Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Keigo IV - Word Beautification

"I find it really hard to remember Keigo"

I have previously gone over sonkeigo (respectful keigo)kenjogo (humble keigo) and even covered some general rules for using keigo. But there is one large aspect of keigo that I missed out which is "bikeigo" 美敬語 or "word beautification".

omiyage posterBikeigo is something even beginner Japanese learners have probably come across with words like おかね, おちゃ, おなまえ, おさけ, ごはん, all of these basic words can be said without the お or ご at the front of the word, such as かね or ちゃ but then the word becomes harsh, crude and if said taken as being quite rude. Bikeigo takes nouns and adds お or ご to the front to make it sound more polite. These words tend to be items that would belong to or are related to the other person, so if you were in correspondence with someone you wouldn't say あなたのてがみ but おてがみ, or if your partner has a question you would say ごしつもん. You also wouldn't beatify 'foreign' words like "ゴルフ".

As a general rule if a noun uses onyomi ("chinese" reading/older word) you would add ご and if it has kunyomi ("Japanese" reading/modern word) you would add お. So when you have a word that uses a combination of characters like 返事 (that has the onyomi for 返) you would use ご, as opposed to 返し (which would be the kunyomi) which would use お. Another sign that a word uses お is if it's a word was made in Japan, which is hard unless you're told it is, but often these will be words related to the modern era (but not foreign katakana words).

Here are some common nouns which use bikeigo:

bill, cashier
bill (2)
courtesy, compliments
change (i.e. money)
a trip
hold back
be careful, watchout
neighbourhood, vicinity
last name

You can learn all of these and more keigo on the J-Talk Online Complete Keigo Memrise Course

Sunday, 17 August 2014

JLPT N4 Memrise Course

I am pleased to announce that I have completed the JLPT N4 Vocabulary and Kanji courses on Memrise.

Unlike the JLPT N5 course the N4 courses are separated between vocabulary and kanji. This was because of the large number of kanji and kanji based vocabulary in comparison to the N5 one. It's a lot easier to learn kanji through vocabulary which have been grouped together so you can see the different uses and readings, which is what I've tried to do. Not only that but the kanji course focuses more on being able to read the kanji, it does this by testing you on the kana with the kanji as a prompt. The English meaning is also present when you learn the word and when you answer a kanji correctly (at least on the computer version).

The vocabulary course only tests using English and kana so that the vocabulary itself is learnt. This is because I find that often people learn vocabulary by recognising kanji rather than through learning the word itself. Such as 公園, if you know the readings for the kanji you can guess the meaning, rather than just knowing the word for park is こうえん.

Because of the way I've set up the courses it's easier to learn the vocabulary first and then the kanji. I've laid out the courses so that the vocabulary will take about 2 months to learn and the kanji 1 month with regular breaks for review. Setting people vocabulary lists to work on everyday should encourage people to practice regularly too where they might not have done previously. At least I hope so! I know I certainly work better if I have daily or weekly tasks to work through.

(Note: Apologise for the slow updates. I'm working a lot on the Memrise stuff while away on holiday, planning on moving house, and preparing going to Japan for 2 weeks before I start a postgraduate course.)

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Reading Practice for Beginners

When you start learning Japanese you learn the hiragana and katakana along with vocabulary and grammar, but if you're teaching yourself you won't often get much reading practice to combine all those skills together in a useful way. So how do you practice?

It's good to start reading soon! It not only allows you to practice your vocabulary and grammar but also your understanding of Japanese sentences. This is particularly important at the higher levels where 80% of what you're exposed to will depend on your comprehension of the language.

The following are suggestions for beginner JLPT N5/N4 level learners.

Reading Methods

I've said this many times before but it's generally good form when you start reading something in Japanese to read it out loud (just like when you were little learning English). This will help with your comprehension as your brain works harder to be able to understand what it's just read, whereas reading in your head can cause  your brain to be lazy and start skim reading. If there are any words you don't understand write them down and look them up. Then read through the section again out loud. This is important as you have now looked up the words you didn't know and it will help your brain remember them. If you have the time put them into a flash card program like memrise and learn them and review them, this will make later readings on the same topic easier. Not only that but reading the same passage over and over out loud will help your reading speed (try to time yourself and improve on this time) and comprehension (the more you go over a section the more your brain will understand).
To sum it up:

  • Read out loud
  • Make notes of words/kanji you don't know
  • Learn new vocabulary (using programs like memrise)
  • Re-read passages over and over

These techniques apply to all the following resources.

General Reading Practice:

NHK News Web EASY - A brilliant site someone recently directed me towards. All articles are short with the furigana (small text above the kanji to show you how to read it), and sound/videos which acompany the text. It also has certain words highlighted which you can see the definition for in Japanese, further improving your Japanese understanding as you learn to recognise words through similar Japanese words and phrases.

Practice JLPT readings:

I recommended using these even if you don't intend on taking the Japanese Language Proficiency Tests (JLPTs) as they're designed to be for beginner levels.

The official JLPT website has sample questions for all levels covering all aspects including JLPT N5 reading and JLPT N4 reading (answers are at the bottom of this page along with the other practice exams)

Books - Light Novels for Beginners

There is such a thing as light novels for beginners, these are normally books written for Japanese elementary school students. These are a bit harder to get hold of outside of Japan though because they are physical books rather than online resources. One great series is Aoi Tori Bunko by Kodansha (Blue Bird Books, distinct because of the blue bird design on the covers/spine) which if you go to any book shop in Japan you can find (or if you have a friend in Japan you can get them to send one back). Otherwise there are some Japanese stores in the UK and US that will sell these books. Unfortunately I haven't found any good resources online that will sell a variety of these books.

Avoid Manga!

The reason I suggest avoiding manga is not because of the vocabulary, in fact manga normally has furigana which makes it easy to read, but the grammar is a higher N3 level, making it hard for beginners to understand. This is because when people start learning Japanese they will use the polite form, but manga is written in informal/colloquial Japanese which requires a higher level of understanding.

If you have any other suggestions please let me know! Especially if you've found anywhere online to buy light novels with furigana!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Understanding ばいと敬語 Shop Japanese

Essential Japanese for Visiting Japan - A guide to understanding バイトけいご

When you go to a shop or restaurant in Japan, even if you've learnt you basics of Japanese, it can be hard to understand what the shop assistance are saying. Not only are they saying sentences they've been saying all day everyday which makes them more like automated lines, but they also use a mutated form of Japanese they you would not have learnt in lessons. Even if you're learning up to JLPT N1 level "shop speak" isn't a topic that's normally covered in conventional lessons.

This is because normally to be polite Japanese people will use keigo. Keigo tends to be quite long and the longer it is the more formal it is, such as "can you give me a cake", instead of 「ケーキくれない?」(which is a friendly informal way of talking) in keigo it would be 「ケーキをいただけないでしょうか?」. This is all very good when working in an office environment and dealing with professional guests, but when you're working in a store and saying the same things over, and over, and over, the longer keigo becomes a bit of a mouthful.

(If you'd like more on keigo see these posts on Keigo I: Sonkeigo and Keigo II: Kenjogo)

So in the early 00s baito-keigo or konbini-keigo (バイト敬語 / コンビに敬語) formed as a commonly used polite way to saying things without them being too long. There are also booked called manual-keigo (マニュアル敬語) which are manuals given to people looking for part-time work so they can learn this baito-keigo. Not only that but a lot of Japanese people don't know the correct way to use keigo and so the keigo used in shops is often not correct (so don't copy them thinking it is). Such as the video below from the drama 日本人の知らない日本語 (Nihongo no Shiranai Nihongo) which is about foreign students learning Japanese in Japan (it's painful to watch but has some good points):

Many of these phrases, as suggested, are used in convenience stores, but have also been picked up by other shops and services like fast food places. This is a guide to understanding what shop assistance say, why they say it, and what's "wrong" with their Japanese to help you remember (and because it's interesting). Set phrases are in bold with the baito-keigo underlined.

As a general rule if you get stuck and don't understand something just say "I'm sorry can you say that again slower for me please?"
(It's a good idea to practice this phrase so you can say it quickly without having to look it up)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Using YouTube to Learn Japanese

Learning Japanese from textbooks and articles on the internet are great but sometimes your brain isn't taking in the words and you need a change of pace. Watching and anime or dramas is good to give your brain something different but it's not exactly pushing you unless you're watching it without subtitles and really concentrating on learning the words.

Or you might just be an auditory learner rather than a visual learner and would prefer videos and audio tracks to books!

If that's the case there are a number of lessons on Youtube that are great for learning Japanese. There are lots that really aren't that great, but I've had a look through and picked some of the best videos and channels for beginners teaching themselves Japanese.

Fluent Japanese this is great for beginners, especially those who want grammar lessons. They have videos on readings Japanese, Japanese phrases, for complete beginners and beginners who have already learnt some Japanese. They've divided all their videos into various playlists which you can see here which makes it easy to find lessons you want to learn rather than trawling through their long updates list.

The reason I like this channel is because it explains things very clearly and simply, and has clear text on the screen rather than a person talking into a camera (which personally I find off-putting).

One problem is that the person who makes the videos has an American accent, which make associations like the pronunciation of "a" from "aunt" different if you speak British or Australian English. But that's a minor thing and it still gives you a good idea of pronunciation when watching the videos.

Here is an example of one of their videos which begins to show you how to read and pronunciate hiragana.

Learn Japanese with is a channel that has more of a classroom feeling with a Japanese teacher showing you words and phrases with a white board or text on the screen. It is actually a really good substitute for beginners lessons if you're poor as it covers the basics in the exact same way every other Japanese teacher I've met does.

What's great is they've got a wider variety of lessons that's more vocabulary and phrase based (rather than grammar based). They have a number of lessons on learning Japanese through Japanese culture, learning Japanese using dramas, counters, and some basic kanji. You can see all of these on their playlists page here.

This is their first video that teaches you how to introduce yourself:

Tae Kim you may have heard this name before, Tae Kim's made a massive grammar guide for Japanese learners and is a very popular way for people to teach themselves Japanese. He doesn't have many videos but the ones he has uploaded focus on grammar, particles and learning hiragana and katakana, and they are fantastic! I really like the simplicity of the videos and how clear they are for new learning. He also doesn't waffle on like some videos I've found. He also has a great video on how to learn Japanese as a beginner.

Here is his first video on learning the Japanese alphabet to give you an example:

Japan Society NYC this channel is another classroom style with a Japanese teacher showing you vocabulary on a screen. The lessons are mixed mostly with activities and events this society holds and attends, so if you want just Japanese lessons it's best to use their Japanese Lessons Playlist.

I personally don't like these videos as much as the other but I think they might be suited to some people. They don't have much Japanese text on the screen as the lessons are mostly taught through a speak and repeat method. Like the video below:

As I mentioned all these videos are mostly for beginners, which is great as most advanced learners will have found their own ways to learn Japanese and are more likely to invest in Japanese teachers than specialise in advanced Japanese. If you are a more advanced learner there are some kind of useful videos on youtube but most of them are tips on learning Japanese rather than Japanese lessons like the above. I also found that most of the videos are of people giving their own experiences, so take from those what you will.

Such as this video which gives a great tip for intermediate and advanced learners (it's just annoying it takes him 10mins to say what could be said in 2):

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Verb Groups - Beginners Japanese Grammar

Plain form is also called dictionary form and it is just like “masu” form but is used in casual, informal situations. Plain form is the present/future tense and is pretty important because you use this as a basis to create other verb forms (like past and negative).

You can practice all of these using the J-Talk Online Memrise course Beginners Japanese Grammar 1 (JLPT N5 Grammar). See last week's post on Studying Japanese Grammar for tips on ways to learn grammar.

But the first thing you need to know about plain form are the 3 groups.

Group 1 or “u verbs” 

These are words that have an “u” sound at the end. When you turn a “masu” form into plain form the “I” changes to the “u” for group 1 verbs. Such as the following.

いきます ikimasu  -> いく iku   = to go

あらいます araimasu -> あらう arau   = to wash

たちます tachimasu -> たつ tatsu   = to stand

はなします hanashimasu -> はなす hanasu   = to talk

かえります kaerimasu -> かえる kaeru   = to go home

はしります hashirimasu -> はしる hashiru   = to run

Group 2 or “ru verbs” 

This group can be distinguished by the “e” sound in “masu form”. To change it to plain you just remove the “masu” to make it into a stem and add “ru”. These verbs are easier because unlike Group 1 the stem doesn’t change at all.

たべます tabemasu -> たべる taberu   = to eat

しめます shimemasu -> しめる shimeru   = to shut
ねます nemasu -> ねる neru   = to sleep

いれます iremasu -> いれる ireru   = to put in

I mentioned that group 1 verbs can be recognised by the "i" before the "masu". There are a few group 2 verbs that have this pattern too, you just have to remember them and get used to using them as group 2 and not group 1 verbs:

います imasu - いる iru   = to be

かります karimasu -  かりる kariru   = to lend

おきます okimasu = おきる okiru   = to wake/get up

Group 3 (irregular verbs) 

There are only 2 verbs. They are irregular because they change differently from groups 1 and 2 

します shimasu -> する suru   = to do

きます kimasu -> くる kuru   = to come

As I said, these groups are particularly important to learn because each group changes differently depending on what you're turning the verb into. The following explains past tense and negative to illustrate these changes. Pay particular attention to group 1/U verbs as they change the most.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Studying Japanese Grammar

"I find it hard to learn Japanese Grammar"

In the past I've tried to explain basic Japanese sentence structure and introduced "masu" form, but I've not gone into much detail on how to learn these. That's difficult thing about Japanese grammar, you can't just read about it and expect to know it. There are hundreds of websites that explain grammar to you and tell you what you need to know for the various JLPT levels, but not much on how you learn that.

I guess to sum it up you just have to keep using it in different situations. But what's the best way to do this? Write a diary or a blog? Drill grammar over and over? How do you know if you're getting it right? Grammar is tricky because it seems so vauge and doesn't always have a 'direct' translation to English.

Hopefully the following tips and explanations will help.

As I said, you just have to keep using it in a mix of different situations, such as the following:

Flash cards programs - In particular Memrise, which is a great program, lets you have the ability to create your own flashcards which you can use to create your own drill sessions. Or you can use the J-Talk Online JLPT N5 grammar practice course. (N4 Grammar course coming soon)

Reading Textbooks - Textbooks will have grammar explained but also lots of example questions and segments of writing that will have the grammar in them. (For advice on textbooks I wrote a post on using Textbooks for Self Study)

Doing Japanese exercises - If you have a textbook with exercises or a workbook they will often have practice exercises you can do. (Try not to look at the textbook for reference and try to do it from memory). When you do exercises from a textbook/workbook do them on a separate piece of paper so you can do them again. Repetition of exercises will help enforce the grammar in your mind.

Using a teacher - If you don't understand how a textbook or someone online has explained a piece of grammar, asking a native Japanese teacher is the best way to understand as they can give you more examples and answer your questions quickly.

Using Lang-8 - This is a site where you can write things in other languages and natives will correct it for you (and in return you correct other's English). This is great if you're writing your own diary, using grammar and vocabulary etc, as you can see how a native person would write it and ask them questions directly. People will give you various answers and alternatives for a sentence in Japanese, and you have to remember they aren't teachers. But it's a great resource.

Coming up with sentences in your head (and/or saying them out loud) - If you're at school or work, just think about how you'd say something in Japanese randomly. Write it down or say it out loud, and then look it up online to see if you're right or not. You can do this anywhere and coming up with your own sentences is a great way to practice using the grammar rather than just reading about it. (And if you're not sure if you're right write it down and get someone on Lang-8 or a teacher etc to check it)

These are just a few tips. As Master Japanese says, it's important to do regular study and to keep a variety of how you learn. One of the best ways is role play, so if you have a teacher ask them to role play situations where you'd use grammar you learn, and try and do it regularly.

Do you have your own tips/advice for people learning grammar?
Do you have any requests or questions about learning grammar?
Feel free to leave comments and questions!