Cultural Kotoba: Tsuyu (梅雨) – the rainy season

Japan’s rainy season, or tsuyu (梅雨/つゆ) is nearly upon us, which means spring is over and summer is around the corner!

梅雨入り(つゆいり; tsuyu iri)

The start of the rainy season; usually early June

梅雨明け(つゆあけ; tsuyu ake)

The end of the rainy season; usually mid-July

The kanji compound for tsuyu is literally 梅 (うめ;ume) meaning ‘plum’ and 雨 (あめ; ame) meaning ‘rain’. There are a few different ideas regarding how these two kanji came to represent the rainy season. One popular reason is that the rainy season coincides with the time when plums become ripe. 梅雨 can also be read as ばいう (baiu) originating from Chinese, which is thought to refer to the humidity which allows mould to flourish.

Why does Japan have a rainy season?

Japan experiences this because winds from the Sea of Okhotsk north of Hokkaido comes into contact with warm winds coming up from the Pacific Ocean. This leads to the humid and often rainy period before summer begins. Despite the name, the probability of rain during this time is only about 50%.

長靴 (ながぐつ; nagagutsu) = rainboots and 傘(かさ; kasa) = umbrella

Having said that, an umbrella or 傘 (かさ: kasa) is definitely a must – you can choose to buy a cheap clear umbrella from the convenience store, or invest in something more hardwearing. There is a wide range of clothes and accessories sold in shops that are both stylish and practical.

Tsuyu can be a troublesome time since the humidity makes it difficult to dry clothes. A dehumidifier/ 除湿機(じょしつき; joshitsuki) is necessary to stop mould (カビ; kabi) growing everywhere. This is also the time when food poisoning is a particular danger, so extra care has to be taken when storing and preparing food.

What to look out for during tsuyu

All of the rain and high humidity is annoying, but there are some interesting things to look out for during tsuyu:

Hydrangeas

Hydrangea flowers are known in Japanese as 紫陽花 (あじさい; ajisai). Hydrangeas grow in abundance during the rainy season and are therefore strongly associated with it. Places such as Meigetsuin Temple in Kamakura are particularly famous for their hydrangeas.

Fewer tourists

The rain generally puts people off travelling, so outdoor tourist spots tend to be quieter. Instead, indoor attractions like cafes, onsen, aquariums and museums are more popular. However, if you are happy to brave the weather, some places are just as charming to visit in the rain. Hokkaido is the best destination for those that hate tsuyu as the prefecture is lucky enough to avoid the rainy season!

Teru teru bouzu てるてる坊主

Making teru teru bouzu is a cute way to wish for clear weather. These handmade dolls are often made from tissue paper or cloth – it is best to hang them outside the day before. The verb てる (照る; teru) means “shining” and 坊主 (ぼうず; bouzu) is the name for a Buddhist monk. Young children usually learn to make them at school, and there is even a (rather sinister) nursery rhyme!

Looks like the teru teru bouzu didn’t work this time…

Rainbows

With all the rainy weather, rainbows 虹 (にじ; niji) are much more common during this time. I think this is one of the many reasons why tsuyu provides an opportunity to take some fantastic pictures!


This post was inspired by me watching an episode of Rilakkuma and Kaoru that was set during the rainy season. Although not explicitly stated, you can tell the time of year from things such as Kaoru wearing rainboots and making teru teru bouzu, as well as the appearance of mushrooms and a frog in her apartment. These things would be very familiar to Japanese people but less so to international audiences.

Have you got any tips for surviving wet weather? Let me know in the comments!

Easy Japanese Manga Recommendation: Assassination Classroom/ Ansatsu Kyoushitsu

Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Assassination Classroom/ Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (暗殺教室), a manga series created by Yusei Matsui.

Quick Facts

Author: Yusei Matsui (松井優征)

Genre: Comedy, sci-fi

No. of volumes: 21

Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations

Plot Overview

Class 3E at Kunugigaoka Junior High School is a group of misfits who have been given a rather important task. They must kill their teacher, who has already destroyed part of the moon, in order to save Earth. Unfortunately, this is no ordinary teacher; he is actually an octopus-like monster who can move at super speed and regenerate his body parts. Worst of all, he is actually a good teacher who helps them with all sorts of life lessons. He is given the nickname Korosensei (a play on the Japanese: Korosensei is a contraction of 殺せない先生/ korosenai sensei = unkillable teacher). Will the class be able to kill Korosensei and stop the world from being destroyed?

Why do I recommend the manga?

The premise might be off-putting to some, but after I started to read I felt like the manga was more about the pupils’ growth more than anything. Class 3E are the underdogs; they have the worst grades in the year and are widely expected to not achieve much in their lives. This task, however, begins to give them more confidence, even though regularly fail.

The class contains a variety of characters and from the outset are pretty creative in their attempts to kill their teacher. Korosensei is interesting too; rather than the menacing villain you might expect, he actively helps his students improve themselves both in and out of the classroom. It’s a lot of fun to read and has plenty of comic moments.

Recommended Japanese language level

In terms of language, I think that this manga is suitable for someone around JLPT N3 or intermediate level (JLPT N4 learners should certainly be able to follow quite a lot of the plot). As there is a high school setting, it helps to be familiar with casual forms of Japanese. However, there isn’t as much of this as you might expect, which makes it a bit more accessible compared to other manga in the genre.

Not only that, there aren’t many lots of long sentences to read which makes it easier to understand even when there is a lot of action happening. Furthermore, as with other Shonen Jump manga, this has furigana to help you look up words faster.

You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the ‘無料立ち読み’ button.

If you do try reading any of the recommendations, please let me know how you get on the comments. I am always on the hunt for beginner friendly manga, so if you have any suggestions please let me know!

Happy Reading!

PS. There is an anime and live-action film adaptation of the manga.

The 5 Second Rule

I really wish you could put your spare motivation into a bottle to use when you need it the most. Getting into a new routine is difficult sometimes, but I have seen making use of a new trick to boost my productivity: The 5 Second Rule.

The 5 second Rule is often used to refer to this myth that if you drop a piece of food on the floor but pick it up within 5 seconds, it is still safe to eat.

American TV host and motivational speaker Mel Robbins has written a book with the title The 5 Second Rule. The idea of the 5 Second Rule is simple, but if you are keen to get a feel for the book’s content I recommend checking out one this great summary video:

The gist of the book is that in order to develop better habits, you need to reduce the time you spend thinking about an action you might take. When you get an impulse to do something, you have 5 seconds to take action.

So if you find yourself thinking something like: “I should read an article in Japanese” “I should do my Anki reviews” “I should turn off the English subtitles

…You need to actually follow up on that thought in 5 seconds or less. After that point, you will most likely hesitate for too long and think of an excuse not to do it, especially if it is out of your comfort zone.

This works for reinforcing good habits and getting rid of bad ones. In fact, Mel used this method to tackle her bad habit of using the snooze button too much in the morning.

Apparently, the brain is very good at picking up on these impulses to take action whenever we are in close proximity to certain stimuli. For example, if you leave your Japanese textbook on a table that you walk past every day, you most likely have an impulse to pick up the textbook.

Acting on these brief moments of inspiration can have an extremely powerful effect, especially if you are a big procrastinator like me. Most of the time, it is the getting started that is the hardest part of my study lessons. Using the 5 second rule makes you feel much more in control of your habits, helping to reduce stress as well.

I started using the 5 Second Rule with really small things which made things feel much less scary. Together with making other changes like putting my Japanese books in easy to reach places has made a big difference. So far I feel like I have been able to make more time for Japanese study, mostly grammar stuff which I rarely look forward to starting. The truth is that I am using my time more effectively that I now feel like I have a bit more time left to focus on other interests.

What one thing has helped you to be more productive recently? Let me know in the comments!

Tadoku Tuesdays (5) What I’m reading in May 2019

Tadoku Tuesdays are back! As I did in the last post (which was something like 8 months ago!), I am going to write about a couple of books I have been reading, as well as any new additions to my book collection.

The Novel I’m Reading: 君の膵臓を食べたい/ I Want to Eat Your Pancreas by 住野よる/ Yoru Sumino

I’ve heard a lot about this novel, not least because of its unusual title. I bought the book last year but I only started reading it about a month ago.

The main character (who I only know as boku) finds out that his classmate Sakura is suffering from a terminal pancreatic disease. This secret brings together two characters who are very different; whereas Sakura is sociable and cheerful, the boy prefers solitude. As they spend more time together the boy learns Sakura’s approach to life brings its own rewards.

I am only about a quarter of the way through the book, but unfortunately I haven’t been captivated by it just yet. I want to like this novel more but the idea that boku is an anti-social high school boy feels like a very familiar trope. I will finish the novel as I want to see if the story develops into something a bit more interesting.

The book has been pretty straightforward to read so far, especially as there has been lot of dialogue between the two main characters. Based on what I have seen, it seems pretty accessible for JLPT N3 learners.

There are also manga, live action film and anime film adaptations of the novel which I would like to watch when I have finished with the novel. The anime film seems to have a lot of positive reviews so I will probably watch this first.

The Novel I Recently Finished: 三毛猫ホームズのクリスマス by 赤川次郎/ Jiro Akagawa

This is a collection of short stories by famous author Jiro Akagawa. Every so often I find myself wanting to read a mystery, but I am not always interested in tackling a whole novel (especially if I am focused on reading another novel). Jiro Akagawa has written a huge amount of books, with the Calico Holmes series being the biggest and most well known. I happened to buy the book before Christmas and chose this one based on the title (only the last story is related to Christmas though).

Despite the title, we read the story from Yoshitaro Katayama’s perspective. Yoshitaro Katayama is a detective who probably isn’t a natural fit for the job – he isn’t good with dead bodies or talking to women.

Together with his sister Harumi, they often find themselves involved in some strange situations which call upon their investigative skills. Whenever the Katayama siblings are stuck, their cat Holmes usually helps point them in the right direction. There are also a few other returning side characters who also provide support as well as comic relief.

I enjoyed the variety of stories and the relationship between the Katayama siblings. Yoshitaro and Harumi often make up for each others’ shortcomings, even if they do bicker a lot. I was surprised that Holmes wasn’t really the main character but I think his role in the stories works really well. From a language perspective, the writing style is easy to follow too. I’d recommend this for JLPT N3 level learners who like mystery stories that aren’t too demanding.

I found out this week that there is a live action drama adaptation which I am interested in watching, although reviews seem to be mixed.

Books added to my To Be Read pile:

Again I am staying focused on my goal of buying fewer books, but I did pick up one eBook a couple of months ago as it was on sale – ペンギン・ハイウェイ/ Penguin Highway by 森見登美彦/ Tomohiko Morimi.

This novel was released back in 2010, however a manga and film adaptation was released last year. I know that the novel is about a boy who wants to find out why penguins have suddenly started appearing in his town. Since the main story is about a young boy, the language used seems to be pretty simple with short sentences.

I’m looking forward to reading it as it seems like an odd but charming story. I’ll probably follow it up by watching the anime film adaptation at some point too.

So that’s it for today’s post – you can take a look at these books on the ebookJapan website and read the previews (look out for the “試し読み” button) if you are interested in checking them out.

What are you reading at the moment (in Japanese or otherwise)? Do you have any recommendations for me? Let me know in the comments!

Where to find and buy Japanese music online

Following my post on 15 Easy Japanese Songs, I realised that finding Japanese songs from outside the country can be pretty difficult.

Unlike music from other parts of the world, the Japanese music industry is a little bit more old fashioned, and so it can be difficult to find some music online due to copyright issues. This is less of a problem with contemporary artists, which have generally been embracing more modern platforms.

I hope this post will help give you some ideas on where to find your next favourite Japanese song.

Places to discover Japanese music

The Oricon Music chart will give you an idea of what is popular in Japan right now. Although all in Japanese, the website is pretty easy to navigate. If you are into pop/rock or idol music, you will most likely find a couple of artists to listen to just from the charts alone.

YouTube

No matter what genre of music you prefer, YouTube is a pretty great place to start looking. The YouTube channels for major Japanese record labels include:

Spotify

Spotify helps to fill in some of the gaps left by YouTube. The playlist feature is a great way to be exposed to different types of music based on what you already like.

Here are some of Spotify’s own Japanese music playlists to get you started:

There are plenty of user made playlists too – search ‘Japan’ or ‘Japanese’ to find them! If you are lucky to be based in Japan then you will be able to access a much larger library of music.

Deezer

I’ve also tried Deezer which has also some Japanese songs (although I feel they are a bit trickier to find compared to Spotify). The user created playlists are a great place to start looking, though there are a few official ones too.

I noticed that on Deezer it is possible to view the lyrics to some Japanese songs, although it seems to be a Premium feature.

Japan Top 10 Podcast

Another place to keep up with Japanese music is the Japan Top 10 podcast. Japan Top 10 iis a regular Japanese music podcast showcases a variety of music. Their artist spotlight posts are a good way to find out about popular artists both past and present.

Where can you buy Japanese music?

Once you have an idea of what music you like, the next step is actually purchasing it.

I live in the UK, but I have found that you can often find Japanese music on most digital music platforms. If you prefer physical music then you still have a range of options (though I suggest you buy a few CDs at a time to make shipping costs more economical).

Digital music

iTunes, Amazon Music, Google Play Music

iTunes is undoubtedly your best bet if based outside of Japan – it definitely has the widest range of Japanese music.

If you don’t have iTunes, it is possible to find some Japanese songs on Amazon Music and Google Play Music. Compared to iTunes though, this is often limited to artists who are fairly well known and may only be part of their discography.

For most of the artists I looked at, songs that are available on Amazon Music are usually available on Google Play Music.

OTOTOY

There’s also a Japanese website called OTOTOY, which is Japanese music-focused but is also internationally oriented (you can view the OTOTOY website in English, Japanese, French or Traditional Chinese). There are interviews and news features on the website, although these are all in Japanese. Most importantly, you can download Japanese music digitally which can be paid for in a few ways including (international) credit cards and Paypal.

I’ve found the range of music includes a greater range of up and coming artists, although you can find music by popular artists such as Aimyon, Sekai no Owari, Greeeen and Shiina Ringo too.

The main downside to OTOTOY is that the costs of digital downloads is noticeably higher than what I pay for Western music. I normally pay 99p ($1.29) for one song, but OTOTOY charges 250 yen ($2.30/ £1.77).

Physical music

Physical CDs are still super popular in Japan, and whilst brand new CDs can be expensive, second-hand CDs can be bought fairly cheaply.

I also recommend checking out Amazon Japan, CD Japan, HMV Japan and YesAsia (all links take you to the English language versions of their website). Buying in bulk is a good idea not just for shipping costs, but the potential import fees you may have to pay.

It’s always worth checking out eBay – you never know what second hand bargains you might find!

I have a Japanese Music Mondays series on the blog’s Instagram and Facebook pages, with the aim of introducing Japanese music to a wider audience. I try to cover different genres – if you have any suggestions please let me know!

Back Online

ひさしぶり readers and apologies for the lack of posts/ responses to comments.

I’m still in the process of unpacking!

You might know from social media that I’ve had an impromptu break from the blog as I have been moving house. I was only planning on being away for a couple of weeks but I had some issues getting the internet set up. Thankfully these are resolved and I am mostly settled in my new place. I also took the opportunity to refresh the blog’s theme.

Being away from the internet for so long did give me a chance to reflect on my language learning. When I have had time to study I have been keeping things really simple.

I mostly listened to my favourite podcasts, read books and did my Anki reps (well, some of the time).

I was appreciative of the break from the internet for the most part, as I realised that I spend so much time relying on the internet for just about everything. I certainly want to make more time for offline language learning in the future.

Naturally, as my daily routine has changed, my language learning routine is in the process of changing too. I have a longer commute which is ideal for Anki reps and podcasts. On the other hand, I have less time in the morning which is when I used to get in a lot of reading practice. I’m planning to spend more time doing some reading just before I go to bed to make up for it!

The great thing about moving is that I have my own desk for my study sessions. I definitely plan on hitting my JLPT textbooks more consistently going forward.

When I didn’t have the internet, the one thing that I definitely missed the most was the language learning community. Logging into Twitter and Instagram everyday is a massive source of inspiration for me (as long as I don’t spend too much time on it!).

This is a short post today but I want to end by saying thank you for your patience and expect some new posts very soon 🙂

What is the difference between てから and たあとで?

Today’s post is about how to use grammar points てから and たあとで. Both てから and たあとで are JLPT N5 grammar points, used to show the sequence of two events.

A (verb) てから B

After A, B; B happens after A

A (verb) たあとで B OR A (noun) のあとで B

After A, B; B happens after A

Both of them allow you to link two phrases each other, although they require slightly different conjugations.

Let’s look at two actions that we want to link together in one sentence.

Action A is going to be 本を読みました/ ほんをよみました = I read a book

Action B is going to be 寝ました/ ねました = I went to sleep

With てから, you conjugate the verb at the end of action A into the て form and add the word から, and then add action B.

よみます (よむ in plain form) becomes よんで in the て form. Therefore the sentence becomes:

ほんをよんでから、ねました.

To use たあとで, you need to conjugate the verb into the た form and add あとで before adding action B. If you’ve mastered the て form, then the た form is super easy – just replace the て with た.

Action A can also be a noun, which can be linked to あとで by using the possessive particle の in between.

Using the same example above:

よみます (よむ in plain form) becomes よんで in て form and therefore よんだ in た form. Therefore this time the sentence is:

ほんをよんだあとで、ねました

What is the difference between te kara and ta atode?

てから

てから is used when the second action (B) is going to happen straight after the first (A). In a lot of A てから B sentences, action B is only possible after completing action A. For that reason, it is useful when you want to express actions that take place in a specific order, such as in your daily routine.

A good way to remember this is to think of how the word から can be used on its own to mean ‘after’, ‘since’ or ‘from’ in English.

Further examples:

  • コンビニで買物(かいもの)をしてから、うちに帰(かえ)りました。
  • 毎朝(まいあさ)おきてからオレンジジュースを飲(の)みます。
  • きっぷを買(か)ってからおんせんに入(はい)りましす。
  • しごとが終(お)わってから、昼ご飯(ひるごはん)を食(た)べました。

たあとで

たあとで on the other hand, contains the word あと (the kanji is 後) which means later, behind, or after. たあとで is used to show that action B takes place after A, but it might not be immediately afterwards.

Taking the example sentence we used before:

ほんをよんでから、ねました

= I went to bed after reading a book

ほんをよんだあとで、ねました hon wo yonda atode, nemashita.

= I went to bed after reading a book (but between reading and going to bed I did other things, eg. brushed my teeth)

たあとで can also have the nuance of emphasising the fact that action B takes place after A (and not before). It’s good to remember that this grammar point uses the た form, which is the past tense in plain form.

ato de jlpt n5 japanese grammar

For instance, there is a famous book/ live action drama/ film called 「謎解き(なぞとき)はディナーのあとで」(The After-Dinner Mysteries). Using あとで emphasises that solving mysteries only takes place after dinner.

Further examples:

  • しゅくだいをしたあとで、ケーキを食(た)べましょう。
  • じゅぎょうのあとで、先生(せんせい)に質問(しつもん)をします。
  • 高校生(こうこうせい)になったあとで、ピアノを習(なら)いました。
  • ひらがなを勉強(べんきょう)したあとで、カタカナを勉強(べんきょう)します。

Vocabulary list:

本・ほん book

宿題・しゅくだい  homework

食べる・たべる  [godan verb] to eat

授業・じゅぎょう lesson

先生・せんせい teacher

質問・しつもん question –> 質問をする to ask a question

高校生・こうこうせい high school student

習う・ならう [godan verb] to learn –> ピアノを習う to learn (how to play) the piano

勉強・べんきょう study  –> …を勉強する to study…

謎・なぞ mystery –> 謎を解く・なぞをとく to solve a mystery

買い物・かいもの shopping –> 買い物する to go shopping

切符・きっぷ  ticket

仕事・しごと work, job

I haven’t written one of these posts in a very long time – the last one was almost 2 years ago! I hope someone finds this useful. If you have any feedback, please let me know in the comments!

Duolingo Japanese Course Review

I see a lot of people asking: is Duolingo any good for learning Japanese?

From my perspective as a long time Japanese learner, I believe that it can be a useful place to start learning the language.

However, if you are serious about learning Japanese, do not make Duolingo your only resource. As great as the app is for allowing you to practice Japanese and many other languages, it does have some limitations.

About Duolingo for Japanese

Duolingo is a free app for learning various languages. The Japanese course is designed to help you learn the basics through a number of lessons. Each lesson covers a different topic and introduces relevant vocabulary.

People who are not new to the language can take a proficiency test to jump ahead to later lessons.

Duolingo has you practicing new words in a few ways. Often this is by translating them from Japanese to English or vice versa, writing or rearranging sentences and filling in the missing word.

Duolingo has a crown system. By completing all of the lessons within a topic, you level up a crown for that topic. As your crown level increases, the complexity of the sentences does too.


Advantages and disadvantages of Duolingo for Japanese

What I like about the Duolingo Japanese course

There are some obvious benefits to learning Japanese with Duolingo:

  • It starts from teaching Hiragana. Katakana and kanji are gradually introduced, and they doesn’t use lots of romaji, except at the beginning.
  • The audio is clear. You can repeat it as much as you need to, which is great for shadowing. There are also sometimes options to hear the audio a little bit slower if you need it, by clicking on the button showing a tortoise.
  • Vocabulary is introduced by theme. With a new language, the amount of vocabulary to learn can feel overwhelming at times (particularly with Japanese). Introducing words and phrases by topic gives learners a better idea of how to form sentences around that topic.
  • It encourages you to make language learning a daily habit. Doing a little bit each day is much more effective than once a week. I think the Duolingo streak is a fun way to try and stay consistent with your learning.
  • The Duolingo community is friendly and helpful. During lessons, you can click on the comments button to see discussions regarding sentence translations.
  • If you are competitive, it is easy to compete against friends or other learners on the Duolingo leaderboard.

What I don’t like about the Duolingo Japanese course

On the other hand, the disadvantages of the Japanese course as I see it are:

  • Grammar is not explained at all (in the app, that is). Duolingo relies on inference to learn grammar, ie. by seeing a sentence pattern repeatedly you will work out what it means. This is usually fine for languages with a similar structure to English. Unfortunately, Japanese grammar is so different from English that it is hard to pick up on the differences simply from observing phrases in two languages.

For example, when Duolingo gives you the sentence:

アメリカ人です

= I am American

I would want to know why the Japanese doesn’t include the word ‘I’.

Fortunately, the desktop version does have grammar notes, which can be viewed before you start a lesson.

I think that these explanations are clear and cover a lot of the basics. However, sometimes the sentence patterns change within the same lesson but lack any explanations on why this happens.

An example of this that is introduced in the Food lesson is the sentence:

ごはんは食べません= I don’t eat rice

I would be confused as to why は is being suddenly used rather than を. Even on the Desktop app, the notes prior to this lesson introduce を as an object marker and there is no mention of how は could be used at all. I think it would be particularly difficult to pick up particle usage from the course.

The comments section goes a long way in filling some of the gaps in grammar explanations.

Having said that, I would be a little wary of some of the comments. After all, they are from fellow learners who may unintentionally give out incorrect information.

This is why a lot of Japanese learners would benefit from using other resources for grammar alongside Duolingo.

  • When it comes to hiragana, katakana and kanji, the focus is on recognition. Together with the fact that most questions are multiple choice, it is easy to think that you have learned all the kana when you are not studying it on a deeper level.
  • The introduction of katakana and kanji feels abrupt without explanation (again, I am referring to the app). This would be very confusing to learners without any background on how the various writing systems work.

It would be good for the app to explain how the pronunciations of kanji can vary – for example, 何 kanji is introduced within the first few lessons, but it appears in example sentences as both なに and なん.

Similarly, some vocabulary needs explanations, especially since a lot of English words can correlate to a number of different words in Japanese. Sometimes water is 水, sometimes it appears as お水.

  • Example sentences and their translations can feel a little off.

Part of this is because some Japanese phrases do not have an English equivalent. I have seen a noticeable improvement in this since the Japanese course was first released in beta. This is because of the many people who have been reporting suggestions on what should be accepted, which Duolingo have then added to the course.

Of course, this is a tough issue to address, but Japanese learners should be aware that the phrase Duolingo tells them is not necessarily the definitive answer in all situations.

What I think Duolingo needs to continue improving on is giving greater flexibility when it comes to writing the right answer. Japanese can be quite ambiguous, so there are many ways to interpret even the simplest sentences.

duolingo-japanese-course-itadakimasu
According to the comments, there are a few acceptable translations including “bon appetit”

Overall impressions of Duolingo for Japanese

Overall I feel that Duolingo is a fantastic starting point for those who are interested in learning Japanese. However in my opinion, the cookie-cutter format that Duolingo uses isn’t really compatible with the Japanese language.

By completing the whole tree, you are going to cover a lot of basic Japanese vocabulary, kanji and grammar. The sentences that you cover do increase in complexity but you will most likely reach an upper beginner level (JLPT N5) by the end.

This is great if you are thinking of travelling to Japan in the future. In fact, the last lesson on the Japanese language tree (at the time of writing) is about the Olympics!

If you like the style of Duolingo, but want to try something that addresses some of the issues I raised above, then I recommend checking out Lingodeer. Lingodeer is an app which has a similar format to Duolingo, but is more tailored to East Asian languages. I wrote about the app in my post on the best 7 Japanese learning apps on Android.

By writing this post, I do not mean to discourage people from learning Japanese if Duolingo is their only option. The more people study Japanese, the better! Japanese is a relatively recent addition to Duolingo and there are updates and improvements being made all the time.

I do however think it is important to be aware of the limitations of the course as I see it at the time of writing. At least you can be aware of what things you may need to be careful of or learn via another resources.


What to do alongside or after the Duolingo Japanese course

If you do have a long term goal of learning Japanese beyond beginner level, here are my top tips on making the most of Duolingo Japanese.

1) Use the Desktop version of the course

The desktop version of the course is going to help you understand the structure of Japanese much better than trying to guess grammatical rules.

I do think that it is best to study basic Japanese grammar from other resources where you can. Sometimes grammar makes more sense when you can see the same topic explained in different ways.

When it comes to textbooks, Genki I will help you build a solid foundation in Japanese grammar and comes with a workbook to practice with too. Online alternatives to Japanese textbooks include Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide and Human Japanese.

2) Practice hiragana, katakana and kanji outside the app/ website.

For learning kana you can use apps such as JustKana, Japanese Kana Dojo (iOS, Android), Dr Moku (iOS, Android), RealKana (iOS)

Marvellous online resources for kanji practice include Kanji Study app and Kanshudo.

If learning to write Japanese by hand is something you want to do, then make sure you are practising this alongside apps or online resources.

There are also some books you can get that focus on learning kana and kanji, such as the Basic Kanji Book.

3) Review vocabulary regularly.

The spaced repetition in Duolingo will only help you so much, and with a wide range of topics it can get hard to keep track of everything you’ve learned.

Make your own flashcards based on the vocabulary you encounter in the app. Either physical flashcards or flashcards on a program like Anki both work really well.

Duolingo has a sister app called Tinycards which you can find the flashcard decks for the kanji and vocabulary introduced in the Japanese course. The app is one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen!

4) Get in some real world listening and speaking practice

You want your learning to be as active as possible. I recommend trying out the following things depending on your interests:

Listening – Netflix, YouTube, podcasts

Reading – Watanoc, Hirogaru, children’s stories

Speaking/ WritingItalki, Hello Talk, Japanese classes, language exchanges and meetups

I want to end this post by saying that I believe that the most important thing in language learning is consistency in your studies rather than what resources you use (although some are definitely better than others!).

My How to Start Learning Japanese page has a lot more resources for beginners.

There is going to be an update to the Japanese course on Duolingo very soon (known as Japanese 2.0). This update will significantly increase the number of skills, kanji learnt and grammar that you learn. I look forward to giving it another try when it is officially released!

Chrome Extensions for Japanese learners – Part 2

I wrote a post about some useful Google Chrome extensions for Japanese learners quite a while ago. Since then I’ve found some more useful extensions that others might be interested in.

Duendecat

Duendecat is similar to Mainichi, which I mentioned in my first post on Chrome extensions. This extension will show a random Japanese sentence/ hiragana/ katakana/ word/ kanji when you open a new tab.

Extensions that allow you to study when you open a new tab are a great way to get in a little extra practice. I’m a big fan of studying Japanese through sentences, so I really like that Duendecat has this option as the default.

Initially, the sentence will appear in Japanese on its own. However, clicking on the Japanese sentence will make the English translation appear. I’ve found that there is a wide range of sentences covering various levels of formality.

duendecat-chrome-extension-learn-japanese

As you can see, furigana is provided above each kanji. Hovering over the kanji gives you the onyomi and kunyomi readings as well as a short English translation. If you use Wanikani to study kanji, then this is even more useful. You are able to set the difficulty of the sentence to match your Wanikani level. To set this up, just go to the options and add in your Wanikani API key.

By the way, the Duendecat website works in a similar way to the extension. You can study a range of sentences that are within your Wanikani level.

I think that the extension is a good one for beginners as they master hiragana, katakana and move on to kanji. I highly recommend it if you plan on using Wanikani.

Yomichan (*also available on Firefox)

I am a big fan of the Rikaikun extension, but I have found it less and less reliable recently. Fortunately, there is an alternative, called Yomichan. Having switched to this, I can say that this is one of the very best Chrome extensions for Japanese learners to have installed.

Like Rikaikun, when the extension is enabled, you can hover over a Japanese word to get its furigana reading and English meaning. Yomichan requires you to hold shift and hover over a word.

yomichan-chrome-extension-learn-japanese

You can then click on any of the kanji you look up to learn more about it:

yomichan-japanese-learning-chrome-extension
The kanji lookup feature provides plenty of useful information

If you just want to look up a word, you can use the Search function to look words up and get the same information.

Yomichan has a few additional features that set it apart from Rikaikun. Firstly, native speaker audio is available for a lot of words. Secondly, Yomichan offers integration with Anki (using a plugin called AnkiConnect), allowing you to instantly create flashcards from the words you look up.

For Yomichan to work you need to install at least one dictionary from their website which is very straightforward. JMDict is going to cover the majority of words you might need to look up, and is available in a number of languages besides English. There are other kanji, slang and name dictionaries available to download too. You can also import your own dictionary files using Yomichan Import.

Clearly a lot of hard work has gone into making this extension and it is an amazing tool for Japanese learners. It happens to be free but donations can be made via the homepage if you are able to.

LLN: Language Learning with Netflix or Subadub

I’ve given two options here as both extensions are to do with Netflix and subtitles. Readers on the blog will know that I do like Netflix for Japanese TV shows and films.

Dual language subtitles are really useful because it allows you to compare the differences in structure between the two languages. I had wished that you could enable two sets of subtitles on Netflix, and now you can with LLN: Language Learning with Netflix. If you are familiar with Viki’s learn mode, then this is pretty similar.

Subtitles are given in your target language with a translation into English. There are a few other options which this short video describes:


LLN supports a wide range of languages. Unfortunately at the time of writing, the integrated dictionary available for other languages does not support Chinese, Japanese or Korean.

This leads me to my alternative recommendation, Subadub.

Subadub is a bit different from LLN since Subadub provides enhanced language subtitles for your target language.

subadub-chrome-extensions-learn-japanese

The subtitles in subadub are readable text, which means you can copy and paste them. You can also use this in tandem with Yomichan to look up vocabulary and then add it to Anki.

The subtitles can also be downloaded in full if you like to make flashcards to study with. I think Subadub is a great resource for an intermediate level learner as a way of getting used to only having Japanese subtitles.

So those are my latest discoveries when it comes to Google Chrome Extensions for Japanese learners. Are there any extensions that you find useful (related to language learning or not)? Please tell me in the comments!

Langjam and little discoveries

As you might know from the blog’s Instagram page, I took part in Langjam last weekend. I thought I’d do a little post about my experience, even though I didn’t make as much progress as planned.

What is LangJam?

Language Jam, (often referred to as Langjam) is a challenge where people interested in languages sign up to study a new language for a weekend.  

When you sign up, you input the languages that you already know and are then randomly assigned a language from the list available from the challenge. There’s a real range of languages covering all continents and various writing systems.

The language I was given to study was Swahili, which I was very excited about.

The “Whitecard” option gives you another language choice if you aren’t keen on the first one you are allocated

There is a prep phase for your language in the run up to the Langjam weekend where you have time to gather resources, read up on the language and start learning new scripts if applicable.

This was much needed as I basically knew nothing about Swahili. My knowledge was basically limited to the fact that it is spoken in a few different countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, and that Hakuna Matata is a Swahili phrase.

In my prep phase, I learned some interesting facts about Swahili. I didn’t know that Swahili has links to Arabic: Swahili can be written in the Arabic script and share some vocabulary. I also learned that there are a few other Swahili words referenced in The Lion King:

  • Rafiki = friend
  • Simba = lion
  • Pumbaa = foolish, silly, negligent
  • Nala = gift

I decided to join Langjam near the end of the prep phase, so I didn’t have much time to gather resources. In the end, I mainly used SwahiliPod101 and Duolingo as my main resources. I have mixed feelings about Duolingo, but the Swahili course seems pretty good.

My LangJam experience

Unfortunately I ended up being pretty busy over the weekend and didn’t get much time to study anything in depth. On the other hand, it has been really fun to follow how other people have been getting on with the challenge via the hashtag #langjam.

Swahili is a fascinating language and I hope that one day I will be able to develop some proficiency in it. I will stick with the Duolingo lessons as they are short and sweet, but my focus will remain on Japanese for now.

So it seems that nani can mean ‘what’ in English, just like Japanese! (it normally means ‘who’ though)

Doing the Langjam challenge reminded me of one very important thing; the joy of discovering new things about a language. Learning new words and phrases, sentence structures, writing systems, pronunciation can all be a lot of fun at the start.

That feeling we get from all of these new discoveries is so important for sustaining motivated in your target language. Sometimes even though we are settled in our language learning routines, we can be lacking that little spark that keeps you engaged. This is something I have tried to embody in my learning since finishing the challenge.

I love discovering new Japanese music and getting engrossed in Japanese dramas, so I am now trying to dedicate a little bit more time to both of these fun activities (not forgetting the ‘boring’ stuff too!).

If Langjam sounds interesting to you, keep an eye on the website and the social media channels to be notified of the next challenge (it gets held a few times a year).

Have you started any new languages recently? How have you found it so far? Let me know in the comments!

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