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Remembering the Kanji in 58 Days (Day 3)

Highlighted kanji have been learned.

I just finished with day 3 and am up to 172 Kanji with a very high retaining rate. I also have them all reviewed in Anki and highlighted on the Kanji Poster.

I am a bit ahead of schedule, but I am doing it on purpose. I figure I will study as many as I can in these early stages while it is fun and exciting. That way I won’t have as big of a workload as the reviews get longer.

Today I studied about 70 Kanji in about 30 minutes and then reviewed 74 cards in 11 minutes with Anki. All together less than one hour.

I look forward to your comments and hearing about your own progress.

I should mention that studying the kanji won’t teach you any Japanese words or grammar along the way. It will however, teach you the basic meanings of the kanji and how to recognize and write them.


Calling a Business in Japanese

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If you are just learning Japanese or maybe even are an intermediate speaker, making a professional phone call (a call to a business or company) can be a little bit intimidating. This article contains a few tips you can use, as well as some Japanese words and phrases that should help you out.

The difficulties

Speaking on the phone adds additional communication barriers. First of all you can’t see the persons face and gestures. This means you have to have a greater understanding of the language. It is also possible that you could get a bad connection or have  times when the phone cuts out. That is difficult enough in your own language, but more so in a second language.

But probably the biggest difficulty to speaking on the phone in Japanese has to do with the use of Keigo. For those who don’t know, keigo is an honorific form of Japanese and actually has a completely different set of words. It is the common method used in any kind of professional setting.

Lastly, you will be dealing with your own nervousness. Worrying that you might misunderstand or not be able to speak adds additional stress that can make your mind go blank. I have experienced this many times.

Make Japanese phone calls with ease

1. Don’t be afraid

If you are nervous you will have difficulty speaking. Just remember it is okay to make mistakes. If they don’t understand what you mean, then just explain it a different way (even more practice). It can be scary, but the more you do it the easier it gets.

Each phone call you make is a chance to practice. Don’t pass it up. It can be easy to ask a friend to make the phone call for you, but it will be much more helpful for you if you try and do it yourself. Once you realize you can do it, you will gain a lot of confidence.

2. Getting past keigo

There are actually two ways around this. The first is to practice and become familiar with using keigo. If you plan to live in Japan for a an extended time this is a good idea.

The second is much more simple. Just ask them kindly to not use keigo. Also, don’t feel bad about asking them to repeat or slow down. It is very common for support to speak very fast because they are basically saying the same things to each customer. Just keep asking them to slow down.

3. Speak slow and clear

When speaking on the phone silence can be a bit scary, and you may feel that you need to reply immediately. Take your time and think about exactly what you want to say. It is better to speak slowly and concise with good pronunciation and make sure they can easily understand.

It is also very helpful to plan out exactly what you need to accomplish before you make the phone call. Even to the point of planning out the phrases you want say. The more your prepare the better things will go.

Give it a try

If the opportunity presents itself, give it a try. The more you do it the easier it gets.

When I was working in Tokyo as an admissions counselor, I occasionally had to speak to parents who only spoke Japanese.  At first I was a bit intimidated and asked my co-workers to make the calls for me. Eventually though, I decided that I would only get better if I did it myself. What I found, was that it was not nearly as difficult as I thought.

Learning Japanese From Video Games?

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With region codes being removed from a lot of the games and game systems, it has become easier than ever to get copies of Japanese games. The big question however, is do games make good tools for practicing Japanese?

In the past I would have generally said “not really”. Not for me at least. If you have subtitles enabled you can get practice reading kanji, but since I was in a rush to actually play the game, I generally tend to skip most of it. Most games also have voice overs, but similar to anime, the acting is very far from actual speaking. I am sorry to disappoint, but people just don’t talk like that in real life.

So in the past I would have said that video games might possibly make average Japanese study tools (if you are diligent enough to sit through all the text and cut scenes).

Using games to speak to native Japanese speakers

However, there is one aspect of gaming that I think can help you practice your Japanese, online gaming.

Now I will admit I don’t really do online gaming. I just don’t play enough to try and play online. However, at the end of last year, Modern Warfare 2 came out. My brother liked it so much he sent me a copy, along with a mic, and told me I had to get online with him and play.

Eventually, I started playing online when my brother wasn’t playing. It may because I am located in Japan, but many of the people I end up playing with are also located in Japan.

To be honest, I am not really interested in talking when I play a game. I set the headset aside so I don’t have to listen and can just enjoy the game.

However, for someone who is interested in practicing Japanese, it seems like it would be a great chance. While you aren’t going to have deep conversations, you will at least get to practice some common Japanese greetings and basic commands for helping each other out in the game. You might even be able to make a few friends a long the way.

Proper etiquette

Of course you have to be a little careful on how you approach this. Don’t just start trying to talk to anyone and everyone that is Japanese and has a mic. Remember that everyone is there to play a game, not teach a Japanese lesson.

The following tips should help you practice Japanese and meet some new people without becoming an annoyance.

  • Try to keep the conversation focused on the game.
  • If they seem hesitant to speak with you don’t try to hard.
  • Refrain from asking too personal of questions. Unless they ask you first. (Remember other people can hear)
  • If you want to add them as a friend, ask them first. They will be more likely to accept.
  • Only talk when necessary. Remember everyone is there to play game.
  • If you do get a good conversation going, remember to show interest in them (don’t get lost in learning Japanese).

In the end, I think that online gaming communities can be a unique place to practice Japanese. You know you have some similar interests, the conversation topic is already chosen, and if you end up on the same team, you have a great reason to communicate.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. If you have already tried it please leave a comment and let me know how it went.

P.S. I am looking for a new PS3 controller. Any recommendations?

Communicating In Japan If You don’t Speak Japanese

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Learning and communicating in a new language is a great experience. I can still remember the first time I really engaged in Japanese conversation. It was like I had passed through some invisible barrier. But what if you are traveling to Japan before you have had a chance to study much Japanese or need to get a point across you just don’t know the Japanese words for? The answer is actually easier than you might think. Do your best with Japanese and use simple, clear English where you don’t know the Japanese.

Japanese people are required to study English for 6 years in school. The problem is that the English teaching is focused on passing grammar tests rather than actually communicating. Since most of the English teachers are Japanese, they also don’t get the chance to hear English from native speakers. They do however learn a pretty large vocabulary.

So how does knowing this help you communicate in Japan?

  1. Most Japanese people understand grammar and have a large vocabulary, but don’t have much listening practice. Speak very clearly, use simple sentence structures, and be sure to leave small pauses in between each word.
  2. If you understand the Japanese alphabet pronounce the words using the Japanese syllables. For instance: hotel becomes “hoteru”.
  3. Lastly, if you are not able to get your point across verbally, write it down.

* The article was rewritten due to the original being lost due to a problem with the server. It is basically the same, but the wording may be slightly different.

Practicing Japanese Pronunciation


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.

Over Exaggerate

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!