Listening

Appy Mondays: Beelinguapp Review

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

 

appymondays

 

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

 

How Beelingua works

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

My thoughts on Beelinguaapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you are interested in checking the app out, it is available in the Apple store and Google Play store.

Have you tried this app out? Are you aware of a better alternative? Let me know in the comments!

Places to legally watch Japanese dramas online for free

If you are a fan of Japanese dramas, then you will know that finding places to watch them legally is much more difficult (compared to Korean or Chinese dramas anyway).

Netflix is working on expanding its range of Japanese dramas, which is good news for international fans. However if your budget cannot stretch to a Netflix subscription, there are other options out there. I personally use the following two places to get my J-drama fix for free (or very cheap)!

Crunchyroll

Crunchyroll has been established for some time as the go-to place to watch the latest anime, and to a lesser extent manga. Crunchyroll has evolved over the years to provide a wide range of Japanese shows in an on-demand format. This includes a pretty good range of Japanese dramas; whether you enjoy suspense dramas or romcoms, you will find something you enjoy here.

crunchyrolljapanesedramas

Crunchyroll (like the others on this list) operates on a ‘freemium’ model, meaning you can watch most of the content in standard definition for free with adverts interspersed in each episode (usually at least 4 ad breaks in a 45-minute drama episode). To get rid of the ads and stream in HD, you need to pay a subscription cost of £4.99/$6.95 per month.

Pros:

  • Can install the Crunchyroll app on a variety of platforms: iOS, Android, pretty much all video game platforms
  • Broad range of dramas to watch

Cons:

  • Annoying adverts (on the Android App, you tend to get 2-3 ads at the same time which are not skippable at all)
  • No options for Japanese subtitles

Being mostly interested in Japanese dramas, I’ve listed the Jdramas you can watch for free (further content is available if you have a subscription).

 

List of Japanese Dramas available on Crunchyroll:

99 Days with the Superstar

Akagi

Always the Two of Us

Angel Heart

Anohana: The Flower We Saw that Day

Antiquarian Bookshop Biblia’s Case Files

A Taste of Honey

Biyou Shounen Celebrity

Crazy for Me

Death Note (live action drama)

Desperate Motherhood

Detective vs Detectives

Dinner

Doctor’s Affairs

Dr Coto’s Clinic

Forget Me Not

Frenemy ~Rumble of the Rat~

Future Diary: Another World

Galileo

Ghostwriter

Gokaku Ganbo

GTO/ Great Teacher Onizuka

GTO: Taiwan Special

Happy Boys

Hard to Say I Love You

Hero (2014)

High School Entrance Exam

I’m Mita, Your Housekeeper

Iryu: Team Medical Dragon

Last Cinderella

Liar Game

Life in Additional Time

Mischievous Kiss – Love in Tokyo

Mischievous Kiss 2 – Love in Tokyo

Mr. Nietzche in the Convenience Store

Mooncake

Nobunaga Concerto

Nodame Cantabile

No Dropping Out ~Back to School at 35~

Onna Nobunaga

Ordinary Miracles

Power Office Girls 2013

Rebound

RH Plus

Shiratori Reiko

Switch Girl

The 101st Proposal

The Perfect Insider

Time Taxi

Ultraman 80

Ultraman Gaia

Ultraman Ginga

Ultraman Leo

Ultraman Max

Ultraman Mebius

Ultraman Nexus

Ultraman Orb

Ultraman X

Wakakozake

Wild Mom

You Taught Me All the Precious Things

 

Viki

Viki is a website that is a subsidiary of Japanese online retail giant Rakuten. The website has a large collection of Korean, Mainland Chinese, and Taiwanese dramas in addition to Japanese dramas. The collection of Japanese dramas is relatively small but there is some variety in terms of genres.

Screenshot 2018-04-03 at 16.55.29

What I like about the website (and app) is that it is very easy to use. It is easy to filter by Japanese dramas and if you create an account, you can save a list of dramas you want to watch later. You can read drama reviews by other members, and it is possible to turn on live comments showing reactions from other users whilst you watch the drama too which helps foster a sense of community.

For language learners, you usually have the option to switch subtitles in the options between English, Japanese, and many other languages. Viki members help with the translations, which helps make the dramas accessible to many people around the world.

Viki is free to view, but ad-free and higher quality videos require a Viki pass, which has a subscription cost of $4.99 per month.

Pros:

  • Sense of community
  • Japanese subtitles available for a lot of dramas
  • App is very slick and easy to use

Cons:

  • Limited selection of dramas
  • Annoying adverts (slightly better than Crunchyroll in that they are usually skippable)

 

List of Japanese dramas available on Viki:

A Doctors’ Affairs

A Heartfelt Trip to Fukushima [TV show]

All About My Siblings

Blue Fire

Clinic on the Sea

Dear Sister

Delicious Niigata in Japan [TV show]

Dokurogeki

Festival: Pride for Hometown [TV show]

FLASHBACK

Galileo

Girls Night Out [TV show]

GTO in Taiwan

Hakuoki SSL: Sweet School Life

HEAT

Hello! Project Station [TV show]

Hirugao: Love Affairs in the Afternoon

I am Reiko Shiratori!

I am Reiko Shiratori the Movie

Juho 2405

Juho 2405 the Movie

Kakusei

Kimi wa Petto (2017 remake)

Koinaka

Lady Girls

Last Cinderella

Leiji Matsumoto’s OZMA

Let’s Explore Fukushima

Love Stories from Fukuoka

Murakami Grand Festival 2016

My Little Lover

Mysterious Summer

Nogizaka 46 Meets Asia [TV show]

Painless: The Eyes for Signs

Phoenix [Movie]

Railway Story [TV show]

Rainbow Rose

Ramen Loving Girl

Real Horror

Second to Last Love (Season 1 and 2)

Sendai Iroha Zoukangou [TV show]

Switch Girl Season 1

Tabiaruki from Iwate [TV show]

Tales of Tohoku [TV show]

Teddy Go!

The Hours of My Life

The Sanjo Great Kite Battle [TV show]

Torihada

Upcoming! [TV show]

Vampire Heaven

Visiting Sacred Places of the Tohoku Region

 

 

Other sites that stream Japanese dramas

*October 2018 update* Now that Dramafever has suddenly shut down, I have changed this post to include some other sites I believe stream Jdramas. However, as they are not available to me in the UK, I have not been able to try them myself. If any of these are incorrect, please let me know and I will update the blog post.

Here is a list of sites that I believe are free to use:

  • AsianCrush (mix of Japanese animated and live action films available, not available in every country – I know it is available in the US and Canada)
  • Viu (streams a number of Japanese dramas; available in Hong Kong, Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Indonesia, India, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Myanmar)

More options are available, but come at a cost (usually less than the cost of Netflix though). If you are able to pay for a subscription, it might be worth checking out the following sites:

  • dTV (Japan only – requires a subscription, although the first episode of some dramas can be watched for free)
  • Hooq (available in Thailand, Singapore, India, Indonesia and the Philippines)
  • Hulu (United States only). Japan does have its own version of Hulu called Hulu Japan, but this is only available in Japan and will only have Japanese subtitles.
  • Iflix (available in Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, Egypt, Ghana, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Jordan. Kuwait, Lebanon, The Maldives, Morocco, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam, Zimbabwe)

 

So that is my list of Netflix alternatives for Japanese dramas. I will keep updating this post as and when I find new sites!

The post I wrote on Netflix has some tips on how you can use TV shows in general to study Japanese.

Are you a Jdrama fan or not? What are your favourite dramas or TV shows to watch in Japanese? Let me know in the comments!

5 Japanese Podcasts to Test your Listening Skills

5japanesepodcasts

I’ve written before about how I use podcasts to study Japanese. Since then I have been trying about a few different podcasts and thought I would share a few that I have enjoyed listening to. I find these podcasts interesting and they happen to be in Japanese, which is a win-win situation. If you are looking for more Japanese study related podcasts, I would check out the podcast recommendation series of posts.

I’ve linked to each podcast in the titles below: alternatively, you should be able to find the podcast by searching for the title if you have a specific podcasting app (or iTunes).

 

SBSの日本語放送

This is a podcast aimed at the Japanese community in Australia and sometimes focuses on community events taking place around the country. Don’t let this put you off because each episode covers a different topic and includes interviews and discussions in Japanese. There is often a quick summary in English of what each episode is about at the very beginning.

I really like the range of interviews they have on this podcast, which normally last 10-15 minutes. Not only that, I find the speaking really clear which makes it a great podcast to listen to when you are out and about.

 

Hotcast

In my previous post on podcasts, I mentioned a podcast called ひいきびいき. This podcast follows a similar format in that it is usually two people (one male, one female), who discuss specific topics in each episode. This podcast has been going for some time and there are hundreds of episodes to listen to, generally covering everyday topics such as food and drink, technology and TV.

Like ひいきびいき, I just enjoy hearing the presenters views on different things, and the discussions are usually interesting. At 30-40 minutes long, the average episode length is probably the longest of the podcasts covered in this post.

 

ピートのふしぎなガレージ

This is probably my favourite on the list. Each episode focuses on a different topic, which is often the origin of things from Japan and beyond: previous episodes have covered topics such as such as yakitori, saunas, ukiyoe, and darts to name a few. The episodes start out with a short drama skit in which the main character goes back in time to learn how and why the topic of the episode came to be as it is in the present. This is then followed up with an interview with someone who is a specialist in said topic to discuss it in more detail.

I really like the way of presenting the history of each topic in the form of a skit which makes the podcast both engaging and easy to digest, especially for Japanese learners. I do feel like I have learnt a lot from listening to only a couple of episodes!

 

明るいニュースのふたり

Sometimes watching the news can be very depressing – this podcast is all about sharing various news stories that are uplifting and interesting. Each podcast episode is about 20 minutes long and covers 2-3 good news stories. The two presenters read out the story and will have a brief discussion around each one.

This is a nice episode to relax to either in the morning or evening.There are not too many episodes and podcast hasn’t been updated for a few months, but I still think it is worth listening to when you get tired of the normal news channels.

 

きくドラ

This podcast is a series of dramatised versions of various stories, with each episode focusing on a different story. These stories are a mix of Japanese and non-Japanese authors, including the likes of Shakespeare and Chekhov. A lot of the stories covered are well-known traditional stories that you can find in Japanese on Aozora Bunko.

I find that the podcasts are an interesting way to listen to stories that you may already be familiar with. You can easily find one of the stories (for beginners I recommend the stories by Kyusaku Yumeno, Mimei Ogawa or Nankichi Niimi) on Aozora Bunko and try giving them a read before you listen to the corresponding episode.

What podcasts do you like listening to and why? Please let me know in the comments!

Should you listen to a language at a slow speed or normal speed?

listenlanguageslowspeed

I like to listen to Olly Richards’ “I Will Teach You a Language” podcast, and I happened to listen to Episode 232 called “Why you shouldn’t listen to slow audio”. He argued that the content that you listen to is more important than whether it is being spoken at normal speed or not.

Having given it some thought, I agree with him in that when people struggle with listening skills, it is usually down to the content being too difficult rather than the speed at which it is spoken at. This does pose a frustrating problem for us language learners: we struggle to listen to our target language, which is in part because we haven’t been exposed to the language enough.

Despite this, I think it is important to persevere with listening to something in your target language, even when you do not understand anything at all. This is why it is so important to find something in your target language that you enjoy, whether it be an interview with your favourite music artist, a TV show or anime.

 

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Finding something you love to listen to is the best way to stay motivated

 

Looking back, it is having this motivation to watch or listen to something at native speed that eventually improved my own listening comprehension skills. When I was studying for a Japanese exam (GCSE Japanese, which is probably closest to JLPT N5) I went from struggling with the exams to finding them fairly straightforward within a few months.

Looking back, the only thing that changed within those few months was that I began to watch a lot of Japanese TV/ drama (sometimes with English subtitles, sometimes without). Being a beginner in Japanese, it was extremely difficult to pick out what was being said apart from a few words here and there. However, the most important thing that happened as a result of doing this was that I got used to Japanese spoken at a native speed rather than at a slower speed. Combined with revising the vocabulary covered in my test, this made tackling the listening section much easier.

Similarly, I found that just spending more time listening to Japanese as it is naturally spoken helped with the listening section of the JLPT test (I have some last minute tips on how to tackle the listening section here).

Eventually, you want to get to the point where you understand your target language at a native speed, so it is important to start working towards this as early as possible. Therefore, as a language learner, maintaining a balance between material you listen to as immersion and material you use to study is key, as I wrote about in my post on podcasts.

So, the next time you are testing out your Japanese listening skills, try listening at regular speed before slowing things down. By listening to the material more than once, you might find that you are able to understand more than you initially thought!

I’m interested to know if you agree with Olly and I or not and why – let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Top 8 Japanese TV shows to watch on Netflix

As I’ve covered in a previous post, Netflix can be a really great place for Japanese listening practice, with new shows and films being added all the time. Unfortunately, sorting through the Netflix site to find Japanese shows can be a bit tricky.

I have a list of all of the Japanese content on the UK Netflix in another post.

There’s quite a variety of Japanese dramas, anime and films on the platform. To give you an idea of what to watch next, here’s my list of some of the best shows to watch in terms of Japanese study, in no particular order:

netflixtop8blog

 

僕だけがいない街 / Erased (Live Action Drama)

No. of Episodes: 12

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

NB: Anime is also available on Netflix

Satoru Fujinuma is a worker at a pizza shop who is also pursuing a career as a manga artist. Satoru also happens to have the strange ability to go back in time, known as ‘revival’. After finding his mother dead in their apartment, he ends up travelling 18 years in the past, just before the time of an attempted kidnap case which involved some of his classmates. Can he use this ability to change the past for the better, saving his mother and his classmates in the process?

screenshot from Erased Netflix live action jdrama

This adaptation of a manga immediately draws you in and there are plenty of suspenseful moments to keep you hooked. Together with some cool special effects and strong acting performances particularly from the child actors, there is plenty to enjoy here. Having lived in Hokkaido, part of me loves this drama for partially being set there and portraying a part of Japan that isn’t often shown on screen.

Language difficulty: This is probably the easiest drama to understand on this list. The sentences tend to be short and mostly everyday language. The main characters are from Hokkaido, and some of the dialogue reflects this: examples include the ~べ(さ) ending, and the use of 「なした?」instead of 「どうした?」but aside from this is not too difficult to follow.

 

ファイナルファンタジーXIV: 光のお父さん / Final Fantasy XIV: Dad of Light (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 8

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Just seeing the title of this drama on Netflix may not instantly appeal to some, but I wouldn’t let the strong gaming theme put you off.

The main character Akio Inaba has always struggled to communicate with his father, who has always put his career first. When his father suddenly resigns from his job, Akio takes the opportunity to buy his dad a Playstation 4 and a copy of the online game Final Fantasy 14. Akio hopes that he can use his character in the game called ‘Maidy’ to not only help his father with the game, but also to get to know his father better.

Final Fantasy Dad of Light Netflix jdrama screenshot

Even though Akio and his father are rarely in the same scene together (as most of their interactions are via the game), you really get the sense that they do care about each other despite never properly putting it into words.

There are strong performances between the main characters, particularly the late Osugi Ren as Akio’s dad Mr. Inaba. Whilst a bit dysfunctional, their familial relationship comes across as very realistic and natural. As a result, the use of Final Fantasy 14 as a key part of the story doesn’t feel too forced and means you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy this drama. The supporting characters are also entertaining and help to lighten the mood.

Language difficulty: Most of the language used is every day with the exception of some gaming/ fantasy terms. Some of the scenes in the drama take place in an office, so there is also an opportunity to hear polite language which contrasts with the more casual language used in the game. Having Japanese subtitles helps to make the drama more accessible to Japanese learners which is always a plus!

 

南くんの恋人 / My Little Lover (Drama, 2015 version)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Note: This drama is also available to watch on Viki for free!

This drama is based on a manga by Shungicu Uchida. Chiyomi Horikiri is a high school student living in a small town in rural Japan. After going out in a storm one night, Chiyomi ends up being shrunk to only a few inches tall. She is discovered by her neighbour and childhood friend, Shunichi Minami, who has been unusually distant with her recently. Can she get their friendship back on track, and find a way to grow back to her normal size before her family and friends find out?

My Little Lover Netflix jdrama screenshot

I wasn’t expecting to like this drama, but I was pleasantly surprised by how the relationship between the two main characters develops. The premise of the show is linked to the story of 一寸法師 (Issunboushi, the inch high samurai), a traditional Japanese children’s story.

Part fantasy, part school drama, the show manages to have a strange sense of realism despite its unusual premise. Whilst the performances by the two leads is strong, I really like the cast of supporting characters. In my opinion, they really help to balance the dramatic parts of the show with well-timed humour.

Language difficulty: Being a drama with mostly young people, this is another good drama to hear how young people talk to each other. Despite the rural setting, there aren’t any unusual dialects to deal with here. The drama mostly uses everyday language, so this is very accessible for students of Japanese.

 

深夜食堂 / Midnight Diner (Drama)

No. of Episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This is another show adapted from the best selling manga. The main character, the runs a small diner in the back streets of Tokyo. This place is unusual in that it only operates between midnight and 7am, hence the title. Each episode is named after a dish available at the diner, and focuses on different patrons to the diner and their stories, with a special focus on the relationships around them.

There can be a lot of drama but the stories always end on a positive note, with tips on how to make the recipe from the title of the episode.

Midnight Diner Netflix Jdrama Screenshot

There is a really interesting mix of stories and characters in this series. Some examples include a man who is suddenly left to his son, a university professor who falls in love with a Korean woman, a girl who always knits a jumper for the person she has a crush on, and many more. The proprietor is mostly quiet but always lends a sympathetic ear and often offers quiet encouragement. You get the feeling that the diner provides a much-needed respite from the pressures of their lives in Tokyo.

Language difficulty: You will hear everyday language in the drama, which is made a bit easier by the availability of Japanese subtitles. Due to the nature of the show there is a variety of characters from different walks of life and so speak in various ways, so it is a useful series to watch for that reason.

 

名探偵コナン / Case Closed (Anime)

No. of Episodes: 52 (episodes 748-799)

Subtitles: English available

Note: These episodes are available to watch on Crunchyroll for free!

Shinichi Kudo is a high school student who often works with the police to solve cases. After ingesting a poison which transforms him into a child, he begins working under the name Conan Edogawa and moves to live with his childhood friend, Ran Mouri. Ran’s father is a detective and so Conan often accompanies him on investigations, sometimes using tranquilizers and a voice changer to solve the case in Mr. Mouri’s place.

The Netflix selection of episodes come from much later in the anime adaptation of the long-running manga.

Case Closed Detective Conan Anime Screenshot

Although each episode follows a similar format, there is quite a variety in the types of cases. Conan will sometimes be with Ran, or his school friends when he gets caught up in a mystery – the supporting cast help to balance Conan’s serious attitude in getting the cases solved.

Some cases are resolved within one episode, although there are some which take two or three episodes, which helps keep the format fresh. There are often a few red herrings during the course of the case, but it all wraps up nicely by the end and is explained well.

Language difficulty: Despite being a mystery drama, the majority of the vocabulary is common everyday language. The background of each case is always explained in some detail, but in an easy to understand way.

 

和風総本化 / Japanese Style Originator (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 54

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

This TV show is all about Japanese culture, with a special emphasis on the cultures and traditions unique to Japan. Each episode is based on a certain theme, with a series of videos focusing on topics related to that theme. There is a panel of guests who watch and comment on the videos (if you’ve seen a Japanese panel-style show then you’ll know the drill here). Every so often there will be questions on the topics covered which the guests will have a go at answering.

Japanese Style Originator Netflix TV show screenshot

Whether it be new vocabulary or the history of things you see in Japan every day, you are bound to learn something new from every episode. With 54 episodes which are usually at least an hour long, there is plenty to keep you watching. This is highly recommended for Japanese learners!

Language difficulty: Due to the nature of the show, there is a fair bit of uncommon vocabulary relating to Japanese culture but are explained by the narrator in a way that is easy to understand. In typical style for a Japanese TV show, there is often text on screen which will help you follow what is going on if you are only using Japanese subtitles/ no subtitles at all. The discussions between the guests on the show are fairly straightforward to follow too.

 

テラスハウス / Terrace House (TV show)

No. of Episodes: 54 

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

Note: There are actually three seasons of this on Netflix: ‘Terrace House: Boys & Girls in the City’, ‘Terrace House: Aloha State’, which is set in Hawaii and ‘Terrace House: Opening New Doors’

Terrace House is a reality TV shows where a group of young strangers live together in a share house in Tokyo. The show observes their interactions and how relationships develop when put in such a situation. Each character has a different background and over the course of the show, we get to see where they work and play outside of the share house, which gives a better insight into their personality.

Terrace House Japanese TV Show Netflix screenshot

Clips from developments within the shared house are watched by a group of guests (a mixture of presenters and comedians). They share their opinions on the clips at various points through each episode, which normally sparks a lively discussion.

This is definitely a guilty pleasure for me: as with any reality TV show, the longer you watch the more you become invested in what happens to them. I find it fascinating to observe how the dynamics change when new people join the show. I also find it interesting to see how the guests who comment on the show differ in their opinions on the developments in each episode.

Language difficulty: If you are looking for a show where young people speak Japanese as you would hear it on an everyday basis, this is the show for you. Everyone speaks in a casual way and mostly use everyday language. The availability of Japanese subtitles makes a bit easier to adjust to the casual language if you have trouble catching what is said.

 

おくりびと / Departures (Film)

Film length: 125 mins

Subtitles: English available

The main character Daigo finds himself having to move back to his hometown in Yamagata Prefecture when he loses his job as a cellist in Tokyo. He manages to find a highly paid role, which happens to be preparing the deceased for funerals. He keeps this new job a secret from those around him, including his wife Mika, due to the stigma surrounding his new line of work. Whilst he struggles at first, he soon finds himself getting used to the intricate processes of the 納棺 (のうかん/ encoffining ritual).

We very much learn about the 納棺 process as Daigo does, having taken the job without knowing anything about it. You can tell that there was a lot of effort spent on portraying this ritual in a respectful way and it does not surprise me that the film led to a revival of this increasingly rare ritual. One thing I didn’t expect before watching おくりびと is that despite the theme of the film, there are some funny moments too. I think the main actor does a great job of conveying the mix of emotions he experiences having moved back to his hometown.

Language difficulty: With the exception of some funeral related terms and the Yamagata dialect, it is generally everyday language used in the film. The funeral related terms are explained as these terms are mostly new to the main character.

 

**Update – I believe that Departures may not be on Netflix anymore (at least in the UK). Therefore I am adding one more show that I have really enjoyed since first writing this post.

アグレッシブ列子 / Aggretsuko (Anime)

No. of episodes: 10

Subtitles: Japanese and English available

 

Retsuko, a red panda, is a typical twenty-something who works in an accounting department of a Japanese firm. She doesn’t like her job and finds her coworkers and boss particularly annoying, and longs for something different. She lets out her true emotions by singing death metal songs at karaoke in the evenings.

I didn’t really know what to expect before watching this. All I knew is that Aggretsuko was a Sanrio character, and all of the Sanrio characters I knew (ie. Hello Kitty) were super cute – “How was this going to translate into a show aimed at adults?” I thought. Having finished the series (and now on my second viewing), I am happy to report that Aggretsuko is incredibly entertaining to watch.

Aggretsuko has a great mix of humour and commentary on working life. Retsuko isn’t really sure what she truly wants in life, but through the situations she finds herself in during the series, she begins to form a better idea of what that might be.

The supporting characters are varied and you will no doubt have encountered some of the personalities at some point in your life. At the same time, by the end of the series each of these characters are shown to be much more nuanced compared to when they are first introduced.

I think that every adult watching this who has worked in an office will find this particularly relatable. At the same time, it provides an insight into Japanese working culture and societal expectations especially towards women. I believe that there is a second series in production and I cannot wait to see it!

Language difficulty: As a Netflix original show, you have access to Japanese and English subtitles. The Netflix trailer gives you a pretty good idea of the language you will encounter in this series. The way in which some characters speak may be hard to catch, but the actual dialogue is not too complicated (although casual in tone). I think that even beginners will be able to follow some of the dialogue, so I definitely encourage Japanese readers to watch!

 

This ended up being a much longer post than I was expecting, but I hope you find something interesting to watch if you are a Japanese learner with a Netflix subscription. Are there any shows that you would include on your own list? Please let me know in the comments!

PS. If your budget cannot stretch to a Netflix subscription, I suggest you check out my post on places to watch Japanese TV shows for free!

Podcast Recommendation: Bilingual NY Learn Japanese

The Bilingual NY Learn Japanese podcast (not to be confused with the Bilingual News Podcast!) is a regular podcast covering the latest news articles in Japanese. Inspired by the Bilingual News Podcast, the articles covered are given in Japanese, followed up with an explanation in English.

I believe the format has changed somewhat recently, but I am basing this review on the most recent format as described below which I think works well.

Screenshot 2017-10-15 at 17.28.22.png

The articles covered are usually from NHK News Web Easy, so if you make use of this website already, then this podcast is a nice companion resource. Each episode focuses on one article in depth. The article is first read out in full in Japanese, then English definitions are given before a line by line English translation by Ben, the presenter.

This is then followed up by a more difficult version of the same story, normally an article taken from one of the main newspapers. I think this is a great idea for showing the difference in style between the kinds of articles you find on NHK Easy as opposed to actual Japanese newspapers, as there is often a difference in formality which affects the vocabulary and grammar you come across.

At about 10-15 minutes each, the episode length is not as long as the other Bilingual News Podcast. However, given the structure of each podcast episode, I think this works quite well to study from in short bursts.

At the end of the podcast, there is a segment on English to Japanese translation practice. I didn’t really like this part as the sentences and vocabulary unrelated to the article itself. It was also pronounced by the presenter who is a non-native speaker, which some people may not like. This is a minor negative as it is only a couple of minutes long and of course, easily skippable.

Overall I do like this podcast for when I have less time to listen to the Bilingual News Podcast. There is a certain level of assumed knowledge in terms of vocabulary and grammar, so I would recommend this for upper beginner to intermediate learners. If the Bilingual News Podcast is a bit beyond your current level, I recommend giving this podcast a try instead.

You can find the episodes on Soundcloud, iTunes or on a podcasting app of your choice.

Looking for another Japanese podcast in simpler Japanese? I have also covered the wonderful News in Easy Japanese podcast which you may also be interested in 🙂

Have you tried out this podcast? Do you like it? Let me know in the comments!

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!).

Podcast recommendation: Bilingual News Podcast

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 🙂

5 Quick Tips for Nailing the JLPT Listening Test

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Unfortunately, you don’t get these snazzy headphones in the real exam

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!

Top Youtube Channels for Learning Japanese

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

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

Bilingirl Chika/ Japanagos

Japanagos

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

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

 

Easy Languages – Japanese

Easy Lang Japanese

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

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

 

Japanese Ammo with Misa

Japanese Ammo with Misa

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

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

 

Nihongo no Mori

Nihongo no Mori

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

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

 

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

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

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

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