Reading

Easy Japanese Manga Recommendation: Yuzu no Doubutsu Karute/ Yuzu’s Medical Records of Animals

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.

Quick Facts

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

Furigana: Yes

Anime/ drama/ film adaptations?: No

Plot Overview 

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 🙂

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Making Sense of Japanese by Jay Rubin

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
  • ため
  • つもり
  • 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

Overall thoughts

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 🙂

Author Spotlight: Misuzu Kaneko

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.

「遊ぼう」っていうと
「遊ぼう」っていう。

「馬鹿」っていうと
「馬鹿」っていう。

「もう遊ばない」っていうと
「遊ばない」っていう。

そうして、あとで
さみしくなって、

「ごめんね」っていうと
「ごめんね」っていう。

こだまでしょうか
いいえ、誰でも。

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).

Vocab list

  • 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’)

私は雲に
なりたいな。

ふわりとふわりと
青空の果から果を
みんなみて、

夜はお月さんと
鬼ごっこ。

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?

Vocab list

  • 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’)

私が両手を広げても、
お空はちっとも飛べないが、
飛べる小鳥は私のように、
地面を速くは走れない。

私がからだをゆすっても、
きれいな音は出ないけど、
あのなる鈴は私のように
たくさんな唄は知らないよ。

鈴と、小鳥と、それから私、
みんながちがって、みんないい。

This is another of my personal favourites. The poem very simply illustrates how we all have our own strengths, particularly the last line. 

Vocab list

  • 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.

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.

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!

Easy Japanese Manga Recommendation: Silver Spoon/ Gin no Saji

Today’s easy manga recommendation for Japanese learners is Silver Spoon/ Gin no Saji (銀の匙), a manga series created by Hiromu Arakawa.

Quick Facts

Author: Hiromu Arakawa (荒川弘)

Genre: Comedy, slice of life

No. of volumes: 14

Recommended for: JLPT N3/ intermediate

Furigana: Yes

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

Plot Overview

Yuugo Hachiken is a boy used to city life in Sapporo, Hokkaido. After failing to get the required grades for high school, he enrolls at a school called Oezo Agricultural High School.  

At first, Hachiken immediately stands out from his classmates as he doesn’t have any real desire to work within agriculture. Not having farming experience, the early mornings and plentiful homework come as surprise to him.

As Hachiken gets used to life at the school, he learns about the realities of working in agriculture. His classmates become a welcome source of support and through this he realises the importance of strong friendships.

Why do I recommend the manga?

Hiromu Arakawa is probably best known for her manga Fullmetal Alchemist. After completing Fullmetal Alchemist she intended to challenge herself with a different type of story. Silver Spoon is partially based on her own experiences growing up on a dairy farm in Hokkaido.

I think the manga does a great job at being entertaining whilst introducing information on a topic that is not known by most people. Since Hachiken knows nothing about farming, we learn about a variety of things as he does. This is helped by the easy to understand explanations – perfect for tricky pieces of vocabulary!

Some scenes are hilarious to read and they blend in seamlessly with the informative and heartwarming parts of the manga. Silver Spoon is very much a coming of age story. Fortunately Hachiken is a very likeable lead character, always going to great lengths to help out his classmates. You can’t help but root for him as he adapts to his new way of life and how he grows as a person because of it.

I am a little biased towards Hokkaido but it was nice to see a bit of Hokkaido dialect in the manga (eg. the ~べさ ending). Fun fact – the name of the school is also a reference to Hokkaido. The word (Y)ezo (蝦夷) is a Japanese word which was the previous name for Hokkaido and refers to the islands north of Honshu.

Recommended Japanese language level

I would probably recommend this to someone about JLPT N3 or intermediate level. As there is a high school setting, it helps to be familiar with casual forms of Japanese. For example:

マジっか = まじ (です) か? You serious?

There is some specialist farming vocabulary (although a lot of it gets explained). Fortunately, there is furigana so looking up words is a breeze. As mentioned earlier there is some Hokkaido dialect but this is pretty easy to understand as Hokkaido-ben is pretty similar to standard Japanese.

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

The Silver Spoon anime is available to stream at places like Crunchyroll. There was a live action film released in 2014 – the Japanese trailer is below:

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!


2018 Year in Review: Lessons Learned and Looking Ahead

2018 has come and gone in what feels like a very short time. I thought it would be fun to look back on the year in terms of my Japanese learning, which will help inform my goals for 2019.

I didn’t want to make this post too long and boring so I have chosen to write about two things that I think have gone well this year and two things that I need to work on for next year.

The Good: Developing a better Japanese reading habit

I am slowly working my way through a pile of Japanese novels that I have on my bookshelf, which is a very nice feeling. I try to pick books that are manageable for my current level, as I use the tadoku approach to learning. You can see some of the books I have read this year from my Tadoku Tuesdays posts:

I use Bookmeter (basically the Japanese version of Goodreads) to track the books I am reading/have read/ want to read, which has been very helpful.

I’ve also picked up some helpful tips and book recommendations from other bloggers such as Inhae’s blog Inside That Japanese Book. This has really kept me motivated to keep reading (and more importantly, finishing) books.

I feel that reading more has generally helped me with all aspects of Japanese, but mostly with learning to recognise grammar and vocabulary in a wider range of contexts. Reading speed is really important for the JLPT and obviously reading more has helped with that too.

Reading physical books, in particular, is a great way to wind down at the end of the day, and more importantly means I am not staring at a mobile phone/tablet/computer screen. This is definitely something I want to keep up next year.

Rediscovering Japanese Music

I used to be really interested in Japanese music but I have been listening to way more podcasts than music in the last couple of years. I spent some time this year catching up with the artists that I used to listen to a lot, which was a lot of fun 🙂

I can’t believe I forgot how catchy this song is!

There’s a lot of great Japanese artists that can be hard to find beyond the idol stuff, especially if you are new to the language. This is what inspired the 15 Easy Japanese songs post, and later the Japanese Music Mondays series on Instagram and Facebook.

It’s so important to have fun with the language you are learning, and I think music is a highly accessible way to do just that. This is definitely something I will write about next year. In fact, I am already working on a couple of follow up posts about Japanese music for next year as well. Another benefit of this is that I have spent more time on Japanese websites reading about new artists and new music releases.

The Not-So-Good: Kanji kanji kanji (and writing in general)

Improving my Japanese writing was one of my aims for the year, but I haven’t been as good at writing consistently. I have struggled the most with kanji since I fell off the Anki bandwagon a few months back. Because I read regularly, my kanji recognition is OK but when writing in my journal I spend a lot of time looking up how to write kanji which I used to know.

My aim for next year is to make sure I stay on top of my kanji practice. I am making a new set of physical kanji cards and review a smaller amount of Anki cards daily.

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The act of writing kanji helps me remember them more effectively so I will be doing more kanji writing practice. I recently found my Kanji Kentei game for the 3DS (an educational “game” aimed at Japanese people reviewing their kanji) so I have been using that to revise kanji too.

Scheduling Japanese practice

This year has been fairly busy, which means that I have had to work harder to make sure I am getting my daily Japanese practice. As a result, I have become much more interested in productivity and habit-forming, which I have written a few different posts about:

The Pomodoro technique has been incredibly helpful in getting stuff done, especially when it comes to writing blog posts. I have also found tracking my progress on an app (I use Habitica) has helped keep me accountable too.

Unfortunately, there have been some days when I realise as I am falling asleep that I haven’t done anything Japanese related at all. Of course, those days are inevitable sometimes but I want to make sure I can have as few of these as possible. 2019 is looking to be an even busier year for me, so I want to make the most of it!

I have been doing some research into timeboxing and how I can use this to make sure I am working towards all of my goals, not just language learning.

Looking forward to 2019

I am planning on some changes to the blog in the very near future, so watch this space. The plan is to keep posting on a weekly basis, and potentially a bit more often if time allows.

I haven’t yet finalised my Japanese learning goals for 2019, but so far I want to read at least one novel a month, and to sit the JLPT N1 by the end of the year.

Have you decided on your language goals for next year? What are they? Please tell me in the comments!

PS. As this will most likely be my last post of 2018 (and my 100th post!!), I want to end this post by thanking everyone who reads this blog. At the start of this year, I had only been posting for a few months and I had no idea how many more people from all over the world would be reading, liking and commenting on the blog. I am genuinely thankful and will keep working hard!

PPS. Happy Holidays 🙂

Kickstarting a new language learning habit

We are almost at the end of 2018 – can you believe it? It is naturally the time of year when we reflect on the last 12 months, and set our goals for 2019.

If you haven’t quite met your goals for this year, now is the perfect time to reset for next year. And what better way to do so than in the form of a language challenge?

Why do a language challenge?

Language challenges are a great way to develop new habits, which is ultimately the best way to achieve your goals. I like language challenges because they offer what often feels like an easier way to start a new habit. When you know that you only have to stick to something for one week or one month, it doesn’t feel as hard to get the motivation to keep going.

I think it’s a great way to get back into language learning if you’ve had a break for whatever reason (sometimes a break can be more beneficial than we think). There is also a sense of community around people doing the challenge at the same time, especially on social media.

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There are many types of language challenges out there. Some focus on developing a particular skill (eg. speaking), and some are more focused on exposing yourself to a language in some way every day. It’s worth having a look around to see if you can find a challenge that tackles one of your weak points.

You could always make up your own language challenge tailored to the skills/knowledge you want to work on. For example, you could set yourself a challenge to:

  • Learn x number of words
  • Watch x number of films/ episodes of a TV show
  • Speak for x minutes every day
  • Read x pages in your target language every day

How to make the most of your language challenge

Normally the first couple of days of a language challenge are super exciting, but as the reality of following the challenge hits it can be tricky actually complete them. These are some of the things that have really helped me with past language challenges:

  • Think about when you are going to dedicate time to complete the challenge

Have a think about the best time of day for you to dedicate to the challenge. It is very easy to start a challenge and then give up because you are too busy to actually finish! Take a look at your schedule and try to identify any so-called ‘dead time’ in your day, which could be spent more wisely on completing the challenge.

There are going to be certain days when you are busier than others. If there are any large events coming up, have an idea of how you might be able to work around it. There’s no harm in missing a day here and there should you not have the time – just add them on to the end of the challenge.

  • Think about what you want to achieve

This could simply be getting to the end of the challenge, which is absolutely fine!

Getting to the end of the challenge is can be the beginning of something bigger. I do think that pursuing a challenge is to bring about some sort of change in your way of thinking.

With languages, it could be something like getting the confidence to speak your target language, or getting a deeper understanding of the culture(s) that the language is connected. These are most likely going to be your motivators for actually getting to the end of the challenge.

  • Find a way to track your progress

I am really keen on tracking my progress with challenges in some way. This could be in the form of a bullet journal, crossing dates off in a calendar, or using an app. Having that visual representation of the challenge in front of you can be an extremely powerful thing for your motivation!

  • Keep in touch with others doing the challenge.

Social media hashtags provide a really good way of finding out how everyone else is doing. Sometimes it is that little extra push we get from seeing others in the same boat that helps you stay on track.

It is important to say that you shouldn’t compare yourself to others too much – ultimately your journey will be different from others, and there are some things that others may find easier than others and vice versa.

Even if you don’t quite make it to the end of the challenge, don’t beat yourself up. Always focus on the positives and if needed use the opportunity to think about approaching things differently next time.

List of Language Challenges

Here is a list of language challenges out there that I know of:

General Language Challenges

Eurolinguiste Language Learning Challenge (general language learning challenge)

Joyoflanguages Language Diary Challenge (speaking)

Lindsay Does Languages Instagram Language Challenge (speaking/writing)

30 Day Record Yourself Challenge (speaking)

Italki Language Challenge (speaking/ tutoring)

Noun Verb Adjective Challenge (writing – I’ve written about this challenge here*)

Japanese Language Specific Challenges

Manga Sensei’s 30 day Japanese Challenge (for complete beginners)

LearnJapanesePod’s 5 day Japanese Self Introduction Challenge

JapanesePod101’s 10 day Hiragana Challenge and 10 day Katakana Challenge

JTalkOnline’s Improve Japanese Reading Challenge (2-week challenge)

Kotobites 30-day Writing Challenge (writing, but you could use it for speaking too!)

I know that the above list is only scratching the surface of the many challenges out there. If there are any cool language challenges you have come across, please let me know in the comments so that I can add them to the list!

10 Instagram Accounts to follow if you’re learning Japanese

To be honest, I had been putting off joining Instagram because I thought it was too hipster and filter heavy for me. However, I recently decided to join the platform on a whim. Fortunately, I have found it to be a great resource so far for learning Japanese.

Instagram has over 800 million users, and from my experience so far, the language learning community on there is very active and friendly. In the short time I have been using the platform, I’ve have been able to:

  • learn about new language resources
  • get Japanese manga and novel recommendations
  • learn or revise helpful Japanese phrases
  • find daily motivation for my language learning motivation

…amongst other things. You can also change the language to Japanese if you want to immerse yourself a bit more!

How can language learners use Instagram?

Learn and revise vocabulary

Being a highly visual medium, I think that Instagram is particularly good for learning vocabulary. Using images alongside vocabulary is a great way to help memorise them, which is of course where Instagram shines. Instagram allows you to do short videos, which you can use to practice your speaking skills too.

Find posts on topics that interest you in your target language

The heavy use of hashtags on Instagram can be considered annoying, but you can use hashtags to find people and posts that relate to topics you care about.

Make sure to get involved!

Moreover, the Instagram community is all about engagement – commenting is a great way to practice your language skills and maybe even make friends! There is also a translate feature if you get stuck understanding a post or comment.

A word of warning though… Instagram is very centered on aesthetic and it is easy to waste time looking at the many pictures of cute stationery, cups of tea/coffee and grammar textbooks. Don’t let scrolling through Instagram become a replacement for other types of study!

With that said, here are 10 Instagram accounts that I highly recommend to those studying Japanese.

1) j_aipon – Particularly helpful for Japanese newbies

This account is run by a Japanese girl who likes to post content for beginner Japanese learners. Her posts are mostly simple sentences covering key grammar points and vocabulary. Some of these posts have audio of example sentences too.

All of her posts have romaji, so if you have just finished learning hiragana and katakana, this is a good place to start (until you feel more comfortable reading kana – which can take more time than you think!).

Her Youtube channel has some videos on learning kana, as well as simple Japanese listening practice too.

2) You Know Japanese – Learn katakana words

Loanwords can be surprisingly tricky for Japanese learners, but I think that overall words in katakana are a quick and easy way to acquire vocabulary in Japanese. This account will help you get to grips with the many, many words written in katakana that are borrowed from English.

If you have just finished learning katakana, these posts are a good way to practice your reading (there is romaji if you get stuck too)!

3) JapanesePod101 – Learn themed vocabulary and useful phrases

JapanesePod101’s podcasts are a fun resource (although they come at a cost). You may not know that their Instagram page is full of cute images with useful and practical phrases for Japanese learners.

I really like the posts where the vocabulary is centered around a specific theme, which is nice for short and sweet study sessions.

4) NihongoLingo – learn Japanese slang!

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bp8UvfHnSNQ/

If you want to brush up on your Japanese slang, then this is the account for you! Each post covers a slang word in Japanese with the English meaning.

I like that each post has explanations of the word/phrase in both Japanese languages, along with examples and a fun image. This gives you a range of options on how to study, especially if you like to make your own flashcards.

5) Daily Kanji – Daily kanji vocabulary

As the name suggests, posts from this account are all to do with kanji vocabulary. Each word include furigana, romaji and English translations. The images that come with the vocabulary are all from anime, which is another plus if you are a fan!

6) Yoko.illustrations888888 – casual phrases in Japanese and English

Yoko is a Japanese person living in Portland, Oregon in the US. Yoko illustrates casual but useful sentences in Japanese and English (with furigana and romaji too!). These sentences are written in a very natural way in both languages. I love the illustrations a lot too!

7) Kisslingo – Great for JLPT and writing practice

The Kisslingo account covers useful Japanese words, phrases and grammar. If you are working towards the JLPT, I would look out for their JLPT question practice posts too.

I particularly like their writing prompt posts where they share a picture and ask you to describe what is happening in the photo in Japanese. This is a great way to practice your Japanese writing, no matter what your language level. What’s more, someone from the Kisslingo team will correct your Japanese for you!

8) Kannoooaya – daily Japanese phrases

Like Yoko mentioned above, Aya posts illustrations of phrases in both Japanese and English pretty much every day. The posts are aimed at Japanese people learning English – but since she includes furigana, Japanese learners can also use them to study.

9) Nihongo Flashcards – Japanese onomatopoeia

I’ve written before about how important onomatopoeia is in Japanese. If you are looking to improve your knowledge of these words, this account is for you.

I love the cute illustrations. The words also have explanations and example sentences which help to show how the onomatopoeia is used!

10) Everyday debudori – short comics on everyday life

For more advanced Japanese learners (no furigana used here), following this account allows you to read short comics based on everyday life. I find these little comics both relatable and funny, and the images help fill in the context of any words or phrases I am less sure of.

So that’s it for today’s post. Please follow the blog’s Instagram at @kotobitesjp if you do use the platform!

Do you use Instagram for language learning? If so, how? Let me know in the comments 🙂

japanese_study_instagram_accounts

Clozemaster Review

I strongly believe that studying with sentences is an effective way to learn new vocabulary. If this is something you are interested in, I recommend checking out Clozemaster – a website and app that is built around this concept.

What is Clozemaster?

Clozemaster is designed to complement the use of other sentence based language learning apps like Duolingo. There are a huge variety of language pairs available, with new ones being added all the time!

The “cloze” of Clozemaster relates to a cloze deletion test, where you are given a sentence with a missing word and you need to identify what the missing word is. Cloze tests are therefore a great method of learning to use words and grammar in context.

How does Clozemaster work?

Each language has its own bank of sentences, the number of which does vary depending on the language pair. For many of the popular languages, you can follow the Fluency Fast Track, which is designed to cover the most frequently used words in that language. In the free version, clicking ‘PLAY’ will start a round of 10 sentences to review.

As I mentioned above, Clozemaster is all about filling in the correct missing word from a sentence.

For example, you are given a sentence in Japanese, and with a specific word missing. The clue for the missing word will be in the English translation of the sentence.

You have the option of multiple choice or text input before you start each round. If you are in text input mode and get stuck, just click on the “?” button to the right of the Japanese sentence to view the 4 multiple choice options.

Writing the correct answer earns you points – the closer you are to mastering the word, the more points you earn. Text input gives you twice as much points compared to multiple choice, so this is what I choose unless I only have a very short time to practice.

At the end of each round, you get some quick stats on how you did:

As you can see from the image above, you can set yourself a daily points target and email reminders to get in your daily practice too. My daily goal is 200 points currently, but I normally aim for 500-1000 depending on how much time I have.

Studying using the Play button is for learning new words (although some words that you have encountered before will appear too). For words that you have seen before, you will want to click on Review instead.

The Review function is based on spaced repetition intervals like those used in Anki and Memrise – the more often you answer correctly, the longer it will be before you see that same sentence again. Reviews tend to earn you a lot more points than studying new sentences.

Cloze Listening – listening practice with sentences

Clozemaster also has a listening practice feature called Cloze Listening, as shown above. To access this, click Play and then choose “Listening” from the drop-down menu (the default is vocabulary). Cloze Listening is where you hear the sentence first, then have to fill in the missing word in the sentence.

I think this makes for great listening practice as well as for learning vocabulary in context. Unfortunately, having a free account only allows you to do one round of 10 sentences to do every day.

Leaderboards and levelling up

The points you earn from your study sessions allow you to level up. Every time you do level up you get a fun little gif as a reward, which never fails to put a smile on my face! There are two types of levelling up – one for your whole account and one that relates specifically to each of the language pairs you study.

Every language pair has its own set of leaderboards, where you can try and score the most points for that week. I didn’t think that I would care about scoring highly on the leaderboard at first. However, if there is someone I am close to overtaking, I will do the extra reviews to move up the leaderboard!

The Clozemaster App

I tend to use the web version of Clozemaster, but there are apps available for iOS and Android. I have used the Android app and I do not have much to say about it. I mean that as a good thing – because I have not had any issues using it at all.

The fairly plain style of the website translates well into an app, and having the app is really convenient for a quick study session. It is synced to your account, so it is easy to switch between the website and the app if you need to.

Make sure you have some sort of Japanese keyboard installed so that you can type in Japanese. From what I can see, there is no support for romaji in direct input mode when using the app.

Clozemaster Pro comes with extra handy features

Clozemaster is another freemium site – it is free to sign up and practice any language. However, you need the Pro version to do things such as:

  • Customise the number of reviews you want to do in each session and control how often you review new words.
  • Get unlimited access to cloze listening practice
  • Download the Fluency Fast Track sentences or sentences you mark in your Favourites for offline study.
  • View more stats related to your study sessions
  • The ability to click on any word and search for the meaning using Google Translate
  • Get access to additional features such as Cloze-Reading, Cloze Collections and Pro Groupings.

Cloze-Reading is designed to help you boost your reading skills. This is where there are several missing words from a native piece of text in your target language which you then need to fill in.

The Cloze Collections function is in beta currently, but allows you to curate your own bank of sentences. This can be a mixture of sentences from within Clozemaster and sentences that you add yourself. I think this would be especially useful for language pairs that do not have a large number of sentences already on Clozemaster.

Pro Groupings allows you to break down the large bank of sentences into smaller ones. For Japanese, Pro Groupings gives you the ability to focus your learning on words from different levels of the JLPT.

Pros and Cons of Clozemaster for learning Japanese

After using the free version of Clozemaster for a couple of months, I have found it to have more pros than cons:

Pros

  • A huge range of languages to choose from
  • Sentences use words in order of frequency, so you learn important words first
  • Able to expose yourself to a range of sentence patterns
  • Can practice both reading and listening skills
  • Review intervals are spaced to help you retain vocabulary
  • If you’re competitive, the leaderboard will motivate you to get your score as high as possible

Cons

  • Japanese sentences and English translations are taken from the Tatoeba database, which is known for not being 100% accurate.
  • You have to type most vocabulary in kanji (as opposed to hiragana), which might be difficult for complete newcomers to Japanese.
  • No audio for Japanese within the vocabulary review section yet (this does exist for the most common language pairs)

Overall thoughts

I’m sure that the cloze deletion sentences can be replicated in something like Anki easily, which is what I would recommend to people who like a high degree of customisation. There are also excellent websites such as Delvin Language and Supernative which are specifically for Japanese and do have audio to go with their sentences.

However, for me Clozemaster is great because of the gamification aspect, as well as the fact I can practice on the go via the app. I would also give Clozemaster a go if you are learning (or maintaining proficiency in) a number of languages, as it is super simple to switch between languages and track your progress in each.

I really like Clozemaster, but I am not sure that for Japanese the features are fully fleshed out enough for me to justify the subscription cost of $8 per month at the moment. Having said that, there are new features being built into Clozemaster all of the time and I will certainly keep an eye out for any which might change my mind.

The good thing about Clozemaster is that you do not even have to sign up to try out the site – just choose a language pair and click Play to get started (which is what I did for a few days before even signing up)!

Whether you find that Clozemaster is useful for you or not, one thing I recommend checking out is the Language Challenge of the Day (or LCOD for short). These little challenges are fun ways to use your target languages in different ways every day.

Do you use Clozemaster? Do you find the website/ app useful? Please let me know in the comments!

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