Monday, 29 April 2013

Pets (trilingual post #1)

So, for the first trilingual post I decided to do something silly and fun, to see what people think of it and to see if other people are interested in it too. The words will be in Japanese, English and Dutch. So, let's go onto the post.

Same disclaimer as always:
I'm not a teacher, I compile each of these posts by going by my own knowledge and they only reflect my own opinion. You should at all times think for yourself and not take any of what is said as the pure truth, I am after all human so I make mistakes too.


I chose to do this first as these are fun words to know and don't require a lot of explanation for use. It is only a short list so the amount of new words is not overwhelming.

Japanese English Dutch
犬(いぬ) Dog Hond
猫(ねこ) Cat Kat
鼠(ねずみ) Mouse Muis
兎(うさぎ) Rabbit Konijn
魚(さかな) Fish Vis
ハムスター Hamster Hamster
鼠(ねずみ)* Rat Rat
鳩(はと) Pidgeon Duif

* There doesn't seem to be a distinction between rats and mice in Japanese, but I did add both of them since the distinction is made in English and Dutch.

What do you think about posts like these? Would you like to see more? What other subjects would you like to see in this type of posts?

Study on!


For those who have trouble reading Japanese, check out my Hiragana and katakana cheat table.

Those studying Dutch, words that are underlined are onzijdig and thus don't use de but het when you write them.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

1100 views in one month and a couple of changes around the blog

WHOA thank you!!!

I just saw that I've now got 1100 views just this month! That is great, I've never had a blog with these kind of views before, I'm humbled by all your interest in this blog.

I never expected this to happen, I guess this goes to prove that when you write useful things people will come to find the blog.
Thank you all so much!

Now onward.
If you look around the blog you can see there are a few changes.

I added a couple more tabs at the top of the blog.
Learning a Language now brings you to a list with posts of global language learning posts on this blog.
Language interviews brings you to a form for the interview and soon I'll add the list with people who have had their interviews published on the blog. You're always welcome to participate, no matter the language you're learning.
Glossary, pretty self explanatory, here I explain words either to do with Japanese or language learning in general. If you're uncertain about a word it's likely it's in here.
Other language blogs, also self explanatory, a list of other blogs and websites that talk about learning languages. If you have a language blog please add it to the list.

I also created a facebook page for this blog, where you can ask questions and things like that and I'll be linking interesting articles and websites I run into that have to do with learning.

Going forward:

For the next while I'll still be updating when I find something interesting to talk about. The hiragana and katakana course that I talked about in my early posts will hopefully start this summer when I'm finished with university and moved into my new place.

If you have questions about English or Dutch and or would like me to make a couple of posts about those two languages, leave a comment here or on my twitter or my facebook page. I'm always open to ideas.
Of course, questions and ideas for Japanese posts are always welcome too, I have a few ideas but others are welcome too.

Once again, thank you all for your interest in this blog, I hope I won't disappoint in the future and make this blog even more popular!

Study on!


Friday, 19 April 2013

Call for language bloggers!

If you're learning a new language and blogging about it or you've got a blog about a certain language, even if you're not learning about it (any more), please leave a message, I would like to add you to the blogroll and maybe create a page where I list all the blogs by language.

Leave a comment below with your name (or the one you use online), the address of the blog and the language you talk about. Please only add your own blog, if you like someone else's blog, please have them add it themselves.

I'm looking for people to connect with on this difficult path of learning a language.

Thank you so much!!

Learn on!


Thursday, 11 April 2013

Scary kanji, aka do I need it and how do I do this

Fourth post in the learning a language posts, one that focuses on the one thing that scares many people off about Japanese, Kanji.
Here are the other posts in the series: 1. Starting out with learning a language, 2. Choosing the right method to learn, 3. How to get more passive knowledge? / How to keep training your passive understanding of a language?

Same disclaimer as always:
I'm not a teacher, I compile each of these posts by going by my own knowledge and they only reflect my own opinion. You should at all times think for yourself and not take any of what is said as the pure truth, I am after all human so I make mistakes too.

Scary kanji, aka do I need it and how do I do this

Kanji exists of 4 parts, the kanji itself, its meaning and its on and kun readings (both pronunciations). Some methods only focus on a few of these and expect you to either ignore or learn the other parts of it at a later date. I don't think this is a good idea unless your focus is purely one single skill (like only being able to read).

Kanji and their on and kun readings are NOT connected, you can't derive the pronunciation of a kanji because you know a kanji that looks similar or the other way around. Something which you can in most languages. We can guess the pronunciation of bat when we know the word bath and cat, this is not how it works in Japanese.

The Heisig method is one of the methods that doesn't focus on both learning the kanji and its reading. It teacher mnemonics (little stories to go with [partial] kanji) and meanings. What you're missing is the skill to actually pronounce the words. Sure, you might become a semi-fluent reader and you can understand what it going on, but you'll miss out on homonym jokes and other things like that, simply because you don't have the skills to understand the connection between different homonyms. I know from looking around the internet that within the Visual Kei community there are quite a few artists who do this and it makes translating their posts a lot harder (which is why I'm not even attempting it yet).
The downside of this method is that after having learned some kanji that you then need to re-learn them with their appropriate on and kun readings. This is literally doubling your study time of something that you could learn in one go. What would be a good idea is learning the single and compound kanji as you're going through all the radicals, but since I have no experience with this method (exactly because you're not learning any readings) I can't give any better advise.

The other side of the coin might even worse, knowing only meaning and on and kun readings you'll pretty quickly run into this problem: What does the word ひ(hi) mean or what does the ひ part of a word mean? If you'd ask me this without any context I wouldn't be able to answer, why? Because there are almost 100 kanji that have hi as one of their on or kun readings. Wanna see a few? Here is the full list but I'll show you a handful of them.


long robes



The kanji of these have nothing in common, the meaning of these have nothing in common and they still all have ひ as one of their readings.

Now that I scared you enough, I'll make this easier.
Most kanji on their own are read in their kun reading, this is also called the Japanese reading.
When kanji are used in combination with other kanji they are usually written in their on reading or Chinese reading.
Lets see a couple of examples:

Meaning: Mountain
Kun reading: yama やま
On reading: san/zan さん・ざん

Meaning: Fire
Kun reading: hi ひ
On reading: ka か

But when you combine this:
You can guess the meaning, right? Fire mountain aka volcano. Easy enough. Sadly enough, pronunciation is not hiyama(ひやま) but rather kazan (かざん).
This you can see as a scary part or tackle it differently.

It honestly isn't that scary when you simply learn them as different words. Mountain, fire and volcano are 3 different words, with 3 different pronunciation, that one of them is made out of two other ones? Handy for meaning, not that useful for guessing the pronunciation.
BUT! If you learn enough combinations of kanji you'll get a feeling for when to use what reading, since not all kanji have just one on and kun reading. Some readings are more common then others so by learning compound kanji (as seen above) as different words with different pronunciations you'll quickly start to recognise which reading is most often used with what kanji when you make compounds.

Learning kanji can be relatively easy if you use these quick tips:
- each kanji has a meaning, they are connected and form one unit.
- each kanji has a kun reading (also called Japanese reading) which is the reading when it is used on it's own or in combination with hiragana (aka grammar and things like that).
- kanji can be used in compound of two or more kanji and this creates a compound meaning (as is seen with volcano).
- when using compound kanji you use the on reading(or Chinese reading) of a kanji.
- compounds are different words and should be learned as such.

The rule about kun and on readings being used this way is NOT set in stone but is a good rule of thumb to use when you find compounds that you don't know yet. Though it is better to learn compound readings then depend on your knowledge of kun and on readings since often kanji have multiple kun and on readings. If you would only depend on your list of those you'd be guessing. Let's do simple maths: let's say kanji X has a total of 4 readings, and kanji Y has 5. That would make (4x5) 20 different possibilities of reading that particular kanji compound, that's a lot of guessing.
If you learn enough compound words of kanji X and Y you'll see that certain combinations of readings for each of the kanji are more prevalent. This means you can make an informed guess as to what the reading might be, which would bring your choices of 20 readings maybe down to 3 or 4, which is a better odd to deal with.

Side note: there is what is called furigana, these are the hirgagana that you sometimes see above or next to a kanji. These are the intended readings of a kanji in that sentence. Some study books use them and they are really useful. But also quite some online resources for practice and even some magazines focused on a younger or less studied audience use them. You can see them below in my Anki cards, it's how I study the reading of kanji.

Don't be scared by kanji. Yes, they look difficult. Yes, they are read differently depending on their use. But you know what? You can make it a lot easier on yourself by systematically looking at the words and also learning them that way.

I hope this was of help, leave a comment below with other tips you might have.

Study on!


PS, here are a couple of my Anki cards that I use for studying:

These are the kanji for study and the kanji for live
these are the kanji for people and mouth

All the images used in this post (apart from the screenshots of my anki cards) are from:

Saturday, 6 April 2013

How to get more passive knowledge? / How to keep training your passive understanding of a language?

Another post about learning a language which I focus mainly on Japanese but can of course be applied to other languages. This is the third post, in the first post I talked about goals, passive knowledge and learning types, in the second post I talked about some of the different methods out there which can help with certain goals when learning Japanese.

Same disclaimer as always:
I'm not a teacher, I compile each of these posts by going by my own knowledge and they only reflect my own opinion. You should at all times think for yourself and not take any of what is said as the pure truth, I am after all human so I make mistakes too.

How to get more passive knowledge? / How to keep training your passive understanding of a language?

This post is two-fold. It can both help you create passive knowledge and also make sure you keep practising. For Japanese I think there is a third hurdle and that is being scared of the written language, some of these tips are also handy to get over that fear.

What is passive knowledge? 

Passive knowledge is often being able to read or hear a language and knowing what it is about, but not being able to write or speak at that same level. As I've said before, large parts of learning a language is about creating handles so you can click into your passive knowledge and make it active.

Hearing the language

This one is easier than it seems. Hearing as a passive skill is the least scary one in Japanese. There are three ways to gather and train this skill, music, anime and TV programs/movies.


Music is a good way to be able to hear the language even if it isn't always made up out of actual sentences. This isn't too bad, the best thing is that you get comfortable with the language on a level where you don't have to pay attention to it. You'll start to recognise words and sentence pieces through multiple bands and songs. This is the most passive of all the passive hearing skills.
I'm a huge Visual Kei fan and that is what I mostly listen to in my free time. Some examples of this I've gathered in one of my video collections "Mindfuck". Less eclectic male artists are Gackt, Hyde and Miyavi(also great to listen to if you just really like great guitarists). Sorry, I don't know any boybands.
If you're more into female music I've got a few artists too, though I know less of these and Japanese culture has a different way of portraying female artists then in the Western world. So, here are a few: C-ute, Berryz, Tommy Heavenly/Tommy February6, Exist Trace, Perfume (my personal favourite), akb48 and not to forget Kyary Pamyu Pamyu.
Hmm, that was fun to put together, now, onto other things.


I personally get my anime fix at Crunchyroll these days, they have a lot of subbed anime. Just as a sidenote, the difference between subbed and dubbed anime is that subbed has subtitles are dubbed are voiced over in a different language. If you want the full anime experience with the intended language go for the subbed anime.
Some people complain that people who copy their language from anime all sound like 16 year old girls, which is weird in a way since there are anime for all intended age groups and both genders.
You have fighting robots (Mecha), magical girls, slice of life, and even adult genres like hentai, yaoi and yuri (do not let under 18 search those 3 things).
If you think you don't like anime, maybe look around a bit more, there are so many different genres and unlike most Western cartoons anime is not exclusively for kids (as I've proven above).
I recently finished two fantasy anime, Gosick (a shounen anime about Sherlock Holmes but he is a girl who looks like she is 10 and she lives in a made-up european country just before World War 1, there are a lot of Victorian dresses and the ending is intense) and 07 Ghost (a shoujo anime about a guy that is hunted by the government because he has special magical powers, lots of bishi's and fighting). For now I'll leave you with that shounen is anime focused for guys and shoujo is anime focused on girls. I will probably do a special post about anime at another time because there is a lot to say about genres and focus groups.

TV programs/movies

There are some places where you can also watch tv shows. Crunchyroll has a couple of them. Other than that, I'd say check youtube, I've watched quite a few Japanese movies through youtube and if I'm correct Netflix also does some Japanese movies.
I'm more into music and anime so this is not something I know a lot about.

Reading the language

I'm a member of Ameba, a Japanese blogging/twitter/game website. I use it in Chrome and I can choose to have a page translated for me or not, I've been there a few months now and I'm translating regular pages less and less and mostly only translate if I want to see someone's blog post or nao (bit like twitter). I've become a lot more comfortable around the language, I try to sometimes read the hiragana and the katakana I come across and I love it when I recognise a kanji here and there.
I'm trying to think of other ways where you would just run across Japanese written language without it being difficult to read or too scary. I don't know any, do you?

So, what other ways do you have to acquire passive knowledge? Share them below!
Okay, that is it for now! See you next time!



Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Choosing the right method to learn

So, in my last post I talked about what to think about when trying to find a method to learn a new language. The three things were GOAL, PASSIVE KNOWLEDGE and LEARNING STYLE. These three elements are important when trying to figure out not just what method might be good for you but give you a clearer goal to work towards. Of course, you can read the whole post here: Starting out with learning a language

I'm compiling this list only to the best of my own knowledge and with what I've read about in other groups and places.
This is by no means a full list of what you can use and I'm not a teacher.

A lot of people will advise you methods because they work so well for them, what they often forget are the three points I talked about last time. Which come down to one simple thing: without knowing what the other wants you can't advise them a method to study from.

Goal: Holiday
Okay, for a start, if you're only going on holiday and need some quick guides, check Amazon for things like "Japanese Phrase Book". There are multiple versions of them like the Eyewitness Travel Guide version or the Lonely Planet version. These will most likely give you what you need for a trip to Japan. Don't worry too much about all the other things unless you want to be able to have full conversations with Japanese people, in which case you should start at least a couple of months ahead.

For all the other goals there is one thing you should do first:
Learn hiragana and katakana!!!
Even if you're not focusing on reading the language, having knowledge of the sounds they use to construct the language is important. Otherwise you might pronounce or hear words differently from how they are intended. Things like ie(house) and iie(no), make quite the difference in a sentence.
By knowing the kana (the syllable "alphabets" the Japanese language uses) you are able to construct and de construct the language easier.
Hiragana and katakana are two different scripts for the same kana, hiragana is use for japanese words and katakana for foreign words. To know the kana sounds you only need to learn one, to be able to read them you need both, plus it's always handy to know how to spell your name.
I learned hiragana through Human Japanese Lite (free android app). And then taught myself katakana through a combination of wikipedia and some other places I can't remember.
Other ways to learn this include text books, youtube, more youtube(watch your audio) and websites (just search "learn hiragana" in google, you'll find enough).
I personally don't advise to actually buy books for this since you'll get through them in a really short time and there are a lot of great resources the of cost. But you can choose for yourself.

Okay, apart from the lovely thing above I'll now go into depth for the different goals and what methods might be good.

Hearing + speaking
This isn't for everyone. This method means that you'll focus most of your time on repeating words and sentences. It is important to remember that not all of these methods use kana or kanji, a lot of them mainly use romaji to write things down, if they have any written part of it at all. This can be a great method for vocal/oral learners.
Methods I've heard that work for this: Rosetta Stone, JapanesePod101 and Pimsleur.
Method that works with a book but has more focus on pronunciation: Japanese for Busy People.

There are multiple methods for this. What I mean by reading comprehension is understanding of the kanji readings and possibly learning how to write them. Some of these methods devote time to grammar and some devote more time to it then others. Not all of these methods focus on on and kun readings, which is important when you want to speak Japanese.
Methods that focus on learning kanji:  Remembering the Kanji and Kanji Pict-O-Graphix.
Methods that seem to be popular and focus on more than just kanji: Japanese from Zero!

This is not speaking in the literal definition of the word but I mean this as being more of a focus on both grammar and/or kanji readings. The combination of these two things means that you can have conversations on an improvising level from early on. You're not bound by set sentences but learn both kanji and grammar so that you can create your own sentences and can mix and match words as you come across them.
Combi focus: An Introduction to Modern Japanese(you need both books of this).
Kanji focus: Japanese Kanji Flashcards and Basic Kanji Book.

I personally also bought two grammar books that have turned out to be quite useful as even for a beginner like me they actually make sense. They are: Japanese grammar and verbs and All about particles. I got them both second hand and really cheap and they have turned out pretty useful when I hear something and I don't know the grammar structure but I know how it's pronounced.

Of course, there are methods that do a mix of all of these things together, like Genki. But they are often more focused towards class teaching and not self study so I'm not including them in here.

I hope this was useful.
What methods are you using? Which ones do you think should be added to this list?