Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Yuzu’s Medical Records of Animals/ Yuzu no Doubutsu Karute (ゆずのどうぶつカルテ), a manga series created by Mingo Ito.
Full title: ゆずのどうぶつカルテ〜こちらわんニャンどうぶつ病〜
Author: Mingo Ito (伊藤みんご)
Genre: Comedy, slice of life
No. of volumes: 7
Recommended for: JLPT N4/ upper beginner
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: No
Yuzu Morino is a young girl who has to move in with her uncle, Akihito after her mother is hospitalised. Akihito is a veterinarian who runs the town’s animal practice. Yuzu is not really a fan of animals and so doesn’t enjoy staying with Akihito at first. But her experiences of helping at pets (and their owners) soon begins to have a positive effect on her.
Why do I recommend the manga?
This is pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a shoujo manga, but I don’t mean this in a negative way. Together with the art style, this makes for a nice enjoyable read which is well suited for Japanese learners.
There’s a good balance of drama and comedy: both Yuzu and her uncle have their comedic moments. However, even from the very beginning, the manga doesn’t shy away from more serious topics like bullying, illness, and loss.
The volumes are split into four separate stories, each focusing on the story of a pet and their owner who visit the veterinary practice. Whilst all pets get a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, the manga is more focused on the relationship between animals and humans. It’s interesting to see what Yuzu learns from her various encounters as the manga progresses.
Recommended Japanese language level
I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N4 or upper beginner level.
There are some animal and medical terms that you may need to check in a dictionary, (but the vast majority of it gets explained). Fortunately, you have furigana over the kanji so looking up any word should be straightforward. Overall this manga is easy to follow. Yuzu is only in her first year of middle school so whilst there is some slang used, grammar tends to be pretty simple.
Side note: カルテ is a loanword from German (Karte) meaning medical record or patient chart – always a useful word to know!
This manga is pretty recent (the first volume was released back in June this year), but I think it’s worth a read. There is also a novel version of the story if you prefer that format.
You can read a sample of this manga on the EbookJapan website by clicking the blue ‘無料立ち読み’ button – at the time of writing, the first volume is available for free!
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 🙂
I have a lot of Japanese related books on my bookshelf, and Jay Rubin’s Making Sense of Japanese (2002) is one I have been meaning to read for some time. Well, I finally put some time aside to read it and I am glad I did.
Jay Rubin is an American academic and translator, who is probably most famous for his translations of Haruki Murakami’s works into English. Rubin intended this book for Japanese students who are just beginning to read native materials, as a way of helping them better understand the Japanese language.
The book is a series of short essays which each focus on an aspect of the Japanese language. The topics covered include:
は vs が
Verbs used for giving and receiving (くれる, もらう, あげる)
Passive form, causative form and the passive-causative form
から, わけ, のだ sentence endings
知る vs わかる
ある vs である
How to tackle Japanese sentences
Over the course of the book, he busts a few myths about Japanese and takes the view that Japanese is not actually a vague language at all. He makes an important point about pronouns – when it is obvious what the subject of the sentence is, the pronoun is omitted.
What I liked about the book
Near the start of the book is an explanation on は vs が, a particularly sore point for Japanese learners. I must say that this a particularly strong essay – not just because the subject matter is so important for understanding Japanese, but because I think the differences between the two particles are explained in a way that is easy to understand. This essay, along with most essays, is backed up with lots of example sentences to help illustrate his points.
The other essay that was a highlight for me was the one regarding how to tackle sentences in Japanese, particularly longer sentences that use plenty of relative clauses. The method Rubin describes is very similar to what I was taught when I formally studied Japanese and has been extremely useful to me ever since.
I feel that the book builds a strong case for why the grammar-translation approach can be effective in learning how to tackle reading in Japanese. His approach in these essays is highly focused on comparing Japanese and English and the nuances that learners need to be aware of when translating or simply trying to make sense of Japanese.
What I disliked
The main drawback of this book for me is the use of romaji. This might be a dealbreaker for some, but almost all Japanese in the book is written in romaji. At first, I thought that this might have been due to some sort of publishing issue, but then the last essay mixes romaji with kanji and kana when writing in Japanese. I found this a little bit distracting and felt that had the same sentences been written in kana (with furigana and romaji readings), I would have been able to understand them more easily. I know that the book is intended to be accessible to people with varying levels of Japanese, but the inconsistency in the use of romaji seems like a really odd choice to me.
With the book being a collection of essays, there are a couple that feel weaker than others. For example, there is a short essay which is about how being able to read something in Japanese does not automatically make it a good piece of writing. I think that this is a very valid point, but I couldn’t help but feel that this essay stood out as being less relevant and of practical use compared to the others. It was also the one which felt overly anecdotal
The book covers a range of topics that Japanese learners commonly struggle with, but are not covered in textbooks. I found his approach to these topics both informative and engaging, thanks to the relatively lighthearted tone of Rubin’s writing.
I highly recommend it to learners of Japanese who are at an upper-beginner level (about JLPT N4 or so), but I think learners at a higher level may also find it useful as a refresher due to the wide range of topics covered. I personally wish I had read this sooner, as there are quite a few things I could have learned from this book instead of from trial and error (nothing wrong with that of course!).
I don’t necessarily think this is a book that needs to be read from start to finish. The book is very short at just 130 pages, and most of the essays are pretty short. I think it makes a great reference book and you can always go back to read the essays that are most relevant to your current studies.
Have you read this book? What did you think? Let me know in the comments 🙂
かける is one of those verbs that seems to have an endless number of uses. I remember looking up this verb in the dictionary when I first started learning and just feeling utterly overwhelmed.
This is a screenshot from Jim Breen’s WWWJDIC:
With verbs like this, you might read the dictionary definition and stress about having to learn all of the individual meanings.
Fortunately, the best way to deal with verbs like this is to break down the various meanings into easier chunks, so let’s do the same here.
Breaking the verb down by kanji
Firstly, as you can see from the above, かける has different kanji indicating different meanings.
欠ける to lack, to be insufficient, be broken
駆ける to run, dash
賭ける to gamble, bet on
However, this post focuses on かける which has the general meaning of ‘to hang’. This is normally written in hiragana but can be written in kanji a few different ways, usually 掛ける.
Common collocations with かける
It’s important with words like this not to assume that the only English meaning of かける is ‘to hang’ as you will see. The following are some of the most common set phrases that use かける, which I’ve split into different groups:
To put on, put on top of something else:
眼鏡（めがね）をかける to wear glasses
ネックレスをかける to wear a necklace
腰（こし）をかける to sit down, take a seat (literally ‘to hang one’s hips [on a chair])
To engage something mechanical:
電話（でんわ）をかける to make a phonecall
アイロンをかける to iron (something)
エンジンをかける to turn on an engine
ラジオをかける to put on the radio
More figurative uses:
声（こえ）をかけるto greet, call out to; get in touch with
迷惑（めいわく）をかける to cause trouble/ inconvenience for someone else
Finally, you might see かける as part of a compound verb such as 出かける (でかける/ to go out) and 話かける (はなしかける/ to start a conversation). This generally adds a nuance of ‘to be about to, to start doing something.
So that is a very brief overview of the common verb かける. I have far from covered the verb’s many meanings. The English meanings given here are only here to give you a rough idea of how the verb is used (although if anything is clearly incorrect please let me know!).
My tip for verbs like this is to learn the general meaning of the verb to start with (ie. that かける generally means ‘to hang’). Then focus on learning the specific meanings of certain phrases/ collocations as and when you see them in context. For example, learn アイロンをかける rather than アイロン and かける separately. I also prefer this method as you also learn what particle you should use.
If you know the general meaning, you might well be able to guess the correct meaning from context anyway.
Have you got any tips for tackling tricky verbs? Let me know in the comments!
Misuzu Kaneko (金子みすゞ*・金子みすず) was an author I’d never heard of until recently. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t the only one.
Born Kaneko Teru in 1903, Misuzu grew up in a book-loving family and continued her education until age 18, a rare achievement for women at that time. She began to write poetry for children when she was 20. She sadly committed suicide at age 27, the day before her ex-husband was due to gain custody of their young daughter.
Her works were forgotten until the original manuscripts were rediscovered in the 1980s. However, it wasn’t until the March 2011 tsunami disaster that she gained popularity; her poem “Are you an echo?/こだまでしょうか“ was played in TV public service announcements.
Her works are not on Aozora Bunko, but a quick Google search will enable you to read some of her poems. In particular, this link has a lot of Misuzu’s most popular works. Having read quite a few of them, I think she is a good poet for Japanese learners to be aware of. In terms of language, I’d recommend her poems for JLPT N4 learners and above.
There is one caveat: you might find that her poems in their original form are in a style of Japanese that is sometimes different from the modern language. Fortunately, the above link has the poems in modern Japanese.
As I usually do, I have a few recommendations for you to read. I’ve posted the poems below with a brief vocabulary list:
こだまでしょうか (aka ‘Are You an Echo?’)
Obviously, this has to be the first on this list! The following is a reading of the poem as featured in a commercial from 2010.
Her most famous poem is typical of her style; expressing important messages in a really simple way. It reaffirms the importance of treating others as we would like to be treated – no wonder it was chosen as a poem to support Japan in the wake of the tsunami disaster. In terms of the language, this poem is pretty easy to understand, even if grammar such as 〜っていう isn’t too familiar (it is another way of quoting something, like 〜という).
遊ぶ/ あそぶ = to play, hang out with
馬鹿/ ばか = idiot, silly
さみしい = a misspelling of さびしい, ie. sad
誰/ だれ = who
こだま = echo
雲 (Kumo – ‘Cloud’)
ふわりとふわりと 青空の果から果を みんなみて、
それも飽きたら 雨になり 雷さんを 共につれ、 おうちの池へ とびおりる。
A lot of Kaneko’s poems reference the natural world, usually animals. I guess this would be a good poem for remembering how the water cycle works?
ふわり(と) = softly, gently, lightly
青空/ あおぞら = blue sky
果/ はて = extremity, end, limit
お月さん/ おつきさん = the moon
鬼ごっこ/ おにごっこ = children’s game known as ‘tag’ in English
飽きる/ あきる = to get sick, bored of something
雨/ あめ = rain
雷/ かみなり = lightning
供/ とも = companion
つれる = to take someone with you, to go along with, to be accompanied by
(お)うち = home
池 いけ = pond
とびおりる = to jump down, to jump off
私と小鳥と鈴と (Watashi to kotori to suzu to – ‘Me, the little Bird and the Bell’)
This is another of my personal favourites. The poem very simply illustrates how we all have our own strengths, particularly the last line.
両手/ りょうて = both hands
広げる/ ひろげる = to spread, expand, broaden
飛ぶ/ とぶ = to fly
小鳥 / ことり = little bird, small bird
地面/ じめん = ground, earth’s surface
速い/ はやい = fast, quick
走る/ はしる = to run
ゆする = to shake, jolt, swing
音/ おと = sound
鈴/ すず = bell
唄/ うた = song (another form of 歌)
知る/ しる = to know
A bilingual book of Kaneko’s works was published in 2016, which has some beautiful illustrations to go with it. It is also available in ebook format on Kindle. I’m glad that poets like Misuzu have had their works gain popularity a long time after they were written.
Who is your favourite poet? Let me know in the comments!
*PS. You might be wondering (as I did) what theゞ symbol means. It turns out that ゞ is just a symbol used to repeat the previous syllable. As the dakuten is also used to change the sound, we know that the name should be read as misuzu rather than misusu.
This is a follow up to a previous post, where I wrote about some Japanese language podcasts. I wanted to find some podcasts that were a little bit easier for those who might find some of the podcasts mentioned in my previous recommendation a bit too difficult to study with intensely.
These recommendations are almost entirely in Japanese, but have been produced by people who want to help others learn the language:
Nihongo con Teppei
Teppei speaks English and Spanish fluently and is a Japanese tutor on italki. His podcast is a conversational one in which he talks about aspects of his daily life and Japanese culture. Teppei almost always speaks in Japanese with the occasional English word. He speaks casually but will explain any certain words and phrases in simple Japanese.
Each episode is about 20 minutes long which I think is a good length – he releases about 2-3 episodes a week. I recommend the podcast for beginner learners who want something of a listening challenge or intermediate learners.
You can download the episodes from his website, or find the podcast on platforms like Spotify and iTunes.
JLPT stories is designed to improve your listening skills, with bitesize stories written and performed by native Japanese speakers. Each episode is targeted at a different level of the JLPT and is usually about 3 minutes long. There are a few different narrators and there is a good mix of male and female speakers (Japanese listening material tends to be female dominated in my experience).
The content varies but is usually about everyday topics. The speaking is at a natural speed, but for the lower levels of the JLPT there are more pauses in speech to allow learners to follow it more easily. It might still take you a couple of listens to catch everything though!
Download the episodes from the JLPT Stories website, or find the podcast on Stitcher, iTunes and Spotify. The website has a transcript with an English translation and explanation of some grammar points for all episodes. This gives you quite a few options in how you can use this resource to study, which I really like.
Let’s Learn Japanese from Small Talk
This is another conversational podcast run by two Japanese girls who are currently living in the UK. The aim of the podcast is to provide casual listening practice for Japanese learners. Each episode has a main theme (normally an aspect of Japanese culture) although sometimes they go off topic!
Like Teppei’s podcast, they speak as Japanese people actually speak but will clarify any tricky words and phrases, usually in Japanese and English. As a British person, it is interesting to hear about UK-Japan cultural differences from a Japanese perspective!
Again this is best suited to learners who are learning how to speak more casually in Japanese. There are lots of useful little phrases which I have picked up from this podcast and their twitter account.
I’ve linked to the podcast on Stitcher, but it is also available on iTunes and Spotify. There are vocabulary lists for the episodes on the podcast’s blog page, but from what I can see this is something they’ve started doing recently.
Nあ Casual Nihongo
If casual forms of Japanese are something you find difficult, then this is the podcast for you!
Nあ Casual Nihongo is hosted by Dai, who decided to create the podcast after working as an assistant Japanese language teacher in Australia. This podcast is in Japanese but is aimed at teaching learners a more natural way of speaking compared to what you get in textbooks. Each episode follows the same structure:
Answer a listening comprehension question
5 new Japanese phrases to learn (with explanations and examples)
Casual conversation (this gets repeated)
The conversations are a natural speed, which might take some getting used to. To make things easier, the podcast’s website also has a script for the conversation part of the episode, with the new phrases that are introduced highlighted for you. Clearly, a lot of hard work has gone into making the podcast accessible for learners who already have a bit of a foundation in grammar and vocabulary.
One thing – Dai is based in the Kansai area, so people interested in the Kansai dialect will find this useful!
I really like podcasts for listening practice – if you want to know how I use them in my studies check out this post.
Have you got any great podcast recommendations or tips on improving your listening? Please tell me in the comments.
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%.
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:
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.
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!
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!
Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Assassination Classroom/ Ansatsu Kyoushitsu (暗殺教室), a manga series created by Yusei Matsui.
Author: Yusei Matsui (松井優征)
Genre: Comedy, sci-fi
No. of volumes: 21
Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate
Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: Yes, anime and live-action film adaptations
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.
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!
PS. There is an anime and live-action film adaptation of the manga.
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:
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:
What is the difference between te kara and ta atode?
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.
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:
= 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.
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.
食べる・たべる [godan verb] to eat
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
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!
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:
= 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.
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.
Speaking/ Writing – Italki, 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!).
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!
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.
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.
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.
You can then click on any of the kanji you look up to learn more about it:
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.
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.
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!