Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #9: How I'm Preparing for the JLPT N4 (Apps)

Hopefully this won’t be too much of a rehash of a post I made last year about apps that I’ve been using. However, when I wrote that post I hadn’t purchased my lifetime WaniKani subscription and had only done the first few levels. I’ll also only be talking about my main apps that I’m studying, as in, apps that I’m using daily.
So it won’t be as long-winded as the last app recommendation either.
I also made a similar post about companion apps to use along with Genki.

Continue reading

Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #8: How I'm Preparing for the JLPT N4 (Textbooks)

While my updates for WAtRC have been lacking (broke my collar bone so I was unable to really type easily for a month and then I got busy writing other blog posts and doing other podcast-related stuff), I have not stopped studying! The last post for WAtRC (5 months ago) I was just finishing level 11 and now, as of ~8am this morning, I am now level 25!

Continue reading

Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #7: Nausicaä of the Vocab of the Wind

I watched Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind last night for ‘The Great Ghibli Gander’ and, as I intend to do during this venture, I have written down a few bits of vocab from watching the movie.
I’ll try to get these supplementary posts out within a few days of having my main post out but this one I was able to write up and publish pretty quickly.

Continue reading

Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #3: Motivation

I thought I’d write a quick post about motivation since it’s something that’s very important to have when learning a language.
As I mentioned in the first entry of WARC; I used to struggle with getting motivated to learn Japanese and previous attempts to learn the language had failed tragically because of a severe lack of motivation.
However, in this attempt, I have found myself rarely having issues with motivation. The source of motivation to resume learning Japanese and actually sticking to it was me going on a holiday to Japan which I can’t really expect anybody to do every time they require motivation and nor can I personally afford everytime I need a bit of a kick.
An important thing to remember when worried about motivation levels is to make sure that you keep whatever you’re motivated to do a habit. I am a pretty lazy person and honestly it requires a lot of motivation for me to do a lot of things that aren’t a habit – even watching a tv show or playing a game, it doesn’t necessarily have to be motivation for something that requires effort or isn’t fun – it can be fun things too. I would recommend attempting to study Japanese at the same time each day for roughly the same amount of time. For example, I make sure to study Japanese at around the same time every day; I do some light cardio just before I leave for work and I usually complete my Duolingo and Memrise daily goals during this time.
Another thing to remember is to keep in mind the reason you want to be motivated; for me, I’m learning Japanese so I can watch anime and read manga in the original language. Japan is also my favourite holiday destination, so it would be amazing to be fluent and natural whenever I travel there. If I’m ever feeling slightly unexcited to start studying for the day I make sure to look at one of the volume of manga that I want to be able to read one day and I think about how great it will feel to be able to read and understand that volume without needing a dictionary.
While I don’t have trouble motivating myself to study Japanese, there are certain areas that I have no motivation to cover. Currently, this is mainly Kanji-related; I barely know any stroke order and I feel I should practice writing Kanji more. I know a lot of N5 Kanji that barely require practice (for example, 赤 (red), 青 (blue), 明(bright), etc) but there are a few scary N5 Kanji that I struggle with; 雑誌 and 警官 which are the words for newspaper (zasshi) and police officer (keikan) respectively. Whenever I look at these words I end up asking why I have to learn them now and why can’t it be future May’s problem?
No, it can’t be. I’m future May.
To finish off this blog entry I’m going to set a challenge. I’m going to learn the words and Kanji for police office and newspaper and be able to write and recognise their Kanji in two weeks and I suggest that you, my wonderful listener, do the same. It doesn’t have to necessarily be the same words, it could be anything, but I challenge you to also try to learn and tackle something you’ve been lacking motivation to learn. Doesn’t even have to be Japanese related! Go out! Tackle those things and feel motivated!
Let me know in the comments what you’ll be challenging yourself to learn!

Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #2: There's an App For That!

This is sort of like a part two of an introduction post. I was originally going to include which apps and resources I use, have used, or intending to use but my ‘short introduction’ was already getting a bit long so I decided to not add this in. Jay even thought I should release the introduction post is separate posts because it was so long. However, I am very impatient and I wanted to get to the fun stuff (i.e. actually writing entries about learning Japanese!)
This will be less of a story as the last entry and more of a ‘list and various thoughts about each item in the list’ so hopefully that’s not too boring.
First of all I’ll talk about what resources I have used in the past, this will be a short list due to the fact that, as I mentioned in my introduction, I didn’t really try learning Japanese until a year ago;
  • Obentou Standard and Deluxe textbooks and workbooks
    • These were the textbooks we used in Year 7-10.
    • The book for Year 7-8 had cute little manga-style comics in each chapter about a group of children on an exchange program.
    • The content was okay and honestly seems like a ‘Genki for kids’. I don’t think it’s as good as Genki as everything is at a very, very slow pace but it was ten years ago and  Year 7-12 LOTE in Australia, from my experience, goes along at a very slow pace.
    • I’d upload scans and examples but I let a friend in Year 11 borrow the books along with my copy of Pokemon Crystal I bought in Vietnam (yes, the one that’s a meme) and she left the school and never returned them.
    • The best part of these books are the flash cards.
    • The Year 7-8 books came with Hiragana and Katakana flashcards. I already sort of knew Hiragana from Year 5-6 but these really assisted me. One side had the character, and the other side had a drawing which would help you remember the character (e.g. ru for ruby, ro for rock and roll, nu for noodles..etc. They were lame but very helpful)
    • The Year 9-10 books came with Kanji flashcards. I’d say they were from the N5 Kanji list. It’s not the complete N5 kanji list, but it’s a decent amount. I still have these! I’ve been actually using them. I know the majority of them now. Each card had the character on one side and the on, kun, and english reading along with a few examples on the other side. I feel like some of the readings may be missing on some of them. No cute mnemonics like with the kana flashcards sadly. I’ll have to use WaniKani for that.
    • I wouldn’t recommend these books unless you work better at a slower pace or you are just starting out and need something that’s more basic than Genki. As I said; it’s slow paced Genki for kids.
    • Mr NotNice (see WARC #1) swore by these so that basically makes them a terrible resource.
  • The ‘AIUEO’ song
    • It’s a song that just goes through the sounds of the Japanese alphabet from a to n that we would play and sing along in Prep and Year 1. It must be good because I can still remember the tune. We didn’t know Hiragana and I wouldn’t know Hiragana until Year 5-6, but this song was great for learning the sounds and characters in romaji!
    • I can’t find a link to this no matter how hard I look. I can find similar songs but not the same one with the same tune.
  • Midori (iOS dictionary app)
    • This is on the ‘have used in the past’ list only because I no longer use my iPhone as I converted to Android after an unfortunate toilet incident with my iPhone 6s.
    • This is a pretty great dictionary app. It’s not free but it’s very much worth it. I am very sad that it’s not available on Android as it’s got a great interface and great features.
    • I’d give it a 5 star review if it was on my next list.
Now we’re done with the old let’s get onto the new!
I have my phone on me constantly, so the majority of the resources I use now are apps. There’s an app for everything, you see. I use an Android phone, specifically a Google Pixel, but I’m pretty sure these apps can be found on iOS as well, especially Duolingo and Memrise.
The majority of this list are resources I’ve paid money for but there are a few freebies in this list that are just as useful as the resources that I’ve paid for. I’ll state whether or not I’ve paid for something in my list.
I’ll also be giving star ratings, even though, obviously if I’m using these currently I like them.
  • Duolingo
    • Free with extras you can pay for (Which I don’t)
    • Duolingo added Japanese for mobile devices in 2017! I jumped on straight away.
    • I’m not fond of their way of teaching new words as it’s not effective as Memrise as, for the most part, it only shows your sentences with words that you learn and doesn’t focus on the word on its own which isn’t a good way of learning for me.
    • Cute little bird, easy to use interface, achievements (YES). Sometimes the sentences can be funny (example; my dog sells hats)
    • Teaches particles rather well. I’ve always been bad at particles. Now I’m less bad. Still not 100% sure when to use the ‘ga’ and not ‘ha’ and visa versa.
    • It’s a relatively short course as it’s new but it covers most, if not all, of N5.
    • It doesn’t use kanji as much as it should.
    • Voice output is robotic
    • There are some errors or weird things that it marks incorrect but it’s new and you can report errors really easily after each question.
    • For a rating I give it 3 and a half stars. It’s new so it has some errors which is fine but the fact it doesn’t use easy kanji like ‘watashi’ really feels like it hinders growth.
  • Memrise
    • Free with extras you can pay for (Which I don’t)
    • User submitted courses like Genki, Tae Kim, and JLPT bootcamps but also has it’s own Japanese course which covers N5 and N4 levels of JLPT.
    • When it teaches you a new word you can either set up your own mnemonic for it or view top ones from the community. My favourite one was ‘kaeru’ using South Park as it’s mnemonic (Screw you Kyle/Kaeru. I’m going home). Also a lot of these mnemonics are memes.
    • Whenever you have  a new word which you have ‘mastered’ (i.e. you have answered enough questions in ‘learn words’ mode), Memrise sends you an email with a list of your latest mastered words which are ready for you to review in ‘review’ mode.
    • The voice for the Memrise course is really good and doesn’t sound as robotic as Duolingo. The other courses (i.e. the user submitted courses) can also have voices. The Genki and JLPT one have REAL PEOPLE!
    • A feature which you get to preview every so often (it’s a paid preview) is called ‘Meet the locals’ this has real Japanese people speaking and you have to translate it. I don’t pay for premium but I really love this feature whenever a preview pops up for it in a review.
    • Memrise teaches you words and then uses them in sentences.
    • Fun interface, it’s in space and you travel to each planet (which is each topic). Your mastering of a word is measured by growing a flower.
    • However, the built in levels don’t teach Katakana for some reason. So words like taxi, pasta, orange juice, etc, are written in Hiragana.
    • 5 stars. This is great and it’s made better by user submitted courses. This is probably my favourite resource and I feel guilty not subscribing for premium because it is far too good to be free. I’d go premium if they had a lifetime option like WaniKani.
  • WaniKani
    • First few levels are free but then you have to pay. A lifetime subscription is 300USD which isn’t too bad. I’ve been meaning to get a lifetime subscription but I’m waiting till it goes on sale.
    • Teaches kanji and radicals using mnemonics
    • Uses SRS based on if you got an answer right or wrong
    • Also Tofugu has a podcast and the hosts are adorable and seem like nice blokes. The Tofugu website also has interesting website that posts articles about Japanese culture as well as the Japanese language.
    • 5 star – please keep in mind that this is assuming the higher levels are as good as the ones that are free. I know a lot of people who swear by WaniKani and I’ll become one of them as soon as I get a lifetime subscription.
  • Anki
    • Free everywhere but iOS.
    • Like WaniKani but you have to add your own flashcards (or import a user submitted deck)
    • Uses SRS but it asks you whether or not you knew the word, sort of knew the word, or did not know the word. So it’s sort of on a trust system as you don’t submit an answer.
    • It doesn’t teach you like WaniKani as it’s just a flashcard app.
    • I personally find the interface to not be easy to follow and kinda messy on AnkiDroid (the android version)
    • 4 and a half stars. It’s free, the user submitted decks are good, however I prefer if there was an input field like WaniKani.
  • TinyCards
    • Free
    • Made by the people who made Duolingo.
    • Flashcard app using user submitted decks
    • Features input field and a button to say ‘I got that right’ if you make a typo or write in romaji and it only accepts kana.
    • Cute and easy to use interface and logo
    • Doesn’t use SRS
    • 4 stars. Honestly, it would be five if it had SRS as it would just be a better looking Anki at that point.
  • Genki Apps – Vocab and Kanji apps
    • One time purchase for each app
    • There’s a third one but it’s iOS only for some reason.
    • Basically a really nice interface for flashcards with vocab or kanji (depending on the app).
    • It separates the vocab/kanji up by chapter and section
    • It doesn’t have SRS and once you know an item, it is completed and you have to manually unmark it so it shows up again.
    • Good app to accompany the books.
    • 2 stars. It’s just Anki with no SRS and a nicer interface. Honestly you could just import the Genki vocab to Anki and have the same thing. Considering it’s something you have to pay for, I’d expect better. I’ll be using them because I paid money for them but I would not recommend. Unless you don’t want to use Anki and don’t like SRS.
  • Aedict
    • Paid
    • Japanese dictionary app
    • It’s like Midori for iOS as I mentioned earlier in this post but it’s not as good but it’s also half the price of Midori.
    • Shows everything you’d want in a dictionary as well as frequency of use.
    • Shows lots of examples and ‘buddies’ of a kanji
    • 5 stars because it’s probably the best available for Android. All of the free ones are similar but their interfaces annoyed me and/or had advertisements.
  • Google Translate
    • Free
    • I use this to double check my sentences.
    • It’s a lot better than it used to be
    • Available as an app or in browser
    • You can also take photos of signs or words and it translates it. It’s not always accurate but it’s a fairly new feature and it’s getting better.
    • 5 Stars. The best online translator. Bing is shithouse.
  • Jisho.org
    • Free
    • Web based dictionary
    • Nice interface, examples, information
    • 5 stars. It’s exactly what I want out of a web based dictionary. I don’t use it often as Aedict because it’s usually easier to open an app instead of go to an Internet browser.
  • Genki textbooks and workbooks and Kanji Look and Learn textbook and workbook
    • Paid. I bought these second hand as in Australia I could not find them for under $70. I probably bought all four books, the kanji look and learn series, and the Genki answer key for around $100-$150.
    • Everybody swears by these. I’ve heard that they’re the best books for learning Japanese. I believe Genki I and II take you up to JLPT N4?
    • They’re designed for classroom learning but I’ve been using them just for home study. It would help if I was in a classroom but it’s fine.
    • Kanji Look and Learn
    • 5 stars. They’re not as fun as Memrise but they’re textbooks and they’re designed to be used in a classroom environment. I would give them 4 but it’s my own fault for not being in the environment Genki wants me to be in.
  • Unko Kanji
    • Paid. Each book is like ~10USD and there are six books for each grade of school.
    • These books are for young Japanese school children who hate kanji and like poo jokes. A poo who is a professor teaches you kanji and the sentences are about poo.
    • My favourite sentences are ‘1000 people came to see my poo’ and ‘I ate a lot and then I did a poo’.
    • It’s funny. It’s entirely in Japanese but the level of difficulty isn’t too hard.
    • I wouldn’t recommend this if you’re completely new to Japanese but if you can read some Japanese it’s helpful to teach kanji.
    • Uniquely Japanese humor.
    • Did I mention it’s about poo?
    • 4 stars. If there was a version that taught kanji to people who are also learning Japanese as a second language it would be 5 stars. If I was a Japanese school child I would rate it 5.
The last list for this entry consists of resources I haven’t really used yet but do have at my disposal.
  • Misc JLPT quiz apps
    • Most of them a free. Just search for JLPT in whatever app store you use.
    • I have a bunch of these installed and they seem like useful tools for when I decide to take the JLPT. I haven’t really used them much but they seem useful
  • TangoRisto
    • Free
    • I’ve sort of used this a bit. it’s a fun little app where you can read news articles and folk tales in Japanese and you can tap on a word if you don’t know it and it gives a translation. It’s pretty handy and free.
    • I haven’t used it enough to include it in the previous list but I’d definitely recommend and give it five stars!
  • Rikaigu
    • Free
    • This is a little plugin for Google Chrome (not sure if it’s available for other browsers) and it adds the ability to hover over any Japanese word for a translation and explanation. It’s pretty handy.
    • I haven’t really used it much as I haven’t jumped into many Japanese websites since I installed this.
  • Kanji of the Day
    • Free
    • Little app that gives you one kanji a day from a specified grade.
    • I should use this more. It seems handy.
  • Pen and paper
    • How ever much one intends to spend on a pen and paper
    • This is not so much a resource as it is a tip.
    • A literal pen and paper.
    • I have to start writing that shit down because if I’m looking at a kanji, I will nod and say “Yes! I know that kanji now!” but I can guarantee you that 9 times out of 10 I will completely forget what the kanji looks like as soon as I look away.
    • I like things that look nice so I got a pen with pretty colours and a textbook that looks nice. I also have messy handwriting so I’ll need to write with care.
  • Tae Kim’s Learning Japanese
    • Free as an app or on web but he did print it in hard copy form and you can buy that
    • I haven’t read it yet but there’s a user submitted Memrise course with the content!
So there you have it! A list of resources. If you came here to look for a recommendation on resources to start on, I would recommend Memrise the most out of everything. It’s free and it has a lot of different use submitted courses. As for resources that cost money, I would recommend Genki and WaniKani. If you just want to use apps and don’t mind spending money I’d recommend WaniKani and Memrise.
If you have any suggestions for more resources I would love to hear them!
I’m also looking for any feedback about WARC overall. I don’t think further entries will be as long as the first two have. Some entries might even be as simple as “DEAR DIARY TODAY I LEARNED THIS VOCAB HERE IS ONE BAD EXAMPLE AND PLEASE RATE COMMENT AND SUBSCRIBE”.

Wandering Across the Rainbow Chopsticks #1: Introductions and Puns

We’re running a survey about what content we should start posting about on our website’s blog and one of the top results so far is for me, May, to start posting a diary of my progress learning Japanese. So I guess I’ll do that. The survey is still running and we will provide more content besides this diary of course, but I just thought I should start up the diary now since it’s popular and probably not a bad way to increase my Japanese proficiency.

I should warn you though; a writer I am not and a lot of what I write will be very much a train of thought, so, have fun I guess.

I was originally going to just call this “Learning Japanese Diary” because that’s exactly what it is, but that’s boring so I was caught with the problem of what to call the blog. I wanted a pun, because I like puns, so I had to go with my favourite pun at the moment which is the fact that chopsticks and bridge can both be read as ‘hashi’. The Rainbow Bridge is also the bridge that leads to Odaiba which is where the main characters in the first season of Digimon are from. So it works as I love puns and love Digimon. I mean, it was either that or “I Dedicate This To My Year 10 Japanese Teacher”.

I thought I’d start this diary by focusing a bit on my background learning Japanese.

I first started Japanese in Prep (first level of Primary School in Australia) as a LOTE subject in 1999.

Now, you must be thinking “Wow! You must be fluent! You first started 18 years ago!”. If you’re thinking that, sadly, you’re wrong. We watched a lot of Ghibli Films and were told basic greetings and colours in Prep and Year 1 and I then left the school half way through Year 1 and went to a school that taught French as LOTE. I can say what my name is in French but that’s it. I left that school half way through Year 5 and went to another school that taught Japanese. I spent the next year and a half learning Hiragana and that’s about it.

I then graduated that school and went to my highschool where Year 7 students could choose either German or Japanese once they started school. I chose Japanese and we were taught very, very basic stuff (introductions, hiragana and katakana). It was a good foundation at least. 

I went to Japan in Year 8 with my parents (2007) and barely spoke and Japanese. I didn’t try and, of course, I didn’t learn.

In Year 9 and 10, I chose to continue Japanese as learning a language after Year 7 and 8 at my High School was optional. We started Kanji, which I was bad at, and particles, which I was awful at.

In Year 9 we had a Japanese person teaching us Japanese and she was lovely and I felt I was learning a lot from her. Sadly, because she was so lovely and soft spoken, she was unable to control the naughty children in the class, so paying attention was often difficult. We had the choice to go to Japan for a month with other Year 9 and 10 students. We went to school at two different schools in Japan and also toured around a lot. We went with nice Japanese teacher, our PE teacher (who didn’t know any Japanese but her son wanted to go so she pulled some strings), and two Australian teachers who taught Japanese (one of which I will call Mr NotNice and I write about him later).

I barely tried to speak Japanese outside of self introductions and the students at the school were all effectively fluent in English so, of course, I didn’t pick up any Japanese as I didn’t try.

In Year 10, the nice Japanese teacher left and went back to Japan. The rumor was that it was because our class was so bad and the students at the school were so awful. I thought that sounded believable. As nice teacher left and there was only one other teacher than taught Year 10 Japanese, we had Mr NotNice who was an Australian bloke. And here’s where my learning Japanese adventure went pear shaped.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with an Australian man teaching Japanese, in Year 7 and 8 we had an Aussie bloke teach us and he was great. 

This man, however, was actually just an awful person. I won’t name he’s name because I’m not an idiot. He had a PhD in Geography and was adamant that everyone (students, teachers, parents, strangers, everyone who he ever interacted with) preface his last name with ‘Dr’ and never use his first name (not even other teachers had the privilege of calling him by his first name. They did of course, because they hated him). He also acted like his Japanese was incredible, but, as we knew from when we had gone to Japan the previous year, nobody could understand him when he spoke Japanese. The students were still naughty and I would try to silent them. I would get yelled at by Mr NotNice as they were allowed to be loud because ‘they were boys’. He was also the type of teacher who would yell at you for going on excursions with other classes as it would take you away from learning Japanese. I am a dick, so I would often say that he was ridiculous and was just being shirty that he wasn’t qualified to teach Year 11 and 12 Japanese. He didn’t like me much.

Then it came time for all the Year 10 students had to get subjects signed off in order to continue them as electives in VCE. I went to visit MrNotNice in the staffroom (I heard a rumor he demanded an office when he joined) and asked him to sign me off so I could study Japanese in Year 11 and 12. He laughed in my face, refused, and said that I ‘would never even be able to speak Japanese let alone be fluent’, so I called him by his first name and brought up the fact he was also not qualified for VCE Japanese and then walked away. He was speechless and I think I heard the teacher next to him choke on a biscuit.

Suffice to say, my Japanese studying paused there.

After that I had short bursts of wanting to learn Japanese but didn’t actually start learning until 2016 when I went to Japan for two weeks with my partner and his family.

This time I actually tried to speak Japanese and my partner’s family often had me and my limited Japanese to help them out. I actually learned a bit while I was there and even started using sentences with the subject and topic particles! I mainly used my Japanese in shopping situations (For example, I used “~ga arimasuka?” and “korewa nandesuka?” a lot).

When I came back I was motivated with learning the language and a year later I can confidently say that I’d be at N5 level if I were to take the JLPT. 

When people ask me how long I’ve been learning Japanese I just say ‘A year of serious studying’ because, honestly, I’m only trying now and I only had 100% understanding on Hiragana and Katakana before now.

My aim is to take the N3 test in December 2018. Or N4, at the very least.

Hopefully this diary will help my studies even more.

One day, when I get my N1 certificate, I think I shall photo copy my certificate and mail it to Mr NotNice with a letter attached written entirely in Japanese which he, unfortunately, not be able to read. 

Live with spite, kids.