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Taking advantage of Japanese Study Tools

It has been a while since I have had a chance to write on Japanese Words, but I hope that everyone’s studying is going well. Today I want to talk about something that I see as a big problem when it comes to learning Japanese. Something that has more to do with the learner and less to do with the materials. What I am talking about is not taking advantage of various helpful tools.

It’s true that not all tools are very helpful, and they certainly aren’t all equal. However, there are also tools that can help accelerate your learning. For example, Anki has the ability to help you learn more material, quicker, and better than using regular flash cards. And yet I find there are a lot of people who aren’t willing to give it a try or put in the time to set it up.

Let’s face it, there are no short cuts to learning Japanese. You need to put in the time and practice. But there are tools that can make that time more efficient. This doesn’t mean that you need to try out every single learning tool. But it will probably be worth your time to try out the ones that a lot of people (especially the one’s who can speak) use.

Learning Hiragana and Katakana

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Background - an ancient volumetric Japanese re...

The second Japanese class on Edufire ended today and Eri had a lot of fun teaching it. Thank all of those who attended. I hope you enjoyed the classes and learned some new Japanese.

Eri has posted a couple new classes as well. One for those wanting to learn to read and write Japanese (hiragana and katakana) and another class for practicing conversational speaking (this class is limited in size so if you are interested I recommend you sign up soon). You can find the classes here:

Japanese classes

For those serious about learning Japanese, learning hiragana and katakana as fast as possible is very important to not only reading Japanese, but for pronouncing it correctly as well. The sooner you get away from the English alphabet the better.

In the class, Eri will be showing you the correct way to pronounce the characters and how to write them. The class will be recorded, so those attending can watch it over and over again for review.

If you already know how to write and read the characters, then you are ready to sign up for the conversational class and start speaking Japanese.

Japanese classes

Learning Japanese by Making Mistakes

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One of the biggest mistakes you can make when learning Japanese is to be afraid of making mistakes. I know what you are thinking. Don’t I want my Japanese to be as good as possible? Yes, you do. However, like anything, proficiency comes with lots and lots of practice. And when you practice you are bound to make mistakes. This is actually a good thing though, since you will tend not to forget the Japanese words when you use them wrong.

During my time as a study abroad student at Waseda University, fear of making mistakes was one of the biggest reason that held people back from really improving their Japanese. The people who were really able to improve their Japanese werent necessarily the people who were naturally good at language. Instead, they were the people who weren’t afraid to meet new people, start up a conversations, and were willing to be misunderstood. They tried to use the things they learned in class, and when they made mistakes they would laugh along with everyone else and then remember it for next time.

The best way to learn Japanese is to learn the most common Japanese words and phrases, and use them over and over again. Practicing while speaking is kind of like “on the job training”. It allows you to get practice while actually exercising the skills you are trying to learn. The problem is that many people avoid situations where they will have the chance to speak Japanese because they are afraid of either making mistakes or being unable to communicate. I have been in both situations.

The reality is that the fear of these things is usually much worse than the actual situation itself. I have made my share of mistakes, and some have been so weird that it has certainly caused everyone to laugh. The thing to realize is that they aren’t laughing at you, but at the way the words or sentence you created may have sounded. Not too mention it is unlikely you make that mistake twice (a quick way to learn).

The fear of not being able to communicate is also usually not as bad as it seems. The truth is that as long as you are trying hard to communicate, then most people will appreciate your effort and do their best to help you out. I have found that most people in Japan really appreciate that you are tying to learn their culture and language. Though you may feel bad that you can’t communicate as well as you like, they probably very happy that you are trying.

For me these issues came later. In the beginning I would try to speak as much as possible and wasn’t really worried about making mistakes. It wasn’t until I had a better grasp of the language that I started to limit my speaking because I was afraid to make mistakes. I started working in Japan and many of the people who I worked with had spent much more time in Japan than I had. They also spoke Japanese much better. I was intimidated and so didn’t speak Japanese as much. All of a sudden, my improvement in Japanese decreased. I wasn’t learning as many Japanese words and wasn’t getting as much practice. What I finally came to realize was that my peers weren’t judging me at all. They knew the time and practice it took them to learn and were more than glad to help me.

So learn lots of Japanese words and phrases and use them as often as possible. Don’t worry about making mistakes. We all do as we learn and it is actually an important part of the learning process. We didn’t learn to walk the first time we stood up and it’s no different with learning Japanese. Engage yourself in Japanese conversations and make lots of mistakes. Your Japanese will improve much faster this way and pretty soon you will be making fewer and fewer mistakes. You will also have to great times and a few laughs along the way. Ganbare!!!

5 Great Tools to Study Japanese Words

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tools to learn Japanese

Learning a new language takes time, hard work, and dedication. However, using the right study methods along with the right tools can help you learn a language much quicker while at the same time making it funner as well. Over the years I have tried a number of different methods to learn new Japanese words. Below are the ones I have found to be the most efficient and also the most enjoyable.

1. The Apple Itouch/Iphone– we all no about the various uses of the itouch. However, the thing that I use it for the most is to study Japanese words and kanij. There are a number of Japanese programs to choose from and most of them are under a few dollars. I have listed my 4 favorites below.

1. Kanji Flip

A very simple flash card program containing all of the JLPT Kanji along with sample vocab words. The program tracks how well you remember each kanji and shows it more or less frequently accordingly. An absolute must for someone studying for the JLPT. Disadvantage is that the words are not put into categories and you can not opt out of kanji once you have learned them well. $5.99. There is also a version called “Kana Flip for those learning hiragana and katakana. $2.99

  1. Japanese FlipРBasically the same program as Kanji Flip but using words from the JLPT test. Uses the same interface as Kanji flip and the same algorithm to help you remember words.  $6.99
  2. Kotoba– A Free dictionary put out by the same maker of Kanji Flip and Japanese flip using. The uses an open source dictionary and also has the ability to search by hand input (drawing kanji). This is a very important feature since searching for meanings of difficult kanji can be very time consuming. Free
  3. Kanji– A very similar program to Kanji flip with a clean interface. It is a simple flash card program and lacks the progressive learning feature that Kanji Flip uses. Good program for $0.99.

2. Mnemosyne

Studies have shown that the best time to review material is right before you forget it. Mnemosyne is a free flash card program for your computer that allows you to choose how well you remembered the word you were shown. Depending on your choices, Mnemosyne will show that word more or less often. There are set decks of cards available for free download and you can also put in your own words. I use this with The above itouch programs to help me learn Japanese words faster.

3. Rikaichan

Rikaichan is a FireFox add-on that allows you to mouse over Japanese words and see the meaning and readings. It is a great tool for learning Japanese words (and kanji) and can help even a beginner to navigate Japanese pages. This program is a must for anyone learning Japanese.

4. Mini-notepad

Now I know that this one may not seem nearly as high tech or cool as the previous three, but a mini-notepad and can be one of the best tools for learning new Japanese words and kanji (especially for those who are living in Japan). The key is to carry the notepad and a writing utensil with you at all times and write down the the words and kanji you don’t understand. If you write down only a few words a day then you will be learning 14-21 extra words a week. If you are not living in Japan, then you can write down words in your native language you don’t know how to say in Japanese to research later. As an extra even more effective step, you can transfer these words into Mnemosyne to help you remember them.

5. Skype

Skype is a voip and instant chat program that allows you to have chats, make phone calls, and even video conferences with people anywhere in the world for free as long as they have skype. This means that you can make friends with people in Japan and practice your Japanese no matter where you are. The program is easy to set up and use and you can start making friends immediately. For those in Japan, you can also use it to call home.

How to Learn Japanese Words

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In the last post, Common Japanese Words I discussed why choosing the right materials¬† is crucial in learning Japanese. I also discussed why it’s important to study certain Japanese words in priority over others. In this post I will talk about how to study Japanese words in ways that will help you learn more words and know when to use them. These tips should also save you from wasting a lot of time.

Study Common Japanese Phrases

Japanese words are the base of the Japanese language, and the more you know the better you will be able to communicate. Now everyone has their own way to learn words. Probably the most common of these being the flash card method. Putting the Japanese words on one side of the card and your native language on the other side. Then going though these cards repeatedly until your remember the the words.

Now I am not going to bash flash cards. They certainly have their purpose and can be very helpful. I learned a lot of words using flash cards However, it can be easier and quicker to learn words when you learn them in context. Learning words in Japanese phrases helps you see how the word is actually used and helps you get a better feeling for it’s true meaning. Since people speak in sentences and not words, learning the phrases will help you speak more fluently.

One tip I recommend when making flash cards is to include a sentence or phrase containing the word. It is important to be able to use different words to make your own sentences, but there are also a lot of set phrases which are used again and again. Learning these common Japanese phrases will help you learn Japanese words and communicate more effectively.

Don’t Try to Learn Every Word

There are a lot of Japanese words that are no longer used in modern society or are used so rarely that the time spent to learn them will not bring back a good return for your time. Since you will not have the chance to use them on a regular basis, it is also very likely that you will soon forget them.

The amount of time I spent learning words that I would never use probably nearly doubled the amount of time it took me to speak Japanese.

One way to limit this is to choose the right materials. If your main purpose is to speak Japanese, then purchase materials that have commonly used Japanese words for speaking. Not all materials and books are equal, so be sure to take your time evaluating them. Several minutes evaluating a book could end up saving you hours and hours of valuable time later. If you know someone who speaks Japanese (preferably a native speaker), ask him or her to help you evaluate the materials/course. They will be able to spot quickly if the learning materials are outdated.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Second to choosing the right materials is practicing continuously. I studied in college for two years before studying in Japan, but it wasn’t until I was actually here that my speaking ability really increased. The main reason for this was the frequency that I was able to use the Japanese words I was learning and put them into context.

For obvious reasons, it is more difficult to use Japanese outside of Japan, but there are a few options. First, put in as many hours as you can learning the materials. Repeat the words and phrases out loud. If you are attending school then use the tutor labs and join a Japanese club. Make friends on Skype where you can spend time speaking with people in Japan. Watch Japanese movies or anime. Watching movies allows you to rewind and hear things again. The more you listen the better you will get.

The point is to get as much repetition with the Japanese words as possible. You will start noticing that certain words and phrases will be repeated again and again and pretty soon you won’t have to think about the meaning.

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