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Wednesday, 26 August 2015

A Simple Way to Start Speaking Japanese

It's a bit overwhelming to know where to start when learning Japanese. I already posted Japanese - Where to Start which has advice on learning hiragana and katakana, and Japanese - Where to Start II which covers what to do next. But even then it can be overwhelming to know what to do next. If you're interested in being able to speak Japanese the following tips will get you on your way.

Practice the following regularly and you will find yourself getting better and better in no time!

1. Speak Japanese

This one might seem a bit obvious, but when you're reading Japanese, any Japanese, read it out loud. This can include when you're studying, reading someone else's comment online, or even while you're writing/typing Japanese.

Read it out loud slowly, clearly. The more you read Japanese out loud, the faster you'll get and the more used to speaking you'll get.

You might find that you can't remember specific phrases or words at first, but the more you study and the more you practice the better you'll get. This first step is really to get you used to speaking.

It's still important to keep practising this step whenever you come across any Japanese!

2. Listen to Japanese

The best way to learn how to speak Japanese properly is to listen to native Japanese. Listening to native Japanese (whether it be from anime, the news, children's TV, movies, etc) gives you an idea of intonations, accents, what voice to use when, and typical responses to certain situations.

For example, when Japanese people are talking, the person listening will often make "un-un" or "sou-sou" or "ehhhh" sounds in agreement or amazement to what the person talking it saying. They are not necessarily agreeing with their point of view, but saying "I am listening to you". This is the opposite in English where saying "yes, yes" while someone is talking is considered rude and appears as though they are not listening.

Another example that you will notice listening to native Japanese speakers, is when someone will pause and say "ano..." or "etto". This is just like "um" in English. If you are speaking Japanese and need to pause to think your Japanese will sound a lot more natural if you say "ano" or "etto" instead of "um".

3. Speak Japanese

Step 3 is different from step 1. Yes you should be speaking Japanese but this time you need to put yourself into situations where you can try and speak to others. If you're not confident in talking with a native Japanese person then I strongly suggest you talk to another person who is learning Japanese.

Talking with someone else who is not-native Japanese in Japanese is a lot less daunting than speaking to a native. Not only that but you're both learning and the other person might have some tips for you that they've picked up, and vice versa.

It might sound strange to try and talk to another foreigner in Japanese but it's a great way to practice when you're a lower level. When I was studying in Japan the people who spoke to everyone in Japanese improved a lot faster than those who spoke English to the English people and Japanese to Japanese people.

Of course finding a native Japanese person to talk with is very helpful as well! It's best to find someone who is patient and willing to help you speak Japanese. Be careful of situations where the other person is so good at English that you revert to English, or so bad at English that you have trouble communicating and get frustrated as this will discourage you from speaking.

If you want to be able to speak with native Japanese people I've suggested a few websites here: Practising Japanese with Natives. I also strongly suggest signing up to where you can get cheap skype lessons or find free speaking partners (click here for a review).

Another option is getting a Japanese teacher to work with your at least once a week (more than once a week is always better for faster improvement). Japanese teachers are a worthy investment for fast improvement.

But even if you're practising speaking with native or non-native people, do not stop steps 1 and 2! Constant practice and repetition are important to getting better faster! (See Why Repetition is Important)

Good luck! I hope you find yourself speaking Japanese like a natural very soon!

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Studying Japanese In Japan

One of the best experiences anyone can do is studying Japanese in Japan. It doesn't matter if it's for a week or two, a month, a year, or more. If you're interested in learning Japanese and Japan then going to the country is the best way to do it.

The following are tips and some suggestions for going to Japan for different periods of time. These are for all ages, whether you're in your teens in school or in your 40s and working, it's never too late to go out to Japan for any length of time.

How to Choose a School

Which school you pick depends very much on you, your funds, dedication and what you want out of the experience.

Here are few questions you should ask yourself:

  • How long do you want to be in Japan for?
    Obviously the longer you spend in Japan the better your language ability will get. But remember, anything longer than 3 months and you'll need to pick a school that can provide a student visa (anything less than 3 months and you can stay on a tourist visa, which is free!). If you can just afford a few weeks holiday then there are plenty of schools that cater to short trips.
  • Do you want to focus on language or culture?
    Language schools will often provide morning classes only, leaving your afternoon free for exploration. Some even offer afternoon cultural experiences such as kimono wearing, trips to famous locations etc.
    If you want to focus on the language however, there are some schools which provide intensive all day Japanese lessons.
  • Where would you like to live?
    Have you always wanted to see the iconic tourist attractions of Japan? Then Kyoto, Osaka or Tokyo are your top choices. If you'd rather a more laid back and unique experience of Japan, then it's worth investigating other areas such as Fukuoka and Sapporo. The time of year and weather will also have an impact on where you want to go, as Japan can range from heavy snow in the north to the tropics in the south.
  • Do you want to stay with a Japanese family or do you need your own space?
    Doing home stay with a Japanese family can be an amazing experience and great at boosting your Japanese ability. However, if you're the kind of person that prefers their own space and doing your own thing then living in a dorm or an apartment might be better for you, otherwise you will need to be flexible to suit the family's routine.
  • What are your funds?
    This is the big question. Combining all the above questions it's time to research how much schools which fit what you want will cost. You don't need to have the funds right away but it helps to have an idea of how much money you'll need and how you can save up the funds.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

JLPT N3 - Study Methods and Resources

A long time ago I talked about taking the JLPT, but I felt like I was a bit vague when it came to beginners as there aren't actually that many specific text books for the lower levels because there are plenty of others that cover the basics of Japanese. As a result I wrote this post on taking the JLPT N5 and another for JLPT N4 with what the exam is, resources and study methods (which is why the  posts are very similar, and by very similar I mean practically identical but with the links updated and text changed slightly).

This guide is exactly the same expect with JLPT N3, what you need to know, where you can find that information and how you can study for the exam.

teach yourself japaneseWhat do I need to know to pass JLPT N3?

The N3 layout is only slightly different from N4 and N5 but it jumps the difficulty up. N3 is considered an intermediate level of Japanese.
The exam is split into 3 sections which look at vocabulary (including kanji), grammar and reading, and listening.

Vocabulary knowledge covers: kanji reading, the kanji for words in hiragana, using the correct word in context, and paraphrases, and usage in sentences.

Grammar knowledge covers: grammar in a sentence, sentence composition, fitting grammar into a text.

Reading knowledge covers: comprehension/understanding of short and mid-length paragraphs, and retrieving information.

Listening covers: task based understanding, key point understanding, verbal expressions and quick responses, retrieving information.
You can see a full list of the breakdown in more detail here.

The following chart also breaks down what is included in all levels of the exam so you can compare.

N3 is marked with the Language Knowledge sections marked between 0~60 points (for vocabulary), the second Language Knowledge is 0~60 points (grammar and reading), and the Listening section is also 0~60 points.

You need to pass each section with at least 19 points (31%). But you need at least a total of 95 out of 180 (53%) (all sections combined) to pass the entire exam. So even if you don't feel confident about absolutely everything, it's worth giving it a go as you might surprise yourself.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Translation for Beginners - Working with Agencies

I previously mentioned my studies as an MA student doing translation at SOAS in London. The biggest disappointment has been the lack of vocational information, in other words, useful information for working in the real world. There is a large focus on the academic side when 95% of the students are unlikely to become academics.

I attended a free Q&A recently with a translation agency in London who are finding it hard to get good translators. Their Q&A sessions was a way to improve the quality of translators, but more importantly, their relationship with agencies, by talking to beginners translators who don't know what they're doing.

The following is the advice they gave which might help you gain work and build good relationships when going out into the world as a freelance translator.

Translation from the Agency's Point of View

A translation agency is a company that is hired by other companies to translate work, they then contact the translators they feel would be most appropriate for the work from their database and contract them to conduct the translation.

A translation manager within the company will not only liaison between client and translator, but also do marketing, administration, hiring, etc., and sometimes some translation work themselves.

Translation agencies can get hundreds of e-mails from freelance translators looking for work. As most agencies are quite small it takes a lot of time to sort through all the e-mails to find good translators.
Another issue is scammers who will copy real translators CVs off the internet, and when they get work, send the translation to China or India for a cheap, quick and low quality translation. Meaning they do not work but reap the profits.
Due to these reasons it is difficult for an agency to find the time to work through all the e-mails and vet out fraudsters compared to real translators. As a result many emailed applications will get ignored.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Tips for When You Take the JLPT N1

The JLPT N1 is said to be an incredibly difficult exam even with years of studying under your belt, and a lot of it has to do with how good you are at exams rather than Japanese.

I wrote previously about studying for the JLPT N1 and I even mentioned some other blogs which provide their own advice for studying for the exam. I've looked online but there are not many tips for taking the exam itself. So although many of you are probably masters of the exam by this point, here are some tips and tricks you can use when taking the exam.

This focuses on JLPT N1 but techniques can be applied to all levels!
First I'll explain the structure of the exam, followed by what you can do in each section to help you pass the test.

JLPT N1 Structure
This is a rough guide, it might be slightly different on the actual exam or on mock exams you come across.

Language Knowledge & Reading: The following are grouped together into a 110 minutes long (1hr 50mins)

Kanji -
Part 1: 1 page of kanji readings (no need to recognise kanji compounds).

Vocabulary -
Part 2: 1 page of filling the blank.

Part 3: 1 page of words with similar meanings.

Part 4: 1 page of fitting the word in the correct context.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Tips for Studying for the JLPT N1

For those that probably aren't aware, I took the JLPT N1 exam a few weeks ago (July 2015). This was the first time I've taken the exam. I took the N2 in July 2013 in Japan and managed to scrape by it. I felt like I was significantly better prepared for this exam compared to the N2 and yet felt like the N1 had decided to clean house and use my face as the mob. It was painful.

Whether I failed or managed to skim a pass I won't know until September. But either way I plan on re-taking the exam this December (I'll explain why at the end).

The following are some study tips I would recommend for those wanting to face this exam. I've noticed that some people find the N1 very easy and others find it a real challenge. Everyone learns differently and work differently, so some of what I'm suggesting will work for you, some might not.

I also suggest you check out How to Pass JLPT N1 in a Year or Less, and How I Passed the JLPT N1 by Michael Panda for other people's approaches and advice.

[These can also be used for JLPT N2]

Next week will be a post on Tips for Taking the JLPT N1 Exam, which will cover techniques you can use in the exam to help you pass.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A Review of MA in Thoery and Practice of Translation, SOAS

For the past year, from September 2014 until September 2015, I have been doing an MA in the Theory and Practice of Translation (Japanese) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London.

My decision to do this had always been a Plan B as SOAS is seen to be a very prestigious school and there are not many Japanese translation courses in the UK. And due to reasons, my decision and application to the school was a bit of a rush job (done in just 3 days). I had looked at the program in the past but wish I had known more about it and compared it more to other courses in the UK, but as the name SOAS is widely recognised among the international community that's the one I went for.

So below is my experience taking this course as well as of the school and other facilities. If you're interested in taking this course or something similar at SOAS feel free to ask any questions, whether in the comments section below, by email (jtalkonline [at] gmail [dot] com) or on the facebook page.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Try! JLPT Grammar Book

The 「Try! 日本語能力試験   文法から伸ばす日本語」or "Try! JLPT - Studying Japanese from Grammar" is the best Japanese grammar book I have ever used.

I mentioned before that grammar is my weakness. I am so bad at grammar, partially because I don't know English grammar (terms, I know how to use it naturally), and partially because I find it difficult and boring to practice. HOWEVER, this is the first time I've actually understood Japanese grammar and enjoyed learning them!

Try! is a fairly new series of grammar books published in 2014, so unlike Nihongo Somatome and Shin Kanzen Master, they're not very well known.

The Layout of Try!

Try! Has grammar books for all levels of the JLPT from N5 to N1. It was the N1 book that I was using so I'm going to explain using reference to the N1 version.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Japanese Talk Online on Pause for the JLPT

Because of the JLPT Exam on the 5th J-Talk Online is on hold. It will be back 8th July.

In the mean time, I'm always happy to hear suggestions for articles, or if you have one of your own let me know and if it's appropriate I'd be happy to post it.
Feel free to message me on the facebook group, or email jtalkonline [at] gmail [dot] com.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

JLPT - Hitting the Wall

With only two and a half weeks before the JLPT for July 2015 some of you may be feeling a number of things. Stress, anxiety, boredom.

Keeping yourself motivated is something I've written about in the past but I feel like at this point it would help to go over some points, and bring forth some new ones specifically for the JLPT.

First of all DON'T PANIC
You're probably behind schedule and have found another 100 things or more that you need to study, but first thing is not to panic. Panicking causes stress and anxiety which begins to interfere with your studying and memorization ability, which causes the knock-on-effect of getting behind on work and stressing out more.

Take a deep breath. If you're behind, it can't be helped right now. Just keep going on what you can when you can.

You may have hit the wall
I've found that after 57 days of straight studying my brain feels like it's not taking anything in, I'm tired, bored, I've basically hit the wall.

Many of us hit this wall at some point during out studies where we just can't be arsed anymore. It's boring and frustrating that you HAVE to do it, but you just feel like to can't.

My main advice for getting over the wall is do something else!

Tired of drilling kanji and vocab? If they're not going into your brain anymore, stop for a few hours and move onto something else.
Such as:

  • Listening practice - through Nihongo somatome books, or go for a walk and listen to J-pop or NHK news, watch some Japanese TV/anime/news (try not to put subtitles on).
  • Put on your favourite J-pop and try to sing along. Try and remember the lyrics, but also enjoy the music and dance about.
  • Go for a run/walk, or (if you're like me and hate going outside), watch an inspirational anime or listen to up-beat music and punch the air (seriously try it).
  • Basically have a break!
Try and do something that will give you brain a rest, but will still be exposing it to Japanese. Try and make it something that gets your moving. Moving about will get your blood flowing, endorphins released and help you feel refreshed. You don't even have to move for very long (15-20mins), but do try and give your brain a rest for longer.

Go back to what you need to do later when you feel like you've had a sufficient break (this could take a few hours or even a whole day). But never stop exposing yourself to Japanese, especially if you stop for a day and not do anything. If you do it will become harder to pick up the pace again (a bit like running long-distance).

Re-motivate yourself
Another thing you could do (but don't do it too much) is watch some videos on productivity and motivation, such as the ones below! Try and re-inspire yourself using the opinions of others and use the advice they provide!

Finally, how much you work and how you work is up to you. Not everything is for everyone (you may even disagree with my tips), but in the end it's a matter of keeping yourself mentally healthy, trying your best, having fun, and doing what you can in the exam.


Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Learning Japanese Radicals

Radicals (or in Japanese, ぶしゅ 部首) are the roots which kanji are made up of. Every single kanji in the Japanese language has at least one radical. Now you can get by without learning these radicals, but when you begin learning similar kanji it begins to get difficult to distinguish the differences between them, and you will wish you had at least a basic understanding of radicals.

So, let's take for example, the following 3 kanji (all N4 level):
- The radical of this kanji is 日 (sun, day, time). The meaning of this kanji is “time.”
- The radical of this kanji is 言 (words, to speak, say). The meaning of this kanji is “poetry, poem”.
- The radical of this kanji is 扌(hand). The meaning of this kanji is “to hold”.
(from KanjiAlive)

Each one is very similar and the only distinguishing item is their radical. As you can see, knowing the radicals help you remember the meaning of the kanji itself as they are often (but not always) linked to the kanji's meaning.

For those who have read (or at least heard of) Heisig's Remembering the Kanji, this might begin to sound familiar.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

How to Read Japanese Newspapers

Being able to read a Japanese newspaper is considered to be one goal for becoming "fluent" in Japanese. For some it might be a sign of fluency, for others a challenge, and perhaps a few just enjoy reading the news and keeping up-to-date with what's going on in Japan.

This post looks at the difficulties of reading Japanese Newspapers and highlights things to keep an eye out for. As well as suggestions for further readings and other resources to help you become a Japanese newspaper master.

Rikkai-kun doing its stuff

One magical tool which will be useful for reading the following post (and online newspapers) is Rikai-chan for Firefox and Rikai-kun for Chrome, which are apps you can use that, when turned on, will reveal the reading and English meaning of a kanji or kanji compound when you hover over them.

Missing Particles and Verbs

In the days when the internet wasn't a thing there were these magical paper items called newspapers which were used to inform people of world and local news. However, every newspaper had limited space and a lot of news to report. This resulted in a phenomenon where quite often the articles are shortened by cutting out some kanji in certain compounds, and removing connecting expressions and particles.

For example:

from Reading Japanese Crime Articles by Stephen Smith (download with the DL Books link)

So paper published newspapers are still very popular, but I brought up the point of the internet because, just like English language newspapers, the internet has had a huge impact on how Japanese news is published. As the internet doesn't have a limited amount of space articles tend to be told with some of the missing verbs and particles missing from newspapers. NHK News is a good example as they not only avoid removing items from articles, they also avoid the common dictionary form, and instead try to use the politer teineigo (ます form). This makes NHK news articles a lot easier for novice news readers to get into.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Being "Fluent" In Japanese

"What does it mean to be fluent in Japanese?"

When I tell people I speak Japanese they often ask "are you fluent?" to which I often reply "no, not yet". Yet I've been thinking more about this question, and realised that what you define as "fluent" can vary from person to person.

According to Google the definition for "fluent" is:
1. able to express oneself easily and articulately.
2. smoothly graceful and effortless.

I mentioned before on the Why Repetition is Important post, that to me getting to the point where you can do something without even thinking about it, is fluent. But this can apply to different aspects of the Japanese language.

Fluent Japanese speaking
A good book for beginners with tips
on speaking fluently.
Speaking Fluently

So I guess to some people being fluent in Japanese is a matter of being able to speak fluently. To be able to understand a conversation and express yourself naturally. This can actually be obtained around JLPT N4-N3 level of Japanese, especially if you go to Japan and live there for a few months.

According to AbroadinJapan (on Youtube), as long as you're able to confidently talk and be able to talk around words you don't know, you can have very fluent conversations with Japanese people. 

Reading Fluently

To be able to read fluently would be to able to read books, newspapers, video games etc with ease. Now this is harder to define because it really depends on the individual. Although many people will probably calculate this at N2-N1 level, if you practice reading a lot you'll be able to read and understand texts fluently at any level. I know people who can read and understand texts a lot better than I can at lower levels than myself.

Which brings me to another point. Being able to understand (not just be able to read) a text fluently is (I've found) dependant on grammar comprehension. Although you might know all the vocabulary and 80% of kanji, it's the grammar that give's you the relationship between these words. Not understand the grammar can greatly affect your understanding of a text and you might find yourself mis-understanding a lot.

But if you enjoy reading and find yourself steaming through manga, or novels, then you are probably fluent at reading those items.

Writing Fluently

Being able to understand Japanese spoken or written down is one thing, being able to naturally and confidently produce written Japanese is another thing. This is very dependant on the part of your brain that creates comprehensive sentences rather than passively taking them in. A good way to practice this is with sites like Lang-8 where you can type Japanese and natives will correct you.

Being able to write Japanese by hand fluently is an even rarer skill, even for Japanese people! 

What Does Being Fluent Mean To You?

My point of this post is that "fluency" doesn't necessarily mean to able to understand, speak and write Japanese like a native. You will never be as naturally fluent as a native without being brought up in Japan speaking Japanese almost 24/7. Many people who study the language only get to 80% fluency and that's fine!

I also think that what "fluency" is depends on the individual and their goals. If your goal is to be able to speak naturally then it's fine to call yourself fluent. If you want to be able to read novels but not necessarily write a lot of Japanese, that's fine too.

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and we all study Japanese for different reasons. So the next time someone asks you if you're fluent, you'll probably find yourself say "yes", which is a great confidence booster ^__^

Note: You can download the above book by clicking the DL Books tab at the top right of the page, then go to Beginner Textbooks -> 13 Secrets

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How To Make a Memrise Course

[I have two translation exams coming up in the next few days so I had to put my originally planned post on hold while I whipped this up super quick. Sorry about this, but hope people find it useful anyway!]

It's amazing how well a lot of the J-Talk Online Memrise courses are doing. I'm thrilled to see so many people using it to learn Japanese. Since I started creating courses in March 2014 (over a year ago!) I've made 20 courses with the most popular courses being the Anime Japanese for Beginners, Beginners Japanese Grammar 1, Japanese Counters and Learning Hiragana using Vocabulary. But there are still a LOT of courses I want to make which I hope will help learners.

This post covers:

  • How I made some of the courses
  • Why I chose to teach them in certain ways
  • Mishaps I've run into
  • Some cool tips that might be useful if you choose to make your own
  • Sneak peaks of future courses

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Review of JapanesePod101

This is an honest review of JapanesePod101 and has my own opinions. I'm sure each person using the program will think of it differently, so it's worth checking out for yourself if this is something for you.

JapanesePod101 is a website which provides Japanese lessons from beginner to advance, using audio lessons, so if you are an auditory learner this might be a good one for you.

This post looks at the resources JapanesePod101 provides and it's pros and cons.