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Kanjilish- Learn Japanese and Kanji While Reading English

In the last few years there have been quite a few tools coming out to help students learn Japanese. One of my favorites is Rikaichan. Rikaichan is an add-on for Firefox that will give you the readings and definitions for Japanese characters when you mouse over them. It is a great tool for anyone learning Japanese or for someone who wants to read a Japanese website.

But what about a way to learn Japanese when you are reading websites in English? That’s where Kanjilish comes in. It is another add-on for Firefox that, when active, changes the first letter of English words into the equivalent Japanese Kanji. For example, the word “new” will become “新ew”.

Now to be honest I wasn’t really thrilled with this idea. I felt it is better to learn Japanese by studying Japanese. However, after a recommendation from @zirchi  on twitter, I gave it a try. It turns out it is a great way to review the meanings of Kanji and a great companion to Remember the Kanji.

Kanjilish gives you options of which word meanings you would like to choose based on a few popular systems, Kanji in Context, Remembering the Kanji, KanjiDic, and remembering Traditional Hanzi.

The only bad thing I have to say about it, is that it does require slightly longer for pages to load. Not ridiculously long, but longer.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. Combined with Remembering the Kanji and Rikaichan, I think it’s a pretty good tool for learning Japanese.


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Rikaikun (Rikaichan for Chrome)

I have written about Rikaichan before and how it is one of my favorite tools for reading and learning Japanese. It allows even a someone with a basic understanding of Japanese to read like a pro. Well, for all those who use Google’s chrome, a port has been made called Rikaikun.

Since the current release of Chrome doesn’t handle plugins you will need to install the beta. It will ask you to do this if you try and install the plugin.  Give it a try and let me know what you think. I’ve got it downloaded and it seems to work just fine. In fact it was easier than Rikaichan because all I needed to do was one click.

Rikaikun Plugin

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The Danger of Pride When Learning Japanese


When it comes to learning Japanese, pride is the enemy. The more pride you have the slower your progress learning Japanese will be. The main reason for this is that pride limits your ability to learn new Japanese material and ask lots of questions. It usually gets worse the higher your level of Japanese goes. The higher someone’s level gets the more expectations the student puts on their Japanese and become embarrassed if they don’t know something. There are two simple steps you can take to keep yourself asking lots of questions and constantly learning.

Think of yourself as a beginner

If you always think of yourself as a beginner then it is easy to ask lots of questions. You also won’t worry about making mistakes (something that is a natural part of learning Japanese). If people feel you are eager to learn they will also be more likely to correct your errors, helping you improve even quicker.

Don’t give yourself any expectations

The second step is to keep expectations out of your language learning, especially expectations that you should know certain words. I have been studying Japanese for quite a few years and still come across new “basic” words all the time. Realising it’s okay to not know these words makes it easy for me to ask what they mean and how to use them.

The Best Language Learners

The best Japanese speakers I know work really hard to learn Japanese, and they love to study and to practice speaking. However, they also consider themselves novices in the language. While they have the confidence to speak, they are not afraid to ask questions and learn something new. In fact, they love finding new words and phrases they didn’t know. Don’t let your pride slow down your progress.

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Breaking Bad Study Habits


When it comes to studying it is easy to be lazy. It’s both easy to skip study sessions and to only study half-heatedly. Obviously both of these are counter-productive to learning Japanese. Since advanced Japanese grammar is based on the basics, you need to study often to keep them fresh in your mind. I have found that the best way to break bad habits is to create good ones.

Creating good study habits

To make sure that you continue with good habits make sure they are as easy to complete as possible. In the case of Japanese, it is important that you study often. If your Japanese study time is competing with TV time or going out with friends, you are a lot less likely to choose studying. Allotting time slots into your schedule for Japanese study will help make sure they don’t get passed up.

Since emergencies can always happen (and they always seem to), you should also create a backup plan. For instance, if you weren’t able to study in the afternoon during your regular study time because of an emergency business meeting, you can study the first thing when you get home. The back up plan makes sure that you don’t forget to study when you are the busiest.

Make Japanese Study Fun

I mentioned in yesterday’s article Learning To Hear Japanese that studying Japanese should be fun. Choose study materials that interests you and dig into topics in Japanese that you find fascinating. If you like tennis then find as many materials about tennis as possible. If you love the topics you are using to study Japanese, it stops feeling like studying. You are much more likely to get started each day if you are looking forward to it.

Give yourself Rewards

We are great at training our kids and pets using positive reinforcement. When a child does something we like we give them sweats or take them to play. For some reason though, we stop doing this once we become adults. Well, it’s time to pick it up again. You will be more likely to study hard if you know you will be rewarded for it. Your reward can be anything from buying something you wanted to a cup of coffee to going somewhere you want to go. The point is that you are getting something you enjoy for studying hard.

There are two keys to making rewards encourage better habits. The first is that you can’t cheat. If you don’t study then don’t give yourself a reward. This also goes if you didn’t complete your full study time. The second is that the rewards should be in proportion to your accomplishments. A reward for keeping your study schedule for a month should be bigger than the reward you give yourself after studying 30 minutes.

New Habits

In the beginning it may be difficult to stay on track. If you get thrown off your schedule then just keep getting back on. After you have managed to stay on track for a while, it will stop seeming difficult and just feel like part of your daily routine. And remember, the best time to start your new schedule is right now.

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Learning to Hear Japanese


The brains ability to tune out various sounds and distractions is very helpful when you are trying to focus on something. However, it becomes a problem when your brain tunes out the thing you are trying to focus on. When it comes to learning Japanese, your brain can be quite lazy. Training your brain to recognize Japanese (rather than ignore it) will help you learn Japanese quicker.

Choose Interesting Materials

Learning a language should be fun. Learning Japanese is not an exception. One of the easiest ways to make learning Japanese easier is to choose materials that you are interested in. This works well because the part of your brain that views learning Japanese as work and wants to tune it out is overridden by the part that is interested in the chosen topic.

I am very interested in cars. So while it can be difficult for me to focus on an outdated Japanese greetings video, I have no problem gluing myself to the screen to watch Japanese TV shows about cars. I will also watch it again and again to make sure I understand. Not just because I want to learn Japanese, but also because I want to see the car videos again.

It is important that you study all of the most common Japanese words and phrases, but I have never really found this to be a problem when using “topical” Japanese when studying.  You will still learn the basics, as well as the special words used within your field of interest. Choose topics that interest you and learning Japanese seems a lot more fun. Tim Ferris of The 4 Hour Work Week, who speaks several languages, gives also uses this method when learning languages.

Repetitive Focus Sessions

This method is a little harder and feels more like work, but quite useful. When you first start learning Japanese your brain doesn’t immediately recognize Japanese words and tunes them out (even though you may understand). By completely focusing your attention on listening you will realize that you can actually understand. As you do this repeatedly, you start to hear words and recognize meanings rather than just sounds. Each time you understand is like a light bulb going off inside your head. That feeling is quite rewarding.

Intensively focusing can be quite tiring, so I recommend that you do this in short sessions. Practice for a bit and then take a break. However, like anything, the more time you spend with the material the easier it gets.

I am currently learning to play the sanshin, a traditional 3 string instrument of Okinawa. I am also learning to sing traditional folk songs of Miyakojima宮古民謡(みやこみんよう). Since Miyako”go”, or Japanese spoken in Miyako is so different and unrecognizable (even to native Japanese) this is the method I use to learn the words. It’s kind of like learning to sing in another language without understanding the language…at all. When I listen to the songs my brain wants to focus on other things. So I have to “train” my brain to pay attention by really focusing. Eventually my mind starts focusing on the words rather than tuning them out. It just takes a little bit of time.

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