely aware recently that my speaking and writing skills in Japanese have suffered a lot. I took a break from learning Japanese and so I am keen to build these skills back up again. As it happens, I ended up with two 2017 diaries, so journalling in a foreign language is a great way of putting the spare diary to use.

My experiences journalling in Japanese so far

I have been doing this for a couple of weeks and I am really enjoying it so far. One thing I immediately discovered is that I absolutely have to write out the diary entries. On busy days, I settle for just typing a couple of sentences on my phone. Writing in my diary seems to engage my brain in a different way compared to typing on my laptop. Having said that, I have always found that handwriting things in Japanese helps me to remember things more easily.

I think this is even more important where the writing system of your target language differs to your native language(s). In the age of predictive text, you can end up solely relying on your ability to recognise words rather than producing them. For Japanese, I have found it much easier to pinpoint which kanji I need to review if I cannot immediately recall how to write it.

I keep my journal very simple (ie. boring), but I have seen some amazing language journals on Pinterest and YouTube!

But I don’t know what to write/ I have just begun studying a new language!

Don’t worry about the content of your entries too much. Even writing out a new word you have learned a few times will help to consolidate your knowledge.

This is the time to experiment with new words and phrases you may have learnt but try to put these into sentences where possible. Some people find writing out sentences that they already know to be correct is helpful for revising new grammar points and vocabulary.

I recommend checking out my 30-day writing challenge, or the Noun Verb Adjective challenge for writing prompts.

How do I check whether my writing is correct?

For short sentences and phrases, Hi Native is a wonderful app for getting quick feedback. Check out my review of the HiNative app to learn more.

I used to highly recommend a website called Lang-8 for longer pieces of writing. Aimed at language learners, you can publish posts and ask native speakers to read and correct your work. Japanese friends, of course, may be happy to do this for you but sometimes getting input from complete strangers can provide a fresh perspective.

Unfortunately, Lang-8 is not accepting new applications so if you do not already have an account I would check out Hello Talk or Italki’s Notebook instead. Both of these sites work in a similar way to HiNative and Lang-8, and are free to use!

Being a community of fellow language learners, I have always found people on these websites to be extremely helpful with anything I need help with. Make sure that you return the favour and review other people’s writing!

Finally, don’t forget to periodically look back what you have written. I think that this is a great way to stay motivated with Japanese, as you can see your progress.

Do you keep a journal in Japanese/ another language? Have you found it useful so far? Let me know in the comments.

journalling in a foreign language pin

Getting Your Language 5-a-Day

I’ve been reading a lot about successful people and their habits recently and thinking about how I can implement this into my own daily life. I realised that these people are successful precisely because they have developed habits that directly contribute to their success.

This is, of course, true of language learning as well – attaining a level of fluency in a language requires regular and consistent practice.

However, in our busy lives, it is incredibly easy for that chapter in your textbook or vocabulary list you were planning to study to fall by the wayside. So how do you strike the right balance between language learning and the other aspects of your life?

When thinking about the above, I decided to try and improve my own language learning habits by aiming for five language related activities a day, just like the recommended minimum five portions of fruit and vegetables we should eat in a day. 

If possible, aim to spread these tasks over the course of the day and try to focus on the different skills of reading, writing, speaking and listening.

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For example, I thought about when I personally have time in the day I can make better use of and came up with the following 5-a-day plan for learning Japanese:

  1. Morning commute: use an app like Hello Talk to chat to someone in Japanese (due to the time difference between the UK and Japan it makes more sense for me to do this in the morning)
  2. Lunch break: read something in Japanese (normally a news article)
  3. After work commute: listen to a podcast (normally Bilingual News Podcast or News in Slow Japanese)
  4. Before dinner: watch a Youtube video or something on Netflix in Japanese
  5. Before bed: write in my language journal or review new vocabulary

Needless to say, getting in 5 language learning activities a day may be too intense depending on your language goals. Hopefully the above can help you to think about the times in your day that you could spend more wisely instead of browsing social media, for example. It is important to think about what you want to achieve and then think about how you can set about achieving them.

The truth is, aiming to do at least one activity a day and doing that consistently should also bring about positive results.

I’ve written a little bit about achieving your language goals before and a key part of this is keeping yourself accountable.You can do this by using a calendar, bullet journal or app to track your habits.

I happen to use Google quite a bit but only recently realised that Google Calendar has a nifty goal setting function where you can set up reminders to work towards your given goal. I now have a daily language learning goal set up with a reminder that coincides with the beginning of my morning commute to work (mainly because I am a morning person and I am more likely to remember to study at this time). It’s quite satisfying to swipe away that little reminder I get, knowing that I’ve kept up my language learning streak!

Similarly, 30-day challenges are all the rage when it comes to health and fitness, but can be applied to language learning too. Particularly when learning a new language, this is a good way of making sure that you begin to familiarise yourself with the language from day 1 and start positive language learning habits.

My aim at present is to get at least 2 of these activities into my day on a particularly busy day, and as close to 5 as possible on a good day.

Do you have some sort of daily/ weekly/ monthly language learning plan? How do you prefer to track your habits? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Free Reading Resources for Japanese Beginners: Part 1

There is no shortage of Japanese learning resources online, but finding reading materials for Japanese beginners outside of textbooks can be really difficult. This is something I really struggled with when I had just started to learn Japanese, and found pretty much all native materials to be far too complicated – it was incredibly demotivating.

For that reason, I really wanted to put a list of resources together that is aimed at those who have recently begun learning the language. Here are a few of my favourites that are appropriate for JLPT level N5-N4 learners.

**Note** This is a two-part post, with this post focusing on non-fiction articles. If you are looking for articles that are a bit different to the above then please check out Part 2 in the series, which are mostly resources for Japanese fiction.

Similarly, if studying with children’s books appeals to you, then I have written a whole post dedicated to reading and listening resources for children’s stories.

 

Watanoc

This is a free web news magazine with short and interesting articles aimed at Japanese beginners up to intermediate level (corresponding to between JLPT N5 and N3). You can filter by JLPT level, or narrow down articles by topic if you prefer. If you click on certain pieces of vocabulary you can check the kanji reading and English meaning.

Image of Watanoc website

Translations of each article are available in English, Vietnamese or Chinese – just hover over the name of the language under each Japanese sentence to read its translation. The articles have a lot of pictures and Japanese audio which all in all makes it a great place to read interesting stories about Japan.

 

Hirogaru

Like Watanoc, this is a website run by the Japan Foundation with short articles on Japanese culture in simple Japanese. It is an excellent site for practicing your reading comprehension as you have to option to add furigana, hide the vocabulary lists and there is also a mini quiz at the end of each article to test your understanding.

Image from Hirogaru website

All articles have pictures and short video clips as well as the Japanese audio which provides a fun multimedia experience. The articles are grouped by topic, so you can easily focus on something that you are interested in.

There is no indication of the level of language used, but I believe that the articles are very accessible to N5 and N4 level learners. If you do get stuck, you can easily switch the website language from Japanese to English by clicking the button in the top-right corner.

 

NHK News Web Easy

If you’ve taken a look at a newspaper article in Japanese, you’ll know that it is often full of tricky formal grammar structures and vocabulary. Fortunately, NHK News Web Easy is a website that has recent news stories written in simple Japanese.

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The articles are an ideal length for the beginner and get you used to the style of newspaper articles in Japanese. Each article allows you to read the news articles with furigana readings (or not if you fancy a bigger challenge!). I like that the names mentioned in the articles are highlighted in different colours depending on whether it is the name or a person or place.

As you can see from the image, you are able to watch a short video and listen to an audio version of the article. NHK News Web Easy is a highly recommended resource which is ideal for practicing your reading and listening skills, as well as to keep up with current events in Japan.

 

Coscom

This website has been around for a fairly long time, but still remains a really good resource for Japanese learners. There are a lot of learning materials on the Coscom website, but I particularly recommend the Weather Forecast and the Headline News articles for upper beginners (in terms of vocabulary and grammar I’d estimate this to be around N4 level) on the left side-bar.

Image of news article from Coscom

Both pages are comprehensive in content as they have the option to view the articles in romaji, kana or kanji and also include Japanese audio. Below each article, you can see a sentence by sentence breakdown of the article where you can see the vocabulary and grammar points used.

Unfortunately, only the most recent articles are available for free but it is worth checking the website every week or so for new material to read.

 

Matcha Magazine – やさしい日本語 version

The English language Matcha Magazine website is a Japanese travel magazine full of recommendations for places to visit and things to do in Japan.

I recently discovered that if you click on the languages drop-down menu, you can change the website language from English to やさしい日本語. This allows you to read the same types of travel articles but in simpler Japanese compared to the Japanese version of the website. I would estimate the difficulty of the language used to be appropriate for upper beginner to intermediate learners (JLPT N4 and above).

Image from Matcha Magazine (Yasashii Japanese version)

Each article comes with furigana and English for some of the katakana words (this is pretty useful as some words can be incredibly difficult to work out!). This website is a bit more difficult to study with since it does not have English meanings for vocabulary on the same page. However, you can always refer to the English language versions of each article to check your comprehension.

I recommend using a reading assistant such as Rikaichan(Firefox)/ Rikaikun (Google Chrome) or japanese.io to quickly look up English meanings.

 

Yahoo Kids Japan

When I was at upper beginner level, I was always searching for kids’ versions of newspaper articles in Japanese online. Unfortunately a lot of this material is behind a paywall for major newspapers in Japan, but Yahoo does still have some articles for free on their website.

Image of Yahoo Kids Japan homepage

Since these articles are aimed at Japanese children, they do not come with furigana readings but are short and written using simpler grammar. As with Matcha JP, using a reading assistant tool will help make reading sessions a breeze. I recommend this website for those who are JLPT N4 and above.

 

So that is my list so far – I am always updating and adding to this list as I discover new resources. I also (try to) keep my Japanese Masterpost page updated with reading resources.

With these being online resources (and so subject to disappear from websites suddenly), I usually save a copy of the articles I read for offline viewing using a tool such as Pocket or Evernote. I used to print out a lot of articles so that I could scribble down notes relating to the grammar and vocabulary used.

 

What do you like to read in Japanese? Have any recommendations? 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.

download
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.

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