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Archive for the 'Guest Bloggers' Category

Building Positive Study Habits

This week’s post is going to be rather general and not even specific to learning Japanese. It doesn’t mean it won’t be helpful, though! I’m going to examine a few of my favorite tips for building good study habits. If you want to learn Japanese, you really must study and you must do it consistently. That’s the problem many at-home learners, including myself, have: the discipline to study on a consistent basis. Let’s look over a few of the most popular ways of keeping yourself motivated and organized in your studies, shall we?

  1. Set goals – Setting a goal for yourself, such as “I will have __ number of lessons done by the end of the week,” is an excellent way to motivate. It gives you something specific to work towards. If you don’t make your goal, don’t sweat it! Nobody’s going to take away your birthday if you don’t do exactly __ number of lessons. There’s no punishment. Just pick up where you are next week with a new goal.
  2. Schedule your time – Putting aside a particular time during the day or week when you will study is another great way to keep on track. If you physically write it into your daily schedule and make it a habit, you’ll find it’s a tough habit to break once it becomes normal to you.
  3. Reward yourself – Give yourself a treat for completing a certain amount of work. Let’s say you finish ten JapanesePod101 lessons in a month. Great! Maybe go out and buy yourself an ice cream cone, get that new movie you want, or give yourself a little break from studying and spend some time communing with your Nintendo Wii.
  4. Lists – Make lists of reasons why you want to study Japanese, steps you’re going to take to learn it, and mini-goals you want to complete within the next few months. Set them somewhere visible so you won’t forget them and look back on them when you’re feeling discouraged. They can be a great pick-me-up!
  5. Feel proud – Hey, you’ve committed yourself to learning a language many are too intimidated by. Feel proud! Congratulate yourself on a job well done, whether you’re a beginner finishing lesson one or an advanced student.

No matter what happens, don’t get down on yourself. And as always, ganbatte ne!

Easy Ways to Build Exposure

Welcome to another addition of Benkyou Blog! So, you’ve been studying through JapanesePod101, but you think you’re ready to add a little extra something to your routine. If you feel you’ve got a decent mastery of basic Japanese, there are a few ways you can add snippets of Japanese popular culture to your routine that will build your exposure to the language. Building exposure through music, television, and other forms of media is a great way of helping you learn Japanese. Case in point: me!

Before I went to Japan, I was obsessed with Japanese pop music. It’s all I listened to. GLAY and Utada Hikaru dominated the airspace in my bedroom. I was also your typical anime nerd (though not anymore – remember, this was when I was in 8th – 9th grade) who always had her nose in the latest episode of Card Captor Sakura or clips from the Japanese version of Digimon.

…Yes, I was a total nerd.

Anyway! When I went to Japan and began actually studying Japanese, I discovered that my pronunciation was excellent and my accent was minimal at best. I received compliments all the time on it, so I could safely assume people weren’t just being nice because I heard it from so many people. I credit this to the intense exposure I had to the language before actually learning it.

Exposure can build your vocabulary, teach you colloquialisms, and improve your pronunciation, too. It’s a great way to learn, not to mention fun! Here are my favorite ways of gaining exposure:

Read the rest of this post »

What Do You See?

Hello again! Welcome once again to Benkyō Blog. I was thinking back to when I first started studying Japanese, and I recalled a technique I used for memorizing some hiragana and katakana. I saw some of them like pictures or symbols of something else. These little picture devices helped me to remember what was what. Here are a few examples of what I came up with. While looking at my examples, think to yourself: what is it that I see? It’s like looking at clouds and describing what animal they look like. One person might see a duck, and another person might see a stegosaurus. Don’t just take my examples because they aren’t yours. Make up your own and they’ll really stick!

 – This little guy is the katakana for “ko”. To me, I see a backwards “C”. I know that it’s used in the word “kōhī”, which is the Japanified way of saying “coffee”. Coffee starts with a “C”. “Koohii” starts with a , which looks like a backwards C.

  Does anyone remember the show “Digimon”? There was a Digimon called Tokomon. He looked a lot like this hiragana, “to”. Tokomon starts with a “to”, which looks exactly like Tokomon himself in Japanese!

This might seem a little profane, but when I look at this hiragana for “ho”, I see a scantily-clad woman standing next to a pole. You can guess from that description exactly how I remember this one…

う The hiragana for “u” looks like an upside-down, underlined U. Anyone else see it?

ヨ The katakana for “yo” looks like a backwards E. I don’t know why, but somehow this reminds me that it’s read “yo”.

When you look at the different kana, what do you see? Use your imagination! Trust me, you might surprise yourself by what you come up with. Ganbatte ne!

Story Time With Janna!

Youkoso! Welcome to the first “real” edition of Benkyou Blog. Gather ’round everyone, it’s story time. I’m going to tell you a little personal story about when I was a high school exchange student in Japan.

I am a very self-conscious person. I find I’m comparing myself to others often. So, when I and my fellow exchange students would get together for various functions, I was constantly comparing my Japanese to theirs. At first, I was proud of myself. I had the best pronunciation and least accent of anyone else in the group, and considering I’d had no formal Japanese education, I wasn’t half bad. Midway through our ten month stay, things were a little different.

I arrived at our little meeting for the Osaka exchange students and their host families expecting to be at the same level or even ahead of the others who had previously been struggling. Instead, I was unpleasantly surprised to find myself stuttering and using far less new vocabulary when we made our usual introductory, “how I’m doing” speeches. My confidence came crashing down, and only continued to crash as the day went on.

A few months later, we had yet another exchange student gathering. Since the previous meeting, I had gotten back up on my feet and studied madly to catch up. Sure, the period before the last meeting was plagued with culture shock and various other exchange student stresses, but I felt that was no excuse for being so far behind! So, despite my lack of confidence, I studied hard all through my summer vacation. While my classmates were out having a good time, I was spending hours a day practicing kanji and translating the lyrics to my favorite songs as practice. At that next meeting, I felt about even with everyone else. We had all seemed to level out, no matter what our previous Japanese exposure was or how fast we’d learned at the beginning. At the end of the day, we were all about the same.

The moral of the story? Don’t compare yourself to others!! If you know someone else studying Japanese, don’t expect to always be on the same page. You can use their efforts as a motivator, but never compare yourself because everyone learns new languages at different speeds. No two brains are exactly alike, right? So, no two people are going to study Japanese at the same pace. But, you’ll find in the end that you’ll end up on the same page. If you study hard, you’ll find yourself just as proficient. You may have to study more than someone else, or it may be more difficult for you, but don’t ever let that discourage you!

You’re headed to the same destination: proficiency in the Japanese language. Don’t follow in the path of another. Blaze your own trail and make it a good one!

Benkyou de ganbatte ne!

Benkyō Blog de ganbarimashō ka?

So, you’ve listened to the podcasts. You’ve looked at the lessons. You’ve tried to memorize the grammar and vocabulary. Still having problems? Looking for some tips on studying Japanese? Looking for someone to relate to so that you don’t feel like the only one struggling to learn this difficult language?

Hello everyone. My name is Janna, and I’m here to introduce to you my new blog series, “Benkyo Blog”, that will be the new addition to the JapanesePod101 blog. My job is simple: to make sure that you, the JapanesePod101 listeners, don’t feel alone. I have been studying Japanese for years, and much of that time was spent in self-study. I went to Japan in 2004, my sophomore/junior year in high school, as an exchange student. While there, I had next to no formal instruction nor did I have a specific “teacher”. I didn’t learn from a book. I learned primarily from real life experiences and conversation.

Not everyone has that luxury, and that’s where JapanesePod101 comes in – it’s there to help you learn this language through real life scenarios with vocabulary you’re going to actually use in daily Japanese life. Even so, no matter how good your materials are, studying a foreign language is difficult. Plus, you’re studying Japanese. It’s one of the most difficult languages in some respects, especially in regards to reading and writing. Not to mention it is unrelated to any other language. There’s good news, though: it’s not as tough to learn as you might think, and that’s what I’m here for.

My goal through these blog posts is to get you to be more comfortable with studying Japanese. I’ll be giving you little ideas for memorizing hiragana and katakana or learning new vocabulary, personal stories from my time in Japan, and even a few tips for studying. Soon enough, you’ll find that Japanese isn’t as difficult as people make it out to be. The grammar and pronunciation are simple enough that it almost evens out with the difficult of the reading and writing. Reading and writing can be tough, but once you’ve learned how to learn the kana and kanji, you’ll discover your speed and efficiency in studying increases significantly.

Plus, to make this blog a little more fun, I might throw in a little Osaka dialect mini-lesson here and there! What can I say? I’m proud of my Japanese home! I lived in Osaka while I was there and am anxiously awaiting my return. So, if you’re planning on traveling or living in Osaka, or you just find the dialect fascinating, you might find my occasional Osaka-style Japanese lesson interesting.

So, enough about me and all this boring stuff! I’d like to once again welcome you all, and it is my most sincere of wishes that you become a more effective student of Japanese through my posts.

Yoroshiku onegai shimasu! Ganbatte ne!

Japanese Names – Learn About Japanese Names with Kanji

Someone asked on a recent post at Japanesepod101.com what なつこ先生’s name was in 漢字. I said that it was 夏子. I’m pretty sure it’s 夏子, in all of the early PDFs, she is listed as 夏子.

Almost all Japanese people have 漢字 names, and all family names are 漢字. The last time I went to Japan, I was quite fluent with my 漢字 from my Chinese study, but I still found common Japanese names very interesting. Whenever I’d go into any shop, I’d make a point of reading the various workers’ namecards. I found the names fascinating.

To someone used to dry, uninteresting Chinese names, Japanese names are a breath of fresh air. They sound like they were made up by hippie parents. Take 夏子 for example (the name, not the lady!) The first character is ‘summer’, the second, ‘child’. I often get a pleasant surprise when I hear about Japanese peoples’ names. Some which are so common seem so poetic.

田中・たなか: ‘Field’ and ‘middle’. Whenever I meet someone with the surname 田中, I always picture one of their ancient ancestors working hard in the field, and someone asking his surname. This was at a time when surnames weren’t so common, so the first 田中 took a long thoughtful look at his surroundings and thought, ‘well I’m standing in the middle of a field, so…’

Write Japanese – Better Japanese Through Posting in Japanese

Some of us don’t get the opportunity to use what we learn in Japanesepod101.com lessons; Japanese speakers just aren’t everywhere. But there is one avenue that we can take advantage of, one which is often overlooked. Our teachers mention it in almost every podcast. It’s the message board.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a separate message board for every individual lesson at the Japanesepod101.com website. It is where users can post anything.

Recently, I have made a conscious decision to post something every day. It wasn’t easy at first, but it’s getting easier and easier.

One of my first problems was not a language problem, but what to post. But once you get your creative side working, it gets easier gradually. Also, after each lesson, someone usually thoughtfully puts forth a question for everyone to mull over. This is usually a starting point for a post. Or sometimes someone else posts something which I feel that I can answer to.

I will be posting something in Japanese after every lesson and invite other students of all levels to do the same. Posts need not be very interesting, witty, inciteful, or even gramatically correct, but the most important thing is to write something every day.

I’m sure everyone can do it! Even if you’re not sure, just put something, anything down. In a recent post, 美樹先生 asked us about what we mail order. I answered:

僕は、たまにeBayで買い物をします。探しにくい物をeBayで買うことができます。クレジットカード必要ですけどね。
でもeBayと言うのは通信販売じゃないかもしりませんね。
Boku ha, tamani eBay de kaimono wo shimasu. sagashinikui mono wo ebay de kaukoto ga dekimasu. kurejitto kaado hitsuyou desu kedo ne.
I sometimes buy things using eBay. You can buy things that are hard to find at eBay. You need a credit card though.

Even one sentence would do. A recent lesson mentioned Yakult. I posted:

子供の時に、ヤクルトは大好きでした。
Kodomo no toki ni, Yakuruto wa dai-suki deshita.
When I was a child, I liked Yakult very much.

Maybe if you can think of an interesting question that the jPod might enjoy posting about, you might also post that. In a recent post, I wrote:

私はブBulldogsの大ファンです。
watashi ha Bulldogs no dai-fan desu.
I’m a huge fan of the Bulldogs.

Subsitute ‘Bulldogs’ for another sporting team to show your support for your local side.

This prompted others to show their support for their teams, and introduced us non-Americans to Red Socks, White Socks (something to do with teams’ uniforms I think), and a celebrity listener.

Posting not only helps you writing but helps you find mistakes you don’t realise you have made. In a recent post, Akihiro先生 helped a student who introduced himself with the polite suffix ‘san’. Akihiro先生 mentioned that:

自分の名前に「さん」はつけないので、気をつけて下さいね。
Jibun no namae ni ‘san’ wa tsukenainode, ki wo tsukete kudasai ne.
Don’t attach ‘san’ to your own name, so please be careful.

…in very polite Japanese.

Finally, I’d like to draw everyone’s attention to Bloglines.com . It’s an RF reader, which means that it automatically compiles posts/articles from any site you specify, so that you don’t have to visit them yourself. It means that to read every new post on all 500 or so JapanesePod101.com lessons instead of having to click on every message board, scroll down and check by hand, you can have them all automatically compiled for you. With the help of Bloglines.com, I am able to read every post on JapanesePod101.com, almost as soon as it is written.

That’s going to do it for today!

What Are You Doing?

Poking around youtube, as I am often of wont to do, I came across ピタゴラスイッチ1, a kids TV show. The main demographic of ピ・ス seems to be Japanese first graders, which suits me fine, as my Japanese is at about that level. I found a series called 「なにしてるの?」2 Each short clip is only a minute or so, and I have learnt something from every single one.

In each one, three boys are seen in a playground. One notices an adult doing really weird exercises, and is heard to remark 「何してる」3. Eventually one succumbs to the others’ badgering of 「聞いて来いよ」4, wanders over and asks 「おじさん、何やってるの?」5 He explains the weird procedure he is going through, and a clip explains it a bit better.

I discovered the verb which 愛香6 explained to me as the verb ‘to spray’, a new way of eating noodles, and a game involving snatching cards.

These clips not only help me learn vocab, but appeal to my Monty Python sense of humour.
The vocabulary is explained in such a unique way (a guy in a tracksuit acts them out in a playground) that I’m sure I’ll never forget these words. And I haven’t even seen all the episodes yet!

So if you’re interested, head to youtube and search for 「なにしてるの」 if you’re interested!

Do you have any youtube clips that help you learn 日本語?

1Pitagorasuichi, or in English form, Pythagoras Switch.
2Nani shiteru no? What are you doing?
3Nani shiteru? What are you doing? Almost the same meaning as 2.
4Kiite Koi yo. Go and ask him.
5Ojisan, nani yatteru? Old man, what are you doing?
6Aika, my girlfriend.

Samurai Theologian in Tokyo: O-Hanami at Canal Café

Canal Cafe Pic

Daniel here. Reporting for JapanesePod101.com.

お花見 (おはなみ), or cherry blossom viewing is one of the more pleasant seasonal traditions in Japan. The flowers are stunningly beautiful and change the landscape much like snow can in Winter. People wait in anticipation for their arrival, and the news forecasts 満開 (まんかい • full-bloom) predictions like they do coming rainfall and rising temperatures.

In addition to their beauty, 桜 (さくら) are short-lived. Almost as soon as they bloom, wind, rain, and budding leaves conspire to force the lovely pedals off their branches. Just as quickly as they achieve their full majesty, they depart and make way for Spring.

As a side note, this phenomenon is very apropos for Japanese culture which seems to delight in short-lived beauty. This can be seen in how Japanese female singers and actresses skyrocket in popularity only to fade into obscurity in their mid-twenties and in the careers of sumo wrestlers.

My wife and I are among the masses who check the forecast to catch Sakura at its peak. Last year we went to 国立 (Kunitachi, Tokyo) where there is a street lined with Sakura trees. It was quite lovely. This year, however, we went with people from our church to the Canal Café in 飯田橋 (Iidabashi).

Canal Café is found close to Iidabashi Station on the 東西線 (Tōzai Line) and also on the 総武線(そうぶせん). You can see it while riding on the 中央線 (Chūō Line) overlooking the 神田川 (Kanda River), but the 中央線 does not stop at 飯田橋駅 (Iidabashi Station). Although 神田川 is a river, it has been reshaped by construction to where it looks like a canal, thus the name Canal Café.

The café’s entrance is from the street that parallels the river. The entrance and gate has the look and feel of a yacht club. Usually, there is no wait to get into the café, but during お花見 season, there is usually a long wait to get in. This is not because of the lack of seating available, but because you have to first purchase drinks and food before entering. For some reason, this seems to take quite a long time. It took us nearly one hour to get in.

It was worth the wait, however, as the view is quite nice. The food is adequate, but I wouldn’t recommend the café based on the food alone. So, if you don’t mind the wait, I recommend the Canal Café during お花見 and any other time of year, you should be able to get a seat right away. Even when the flowers have fallen off, the Canal Café should be a suitable way to spend a sunny afternoon in Tokyo.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Be sure to leave a comment.

Until next time, さらば.

Wii On!

As part of my ongoing immersion into all things Japanese, I have bought a Wi console, made by company Nintendo.

If you didn’t know already, Nintendo is one of the biggest manufacturers of video games in the world. The Wii is their latest machine, and it has an interesting interface method: instead of pressing buttons with your fingers, you hold two controllers, or リモコン and wave them around in front of your TV. You really have to try it to understand it; the feeling of having two controllers in your hands and frantically flailing them about makes the whole experience much more enjoyable.

I’m currently battling my way through a game called Rayman Raving Rabbids. In it, a group of crazy ラビッツ try to take over the world, and challenge you, レーマン to a series of challenges to prove your worthiness. These take the form of a series of minigames, or single challanges. These may be races, dancing competitions, shootouts with hordes of rabbits out for your blood, or navigating through mazes. Admittedly the game doesn’t have a very solid plotline, but it is still enjoyable. Nevertheless, sometimes the screaming ラビッツ get on your nerves, and I have taken a break to write this blog entry.

I have somehow ended up with the Japanese version, and besides brushing up on my カタカナ, I have had to learn some new words to get through the game. Each minigame is different to all the others, so before you play, instructions on how to complete the challenge come up on the screen. As I have the Japanese version, I have to say… everything… out… loud… slowly… to… understand…, or fire up Firefox and use Rikachan to work out what I’m meant to do. I tell myself that all my hours spent on my Nintendo Wii counts as Japanese study time.

I have always had a fascination with ニンテンド, from when I was young enough to wrap my little fingers around a Nintendo Entertainment System control pad. You might even say that ニンテンド, and their rivals Sega first seeded my interest in all things Japanese. That and the fact that Japan was the only place I knew where grown ups read comic books.

I wouldn’t go so far to say that I’ve come so far with Japanese exclusively because of video games, but I guess they have been a factor in my childhood interest in Japan. Like so many young kids, I played a lot of video games, and was amazed to find out that almost all of my favourite games came from a small island country off the coast of mainland Asia. Although my interest in video games has waned, my interest in Japan has only grown stronger. So many unique things have come from Japan: not just Nintendo and Sega, but 侍, 盆栽, the Walkman, automatic toilets, ドラえもん, not to mention everyone’s favourite podcast.

I know people often end blog posts with a question. You see, we bloggers aren’t always sure people are listening, so a question is a little bit like a to prod our readers to see if they are really there. But this time I really am interested (not that I wasn’t interested before, but you know what I mean!): what made you want to learn Japanese? It’s a question that a lot of Japanese people ask me, and I’ve never been able to give an answer to my satisfaction. I meant to attempt an answer in this post, but I can’t get it across. I hope that my fellow jPod listeners, of all people in the world, will know what I mean when I talk about my interest in Japan.

Maybe you find it hard to answer too. If you feel like it, leave a message!

I’m going back to blasting screaming bunnies with a toilet plunger (really!)