Tag Archive | learning Japanese

J-Vlogger Spotlight – Chris Broad

As much as I love sarcastic humor, I can’t be as sarcastic as I’d like while writing here. The issue with sarcasm isn’t that it comes off as being bitter and possibly resentful, but that the written word isn’t always understood to be sarcasm.

However, if you want some spoken sarcasm, and you’re into watching videos about Japan, let me steer you towards Chris Broad of Abroad In Japan.

When he started his videos, they were basically like sending a letter home to say that he was still alive and doing well. After a while, he started having some fun, teaching profane English words to Japanese people and walking through love hotels. More recently, he’s been focusing on the area of Tohoku, where he currently lives and where he wants to boost tourism.

I barely think I need to do an entry about Abroad In Japan. Quite a few of his videos have been shared by other websites. He has also popped up on other channels, alongside Rachel And Jun for example, and has been featured on Odigo Travel.

If you’re interested in learning Japanese, Chris has a few videos with tips to help you improve your skills with the language. Based on his recommendations, I tried Memrise as one of the many tools I use to learn Japanese, and I have Anki on my computer though I really haven’t used it.

If your interests are about the sights of Japan, then he has you covered. Want to see a robot restaurant, with flashing lights and a stunning floor show? How about an early morning stroll through a market that sells fresh food, where you can get fried chicken for breakfast? Do you want to see the final burial spot of Jesus Christ? I wish I was kidding about anything he has on his channel, but some of these things exist.

Oh, and he does have two videos about love hotels, and a video about an owl cafe, and yet another video about a sake vending machine. All of the normal things are covered.

If you want to see Chris interact with Japanese people, that does happen in most of his videos. However, I do recommend the video where he teaches swear words to Japanese people. Play that video in a room full of people who have no issues with profanity, and you’ll get a few laughs. He also has a few videos where he has Japanese people try British or other foreign foods, such as Marmite and international chocolate. Why he subjected someone, anyone, to eating Hershey’s chocolate is beyond me, because their chocolate candy bars have an awful texture and are only good for s’mores, but that’s my opinion.

Recently he participated in a TED Talk about being a YouTube vlogger and living in Tohoku. If there was one thing to take away from that, it would be to just pick up a camera and show something awesome about where you live. Give people a reason to visit your area. Chris has found so many amazing things just in the Tohoku area, and says that it would drive up tourism if more people knew about what the area has to offer.

Lately there haven’t been many updates to the channel, with a new video about once a month or so.

However, Chris is supposedly working on something special with his friend Natsuki, and it should be interesting when that’s finished. Natsuki is… a character, for lack of a better description. If a video has Natsuki in it, the video will be far from serious. Natsuki is often involved when Chris is showing something from another country. The special project that Chris is working on will involve Natsuki running around the United Kingdom, and his reactions to things that are mundane to the rest of us should be interesting.

Chris also has another channel that rarely gets updated, called Abroad Perspective. It was started with the intention of continuing some of his reaction-type videos and being less about travel and tourism. I recommend subscribing to it just the same, if you do enjoy his videos.

I also recommend following his Instagram. If you’re aware of what many people are like on Instagram, especially with the Instagram Stories feature, then following Chris’ Instagram will be entertaining. He is his sarcastic self, starting his Instagram Stories by saying, “Yay, Instagram Stories!” He then finds something that’s not worthy of being talked about, and talks about it. One of his early Instagram Stories was a sandwich he randomly picked up at a convenience store, and he barely knew what was in the sandwich. It was worthy of a snicker, in the way it parodied anyone’s “amazing” food that they bought.

Time for all the links that are fit to print!

Are there any other links that would be relevant?

And were you expecting me to spotlight someone I’ve already mentioned in other entries? I’m getting there, don’t worry. But if you want me to check out any other YouTube J-vloggers, or even any Japanese blogs, leave a comment below, and I might spotlight them soon!

Silly Unboxing – Rosetta Stone

So I had nothing to do last night, and I was doing my usual perusal of YouTube. There was a bit of a thunderstorm, and my friend turned off her computer as she left for bed.

She also turned off the wifi. I had no internet. I can’t post anything without the internet. I can’t do YouTube without the internet.

I did have my phone, and I just played games on that until passing out for the night.

But no matter, that much was yesterday, and today was a new day.

I got a message from my friend Pete, saying he had a notification that my package was delivered! I couldn’t wait to get home from work.

What did Pete send to me? Well, let’s take a look…

img_4395Hey, that’s my box, you two! Ugh… okay, I’ll let you two start the unboxing.

img_4396 “Yay, there’s bubbles!”

“There’s more in the box. Get up here and help!”

“I can’t read. What does it say?”

“It says ‘Happy birthday in Japanese!'”

“Wow, you can read Japanese?”

“No, it says… you know what, never mind.”


Okay, you two. I’ll take it from here.

The front flap of the box has a product activation code card. The inside of the box slides out…

…like so. Lift up the flap…

…and there’s a quick start guide, the discs, a pair of headphones, and the end user license agreement in print (you know, that thing that everyone agrees to, but no one actually reads?).

 There’s four discs for the Japanese kit, one of which is just for the program itself.

I haven’t started using the program yet, so I’ll tell you about it when I do.

If you’ve never heard of Rosetta Stone, it’s language-learning software that’s been around for years. Expect to pay around $150 USD for the set, but it seems to be worth it for what you get. Part of the “interactive immersion” includes voice recognition, so it seems like it would be almost like working with an instructor.

I plan to use my other apps alongside Rosetta Stone. How can you derail the study of another language? The only way I could do that is if one teaches me formal Japanese and another method teaches me the Kansai dialect (which is often used by Japanese comedians, and is localized into American English by using a Southern drawl or not enunciating properly). Since most Japanese language studies teach formal Japanese, it would be hard to derail that.

I don’t really have much to say for this entry. I’ve had a long day, in that I came home from work and stopping at the store, and then I cooked, and then I cleaned, and now I have to go to bed and wake up early for work tomorrow. It’s all boring and mundane, for the most part. This unboxing was the excitement for my day.

So have you used Rosetta Stone, whether for Japanese or another language? Tell me about it in the comments, because I want to hear what you think of the software.

Once again, thanks to Pete (PeteMosq on all the social media) for the birthday gift! ^_^

Kore Wa Pen Desu – How My Scatterbrain Learns Japanese

Mornings around here are hit or miss. Either everyone is reasonably quiet, or I’m just in a very deep sleep when they’re getting ready to leave for school and work, because some mornings I don’t wake up until 9 am or so. Other mornings, it’s either a manic 6-year-old with no volume control regardless of how many times you tell him to be quiet, or it’s a banshee in her mid-thirtees complaining about what does and doesn’t get done properly around here. This morning was a combination of both noisy individuals, but it was fine because I had to wake up at a reasonable hour since a guest was stopping by around 9 am.

With all of this time on my hands, what was I to do? Supposedly, early daytime hours are better for learning things. I’ve only learned to either obey the alarm clock or go back to sleep for another hour. As long as I was awake, I pulled out Memrise and Mindsnacks.

I had the word kore (これ, this) drilled into my head by Memrise. It reminded me that the first phrase Japanese-speakers tend to learn when they’re learning English is “this is a pen.” So, I decided to teach myself how to say “this is a pen” in Japanese.

Google Translate converted the English into これわペンです.

I, however, don’t understand why it can’t be written as これわぺんです. So when I typed that into Google Translate and made it spit the English back at me, it said “this is very confusing.” You’re absolutely correct, Google! It IS very confusing! The hiragana is phonetically correct, so why can’t it still say, “this is a pen?” But I’m here to learn, not to teach, so I’ll have to do some research on that and talk about it later.

The new hiragana I did learn, I could write about it here, but typing the hiragana isn’t going to help me learn the hiragana. The computer already knows the symbol, I just have to type the letters for the sound it makes.

Speaking of, I’m going to get thrown by め and ぬ. One is me (pronounced may) and the other is nu (pronounced new). So it’s not just a matter of looking at the one and thinking, “it looks like no but has a little u-like marking, so it must be nu.” NO! I have to look for the little curlicue on the bottom right of the character in order to tell them apart.

I tried doing the N5 sample questions for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, just to see if I had advanced at all since the last time I tried looking at the questions. I still have much to learn, because even though I know more of the hiragana characters, I don’t feel as if I have all of the vocabulary learned and therefore there’s a disconnect.

And I don’t remember what word I was trying to commit to memory, but I was trying to put a word into context by putting it in a sentence so I’d remember it. Unfortunately, I noticed I was using Spanish articles. I learned some Spanish in high school, and I guess my mind only wants to have one secondary language. If it happens again, I’ll have to write down the sentence I was trying to make, because I had some wires crossing somewhere and I couldn’t help but shake my head.

Of the hiragana I do have memorized, I have ka (か) down pat. I associate it with my most recent Dungeons & Dragons character Kha’knacca, a tiefling warlock who acquired Hyde (yes, Hyde from L’arc en Ciel) as a sort of pet bard. Well, I’m far enough into Memrise that ka is now its own vocabulary term, and it translates to “mosquito.” Considering how many times people wanted to swat Kha’knacca, I guess か is rather fitting.

I’m watching more Kyosuke Himuro music videos tonight. I tried pulling myself away for a day or two, as my mood had changed a bit, but I’m still mesmerized despite watching the same music videos day in and day out. Also, I want to gaze into his eyes more, because they look like pools of ink from what I can see in the videos. I’m so used to seeing people with different colored irises, to the point where solid black irises are mysterious to me. That has nothing to do with learning Japanese, however, people have added the lyrics to his songs at the bottom of some of the videos. Knowing more hiragana helps a bit, because I can follow along with the lyrics even though I still don’t know kanji. One day, I’ll be able to do Himuro’s songs at karaoke without needing to look up the romaji lyrics, but that’s going to take some practice.

A Vamps song just came on. Hyde, you’re not helping my Japanese education by singing in English! You get a pass for putting dragons and a moon in the video for Replay. You did, however, inspire me to look up some of the first Japanese words I ever committed to memory, so you did teach me some Japanese. I’ll save that post for another day, or maybe I’ll turn a song into a vocabulary list.

For now, it’s late and I must be off to bed. Not that I have anything to do tomorrow, since my interview was cancelled. But there’s more Japanese to learn, and more self-awareness questions to answer. Tomorrow is just another day to do it all.

How I’ve Learned Japanese So Far

If you want to get a start on learning Japanese, there are many ways to do so without signing up for a language class.

A word of caution, however: you’re not likely to become proficient unless you put in the time and effort. Will you become proficient by just using what I’m going to talk about? Possibly, but not by using just one thing.

What’s the fastest way to start learning Japanese words? Just use Google Translate (translate.google.com) and type in English words (one at a time, not entire phrases). Again, that’s a start. You can also use Google to translate words that seem to come up all the time in Japanese music, tv shows, and anime, and then you’ll know when someone is talking about eggs, or love, or even dragons. While you can use the Google Translate webpage to translate entire websites and pages, you’re not likely to learn anything unless you have a grasp of the writing systems and you check the mouseover text to see the original phrasing. There is also a Google Translate phone app, in case you want to do word and phrase translations on the go.

In my opinion, and this is just my opinion, phone apps are the way to go. If you’re trying to learn basic vocabulary, at the very least, you’re going to do so when you have free time, and that might even come when you’re in line at the supermarket, or you’re in the bathroom (I’m not one to judge, you do you), or even just laying in bed at night. So let me tell you what I’ve used, what I think of them, and how they can help you.

To the right, that’s actually a screenshot from my iPhone 6S. I’m not listing the model to brag or anything, but I will say that if you have an earlier model, some of the apps might not work as well on your iPhone. As for you Android users, I’m pretty sure you have all of these apps available to you, so I’m not playing favorites but I am basing everything on my experience.

The folder is labeled “Nihongo.” Depending on your skill level, you might want to consider enabling the Japanese keyboard on your phone as I have done. If you don’t want to, that’s fine as well, because it’s one less keyboard to cycle through on your way to the Emoji keyboard. And that’s all it is, when you enable the Japanese keyboard, you’re making it so you can type in the Japanese writing systems (kanji, hiragana, katakana) when you need to write something in Japanese.

Moving on, before someone comments about the notifications above Memrise. So let’s begin with Memrise, shall we? Memrise is exactly how the name sounds, you are memorizing words and characters. It should call itself “Memerise,” because it sells itself by saying you can learn with the help of memes, those images that the kids are using these days to be funny. When Memrise isn’t teaching you a new word or reviewing one you should know, you are constantly in a multiple choice quiz. The quiz pulls words you’ve just learned and adds in words you should remember from previous lessons. The idea is that if you’re reminded about a word and its meaning, you will commit it to memory. The app has a simple interface, and you’re not likely to feel overwhelmed when trying to use it. As for my notifications, that’s how many words I apparently have to review. The app and basic features are free, but to get more out of it, you do need to pay.

imiwa? is a dictionary app. It’s pretty simple, you just type a word into the search box and go from there. If the word you typed is in English, it will give you the most relevant Japanese results. If you typed in a Japanese word, it will find it and you can look up what the word means in English. Each entry has sample sentences, so you can see how the word is used. I would suggest using imiwa? over the Google Translate app when you’re trying to “find the right word,” because of the fact that imiwa? will give you alternate words that you might find to be more appropriate. imiwa? has more features, but it’s mostly a dictionary app and that might be what you usually use it for.

Tae Kim’s Guide To Learning Japanese is like an e-book. If you want to learn about Japanese and how the characters are used, download the app. I recommend being familiar with hiragana before moving too far into the app, otherwise you’re going to hear silence in your head when you’re reading and come up to something that’s not in English.

Skipping ahead, HJ Lite is Human Japanese. It’s another app that’s like an e-book. I find Human Japanese to be easier to understand, and the look and feel of the app feels more welcoming. If Tae Kim’s guide feels mandatory, Human Japanese will feel optional but desirable. I do recommend having some form of text-based learning when you’re ready to go beyond vocabulary, and if learning Japanese sometimes seems complicated, download Human Japanese and give it a try.

The app that says “Japanese” with the happy face is Mindsnacks. It doesn’t really teach you, in the sense that it’s not like Memrise. It is, however, a great way to learn words by playing games. The app feels a bit like it’s meant for children, as the art is all cartoon-like and simple. However, it’s easy to pick up and learn new words this way, as it feels like when you were learning your native language. You will benefit the most from using other apps alongside Mindsnacks, and I’ll explain why later. You do have to pay for each language you want to learn, or there’s an all-language pass. I only paid for the Japanese pass, and I don’t really regret doing so.

The app that says “Japanese!” and has the hiragana for the “a” sound is an app that quizzes you on hiragana and katakana. It’s simple, it’s fairly nameless, and there’s other apps out there that will do the same thing. Why haven’t I deleted it yet? Because I have to buy the other lessons, and I don’t want to, yet I haven’t deleted the app.

Kana is a better app. It, too, is a lesson and quiz app that’s good if you’re focusing on just the writing systems. I’m pretty sure that one is free, because I don’t remember paying for it, and I’ve done more in it.

Innovative is brought to you by Japanesepod101.com, and I learned about the app through YouTube. The app makes you sign up for an account, and then you have a 7-day preview of everything the app has to offer. Free accounts are locked to the first few lessons of a level of learning. It’s the only learning app I have that makes you sign up for an account, so if that’s not your thing, then the app from Japanesepod101.com isn’t for you.

You do have to make an account for HelloTalk, but that’s different. HelloTalk is to make friends! Want to practice Japanese and teach English to others? HelloTalk is the app you want. If you’re a bit nervous about your language usage, give it a shot and practice more. The idea is for people to correct you so you learn how to be more fluent. I just started using the app today, so I might have to rethink how I’m going to use my tag for “My Japanese Friend.”

So you know how I said I recommended using a combination of these apps? Here’s how I recommend doing it. Pick a dictionary/translation app; I recommend imiwa?. Next, decide how you want to learn vocabulary; I recommend Memrise over Mindsnacks, but you can get both and use Mindsnacks on days when your brain is fried but you still want to move forward with learning Japanese. Now, pick a text e-book; I would choose Human Japanese, and you can get the Lite version like I did or you can get the full version. If you’re struggling with hiragana and want to focus just on that, add Kana to your apps. So you have a dictionary, a textbook, a game/quiz, and a means of focusing on the writing systems. It’s everything you could need!

Okay, but now you want to actually learn how to actually write the actual language. Human Japanese provides you a link to a page that you can print out to practice writing. Some apps also show you the stroke order. If you want to skip the paper, then you can get My Japanese Coach if you have a Nintendo DS of some variety, as the game cartridge will teach you how to write the characters using the correct stroke order. While it’s not a phone app, it is another option. If you don’t have a DS, just remember that kids who play Pokemon have to sleep eventually, so borrow a DS if you can easily get your hands on one. Otherwise, just use regular paper to write on and use the phone apps to learn about how the character is written.

Beyond that, you’re only going to get as much out of the apps as you put into them. If you’re not using any of the apps that often, you’re not going to magically learn Japanese. But, I’m just trying to get you started. I always feel like it’s a success when I hear a word and I know what it means, If that’s enough to motivate you to keep learning Japanese, then start by learning a few words and keep immersing yourself in the language.

Go do it!

I Think I’m Learning Japanese

I barely know the difference between ki and sa. I know the hiragana for ki, but I can’t seem to recall the one without the extra line is sa.

The easy one for me to remember is no, because it looks like an ampersand.

I can sort of recall a and i, and shi.

Somehow, all of these characters make words with particular sounds.

If you don’t know Japanese, you can stare at a word such as いただきます and hear silence in your head. That’s my problem. Yet it’s amazing to think that I normally stare at lines and squiggles and form sounds in my mind. At some point in my early development, my parents took me aside and said, “okay, when you see this symbol, it makes this sound.” And if you think about it, that’s also what the Japanese parents have done. We are conditioned to accept that a few lines make certain sounds and words.

I’ve heard it said that Japanese is easier than English. There’s a lot of truth to that, because after you read this, you can say you read this, and if you picked up on the change to the past tense then you’re already aware that English letters can change their sounds depending on how they’re used. In Japanese, a will always be pronounced like in spa, i will always be pronounced like ski, and every other character will always be pronounced one way. So yes, that does make things easy.

However, instead of 26 letters that can be rearranged to form different sounds, there are 48 different characters in hiragana alone. Okay, that sounds like more work. And yet, if you were to write down all of the different letter arrangements for English, you would actually end up with more combinations, leading to different sounds as well. There’s all of these confusing rules about “i before e, except after c” which confuses anyone who’s weird and feisty.

But English is just English. There are just the 26 letters that can be formed and arranged and what not. Japanese consists of three writing sets which are hiragana, katakana, and kanji. Hiragana and katakana are your phonetic characters, both sets are few in number but can show up everywhere. Katakana is usually used for foreign words, like if you look up Final Fantasy in Wikipedia, you’ll see the katakana that’s used to basically pronounce the words using Japanese syllables. Kanji is serious business. There’s over 6,000 characters, but if you know one character, you know a whole word. If you’re handwriting and you have too few or too many brushstrokes, your one word might become a completely different word. Sentences and phrases combine at least kanji and hiragana together, though katakana is still important.

Oh, and if you thought homophones were insane in English, just wait until you learn Japanese! In English, sure, you have their, there and they’re. Those words aren’t far from each other, because they’re taking their things and putting them there. Maybe as a native English speaker, that makes perfect sense to me and I can’t possibly confuse the three words. So far in learning Japanese, I’ve come across niji in a Mindsnacks lesson, and niji as a song title. One means rainbow, and the other means 2 o’clock. The only time you could have those in the same sentence is to say there was a rainbow at 2 o’clock.

It’s a quarter to 2 in the morning, and Niji just started playing in iTunes. Please buy Heart, it’s an excellent L’arc en Ciel album. Meanwhile, my computer is scaring me because it did that. I might need to make my computer less intelligent before it becomes sentient.

Anyway, I feel like no matter what I learn, no matter what seems to be committed to memory, I don’t actually feel like I’m learning anything.

I don’t know how to form sentences.

I barely know any phrases, except for one-word phrases like greetings and such.

I know a few words. I don’t know enough to know the entire context of a sentence without having to look up other words in a sentence. And oddly enough, the words I’m most familiar with are probably the words I’ve looked up on the side.

My goal is to learn Japanese. My plan is to take formal lessons. My dream plan is to do so in Japan, where I can practice what I learn because of immersion. But until then, I have phone apps, a Nintendo DS game, and my computer if I want to use Anki more often than not.

I’d like to walk into a beginner’s lesson, and before class begins I’d like to introduce myself to the teacher in Japanese and basically say I want to be challenged a bit. I should probably know my shit or hold my tongue, because being cocky might cause my grades to be based on higher level work instead of what the rest of the class is handing in.

However, if I don’t have that confidence, perhaps I could introduce myself to the teacher and say something like, “I’ve been trying to teach myself, but I’ve been having issues with remembering the difference between these characters. I’m sure we won’t be up to that point in the lesson, but I’d like to work on it so I don’t fall behind in class.”

If I can at least pass the N5, which is the lowest category for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, then I’ll be happy. I’ll certainly try for the other exams, N4 all the way to N1, but the N5 will be evidence to me that something is getting through.

So with that, join me as I try to hear random brushstrokes. Yeah, it feels like that.

No offense to native Japanese speakers, because you probably had the same reaction to reading English words when you first learned them, so I think we can agree upon something, that English is hard.