Learning Japanese

So my plan to return to Japan remains, and the aim for getting back later this year is still very much on.  In the meantime I will be trying to study and improve my Japanese, ready for when I return.

My aim will be to get from my current level of knowing enough to get by, to reaching an intermediate level where I can read short articles (with Kanji), and hold decent conversations about most topics.

Another aim of mine while learning Japanese, is to try and do what I can to help make learning for other people easier as well.  Hence why I will try to document my learning experience in this blog, if one persons reads something and finds one bit of information useful, then that’s a win in my book.

In addition I am in early planning stages of creating my own app to aid with learning Japanese as well.  When the app is finally made, it will be available for free, as I just simply want to give a bit back to the Japanese learning community.  This though is still a long way off as my main development focus is on my game Time To Shoot.  I don’t imagine this app will be around till next year at least.

Learning resources

Now first things first, these blogs will not be me trying to teach any Japanese, and nor will they be me trying to tell you what methods work best for learning the language.

The reality is that everyone learns in different ways and different methods work for some people and not others.  All I will be doing is giving a few notes on resources that I have found useful for my own study.

Ideally I would like to attend a proper language school as I believe this would be the best thing for me, but sadly I don’t have the money to do this, so it’s not an option I have.  Online tutoring via Skype would be good, if anyone has any sites or tutors they can suggest for this at a reasonable cost then please let me know.

Books

Now for me, I still believe that good old fashion textbooks and workbooks are essential to language learning.  Currently I have a few dictionaries, Japanese For Busy People and a book on learning Kanji.  They are ok, but I hope to try and get hold of Genki as I have heard it’s pretty much the best self study book, it’s just in the UK it’s about £65-70 to get both the Genki 1 textbook and workbook off amazon.  I have had a scan through the book as I have a digital version, and it does look like good content, but I would prefer to have the paper version.

I have also heard that the Japanese Graded Reader series is ideal for reading practice, but if you are outside of Japan then finding these will be both difficult and very expensive.  I will search for these when I go back to Japan.

Of course there are official JLPT books as well, which are really more workbooks like mock exams of what the levels will be.  I will probably pick up the N5 & N4 ones just to see what things at the lower end are like.  I will most likely take a JLPT of some form in the future just for the experience of doing it and boosting my CV a bit.  There is much debate over the usefulness of having anything other than an N1 (maybe N2), but it’s just something I would like to do.

Online

I’m still trying to sort through a list of useful websites, so far here is what I have found useful.

Tae Kim’s Guide To Learning Japanese – This is not the prettiest website you’ll ever see, but in terms of information it’s a great source.  There is a lot covered, grammar especially, there are also app versions of the website (see further down for the android one).

Japan Reference – This website isn’t specifically aimed at learning Japanese, and actually has just a lot of various blogs, reviews and information about Japan in general.  However this makes the list as the forums are a useful resource on their own, there are of course many sub forums for pretty much any topic, however the learning Japanese forum is of course a good place to search or ask for advice.

JapanesePod 101 – Now I have only listened to a few podcasts from this site using a free account so far.  I have read very mixed opinions about the company and their services, for more information see the Innovative Language 101 section in the app list further down, this is the app version of the website.

Erin’s Challenge – I have yet to spend a lot of time on this site as I only discovered it a couple of days ago, but it has a good series of short video clips which are short skits, you can also toggle the subtitles for each video to display kana, kana & kanji, romaji, direct English translation, or a combination of all of the above.  Great for listening practice, and the option to toggle subtitle sets is great.  I hear the videos were from an old TV tutorial series of some form.

YouTube – Of course with anything you want to learn these days, there are plenty of YouTube videos / series.  In the future I will do a post with specific videos / people who I find useful, at the moment I’m still trying to source good ones.

Android Apps

One of the first places I turned to for getting some quick resources was of course the Google Play store, having learning tools to hand on my phone or tablet is a great way for me to learn anywhere at any time.  I use Android, I assume most of these are available on IOS also.

A quick search of the Play store revels an overwhelming selection of apps to choose from, I downloaded a large amount of them a couple of weeks ago to try and sort out what ones would work for me, and in no particular order here are my picks. (90% of which are free ones)

  • JA AudioBook – (Link)
    Ok, so I’m beginning this list with a paid app, it’s £4.99 and well worth every penny of it.  The app has a selection of short stories which you can read (kanji has furigana as well), and each has audio that plays along to listen to, as it’s read each section that’s being read will highlight as well.

    At the end of each you can take a test to see if you were able to take it all in, this is a great way to practice both reading and listening skill, though I think the voices are not quite native speed.

    *Just incase anyone is moaning about spending money on an app, then please remember a) It’s up to you weather you do or don’t buy it, b) devs spend a lot of time making good apps and deserve something for it! c) You probably spend more everyday on a 5 minute coffee at Starbucks!

  • NHK Easy Japanese News(Link)
    This app is great for reading practice, it gives a selection of short news articles in Japanese, the articles include Kanji, however they also include the Furigana, so you can still read without knowing all the Kanji.  The articles are normally only a few paragraphs long, and there is the option to play audio to have them read back.  This way you can practice listening, as well as check you pronounce certain things correctly.
  • Learn Japanese NHK – Nihongo (Link)
    This app has about 50 lessons, each lesson contains a short skit of a conversation between characters, and small section giving you a bit of culture about the scenario in the lesson.  Each lesson contains 10 minutes of audio which you can download, here the presenters read through the skit, and clearly explain the grammar and words.
  • Kana Mind – (Link)
    This app is great for learning / practicing kana.  You choose either Hiragana, Katakana or both, it then introduces you to a small amount at a time and introduces new characters as you learn more.  Useful for just doing a bit of practice if you have 5 minutes spare.
  • Obenkyo – (Link)
    This is a very good app (though I still don’t know if I like the UI), it pretty much covers everything, kana, kanji, grammar, particles and vocabulary.  Certainly a useful tool to have.
  • Learn & Speak Japanese Free (Mondly) – (Link)
    Now there is a paid for option of this app for £14.99 (or £19.99 for all languages to learn), I only at the moment have the free version though.  The free version gives a few lessons which are ok, but the main useful thing about the app is that you get a prompt every day for a free daily lesson.

    The daily lesson you get is normally only 4-5 new words, and takes just a couple of minutes to complete.  But I quiet like the fact I get an alert every day that basically says ‘remember to learn some Japanese today’.  In terms of this actual app though, I haven’t yet gone premium as the free lessons seemed to be a bit all over the place in the order of teaching some things.

  • Hello Talk – (Link)
    The concept behind this app is brilliant! Essentially it’s a messaging app for language exchange, where you enter the language you speak, and the language you want to learn, the app then gives you people wanting to do the reverse.  (eg, I enter I speak English and want to learn Japanese, I can then see people who speak Japanese and want to learn English.)

    The idea is you can either just message people for a translation on something, or about words or grammar, or just have a chat in whatever language.  There is a built in translation tool, and option to take a received message, correct grammar and spelling, then send it back with corrections.  You can even send audio clips for pronunciation practice.

    For searching people, you can either search by language preference (and proficiency in that language), or by language and location.  I actually ended up using this app in Japan and ended up making a friend though it after meeting up.

  • JED – Japanese Dictionary – (Link)
    Fairly self explanatory this one, but this is the most useful dictionary / word look up I have found on Android.
  • Memrise – (Link)
    This app took me a while to work out, as at first I thought there was only one lesson pack, but as it turns out you can add more (Which I think are user created), and those are the more useful ones.  The beginner pack that first loads is very basic and very slow paced, for me it was very dull and I was ready to hit uninstall.

    However I then discovered the extra lesson packs (still free), these are user created ones and seem much more useful, there are some for vocabulary, some for kana, some for kanji, and some tailored towards content from the Genki books or for JLPT preparation (N5-N1).  These are great, though it will take some time to sort out the ones based for what you need.

  • JA Sensei – (Link)
    Another essential resource on Android, this app has lots of information on things like grammar and vocabulary, as well as kana and kanji practice.  The kana tests also give the option of writing the kana answer rather than multi choice which is useful to practice.

    The app also has lessons and a travel phrasebook, the UI is very good also.

  • Kanji Sempai – (Link)
    I have just started using this app for learning N5 level kanji, and so far the methods it uses are good.  I believe as I practice, any kanji I get wrong will be increased in frequency so I practice them more often.
  • Kanji Study – (Link)
    Despite the name, this does also include the option for kana practice and tests.  I have just started using the actual kanji part of it, and so far the layout seems good, and it’s clear to understand.
  • Tae Kim’s Guide To Learning Japanese – (Link)
    This is an app version of the website mentioned further up in this post, again very useful for grammar, verbs and particles.  There are a lot of lessons as well, again this isn’t the most stylish app in the world, but it’s a simple and functional layout that’s very useful as a reference guide.
  • Human Japanese Lite – (Link)
    This app so far has been a good app, at first each chapter is locked until you pass the test at the end of the last chapter to ensure it’s all sunk in (though you can unlock all if you wish).  The first few chapters have been things I’ve known, but the explanations are good, and would be a good place for anyone to start.  Occasionally it throws in a bit of history or culture as well.

    There are paid for versions of this app (I believe higher levels), I haven’t got to them yet, but will probably buy them when I do.

  • Innovative Language 101 – (Link)
    This app is one I am still trying to work out fully, in terms of how to get the most out of it.  I seems to give access to the podcasts from JapanesePod101, however there are so many lessons / podcasts available it is a minefield of which ones will be worthwhile listening to.

    Now I plan to do a blog page later, going more in depth about this app and JapanesePod101.  As so far my research into this suggests it’s a good resource, if you know exactly which podcasts to look for, and how to get them quickly for minimal costs.

    I have found This article an interesting review on the service, explaining a bit more about the subscription models, and also This seemingly useful advice about how to get the most out of the service and explaining good podcasts to download.

    *****For now though please keep in mind the following for this app*****

    One thing to note is that I now get 2-3 emails daily from this company (JapanesePod101), and they normally do try to shove some sort of subscription down your throat, in addition the offers are random to random people, so someone might have a year at 60% off, someone might have it for 20% off on the same day.

    In addition I have read many  articles (granted older ones) which state this company was in hot water for false advertising of a lifetime membership cost.  When I registered on the website, the first thing they showed me was a big flashy page saying this deal is only on once, it was actually legit, but looked like a scam from the 90’s internet days!!!  This companies advertising practice is abysmal!

    If you plan to pay or subscribe to this company, then do some full research around on the net, and make sure to read all small print just to be on the safe side.

And Just For Fun

Learn Japanese With Tako! – (Link)

I was scrolling through the apps and games and the fun little picture of Tako (octopus) was enough to intrigue me.  It is a paid for game (Think it was £3.79 maybe), but it looked like a bit of fun so I though I’d give it a go, and I’m glad I did as it’s brilliant!

You can learn kana or kanji in game form.  For the kana it has you practice the sounds of each character, then write it on screen as well.  For me not useful as I know it now, but if you are just starting out then this would be fun to do alongside your normal learning method.  There are then writing tests, a multi choice test and a mini game.

For the kanji, it teachs the On and Kun meanings, and again has you practice the stroke order to write it.  It then tests you on both meanings and writing of the kanji.  Again the tests have a little minigame to.

The actual concept and mini games are very simple, but the execution is really well done, the whole app is very well polished, and the mini games are a good fun way to break up a long study session.  I highly recommend this, not particularly as a way to learn on its own, but just to keep the learning fun.

Things I’m Still Looking Into

Now I can’t really give to much information on these, as I haven’t got around to using them myself, but these may be worth investigating as they came up in some conversations I have had with people online.

Anki – I’m told this is actually a fairly important and very useful app to have for learning kanji.  I’ve had it installed for a while now but haven’t really started using it much as I’m still working it out.  Effectively you end up with ‘decks’ of cards which contain the kanji (or whatever else) you want to learn and practice.  You can create your own, or you can download other peoples shared decks and use those (most likely what I will do to start with).

A search of Japanese / kanji decks revels an absolute bucket load are available, this is why I haven’t yet got around to it, as I need to work out what ones will be most beneficial for me (if you have suggestions for starting kanji decks then let me know).  There is the Website version with a PC or Mac client, and of course App version.  (I’ve linked the Android one, but it is on IOS also).

WaniKani – This has a website and app based versions, I hear for Kanji in particular the teaching system is very good, however it is a subscription service, the costs of which don’t seem to be blindingly obvious anywhere on their website.  There is a trial period offered, possibly of 1 month? Again the site doesn’t seem keen on giving out to much information before signing up, so the lack of transparency is what’s put me off so far.

More To Come….

 So as I said, this is by no means all of the resources available, and I am not necessarily saying these are the best things to use, this is just a list of what I have found to be useful in one way or another for now.

I will post more in the future as I discover new things that I find helpful for learning Japanese, and likewise if any of the things I’ve listed hit a point where they become no longer useful then I will let you know.

If you have any things you have found to be useful then please let me know.  In particular if you know of any good websites for having 1 to 1 tutoring from a teacher of Japanese for fairly cheap prices then I’d love to hear from you.

 

 

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