The postal system in Japan is nothing short of amazing. You can ship items at a low cost, and they arrive very quickly. Well, I have found one more cool thing about the Japanese post, one helpful for those learning Japanese. The other day I came across their website which is not only well designed, but can also be used as a great study tool to help you learn Japanese words for family members and friends. The webpage contains an animation that shows the connection of people throughout the country, each introducing their friend or relative. Once the narrative is over you can also click each character again to repeat the phrase. You can find the website here.
The words used are very common and great ones to learn. If you haven’t had much listening practice it may be difficult to hear the individual words at first, but it gets easier after a little bit of practice and time.
I have created a word key below so you can study and remember the words before you start. Notice that some of the words are abbreviated. The same way that mother becomes mom in English, Japanese contains very similar abbreviations. I have listed the English word, and then the Japanese words going from more formal to less, and finally the formal word in hiragana.
Lastly, once you give it a try, please leave a comment and let me know if you find it useful.
- Mother- okaasan, kaachan (おかあさん）
- Father- otousan, touchann （おとうさん）
- Daughter- musume （むすめ）
- Son- musuko （むすこ）
- Older Brother- oniisan, aniki,nichan （おにいさん）
- Older Sister- oneesan, neechan （おねえさん）
- Younger Brother- otouto （おとうと）
- Younger Sister- imouto （いもうと）
- Aunt- obasan, bachan （おばさん）
- Uncle- ojisan, jichan （おじさん）
- Grandfather- ojiisan, jiichan （おじいさん）
- Grandmother- obaasan, baachan （おばあさん）
- Cousin- itoko （いとこ）
- Relative- shinseki （しんせき）
- Friend- tomodachi （ともだち）
- Best close friend- Yuujin （ゆうじん）
- School- gakkou （がっこう）
- College- daigaku （だいがく）
- Student- gakusei （がくせい）
Over the last few weeks I have been working on a “Japanese tip’s” e-book and also collecting various Japanese materials. The e-book is finished and is available as a free download to Japanese Word’s Newsletter Subscribers. The rest of the materials have been loaded as well.
When you subscribe to the Newsletter you also gain access to the Member’s page which contains the Ebook, a Japanese words list containing over 1200 Japanese Words (in pdf and excel formats), Kanji/kana practice sheets, and a large number of Japanese language resource links. I will be adding more materials and resources to this page in the future.
If you are not already a member, you can join by subscribing to our newsletter. Simply fill in your name and e-mail address below.
Also, if you have found great Japanese resources that are not included in the member page, please let me know and I will get them added.
Marilyn Monroe. Yes, Marilyn Monroe. Two words difficult for both Japanese speakers to say in English and for English speakers to say in Japanese. I can still remember the conversation with my Japanese host mom from over five years ago about Marilyn Monroe. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but she was asking me how to pronounce it, and we were both laughing at her attempts. Then she asked me to try and say it in Japanese, and we both laughed at my attempts. Compared to English, Japanese doesn’t have a lot of sounds. However, some of the ones it does have are very difficult for English speakers to pronounce. I certainly struggled myself. Though with a bit of practice (actually probably “quite” a bit) and a few techniques I believe anyone can do it.
This technique is key and I give it most of the credit for my success in improving my “accent”. When I was a kid I used to imitate just about everything I saw on TV. Eventually, I got pretty good at doing accents and voices. I pretty much do the same thing when I am practicing Japanese. I listen to Native speakers tones, inflictions, and accents and then try to copy exactly what they said, exactly the way they said it. For this technique to be effective, try and copy as soon and often as possible after you hear a new sentence. It is usually possible to use it in the same conversation your hear it. If not, then you should practice by yourself immediately after your conversation has finished.
Record and Listen
We tend to hear what we want when we are speaking. It is common that we don’t even hear the difference between our own accent and a native one. By recording your own voice and listening to it, you can hear what you really sound like. It is also handy to have the same audio in native Japanese for easy comparison.
Talk Like a Crazy Person
Have you ever seen someone walking down the street talking to him or herself and think that person is crazy? You want to become that person. Only you want the words you are speaking to be Japanese and you want to focus on moving your mouth to make the correct Japanese sounds. I used to do this as a college student walking in between classes. I would guess that more than a few people probably walked past me hearing “Ra Ri Ru Re Ro” and thought I might have lost it.
This was a technique I learned in a Japanese class at Waseda University. Open your mouth big and over emphasize each sound. This is a great way to teach your mouth and tongue to move the correct way. Just simply read though the Japanese alphabet again and again using this method. You may feel a bit silly, but after you do it for a while you will realize you were probably mumbling. I did.
Practice and Repetition
As a small child I had difficulty pronouncing Rs. Since my favorite show at the time was the “Smurfs”, I used to sit with my father repeating “Smurfs, Smurfs, Smurfs”. I don’t know how many hours we spent, but I eventually got it. Learning Japanese is no different. Your tongue and mouth have spent years learning to move in certain patterns and it will take time and practice to teach them new ways. The longer and more often you practice the better you will get!
Saturday I received all 4 of the “Remember the Kanji” books. Three of the books are designed to help a Japanese learner master kanji and one is focused on learning hiragana and katakana. I will be posting reviews on all of these books once I have had a little more time to evaluate them. I started reviewing the book on learning kana and it reminded me of something I think is important in learning Japanese; reviewing the basics.
The Japanese language, or any language for that matter, is kind of like building a house. In order to have a strong house you need a good solid foundation. To learn the more advanced grammar rules of Japanese you need to have a good understanding of the basic ones. I first realized how important this was as a study abroad student in Japan. To decide what Japanese classes students should be put in, we were required to take a test that included various grammar patterns, kanji, as well as writing an essay. Since I hadn’t studied nearly at all during the summer, my Japanese ability wasn’t at it’s best. In turn, I ended up in a Japanese class was covering material I had already learned.
At first I was a bit annoyed. I felt I was wasting my time in Japan relearning things I had already studied. Luckily, the class progressed at a pretty fast rate and we eventually got into some material. The thing that surprised me though was how much my Japanese had improved by gaining a stronger grasp of the the basics I had already studied. The review helped set them more firmly in my mind and I didn’t have to “think” about how to use them.
I think there are two very simple methods to making sure you understand the basics. The first is to make sure you study them well and repeatedly until you have a very strong grasp. Practicing them in conversation is a very key part of this.The second part is to occasionally review material you feel very confident with. I am always surprised the things I realized I have forgotten when I do this. I also find that I can usually “re-learn” a structure or word much better after I have been using it it for a while. When I first learn something it is foreign and I struggle to grasp it. When I review it I am learning about the details of something that is familiar to me.
I encourage you to make sure you have a firm understanding of the basics and occasionally review them. You may feel that you are wasting your time, but you may be surprised what you will learn. The better understanding you have the better your Japanese will be.
You’ve got your textbook, your kanji book, your dictionary, and you have been studying like crazy. You have memorized a number of Japanese words and phrases and even a number of Japanese characters. Yet, when you get the chance to hear someone speaking in Japanese, it still sounds alien. Don’t worry, this is completely normal and happens to everyone. You just need to get enough listening practice for your brain to start to distinguish the sounds, and then match them up to the words you have already memorized. Luckily, there is a fun way to do this. Watch a movie in Japanese!
The reason that movies can be great tools to practice listening is because they contain “regular” Japanese, spoken at a normal pace. It will be difficult to understand at first, but like anything, the more you do it the easier it gets. Movies also allow you to choose several viewing options depending on your level of Japanese by changing the audio and subtitle options.
So first, where can you find movies with Japanese audio and subtitles? As you have probably noticed unless you are in Japan, most movies don’t have Japanese options. There are two places in your video store that will. The first of course is the foreign video section. However, this will most likely be very limited and may only contain some of the older samurai classics (which aren’t very helpful because the Japanese used is outdated. The other and probably more helpful, is the animated section. As many of you probably know, Japan is famous for it’s animated films. Many of which have probably been exported to your home country. Because of the different genre you can also hear different types of speaking. And of course, if you can get your favorite movies dubbed in Japanese, then by all means go for it.
So what’s the best way to study using Japanese movies? This partly depends on your level of Japanese. For most everyone, I recommend watching your movie a couple of times. Doing so will help you get a better understanding of the meanings and what is actually being said. I recommend that you make the first watch either in Japanese with English subtitles or in English with Japanese subtitles. This allows you to know what is going on in the movie so you can focus on language learning. I have broken the instructions of viewing into three categories (beginner, intermediate, upper intermediate) below.
- Watch the movie at least once in English. Either in English with Japanese subtitles or Japanese with English subtitles.
- Watch the movie again in Japanese with English subtitles
- Watch a third time and pause/re-watch parts you don’t understand. You can also write down Japanese words you are unsure of to study later. (you may want to use Japanese subtitles to help you learn the words.
- Watch the movie at least once in Japanese with English subtitles.
- Watch it again in Japanese with Japanese subtitles
- Watch again to replay parts you don’t understand creating a list of words and phrases.
- Watch in Japanese with Japanese subtitles
- Watch again to replay parts you don’t understand and create a words/ phrase list
- Watch a third time in Japanese using no subtitles. This will help you focus on just the listening.
Notice that you will be watching the movie or TV show quite a few times, so try to find something you like. Also, even for those who don’t think their Japanese reading level is high enough that subtitles will help, use them anyways. It will help you learn to read Japanese and learn kanji. You may also find that you know more than you think.
Lastly, don’t worry if you are having a hard time understanding. The first times I started doing this with a film I could barely make out a few words. But each time I watched it I would recognize a few more and a few more. Pretty soon I was able to watch the movie without having to focus. It just takes practice.
There are a lot of Japanese anime available, but a good place to start is with Miyazaki Hayao. Many of his movies are not only fun and light hearted, but the pace of speaking is very natural.
If you have a favorite Japanese movie or anime, please feel free to list it in the comments, along with why you think it would be a good choice for learning Japanese.