Latest blog posts en-us Thu, 24 Jan 2019 01:28:00 +0000 How to make a habit of reading in Japanese in an era of constant interruptions Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 24 Jan 2019 01:28:00 +0000 Inhae shows us how to develop habits that turn our guilty pleasures into Japanese learning opportunities, turning games and novels, from mere fun to education. For how long have you been studying Japanese?

undefinedStrictly speaking, I started Japanese in Summer 2016, but I had learned some Chinese at school and I had studied Korean for some years just before starting Japanese. Thanks to that, I was able to make a quick start in Japanese.

I cannot speak Chinese and I have forgotten everything I had learned, but the experience with Chinese characters undoubtedly helped me when I started Japanese. I would say that Chinese and Korean spared me at least one year of study, if not more.

My level in Japanese is very uneven. I have been focusing on developing my reading skills, and I have completely ignored speaking. I can read genre like mystery or detective novels, but most literary fiction is still out of reach. My listening is not good, I can understand some audio-books because they are always spoken clearly and slowly, but I am lost when watching a film. Speaking is not something I am interested in because I don’t live in Japan and don’t have Japanese friends, so I almost never worked on it.

What got you interested in learning Japanese? What got you interested in Japanese literature?

undefinedI cannot recall any triggering event that made me think “I want to learn Japanese”. I think that I have always wanted to learn the language because there were so many Japanese things that interested me, starting with the anime I used to watch as a child. But I always thought Japanese would be too difficult to learn on my own. Living in Korea where publishers make attractive textbooks for self-learners certainly decided me to take action.

Living in Korea where publishers make attractive textbooks for self-learners certainly decided me to take action.

As for Japanese literature, I used to know only great authors of the 20th Century through translation, and best-selling authors that were translated into French. The first time I stepped into a bookshop in Japan and stood before shelves and shelves of new publications, best and steady sellers and mystery novels, I realised that a little more effort on my part would give me access to a ton of works of fiction that were not translated. It is more accurate to say that my interest in Japanese literature grew with my learning Japanese, rather than saying that it triggered it.

How was your Japanese level like when you started reading your first book in Japanese? What did you do to prepare to read Japanese books?

I will never forget the first novel I read in Japanese, it was 『卒業』 by Keigo Higashino. When I read it, my level must have been somewhere between JLPT levels N3 and N2.

I was already thinking of the books I would read in Japanese when I was learning the hiragana! I started reading in Japanese with the Japanese Graded Readers. The first story of the series is very easy and can be read after completing the first chapters of your textbook. The Japanese Graded Readers series accompanied me during my first months of learning Japanese and gave me confidence.

By the time I had secured all the N4 grammar and was working my way through N3, I started reading the manga『名探偵コナン』(Case Closed). I don’t read many mangas, but I absolutely loved this one. I looked up every single word and added it to Anki, and I made sure that I understood everything before moving on. It really helped me to build my vocabulary. I also learned a lot of words relative to detective investigation, which was useful to read Keigo Higashino.

Then I tackled my first novel in Japanese. I had to look up many words, and in the end, I did not understand the novel well. Enough to keep on reading, but not enough to really enjoy the story.

What do you recommend to people who want to start reading in Japanese? How can you prepare to start reading?

I think that you need two things to read a book in a foreign language: a certain amount of vocabulary and grammar plus a reading skill that develops itself the more you read. If you can improve this reading skill, you will be able to read easy novels even with a modest set of actively known vocabulary.


It is my belief that the reading skill you develop is more important than the set of vocabulary and grammar you start with. The more you read, the easier it will be to recognise kanji, guess the meaning of a word from the context, understand the general meaning of a sentence even with unknown words.

When I read my first novel, I didn’t understand it very well. As soon as I finished it, I started a new one: same author, same genre, same writing style. I understood this second novel better. I felt that I could read more comfortably when I tackled my third book by this same author. Only around the fourth or fifth book could I say: I can read this author without problems and fully enjoy the story.

The important thing is that between my first and second novel, I hadn’t learned that many new words, I hadn’t added that many grammar rules to my knowledge. If I could understand the second novel better than the first one, it is not because I had learned tons of vocabulary in the meantime. It is because I had improved my reading capacity. So what I would recommend to people who want to start reading in Japanese is to persevere even if they feel that they don’t understand what they read. As long as you can roughly sum up what happened on the page you read, you can move on to the next.

So what I would recommend to people who want to start reading in Japanese is to persevere even if they feel that they don’t understand what they read. As long as you can roughly sum up what happened on the page you read, you can move on to the next.

Don’t close your book because you think it is too soon, too difficult, that you must learn more words before starting. You might not understand what you read well, you might understand only half of it, but the efforts you put into reading it will help you to make significant progress. You will start recognising more kanji and have an intuition of what an unknown word means because you already saw the kanji in a similar context.

As for selecting good material, I think that we have to find a compromise between our interests and ambition on one side and our level on the other, but if it has to be more on one side, then I would recommend picking something you are interested in.

When it comes to novels, some publishers have a collection for children with full furigana, this can be a good start. Light novels are always a good option and the story is bound to be more appealing to adult readers than books designed for children. You can also look at the best-selling titles. I like mystery and detective novels because the suspense will keep me reading even if it is difficult. Generally speaking, stories that involve everyday life situations are easier to read than the ones with surrealistic or fantastic elements.

While reading, how do you tackle unknown grammar and vocabulary, especially vocabulary that does not appear in dictionaries?

Anytime I come across a word or expression that does not make sense to me even after looking it up, I simply google it. I remember that the novel 『舟を編む』by Shion Miura was full of allusions and references that I didn’t know. I googled a lot of words and expressions when reading this book, and I would always find an answer. Either someone would have talked about it on their blog or asked a question on a Japanese forum. It was very encouraging to see that Japanese people themselves could be puzzled by some of the references that were in the novel.

This being said, I don’t often come across words that I cannot find in the dictionary. I have a Casio electronic dictionary so I have access to several dictionaries in one place. When I cannot find a word in the English-Japanese dictionary, I usually find it in the Japanese-Japanese one.

As for grammar, before I bought the 『日本文型辞典』, I also used to check unknown grammar on Internet. Now I prefer to use the 『日本文型辞典』. I am not saying that it is better than what you can find online, but I want to avoid using my phone or my computer to study. I don’t have enough self-discipline, and I always end up losing time on the Internet.

While reading, how do you balance enjoyment vs learning? For example, how thorough are you in trying to understand kanji/vocabulary/grammar before moving on to different sections?

It depends on the book. Some books are for enjoyment only and I don’t care if I don’t understand a descriptive passage, a joke in a dialogue or if I find unknown kanji in a sentence. As long as it does not prevent me from understanding the story, I will move on. All the books by Keigo Higashino fall in this category.

There are some mystery or detective novels that I read for enjoyment but which require the use of the dictionary because they are slightly above my level. I sometimes have to look up unknown words that prevent me from understanding what is going on.

If I read literary fiction, I will try to understand as much as I can and look up more words than I would do with genre fiction. I save these words in my electronic dictionary and add them to Anki later.

Sometimes, I will study a short passage in a book, look up every unknown word and make sure that I understand everything. Sometimes, I even loosely translate what I read. In this case, I am more using the book to study than reading the book.

How do you find new books to read? How do you find new Japanese content in general e.g. music, games, movies?

Until now, I used to go to a bookshop and choose one of the books that are piled up on the tables. Now, I am starting to be more active, browse publishers’ websites, look at literary prizes and rankings or recommendations on Amazon or Bookmeter. If a book has been adapted into film or translated, it will also kindle my interest.

For music, I rely on iTunes music, which has a lot of good recommendations and several playlists of Japanese music. I had the subscription well before starting Japanese, and for a while, I didn’t think of browsing it for Japanese music. It is great if you are looking for artists other than J-pop.

I don’t watch much film or drama, but I will usually follow the recommendations of other Japanese learners on Twitter or Wordpress.

How do you get over that feeling of “reading in a new language puts a heavy load on my brain, let’s just enjoy something easy”?

I find that the best way to absorb content in Japanese rather than English is to define a set of activities that I only do in Japanese. If these activities make me feel happy, I will be likely to gravitate to them. These are activities that allow me to relieve stress and anxiety, like playing games with talking animals, read detective novels and watch anime for children. I never do these three activities in my native language.

I think that I grew up thinking that I should do “serious” activities like reading literature instead of detective novels. One day, I found out that learning languages was a good excuse to do all the things that I really wanted to do!

I think that I grew up thinking that I should do “serious” activities like reading literature instead of detective novels. One day, I found out that learning languages was a good excuse to do all the things that I really wanted to do!

As far as reading is concerned, I rarely feel that I would rather read in English than in Japanese because the novels that I read in Japanese are more entertaining than the ones I would read in English. Japanese is for childish, fun and relaxing content. When I do read difficult and challenging books in Japanese and think “let’s just enjoy something easy!” I turn to something easy in Japanese. For example, I recently started reading Harry Potter in Japanese. I wanted to re-read the Harry Potter series for some time, but I could not allow myself to read it in English, because I felt I should use my time differently. But thinking “I will read the series in Japanese” solved this issue. When I am bored with the other novels or find them too difficult, I turn to Harry Potter.

We now live in a world of short attention spans, constant interruptions from email, smartphones and social media, and endless information on the Internet. How can you focus on reading in Japanese?

The only way for me is to put my phone away when I am reading. When I say “put it away”, I mean put it on silence, turn off the notifications and even put it out of sight.

The only way for me is to put my phone away when I am reading. When I say “put it away”, I mean put it on silence, turn off the notifications and even put it out of sight.

Then I will set myself a number of pages to read (depending on the book, it can be 10 to 20 pages), and I won’t stop or grab my phone as long as I haven’t read these pages.

undefinedThe problem is that I used to use my phone to look up words so it was not always possible to get rid of it. The day I bought my electronic dictionary really changed my life! Thanks to it, I was able to put my phone away while reading or studying. It saved me a lot of precious study time! When I was considering whether or not to buy this expensive item, I only took the dictionaries that were in it into account. It turned out that in addition to being a wonderful studying tool, my electronic dictionary allowed me to stay focused, far away from notifications and temptations.

Recently, I also re-discovered the pleasure of handwriting. I acquired some fountain pens and several bottles of ink, did some research concerning the best notebooks and paper, and got into the habit of writing things down instead of using my computer or phone. It is a good way to stay focused.

Most people who set out to learn a language will probably stop learning or practising it at some point. What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

What keeps me motivated is to consume native materials and to set myself goals using a physical journal. I may be wrong, but I think that one of the reasons why some people stop learning is because they wait too long before tackling native resources.

I think that one of the reasons why some people stop learning is because they wait too long before tackling native resources.

In the end, they get bored with grammar and vocabulary and give up. On the other hand, by just immersing ourselves without actively studying, we can have the feeling that we don’t make progress, and this can be discouraging too.

I have never felt like losing interest in Japanese because I am surrounded by native resources that I like. When I feel a lack of motivation, I search for new singers or groups to listen to, authors that I have never read, best-sellers of the moment, the latest winner of literary prizes. It immediately motivates me.

Taking the JLPT has also been a good source of motivation for studying. It gives me a deadline and material to study and there are so many people out there who take the test that it is encouraging.

Finally, following other language learners on Wordpress or Twitter is a great source of inspiration. Seeing other people studying and making progress always motivates me to do the same.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language? How far would you like to take your reading skills?

This might be a lifetime goal, but I want to bring my reading skills to the native level! I would like to read historical fiction, and I know it will take me a lot of time before getting there. Same for literary fiction. I don’t want to just understand what I read, but I want to be able to enjoy the tone of certain works or the particularities of the author’s writing style.

Which learning resources have you helped you the most? e.g. textbooks, guides, dictionaries

I mainly used Korean textbooks to learn Japanese. They were generally good, with colours and cute illustrations. The first and main textbook I used is called 일본어 무작정따라하기. It has a very slow grammatical progression and focuses on pronunciation. The idea is to get a good pronunciation and intonation right from the beginning. While speaking is not my priority, this book allowed me to see that Japanese pronunciation is not as easy as it seems. Short and long syllables are especially tricky to me.

undefinedBut more than one particular textbook, I would say that using various textbooks and learning material is what helped me the most. Each method has its own approach, and diversifying the material was beneficial. For example, I used a language broadcast on EBS radio. Hosted by a Korean and a Japanese it was very different from the textbooks I had used until then. There are two levels. 야사시이(やさしい[易しい]) 일본어 for beginners and 타노시이(たのしい[楽しい]) 일본어 for intermediate learners. You can download the audio and buy the script separately, which I did for some months. This is the resource that helped me the most to understand basic and intermediate grammar and get used to Japanese dialogues.

Another resource I used a lot is the magazine 일본어저널, a monthly magazine to learn Japanese and discover Japanese culture.

The Japanese Graded Readers series also helped me a lot when it comes to reading. The series is very affordable in Korea with one physical set costing around 10 dollars.

My electronic dictionary is also a great resource. I am using it on a daily basis to check Japanese words and English.

Apart from books, what are your favourite native resources to consume? Which have helped you learn the most?

I like watching YouTube videos, particularly gamers making let’s play series.

I like watching anime for children like『楽しいムーミン一家』or 『ちびまる子ちゃん』. I am also a fan of Ghibli films, I have watched them over and over.

I love listening to audiobooks. While I cannot find many audiobooks of fiction in Japanese, the ones I did find are really good. Each character is usually voiced by a different actor. Even if it is an unabridged audio, it almost feels like a dramatised version, with background sounds or music.

However, what helped me the most is to read the news in Japanese. I started in 2018 and have been relatively consistent throughout the year. 2018 was a year with several political scandals and I found very interesting to read about them in Japanese. It helped me to extend my vocabulary and to read something completely different than novels. I was also learning things about the country and its political system, and this feeling was very motivating too.

You mentioned on your blog about using Animal Crossing for Japanese immersion. Have you used other video games for immersion and reading practice? How would you compare reading practice obtained via books vs games?

I like to play relaxing games partly based on dialogues like Stardew Valley, Story of Seasons or Fantasy Life. Games that are text heavy like the Professor Layton series are also great for immersion. I find some dialogues in games to be particularly challenging. I guess that it is because some dialogues avoid kanji as much as possible, some NPCs have their own way of speaking and most of all, because I want to read quickly and go on playing. I think that this is the greatest benefit I had from games: read Japanese when I would rather go on with my in-game tasks instead of going through blocks of dialogues. Reading in games helped me to read quicker.

In Animal Crossing and farming games, you have to handle tons of objects. It might not be the most useful words to learn, but it does train your brain to work with Japanese words. While it is difficult to create a Japanese-only space around you, a game is like a mini world where everything is in Japanese.

Last but not least, I really learned the katakana with games!

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji? Is your goal to be able to read and write kanji (by hand) or mostly just reading?

As I mentioned earlier, I learnt Chinese at school. At the time, we were learning to pronounce, recognise and write a Chinese character when we learned vocabulary. What I mean is that learning vocabulary and learning Chinese characters were not separate activities. When we learnt a new word, we also learnt how to write it (with Chinese simplified characters, it is easier). This is how I started, and I didn’t know that there were other ways of learning.

When I started Japanese, I naturally continued to do the same. To learn a new word means to learn the kanji, but this time, I only learnt to recognise the kanji, not how to write them. I didn’t know that there were dedicated methods like Remembering the Kanji or the Kodansha Kanji Learner’s Course, and I didn’t know that it was possible to study the kanji separately. When I bought my first JLPT books (it was for N4), I was surprised to see that there was a book for vocabulary and a book for kanji, this is a concept I could not understand! In a way, I am still fascinated by this way of learning, and I admire people who go through one of these methods.

To sum up, instead of learning the kanji first and then the words that contain them, I just learn the words. Only sometimes do I check the meaning of unfamiliar kanji in a dictionary.

As a result, I don’t have a thorough knowledge of kanji, I know them in context and I can recognise a lot of them as long as they are part of a word, in a sentence that makes sense. But if you ask me what are the meanings or pronunciations of a particular kanji out of context, chances are I will not be able to answer.

Writing the kanji by hand is one of my goals. I can write the most basic kanji from memory, but I still have to look up many kanji anytime I want to write in Japanese, which is frustrating. While it is not a priority, it is on my list!

Apart from Anki, do you use any software tools in your learning? What do you use them for?

undefinedI don’t use many learning apps or software tools because I tend to prefer physical textbooks. I do have the Kodansha Kanji Dictionary iPhone app which I love. When I cannot remember a word because I don’t know the kanji in it, I will look up the said kanji to know their respective meaning and see in what other words they appear. As I said, I have never studied the kanji separately, with a comprehensive method, and when I learn a new word, I don’t always know the meaning of the kanji that compose the word. Seeing the core meaning of a kanji usually helps me to remember the word I wanted to learn, but I will not try to remember this core meaning.

I also have the Kodansha Kanji Usage Guide app. I don’t use it as often now, but it was very useful in the beginning. It helps you to understand the difference between words that have the same pronunciation, similar or close meanings but use different kanji.

Apart from that, I use apps that are not specifically designed for language learning, like audiobook or podcast readers to listen to Japanese.

How is your Anki workflow like? About what percentage of your study time is devoted to studying with Anki?

I created a deck when I started learning Japanese, and it worked well until I studied for N2. I used to add words from time to time and tried to learn new words every day, though I could spend several days without learning new words. Each note generated three cards that were supposed to cover all the situations when you need to use or recognise a word. Roughly, it was Japanese (written) to English, Japanese (spoken, using a plugin) to English, and English to Japanese.

When I studied the N2 vocabulary, I added every single word of my textbook to my Anki deck and tried to learn far too many words per day. At the time, studying Anki took me more than 1 hour and I was desperate! I hated studying Anki, and I felt that I had no time or energy left to study other Japanese related things.

This is why, sometime after passing N2, I decided to abandon this deck and to create a new one from scratch. This time, I focus on written recognition and only study in one direction: Japanese (written) to English. I learn around 10 new words per day, but I also add words that I am supposed to know but forgot or words that I am unsure of, so it is not really 10 completely new words per day. It works well, I am quite happy with it.

I do create new decks from time to time to learn specific things (like onomatopoeia), but these decks tend to come and go. My regular deck takes me around 15 minutes per day. Working in one direction only (recognition) allows me to study quicker than before.

How do you tackle vocabulary acquisition, especially in the context of reading? Is most of your vocabulary learning mostly passive e.g. through reading or more explicit e.g. through Anki? Has your vocabulary acquisition strategies changed over time?

When I read, I don’t look up many words. I only check the words whose meaning prevents me to understand what happens or the words that I partially know and would like to learn thoroughly. When I look up a word, I decide whether to add it to Anki or not. If I consider the word worth learning, I save it in my dictionary and add it to Anki later.

Apart from this, there are words that I “learn” from reading only. I don’t really learn them consciously, but seeing them often in novels somehow makes them familiar.

undefinedI think that passive learning through reading and more concrete learning through Anki are complementary. I don’t consider that I know a word well if I only saw it once in a novel or review it a couple of times in Anki. It is the constant back and forth between a learning tool like Anki and seeing the word in context that makes the vocabulary stick. For example, I could not remember the word trench (塹壕・ざんごう) despite many reviews in Anki until a character in a novel said he was “like a soldier in a trench”. It is this encounter that allowed me to learn the word, but I know I will forget it if Anki does not show it to me again in three weeks!

My strategy has always been to learn words from context. This is why I like to create my own Anki deck. I learn a word more easily if I can recall why I added it to Anki, in which novel or game I saw it, in which scene it appeared. Most of the words that are in my present Anki come from novels I have read. This strategy hasn’t changed over time, but it has become more radical. When I started Japanese and when I prepared for N2, I added words from vocabulary lists. This method can be useful to learn a lot of words, but it did not work for me in the long term. While I do work with vocabulary lists for N1, I don’t add these words to Anki anymore and review them directly in the textbook.

How was the JLPT N2 like? Do you recommend studying for the JLPT for those who want to develop their reading skills? How did you prepare for the test?

The JLPT N2 was a real challenge to me: a lot of grammar and a lot of vocabulary to absorb. Studying for the JLPT was not always fun, but it helped me to improve dramatically. Usually, I keep telling myself that I should learn or review grammar, but I rarely do it. The JLPT gives you both material to study and a deadline. It is a little schoolish, but it works. Having textbooks, an exam and a final score puts us in a study mode and we are more efficient.

I used both the So-matome and the Shin Kanzen series to study. My scores and how I felt during the test were a good mirror of my preparation and my level. I felt comfortable to answer the grammar questions, but the vocabulary part was tricky. This might be because I hadn’t studied the kanji thoroughly enough. Listening was a nightmare, I chose randomly half of the questions… but I got a full mark at reading! I really recommend taking the test if you feel that you are stuck in your studies, that you don’t make progress or don’t know what or how to study.

I really recommend taking the test if you feel that you are stuck in your studies, that you don’t make progress or don’t know what or how to study.

A year or several months of preparations will take you to the next level without a doubt, even if you fail the test. Not only do you learn a lot of new content, but the test also forces you to actually read a lot of complicated or uninteresting texts. Same for listening. If you can make this effort to prepare for the JLPT, tackling native material should not be as intimidating after that.

Have you been to Japan? If so, how was the experience like? If not, do you want to visit? Do you have any plans on going to visit? Where would you like to go?

I have been to Japan twice (Tokyo and Kyoto) and plan another trip soon. The first two trips were purely touristic, it was not really related to improving my language skills.

With these two trips, the total time I spent in Japan does not exceed 10 days so I am still amazed at everything I see, and I find everything wonderful and exciting!

I plan to visit Tokyo once more and take time to enjoy the city instead of rushing from one touristic place to the other.

And of course, entering a bookshop in Japan was very exciting, and it encouraged me to read more. I can’t wait to make my next book haul in Japan!

How much Japanese do you encounter in everyday life Korea? How popular is Japanese media in Korea?

It is hard to believe that there was a complete ban on Japanese media not long ago.  Big bookshops have a good corner for Japanese books and magazines. I have access to NHK on TV and there is a good selection of Japanese films and drama via VOD. There are Japanese groceries, too.

undefinedHowever, some topics are still sensitive, especially those related to the Japanese colonial rule of Korea. While Japanese pop culture is popular in Korea, there are often disputes concerning historical topics. A good example would be Miyazaki’s film The Wind Rises. The film features Mitsubishi, who employed Korean forced labourers during WWII. While there are 3 Ghibli stores featuring giant Totoro in Seoul, The Wind Rises raised controversy and criticism, and as far as I know, was not released on DVD in Korea.

Apart from cultural media, you will find a huge amount of textbooks to self-learn Japanese and sit the JLPT. There are also institutes where you can take conversation classes, grammar courses, JLPT preparation and so on. They even have a proficiency test called JPT which I think is unique to Korea. Japanese might be the easiest language to learn for Koreans, so the JLPT is popular among students who need to add a line to their resume.

What other languages do you speak? Do you want to learn other languages besides Japanese?

French is my mother tongue. I can read and write English but I am not good at speaking and listening. On the contrary, I can understand and speak German but not really read or write. I would say that my Korean is strictly functional, enough for everyday life, but not good. I cannot read novels in Korean for example.

For the time being, I don’t think that I want to learn other languages. If I had to pick one, however, I think it would be Chinese!

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I would apply the advice I gave earlier for reading to listening. I would start listening to Japanese from the start and keep listening even if I don’t understand well. I think that I have a decent amount of vocabulary in my head, but I am still very bad at listening because I haven’t worked enough on my listening skills. If I had started from day 1, I would certainly be able to watch some drama without subtitles by now.

Another mistake that I made is to sit the JLPT N2 too soon. It helped me considerably of course, but when I started studying for N2, I had not been enough in contact with Japanese. As a result, I had to learn everything by heart. The more you read and listen to the language, the more natural things seem, you start having an intuition of what is correct and what is not. When I review the N2 grammar now, a lot of things seem obvious. But at the time, I lacked this intuition and I had to learn all the grammar rules as if they were a random series of numbers.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

First of all, I would say: don’t be afraid to focus on one or two skills only if it is what you want to do. I can read novels but I cannot speak, and I am happy like that. Some people learn Japanese to watch anime or drama only, some people can communicate fluently in Japanese but cannot read many kanji. Everything is fine as long as you enjoy what you do!

Then I would recommend to not wait too long before absorbing native content. To me, native material is by far what motivated me the most and kept me going. You don’t have to have a good level to watch and enjoy anime, even if you don’t understand what they say. I had a lot of fun making my way through the first chapters of One Piece when I was preparing for N4. Of course, I could not understand all the text, but the illustrations where enough and I was very glad and proud when I could recognise a word here and there or even understand a whole sentence. Every time you feel discouraged, take some time to look for native resources that you can enjoy, even partially. Tracking native material is extremely motivating.

Recording your progress is also a great way to stay motivated. You can start a language learning journal in any notebook or write a blog. My blog helped me to stay consistent and motivated. The Wordpress platform was also an easy way to follow other bloggers who learn Japanese and get inspired by their progress.

Can you please introduce the readers to your blog, Inside That Japanese Book? What are some good articles to get started with your blog?

My blog is about learning Japanese and reading books in Japanese. It has changed a lot since I created it, but what remains consistent are the book reviews. I also write articles about how I study Japanese and prepare for the JLPT.

If you are interested in buying an electronic dictionary, I would recommend reading my article on how I chose mine and why I love it. If you are looking for books to read in Japanese, then you could have a look at the list of novels I read in 2018

Learn Japanese with anime. Balance deliberate study and fun! Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sun, 29 Jul 2018 21:16:00 +0000 Nick has developed a five step system to learn Japanese from anime. Learn by his example how to achieve basic fluency fast! What is your current level in the language like? Have you taken any of the JLPTs?

Nick Hoyt pictureIf I had to self-assess myself, I would say that I’m at a level most people refer to as “basic fluency” in Japanese. What I mean by that is I’m able to communicate on day to day matters (eating, hanging out, small talk, etc.) without much difficulty, but if the conversation were to turn towards more specialized topics like literature or politics, I would run into a lot of unknown words.

I first started learning Japanese in my final year at university back in 2010, but only made it about six months until I got too busy with graduation and stopped learning altogether. However, I still felt a strong desire to learn the language, so I finally committed to it and began studying again at the end of 2016. So you could say I’ve been learning for two years total, but really it’s just been the last 18 months consistently.

As of right now I have not taken any of the JLPTs, but I actually been thinking recently that it would be cool to do so. I can definitely see myself taking in near the end of this year, or even sometime early 2019.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Growing up as a kid I was always fascinated by the idea of being bilingual. I thought that being able to use two different languages with equal skill was so cool! The first language I tried to learn was German, but I never made it past a few nouns. Then my third year of university I took a Spanish class, but really only learned how to pass the tests.

Then I can clearly remember one day after I had finished reading a really good manga (in English of course) and I went online to buy the next volume, but it wasn’t available yet. It was at that time that I discovered that the Japanese version of the manga was way further, something like eight volumes!

I looked inside the manga I owned and saw that there was a five year gap between the Japanese publish date and then English publish date. I thought to myself, “Five years?! I can just learn the language in that amount of time!” That was really the start of my Japanese language learning journey.

Most people who set out to learn a language will probably stop learning or practicing it at some point. What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

For me, the end goal has always been to be able to reach the point where I understand native material with the same amount of ease that I do with English. What I’ve actually done over the last six months is stop buying things in English that I use for enjoyment (books, video games, etc.) and I started buying them in Japanese.

Basically I have changed a part of my life to Japanese only, and the better I get at the language, the more I am able to understand and enjoy the material. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling when you reread a manga that you didn’t understand six months ago, and now you understand almost everything!

Another thing is that I’ve got the Japanese Tactics blog and YouTube channel where I share my knowledge and advice with others. Being in that position also motivates me to constantly improve so that I am better able to assist more people.  

How did you get the idea to start Japanese Tactics? Has working on Japanese Tactics helped you with your studies?

A lot of people say that you should start a language blog in order to publicly hold yourself accountable, so it kind of started that way. I was originally going to just share my thoughts on language learning in general and some specific tips.

But as I continued to learn more Japanese and research new study methods, the blog really turned into a passion for promoting Japanese language learning in general. Despite my original intentions for learning Japanese which centered only around myself, I’ve really fallen in love with the language and would like to not only help other current learners, but also get some new people into it as well.

As for how it has helped me, it’s really forced me to understand concepts on a deeper level before I talk about it with others. It’s also given me great motivation for researching various techniques, trying out many different Japanese courses, and connecting with other language learning enthusiasts.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

The end goal for me personally is to be able to use Japanese at the same level that I can currently use English, my native language. It is a rather high goal, and I certainly don’t feel like everyone needs to aim for the same target, but like I mentioned before it’s always been a childhood dream of mine to have that level of mastery with two separate languages.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

I feel like there are a lot of things that have helped me for different reasons, so it’s hard to not include them all, but let me just give the top five resources and how each one has helped me.

1 - Remembering the Kanji by James Heisig. I went through about three other books on learning kanji before I finally got a hold of RTK, and it was bar far the biggest help for learning all the kanji.

2 - Japanese in MangaLand by Marc Bernabe. Everyone needs a good book that will explain how Japanese grammar works, and this series in particular was extremely helpful and a lot of fun to go through.Japanese calligraphy in door

3 - Shadowing Let's Speak Japanese by Hitoshi SaitoÌ. This book and CD combination was extremely tough to use at first, but I credit it with helping me to break past the slow Japanese that most beginners are comfortable with and getting me used to normal native speed.

4 - Anki. Being able to store all of my Japanese sentences in one place, and then being able to use it both at home and on the go has been incredible useful. In addition to being an incredible great resource for reviewing Japanese, I also noticed that my ability to correctly read on-yomi went up.

5 - The Internet. I say the internet in general because it has allowed me to connect with other language learners through blogs, forms, and social media sites. This has led to great discussions on Japanese in particular, and also language learning in general. It’s a resource that we probably take for granted, and it’s hard to imagine learning Japanese without it.

What are your favorite native resources to consume? Which ones have helped you learn the most?

I hate to be the typical nerd who learns Japanese because of manga and anime, but that’s totally me! I’ve watched countless Japanese anime through Crunchyroll and Netflix (賭けぐるい is amazing!), and I even developed a 5-Step Method for myself to use in order to learn Japanese from these anime shows that I love. I was actually surprised at just how well it works.

On the other hand, I’ve been buying manga from Japan and then waiting the month (ugh!) it takes to arrive so I could start enjoying it in my free time. I find that even though the ones intended for kids are easier to comprehend, I still enjoy Shōnen manga the most. My favorite right now is ゆらぎ荘の幽奈さん.

I’ve also recently started getting into light novels, which were always a big problem for me since it took so much time to lookup all of the new words. However, I’ve found that reading them digitally and using the built in dictionaries that most apps like Kindle use has helped a lot. I just stared 盾の勇者の成り上がり the other day, and I like it so far.

How do you balance learning via immersion and using Japanese vs purposefully sitting down and studying a textbook or going through flashcards?

So what I do is I have daily goals that I hold myself accountable to for deliberate study. This means things like doing all of the Anki flashcards that are due that day, going through a chapter in a textbook to understand the grammar, and practice writing or speaking.

Then what I like to do is simply fill my free time with Japanese things, but not necessarily to learn it. So for example, I have Japanese audio books playing while I’m at work all day, so I manage to get a decent amount of listening done during the week.

キズナアイThen I’ll watch YouTube videos in Japanese during lunch breaks or when I have 10-15 minutes of down time, キズナアイ is my favorite YouTuber of course! And I read about an hour before bed every night, strictly a physical manga so that I can disconnect from electronics and then fall right asleep when I’m done.

To summarize my answer, I always have some “core” stuff that I work on each day, and then I simply fill the rest of my free time with Japanese immersion materials. Having said that, I do still watch movies in English and whatnot, but it’s always in the company of friends as my alone time is Japanese only, baby!

You mentioned on your YouTube channel that although most people do not need, to learn how to write Kanji, they should still do it. Is this still your belief? How do you maintain your handwriting skills?

I feel like this is one of the more controversial topics when it comes to learning Japanese, but it really shouldn’t be. My belief is that, as a non-Japanese person you do not need to learn how to write kanji, but there are still some useful benefits that you receive from doing it.

The primary one is memory. From the studies that I’ve read, and from my own experience, I can say that writing out kanji by hand helps you to remember them better. However, if I’ve being totally honest, it’s not really a topic that I push since there is hardly any actual application for it outside of living in Japan.

I myself only write kanji during my Anki reviews, so you could argue that not a useful ability to possess in today’s day and age, and I would probably agree with that.

You advocate the power of thinking in Japanese. How do you build this habit and keep it up?

I believe that most people’s thoughts are conditioned responses. Now, it may be that you learned a particular reaction to a situation by watching others do it, or it might be that you underwent some sort of training in order to respond effectively. In other words, most people’s reactions, and therefore their thoughts, are predetermined.

Japanese IzakayaSo how do you start thinking in Japanese? You start by conditioning yourself to react in Japanese when certain life events happen. This can be as simple as saying to yourself 喉が渇いた every time you’re thirsty and you want something to drink. If you get enough of these reaction phrases, and you practice them diligently, you will begin to think in Japanese first when they happen.

Once your “automatic thoughts” are in Japanese, it’s a relatively simple process to move on to deliberate thinking in the language for more complicated things like what you plan on doing that day, questions your pondering, and so on.

So half of the process is learning the words and phrases, and the other half is conditioning yourself to automatically think in Japanese first.

You have several articles on your blog regarding pitch accents. How do you test yourself and how do you incorporate pronunciation into your learning “routine”?

The most effective way that I’ve learned to test both your pronunciation and pitch accent is also the most painful: recording yourself! I absolutely hated doing it at first, but eventually you come to a point where you accept the way that your voice sounds to other people.

Anyway, it’s a pretty simple process that includes four steps, and I recommend doing about ten minutes a day:

1 - Listen to a native recording of a word or phrase.

2 - Record yourself saying the exact same word or phrase.

3 - Compare the two records by listening to each of them again.

4 - Make any self corrections necessary in order to get your recording to match the native’s.

The main thing you have to keep in mind is that the voice you hear yourself speaking, is not the same voice that others hear. A lot of what you personally hear comes through the bones in your skull, so of course it’s going to be different. Unfortunately, it is only what the other person hears that actually matters.

That’s why recording yourself is so invaluable: You get to hear your voice the way that other people do! If I could give you one key point to remember when correcting your pronunciation it would be that correct pronunciation will most likely feel weird to you at first.

It makes sense, right? You naturally try to pronounce words in a way that feels natural in your mouth, but if the Japanese language has new sounds in it, then those new sounds won’t “feel correct” even if they sound correct. Just be patient with yourself and get used to it feeling weird for a while until you really nail down Japanese pronunciation.

How did you tackle learning vocabulary at your earlier stages of learning? How do you tackle learning vocabulary now?

It’s a pretty interesting question, as my methods have changed over time. Originally I would just keep going over the same words and phrases until I was able to recall them in my head in what I used to call “imaginary conversations.” Basically I would just imagine two people talking to each other in Japanese, using the vocabulary I had studied.

Then I learned about spaced repetition systems and I downloaded Anki so that I could create flashcards for all of the words and phrases that I knew, and then just let the power of the system decide when I needed to review the words. This was a much better method than my original one since it freed up a lot of time for learning new stuff.

Now I have changed tactics once again. Since I am learning primarily now through reading manga and light novels, I actually don’t try to remember new words. Instead I simply look up the meanings of them, understand the sentence that they appeared in as a whole, and then move on.

What I’ve found is that some words will stick right away, and others will take several times of looking them up before they are finally locked in. I think that this new method works pretty well for me since I already have a solid base of high frequency words locked into my long term memory, but even if I didn’t, it would probably still work out well since the most common words pop up a lot, and the rare words (which you probably don’t need) only show up once or twice.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

I've been using Anki for ten months now and I really love it. I’ve got it on both my computer and my iPhone, so I can study both at home and when I’m on the go. I’ve also got a few dictionary apps on my phone that I utilize. I’ve tried a lot of the more popular apps like Memrise, Duolingo, Busuu, and such, but I don’t really use them any more.

Could you please explain your Anki workflow? About how much time do you spend on flashcards? How has your flashcard use evolved over time?

By the time I learned about Anki, I had already decided that studying the language in full sentences was the best way for me to proceed. So my basic workflow was to do a lesson in either a textbook or course, and then just take all of the example sentences that illustrated the new words and grammar points and create cards out of them.

My primary deck is about 6,000 cards of just Japanese sentences that I’ve learned or encountered in other places, and I’ve compiled them all into the deck. Originally I would have the Japanese sentence on the front with the English translation on the back (plus furigana), but now when I add new cards it’s primarily mono-lingual, things like dictionary entries and such.

As of right now I spend about 40 minutes per day going over my reviews and then adding a few new cards to the stack.

On the other hand, I’ve got a deck dedicated to just kanji, their meanings and how to write them that I also go over each day. It usually takes me about 20 minutes to go through the ones that are due, and I will add any new kanji I run into when reading books, but that happens less and less these days.

Have you been to Japan?

Japanese CalendarActually I have not yet been to Japan, but I am planning on going soon. I’ve almost got enough money saved up for it, and I’ve still got plenty of vacation time to go for a week or so, but I just haven’t taken the time to sit down and plan the trip out. While I’m there I’d like to take lots of video so I can share it on my YouTube channel, so watch out for that!

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

The only other language I speak is English. I can definitely see myself learning another language sometime after Japanese, but I don’t really know which one it would be. I would probably want to be something pretty different from both English and Japanese though… perhaps Russian.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

When I first started out, I had no idea how to learn a language. Even when I began again at the end of 2016, I still thought that using books and courses was how you go from beginner to fluent, but now I have a much better understanding on how we learn and acquire languages.

The first thing I would do is spend about a month learning and practicing just the sounds of the language, both on an individual level and also at the full sentence level. Knowing about pitch accent would also be a huge advantage so that all the rest of my time could be spent on comprehension, instead of identification of the words.

Then I would go ahead and get some good books or a course and go through them, but I wouldn’t worry too much about remembering all the grammar rules, rather I would just get familiar with them, and then add every single example sentence into an Anki deck.

Then I would spend most of my time engaging in native materials, and referring back to dictionaries and grammar explanations as needed. One of the big mistakes I feel that I made was that I stayed with beginner materials for too long, instead of just using them to get a base of understanding and then refer back to them when I struggled with native stuff.

Another big mistake was not spending enough time per day with the language. For pretty much all of 2017 my goal was to spend about thirty minutes per day, and I did learn a lot, but I felt that I wasn’t making progress quickly enough. So in December I decided to commit to two hours or more, and I’ve seen my comprehension and abilities explode this year, in comparison to last.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

There are lots of different methods that you can use to learn Japanese, so I feel that it’s important that you find one that is effective and that you can commit to working on every day. You’re really going to have to make learning and using Japanese a part of your daily life, because going from beginner to fluent (and beyond) is most likely going to be harder and take longer that what you think. At least, that’s been my experience.

Where can we reach out to you online? Are you working on any projects you would like to share with readers?

Yeah, so definitely check out my website where I post articles on learning Japanese, reviews on learning materials, tools you can use, and much more. I’ve also been working on building out my YouTube channel a lot lately, so if you enjoy video then hop over there. Finally, I’ve started creating premium courses on my Patreon and I’ve got a lot of plans for its growth, so check that out if it sounds interesting.

How to speak Japanese fluently. Making 10,000 mistakes. Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 19 Jul 2018 13:22:00 +0000 John's experience as a missionary in Japan motivated him to master Japanese. He shares how making mistakes is a key step for learning. Have you taken any of the JLPTs?

I think am N1, the last JLPT I took was a bit ago and it was the N2.John Dinkel

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

I loved Power Rangers and Pokémon as a kid and that love never really went away. Later, at 19, I served a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) mission in Japan and that just locked it in as a major love of mine.

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

At first I HATED when I would try to speak to people and I wouldn’t understand them. The only thing I could understand was when they said “わかりませんね’ which only drove me to study harder. After I was able to understand and speak reasonably as the friendships and my personal pride being a competitive person that made me determined to be a practitioner of the language.

How did you get the idea to start Manga-sensei? Has working on Manga-sensei helped you with your studies?

Manga Sensei came from the hate I felt towards the current method of teaching Japanese at University. I wanted to change things because the teaching was so archaic. I didn’t get the point of memorizing poems and rote conversation. I hated the books, despised the textbooks, and wanted to learn real Japanese that I could use. Why am I taught classical Bashō but not how to write a business email or how to apply for a job? Also, language learning does not naturally lend itself to a University environment for one simple reason. The University does not like mistakes. You cannot make mistakes in assignments, you certainly don’t want to make them on quizzes and tests. However, you NEED mistakes to learn a language. That idea made me want to teach language in a space where mistakes are okay. That philosophy combined with my love for Japanese projected me to create Manga Sensei. 

とまれ sign on the street

Currently Manga Sensei encompasses three different projects; Learn Japanese through manga, a podcast, and a 30 day challenge which encourages and promotes actual learning.

As for my personal learning, working on Manga-sensei definitely helps me improve all the time.. something about putting your real Japanese ability out there on a podcast that is listened to by almost 10,000 people every day makes you get better fast.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

I wish to confuse people on the phone or via email to make people think I’m Japanese. Almost there.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

The Japan Times Basic Japanese grammar books by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui

The Imiwa App

And the manga series Bakuman

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

I enjoy manga and podcasts. Nearly every day I listen to a business Japanese podcast called 企業インタビュー and the NHK news. I love to read Shaman King, Death Note, Bakuman (my favorite) and Yotsuba for speaking and conversation.

How did you tackle learning vocabulary at your earlier stages of learning? How do you tackle learning vocabulary now?

i used to be all about the flash cards. Now I am more posters and notes that I take and put on my phone. But to each their own. Personally I want to make an app or tool for audio flash cards someday because I would find that very useful.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

The Shirabe and Imiwa apps.

When did you first go to Japan?

2011 August as an LDS missionary and it was one of the best experiences of my life. Without getting too religious I'll explain the system that missionaries go through to work.

How do you become a missionary in Japan?

We pay our own money ($10,000 USD) to go. We fill out some paperwork, do some interviews with our clergy, and then we get a packet in the mail that tell us where we are going. We don't choose our mission. In my home church, three of us went on missions about the same time. One went to Mexico, one to Washington, and the other (me) to Japan.

Gifu, JapanI was called to the Chubu area and lived in Gifu, and Nagano. During that time missionaries are required to speak the native language, (which is why Utah has the highest bilingual rating in the US, and the US government studies the LDS missionary training center because we learn languages really fast) 

How was the missionary experience like in Japan?

My first experience in Japan was after 12 weeks of rigorous religious training, and then the next day being shipped to a country where I didn't speak the language and had to talk to them about religion. Not exactly an easy topic in my native language, much less my second. Not to mention Japanese people aren't exactly a Christian country, which makes matters harder when we are trying to teach about Jesus. 

It was a scary and humbling being a foreign missionary. Imagine walking off the plane that day and the next day at 10am you are knocking on doors trying to talk to them about spirituality. I had countless doors slammed in my face, people saying ruse things to me, and more rejections and mistakes than I could count because I was nervous and poor at Japanese. 

That was also where I figured out that mistakes and failure is often the mother of greater things. I learned to care about improvement but not be overwhelmed or upset even when I made mistakes in Japanese. I was forced to speak Japanese every day for two years, while learning how to make conversations smooth and natural even when I have to talk about difficult subjects. This was where my mantra, "After 10,000 mistakes you can become fluent" came from. 

How was it going back from Japan?

Then after two years, two years of not calling my mother, and two years of complete self-sacrifice. After two years of giving my all for something I believed in morally and spiritualty. After two years of hard work and giving up school, friends, and home. After two years of loving the Japanese people. After two long years of working 120 hour weeks and praying, literally praying, to get better at the language, I went home. It was like a kick in the teeth that also sucked all the air out of my body. 

I had really grown to love Japan during that time. I still do, it is very special to me. My Mission is part of that. The people that I taught, and people that I worked with and met, and even the people who rejected my message were all wrapped up into what Japan is for me.

Mormon temple

What other languages do you speak?

I also speak Korean.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I would have told my younger self it was okay to make mistakes. When I first started learning Japanese I was all about being perfect. I had to make perfect and do everything right. Now I know that you don’t have to bed perfect in that sense. You need mistakes to improve.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Aside from tuning into my show, make mistakes. Put yourself out there and try. Yo won’t regret it.

Where can we reach out to you online? Are you working on any projects you would like to share with readers?

I have a project but it is a secret. I’ll talk about it in a couple months. Let’s just say we are going to revolutionize the Japanese learning space. You can find all of my social media links at The Manga Sensei.

Top five JLPT N3 Books Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Tue, 17 Jul 2018 19:53:00 +0000 We want you to succeed, so we’ve put together a list of JLPT N3 of the best books to prepare to pass the JLPT N3. If you’ve passed the JLPT N4 or are feeling confident enough to go straight to the JLPT N3, congratulations! Since we want you to succeed, we’ve put together a list of the best books to prepare for the JLPT N3.

Different types of learners need different types of books so we did our best to cater to that with our book choices. With a mix of cultural, comprehensive, and N3 directed books there’s something on this list for every intermediate Japanese student.

General Intermediate Japanese Textbooks

For learners who prefer a more comprehensive approach, there are two textbooks that we recommend. Neither of these books was written purposely to help you pass the JLPT N3, but they are both informational and engaging enough to get you to your goal.

Tobira Gateway to Intermediate Japanese

This textbook is marketed to those who have two hundred to three hundred hours of Japanese learning under their belts. It uses a well-structured chapter design that keeps attention without losing any informational impact.

If you’re a visual learner, Tobira is a great choice. It has illustrations, photos, and even manga to help put the information into context. There are dialogues and reading passages in each chapter followed by vocabulary list and grammar points.

Those who love this book cite it as being fun without being too easy and enjoy the Japanese language immersion. The small amount of English in this book is only found in the vocabulary and grammar explanations, so it feels like a real Japanese course.

Those who aren’t fans find problems with the lack of help for Kanji practice and exercises in the book. There is a workbook that may be purchased alongside the text that has both the missing aspects, but it needs to be bought separately.

Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese

If you’re looking for a culturally structured Japanese textbook, consider the Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. It’s challenging without being overwhelming and the dialogues and reading passages are based on Japanese culture.

The chapters start with culture points followed by dialogue and a lengthy (but do-able) reading passage. The glossary follows with both Kanji and Furigana while the grammar section is presented at the end.

There aren’t many complaints about this book, other than that the grammar explanations are on the shorter side. However, those who found the grammar explanations lacking were able to supplement with online information and move forward in the book.

Unlike Tobira, practice exercises are included in this book at the end of each chapter. They move at an easy-to-follow pace while still being challenging enough to help you learn. With its cultural theme, this book is perfect for those who learn by real-life context that’s then broken into smaller chunks.

JLPT N3 Focused Books

We know that learning a new language is time consuming and some would like to focus directly on test preparation. The books that follow are directed towards helping you pass the JLPT N3 tests with flying colors. Learners who don’t have as much time, or those who already have finished textbooks but would like some reinforcement, might prefer this type of book!


The TRY! Book series were written to be fun and engaging for students with a large range of expertise. They are available for each level of the JLPT and get great reviews from people who use them.

The grammar lessons in this book are structured by similar situations, instead of the classic foreign language book method. Most people find this to be a refreshing take on grammar instruction, but there are some who find the change hard to adjust to.

After the grammar is presented it is shown in a few different contexts, to help students get a better idea of it’s usage.

Furigana and Kanji are present, but without making you depend overwhelmingly on a dictionary. Even with the contextual grammar sections, some students found they needed more in depth and traditional explanations.

Nihongo Sō-Matome

Efficient or time-pressed students love Nihongo Sō-Matome’s structure which is half textbook and half study guide. The book is written to be completed in six weeks, and expects students to study every day.

This book teaches you what is on the test with very little else. Students who are no-nonsense and deadline driven love this book, but it’s “get it done” structure can be lacking in the details of grammar explanations.

Shin Kanzen Master N3

This book is popular with students who learn through doing exercises, which it has many of. Often compared side to side with the book above, it wins out for students who need more explanation than Nihongo Sō-Matome provides.

There is a small content difference between these two books, but Shin Kanzen Master goes into a more detailed explanation for each point. Students who like this book appreciate it’s dedication to small but important details on grammar usage in different situations.

There aren’t many complaints about this book and those that exist stem from differences in learning styles.

Closing words

Now that you know what options are on the market, we hope you found the right option for your life and learning styles. Additional learning tools and native Japanese content are great additions to your study schedule when you need a break from traditional methods.

Good luck on the N3, we can’t wait to hear how you do!

Manga Sensei interviewed me about learning Japanese and Koipun Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Mon, 23 Apr 2018 15:24:00 +0000 Learn about English teaching in Japan as a JET and language learning through classic RPG games. John Dinkel, the host of the Manga Sensei podcast, reached out to me to interview me about Koipun and Japanese learning. I quickly took the opportunity and had a fun and interesting discussion with John!

In the episode, we spoke about bars in Japan, English teaching in Japan as a JET, and living in the city vs. the countryside in Japan. I also got to talk a little bit about my latest attempts at learning Japanese through the classic JRPGs Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger.

During the first half of the interview we spoke in English and during the second half we spoke in Japanese. You can listen to the episode right below.

Private Japanese lessons for mastery Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 12 Apr 2018 15:24:00 +0000 Eriko-sensei has been teahing Japanese professionally for over ten years. Learn from a techer's perspective how to achieve your learning goals. Could you please briefly introduce yourself?

Eriko KasaiHi! Hajime mashite!

I am Eriko Kasai, a Japanese teacher who has been teaching Japanese professionally for over ten years. I've also been living in Thailand for nine years now.

For how long have you been teaching Japanese?

I began teaching Japanese as a volunteer while I was still living in Japan.

Then I became a full-time teacher in South Korea in 2009.

For more than fifteen years I have been enjoying teaching Japanese, ever since I was in University.

Around how many students have you taught?

As a professional teacher I have taught around 400 students. In the past, I used to teach at schools and in companies. Now I mainly teach privately by myself.

How did you learn how to teach Japanese?

Himeji castle flowersI went to Himeji Dokkyo University, and majored in “Japanese language as a foreign language”.

In addition to Japanese native speakers, many foreign students also come to study in this program in order to become Japanese teachers in their home countries.

The University has student exchange programs and Japanese courses for foreigners, in case you are interested in learning Japanese in Japan. Himeji Dokkyo University is located near Himeji Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and there are plenty of cities to visit within the vincinity of the University.

To tell the truth, I didn’t plan on becoming a Japanese teacher when I entered University, but thanks to the experiences I had as a student I got to know just how fun and interesting it is to teach Japanese language and culture. I can say that going through University changed my life!

What inspired you to teach Japanese? What keeps you motivated with teaching?

I have NEVER thought that “I want to quit teaching Japanese”.

That is because through this career I always have something new to learn and it makes me really happy to help my students achieve their goals.

When my students tell me that they have achieved their Japanese language learning goals I get happy and excited, so I'm always looking forward to that.

I am the kind of person who gets bored rather easily and I  changed jobs more than ten times before I became a Japanese teacher.

If you like challenges, communication, learning, statistics, collaboration, psychology, supporting, and of course Japanese culture, you will always motivated as Japanese teacher.

Do you teach both online and offline? What are the pros and cons of each approach?

I teach mainly online but I also now teach regularly at a cafe in Bangkok.

I also organize a small language exchange event called “Eriko Cafe” that I carry out in many different countries when I travel throughout South East Asia and Japan.

My online lessons are usually private lessons. I make customized study plans for my students in order to help them achieve their goals in time.

So if you have specific set of goals and would like to achieve those within a certain time frame, I think online tutoring can be very effective.

A good thing about online lessons is that I can charge less for online lessons since we can save time and transportation costs. Through online lessons, students can reach teachers wherever they have an Internet connection.

Offline lessons are fun for me too, especially when I have offline group lessons. For offline group lessons I can use more flashcards, paper quizzes, and games in class. Also, I can immediately see my students’ notes so that I can correct on them on the spot and evaluate their peformance.

What are the advantages and disadvantages to group lessons vs individual lessons? What kind of class do you recommend for which kind of student?

Japanese neon lightsIf you would like to get to know many different ideas and opinions about Japanese language and culture, group lessons can be a lot fun since learners from different cultures and backgrounds have very different points of views about Japan.

Sometimes I, a native Japanese, cannot recognize how Japanese culture is unique or different, but seeing things through my students' eyes I have come to learn many interesting things about my own culture.

Students participating in group lessons can also obtain knowledge and information that might only be available in their classmates' native languages, which is quite interesting. I also like the dynamic energy of offline group lessons.

Has living abroad in Thailand influenced your teaching style?

My teaching style is not influenced by where I live. But my lifestyle can change a bit depending on my current time zone.

I have many students living in U.S and they usually prefer to take lessons in the evening. This means that I have morning classes everyday in Thailand time. Thankfully I like to teach in the morning and I think it’s good for my health. ;)

Has learning other languages influenced your teaching style? Which languages do you know now and which languages would you like to learn?

I had to study English and another language of my choice while studying at my University. I chose French because I liked French movies when I was in high school.

But as you probably guessed I cannot speak French.  I quit studying French after graduation.

Once you stop using a language regularly, it’s very hard to retain your previous language abilities. It’s very easy to forget most of the things you learned after a short while. (*´ω`*) So please keep using Japanese language in as many situations as possible!

BangkokSince I have been living in Thailand for almost ten years, I speak Thai with locals in my everyday life. I studied Thai in some schools and also had tutors for 3-4 years. That said, I think I need to improve my Thai so that I can show my appreciation to Thai people. They treat me very well, I didn’t expect that I would  live in Thailand for so long!

I also tried learning Spanish before going to Cuba two years ago, but I could not make it... I plan to travel to South America this year again, so I think it’s time to open again my Spanish textbook!

How does a typical lesson with one of your students look like?

Nowadays we can find many free Japanese learning materials and tools online, so most of my students like to have practical conversation experiences with me.

Primarily we use textbooks but those are used mainly as a measure of how far we have come and how much grammar we have covered.

I enjoy having real conversations with my students and learning things from my students.

How should students prepare for a Japanese lesson?

When students want to focus on conversation practice, I recommend them to study how to produce the different cogujations and forms (such as dictionary-form, te-form, etc..) before class. I also ask them to read the grammar points before our conversation lesson.

I provide videos on how to produce the different forms and sentence patterns via Youtube and my website. I hope those will help students prepare.

How many lessons per week do students usually take with you?

Most of my students take my lessons once a week, but students who are planning on taking one of the JLPT exams usually take 2-3 times lessons a week until they take the exam. Some of them even take lessons every day to prepare for the JLPT.

Should self-learners try out Japanese lessons? Can self-learning compliment lessons?

As a language learner, I prefer to take conversation lessons in addition to learning by myself. Through lessons, you get to practice and use what you have learned and you will be motivated to communicate. Communicating will help you easily memorize meaningful phrases and develop your overall language skills.

Have you noticed any patterns in the habits of students who achieve their learning goals?

Some people want to learn languages for earning more income, getting a better position at work, and so on.

If a student's goals are not aliged with their intrinsic motivation and having fun it is not easy to achieve goals quickly and get far.

When I think of quick learners and people who get very far, they are usually those students who truly enjoying communication via speaking and writing. Also, those students who enjoy writing by themselves seem to aquire skills and knowledge particularly fast.

What do you think helps students stay motivated with learning Japanese?

Japanese busEach student has different reasons for learning Japanese, so I try to provide interesting and useful content that is aligned with their personal goals. I also think it is important for students to have fun while learning Japanese.

Helping students in this way has given me the opportunity to learn about many topics I wouldn't have otherwise ever gotten to know about. If I wasn’t a Japanese teacher, I would not have ever read and watched many resources about the economy, animation, IT, finance, and history that I got to learn through my students. In a way, my students are also my teachers.

Do you recommend students to practice their Japanese handwriting? If so, why?

Of course, yes! Most of my students know that writing by hand (not typing) boosts memory and understanding.

Do you think students should study for and take the JLPT?

It depends on the students’ goals.

If you would like to get a job in Japan or if you would like to obtain a degree in Japan, your test certificate will help you.

If you would just like to communicate with your Japanese friends or travel to Japan, I would recommend you to focus more on just having fun while you practice.  

However, taking the JLPT can be a good measure of how far one has gotten on one's Japanese learning journey.

Which textbooks and materials are your favorites?

I prefer not to use textbooks for conversation lessons but when I think it would be efficient, I use the Genki textbook for beginners. This textbook has English translations and text, so most students can study the neccessary grammatical points and words by themselves before each conversation lesson.

For intermediate and advanced learners, most of my students enjoy using Tobira, which is well-organized to cover grammar, vocabulary, kanji, reading, discussion, various conversation styles (formality,gender, etc.), Japanese culture/history/geography and more. Moreover, Tobira has its own website where you can access audio and video materials for each chapter and many useful practice sheets and information. Even if you are not a Tobira user, you can find a lot of interesting content on their website.

How can students start to practice and learn from native materials e.g. manga, anime, movies, music, video games, magazines

I think that catching and understanding native sounds/pitch is very important for all learners.

If you are beginner, I recommend that you start watching Japanese movies and dramas with subtitles.

Reading essays is also a fun way to learn about Japanese culture and Japanese lifestyles.

Sometimes the lifestyles portrayed in dramas are not realistic, so watching documentaries can be helpful for getting to know different speaking styles and lifestyles if you plan to live in Japan in the future.  

You recently started a Japanese learning YouTube channel. What kind of lessons do you offer and how can students learn from YouTube content?

I started creating videos for my students so that they can prepare before lessons and review afterwards.

With these videos my students can focus on conversation practice during lessons and leave the busy work such as reviewing grammar (such like te-form, dictionary-form, etc.) for before class. That way they can maximize what they learn during lessons. I also create flash cards for my students for that reason.

I have also realized that there are many videos for beginners, but not many for advanced learners, so this year I'm trying to create more content for advanced learners.

What is your advice for students who want to master Japanese?

I think every learner has different reasons for studying Japanese. So if you have specific goals, such as getting job in Japan or performing stand-up comedy in Japanese, please imagine yourself having achieved that goal. Focus on what it will look like when you achieve your goal in order to stay motivated. I actually use this technique to help me achieve achieving my own goals.

Where can we find you online? How can we book a class with you?

I have my own website called Eriko Juku.

Juku means private school but I use this name to mean “community”, specifically a community for sharing ideas and knowledge through Japanese.

Anybody who would like to study Japanese language and culture can join my community and book lessons via my website.

You can also find me on Facebook. I have one community meant for beginners who are interested in Japanese culture and another one for advanced learners.

Learn Japanese with Chrono Trigger, the timeless classic Super Famicon JRPG. Yes, I'm back. Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Wed, 14 Mar 2018 02:28:00 +0000 Find one out one way to learn Japanese while playing what is widely considered one of the best video games of all time. On April I will announce a the release of a guide I'm creating to guide you through playing the Japanese version of Chrono Trigger in steps. Subscribe to the Koipun newsletter if you want to be notified once a demo is released. The link is at the bottom. And yes, I'm back from my hiatus! 

October Month in Review - Hiatus Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sat, 11 Nov 2017 00:00:00 +0000 On the future of Koipun and why I will shift my focus to other projects. Update: I'm already back from hiatus. It didn't last very long. Couldn't resist myself from continuing this project I love.

This month instead of my usual monthly review, I have some important news to share.

I have been working for a long time on Koipun. The first version of Koipun, the online Japanese classroom, was released almost three years ago. The last year I have been focusing on my latest Koipun effort, Koipun Reader.

Unfortunately, I have decided to stop working on Koipun as my main area of focus for the foreseeable future. I will keep all the infrastructure, including the blog and Koipun Reader, running since it mostly pays for itself with a couple of sales every month of my Anki decks. Also, this does not mean any of the Koipun projects are dead. I simply will turn my focus on other endeavors, but I will still maintain the project and make occasional updates. 

My passion for Japanese language learning has not faded at all, but Koipun Reader has not garnered the kind of attention and interest I was hoping for. My hope for Koipun Reader was that it would make enough income for it to become self-sustainable, but I think that achieving that would take a couple of years more worth of work. This is time that I unfortunately do not have, so I have to search for another project that is able to produce enough income to sustain myself.

Thanks to everybody who has supported me and Koipun over the years. Please stay tuned, as it is quite likely that Koipun will make another comeback in the future!

September Month in Review - Explainer video pre-production edition Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sun, 8 Oct 2017 14:59:00 +0000 3,269 page views and $54.00 dollars in revenue I am making a new explainer video for Koipun. Spoiler alert: it will feature manga! As for lessons learned, this month I learned that Medium is not good for articles related to language learning. Also, I discuss some new Koipun Reader updates in addition to the release of a new interview.

Revenues and Expenses

Revenue from Anki deck sales amounted to a total of $54 USD. Expenses went as following:

That puts me $29.11 in the red for this month.

Koipun Traffic

This month I got a small bump in traffic from releasing a new interview with Elena. Other than that, traffic has remained about the same.

I am quite concerned that organic traffic is growing so slowly. My hope is that when I Koipun Reader becomes truly useful more people will start spreading the word and creating more backlinks for me. Hopefully if the backlinks grow, organic traffic will grow along with it.

Koipun Google Analytics Dashboard

New Interview

This month I posted a new interview with Elena Gabrielli who runs the Hitori Tabi blog. Elena spent some years in Kyoto studying Japanese at a language school and managed to pass the JLPT N1 within three years.

This interview stands out from the rest since it is the first time I interview with somebody who has stopped studying Japanese for a while and lost some amount of language ability. This makes the interview a bit of a Japanese language learning post-mortem.

Interviewing Elena was a breeze! She responded to my questions in a very concise and thoughtful manner in under a week. Since the interview did not require any editing or organizing, publishing the interview didn't require much work beyond adding images and porting the text to the blog.

Medium Experiment

In an attempt to try to increase the reach of Koipun interviews, monthly reports and my other content I decided to experiment with syndicating content on Medium. I started by creating a Medium publication then I imported the newest interview into the publication using the Medium importer. 

In order to promote the new story on Medium I did some research on tags related to language learning and applied some related tags such as "language learning" and "Japanese language". Then I posted about my new Medium publication on my twitter account.

The results where quite underwhelming. The story only received around two "reads" in four days and at least one of those was from a friend. Richard, if you are reading, thank you for your support!

Looking at the "language learning" tag and the other related tags I saw that there are not that many people publishing about language learning on Medium. Also, I did not see any publications about language learning except for the LingQ's Medium publication.

Publishing on big Medium publications is touted as one of the best ways to get stories read on Medium, but unfortunately I did not find any suitable publications for Koipun content. Without any other strategies left to try I decided to pull out of Medium for the time being. I do not think Medium is worth it yet for publishing content on language learning, but I might try some other experiments in the future.

Koipun Explainer Video

Based on feedback from users I have decided to set out and make an explainer video for Koipun. I don't have a big budget, so I have decided with a rather non-conventional approach. After evaluating many concepts, including recording myself, I have decided to go with manga turned into video concept. With this concept, I think I can do an innovative and effective explainer video with a budget of $300-$400 USD.

I will hire a manga-ka to draw a black and white manga for my video script and then I will get a video editor on Fivver to turn the manga into a video by panning through the manga akin to what many youtubers do with popular manga. In addition, I might add voice acting or a voice over to some sections of the video.

I have already written a draft for the script and have contacted some manga writers on Fiverr. After asking a few manga writers on Fiverr to draw some sketches I have decided to instead search for a Japanese artist on another service.

I need somebody who can understand and write Japanese since the manga will feature Japanese. Also, I would like somebody who can deliver something as close as possible to authentic manga.

My plan is that by the end of October the manga will already be in production.

Koipun Reader Updates

Koipun Reader got a small update! Users can now rename and delete old books.

Koipun Reader Update Screenshot

Goals for October

Last month I released the monthly update very late so I only set one simple goal, to release the monthly update for September early. I didn't get to release this monthly review as early as I wanted, but it comes early enough to be able to set a meaningful set of goals:

  • Start working with a manga-ka to develop the Koipun Reader Explainer video
  • Improve the way definitions are displayed on Koipun Reader and exported Anki decks
  • Add a basic on-boarding tutorial for Koipun Reader
  • Publish an blog article about JLPT N3 resources that I started working on some months ago but never published
Learning Japanese in Kyoto, language learning as a "love story" Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sat, 30 Sep 2017 02:44:00 +0000 Elena went from zero to passing the JLPT N1 in three years. Learn about how she did it while living in Kyoto and later London. What is your current level in the language like? For how long have you been studying? How long did it take you from zero to passing the JLPT N1?

I would say my current level is intermediate. I can hold conversations, communicate with my Japanese friends through mail and messages and watch anime and dorama without subtitles. Unfortunately, after taking JLPT N1 at the end of 2015 I lost motivation and I haven’t been studying Japanese consistently since, so my level dropped.

I took some Japanese classes in university where I learned hiragana, katakana and the very basics. Then at the end of 2012 I went to study Japanese in a language school in Kyoto. Since then it took me 3 years (with some on and off times) of intensive studies to pass JLPT N1.

You spoke on an article that the movie Kill Bill along with other media got you into Japanese. How was this process like? How did you go from inspiration to actually studying Japanese?

The short lines in broken Japanese that The Bride delivers in Kill Bill Vol.1 were my very first conscious contact with the language. I was about 17: then and there it sounded to me like the coolest language ever. The fascination stayed with me since and later I decided to enroll in a BA in Asian Studies. I would soon find out that the Japanese course there was very basic, but that’s another story.

Most people who set out to learn a language will probably stop learning or practicing it at some point. What kept you going? What kept you motivated?

What really kept me going is the fact that most of my Japanese studies happened in Japan. I had invested so much money, time, emotional energy into it that quitting was not an option. Besides, I was totally in love with the language and the culture. I wanted to pass JLPT N1 at all costs and I wouldn’t have stopped until then.

You “broke up” with Japanese. Are you hoping to become friends with Japanese again? How would have done things differently to avoid a breakup?

Tower Bridge in LondonAfter JLPT N1 I lost my way with Japanese. I had studied super hard while adapting to life in a new city (London) and working full time, so I think I had some sort of language burnout. I didn’t plan the next step and I lost motivation.

I could have made some plans for the post-JLPT, taking a short break and then creating a new study routine, but my personal life at the time was challenging enough. I definitely hope to renew my love for Japanese, little by little. To be honest I’m doing very little to maintain it at the moment, which is a shame.

How did your study habits change along your Japanese learning journey?

I am a creature of habit, so I actually stuck with my study routine for a very long time, with Anki being my favourite tool. I used it every day to study kanji, writing them down on a note at the same time.

While studying for JLPT I added the Kanzen Master series books to my routine.

How has blogging about your language learning goals helped you?

I’m actually not so sure it did! Sharing my goals is supposed to make me accountable, but I often felt stressed and anxious when I wasn’t “performing” enough. That’s why for now I decided to stop setting goals and focus more on creating habits.

Can you tell readers about your study planner and its combination with the Pomodoro technique? How did you develop it? How did you design it?

The study planner is meant for people who are studying full-time (for example in preparation for a big exam) or for freelancers, who need to manage their own time efficiently. It divides the day in slots of 30 minutes: 25 minutes of intense work/study and 5 minutes break, with longer breaks for meals. This is based on the Pomodoro technique, which should improve focus and productivity.

I developed it to help my boyfriend prepare for a university exam (the teacher in me invades my personal life as well!) and later I implemented it in my working days. I designed it with Canva, a free online design tool that I often use to prepare lessons materials.

What software or electronic tools have you used for language learning?

I used Anki regularly to study kanji. I created my own decks, adding new characters I learned in school and doing repetitions every day. I spent quite some time with it, reviewing up to 100 characters per day. As I used to write the kanji during the review it took me time, but it really helped me memorise them.

Another tool I love is my denshi jisho (electronic dictionary), I would never change it for any app.

How did you prepare for the JLPT N1? How did it feel like to pass it?

I studied for JLPT N1 after leaving Japan and moving to London. It took about 6 months of dedicated study as I was also working 9 to 5.

I kept studying kanji with Anki, as usual, and bought the Kanzen Master books for reading and grammar. I also got two mock tests to complete while tracking time. I focused mostly on reading, as I knew it would be the hardest part for me, especially for the lack of time. I practiced in my lunch break at the office, on my commute, after work and on weekends.

When taking breaks from proper study I would watch movies or shows in Japanese, listen to Japanese music, read Japanese books. I also went to a few MeetUps where I practised conversation and found some like-minded friends who had lived in Japan. It was a period of intense immersion into Japanese language and culture, in every aspect of my life.

Passing it was a bit of a shock really, because I was absolutely sure I failed. I had to read the page again and again before convincing myself I did it.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

I would be happy if I could read novels and watch any kind of movies and understand 90% of them (because if it was 100% I wouldn’t be learning anything new and that is not fun).

Which resources have you helped you the most?

I am a bit of a textbook geek, so I like to have one as reference material. Through my course at the Japanese language school I used Minna no Nihongo and the series Manabou Nihongo which I recommend.

At the very beginning of my studies I used JapanesePod101 and it worked very well for me.

And of course my best friend, Anki.

What are your favorite native resources to consume? Which have helped you learn the most?

One of the reasons why I got so passionate about Japan is that I adore its cinema. My favourite native resource is definitely movies: directors like Sono Sion and Kitano Takeshi had a huge impact on my life.

Usually while watching a movie I want give my full attention to the story and direction. Sometimes I take notes about words or expressions I want to look up later, trying to focus on one or two specific grammar points or vocabulary areas. For example while watching After Life by Kore’eda Hirokazu I concentrated on words and expressions regarding memory and the past.

You have written about learning languages through music. How do you go about studying and analyzing lyrics in a new language?

Music is a great way to learn vocabulary, expressions and grammar almost effortlessly. It works best for learners who have already some knowledge of the language, ideally from upper beginners onwards.

First of all I pick a song I really like: I want to be able to listen to it many times without getting tired of it. Then I listen to it a few times, trying to understand the meaning. Only after I analyse the lyrics, checking the words I didn’t understand and looking up new vocabulary. You can be sure that, learning a word this way, it will stick with you!

Japnaese karaokeI also think that karaoke is a great learning tool, especially for languages like Japanese with a different script, because it helps you read faster while you’re having fun.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

Kanji are indeed intimidating at first, but they were always one of my favourite things about studying Japanese. They are great to remember vocabulary, guess meaning of new words, and in general I find them just awesome. As I mentioned earlier, I memorised them thanks to Anki.

I created flashcards with the kanji on one side and hiragana/translation on the other. When reviewing the cards I would try and write the kanji by hand, because I wanted to be able to write the characters as well as reading them. It takes a lot of time to study this way, but for me it paid off. After some time I felt like I knew the kanji with my muscles, they came automatically out of my hands without me having to think about the traits.

Can you tell us some of you favorite experiences in Japan? Do you have plans to go there again in the future?

Kyoto JinjaMy favourite experiences were the ones from day to day life: a bike ride along Kamogawa (the river that crosses Kyoto), finding by chance a small temple in my neighbourhood, spending an afternoon walking in the woods to look at the leaves turning red.

For sure I will want to go to Japan again at some point, possibly for a long holiday travelling around the country, but I don’t plan on living there anymore. I am sure I will still bring some Japan with me wherever I go…

How was your experience learning Japanese at a language school? How did a normal day look like?

I spent in school 4 hours a day from Monday to Friday. Every day started with a short shadowing session, a small kanji test, then we would learn about 5 new characters.

Afterwards we worked on the textbook, studying grammar and vocabulary. Once a week we had reading and listening exercises. We also had some optional classes we could chose from: business Japanese, Japanese literature, Kansai dialect, JLPT preparation.

Some of the teachers were more prepared than others, but all in all I’m satisfied with the experience, also from a personal point of view. I am still in contact with some of the teachers and we’re still good friends with many of my fellow students.

Some people slip into the habit of socialising more than studying, but with some self-discipline one can get fast results thanks to this kind of intensive study experience. If anyone is interested in studying in Japan, I also wrote about the questions I receive more often on the topic.

How is live like in Kyoto? How did you decide on Kyoto? How does it compare to other Japanese cities?

I decided to go to Kyoto because I have always been fascinated by traditional Japan, I wanted to be in a city packed with temples and shrines. I was never interested in living in Tokyo, too crowded and big for me.

Kyoto was perfect because there were many festivals and events going on, but I could still find some place to be by myself. A short ride away I could go and hike in the beautiful hills around the city, and I could travel to school and to the centre by bike.

I’ve been told that recently Kyoto has been invaded by tourists, but when I was living there I adored every corner of it.

What about the not so positive things about life in Japan?

There would be a lot to say here so I’ll try to keep it brief, I hope I won’t sound too superficial. Japan is still very scared of “people from outside” (gaijin) and quite far from gender equality, so as a foreigner and a woman I don’t see myself having an easy time there.

Japan is also a country where people are often lonely, trapped in the eternal contrast between honne (real feelings and desires) and tatemae (the façade one shows to others). Individuals are considered less important than society as a whole and this causes a lot of psychological distress that is not properly addressed.

How has your Swedish language learning journey impacted your ideas on language learning? Have you gained any insights that could be applied to Japanese language learning?

Stockholm, SwdenSwedish is the first language that I start studying completely by myself. Through this experience I learned that “the more the merrier” doesn’t apply to language learning resources. It’s important to narrow down, without being afraid of dismissing any tool that feels redundant instead of piling up tons of websites, apps, dictionaries.

There is so much choice out there, especially for a popular language like Japanese, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. It’s better take some time and set one’s priorities and needs, and then select very few resources that can best help with those.

How has becoming a language teacher changed your ideas about language learning?

Now I am even more aware that there is no method or teaching strategy that works for everyone. Trying something, accepting that it’s not working and moving to the next thing is a necessary phase successful language learners go through.

I also learned to evaluate resources faster and to know exactly what I’m looking for when I’m looking for a teacher myself.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Shirogane, Biei, JapanProbably I would dare to speak more and earlier, without so much fear of making mistakes. I would try to push myself out of my comfort zone, spend less time on grammar books and more time picking up slang from the locals.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

First and most important, don’t study Japanese using rōmaji (Latin alphabet): learn hiragana, katakana and kanji from the start.

Second, find out what your strenghts and weaknesses are and pick your resources accordingly. Don’t hesitate to change them if your goals change and don’t rely too much on apps alone: you won’t get too far with them.

Finally, build solid habits but remember to be kind to yourself and accept your limits, or you’ll end up burning out and losing motivation. Keep it fun!

Are there any particular Hitoritabi articles you would recommend to people who want to check out your work?

This article on slow language learning is a good starting point to summarise my approach. I don’t believe in ultra-fast results and I’m not even looking for that, I prefer to enjoy the process and to have fun in my study time.

August Month in Review - Koipun Reader Feedback Edition Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Fri, 22 Sep 2017 01:20:00 +0000 2,575 page views and $75.00 dollars in revenue This month I focused on soliciting feedback from users about Koipun Reader and on implementing user feature requests. Read about how I gathered feedback and the types of feedback I obtained.

This monthly review comes in extremely late, almost at the end of September. For the sake of consistency I will cover the events from August 8th to the end of August. Revenue and traffic numbers will be strictly for the month of August.

Revenues and Expenses

Revenue from Anki deck sales amounted to a total of $72 USD. Expenses went as following:

That puts me $92.18 in the red for this month.

Website Traffic

After over nine months of blogging efforts I am finally starting to notice some growth in organic traffic! Organic traffic is still quite minuscule, but it is good to finally see some results. Traffic Channel Ranking for Koipun

Google Analytics Dashboard for Koipun

Koipun Reader Feedback

After the release of Koipun Reader in July I started working away on getting feedback from users. Initially I requested feedback by sending a message to users who subscribed to the trial asking if they wanted to get a one on one Koipun Reader tutorial via Skype. I also promised users to help them with any Japanese Learning help that I could. This only prompted one reply from a user. Also, I tried creating a survey via Google forms, but that didn't prompt many responses either.

The user who agreed to do the Koipun Reader tour via Skype, has so far the most active in providing feedback and thanks to her I got a massive amount of motivation. Other than her, the reception has been quite mild except for a few exceptions. For example, I got one email from a user who sent me an email with extremely detailed feedback and suggestions. If you are reading this, thank you so much! Finally,  I got tons of great feedback from Jenniffer O' Donnell, the person behind Japanese Talk Online and who participated from my interview series. She even agreed to write a Koipun Reader review! Below is a high level summary of the feedback I obtained.

  • The importer should process the text better
  • The exported Anki decks should be more usable
  • Add a Tutorial
  • Create an explainer video
  • Offer OCR imports

To be honest, most of the feedback I received were things I already knew I had to do. But I did get some great new ideas from hearing the requests from potential users and furthermore I got a better idea of which features and improvemnts I should prioritize.

Koipun Reader Updates

Based on feedback from the initial batch of users I pushed some minor updates for Koipun Reader during August.

First, I implemented a much requested feature, the ability to resize text.

Koipun Reader Text Resizing Feature Demonstration

I defaulted Koipun Reader to have fairly big default text size in order to make it easier to distinguish and appreciate kanji. Big text however can be hard for readability of longer texts, so this feature was a must.

Koipun Readers' Changelog powered by Headway

Secondly, using Headway I added a sleek looking changelog feature to Koipun Reader in order to notify users of new features.

Twitter Experiment

Koipun's Twitter has been great for me so far mostly as a way to meet people in the Japanese learning community, but so far it hasn't helped me that much with bringing traffic to the site or creating an audience for Koipun. I want to change that so I decided to tweet more consistently on Twitter and see if that helped me get more followers.

Since posting on Twitter manually is a ton of work, I used a tweet scheduling tool called Twuffer to schedule one or two tweets a day for about twenty days in addition of my manual tweets. For the content, I scheduled a hand curated selection of links to what I thought were interesting discussions from the Japanese Language StackExchange. Unfortunately, those mostly didn't gather much interest.

Perhaps the content wasn't that interesting to that many learners or didn't phrase my tweets correctly, but the experiment was a failure. So far, the only thing that has worked for me to gathering new followers is tweeting links to interviews I have conducted with language learners and mentioning them in the tweets. They then go on to retweet my tweet, which often brings in a few new followers.

I'm not convinced of the usefulness of social media for promoting Koipun, so for now I will just use it to connect with the Japanese learning community.

Preparing the interview with Gabriel Wyner, author of Fluent Forever, for release

As I mentioned on last month's month review, I did an interview with Gabriel Wyner of Fluent Forever via Skype. This is the first time I did an interview via Skype instead of email, so I've had to deal with some new issues.

The interview ran for over an hour, so the interview transcript was too lengthily to publish in its raw form. I also needed some editing to make it useful and entertaining to read.

I didn't want to edit the interview myself, since I knew it would be a lot of work and editing is not something I enjoy, so I decided to get some help. Elysse Andrews who has helped me in the past agreed to prepare the interview for me via fiverr for a very reasonable rate.

Next month I will talk about how the interview turned out in its final form.

Goals for September

There is only one week left in September and I am currently in Puerto Rico experiencing the aftermath of Hurricane Maria so my ability to work productively has been largely hindered.  Thus, I will only set one goal for what is left of September, write the September Month in Review early!

Learning how to remember Japanese words Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Mon, 11 Sep 2017 21:55:00 +0000 Gabriel Wyner went from Opera singer to language learning author. He shares his Anki flashcards focused method to learn Japanese. From Opera Singer to Language Learning Writer

Gabiel Wyner photographGabriel Wyner has spent the latter part of his life deciphering language learning.  Now he is tackling his dream language, Japanese.

By trade, Mr. Wyner is an opera singer and needed to know a few romance languages to perform. This is where his language learning journey began. Most opera singers would just learn the basics and pronunciation, only what they needed to sing the music. Mr. Wyner found himself wanting to push further.

To kick off his language learning for his singing career, he attended an immersive program for 14 weeks at Middlebury Language School. Within that time, he fell in love with the process of language learning and became fluent in the equivalent of one school semester. Unwilling to lose his momentum or take a break from his new found passion, Wyner moved to study Italian in Perugia, Italy. 

After becoming fluent in several languages, Mr. Wyner started writing a book titled Fluent Forever, which was published on shelves by 2014.

Fluent Forever book cover

Mr. Wyner’s success and journey into authorhood didn’t go unnoticed. His book and he himself have been featured in:

  • Scientific American
  • The Wall Street Journal
  • The Four Hour Work Week
  • Elsevier
  • Fluent in 3 Months
  • Business Insider
  • And countless other blogs and podcasts

Below is an edited and expanded on account of how to Mr. Wyner is tackling Japanese language learning.

If you’d like the exact transcription, contact me directly and we’ll discuss getting that to you. For any exact interview recaps that do follow, I’ll refer to myself as S1 (speaker one) and Mr. Wyner as (GW).

Middlebury Immersion Programs

We started the interview by discussing what got Mr. Wyner interested in learning languages. He told me that the first time he attempted language learning was Hebrew in his childhood. The process of learning Hebrew at Hebrew school didn’t go well for him, and he forgot most to all of it by high school.

It wasn’t until his opera career became a viable option that he put real effort into becoming fluent. He found out quickly that there was more work to be done than he’d ever imagined. After doing research on the best ways to quickly become fluent in a language, Mr. Wyner decided on the Middlebury immersion schools located in Vermont, USA. He started with German and fell in love with the program’s processes from there.

Mr. Wyner accredits his German language success to the Middlebury Vermont schools of language and expanded on the schools in his interview.

A Recount of an Intensive Language Immersion Experience

GW: You sign a contract that says that if you speak one word that isn't German you get kicked out. Everyone there had to sign the same contract, they had the same priorities. Those are the rules and you just follow the rules and if you don't want to then you shouldn't be there. And so, you wake up probably around 8:00 in the morning, you go to breakfast around 8:30.  Breakfast is only with German speakers.

Although, I think actually for breakfast time they combine two languages, so you might have German speakers in one area of the cafeteria and then French in another area, but you're segregated. Then you go to classes, or up to lunchtime and those are exclusively in German. There's no English used during those classes. I was in the beginning level, and so we had really good teachers for that

And so you had teachers who through gesture and through just being like, "Hello, It's me." [chuckle] Like ”Hi Stew", and then like someone will say, "{hi} Mr. Wyner", and like you start having these conversations.

And you go from nothing [in terms of language knowledge] and speak. So we had classes where we'd be in class for a couple of hours then, and then we would have lunch exclusively with the German school, then another couple of hours of classes and then all extracurricular activities.

Like the German frisbee team and the German hacky sack team and the German literature club. You were encouraged to do as many of those as you possibly could, and then you had four hours of homework every night.

It's so intense, it was so great. I love those programs. I miss them... I have dreams about them like every couple of weeks.

And in terms of how rapidly I progressed during the program, I would say it's not that different from all the other students. I think there's not much more you can do in terms of your language getting better from day to day to day than being in the language all day. You can't get more content than that. Like all the time is all the time you have.

Incorporating Anki Flashcards into Language Studies

Our next topic of discussion was Anki, a spaced repetition based flashcards application. Both Mr. Wyner and I are big fans of using Anki to learn how to remember Japanese words and wouldn't start a new venture without them.

What follows is our discussion of Anki and we’ll explore what it’s theory after that.

S1: When did you bump into Anki, and how did you bump into it? When did you first start using it? How did your Anki use develop through time through your experimentation with it?  

Italian ingredientsGW: Sure. I did the German program twice, then I did six weeks in Italy and then... And all that, it was good [practice] doing classes. In 2010, I wanted to do a French immersion. I cheated on the placement test. Basically, I cheated too well on the placement test for this immersion program. Got stuck at the intermediate level, when I shouldn't have been at the intermediate level. And so I panicked, and I started looking online for tools, and I found Anki at that point.

Wyner's Initial Anki Workflow

GW: At that point, I started using [Anki]  I was mostly using picture flashcards. So I'd have a picture of a dog and I could see it from the inside.

I would have answers, pictures, and solutions. So I would have French sentences with the blanked out word and fill it in. I might have the infinitive of a verb for instance and it would be, “put in the right conjugation of the verb” or it would be, “put in the right function.” And that’s what I did for French at that time.

Using Anki for Russian Studies

Ogoy island in RussiaGW: Then I did Russian in 2012. At that point, I realized that just [Anki alone] wasn't enough for Russian. It was too hard.

So I added in comprehension parts, meaning that If I had one part that I needed to fill in the blank with a preposition, I would have another part that just had the preposition with nothing  else on it, and my job would be to generate any sentence or have some idea what is the preposition. Same thing for all of my words, there would always be a comprehension part where I would have just the word and have to think, "What does this mean?" I would see a word for dog and I'd be like, "Oh, that's that picture of a dog." And so that fixed Russian.

So that's when the cards got a little more refined. I would say with Japanese these changed dramatically to learn Kanji.

What is Anki ?

We discuss Anki a lot in this interview since both Mr. Wyner and I use it heavily to learn vocabulary. Anki is a version of the highly efficient spaced repetition learning theory. Instead of running through vocabulary flash cards at random, these systems show cards based on your understanding.

So if you are studying 10 words, it’ll show the words in order and have you mark good, bad, or middle for your understanding level. If you mark the word as bad the program brings up that word again. Words you’re comfortable with get shown less often and that's how you make progress.

Learners have used spaced repetition algorithms to learn everything from languages to med school terms. Over the years other apps have adopted these types of algorithms, but Anki remains a fan favorite, plus it’s Free and Open-Source software.

Advanced Anki Usage for Japanese Learning

S1: I'm a heavy Anki user myself. Something I have found is that Anki is very strong for the beginning stages of language learning. I think that at the beginning stages, you're kind of bootstrapping your knowledge of the language. You need to know the basic grammar, basic words.  If you don't have this knowledge, you're not gonna go anywhere. But then once you start reaching the intermediate level, you can start doing more. You can start talking a little bit, you can start enjoying some native materials in a limited capacity, once you learn how to remember Japanese words. Have you had this experience of using Anki more at the intermediate or advanced level? And how does your usage compare for these stages of language learning?  

GW: Good question. At the intermediate level, things get more frustrating. I think that's what's common for a lot of people, where they feel all this progress at the beginning. Like, "Oh my god, I'm learning this language, I'm learning how to remember Japanese words," then I get to this point where I can almost, I can speak. I can have a conversation. And then things suddenly get real slow.

In terms of my Anki usage, one of the things that I  found that's been very, very powerful for Spanish, and I'm going to add it into Japanese as soon as I  go back to Japanese at the end of this year, are these definition flashcards. It's looking at a definition in Spanish or in Japanese that you need to identify what word by talking about it. And I'm using those in conjunction with having already learned that word.

So I'll have one flash card where I need to fill in the correct word, I'll  have another flash card where I just see the word, comprehension card where I have a sense of what this word means. In Japanese, I'll have like four more flashcards testing different aspects of Kanji.

But then there is this additional flash card with like a sentence asking, "What other words do you know? This is the definition of this word in Japanese or in Spanish. Tell me what this  means, and... Or what the word is." And those cards have been very, very powerful for sort of networking all the words I know.

So, I've found that those have been really, really nice for intermediate levels and it's... I  don't know, it feels like almost a relief to start seeing them and start being able to use them, because instead just having sort of separate memories, it's like, "Yes, I know something about dogs, and I  know something about animals" the definition cards seem to bring all of them together.

Automating Anki Flashcards Creation

S1: Are you making all of these cards manually by yourself?

GW: I have flash card models that will spit out all these target words. The ones I'm using for Spanish will generally spit out using something that's like a verb and also its conjugation. I think they'll spit out five flash cards at a time. And the Japanese ones, those are spitting out like five to 10 flashcards at a time.

Mr. Wyner’s Journey to Japanese Learning

S1: Tell us, what really got you into Japanese?

GW: I've always been into Japanese. I think it might have been the Russian school.

I'm fascinated by the culture, I'm fascinated by the language, it sounds cool, and I love Japanese food a lot. [laughter] So that's been always there. The Russian school had breakfast with the Chinese students.

Writing Japanese KanjiEvery morning we would walk by the Chinese students and we would see them writing out all the characters. And I remember watching this every day and being like, "God, I wish I could spend some time learning a language that uses that character set."

You know, I've always wanted to learn Japanese, and in this way, I get to learn both if I know Japanese, so I'll do that.

Working with Kanji and Radicals using Anki

S1: Kanji are very, very interesting. They add another additional level (of difficulty) to the language, but it's very interesting. How are you tackling Kanji for Japanese?

GW: So, I started the language before I even got the pronunciation in Japanese. It doesn't really matter, you can do one or the other first. I'm learning around 50 to 100 radicals. A lot of people learn radicals and they tie them to like... keywords.

A lot of people tie them to keywords, I don't specifically, I'm really careful to make sure they're not attached to keywords, but they are attached to something. So if I see something that has a keyword of 'strength then I'll pick an object that has something to do with strength but not exactly. l think like, "biceps".

So that strength Kanji is related to bicep… The goal of that is that I'm generally trying to avoid thinking in English as much as I can and I don't wanna have English stimuli or native language stimulus in my flashcards, I don't wanna see that every day.

I will use triangulations all day long, it's fine, as long as it's not on my flashcards. So I have no problem with looking at triangulated sentences or anything like that, but on my flash cards, I wanna have images and Japanese only.

In terms of other radicals, I’ll learn them separately. Then every time I hit a new word, I'll start learning vocabulary, go straight into Kanji I have a list of 625 words that I learned at first. Lately, I'm doing a lot of tutoring work.

Learning words and Kanji with Personal Meaning

JAL airplane And so I have my tutor help create personal sentences and keywords. Then I have a sentence that is relatively easy to remember because it's a personal story. For example, "Yesterday I went on a plane," that's how I  learned the word 'plane' and the word 'yesterday' and 'I'. [chuckle] "While I was on the plane, I looked out the window", and now I know 'window' and now I learned 'to look'. And, "I looked out and I saw clouds", and now I know 'clouds' 'in the sky', and all these sorts of things. And so these are my triggers for learning new words is I have these contexts that are personal.

So that part's nice, except I still have to deal with the fact that it is Kanji and Kanji is awful. [laughter] That's determining the order with which I learn Kanji. I have this word list, I'm developing the sentences. The sentences are telling me what order I'm learning the words in. And so that means I'm hitting Kanji at random. I'm not looking at the most simple stuff first.

Incorporating images into Anki Flashcards and using images to learn radicals

S1: And do you literally use images in your flashcards? Do you have one image of a bicep on your strength card?

GW: I literally use images for the radical flashcards. If I'm trying to memorize a radical that I've attached to bicep then yes, I will have (a picture). At some point, it'll show me a bicep and it'll say,  "What's radical?" and some point it'll show me a radical and say, "What's the image?' And so that's how learning how to remember Japanese words with Kanji. But once I get to the Kanji I'm just writing them down, writing down the radicals.

And so, I'll have this image of you know, this guy with a giant basketball with like, instead of the bicep. That will be one of the flashcards, will ask, "What is the whole Kanji concept for that first character?" So I know where to start.

The guy with the big bicep, and usually that makes it pretty easy to complete it if I just put a few more images. I'll have another image, this is a two­ character word asking the same two questions about  that second character, "What are the first two and what's the rest?" And then I will have another thing asking, "What is the full Kanji for this entire word?"

On Flashcards becoming a chore

I mean it's been sort of trial and error all the way through in terms of like the right balance? For me, If I'm not generating enough flash cards then I feel bad when I'm reviewing. I get stuck. Like, I'll hit a hard word and I'll be like, "Oh, that's hard" and I just think about it for a minute and it'll knock me off my track. Usually, I like having the process of reviewing and being like, "Review. Yes. Review. Yes. Review. Yes." I  like that rhythm.

And if something stops me in my rhythm it starts becoming frustrating. I stop wanting to review everything. It starts becoming work. And so I basically kept adding flash cards in  Japanese until I hit a level where I get to keep up with my rhythm. And in this particular case, it seems like I needed to have all of those. Basically first two kanji and then the whole combination together. That ended up being about right for me to remember all these things without stopping.

Experimenting with Japanese Learning Methods

S1: You went through all this process of carrying out basically experiments on yourself to see what works and then just developing your own system.  How would you advise people to go about this process by themselves? How can you find what works for you? How to remember Japanese words? Not necessarily only in terms of Kanji, but in vocabulary and so on?

GW: That's a good question. I think one of the key things and one of the reasons is that my book starts with theory and I did that on purpose. We thought a lot about how much explaining vs instruction to do.

It's really easy to make a how­-to book. You just say, "Do this", and you don't explain why. Just, "This is the way to do it. It's a good way. Here are a million people who've done it. It's  great. Do it." And you don't get to what's happening in the brain. "Why does this work?" And my book doesn't go into, "Do this" really until later. Like it pretty much starts with, "Let's  talk about our brain." [chuckle] "How do we remember anything?"

And I think that that's important for this experimentation thing. But language learning is so personal. You just have to get in your own head and be like, "This isn't working for me, so I need to try something else." So, I think that the better you understand how the memory works the better you can experiment. There's also the experience aspect of it. I know what it feels like to learn a lot of things fast. And I can try a second language, and now I'm not learning things fast so something's wrong. I need to fix it.

And I think those two aspects together, you have some good experiences, successful experiences in something. Which is why I think it is useful to have a kind of suggestion and be like, "Here's a thing that works. Try this first." But then also having a theory aspect and being like, "You  tried this, this is why that works pretty well." You also know, "I know I tried it, now try other things and see if you can make it better, make you feel better,".

Learning Japanese with an iTalki Tutor

S1: Going back a little bit, you mentioned you were working with a tutor. In which part of your Japanese learning journey did you that? And you mentioned that you were working with your tutor to create your flashcards, and also I know that you're developing a tool to work with your tutor and create your own study content. Can you explain more about this process and how they work together?

GW: In the past, I've always started working with a tutor once I could hold a conversation in the language. And I've used tutors for feedback. I'm at a level where I'm having a hard time speaking, but I  can force myself to say enough. And it’s like "Okay, well, this is rough, but let's go. Like, we're just gonna try 100%.

With Japanese, I had signed up to go back into the immersion program that I'd done for French and German. And I knew that given the rate at which I  was learning Kanji if I did my normal thing, I could show up to the immersion program, and I would know some vocabulary and a little grammar. [chuckle] And they would place me in the first level. They would have no reason to place me in any other level because I could speak no Japanese. I'd just be able to say, "Table, table, table." [chuckle] Not good Japanese. I'd have a good foundation, but I wouldn't be able to speak.

An example iTalki workflow

And so, I needed to learn how to use Japanese grammar from the start, so I started using a tutor with a word list. These are the words that I think I should learn first. And I needed a tutor who could speak English, and so I found someone who was good and we basically sat down and I was like, "Okay, I wanna learn this word. I'd like to say the airplane in the context of, 'I'm on an airplane right now', or 'In December I flew to Japan in an airplane.' How do I say  that?"

Then she would just type out this sentence and then record it. And then I would use that sentence to work into learning in every single thing. Every word, every conjugation, everything [chuckle] And we were repeating sentences like 20, 30, 45 times in the beginning. And then we began to add words, we'd be like, "Okay, word two." That sentence took us 15 minutes because I needed to ask about every word in the sentence. Like, "What's  this thing doing? What's that thing doing?" And let's make sentence number two. So we'd go down to sentence number two and we'd take like 15 more minutes. And we'd get maybe down like five words in a list in an hour.

Using English while working with a Japanese Tutor

Initially, you're talking about them in English because you have no Japanese to do it. But at this point, like towards the end of when I was really seriously studying Japanese last year, I was making most of those sentences in Japanese, and we'd discuss them in  Japanese. And then she, in Japanese, would tell me why I'm making mistakes and fix them in Japanese. Conversations about the sentences became teaching factor. Eventually, she’d fix my mistakes in and tell me how to improve.

Developing a natural sounding Japanese accent

S1: I wanted to get into pronunciation. I know that on your website you have your pronunciation decks. One of them is for Japanese. I actually tried it myself, and I really liked the approach where you have two sounds that are slightly different and you have to pick out the difference. Besides that, how do you think learners can create a native sounding accent? For example, in Japanese, the rhythm and the accent are very important in the words, not only the pronunciation. What kind of practice are you doing for just sounding as natural as you can?

Developing an ear for new sounds

GW: The tricky thing with pronunciation is that I think a lot of times people attack it from the standpoint of, like, "Hey, you're saying this thing wrong. Can you close your mouth more? Can you move your tongue to the left?" You do something physical and fix it. And that is necessary in some sense, getting instructions on how to fix something is helpful, but it's only helpful if you can hear it.

And so I use this kind of tests where you hear two words and they sound really similar and you need to figure out what's different. Initially, you can't hear the difference, you don't have the ability to hear all sounds in all languages, you lose that ability. We have it when we're babies, then you lose it. But with these tests you can develop the ability to hear new sounds. But then you need more exposure.

Getting exposure to new sounds

And so for me, most of my exposure comes from the recordings I'm getting from my tutor. Each and every single flash card I  have has the tutor speaking at normal speed, like a normal rate of speed, that whole sentence and I'm  hearing that all the time, I'm using that sentence for five different words.

Then every time I'll be saying the word, and I'll listen to the recording and because I've developed my ear enough for these tests, I can hear when I'm wrong.

I'll make a mistake potentially, and I'll hear her say it, and I'll be like, "Wait, you didn't say the same thing I did." And I've trained myself to hear that difference. So, "Let me repeat what  you said since yours is better." And so getting all of that exposure from these flash cards, where there's always all of these recordings everywhere, that's turned out to be really helpful.

One of the problems with some of the earlier versions of what I was doing, is that it was very piecemeal, it was very word by word, by word. And maybe I would get recordings of words but it would be just one word, I'd find a word off the web. But you lose some of the flow like you lose how words connect.

Getting recordings from my tutor and having an easy way to get them... There's been this tool I recently developed for just having your tutor record a thing and it's downloadable on your computer immediately. That's turned out to be super, super valuable for that because you're just getting so much exposure to real sentences instead of just random vocabulary.

Shadowing Practice

S1: And you do shadowing practice with these recordings?

GW: Yeah. Generally, if I'm studying my flashcards I'll be a least saying all of the words as I press the button, and saying yes or no. And then if I hear the recording and it's wrong then I'll mimic the recording. I won't do the full shadowing thing in terms of finding a book and reading, that kinda thing.

If you had to start over, what would you differently?

S1: What if you had to start over what would you do differently for Japanese with the knowledge that you have now?

GW: I don't know if I would change that much, honestly the Japanese approach has felt pretty good. I mean it's taken some trial and error to get to where I am with the flash card models that I'm using now. I have added a little bit with Spanish in the sense of the definition flashcards I was talking about. But honestly, I would only be ready for those definition flashcards now, right at the end of my Japanese studies.

So I wouldn't have been using them for the first year, really. So I  think that's the only significant change. I think that I would still learn radicals first, I would still stick with using images only. I would make more of them. One thing I found after about six months or eight months is that it started becoming really effective to not just have images for every single radical but actually having images for every paired up radical every two radical combinations.

I could store those images. There was no limit to how many of those images I can store.  It was really easy to use flashcards in my whole deck.

S1: Combinations like?

GW: "Biceps plus basketball. A man with biceps, strength biceps." Those sort of things were really, really easy to remember. And then when I got into Kanji with those combinations it was super fast to remember those types of examples.

And so if I started over again what I probably would do is make new mnemonics, make new images for everything all the time and not feel like I should hold back. And then after I felt comfortable enough, which is only right at the end, start adding definitions.

What is your current Japanese level?

GW: Not that far. [laughter] It's around 10,000 flash cards, it'd be like 20,000 to get there. So, yeah... Based on previous languages like French, I'd like I get around C1  at around 5,000 flash cards, 4,000, 5,000. And Russian was around like 8,000 or 9,000 to C1.

Japanese for English speakers is supposed to be around four times harder than French and three times harder than Russian. So, I'm guessing that 20,000 is a decent estimate for me being pretty happy with my way of how to remember Japanese words. I'm guessing I have around one more year, so I am hoping to get pretty solid fluency by the end of 2018, I started up in January (2017).

S1: So in the Common European Framework of Languages, around what level is your goal for Japanese . . . C1?

Common European Framework of Reference for Languages chart

GW: C1. I mean, honestly, I may be B1 right now. I really like Japanese. I didn't realize I would like it as much as I do. I also didn't realize it'd be as difficult as it's been. It's so hard with kanji. That is such a hard thing. But I really wanna get fluent in a very deep way. I want that to be probably my best language if I can make it that way. So yeah, I think by C1 maybe C2.

Maintaining Polyglot Status

S1: How are you able to maintain all languages while you're learning?

GW: Right now the only thing I'm doing for maintenance is tutoring and that's proving to be pretty effective. I tutor Hungarian, I get tutored in Hungarian an hour every two weeks and I found that that is keeping me about the same as I was.

With Japanese, I'm doing it every week and I am finding that's about enough. If I was really doing this, I had a lot of time, I would be watching Anime with subtitles in Japanese so that I can get some review of my Kanji. But practically I'm just not finding time for that and so I'm just gonna have a very rough time maintaining and I'll just have to deal with it.

But the tutoring thing has worked pretty well to keep my speaking level intact and I'm only doing that for Hungarian and Japanese. My French is dying and my Russian is dying and my Italian is dying as well.

I'm okay with that. I found that in the past, I felt like I had lost my French completely and I needed to get it back in order to record some videos. And so I watched, I think two seasons of 24.

And so that was 48 hours with French. And I watched that over the course of three weeks because it's very addictive. And I found that after three weeks I was dreaming in French again.

GW: So I feel once you hit a level where you can really speak in a language. You can hit a new level where you can you can handle TV in a language and it's comfortable. I think TV was really easy way to get a language back with no problems.

So that that's always available. I know that if I need to get my Italian back, or my French back or my Russian back, I can just do that.

What is your advice for Japanese learners?

GW: I think finding a way to keep track of your progress in some sense I think is important for motivation. Japanese is such a long road. At least for anyone who doesn't know Chinese. Honestly, if you don't know that alphabet system, you have a lot of work ahead of you, no matter what. It's an enormous amount of effort.

That's a long road ahead of you, if you can't monitor your progress along that road then it can start feeling like there's no end. I think having specific goals that you're looking at... Like, in my case I'm working through the Routledge frequency list.  

They’re these frequency dictionaries. The top 1000 words in Japanese, the top 2000 or top 5000 really,  but I don't wanna do the whole thing. And so, I'm going word by word from this list and anytime I see a word I don't know I'll go to my tutor and we'll make a sentence and I'll learn that that way. And so, it gives you a number. I'm on word 450.

And so, then we’ll go on to our next word. I'll memorize all that stuff and then our next tutoring session maybe we'll get to word 490. And so it feels like I'm making progress in that sense, where it's like,  "Okay, well I'm not done. I have a long way to go, but 490 is bigger than 450."

I think those kinds of things of being able to look through a chart and say,  "Okay, here's the 2000 Kanji I need to know. How many of these do I know already? What's left? Let's check... "

Going through and watching your progress keep going. I think that kind of stuff is really important for maintaining motivation through the long, long, long road that is Japanese.

Future Fluent Forever Projects

GW: We're just about to finish this first Kickstarter for our first app. The first Kickstarter was to develop all the app pronunciation plans and the word list section. But these things where you tested two sounds that are similar and you figure out what difference is and you learn the alphabet, all that stuff, that's been the project for the last 3.5 or four years.

It's a challenging app to use in terms of using it in a really nuanced way where you're making flash cards that are really excellent. Making excellent flashcards is hard, and I've done my best to try and make that easy for people by making tutorials and making Anki. Anki is the best to remember Japanese words.

Ideally, there should be zero learning curve. Ideally, you should be able to go straight in and start learning the language. And that also, a lot of the steps in terms of using the flashcards with my system involve a lot of work.

Like a lot of the work is important... You looking at images of what do the Japanese think of when they think of dogs? Or what do they think of when they think of cats? Like that's important work. But you literally typing in the word 'dog' is a waste of time. You searching for five websites and seeing you know, "What is... Here's a  monolingual dictionary for a dog. Here's a bilingual dictionary for dog. Here are images of dogs. Here are  sentences for the dog." You browsing through all these websites, like, much of that time is wasted. Our app that will literally just tell you, "Hey here's a word list." I want this word.

"Okay. Well, here's a list of sentences for that word with pictures." Like, "Okay, well, this seems  like a cool sentence." "Alright. Well, make me flash cards, two derivatives.

We'll search for you and choose an image, that's like, "Okay. Do you want to learn anything more in this  sentence?" You're like, "Oh, this says that 'The dog walked down the street.' I don't know the word  'street', how about 'street'? Or 'down'? Or 'the'? I don't know how to use articles in this language. I don't know how to use prepositions or this other word."

You just tap on the words you want. And it starts giving you suggested images for all those creating flashcards. That would change things a lot. It would make it so that instead of having this huge learning curve getting in, you having to be kind of computer savvy to do this well, I could hand this to my mother and she would be able to learn a language.

So, that's the next project huge one. We're gonna be launching a Kickstarter probably in August or September for it. We've got an estimate of the programming cost of between $300,000 and $600,000.

It's a huge program. It's a giant project. But at this point, I think we have enough of an audience that we can make it happen. And that's super exciting.

Where to find Fluent Forever?

Mr. Wyner's book, Fluent Forever, is available on Amazon and at most large book retailers. You can check out Mr. Wyner's website for tips, tricks, and free tools. Good luck and happy learning!

July Month in Review - Koipun Reader Early Adopters Edition Release Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Mon, 21 Aug 2017 03:51:00 +0000 One new product. 1,576 page views and $108.00 dollars in revenue July was a big month!!! I finally released Koipun Reader, which I have been working on since at least December of last year. So please read on!

This monthly review comes in extremely late, almost at the end of August. For the sake of consistency I will cover the events of July up to the 8th of August, when I launched Koipun Reader. Revenue and traffic numbers will be strictly for the month of July.

Revenues and Expenses

Revenue from Anki deck sales amounted to a total of $108 USD. Expenses went as following:

  • Audio fixing service via Fiverr for an interview I recorded: $26.25
  • Transcribing an audio interview with Scribie: $90.11
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $32.00
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $9.90
  • Stripe payment processing costs: $4.92

That puts me $55.18 in the red for this month.

Website Traffic

Nothing to exciting this month in terms of traffic. I didn't make any marketing moves at all, so it was all natural traffic from existing back-links, organic searches and the like.

Google Analytics Dashboard for Koipun

Interview with Gabriel Wyner, author of Fluent Forever

The last few months I have been focused on Koipun Reader, so I haven't been releasing many blog posts or new interviews, but I did manage to get through one big interview. The interview was with Gabriel Wyner, author of the well known language learning book Fluent Forever.

Gabriel had been very busy with his projects and his wedding, so it took several months until we could find a date to do the interview, but we settled on date for July.

For this interview, I did something different to all the ones I had done before. All previous interviews had been text interviews conducted via email, but this interview was done via Skype.

To give some structure to the interview and avoid awkward silences, I prepared some 8-10 questions in advance to serve. The interview lasted for about an hour and went by quite fast and smoothly, but unfortunately I didn't feel I get any new major insights out of it. Perhaps that happened because I was already quite familiar with Gabriel's work, given that I have read Fluent Forever and that I have used some of his materials, such as his Japanese Pronunciation Trainer. Nonetheless, I think the end product should be quite enjoyable for Japanese learners. Unfortunately, it will take at least one more week before I can release this interview.

Not having experience with recording interviews over the Internet, I made a mistake where Gabriel's volume ended up much more volume than mine. This mistake turned out to be quite expensive. I had to pay at least triple the regular cost for the transcription over at Scribie and I also had to pay somebody at Fiverr to improve the audio quality before I could submit the interview audio to Scribie. The blames falls squarely on me. Next time I record an interview I will do more testing in preparation. On the bright side, I have this big interview coming up and I gained valuable experience into carrying out an interview over the Internet. Furthermore I discovered a really nice piece of software. For recording the interview I used OBS Studio, which turned out to be quite great. I recommend it for this purpose, especially for Linux users.

Koipun Reader Early Adopters Edition Released!

I was able to complete my main goal for July, get Koipun Reader ready to ship. That said, I missed my original release date of August 1 and ended up releasing one week late on August 8. I released the product via my newsletter and through Indie Hackers. The initial reception was a bit underwhelming. Very few people actually tried the product beyond making an account and testing it for a few moments. That said, I did get one person who is super into Koipun Reader, which is quite encouraging. If it wouldn't have been for that person, I would be feeling quite down. So if you are reading this, thank you very much!!

I think the main reason that I got so little engagement is because people didn't understand how to use and why to use it. This is the fault of me trying to be aggressive with shipping the product already. I guess I shipped on time.If you are not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late.  - Reid Hoffman

The good news is that thanks to the initial feedback I got from the launch, now I have more information to prioritize the features which are truly important.

Stay tuned, on next month's post I will speak more about the launch results.

Goals for August

 There is only one week left in August, so I will set only one simple goal. Reach out to existing Koipun Reader trial users and get as much feedback as I can.

June Month in Review Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sat, 8 Jul 2017 10:55:00 +0000 4,675 page views and $18.00 dollars in revenue こんにちは!Since the release of the new Koipun Reader preview last month I have working hard at cranking out code as fast a can in order to deliver an initial Reader release. I set the release date for the initial Koipun release to August 1st 2017! With many features still in the pipeline, let's double compile the code to make it on time with a great release.

Revenues and Expenses

Anki deck sales were a bit slow this month and amounted to $18.00 USD. Expenses went as following:

  • Two blog articles I commissioned: $62.50
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $16.00
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $9.90
  • Payment processing costs: $0.82

That puts me in $71.22 in the red for this month.

Getting help with content creation

I heard from a friend who runs a blog that he has had some success with hiring free lancers to write content for his blog.  Given that I've been focused mostly on development as of late, I decided I should give it a try. If I could get a writer to write quality content at an affordable price, I would be able to keep pushing my content marketing efforts while focusing on development. Thus I went ahead started looking for a writer on fiverr.

While searching on fivver, I noticed that most of the content marketing gigs where promising to write incredible articles for a mere $5 USD, which seemed to good to be true.  After some more research, I decided to try out a gig titled "I will create engaging SEO content marketing" by Elysse Andrews since she had set a more realistic price of $25 for a 1000 words article and because she had a professional looking site with some writing samples. The result of that gig is an article titled Top 5 Manga to Learn Japanese.

 Elysse wrote the article by herself after I gave her some links for inspiration and some links she could use to source the material. After she finished the article, I added the images and did the formatting. After some light editing from myself, the article turned out good enough that I could declare the experiment a success. Given that I decided on the content and the title after doing keyword research using Google's Keyword Planner the article should eventually bring in some organic traffic. Since this first article worked out I tried commissioning another article with Elysse.

 The second article is about the top books for studying for the JLPT N3. Taking into consideration the limitation that Elysse is not learning Japanese herself, the article turned out fairly well, but this time I will have to put some in more writing of my own, so that is up to par with the quality I need. Thus even though I was able to outsource part of the writing process, it still requires a lot of work from my part to produce content. Since this experiment didn't save me as much time as I wanted, I will not try again until I have more time to dedicate to the blog.

Hacker News loves Japanese for some reason

 This month I released one of the interviews from my How I learned Japanese interview series on Hacker News. Hacker News is a community mainly focused on startups and technology, but for some reason they are quite fond of Japanese and Japan so I decided to try launching one of the articles on the site.

The first time I posted an interview the article got not traction at all, but the next day I posted another interview with an improved title "How I learned Japanese: Interview about habits and learning Japanese in Japan" and the article reached all the way to the front page.

Koipun interview on the front page of Hacker News

The article stayed in the front page for a few hours and got fair amount of comment activity. I felt quite vindicated about the quality of the interviews, but I did notice that on average Hacker News visitors didn't stay that long on the site, compared to readers from /r/learnjapanese. This perhaps reinforces the notion that the quality of traffic is more important than the quantity of the traffic. 

How often can one post on reddit?

This month I tried to promote another interview through /r/learnjapanese, but it didn't go well. Although the interview started getting traction, there were some negative comments such as "how does shit like this that spends pages not really saying anything repeatedly get posted" that started getting a good amount of upvotes and also in a few hours one of the moderators removed the link from the front page. Before this I hadn't posted any interviews since the first one I posted about three months ago, which had gotten a very positive reception. Although a few weeks ago, one of the persons I had interviewed posted her interview by herself on the same sub-reddit. That too, was very well received.

My theory as to what happened this time, is that a small group of people who frequent the sub-reddit every day noticed that this was already the third interview and since reddit usually hates self-promotion, they saw this as self promotion and decided to go against it. I am against blatant self-promotion myself, so I understand that feeling. If I post again on /r/learnjapanese, I will make sure to ask for permission from the moderators first and allow at least 5-6 months in between postings. Nonetheless, posting this interview on reddit helped bring in quality traffic for this month.

Koipun Google Analytics Dashboard

Koipun Reader launching next month!

Yes, finally! After almost a year in development, this moment is finally arriving. The feature set will be quite spartan and there will be bugs, but the core workflow will be there. Given that, I have decided to dub this release "Early adopters edition" and will be offered at a special price and will include a free upgrade to a more premium plan, once that new plan is available.

Goals for July

 There is only one goal for July! Finish Koipun Reader and have it ready to ship on August 1 2017. Here are the main features that still need work:

  • Saving words
  • Export to Anki
  • Saving imports
  • Find a deal a way to deal with long imports
  • Make some improvements to the import process
Top five Manga to Learn Japanese Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sun, 18 Jun 2017 20:08:00 +0000 Want to know which manga are right for you? We've got some of the best Manga to learn Japanese right here! If you’d like to reach advanced Japanese, you will need to eventually take a break from flashcards, textbooks and vocabulary practice, and focus instead in consuming native materials. One of the best options to get started with native materials is manga! Yes, this Japanese cultural staple can be used as a learning tool!

It will take you some time, but the contextual learning that reading manga provides will keep you engaged and on track to mastering Japanese.

Why Learn Japanese with Manga?

There are a few reasons why you should take a break from (not quit entirely!) learning with your traditional Japanese study materials and use manga. Manga is written for a Japanese audience, so you’re getting a more realistic view of the culture and conversation patterns.

When you learn Japanese manga you are going to learn more vocabulary organically than you would learn with even the greatest textbooks or flash cards. Since the conversations aren’t simplified for beginners, reading manga will give you a more realistic learning environment.

When you were a kid, what was the number one thing you had to do to get better at something? Practice! Reading manga will give you practice at recognizing kanji in context in a new and interesting way. If you’re on the edge about remembering some vocabulary, there’s pictures to help you out.

Choosing Your Japanese Manga

The manga world is huge, so if you don’t know where to start, that is understandable. To make your life easier, we’ve put together a list of series that you can use to learn from Japanese manga. There is something for everyone on this list, so keep reading! Also, please check out or own home-cooked Manga helpers!

Dragonball (ドラゴンボール)

Dragon Ball Manga in JapaneseThere was no way to post a list on how to learn Japanese manga style without mentioning Dragonball. For most foreigners, it was the first manga they ever heard of. Its popularity has led to multiple anime spinoffs, movies, video games and much more, but it was originally a manga.

If you have heard of it but don’t know what it’s about, the series (original) is about the life a little boy who was born with a monkey’s tail. It continues to follow his life story as he trains to be the best martial artist in the world. If you want to make your life easier and avoid looking up every word you don't know in the dictionary, checkout our guide specifically designed to help you read Dragonball.

Yotsubato! (よつばと!)

Yotsubato! Japanese Manga CoverThis manga series is about a girl with green hair named Yotsuba. The storylines are built around her day to day life and interactions with people in her town and her family. She is an endearing character, since she’s written to be so weirdly naive that it’s funny.

The story’s tagline is “Today is always the most enjoyable day!”, so you know you’re in for a good time when you crack this manga open (even though it will take work to read it).

This series is good for your first attempt to learn Japanese manga since it’s based around everyday activities. The vocabulary is very useful and it has both Kanji and Furigana on its pages. There are even pre-made Anki flashcards featuring vocabulary from Yotsubato!

For readers in the USA, can purchase the first volume of Yotsubato! via Kinokuniya.

Chi’s Sweet Home (チーズスイートホーム)

Chi's Sweet Home Japanese Manga CoverThis manga series features an adorable kitten and her adventures and misadventures with a new family. The kitten can talk to the readers, but her speech abilities are lost on her human family. In this series you watch her go from lost kitten to beloved house pet and see what happens along the way.

It may seem like a childish choice, but this series is well loved by many adults and children alike. It has furigana and kanji on its pages, but you’ll still want to keep a dictionary close by.

Non Non Biyori (のんのんびより)

Non Non Biyori Japanese Manga Cover

This manga story was so well loved that they had it turned into an anime for a few seasons. It’s about a very small village and it’s school aged children, of which there are only five. It’s an outsider story, as the new girl comes from Tokyo and has to adjust to small town life.

It’s also a coming of age tale, as we follow five students of multiple age ranges through the story line. This is an especially good choice to learn vocabulary related to Japanese school life.

Nichijou (日常)

Nichijou AnimeThis manga series is called My Ordinary Life in English. It’s about the goings on a regular size suburb in Japan. The characters are quirky and not all children in this one. There’s a talking robot who was created by an eight year old, so you’re in for some laughs.

This one is great if you are planning on interacting with a large range of Japanese people, since the town members are all of different age ranges. It has furigana on its pages, so you can get through it more easily.

If you’re going to learn Japanese manga style, hopefully something on our list struck your fancy. Before you sit down to translate, make sure you have a good dictionary by your side and are ready to laugh. If you wish to maximize your reading time and skip the dictionary, then checkout our Manga Reading Guides!

May Month in Review Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 15 Jun 2017 03:06:00 +0000 3,859 page views and $54.00 dollars in revenue I am super late this month with the review! So I will keep it short and sweet.

Revenues and Expenses

Anki deck sales amounted to $54 dollars USD this month. And expenses went as following:

  • 6 months of access to the Forvo API: $173.70
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $7.00
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $9.90
  • Payment processing costs: $2.73

That puts me in $154.07 in the red for this month.

Growing Koipun's Audience

This month has been the best month so far in terms of page views. The best thing is that it was due to events that happened naturally and for which I didn't have to work for. Two interviewees of my How I Learned Japanese: An Interview Series posted their own interviews on Hacker News and reddit respectively and their interviews got some good traction.

Pyry shared his interview on a comment on a Hacker News post about the release of the Japanese course at Duolingo. Pyry's comment become one of the top comments in that Hacker News discussion and his link brought a lot of traffic. I was surprised by how much traffic a mere comment could bring. Since the reception was so positive, in the future I want to make a full post about Pyry's interview. For some strange reason Hacker News is quite fond of Japan and the Japanese language site, even though on the surface it is site focused on startups and technology.

 In addition to Pyry's comment, Carley shared her interview as a post on This post was very well received and successfully converted some people into the Koipun newsletter. I had been wanting to post one of the interviews again on reddit/r/LearnJapanese as I had done with Bryan's interview, but I was afraid of being perceived as a spammer by the community so I had been holding back. So it was a blessing to have Carley post the interview by herself and out of her own initiative.

Koipun Google Analytics Dashboard

New Koipun Reader Release

Koipun Reader screenshotI have finally released a new preview of Koipun Reader! After months of delays and hard work it is finally out the door. Koipun Reader aims to take Japanese learners to advanced Japanese through helping them them enjoy real and engaging Japanese texts. This new releases demos the most fundamental technology behind Koipun Reader and that is the ability to process arbitrary Japanese texts and automatically generate reading help for those texts.

Goals for June

It is almost halfway through the month, so I can not set too many goals, but still I want to make some good progress as I must move fast. It's been almost six months since I released the original Koipun Reader preview on reddit/r/LearnJapanese, so I must hurry up and finally launch the paid version and get my first customer. My two goals for what are left of June are:

  • Add basic support for user accounts for Koipun Reader
  • Experiment with outsourcing content creation for the blog. I must focus on Reader development, but I don't want to neglect marketing entirely, so I will see if I can get some help with developing the blog without breaking the bank.
  • Reach out to somebody for a new interview, since I haven't released any new interviews in around a month.

As always, thank you for your support — if you've got any ideas, feedback, or questions, please email me!

April Month in Review Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 11 May 2017 05:03:00 +0000 985 page views and $126 dollars in revenue Time flies! It was on December 14th of last year that I launched the first preview of Koipun Reader on It has already been four months since then. In some ways I am satisfied with my progress, but at the same time I am anxious to get an initial version of Koipun Reader out the door. One of the reasons I can't wait to release Koipun Reader is that next year I am turning thirty.

In reality thirty is just an arbitrary age, an accident of us humans standardizing on base ten numbers, but at the same it holds importance for me. I want to make Koipun a successful business that can give me a decent salary and I am willing to work extremely hard for it and make sacrifices. But I don't want to still be living like a student on my late 30s. By then I expect to be starting a family. There is no way I will compromise to having a day job I hate forever, so I think the only solution for me is to double down on my dreams and work hard!

Revenue and Expenses

Anki deck sales amounted to $126 dollars USD this month. And expenses went as following:

  • One year of FastMail for email hosting: $50.00 
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $7.00
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $9.90
  • Payment processing costs: $5.74
  • One Koipun t-shirt I gave away: $11.65

That puts me in $41.71 in the green for this month.

New Interviews

On my March Month in Review post I mentioned that I had the goal of publishing two new interviews in April for the How I Learned Japanese interview series. Those where two interviews I had already had in the works. It turns out that since that last March post I have published four new interviews in total. That is because something crazy happened, two persons came to me asking to participate in the series.

One of them was Carley who did a great interview on her path to become a Japanese translator. The other one was a super interesting interview by Jennifer, on the importance of experimenting with learning methods. Getting approached by both Carley and Jennifer was quite unexpected, but I was very happy it happened.

If more inbound requests start coming in, it means I have to spend less time looking for people to interview. Furthermore, one of the interviews was an article exchange, meaning that as a bonus I get to write for one of the interviewees blogs. Doing article exchanges should be great for developing quality back-links and improving SEO. Doing guest posts is something I definitely want to invest more on going forward. Especially given that organic traffic to the page is still extremely small.

Google Analytics Dashboard

Processing Japanese Texts

For this month I also had the goal of releasing a new Koipun Reader version, which again unfortunately did not happen. The good news is that I did make a lot of progress this month in the backend processing of Japanese texts for Koipun Reader. I am close to having an API ready where I can send a POST with Japanese text and get in return a JSON formatted description of the text including definitions for each word, kanji break downs, example sentences and more. After I have this API ready I will get back to work on the front end to make it easy to play around with these capabilities.

Goals for May

For May I will set a single goal, which was my goal for Koipun Reader last month. Have a working prototype of the Koipun Reader text import functionality where the user can copy and paste any text into Koipun Reader and it will be processed and be beautifully presented. Then I will put it front of users for another round of feedback and hopefully by June release the initial version of Koipun Reader.

As always, thank you for your support — if you've got any ideas, feedback, or questions, please email me!

Learning Japanese by simply listening and reading Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Wed, 10 May 2017 15:39:00 +0000 Pyry shares how focusing on simply communicating in Japanese can reap the biggest rewards and what communication really means. What is your current level in the language like?

I can use Japanese without thinking about it in most situations. I recently started a new job at a Japanese company and basically most of the things I do, I do in Japanese. I've got quite a natural sounding accent, which means a lot to me. However, depending on the context, I keep noticing situations and subjects where I could be more fluent. This frustrates me a bit sometimes, but maybe more importantly it gives me motivation to keep trying and humility to keep an open mind. I took JLPT N1 in 2014 and passed with almost full marks – a fact that tells much more about JLPT than not-yet-quite-so-good me. Actually the emphasis people place on JLPT is a pet peeve of mine – I could rant more about it.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Go boardIt was the Internet and an anime called Digimon. We got a broadband Internet connection when I was starting high school in 2004 and I started hanging out on an online discussion forum for Digimon fans. It was there I got my first contact into someone that was studying Japanese. This inspired me to start too. I did multiple Japan-related activities at high school: I started a Go club because I was into an anime called Hikaru no Go, I organised a Japanese study circle and such. (I sucked hard at Japanese back then but I taught other people nevertheless. It wouldn't have been possible without the tremendous amount of help I received from my online friend who was way ahead of me in his studies. Thanks, Eero!)

I've always been kind of a scientifically-minded person and I originally thought about pursuing a carrier in engineering but dabbling in Japanese changed that. I decided to go all the way and applied for Japanese studies in the University of Helsinki. In the end I ended doing also a computer science minor, which reignited my love into programming and in a sense, helped me towards the path I'm on at the moment. (A software engineer in a Japanese company in Tokyo.)

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

Motivation is a difficult word. It can mean all kinds of things and not all of those things are relevant. First of all, I think that actually acquiring a language depends very much, if not solely, on how much you are actually using it for communication. By the way, I've got to say a disclaimer here: by "using" I don't necessarily mean "speaking", but also – and especially – listening; of course reading and writing too. By "communication" I don't necessarily mean a "live discussion", but simply using language in its all forms to encode and decode some meaningful messages. This means that there's no problem in – for example – thinking of reading a book as communicative use of language!

When you are trying to communicate (= trying to understand or get understood), there's an intrinsic motivation in the situation – you wouldn't be trying without it! I also think that is an inherent problem in much of classroom learning – many of the activities done in classrooms don't have an intrinsic motivation to understand meaning-encoded-as-language for some actual purpose. Indeed, some of the activities are entirely mechanical and even meaning-based activities can be boring and demotivating.

The need for communication

So, the problem is then, how do you get yourself in situations where it's natural to communicate? That's where the real "need" for a motivation comes into play. You need to have the motivation to reflect a bit: should I try and search for interesting podcasts? Should I overcome my shyness and go to a local "Let's speak in Japanese" gathering? Am I prepared to watch a bit of ten boring Japanese TV shows just in the case I found one that was really addicting? How should I change my routines so that I encountered a bit more Japanese in my life?

That's the general equation and there is no single true solution to it. I tried many things, like downloading a ton of Downtown variety shows and cartoons I watched as a kid (Pokemon! Moomins!) dubbed in Japanese (btw. this was also great for additional nostalgia trips), and had them going non-stop in our kitchen. I made a rule that every train trip I rode, I would listen to one episode of the hilarious Sakura Tsūshin podcast. The list goes on. The general point is: I don't allocate time to study. (I used to do this back in the college, but it was unsustainable and didn't actually help with my Japanese too much.) Instead, I use the bits of motivation I have to construct an environment where I wouldn't need to be "motivated" to use Japanese. (By the way, I got the idea from a blog called All Japanese All the Time! Again; kudos to where it belongs!)

Applying the communication principle

The ultimate manifestation of this principle is that I moved in Japan and started a job in a Japanese company. Of course, this is not feasible for everybody, it's just to illustrate the point. For some, just going to Japanese lessons is a way better way to motivate oneself to be in contact with Japanese than doing nothing. The point is – what works for you is the way to go.

However, I think that everybody should learn and keep some basic principles in mind about how the brain learns languages. If you're motivated to do things that don't actually help, your efforts are next to nothing.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

I want to sound as native-like as is humanly possible! Sounds like a grandiose goal, but hey, what's wrong with dreaming big! I'd also like to be able to read more fluently. I've read a few novels in Japanese, but I'm still quite a slow reader, so there's always a threshold between getting started and really getting into the story.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

I think that listening to podcasts and watching anime without subtitles did wonders. I can also recommend watching anime with Japanese subtitles. (Check out this site) As a motivational resource, All Japanese All the Time helped me to construct a right kind of a mindset. Watching Japanese Let's players (ゲーム実況) playing your favourite games on YouTube is also a surprisingly fun pastime.

Japanese manga is great for reading. Just recently I binge-read "One-Punch Man". As for reading long-form stories, an initial push that got me over the threshold I mentioned earlier was to read a novel and listen to a corresponding audio book at the same time to prevent me getting stuck in the details. I bought the audio books from FeBe, and bought the corresponding physical books at BookOff or from Amazon. There's also free audio books of works with expired copyright on the Internet.

Japanese Grammar

I used to love meticulously detailed grammar explanations, but after studying linguistics, and language acquisition in uni, I realised that knowing about grammar doesn't really do much – it uses entirely different “circuits" in the brain than actually using the language and there’s hardly any crossover.

Japanese Dictionaries and Grammar Help

A good dictionary is a great resource to have. Nowadays, I mainly use a Japanese-to-Japanese dictionary. I've found that Daijirin is the best of the big three. It also comes bundled with macOS operating system, so Mac users, check it out if you haven't yet. I've also bought a copy of Eijiro from Japanese Language Tools. It's one of the best Japanese-English-Japanese dictionaries, well worth the price!

Lately I've been using HiNative to check some of my word choices and grammar in written text. I'm not sure if that actually helps with acquisition but the service is also useful when you don't understand something and you want a quick explanation.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

I used to learn kanji in the college, just taking the Japanese classes. At some point, I found out about the Heisig method and started using that in combination with Anki. Later I found about the KanjiDamage, which seems like a hilarious and very good "reimplementation" of Heisig. At that point, however, I already knew basically all of the jōyō kanji, so I didn't have a chance to try it. (There might’ve been some that I didn’t, and don’t know even at the moment because let’s admit it, there’s some really obscure kanji on the list. And on the other hand, there’s some really useful and common kanji that are not on the list.)

However, one thing that many kanji training methods miss is that you don't gain fluency by practicing single characters and words. To be able to not only recognise the kanji but also "blast through" a sentence at a natural reading speed, actual reading practice is indispensable.

I used to practice writing back in the days, but unfortunately I don’t have the time and motivation for that any more. I've been quite content with just being able to read fluently. I still get random practice when writing small notes and addresses, but admittedly that isn't much. I think that not writing by hand anymore is not only my problem, but it plagues the Japanese society (especially millennials) as a whole.

How did you tackle learning vocabulary at your earlier stages of learning? How do you tackle learning vocabulary now?

What is wrong with drilling and memorizing on purpose

I used to do more traditional-kind of training, like just drilling a list of words from the back of a textbook. Even after discovering Anki, I used it basically as a more sophisticated tool to randomise the order and optimise the retention using spaced repetition.

However, as per my current understanding, there are multiple things that are wrong in that kind of training. First of all, I now think that associating Japanese words with English words is a fruitless practice. Words are series of phonemes we associate to meaning: concepts, memories, sensations, feelings et cetera. To actually be able to use words to express and understand meanings, there shouldn't be any unnecessary indirection between the word and the concept. You don't want to "translate in your head" when you are communicating, we humans ain’t got no brain power to spare for that! The more "naturalistically" the word is stored in your brain, the better the circuits that specialise in processing language are able to use them. Besides, more often than not the words that supposedly mean the same thing in different languages have slightly different nuances, mental images and collocations. Thinking of two different words in two different languages as the same won't do any good.

Secondly, I no longer advocate for learning words without a sentence context. I used to buy into the logical argument that having context in quizzes is bad because it helps to get the meaning without understanding the meaning of the word itself. The problem is that words are not 100% self-contained entities. They have grammatical features that require certain kinds of contexts, collocations, conjugations, particles etc. If you are not exposed to this more nuanced context when learning, you might be skipping some important information of how that word is actually used. Also, many words don't have a singular meaning. If you browse a dictionary, you'll notice that they list a bunch of different senses of the same word. Often having a context can disambiguate between these meanings and leads the learner to have a more concrete and sharper sense of how the word is actually used to express a specific meaning. We shouldn't learn words as "bundles" of all the things the word can mean – it's too much to swallow as a whole. Instead we should regard the senses of the words as almost like different words with different meanings that just happen to sound the same.

Meaning based vocabulary acquisition

I think that learning vocabulary should be entirely meaning-based; you shouldn't start with a list of words to learn and start memorising their meanings, but you should start with things, thoughts, meanings you want to be able to understand when expressed in Japanese. Again, a disclaimer: By this, I don't mean that you should start practicing from "having an English meaning to producing Japanese expression", quite the opposite! I think it's much more important to be able to understand Japanese expressions than to be able to produce them, especially in the beginning. My point is that if you choose what expressions you want to understand by taking a list of singular words from somewhere, your method of choosing your materials is wrong. Sadly, the hegemony of language textbooks hasn't quite embraced this kind of paradigm with their vocabulary listings.

What’s a good way to choose vocabulary to learn, then? I think that you should consume something in Japanese, and when there’s something you don’t understand, but your Spidey sense tells you that might be interesting to understand, that’s a good candidate for digging into it a bit, and if your Spidey sense still tells you that word in that context and meaning is interesting, funny or useful, try and learn it!

Questioning the usefulness of spaced repetition

Finally, lately I've become to question the need for spaced repetition itself. I think the theory behind it is sound, but does it actually outperform just listening and reading (and checking meanings of words when needed)? The vocabulary in natural material has high-frequency words and low-frequency words and everything in between. We can think that each word has some "natural" occurring frequency. For example, let's say that there's this word we'd like to know that occurs once per 10,000 words of running text on average. If you read Japanese 5,000 words per week, you won’t be likely to forget that word if you can retain it in your memory longer than two weeks at a time. This means that whether you will be able to retain some word depends not only on the frequency of that word and the "strength" of the memory of that word, but also on how much and fast you read. The less you read, the longer period you have to be able to remember words to be able to keep them.

I think of spaced repetition as a tool that can help you to "artificially" remember words long enough periods that you reach that "natural" retention. However, when reading or listening to natural language, the language itself seems to provide a naturalistic form of spaced repetition: you start with easy material, get a bunch of high-frequency words, get some fluency, start reading longer texts faster, which leads to more frequent encounters with middle-frequency words per time used for reading and so on. On the other hand, with spaced repetition it's easy to achieve good retention without achieving fluency. This has the problem that it doesn't necessarily make you a faster reader, and if you're not a fast reader, the "natural" retention rate for many words might be unreasonably long. I'm not saying that spaced repetition has no value, I'm saying that it should know its place: it's just a tool.

Nowadays I don't use Anki anymore precisely because of these concerns and because it takes time I could use with some more fun Japanese activity. Instead, I'm just trying to flood myself with natural input and checking words that I don't know.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

I used to use Anki quite a lot. Tried Memrise once with Spanish, but didn’t like the contents. (I guess the app itself was fine, but hard to say after using it only for a few days.)

Nowadays I use a dictionary app on my Android phone called DroidWing. (You have to get the dictionary files separately.) I also use HiNative occasionally.

Can you share with us your Anki workflow? What is your advice for people who want to get started with Anki for learning Japanese?

Here's some tips:

  • Don't use readymade decks. Add stuff you've encountered yourself and that has a special meaning to you.
  • Add short sentences instead of single words. Add pictures. (I have the habit of taking pictures of sentences with unknown kanji and words with my smartphone.) Use clozes or highlights to focus on a single word in a sentence.
  • Try to get rid of the "gotta catch 'em all" mentality with words – there are too much words to learn in one go. A single word has practically no value in the big picture.
  • Don't use copious amounts of time with Anki, consider it just a supplemental activity to actually listening and reading Japanese stuff.
  • Don't be afraid to delete words that you feel you couldn't care less about, but don't delete the whole deck.
  • Don't stuff too much info to the "quiz" part of the card; if there's multiple "items" per one quiz and you remember some but not all, which button are you going to press? My Cloze Furigana Tools plugin helps with this by splitting a single sentence into multiple cards with different parts clozed out.

How did you get the idea for Furigana Tools? Do you have any other future projects in mind? What were some of the challenges in developing the tool?

Anki Cloze Furigana Tools Add-onI was an Anki user at the time, but I was coming to realise some of the downsides of the "normal" Anki workflow I described before. The need for the plugin arose from a series of improvements I tried to do with my own cards. First of all, I started adding more whole-sentence context. This lead to the need of using clozes, because I wanted there still to be a single focus on each quiz. However, more often than not, I wanted to cloze multiple things in the sentence. For example, the furigana and the writing of the kanji should be asked as separate things, since they represent separate modalities; separate "skills". Or there might have been multiple words in a single sentence that I wanted to remember. Creating separate cards for every quiz was really annoying, so I decided to make the job easier and started developing the plugin.

The biggest challenge at the time was the limitations of my own programming skill. However, I think I managed to get the end result quite nice. It doesn’t have exactly Apple-level UI design, but it does its job.

Challenges with using Anki for my students

Tokyo, JapanAfterwards, when I was a Japanese teacher, I tried to have my students use Anki and the plugin. At that time, I faced another wall of technical hurdles: getting everybody to install and setup everything properly on a wide variety of platforms, and trying to get people to actually use them. If I were to teach Japanese again, I'd love to use a similar tool, but this time I would definitely opt to a web-based app. I also realised that most of the tools available are made for autodidacts. There isn't anything reasonable that I know of that would allow a class management, assessing, monitoring etc.

My other Japanese related projects

I have had many Japanese-related projects, but few have seen the light. There was this database of Japanese anime quotations (based on Japanese subtitles) that you could search for – it even had audio stripped from anime and synced into the subtitles so that you could listen to the quotation live. There are obvious copyright problems with that, though.

Then there’s a project that I've really poured myself into during the last year. As a part of my master's thesis, I created a service that tries to teach students the Japanese lexical pitch accent. It does this using a minimal pair based training with spaced repetition. There's some really interesting empirical science to pronunciation training methods and I’d really like to push forward the state of the art, but unfortunately one can do only so much with 24 hours per day. Maybe I'll pursue a PhD some day trying to do that, but for now I have to concentrate on my new job in Tokyo. With regards to the app, I have my hopes that I’d have the time to polish a publishable version sometime this year. (No hard promises though.)

When did you first go to Japan? How was the experience like?

Kyoto, JapanI was in my second year at college, in 2009, when I chatted with three of my friends in Japanese studies about how crazy it was that we've been studying Japanese for a year and a half but had never been there. As a result, we decided to travel there during the spring break. We actually took some days off around the week-long break and managed to skip our Japanese lesson. Our teacher was furious about us "going to vacation and skipping class", which really baffles me even today – obviously the reason why we were going to Japan was the same we originally enrolled in the classes – to learn more Japanese and about Japan!

It felt like an adventure. We were young and everything was new to us. We went to Osaka, Kyoto, Izu peninsula, Tokyo and Kamakura. Afterwards, I've re-visited many of the places we went and re-experienced things we did with more thorough understanding and every time I keep finding something new. After our first visit I thought that there's yet so much to uncover that I want to go again. I still think that way!

When did you move to Japan? How has it been so far? Can you share with us some of your experiences in Japan? How is life in Tokyo like? What are your favorite things about living in Tokyo?

I've been to Japan eight times now; that includes a gig as a tourist guide, hitch-hiking with my girlfriend, going for exchange studies twice (in college and in graduate school), visiting the tsunami-ridden areas as an assistant of a charity tour, doing some short-term baito of questionable legitness, taking a part to a Japanese matsuri as a omikoshi-shouldering nutjob, doing shūkatsu – job-hunting in Japanese style – and taking part to a naitei-shiki, an admission ceremony of new employees in Japanese companies. However, it's my first time to be here as a shakaijin, an adult that stands for themself. Again, there have been all kinds of new experiences, but strangely I finally feel that I'm at the level of skill in Japanese language and knowledge in Japanese society that I can actually handle things on my own.

Starting a new job, searching for an apartment, doing the bureaucracy tango etc. has been stressful, of course. However, I generally enjoy life. I love Japanese food and being the language-learning maniac I am, I'm finally at ease being constantly bombarded by Japanese. I've heard all kinds of horror stories of Japanese work life, but the first month has been quite enjoyable, and I think it really depends quite a lot on the company – I think I’m lucky having found a quite “howaito” (=employee-friendly) one. Having a balanced social life for an adult expat can be a formidable hurdle, but I'm fortunate enough having done exchange studies in Tokyo before, so I have some awesome friends to start with. Of course, it's still too early to say what the life will bring, but I feel generally positive about it.

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

Helsinki CathedralMy mother tongue is Finnish. I learned English at school, but in retrospect, I learned German and Swedish too, and I absolutely suck at them. Maybe it wasn't the school that did the trick. So I consider myself fluent in three languages: Finnish, Japanese and English. Actually, I used to suck at English pronunciation for a long time. I was an avid reader of English but definitely not a movie/TV geek! I think not having much spoken input in English has everything to do with that. However, since some five years ago, I started watching a lot of English YouTube videos and since then, my pronunciation has constantly improved.

I have played with the thought about learning Chinese and Korean for a long time, but realistically speaking I think I wouldn't have the time and motivation. After all, for both Japanese and English, I've really felt the motivation to use the language for something, not just to know it for its own sake, and I’ve yet to found that motivation for languages other than Japanese, English and Finnish. Maybe some day, however!

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

For starters, I would have listened the CDs of my textbooks many times over while not caring about the details too much, instead of going in the boringly steady pace of a chapter per week plus drilling the vocabulary plus filling in the exercise book plus all the other cruft. It's now painfully clear to me that the main thing that people are missing at the start is large amounts of exposure to language that's simple enough for their current level. There's also clear empirical evidence that filling in the exercise book doesn't do anything to your proficiency. (It may help you understand explicitly how the grammatical structure works, but then again, there's some evidence that knowing and understanding grammar and actually using language to communicate are functionally quite different things in the brain, and don't readily transfer from one system to another.) Rote-learning vocabulary has all the problems I talked about before. So for bootsrapping, just getting simple input in large amounts would be my choice.

Starting with audio content

In an ideal world I would listen to easy reader-style audio books with tiered vocabulary. Sadly, there seems to be a chronic shortage of those in Japanese. I think that JapanesePod101 aims for something like that, but in my experience the podcasts are like 10% Japanese and 90% English unless you don't skip directly to an advanced level, which is of course too hard for beginners.

I wouldn't care about kanji too much in the beginning. I wouldn't care even about hiragana, for that matter. Not that I advocate rōmaji. (Shiver.) But I advocate using the most natural medium there is, and what every toddler learns far before understanding those squiggles we learn at school – sound.

I would start watching anime without subtitles earlier than I actually did. Here's a weird thing: when I first watched without subtitles, it felt so hard to understand. But after only tens of episodes I found that I could understand just fine. Not every word, but enough that it was enjoyable to continue – and I learned at a tremendous rate.

On reading

At some point I would start reading. I would use Anki and KanjiDamage and then try to find something simple and fun to read, like manga. (Of course, there's a lot of manga that's not simple at all; finding the right titles needs some exploring.) I would progress into long-form prose maybe through light novels. At first, I wouldn't want to learn kanji for words that I don't already know by ear – I think that learning vocabulary and kanji for it in one go is too much to swallow, and it has a nasty resemblance to learning words from a list. I wouldn't hesitate to skip kanji like "I don't know what this is for, so I won't be needing it for a while".

On speaking and writing

I wouldn't stress about speaking and writing. I would try to get my listening and reading to a high level, and then try to apply for a study abroad program. I would also try and hang out with Japanese exchange students in my home country. (I actually did this though; I wouldn't change it.) It's in the actual situation where you have to make yourself understood that you actually develop that skill – but you can't use words that you don't know. That's why I think it's tremendously important to have a good intuitive understanding of the language and a very large passive vocabulary before trying to grow the active one. Having a lot of experience in just listening and understanding helps with creating a mental map of how the language works and makes you understand what you confidently know and what you don't. In my experience, trying to form expressions when you haven’t got the slightest idea how Japanese would express the same thought, you almost surely go wrong, and can even develop bad habits.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Everybody has their own goals and motivations; everybody has their own starting point; their background and their own interests. This makes the journey different for everybody, and no one should decide the details of that journey for you.

Basic principles

But there’s some basic principles that are the same for everybody. The Japanese language has the same basic structure, regardless of whether we are speaking of the gyaru slang or Akutagawa’s prose. Our brains have the same basic structure, regardless of our mother tongue, our life experience or our supposed talents or lack of them. I think this means that there’s some common valuable things to know for everybody, because everybody has them the same. I don’t speak of my experience, because that’s just one journey; instead I’m eager to tell people of what I’ve read or heard about the results of scientific research on language learning.

It's ok to understand things but not being able to say things

First of all, it seems that there is an asymmetry between understanding things and being able to say things. Most of the people out there say that they are able to understand but not able to talk. This is very, very normal. It doesn’t mean there’s a lack of “speaking practice” or that there is something wrong with you. It doesn’t even mean that you should spend more time trying to rehearse speaking. Why? Because you won’t literally be able to speak (other than mimicking planned sentences in an awkward manner) if you don’t have a robust enough internal representation of the language. And the research says that to get that underlying representation, you’ll have to …speak? No! To listen! If you meditate on it, it should be more obvious than it seems: first of all, you can’t speak if you don’t know the words, and you can’t just make them up. This includes not only the phonological representation of the word, but also the meaning and all the grammatical and conventional things that dictate how the word is used. You can’t make this stuff up. You have to get it from the input, so if one hasn’t got enough input, there’s just no way for that person to be able to produce language from thin air. This stuff may take it’s time to wind up in the brain, so some patience and lots of input is needed!

On grammar rules

Secondly, there’s some real evidence on that it’s totally different to know about a word or a grammatical rule than to be able to use that knowledge. They’re just different systems in our brain, and to be able to “reason” about something requires one to pay attention to it. But we don’t actually pay attention to minute word choices or grammatical forms when we are speaking – most of the “linguistic” layers of communication need to be automatic and unconscious. This doesn’t always happen with non-native languages, but the evidence is clear: the more automatic and unconscious it is, the more fluent the speaker or learner is. There has been some brain imaging studies that show that the advanced learners of languages start to resemble more and more native speakers in their brain activity patterns. I think that tells that it’s possible and desirable to get that automated, unconscious skill.

Obtaining language intuition and "just using" the language

Then, of course, there’s the argument that one should be able to start from declarative “knowing about language” knowledge, practice, and end up with procedural “knowing how to use language” knowledge. This is a thing I can’t say anything totally certain about, since there’s a bit of disagreement between researchers too, but from what I’ve seen in some recent results, it seems like brains just don’t work that way. Instead, they have multiple systems learning in parallel. The declarative “I know the rules because I read them from the textbook” system is a fast learner, but it’s also a fast forgetter. Unfortunately, the knowledge stored by it is also very slow to be processed and it needs attention to be processed at all. On the other hand there’s the procedural “this should be done this way, I don’t know why, it’s just the way it is” system. It learns slowly through practice, and it’s generally not available for conscious introspection. But once it has learned things, it processes them very fast and unconsciously, without need for attention. It also doesn’t forget things rapidly. This is the system that backs up our “intuition for language” in that something “feels wrong or right”.

There’s an important result about these two systems: they don’t seem to readily communicate. Instead, they do what they do in parallel. Here’s another fact: babies have underdeveloped declarative systems, so the procedural ones are the ones that they use to do the baby learning.

I think that this should be enough to convince people to take just “using language” seriously. Your brain has a lot of unconscious processes that do unconscious learning all the time; just expose them to language. Then again, how you do that is up to you – there’re as many journeys as there’re learners.

Where can we reach out to you online? Are you working on any projects you would like to share with readers?

I’ve been quite busy with my new job, and I’m afraid I don’t have any projects in the pipeline real soon. As I said, I’d like to publish the pitch accent training tool sometime this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that got delayed. The source code is available, but the real meat, of course, are the words and sentences that I’ve painstakingly planned, recorded, edited and compiled into an app. I'll be sure to announce that when the time comes!

I actively use Twitter; feel free to follow me and say hi! Lately, I’ve been also active on Quora; I’ve been mostly answering questions related to language learning. I also use GitHub as a collaborative programming platform – I actually host the source code of Cloze Furigana Tools there. I haven’t actively developed the plugin for some years, but bug fixes and new features are more than welcome!

Japanese study methods based on incredible experiences Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Mon, 8 May 2017 14:34:00 +0000 Jennifer shares how she continuously experiments with her learning methods and the story behind the learning insights she has striven for. What is your current level in the language like? For how long have you been studying Japanese?

I started studying Japanese about 11 years ago, although there were a lot of times when I stopped and started again. So really it was more like 7 years across 11 years?

I’ve passed the JLPT N2 and failed the N1 twice now! I want to get good enough to pass the N1, but the JLPT isn’t always a clear sign of your Japanese ability. I can hold conversations, read books, manga and articles, and watch anime very easily. Sure there are times when I don’t understand 100% but I can get the general context then look up the details later.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Japanese FarmA friend of mine was doing her Japanese homework in the cafeteria at College (High School). It looked interesting so I asked her to introduce me to her teacher. I began studying 1 hour a week with that teacher for about 2 years.

When I was at Secondary School (Middle School) I was made to learn French, Spanish and German. I don’t remember ANY of them. None of them were enjoyable. But Japanese just made sense. It clicked.

I was a very lazy student, only doing the bare minimum of homework, but unlike piano or kung-fu, I didn’t stop doing Japanese. I still don’t know why. Maybe because I had a friend learning at the same time so we could share our knowledge and write secret messages. We also shared anime which boosted my listening skills early on.

After 2 years my friend and I went to Japan for 4 months. We studied at a language school in Fukuoka for 2 months, and then volunteered on organic farms with WWOOF for 2 months. That trip literally changed my life.

My Japanese not only got 100% better, but I really fell in love with the country and the people. I still clearly remember jumping down a mountain thinking “I want to be an interpreter”, and have kept that with me always.

You mentioned that you stopped studying a few times. How did you get back into the habit during those times? What gets you motivated?

It was really a mixture of things that drove me: Guilt for not studying for so long; the enjoyment I felt when I understood something (mostly in anime).

But over the years that have been 2 major things that would drive me to study again:

  1. The JLPT
  2. Going to Japan

I would go through periods when I knew I should be studying but “I’ll do it tomorrow”, “I’ll do it this weekend when I have more time”, and then never did. So after several weeks of coming up with excuses I would normally give myself a goal. This was often passing the next JLPT level, which would push me to find a teacher/class, and/or go buy a pile of textbooks.

I found the JLPT to be a great motivator. It gave me a solid goal to work towards with (fairly) clear set vocabulary, grammar and kanji that I needed to know.

The second biggest motivator that would kick me back into gear was actually going to Japan. After I’d go there (often for the purpose of study) I’d fall back in love with the language. Then when I got back to the UK I’d throw myself into self-study again.

Going to Japan, meeting people, living there, making friends, using it every day, etc., would re-awaken why I wanted to throw myself into Japanese in the first place. I’d get that image of me jumping down the mountain again.

 What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

Kiki's Delivery ServiceI don’t think I have an ‘ultimate desired level’. I’m always setting myself new goals to reach.

Right now they’re:

  • Passing the JLPT N1. Getting good enough at listening/speaking to start studying interpreting.
  • Catch up on un-read Japanese novels.
  • Translate a novel.
  • Being able to read newspapers without looking up much kanji.

I’ve had some of these goals for a few years now. But even if I achieve one of those goals, I’ll always set myself another.

For example, I’d never finished a Japanese novel until this year! I’d always said I’d do it but kept coming up with excuses.

Then I started working with a 1 hour commute on the bus, so began reading 魔女の宅急便 (Kiki’s Delivery Service). I finished it in 2 weeks. Then I moved onto a slightly harder まおゆう: 魔王と勇者 (Maouyuu: Maou to Yuusha) - lots of war, politics and economics, although the book is entirely conversation. I finished that in about 6 weeks. So I set myself the new goal to catch up on the huge pile that I’ve been collecting over the years.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

I’ve always fluttered between resources over the years, but the largest helpers have been native Japanese people and Memrise.

Memrise I can use to focus on studying. Speaking with and messaging Japanese friends means I’m forced to use what I study and learn new things.

Learning from Japanese people is probably one of the best ways because you can mimic natural phrases and work out the best words depending on the situation.

For example, the first time I went to Japan I remember using “大丈夫 ” (daijyobu) to turn down people offering me leaflets on the street. Because in English we say “I’m fine” when we don’t want something. Then I was out with Japanese friends and they said “結構” (kekkou) instead. It was like something click. Of course they wouldn’t say “大丈夫”! That makes no sense in that situation! No wonder I got so many strange looks! Hahaha!

 I’ve had a lot of moments like that over the years. But I think it’s also important to learn from mistakes as well as people around you.

How did you prepare for the JLPT N2 and N1?

I had very different approaches to studying for the N2 and N1.

I had wanted to pass the N1 within a year of graduating from University, so I planned a 6 month trip to study at a school in Fukuoka. I quickly realized that N2 was a more realistic goal at that point.

We would study everyday using the Nihongo Soumatome books, but those only just helped me scrape a pass mark. I think living in Japan during that time helped just as much (arguably even more) than the text books did.

When I was back in the UK I had to self-study so I decided to use the Nihongo Soumatome books again for the N1… and got absolutely stomped by the exam.

So I took a new approach, using different resources for self-study and… still got stomped (although my vocabulary score was a lot better).

Now I’m taking Bryan’s advice to heart and focusing on my reading comprehension and learning kanji and vocabulary that way. I’ll pick up my previous study methods again closer to the exam (because they DID help a lot), but right now I’m focusing on my reading skills.

What are your favorite native resources to consume? Which have helped you learn the most?

Originally it was anime. Watching anime constantly as a beginner helped a LOT with my listening skills. Listening is my strongest skill.

Now it’s novels. As I said I only recently started reading Japanese novels. I felt like if shouldn’t have been reading because I had to “study for the JLPT” or “should be focusing on my translating”. Those were a huge mistake as I’ve already learnt so much from just reading 2 books in 3 months!

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

I’m not too concerned with learning to write kanji, although it’s a very important skill to learn at the beginning so you know how to write.

When I started learning kanji I used the Basic Kanji Book series. They were a great introduction to beginner’s kanji, stroke order and how to write. Not so great for vocabulary, or remembering the kanji long-term.

Since then I’ve learnt kanji through vocabulary. Focusing more on kanji’s application rather than their “meaning” or “readings”. But focusing on that method alone was a mistake too. Because it meant that when I came across a new word I often wasn’t sure of the reading or meaning.

I tried Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji but it didn’t work for me. It did teach me to use mnemonics to help me learn / remember how to write some kanji though.

Japanese Kanji Study appLast year I began using the Japanese Kanji Study app and it’s been fantastic for helping me with the N1. I went over all the kanji from N5 to N2 which was a great refresher and helped make a lot of the kanji I’d previously learnt make more sense in advanced settings.

What’s really helped over the years is finding a study method that works best for me at that time. Then mixing it up or taking another approach. Over the years these different methods have built up so I’m at the level I’m at now, although I’m still always learning something new.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

Memrise is my go-to app. I love that I’m able to create my own vocabulary and kanji decks, that I can use it on the go, and that it rewards me with points.

Japanese Kanji Study is my second go-to app, although I have to force myself to use that on a consistent basis. The developer is great and I know he’s trying to work on spaced repetition programming, which would make it so much easier to learn with.

Italki isn’t exactly software, but it is my go-to website for working with Japanese teachers when I want to boost my Japanese. I also use italki as well as MeetUp to find speaking partners to practice with and to make new friends.

You switched from Anki to Memrise. What didn’t you like about Anki and how do you compare Anki to Memrise?

Anki just wasn’t very user friendly for me. It was very hard to find good courses and was just overall clunky. I didn’t find it as enjoyable to use like Memrise.

Of course there are lots of Anki fans out there. But I think you need to find the best program that works for you.

How do you tackle vocabulary acquisition? Could you share some concrete examples?

At first I learnt the basic vocabulary by labelling EVERYTHING in my house. I stuck hand written paper with vocabulary and kana to my bedroom wall.

For many years (until 2013) I used hand written flashcards and notebooks where I’d write vocabulary over and over. I got through a lot of books.

But the problem with that method was that I’d rarely go back over what I’d learnt because I felt like I should have known it (when I actually didn’t). It’s very important to study new vocabulary on a regular basis, which is why Memrise’s spaced repetition program is so helpful.

Most of my vocabulary acquisition was probably from studying at language schools and university in Japan. But since 2013 (when I studied in Japan for the N2) I’ve been self-studying more and using Memrise.

Not only do I use decks made by others in Memrise, but I’ve made a lot of my own on various topics for others to use.

The one resource for vocabulary that I found recently and wish I’d found sooner was the日本語単語スピードマスター (Nihongo Tango Speed Master) books.

I found the N2 and N1 volumes in a second hand store and didn’t touch them for years. Turns out that was a huge mistake and they are CRAMMED with useful vocabulary and example sentences! More than any JLPT vocabulary book I’ve come across.

I went through both books (covering over 5300 vocabulary) in about 4 months and put all the vocabulary I didn’t know or had forgotten into Memrise.

Can you share with us your Memrise workflow? What is your advice for people who want to get started with Memrise for learning Japanese?

 If you want to start learning Japanese it’s incredibly important you learn hiragana and katakana right away. These open up so many other options for you! But I personally find it dull to just drill the characters, which is why I made courses to help people learn the alphabets through vocabulary.

The idea is that you’ll learn not only the alphabets but also about 200 words in hiragana and katakana.

Then it’s important to get the basics covered. Again, I find learning any old vocabulary pretty useless (I hate vocabulary lists that are in alphabetical order! They’re so dull!). So I took vocabulary lists for JLPT N5 and N4 and organized them into specific subjects in each course. So you learn family members, objects, verbs, etc in different levels, followed by the kanji for those vocabulary.

I’ve had some great feedback from the N5 and N4 courses from people who were able to pass the exams with them!

I’ve also made courses for more advanced levels. My favorites are probably Japanese Cooking, Newspaper Japanese, and Advanced Reading Practice.

What I normally do is aim to learn about 10 new vocabulary a day and then review at least 50 (although I suggest fewer for beginners).

When I haven’t studied with Memrise in a long time I sometimes start a course from the beginning. This means wiping my progress and learning everything from scratch. It stops me from getting lazy.

There have been times when I’ve used Memrise in a way that didn’t help me learn. Such as focusing on points or guessing the answer rather than clicking it because I knew it. I think it’s easy to use Memrise (or any spaced repetition program) inefficiently if you’re not careful.

How was life in Fukuoka? How did you get the opportunity to live there? How long did you live there?

Fukuoka viewI moved to Fukuoka after I graduated for 6 months (although the original plan to get a job visa and stay there permanently). This was studying at NILS Language School in order to pass the JLPT N2.

I love Fukuoka so much. It’s not like the other main cities in Japan. For one there are barely any non-Japanese tourists (besides people studying at NILS or Genki JACs). It’s also a lot smaller. I would often bike to explore the city, often stopping at Book Offs (second hand book shops). I once biked from my apartment on the edge of the city, to the beach on the other side of the city, in about 3 hours!

It was also really easy to make Japanese friends there. There was a large language exchange program and a lot of English conversation clubs. And because the city is small, they were easy to get to.

Fukuoka is also close to a lot of countryside. You can spend many weekends going out to explore Kyushu, such as Nagasaki, Mt.Aso National Park, Beppu, Miyazaki, etc.

You mentioned that you worked in Tokyo. How was Japanese work life like?

Tokyo Destination in AirportAfter studying in Fukuoka I wanted to work there so looked for a job that would let me work in Japan. I ended up working for an American automotive company whose main client was based in Tokyo.

The original plan was to open an office there so they would have someone near their client. This meant a lot of trips to Tokyo. It was… a strange experience to say the least. The team at the Japanese company were very welcoming. It was a joy to work with them.

I wasn’t so much of a fan of going out every evening for food and drink. Smoking indoors is still acceptable so it meant late nights with dry eyes and everything smelling of smoke, which was exhausting.

 The atmosphere was very much work hard, play hard. I don’t know if I could have survived that kind of salaryman life long term.

What was interesting was they had one American in their team who’s been living in Japan for 17 years. He even had his own bar. But he couldn’t speak any Japanese! He knew the basics but even that had a thick American accent.

After talking to my friends who work for JET I found out that many people who live in Japan don’t bother learning the language. Which is such a waste in my eyes! (Which is why I wrote Japanese for Expats.)

What other languages do you speak? What other languages do you want to learn? Does knowing Japanese help with learning Korean?

Seoul, South KoreaI can speak British English and Japanese haha! But I’m learning Korean and want to get back into Japanese sign language (I learnt a little at university in Japan).

Korean isn’t a big step from Japanese, they’re both rooted from the same language so the grammar is practically the same. Some words are also very similar.

I’m mostly focusing on learning Korean vocabulary and speaking it with Korean natives. Although this has been an on-and-off process because of other priorities.

I’d say if you want to learn multiple languages don’t put it off “until I reach ___ point with my current one.” I regret not starting Korean sooner. But then again Korean is very similar to Japanese. I think I’d have a much harder time if I started learning German (although I do want to learn German too…)

I think the fastest way to learn if you want to learn multiple languages for communicating, is to learn the basic 1000-1500 vocabulary and speak to natives. Even if it’s just a splattering of words at the beginning, you can pick up a lot from speaking with native speakers and learn faster.

(I write about this a lot in my articles on Speaking Japanese)

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I wouldn’t be such a lazy bum!

When I started I only studied 1 hour a week. It took me 2 years to learn the very basics (hiragana and katakana, basic grammar and vocabulary). If I could start over I’d study outside of my lessons. I would consume everything and learn from others to learn faster.

If I could start over I would go to Japan for 1-2 years to study at school. I went to language schools a few times and did my year abroad in Osaka, but I wish I’d gone to a long-term Japanese language school to learn the language even faster.

If I could start over I wouldn’t keep putting things off. I would have started reading books sooner. I would have got a job as a teacher if it meant I was in Japan.

But things don’t work out the way we plan them to. I think it’s important to remember that and not kick yourself too much about what you did or didn’t do. Things are the way they are and we need to learn from our mistakes. I don’t regret taking so long to get to this point and I still have a lot more to learn, but I’m excited about it.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Have fun and challenge yourself.

Don’t let Japanese become a chore, try and keep it interesting but also push yourself. Explore opportunities outside of your comfort zone (like studying in Japan, talking with Japanese people, etc.) and you might be surprised.

Can you please introduce the readers to Japanese Talk Online and your translation work? Any tips on those who want to get started with translation work?

Japanese Talk Online

You may have noticed I’ve written a lot of articles on studying Japanese as well as the Memrise courses. Japanese Talk Online started as J-Talk, Japanese lessons for my university anime society.

After I graduated I want to keep helping the society so I started a facebook group. But I found myself repeating a lot of things, which eventually led to 3 years running a website all about Japanese.

I write articles based on my own experiences learning the language, hoping that they’ll help others (hoping they don’t make the same mistakes I have!)

J-En Translations

J-En Translations is a fairly recent thing. I did an MA in Translation (which was a disaster) and fumbled around as a freelance translator as I sorted out moving to the US.

But I’ve recently found my groove. I’ve found what I enjoy translating and what I enjoy talking about. I write articles about video game translations as well as advice to help others get into translating. (Again, so they don’t make the same mistakes I did! Hahaha!)

If you’d like to know how to translate I suggest this article: Translating Japanese for Beginners

If you’re interested in translation as a career I suggest: How to Become a Japanese Translator

How to become a Japanese Translator. One path, from childhood dream to passing the JLPT N1. Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Mon, 1 May 2017 13:22:00 +0000 Carley shares her Japanese learning experiences, from being a strong willed sixth grader to going to the JET Programme and working in Japan. What is your current level in the language like? For how long have you been studying? A the N1 level, do you still “study”?

Currently, I work as a translator, and this often means working with legal and  medical documents. At N1 level, reading is no longer the difficult and daunting task it used to be, certainly--however, I want to expel this common misconception that those at N1 know everything. I still run into unfamiliar words, unfamiliar kanji compounds, quite often. However, at this level, context clues are easy to find, and kanji isn’t as mysterious as it used to be. As far as studying, I do, believe it or not! I like to read on topics I’m unfamiliar with, and list the unfamiliar words I find. Just writing them out a few times makes them stick in my head.

Which of the JLPTs did you take? How long did it take you to reach the N1 level? How did you prepare for the N1? Do you have any general tips for JLPT preparation?

I’ve taken the N2 and the N1. I was in Japan for the N2, and passed on the first try, which surprised even me. The N1, I wasn’t so lucky--I failed the first time by three points! (You can’t imagine the pain.) It’s important not to overestimate your skill. Don’t be cocky. The N1 is a monster, and the others in the room all reflected the same look of pure panic during the reading portion. You have to be able to read and retain information very quickly--I’d guess 95% of those in the room finished RIGHT on time. Read every single day. I can’t stress this enough. Read different things, not just manga or celebrity blogs. Read essays, political news, cookbooks, newspapers, anything you can get your hands on. Note the words you don’t know into Anki, or handwritten flashcards.  I’d recommend the Kanzen master books for the N1, as they compact a wealth of knowledge into easy chunks.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Sailor Moon charactersShort answer? Anime. Longer answer? I went to the video store during my Sailor Moon phase, and they had Sailor Moon S: Hearts on Ice with the original Japanese audio. That was the first time I heard the language, and right when it ended, I said ‘I’m going to learn this.’ That might sound a little overzealous for an elementary schooler, but hey, I was headstrong. To me, it was the most beautiful, bizarre thing I had ever heard, and from then on out, I was reading all about the country, the people, the customs, the history--I fell headfirst into obsession. I’m willing to bet there are a few people out there who met the same fate!

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

It can be hard, when you hit a plateau, to keep going. When I attended Florida State University, there were about 400 students in Japanese 101. When I graduated with my B.A. in Japanese, only seven of my peers graduated with me. It’s difficult, there is no getting around that, but it’s important to have a clear goal. Are you learning it because you want to pursue a particular career? To travel to Japan, and be able to communicate fluently? To simply play games in the original language, or watch anime or dramas without needing to wait for subtitles? No matter what, it’s important to be passionate and invested in that end goal. Don’t take no for an answer. It’s okay to take a short break, but once the language becomes simple, once you start speaking and reading with no roadblocks, you will thank yourself for never giving up. For me, personally, I love the Japanese culture and it’s people. Getting to work with it every day  means that my skills will always stay sharp, and I can always be connected to the country that means so much to me.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

I would love to be so skilled as to have an easy grasp of local accents and slang usage. Living in Niigata prefecture, I heard some different phrases that might not have a place in standard Tokyo dialect, and found myself fascinated. Now, I’ve been collecting some texts on the subject. Even at N1 level, you still find new things to keep you interested, and keep expanding!

Which resources have you helped you the most?

Kanzen Master series book coverWhen I first started learning Japanese, the internet wasn’t as popular as it is now. I was left with textbooks and dictionaries--but I also look at these things fondly. Sometimes, it’s good to study from a book, as there is way less distraction! (You learn much more when you aren’t checking your Tumblr messages every five minutes.) The Kanzen Master series is really incredible, and I can’t recommend it enough. With that being said, there are also a multitude of free resources online that are becoming available for serious learners. Imabi is an incredible resource for EVERYTHING Japanese, from vocab to kanji to grammar. For those looking for reading materials, Shousetsu wo Yomou has light novels for free, which is perfect for those readying themselves for the N2 or N1. And of course, Koipun is shaping up to be a great resource for those like myself who love the anime and manga side of learning Japanese.

What are your favorite native resources to consume? Which have helped you learn the most?

Morning Musume groupPersonally, I love internet culture, so Hamusoku is great for seeing what’s trending online, and also reading some comments that are more colloquial. I’m also a huge fan of Japanese Idol culture, so I read a lot of blogs on Ameba, to stay up with my favorite celebrities. And for those looking for some free Manga, Comico is there for you! Yomiuri Shinbun is my favorite for news, as well.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

I tend to discourage learning Kanji character by character. Of course, knowing the meaning of a Kanji is helpful, and it can be useful for learning how to write--however, I’ve found in my studied that learning vocabulary is far more useful than simply learning one by one. This goes back to reading every day. Kanji compounds are what you need to learn, not kanji alone. Focus on vocab and the kanji knowledge will come!

How did you tackle learning vocabulary at your earlier stages of learning? How do you tackle learning vocabulary now?

When I first started learning the language, I only had textbooks and dictionaries, so I learned the vocab that was available in this way. (Mostly, I simply learned from the dictionary--yes, that’s very dry and I wouldn’t recommend it.) I also learned a lot from anime over time, and more and more words and phrases became second nature after hearing them so often. However, in the internet age we live in now, I’d say that Anki is a great resource, as well as Memrise, for all manner of vocabulary. It’s great to put aside a chunk of time each day, whether it be 10 minutes or an hour, to open these programs and review vocab. Also...yes, reading!

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

Anki, Memrise, and Takoboto are three applications that I think are incredibly useful. Takoboto is great for looking up words when reading articles on your phone, and you can even use it offline, and save vocab. And, best part, it’s free!

When did you first go to Japan? How was the experience like?

Nagano CastleI first went to Japan when I was 11 years old! I went to Dunedin Middle School in Dunedin, Florida, and the school had a partnership with the local town of Clearwater. My geography teacher was an avid traveller, and actually took students every few years to a different international locale as a type of cultural enrichment program--and it just so happened that the trip announced during my time at the school was a Japan trip! Clearwater, Florida is the sister city of Nagano, Japan, so we had a host family, and were able to experience everyday live in a small city. We also went to Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara, Osaka and Hiroshima--it was a perfect experience, and even though I was so young, I had already loved Japan for five years. It was as glorious as I imagined it would be.

I should mention that I wasn’t actually old enough to go on the trip--I was told it was for eighth graders only, and I was a sixth grader--but, I’m very headstrong. I wasn’t going to be left behind!  (Hence, I stood outside the teacher's office every day for six months, and spoke Japanese at the interview he finally gave me! Never give up on your dreams.)

How was the experience of majoring in Japanese language and culture like? What are your recommendations for people who want to follow a similar path?

I majored in Japanese Language and Culture at Florida State University. When arriving, I was already at a high level, and while there was no ‘official’ test to allow me to skip the first few introductory levels of Japanese, the head of the program did a short interview with me, and allowed me to progress immediately to Junior level Japanese. For those who are used to studying at home, it’s a very big change of pace--but, it’s enjoyable to be surrounded by those with a similar interest and goal, and great to have professors that allow you to ask all the things you’ve wanted to know about Japanese. It’s a bit of a niche major, still, as it’s so difficult--however, it has given me a leg up in my translator career, and I wanted to major in what I was passionate about. I’d also ask those who want to be translators to see if their college has a translation course, or even a minor. Those are becoming increasingly wanted, and will greatly help you in the future.

How was your JET Programme experience like? What were your favorite moments? What are the downsides to doing JET? Do you have any tips for those who want to do the JET Programme?

Funny story--my JET interview was Miami, and I was in Tallahassee. I travelled home to Dunedin (about the halfway point) the day before, and on my way to Miami, I got what I believe to have been food poisoning. Stopping at every rest area on the way there? Yeah, it was a little stressful. And showing up with nothing in my stomach and watery red eyes? I wasn’t expecting that I’d be getting the job.

But, surprise! Interviews typically last about 20 minutes, and they kept me for an hour. While speaking Japanese isn’t a requirement for JET, it is an asset.

Those on JET will tell you, every experience is different. Depending on your placement, you will either love it, or hate it. I was somewhere in the middle. I was placed in Kashiwazaki, Niigata Prefecture, which isn’t too small of a town, and is located on the Sea of Japan, so a great beach community. However, you often don’t get to choose your apartment, and in winter, it was frigid. Japan isn’t great with heating, and since I’m a Florida girl, I had to stock up on electric blankets to survive. However, with that being said, I did love the six schools I was able to teach at, and the students were incredible. The pay is extremely good for those right out of school wanting to live abroad, and the people you meet will stay with you for the rest of your life. I’d say, apply early, and give it a try. Even if you only want to stay for a year, it gives those learning the language a chance to use it everyday, which improves speaking ability at a ridiculously fast rate!

How did you progress from the JET Programme to professional life in Japan? Is Japanese work life as rough as it is portrayed?

Tokyo intersectionI stayed on JET for a year, before returning home to the states and working as a translator on a freelance basis, to really get my bearings and start working on a portfolio. While JET was enjoyable, you use nothing but English at school, and I wanted to use my Japanese skills much more than I was. As it usually happens, about six months after getting back to the US, I got the Japan bug again, and started searching jobs in Tokyo on a whim. I found an editor/translator position at a financial communications company and saw no harm in applying. After a phone and skype interview, and several translation tests, I got the job, and moved to Tokyo another three months later, after my visa was processed.

As for Japanese work life, it is very tough from an American standpoint. When I arrived, there was one day to get my bearings at the company--I was read my contract, expected to go set up my bank account, and given a company cell phone--and was left to my own devices. It was expected that I arrived at work around 7:30, and while the workday claimed to only be until 5PM, we weren’t to leave until the boss left, which could be as late as 10PM some nights. The people I worked with were very kind, however, and the office wasn’t some stuffy place where everyone was all business all the time--there was laughter and joking! Out of about 400 employees, only five of us weren’t Japanese, and of the five, I was the only one in my 20’s and female. So, it did take some getting used to.

How is life in Tokyo like? What are your favorite things about living in Tokyo?

Life in Tokyo is incredible. The trains are so accessible and always on time, there are a million things to do and places to explore, everything is convenient, clean and the people are kind. I first lived in Monzen Nakacho when I arrived, but decided to find a bigger apartment, and spent most of my time in Kagurazaka, in Shinjuku. It was the ‘French quarter’ of the city, and was lined with bakeries and small alleys with all kinds of shops and bars. It might sound silly, but those who have been to Japan will agree--the convenience stores are my favorite thing. You’d never say that here in America, but in Japan? The food is delicious, and after a long day, it’s great to just be able to pick up a bento on the way home!

How is working like a translator like? How did you prepare to start working on translations? How do you find translating work? Would you like to share any tips for aspiring translators?

Working as a translator isn’t easy at first, and it doesn’t become easy until you make a name for yourself. I started volunteering, simply to create my translation portfolio. It’s important to keep a record of what you’ve done, side by side, to show to prospective clients in the future. With the internet, finding work has become a tad bit easier. For those starting out, I would make an account on ProZ, which is a resources not only for jobs, but offers a great forum full of translators asking questions, getting advice and exchanging stories. This also goes back to reading--translating isn’t just putting one word into another language. You have to be aware of the tone of the passage, and be able to seamlessly write it in a way that keeps the original feeling and intent. It’s not quite as easy as it seems, but once you start translating, it becomes much more fun.

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

I speak German, and I would love to learn Korean and Mandarin Chinese, if I ever have enough time. A quick tip I’d give to language learners--it’s always tempting to learn more than one language at a time, but don’t. If you split up your attention, you’re only learning each language at 50%, when focusing on one means that you’re giving it your all!

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

That’s a tough question. There wasn’t a lot I could have done, since I learned on my own the majority of the time, but I would say that after I learned Hiragana and Katakana, I should have cut romaji out completely. If you use romaji too much, you begin to rely on it, and it hurts you when starting to read without it. Try only to read Japanese characters!

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Devote time each and every day. That isn’t a suggestion, it’s a necessity. Even if you only have 15 minutes in the morning, or before you go to sleep, something is better than nothing at all. A professor once told me, learn 5 new things every day, and I think that is a great goal to set, among other things. Whether it’s 5 new words, 5 kanji, even 5 cultural facts, learning a language is nothing but building blocks. Add five each day, and before you know it, you’ll have a castle.

Where can we reach out to you online?

I love to answer questions. You can reach me on Twitter at @carleyjpn, and if you need translation or would like to talk translation, shoot me a message on my website,

Japanese Language Learning from the Classroom to the Workplace and Beyond Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Fri, 21 Apr 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Jenny majored in Japanese and shares how she developed a career where she can use Japanese for work. What is your current level in the language like?

I have been learning Japanese since 2010 when I first entered college. My major was Japanese and while in college I went to Japan on a few short-term programs. I have also worked in a Japanese-style office based in my home state. I still use Japanese in my current job, which is helping Japanese expat families adjust to their new life and to the education system in America.

I passed JLPT N2 in 2013 but I'm still studying for the N1. I feel comfortable carrying conversations and overall understanding the things I read, though lately I feel I have limited ability in expressing myself deeply about more complex topics. This is my next step.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Japanese singer Utada HikaruWhen I was in middle school, I was into manga, anime, and JRPG video games, but hearing my first J-pop song (I think by Utada Hikaru) got me fascinated with trying to learn the language. However, at the time, I didn't have the resources or the "know-how" on how to go about studying Japanese. So what really got me into studying was my first few college Japanese language courses. Everything about that start - my teachers, the camaraderie of my classmates, the small triumphs in saying things I couldn't before - really motivated me to study Japanese for the long-run.

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

I understand the feeling of people who end up stopping, especially if they don't have the chance to use the language or don't feel like they're getting better. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunities to go to Japan and work in a Japanese-speaking environment, but there had been times I didn't feel like pushing my studies any further, especially since I no longer had a class to go to. I think having an enjoyable outlet for Japanese has helped immensely.

I'm not saying that studying is all fun and games, but in between flashcards and Kanzen Master textbook sessions, watching an anime/drama or reading a manga/book and experiencing a synthesis of what you studied is highly rewarding. Another thing that helped motivate me was using what I learned with a native speaker, and this was helpful at all stages, especially when I was a beginner. Most Japanese people I know have been really appreciative and supportive of others studying Japanese, and it's a great feeling to deepen ties through the language.

Has working on your YouTube channel, ADBChannel, helped you with motivation?

ABDC Japanese Learning Youtube Channel BannerIt has, especially since I want it to be motivating for those who have been studying Japanese, and also make it approachable for those who are starting their studies. That means I myself have to review concepts or learn something new to share, and this helped me in my studies overall. The idea came about at a time when I first started working.

Even though I was using Japanese at work, I was normally frustrated or tired by the end of the day and didn't feeling like studying when I went home. At the time, it had also been a while since I last watched anime, but when I started watching some I was surprised and really happy with how much I could understand. I started noticing how much useful, conversational Japanese was present throughout anime (albeit in a more casual, direct form) and wanted to make videos introducing these lines from anime. It took me a while to put stuff together, just because I'm rather camera shy.

How do you organize or plan your studying?

In terms of formal studying, on a weekly basis I try to do flashcards, read articles in Japanese, and listen to some Japanese-related podcast episodes. While I try to do these activities in the morning, normally I get the motivation when I catch myself doing something in English that I could do inJapanese. For example, if I'm realizing I'm reading the news in English, I'll make the switch to find the equivalent of that same story in Japanese. This can't really apply to podcasts but when I find myself wanting to listen to something while driving or walking my dog, I try to make sure a few times a week that it's something Japanese.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

This level is hard to describe and quantify, but I would like to be at a level where I can express everything I feel and experience without cutting out the minor nuances. Journaling is a big part of my life now, and if I could comfortably do that in Japanese - then expand upon that into story-telling and debating in real life, I would be set.. until the next goal.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

Having had great teachers from the start is what got me through a lot of the initial hurdles of learning Japanese. I know a lot of people reading this might be self-teaching themselves Japanese or not have access to a teacher, so one resource I would recommend that I still use and think is accessible for all learners is JapanesePod101.

The podcast hosts do a great job of providing a context for learning grammar and vocabulary, and going in depth about culture. There are also detailed PDFs with the lessons, and they're pretty responsive to questions in the comments section. Yes, there's a subscription fee but it's probably less than a private tutor or language program - but in those cases, if you have a great teacher who motivates you, I say stick with them.

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

I like using the app called Flipboard, and changing the settings to Japanese so I can search for articles in Japanese. If there's a topic that I like reading in English, such as health or self-improvement, I challenge myself to read them in Japanese. By using Flipboard, I have come across some really great Japanese websites like and, which have interesting articles on various topics.

How have you incorporated anime into your studies?

Most of the time recently, when I watch anime it's to make content for Youtube or Twitter. However, the process of teaching things from anime has helped enforce and refresh my memory of concepts. Additionally if I studied new words/grammar with other resources and THEN come across it in anime, the word really sticks because of the exposure and association to a scene. So this is why I think anime is also a great resource, since it provides exposure to concepts people study, and with a context.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

Person writing Japanese kanji with a brushDefinitely kanji and all of their several readings was one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp when I was first learning Japanese. For beginners, I think you have to initially just memorize the kanji readings for the most frequently used words, especially if they are in kun-yomi, and learn how to write them with the correct stroke order, which will help ingrain them. After advancing in your studies, I recommend a more systematic approach to recognizing and remembering characters, like Remember the Kanji series, and getting comfortable with on-yomi readings by recognizing the radicals. Just by having the meaning and the pronunciation associated with a kanji, you can learn a lot of new words, or at least get the relative meaning even at a glance.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

I use the Memrise app for flashcards. I also use WWWJDIC on Android for looking up words, and the Tangorin app for looking up example sentences for a word. I use Flipboard for reading articles in Japanese, since it organizes stories based on interests and is one of the only news apps I have seen that has access to Japanese articles. I do recommend the NHK Easy Web News app for the Android for people who are beginner/intermediate. Japanesepod101 also has a great app, with a nice interface for accessing episodes and PDF files.

Could you share some of your experiences in Japan?

The first time I went to Japan was in 2012 for a short-term study abroad, under a government program called Critical Language Scholarship. The program was intensive, so it really challenged me to use the language in ways that I hadn't had a chance to in my first few years of studying in America. I had a wonderful host family and a Japanese language partner, and since the program took place in Kyoto I was able to enjoy a lot of the local culture thanks to them. The following summer I went for a 2-month internship at a tea company called Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms.

Picking teaThis company has a great mission of sharing tea with the community and making the knowledge of tea farming fun and accessible. It was great learning about the tea culture and helping them at their events, whether it was selling tea at Kyoto station or serving tea to the elderly in a nursing home. I got to meet a lot of kind people, both locals and people from abroad through this opportunity. And since the office was in the countryside, it was a huge contrast to what I had experienced in Kyoto the previous year - but it was also nice to see Japan from a different side.

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

I don't speak any other languages besides English or Japanese, though I did take Spanish in high school and one year of Mandarin in college. Those languages would be something I would like to get back into. I would try to approach them differently by creating a deeper motivation anchor so I can be more consistent about studying.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I'm not sure what I would change, since the stumbling and subsequently overcoming the stumbling in my Japanese studies has helped me get to where I am now. I sometimes wish I had done a longer study abroad program when I was in college. Even though there may be opportunities to work in Japan, the people you can meet and experiences you can have in a college environment versus an office environment are vastly different.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Enjoy the ride and don't chase after instant results. There's a great amount of advice on the internet on how to go about studying Japanese. However, regardless of which approach you follow, take the time to appreciate how far you have come, whether it's in realizing that you were able to express more in a conversation than you could before, or that you could understand something in show, book, or song that you weren't able to previously. This can help motivate you and serve as a reward through the hours of studying. As for expecting a certain level of fluency in x amount of months or even years, I think that can possibly be discouraging if a person doesn't meet their own expectations.

Could you recommend some videos for people who want to get started with your YouTube channel?

Space Brothers Anime screenshotI think a good start would be the Clannad Episode Special or Space Brothers Episode Special. What I really liked about making these episodes is that I felt like I could highlight material that would be useful to both beginners and to people who have been learning Japanese for a while. Even if people don't listen to the explanations following the anime scenes, I hope they can enjoy viewing the subtitles I provided on the clips and get a chance to pick out something new to learn.

March Month in Review Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Fri, 7 Apr 2017 17:52:00 +0000 3,732 page views and $54 dollars in revenue 皆さん、こんにちは!Hello everybody!

This month I wasn't able to make as much progress as I had wished because I got quite busy with my day job. Nonetheless, I have some cool things to report on! 😉

Revenue and Expenses

This was an average month for Anki deck sales. The sales amounted to a total of $54 US dollars. Even though ~$50 a month is not a big amount, it feels great to have achieved this kind of a passive income. The first deck sale was made in July of 2016 and the amount of sales has remained stable since then. Although creating the deck was a massive amount of work, after the deck releases I haven't had to work too much to maintain this income, except for the full revision of the decks I carried out last month. Although this income has given me a lot of motivation, I do not have any plans for increasing this revenue, rather my focus will be on generating new revenue via the Koipun Reader.

This month I didn't have any unusual expenses. Expenses reached a total of $19.30, so for this month I am $34.64 in the green.

  • Payment Processing Costs: $2.46
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $7
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $9.90 (I got a 10% discount by simply enabling two factor authentication, wohoo!)

Revenue Goals for 2017

My goal revenue goal for 2017 is to reach $1000 in MRR (monthly recurring revenue). I will have to experiment with pricing to find what what truly works, but as initial experiment test I plan on having two pricing tiers for Koipun Reader.

  1. One will be $18 a month for Koipun Reader, which will include all of the software features and unlimited use of the service and access to the Koipun Readers community.
  2. The other will be priced at $188 a month and will include Koipun Reader and four 60 minutes lessons with a professional Japanese teacher and a monthly in-depth evaluation from the teacher. 

These pricing plans will probably change by the time I launch Koipun Reader, but these are my current plans after a lot of reading and consideration. The idea for including lessons with Koipun Reader came from my own Japanese learning experiences and from my previous Koipun iteration.

I want to recreate for other learners the experiences I have  with my Japanese teacher, 絵理子先生, which have helped me tremendously with achieving my learning goals and improving my overall Japanese reading ability. Also, with previous iteration of Koipun, Koipun classroom; which offered online group lessons via Google Hangouts, I learned that some learners are willing to invest significant amounts of time and money to get personalized guidance, coaching and teaching. I will apply those lessons to have an offering that provides, along with Koipun Reader, an integrated learning experience.

With the $188 plan, I would only need five subscribers to reach my goal of $1000 MRR.

"How I Learned Japanese" Interview Series Release

Koipun Site Traffic on Google Analytics

This month I got more page views than usual, because I finally released the How I Learned Japanese interview series with Bryan's excellent interview. I launched the series on reddit/r/learnjapanese and the response was overwhelmingly positive. I was getting nervous about spending so much time working on this series without much validation, so it was great to receive such a great response. I was delaying the release because I felt that I didn't enough interviews ready, but the majority of the readers didn't read the other articles so that really didn't matter. I could have launched the series with just a single interview. Also, very few readers, around 2-3, subscribed to my newsletter.

My initial goal for the release was to increase the number of newsletter subscribers, but after realizing that the vast majority of people won't subscribe to a newsletter so easily, I changed my goal to getting people to try out Koipun Reader. After changing goals, I aligned the blog design to that goal, by eliminating all noise from the blog articles e.g. eliminating the social share icons and moving the newsletter subscribe form to the very bottom of the page. Instead of those I added a link and a short pitch for Koipun Reader at the bottom of each article. I am not sure those changes made any difference, but a good number of people, around 3% of visitors, did end up trying Koipun Reader.

New Interviews and blog posts

One of my goals for March was to publish two new interviews. Although I didn't reached that goal, I did publish one interview which is quite different from those I had published before. The interview features Jay who is studying Japanese as a trained linguist. I do have two other interviews in the pipeline that I hope will materialize in April and I also wrote a blog post of my own on Japanese immersion strategies.


This month I put some effort into trying to improve SEO for Koipun. Since I have already invested a non-trivial amount of time in blogging I want to see how I can get that content to more people through search engines. This is how Koipun is doing now for some search queries.

Google Search Console data

This proves that organic traffic is extremely small at this point, but it is already a marked improvement from a few months ago where I was getting no organic traffic at all. I don't think I will see these results improve much until I generate more back-links, but I still want to put some effort in SEO from early ow, since I think it will be critical in the long term. To improve SEO I asked for some tips from a friend who is a blogger and made the following changes:

  1. Made it so that there only one h1 tag per page, especially in the blog post.s
  2. I renamed almost all of the blog post titles using data from the Google Keywords Tool to optimize for long tail keywords

Processing Japanese Texts

 This month I made some serious progress on the backend server for Koipun Reader. In short, now I have the basic code to process arbitrary Japanese text, identify its components and lookup definitions. This was made possible by some incredible resources.

I am using MeCab, a  Japanese morphological analyzer, to parse the Japanese text along with MeCab Ipadic Neologd, a neologism dictionary for MeCab. Then I look up the definitions using data from the incredible JMdict, created by Jim Breen and now managed by the Electronic Dictionary Research and Development Group (EDRDG). The Koipun Reader will truly be built on the shoulders of giants. Once I started having some revenue from Koipun Reader, I plan on donating to these and other free and open source software projects. Now that I have the basic backend code for processing Japanese texts working, I need to put it into a nice package I can use from the front-end.

Goals for April

 Like the previous month, I had planned on a new Koipun release for this month, which never materialized 😥 Thus I am going to keep my April goals simple and focused on the development side.

1. Have a working prototype of the Koipun Reader text import functionality where the user can copy and paste any text into Koipun Reader and it will be processed and be beautifully presented, even if it doesn't have any of the Reader features working such as saving known words.

2. Release the two interviews I have left on the pipeline.

As always, thank you for your support — if you've got any ideas, feedback, or questions, please email me!

Japanese Language Learning Using Linguistics Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sun, 26 Mar 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Jay shares his linguistics based approach to learning Japanese and how he is using those insights to create his own Japanese learning materials. What is your current level in the language like?

I’m a much better reader and writer than I am a speaker. Very recently, I’ve found that I can read an article pretty well without one of the rikai software and I can type conversations okay. With listening, it tends to be that to fully understand a film or series I’ll need subtitles once but not for a second viewing.

I took the N5 way back in 2012 when I was a sophomore in college and I passed. I took the N2 last year in December and I didn’t pass. I thought I’d have time to sit down and commit a lot of information to memory, but due to work obligations I really wasn’t able to study much. Oh well... Next year, right?

I’ve been studying Japanese since the summer before my senior year. I did the equivalent to a semester at a summer school program in Harvard, then I took two years of Japanese at Boston College. I’ve picked up studying again since last year, when I was able to commit to the J-Sub Experiment as a full-time job.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Aikido moveI grew up doing Aikido, and thankfully my school maintained a lot of the traditional terminology and the teachers knew what they meant. So Japanese was always in the periphery of my “language awareness” for a long time, so that was my initial interest. It was when I started studying linguistics in college that I realized that Japanese is a fascinating and fun language to study from that perspective, and it’s something worth looking into. Thankfully one of my linguistics professors knew Japanese and taught a Japanese philology class and introduced me to a lot of the ideas I discuss on my platform.

Can you briefly explain what is philology?

Philology is the study of a language through texts. Philologists tend to use the classics for their research. Latin philologists will read Tacitus and Julius Caesar, for example. I use anime scripts for Japanese. It’s the job of philology to contextualize and analyze the use of a language in the text. Who is it directed towards? Why was it written? Is this way of expressing oneself typical of the time or is it peculiar? Is it hard or easy to understand? What nuances is the writer bringing about?

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

Japanese buildingThis is a great question because of how many layers exist in motivations. I’ll admit that on a very superficial level what keeps me going in terms of my personal studying is an ego thing. I’m a linguist, not a translator or interpreter or a language professor, and that allows me to not need to be fluent, but I also feel that I need to prove to myself and others that I can get to that level — and it’s a good thing to be at that level. I’ll also say that for professional reasons, because I don’t have the time to explain to people what my skills are exactly, it’s good to have a certificate (like a JLPT) and just show them that I do have some level of mastery over Japanese. And also on a philosophical/social level I just know that there’s a world I’ve yet to experience that I really want to be able to peek into, but I need a stronger grasp of the language to do that.

How do you organize or plan your studying?

It depends a lot on what my work schedule looks like, but right now I’m trying to dedicate a few hours a day to reviewing Kanji, and once I’m fairly comfortable with that I’ll look at some textbooks, see what insights they offer. So I’m trying to work up to about 4 hours of daily studying divided between Kanji and just reading/grammar stuff.

How does your typical kanji study session look like?

I’ll start off with about 100 Kanji flashcards and sift through them to find the one’s I don’t know. I’ll set those aside, study them, and then take another 100 Kanji flashcards and do the same thing, adding the ones I don’t know to my original stack of Kanji I don’t know. I’ll do this as many times as I need until I have a set of about 400 Kanji I don’t know so that I can just study those. On most days, I’m just trying to study meanings. If I’m working on writing, then I’m looking at the meaning and writing the Kanji. Needless to say, that takes a lot more time, so I’m only able to go through about 200 in about 5 hours.

Could you please share about your linguistics background and how that has affected how you approach to learning Japanese?

So I studied Linguistics in college, where a lot of our training went into syntax and semantics and historical linguistics. We were required to take philology courses where we’d look at texts and have to explain every single bit about them, not unlike my runthroughs. (I actually took a philology course in Classical Armenian and the textbook was in German. That was insane.)

Ancient GreeceWhen it came to Japanese, I realized relatively quickly that the textbook has a very specific agenda to have you speaking very formally and agreeably, and it’s willing to bend truths to get you to do that. So I was always skeptical and kind of wondering what’s really going on. But with my other obligations I was never able to do some independent studying and research. (My independent work was in Ancient and Byzantine Greek philology.) Once I started working on The J-Sub Experiment, it became clear the information needed to tackle a standard text or conversation in Japanese isn’t any harder than what one needs to work with Ancient Greek. So I see things from that technical perspective about 85% of the time.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

Ideally, I’d like to be able to do Old and Middle Japanese philology, where the answers to many of my questions undoubtedly lie. I recognize that I won’t be able to do that alone — and step one is mastering Modern Japanese — and that it’s something to look into later down the line.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

I’m not going to lie, Wikipedia’s pages on Japanese are very good, even if they come across as fairly technical to some. Tusjimura Natsuko’s An Introduction to Japanese Linguistics was my go-to resource when I started this project. Kuno Susumu’s The Structure of the Japanese Language is another great book, one I wrestled with and eventually conceded to.

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

Gaki no TsukaiI’m a big fan of Downtown and the Gaki no Tsukai television program. I think those guys are really funny. But they speak in Kansai-ben and they speak fast. The resource that’s helped me the most to learn is anime, if only as a byproduct of work. I’m very thankful that I have the time to sit down and watch an anime and the skills to get something out of it. I particularly like Toradora and Lucky Star.

I’ve mentioned this before on one of my blogs, but I’m not a big anime fan personally. The media I consume that I always have on my mind and can’t get enough of is opera.

What type of opera do you like?

I listen to right about everything, from the Baroque to operas that came out a few years go. What I listen to more than anything, though, is Wagner, who is probably the most controversial composer in all of Classical music. You can say whatever you want about the guy, but there’s no arguing that the music itself is some of the most sublime ever written.

How have you incorporated anime into your studies?

Lucky StarCurrently just writing run throughs helps a lot, and it’s something I look back on, ponder how I’d handle it differently (especially those early Lucky Star posts.) Outside that, I don’t have a structured way of using anime.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

I’ve promoted prioritizing reading, but writing is something that helps you recognize Kanji, so ultimately I want to do both. I’m philosophically aligned with Heisig (for the most part), and I did use his first book. I’ve also used the Kanji books Japanese schoolkids use (the ones with Pokémon and Doraemon characters) that give the stroke order and example words, because they’re fun. Outside of that, my studies involve using official Jōyō Kanji lists and example words I find through databases.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

I use flashcards I make on Quizlet, and I use the databases of and for my Kanji needs.

Have you been to Japan?

Never been. I suspect that for work reasons I will eventually have to visit the country (boring business stuff), but I have no immediate plans.

What other languages do you speak?

I also speak Spanish and French. I read a bunch of other languages and varying skill levels. Spanish is my first language and I learned French at my local Alliance Française one summer to read philosophy and linguistic resources. It was a really great experience since it was just me one-on-one with the teacher. Because I had some experience with Latin and I know Spanish, I was able to triangulate on French and with practice and listening to many operas I was able to come to speak it conversationally fairly well.
 I still have to talk to myself in French every now and again to keep the tongue rapid.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Oh that’s tough. I started learning Japanese at such a strange point in my life. Hindsight is 20/20, but nevertheless I feel like I should have dedicated more time to acquiring Japanese linguistics resources while I still had them available to me for free in college, because it would’ve helped me a lot now.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Give yourself the experience of trying to learn it all at once at least one time in your journey. Sit down and tell yourself that you’re going to learn all the Jōyō Kanji and 5,000 vocabulary words and read every grammar textbook one would need in just a year’s time. It’s probably not going to work, but you’re going to see a lot of things, and the more things you expose yourself to when you’re starting out, the less things you’ll be surprised by in the long run. So when you eventually get to those things that you only glanced at once upon a time, you’ll go “Oh yeah!” and not “Oh my goodness, what the hell??”

Can you tell us about your project, The J-Sub Experiment?

The J-Sub Experiment BannerThe J-Sub Experiment is a platform where we help people learn Japanese with the help of anime and related media (visual novels, video games, etc.) We look at Japanese from a linguistic standpoint, linguistics being the science of language, breaking it down and using technical terms to describe the relationships between the words and phrases and discerning patterns that repeat themselves all the time. So learning Japanese becomes less of a list of “expressions” and becomes a very regular repetition of patterns.

If you want to get an idea of what Japanese linguistics looks like, our Starter Kit will give you a very vivid image, especially our Verbs section. It throws a lot of terminology at you, but you don’t need to memorize any of it since we bring things up again and again in our other works, so it’ll all sink in eventually, promise. We also wrote a very popular article on Tumblr on a linguistic perspective of the first lesson from the Genki textbook, just so that one can see how we treat things and how traditional language instruction teaches things.

For people who want JLPT resources in our style, the Daily Japanese Study Units from the Tumblr blog dontcallmesensei, are very popular because they show that there really isn’t anything special about most “expressions” one needs to memorize. That’s a personal pet project that has helped lots of people who are higher up in college courses when the amount of explanations become few.

10 Japanese Immersion Strategies Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Tue, 21 Mar 2017 13:19:00 +0000 10 Japanese immersion strategies you can use anywhere in the world. Learn some strategies to fit in more Japanese learning throughout the day. It can be hard to make time for studying Japanese with a busy schedule. One way to get around that problem is by surrounding ourselves with Japanese. While living in Japan, walking down the street and reading signs can become a study session. Of course, not everybody is so lucky as to be able to live in Japan.Thankfully, we can recreate some of those experiences anywhere in the world. And for those of you who are living in Japan, with these strategies you can fit in even more learning opportunities into your daily life.

1. Plan your day in Japanese

Japanese Todo ListWriting Todo lists by hand has many advantages.

1. You won't get distracted by Facebook notifications or be tempted to go to Reddit or your favorite sites.
2. You will avoid procrastination, because copying Todos by hand takes time and nobody wants to copy the same Todo over and over.
3. You will tend to want to do tasks immediately so that you don't have to write them.
4. Your Todo list won't grow out of control because it is hard to keep up a massive amount of Todos in paper, so you can focus on what truly matters.

By keeping your Todo list by hand in Japanese, you get all of these benefits and in addition you will look forward to write your Todos, since writing your Todos will become a short Japanese study session. Furthermore, by writing meaningful things related to your daily life, you will naturally acquire a lot of useful vocabulary. This is compounded by the fact that writing by hand is more effective than typing for learning.

If you want to immerse yourself even more while doing your Todos, use a Japanese notebook or 手帳(てちょう) to keep your Todos. I highly recommend the ほぼ日手帳 as it has a terrific design.

2. Do your gaming in Japanese

Android physics game in JapaneseMany people love to play video games to wind down. You can do this in Japanese! If you switch your smartphone to Japanese, games will automatically change to their Japanese versions. Don't worry, switching back and forth between languages is very easy with iPhones and Android phones. Of course, kanji knowledge is absolutely necessary to do this, but not as much as you think! Try your favorite smartphone games in Japanese.

Animal Crossing for Nintendo 3DS in JapaneseIf you haven't learned many kanji yet, there are also many games that come with furigana now a days. Animal Crossing for 3DS is a gold mine for Japanese learners. Not only does it include furigana, but the vocabulary is fairly simple and you can learn about speech styles by interacting with the animals in your village.

3. Write a diary in Japanese

Japanese DiaryWhat do Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Mark Twain, Chareles Darwin, Frida Kahlo and Leonardo da Vinci have in common? They all kept diaries. Keeping a diary helps you distill and process your thoughts, feelings and ideas. When you put your thoughts into words, you can think about them clearly.

Your diary will also become the book of your own history, a powerful tool to learn more effectively from the past. By keeping your diary in Japanese you will find your own Japanese voice and become fluent in talking about your daily life.

4. Listen to Japanese podcasts

Suntory Saturday Waiting Bar Avanti podcastMany folks enjoy listening to podcasts during their commutes or while driving. Why not try a podcast in Japanese? It doesn't have to be learning content per se, you can listen to podcasts about any topic you are genuinely interested in. There is a surprising amount of podcasts available in Japanese.

Yes, you will miss out on many words and phrases. But as long as you can get the gist of what is being said, you can learn while listening.

There is one podcast that truly stands out amongst all the ones I have tried, Suntory Saturday Waiting Bar Avanti. The Suntory Saturday Waiting Bar Avanti podcast was originally a broadcast from Tokyo FM, which unfortunately has been discontinued. Thankfully, there is a huge backlog available.

This podcast transports you to an extremely chic or おしゃれ bar in Tokyo where you will be able to eavesdrop on interesting conversations about any topic you can imagine. The dialogues are surprisingly easy to follow and extremely interesting. Each episode features a new guest!

5. Keep a Japanese calendar

Japanese CalendarBy keeping a Japanese calendar you will practice Japanese by simply looking at the dates. Furthermore, you can learn about all the interesting Japanese holidays such as 海の日(うみのひ). You can find these calendars in many on-line stores, including Amazon.

6. Use Google in Japanese

Using Google in Japanese is surprisingly easy. Since the Google interface is very well designed, if you have any doubts about the interface you can usually figure it out by logic and intuition. When you use Google in Japanese, you get many benefits.

  • The information boxes will appear in Japanese, teaching you new vocabulary while you are simply doing Google searches.
  • You will naturally interact with kanji throughout the day, like people who live in Japan.
  • You will learn about computer terms in Japanese
  • You will get more search results in Japanese. Thus, Google will nod you to use more Japanese in your daily life!

Pro-tip: If you use a browser add-on such as Rikai-chan, you can instantly get help with any word or kanji you don't know.

Google in Japanese

7. Use your phone in Japanese

Android interface in JapaneseJust as with Google, because both Android and iPhone phones count with intuitive user interfaces, they are relatively easy to use in Japanese. In the case of Android, you can install the Language Switcher app to quickly switch between Japanese and your native language if necessary.

One of the best things about using your phone in Japanese is doing GPS navigation with Google Maps. You can learn how to listen to navigation commands in Japanese just by driving around town!

8. Stay fit in Japanese

 トップ デベロッパー Stretching & Pilates Sworkit app in JapaneseIf you switch your phone to Japanese, your apps will also switch to their Japanese versions, including your fitness apps.This makes for a great opportunity to learn Japanese while exercising. One good option is the Sworkit app, available for both iPhone and Android phones.

This Sworkit app has Japanese audio spoken by a real person, that explains to you in Japanese how to do the different exercises. The instructions are easy to follow since the vocabulary is quite simple. The vocabulary mostly consists of body parts and katakana versions of English fitness terms.

9. Watch your favorite TV shows in Japanese (even if they are not originally in Japanese)

Rick and Morty in JapaneseMany of you already enjoy tons of Japanese media in Japanese such as anime and dorama. But had you thought of enjoying your favorite non-Japanese shows and movies in Japanese? Many TV shows and movies have Japanese dubs and subs available. You can do this even on Netflix! For example, Rick and Morty is available in Japanese with subtitles on Netflix.

10. Listen to Japanese music

Perhaps some of you might have been put off from Japanese music by some of the popular idol groups. But Japan has many great artists, such as 椎名林檎(しいなりんご).

You can get many artist recommendations from If you find an artist you like and then study the lyrics of your favorite songs, you will acquire tons of vocabulary by simply listening to the songs you love.

February Month in Review Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Mon, 6 Mar 2017 00:00:00 +0000 1,069 page views and $108 US dollars in revenue This month I am publishing the monthly review late, which is a little bit of cheating since I pushed out quite a couple of things on the first few days of March (;一_一) The upside is that I have more good things to report on!


Everything has remained stable traffic wise and the traffic sources have stayed the same. I haven't done any big marketing moves, so I didn't expect traffic to improve. In fact, I am happy it has stayed the same without any extra effort.


Revenue and Expenses

This was a good month for Anki deck sales. I suspect it might have been due to this post on where somebody mentioned our Anki deck. The Anki flash card sales amounted to a total of $108 US dollars. Anki flash card sales remain the only source of revenue, but I do have many expenses for this month.

  • Payment Processing Costs: $4.92
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $7
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $11
  • One year of ButterCMS for hosting the blog: $288
  • Paid a native speaker on Fiverr to manually revise the Genki I deck: $120.75
  • Paid a native speaker on Fiverr to manually revise the Genki II deck: $168
  • Paid on Fiverr for a set of 64 recordings of Japanese phrases, which I used to make an Anki deck for the mailing list subscribers: $10.00
  • Japanese candy for this month's Valentine's giveaway: ~$40 (didn't keep the receipt)
  • Shipping the Japanese candy for this month's giveaway: ~$35 (didn't keep the receipts)

That comes to a grand total of $684.67 in expenses which leaves me $576.67 in the red for this month, ouch! That said, I do not regret any of these expenses. Even the Japanese candy for the giveaway was worth it, even though the Valentine's giveaway was a failed experiment.

Valentine's Giveaway

At this moment I have over 260 newsletter subscribers, but few Twitter followers and Facebook likes. I wanted to convert some of my newsletter subscribers into Twitter followers and Facebook likers, so I came up with a Valentine's day giveaway to encourage people to join Koipun on those other platforms. The following is a screenshot the relevant part of the newsletter where I promoted the giveaway.

 Valentine's Japanese Candy Giveaway for the Koipun mailing list

In the end, only around five people ended up participating, which comes around to about $15 per like/follow when taking into account the cost of the candy and the shipping. I was expecting more participation, so I asked the folks at the SoloFounders Slack group for help in doing a post-mortem. These are some of the theories that where floated around:

  1. The picture is not good
  2. The prize is not enticing enough
  3. It is too much work to enroll to participate
  4. People want an immediate and guaranteed reward

I think that the giveaway failed because of a combination of all of these points, but perhaps the most important point is that people want immediate and guaranteed rewards. If I try another giveaway in the future, I will probably try it with a digital download that I can give away to everybody who participates.

"How I learned Japanese" Interview Series

I am running an interview series featuring Japanese learning gurus who share their insights on learning Japanese. The series is tittled, "How I learned Japanese". For February, I had set the goal of reaching a total of six interviews and launching the series on reddit. I didn't reach the six interviews, but I finished and published three new interviews, which brought me to a total of five. The interviews are getting better and better and I have been tremendously lucky to find so many great participants. 

The goal of the series is to eventually increase traffic to Koipun, but even if it fails on that regard I will be happy I did it. I have learned so much from talking to these folks, they have been a great source of inspiration. 皆様、参加してくれてありがとうございました! (Everybody, thank you for participating)

I still want to eventually promote the blog on, but I have decided to delay doing that until I have released a new version of Koipun Reader. I am worried that folks who remember Koipun, from my original release, will see it again and lose faith on it because it still looks about the same since the initial release. On the meantime, in order to not operate in a total void of feedback, I will keep posting the interviews on the newsletter.

I have posted all of the interviews on the newsletter and although I haven't received any direct feedback on them, people keep clicking on the them at high rations (~40% click rate) so I assume they are enjoying them. I also got a friend who is into learning languages to read it and even though he is not learning Japanese he enjoyed them and read all of them, without me asking, so I take that as a sign that the content is good and interesting.

The new Genki II Anki deck

Finally it has been finished and shipped to everybody who pre-ordered it! Shipping this new deck was one of the three major goals I had for February. I had been taking pre-orders for this deck along the sales of the Genki I deck since July of last year. Some people had emailed me already asking about ETAs for the release and it was long over due. I have to thank my girlfriend for doing the bulk of the work.

She wrote all of the sentences, recorded the audio and searched for all the images. It is a tremendous amount of work. After she was done with that work I turned it into an actual Anki deck and had a native speaker I found on Fiverr revise the deck. For the original deck I had done the revision myself, but it is a tremendously painful and time consuming process, so I decided to outsource that part this time. The deck is available for sale at our Anki decks page.

Koipun Reader Development

My other goal for February was to release a new version of Koipun Reader, which did not happen. The interviews and the other projects, such as the weekly newsletter, have taken way more effort than expected and I found myself quite busy with my day job. That said, I did make some slight improvements. I have everything setup to start migrating from Angular 1 to Vue.js. I also put in quite a few hours worth of development this month in improving the blog and the overall styling of the page.

Goals for March

This month I want my main focus to be development on the Koipun Reader, but I must also continue the newsletter, the interview series and finish the Genki I Anki deck revision.

  1. Release two new interviews for the "How I learned Japanese" Interview Series
  2. This time actually release the blog on
  3. Make a new Koipun Reader release
  4. Released the revised version of the Genki I deck

I want this new Koipun Reader release to run on Vue.js and have the following features:

  • True support for mobile
  • A new goal based on-boarding tour
  • Have a new "article" and an article selection page
  • Develop some back-end assistance for the creation of articles, which will put me en route to having a way to import arbitrary text

These are ambitious goals, so I may cut down on some of these features, but I will try as hard as I can to focus on development and get a new version out of the door.

This month I was hoping to report on time spent on Koipun via time tracking, but I have been quite bad at doing time tracking so I do not have any useful data to show. Time tracking is not a priority at the moment, but I will still try to improve in that area so that I can eventually start reporting how much time I am spending on Koipun.

As always, thank you for your support — if you've got any ideas, feedback, or questions, please email me!

Learn Japanese Vocabulary Organically Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sun, 5 Mar 2017 19:50:00 +0000 Cure Dolly, explains her organic method for learning Japanese through immersion and how to turn off your English circuits. What is your current level in the language like?

Cure Dolly in JapanI am really not sure of my level in Japanese since my learning path has been rather unconventional and I have never taken any exams. I can hold everyday conversations. When I am in Japan I remove my English language circuit so that I can only speak Japanese.

So yes, I can function in a Japanese-only environment. I watch anime and some movies without subtitles and can usually get the drift, although I still need Japanese subtitles for some of the details. I would say listening is my weakest skill. To be honest it isn't that good in English either.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

I have never really gotten on all that well with current Western culture. I didn't watch movies or television or anything. I was amazingly ignorant of any popular culture that was not game-related. Even now Japanese people ask me what I think of this or that Western personality and I don't know if it is a singer, an actor or the person who climbed the Empire State Building. Truthfully, I thought that I just didn't like current human culture.

I liked games though, and all the ones I liked were from Japan. Then I encountered someone who had come back from spending some years Japan, and talking with her I somehow knew that I needed to learn Japanese. She taught me a little bit - really very little. But I knew that I had found my language and from then on Japanese became my life.

That was around the middle of 2012. My friend returned to Japan that same year. Ironically enough, as I became increasingly immersed in Japanese, she became increasingly disenchanted with it. By one of those fascinating twists of fate, the day I arrived in Japan in 2015 was the same day she left, from the same airport at the same hour. If there had been a small gap between our flights we might have met in the airport for a cup of coffee, but there wasn't. It felt strangely symbolic. She was going as I was coming.

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

Actually this is the question I dread when I am helping someone. "How do I keep my motivation up?" or "How do I regain my motivation?" Because I just don't know.

It is one problem I have never had. Japanese people sometimes ask why I am interested in Japanese and I always say that it was 一目惚れ (hitomebore) which is like "love at first sight". I fell in love with Japanese and I have never fallen out of love.

I am a butterfly. Nothing lasts with me except my most basic principles, and somehow Japanese became one of those principles. Every now and again I used to ask myself "Why Japanese?" "Isn't it silly spending all this time on Japanese?"

But it didn't make any difference. It was like asking "Why eat?" or "Why sleep?" Rationally you may not know why, but that doesn't stop it being a basic need that you must satisfy.

And in a way I think I do know why. English - language and culture - never felt like "home" to me. I always felt like a stranger in a strange world. Japanese, while it was still strange, was nowhere near as strange as English or anything else I had ever encountered. It felt as near to home as I could get on this world.

At first I occasionally thought things like "When I get good at Japanese maybe I'll move on to Korean". Now I realize that was nonsense. I am not interested in "languages", I am interested in Language, and to me Language is Japanese. Not Korean and not English.

Has working on KawaJapa helped you with your Japanese?

Yes it has. Actually in the early days KawaJapa was a kind of scratch-pad where I and a couple of other Cures hashed out some of our ideas. At that time we didn't think of it as becoming a big site with a large-ish audience.KawaJapan mailing list

While I don't use the site "experimentally" - that is, I don't float ideas until they've been tried and tested - I have used it to formulate and consolidate things. Particularly some of my kanji articles have been a way of consolidating my own work on the particular kanji.

This is even more true of my upcoming book. While it is a beginners' kanji book, it is intended secondarily for people who know a lot of kanji by "facial recognition" and want to hone their knowledge into more exact form. I am one of those people, and writing the book has been quite helpful!

While I am not a kanji-writer and haven't tried to be, I was a bit appalled by the fact that I couldn't even pass the Kanji Recognizer First-Grade writing quiz (even though I can obviously read all the kanji). After writing the First-Grade part of the book I could ace the quiz.

How do you organize or plan your studying?

I can't manage routine at all. I mean not at all. As I said, I am a butterfly. Many dolls are. I become furiously involved with one thing and then another. But they are all in Japanese because - what other language is there? I did some online lessons with amateur tutors via Skype in the first year but other than that I have had no formal schooling in Japanese. The only thing I really keep up on a daily basis is my Anki which I now have down to one (very big) deck. Mostly because I am so bad at managing even a few decks.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

I want to write books in Japanese. I am a writer. It's the only thing I am any good at. I don't want to go on writing in English forever. My language is Japanese. So I want to become as proficient in Japanese as I am in English. I'll probably always have a funny accent, but then I have a funny accent in English too.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

Japanese for Japanese elementary school children

I am not sure if Anki counts as a resource, but it is the one study tool I have consistently used and recommend to everyone. Rikaisama with its ability to return Japanese-Japanese definitions of words and then bringing them directly into Anki is the other thing I would hate to be without. Beyond that, the Internet! Where would we be without it? It has absolutely transformed the possibilities of self-immersion.

Another resource I really like is Japanese school 国語 (kokugo, Japanese as a native language) textbooks. They have helped me a great deal to understand how Japanese grammar really fits together from a Japanese point of view, which is very different in some respects from the Japanese grammar taught in textbooks for 外国人 (gaikokujin, foreigners).

Another resource I really like is Japanese school 国語 (kokugo, Japanese as a native language) textbooks. They have helped me a great deal to understand how Japanese grammar really fits together from a Japanese point of view, which is very different in some respects from the Japanese grammar taught in textbooks for 外国人 (gaikokujin, foreigners).

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

I almost never used to read books in English, and no fiction. Now I am something of a bookworm. I love 魔法少女 (mahou shoujo, magical girl) novels! I like a lot of anime and am gradually coming around to manga (for some reason I didn't get on with manga at first).Magical Girl Anime

I don't really do much study-as-study beyond the above-mentioned Japanese school textbooks and ever-present Anki, (which I think of as a vocabulary-pinner/kanji trainer). However, I learn a lot of vocabulary from my reading. In fact I learn nearly all my vocabulary from Japanese materials and the rest from conversation with Japanese people.

Mostly I don't really think of myself as "studying". I think of myself as doing whatever I am doing - watching anime, playing a game, talking to someone, whatever it may be. I guess I think of myself as "growing up" in Japanese rather than studying it.

You are a big advocate for immersion. Can you offer some immersion examples/tips for our readers?

As mentioned above, the Internet has revolutionized the possibilities for Japanese immersion. You can get access to all kinds of media from wherever you are.

You can find Japanese subtitles for many anime and dorama online.

You can watch Japanese lessons in Japanese from lower Intermediate level upward (Nihongo no Mori on YouTube is very good).Nihongomori YouTube Channel

If you play games you can find Japanese versions on Ebay or elsewhere. Steam also has Japanese language games, including visual novels (often cheap, sometimes free), if you are a パソコン (pasokon) player. I am a Nintendo-doll and I play a lot of text-heavy adventures and visual novels.

Whatever your interests you can find the materials for pursuing them in Japanese.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

I have always advocated learning kanji as words, not as kanji-in-the-abstract.

Usagi from Sailor MoonI am not good at writing kanji by hand and it is a question I am a little torn on. On the one hand I don't want to grow up unable to write properly, like Sailor Moon (Usagi was such a poor scholar that even after she became Princess Serenity she wrote a letter in all-hiragana)... 

On the other hand I don't write English by hand. Not at all. Not shopping lists. Not Notes to Self (or anyone else). Nothing. I don't think I write (by hand) 50 words of English in a year. Pens and pencils are very big for a doll's hands you know. Sometimes people give me pretty notebooks and I feel guilty because I know I will never touch them. I am a paperless, all-electronic doll.

So it feels strange and kind of circular, to someone who believes in learning Japanese by using it, to practice a skill which will only ever be used to practice the skill. I think I will probably learn to write kanji eventually but it isn't a priority.

I have mainly used Anki to help cement kanji, in the form of words. I mostly break the kanji down into their components and make stories of them like Heisig-sensei (and many Japanese schoolchildren), but there we part company because I believe in learning them as part of living the language, not as keyworded abstractions.

Ironically enough, I am currently working on a kanji book. I am not a great advocate of kanji books. However, I think this one will be useful for people taking my kind of approach. It is essentially a story-book approach to the first kanji (all Japanese first-grade kanji and all those needed for JLPT N5), showing how kanji fit together in themselves and with each other.

The idea of the book (I'll share the title for the first time publicly here - it will be called Alice in Kanji Land) is to show kanji as characters and adventures. Because to me they are living entities. I love kanji. To me a phonetic-only writing system feels rather cold and 寂しい (sabishii). Kanji plus kana is how human language should be written. Without one or the other written language is half-formed and lacking. That is how I feel. But who am I to lecture humans about their language? I am just a doll.

Can you tell us more about how you use Anki for studying Japanese?

I think Anki is a very useful tool and I have always advocated it. I do think some people take it too far and make it too central to their learning (at least from my point of view - multiple approaches are of course valid). Anki is a prop. It is a set of training wheels. Or to put it another way it is like the scaffolding used in constructing a building or the tacking-stitches used when making clothes. It helps enormously to keep things (words and kanji) in place until they are structurally incorporated into one's psyche by real immersion.

I have used Anki in a few ways, some of them not very Anki-like. For example, for a while I used Anki as a device for audio-shadowing - I wrote an article on this. Currently I only have one big deck and it is essentially a vocabulary deck (I don't regard vocabulary and kanji as two separate projects).

Currently I use J-J definitions as far as possible and my typical Anki-card will have a word in kanji on the front while the back will have the reading in kana and the definition in Japanese. Often it will have an example sentence very occasionally more than one, also in Japanese (in many cases an example sentence is better than a definition for telling you what the word actually means). It will have audio for both the reading and the definition, and the example sentence if there is one. Most of the time I only look at the front and do the rest by ear.

Occasionally when a word is an object with a clear form but a complex definition - such as プリン (purin, creme caramel) or a cheese-grater - I will have a picture in place of a definition. Japanese Purin

I have always made my own decks because I believe in learning from one's immersion experience, not from some list (including a pre-made deck - though I have used, and we do in fact make, limited pre-made decks for particular purposes - Anki is a very versatile tool). I often associate a word with my first encounter with it in a story.

With Rikaisama you can automate the whole process of producing a card, back and front, with audio for a word. It takes one keypress. I wrote an article on how to do this as the sound part is not at all obvious from the documentation. My own cards take a little longer because I TTS the Japanese definition and may look for and TTS an example sentence. I think it is worth it to me.

Actually example sentences can also be semi-automated. I will be writing an article on how to do this in the not-too-distant future.

Can you tell us some of you favorite experiences in Japan? Do you have plans to go there again in the future?

From my first time in Japan I made it an absolute rule to use nothing but Japanese under any circumstances. On one occasion I was questioned by the police (I had become hopelessly lost looking for the library where I needed to return some books and wandered onto private property). It was a bit scary. Lost in JapanThey asked if I could speak English and I didn't want to break my no-English rule, so I hesitantly said cho-tto. They decided my Japanese was probably better than my English and we continued in Japanese. They were very nice and ended up driving me to the library in their police car.

People have always been very kind to me in Japan. I was impressed with things like the お祖母さん (obasan) in the street who saw that I had left the top button undone at the back of my dress and came and did it up for me, saying ボタンが外れました (botan ga hazuremashita). I liked that because it showed concern, but it also showed some other things. It never occurred to this お祖母さん that I might object to having my clothing corrected by a total stranger (I didn't) or might say "Hey, I wear it like that on purpose." She had no doubt about the Rightness of Things or that that sense of Rightness would be shared by any reasonable person or doll. This may be an example of what a lot of people don't like about Japan, but that in itself is one reason why I prefer Japan to the West.

I should say that this incident took place in a country town, little more than a village. Things are different in the big cities. But, for the most part, not as different as they may superficially appear to be.

One last story. I used to frequent a cafe where artists often gathered. Not cosmopolitan artists, but local people who pursued creative cultural activities. One of them is an artist who does many wonderful things with kanji and kana. When I first saw him, he was showing the Mama (owner) of the cafe some of his paintings, framed and prepared for a local exhibition and I was brave enough to show interest in them. He asked my name and I showed him how I write it (I have a Japanese name and it is written as a kind of kanji pun).

The next time I saw him, as we were chatting he looked at my face and made some sketches. The third time he presented me with a hand-carved stone 印鑑 (inkan, personal seal) that consists of a very stylized representation of my face made from the characters of my name. It is one of my most treasured items.

And yes. I am planning to go back to Japan this year. How could I not?

How is it like to be a doll in Japan? Can other dolls easily integrate into Japanese society?

Dolls are very well accepted in Japan. I go around there with my friend Licca-chan and some others (you can see photographs of some of my doll-friends on the KawaJapa header). Everyone recognizes Licca-chan who is as famous as Barbie in the West.

Most Japanese dolls, like most Japanese people, are very friendly, if often a little shy. The ball-jointed community is said to be a bit proud and stand-offish, but I haven't met any of them yet. My joints are just normal, so I can't do all the poses they can, which makes me feel a slightly nervous of meeting them.

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

Really only English, though I know bits and pieces of other languages. I am very interested in the concept of Language itself, not so much interested in actual languages - other than Japanese. I live in a non-English-speaking country and don't speak the language very well at all. Embarrassing really, but I just don't have the polyglot urge, and have it less now than ever. Flirting with other languages was all right when I was single. Now I am married to Japanese.

If I do ever learn another language, I will learn it through the medium of Japanese.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

If I had to start over, I would love to know what I know now, which is mainly why I write KawaJapa - so that other people will be able to know the things I learned by stumbling through and finding out everything the hard way..

I guess I write first and foremost for people like myself who are not a "good fit" for the more conventional methods of learning, or even for the very Heisig-and-Anki-intensive methods of the main online "immersionist" approaches (I do not wish to disparage them in the least, I know that they work well for some people, and I only use the scare-quotes because to me immersion means immersing in Japanese material, not doing the whole of Heisig without knowing a word of Japanese or plowing through 10,000 Anki sentences).

I would still learn primarily by the Anime Method I describe on KawaJapa. I would start with simpler anime than I did (I had no idea at the time what was available).

But I don't think you can go too far wrong in learning Japanese in the early stages - just so long as you don't burn yourself out, which abstract study can do. Sometimes I help people work out their own immersion path and they say "Oh but I've done all this. Did I waste my time?", and I tell them that of course they didn't. Everything they learned will help them on the way forward.

I don't think it is at all easy to get to real competence by study alone. Some form of immersion is pretty much necessary to most people if they want to take Japanese beyond being an "academic subject". But everything you learn in the early stages - however you learn it - will help your immersion path.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese? Do you have any particular advice to people who want to use anime/manga to study Japanese?

I have written so much on this that it is hard to summarize it here. What I would say is that you can do this. It isn't easy. It takes a lot of determination - but so does any other method of study that doesn't move at a snail's pace. But you can definitely learn Japanese through anime/manga. Anime must be Japanese subtitled and I prefer anime early on because you are hearing as well as seeing the words.

Do learn basic grammar first though. You don't need to finish some grammar course, but you do need to get a grasp of the rudiments of how the language hangs together.

If you are an absolute beginner you don't need to learn a lot of kanji before you start. You do need to learn hiragana at a minimum and katakana soon afterwards.

What have you learned from teaching/coaching others Japanese?

This experience has really reinforced for me how much different people learn differently. I don't think there is any one "method" that works for everyone. Insofar as I teach a "method", that method is adapted by every individual to her own needs. That is one of the things I help people with in personal sessions.

For example, even though I advocate Anki, I realize there are some people who don't need it or can't use it. Their minds work differently, they have a different set of problems and abilities. I would say Anki is right for 90% of people (it is very adaptable and can be used in various ways). But there are very few absolutes (there are some). And the more people I work with, the more I realize that this is true.

Are there any particular KawaJapa articles you would recommend to new readers?

For beginners who want to know what our approach is, this is an introduction to the "Core 4 Plus 1" immersion strategy

A very popular article is this one on how to build a core vocabulary organically

This is an introduction to how to use Anki for immersion support

For intermediate learners we have a wide array of material. I'll just pop in one sample here which gives some very useful information for predicting the on-readings of a range of kanji. I find it an invaluable help in learning and remembering many words

Can you tell us about your books on Japanese learning?

So far I have only one book actually on the subject learning Japanese, with another one coming soon.

Unlocking Japanese: Making Japanese as simple as it really isMy first book is a short one but I believe a very important one. Because I believe the way Japanese is currently taught in the West is in some respects more confusing than helpful. It sows some misconceptions that make Japanese seem more complex than it really is, and leads to confusion about how various things work, when in fact they work in a very consistent, logical and simple manner.

I can't claim full credit for Unlocking Japanese, because I was started on the path by Dr. Jay Rubin's book, Making Sense of Japanese: What the Textbooks Don't Tell You. Rubin-sensei's first few chapters were a revelation that made Japanese grammar fall into place for me. After that he goes off onto a variety of random grammar points that are all helpful, but really are only grammar points rather than continuing to deal with the core logic of the language.

What I did was follow his initial logic and develop it further (with the help of what I had learned from native Japanese school grammar). The really revealing things he says at the beginning of the book, which I recap in my first chapter (which is also available online, entitled "I Am Not an Eel"). From there on I tease out the logic of this and what it implies for many aspects of Japanese grammar. How it simplifies and clarifies everything, and does away with many of the apparent exceptions and inconsistencies thrown up by conventional Western-oriented "Japanese grammar".

I seriously believe (and many people have confirmed to me) that an evening with this small book can cut months off your path to mastering grammar and dispel confusions that last many learners a lifetime, or even end their Japanese learning altogether.

The new book, as I mentioned, will be Alice in Kanji Land. It really is an Alice book. Like many Japanese people I love Alice, and the Wonderland world, with its constant puns and twists of logic (Lewis Carroll was a great logician) is an ideal territory for the kind of things we need to do to tie together the form, meaning and pronunciation of kanji in our minds.

Of course kanji per se do not have "a pronunciation", but our approach has always been to encounter kanji through actual words, and this book follows that principle, and deals not only with the kanji and their structure but also with words that can be made with them, introducing kun-readings and on-readings ("regular names and glue-names" as Alice and her kanji-friends call them) in their natural context.

Japanese people have emotional associations with kanji, while foreign learners can find them abstract and forbidding. This book is designed to work on an emotional as well as a logical level. It is subtitled "Kanji as Character and Adventure" and aims to help readers develop a heart-relationship with the kanji.

Reading Japanese Books for Mastery. Wisdom from twenty years of studying Japanese Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Tue, 21 Feb 2017 05:12:00 +0000 Locksleyu shares how he has read dozens of novels in Japanese and translates some of them for pleasure. All while living outside of Japan. What is your current level in the language like?

Haruki Murakami's 1Q84My level varies pretty heavily between reading, listening, writing, and speaking, roughly in order from most to less proficient. I can hold everyday conversations without too much difficulty, although sometimes I get nervous around people I just met and can stumble a little. Overall, I like to think of my Japanese ability is pretty good, given I have never lived in Japan. I’ve had a few native speakers ask me “So, how long have you lived in Japan?” early in the conversation, and it’s always fun to tell them I haven’t. But to be honest, I still am only able to express a fraction of the things I would like to, and have much more to learn in terms of conversation skills.

As for understanding media, I’ve went into phases where I’ve watched mostly anime or dramas, though in recent years I have focused more on reading novels. Over time, I think I’ve read over 50-100 Japanese novels, many paper novels and some E-books.

For all these media, my understanding depends heavily on the subject matter, though usually once I watch an episode or two (or read a chapter or two) my understanding improves significantly. Generally I can enjoy dramas without subtitles, and a good portion of anime.

Have you taken any of the JLPTs? For how long have you been studying?

I have never taken any Japanese classes or formal certifications like JLPT, while I have in recent years considered the latter. I think I could probably pass a few levels of it, though I might need to polish up in a few areas first. The question is whether it is worth the time and money to study and get a plane ticket to travel to a location that holds the tests (I think it’s in California). I am pretty comfortable with my reading skills, and I don’t think the test really measures conversation skills, where I need more work.

I picked up interest in Japanese in high school and got pretty serious about studying it college. The first phrase a friend (thanks KR) told me was “Hajimemashite. Douzo yoroshiku onegaishimasu”, and that was over 20 years ago.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Though it’s a little hackneyed, anime was one the main things that got me started (Akira, Ghost in the Shell, etc.). My push to learn to read adult-level novels came much from a desire to read Haruki Murakami novels in their original, untranslated form. Also, I always wanted to learn a second language, since I feel that it allows thinking in new ways and appreciating another culture in raw form.

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

I was recently asked the same question and at the time I struggled for a concise answer. I think it has to do with me being a perfectionist, and because of the positive feedback loop I’ve managed to create where studying Japanese is fun and satisfying.

After a few years of learning the basics, I’ve graduated to the point where I don’t really “study”, I just enjoy some form of media (and may look up words as I go) or have a conversation with someone.

Also, while it sounds a little cheesy, I think it’s just plain cool to be able to understand, speak, and write in Japanese. At least for me, I feel the time I’ve put into Japanese has rewarded me richly.

You are working on the Language on Track site. What is your vision for the site and how will it help language learners?

The purpose of the site is to help you track your progress in Japanese, or any other foreign language, and to also promote sharing resources with other people. For example, you can set goals for yourself, and get points for achieving those goals.

To be honest, I created this site some time ago and it is still in a beta state. I think I need to polish up the interface and maybe refine some of the site before I consider it more than an experiment.

But I have had a bunch of people try it, and gotten some good feedback on it. If anyone is interested, feel free to try it out and let me know what you think (there is a feedback option on the site).

Has working on Self Taught Japanese helped you with your Japanese?

I am not sure if it is directly improved my Japanese too much, although I have gotten a few comments on my articles which help me refine my knowledge. Often when I get questions from readers, I’ll do some research and write an article about the topic, which further enriches me in that area.

I’ve also learned much about how to write a language-learning blog, and what sorts of things people are having trouble with.

How do you organize or plan your studying?

As I mentioned in a previous answer, I am mostly out the phase where I am “studying”, as in reading a textbook or online lesson. Instead, I appreciate various media and conversations in Japanese, and learn as I go. Off and on I go through periods where I have listened to at least one Japanese podcast (with native speakers) on my way to work, and I found this helps greatly with listening comprehension, vocabulary, and even some culture knowledge.

In the first few years of studying a foreign language, I would say explicit studying is very important, especially to get a very firm grasp on grammar and the characters (Kanji in the case of Japanese). I read many books on grammar in my early years. But the sooner you can get to point where you can start consuming media, the easier you can maintain your motivation. One shortcut is to start with books for babies or children.

Back when I was in “study” mode, I’d spend a big portion of my free time reading Japanese textbooks, and watching anime and dramas. During some periods, I’d spend several hours a day. When watching animes and dramas I’d frequently pause the video to look up words.

For those who are beginning or intermediate Japanese students, I recommend you focus on finding a consistent, enjoyable study schedule instead of forcing yourself to memorize thousands of Kanji in a short period of time (one thing that always makes me cringe to think about).

I  speak Japanese together with my wife and our son most of the time, and that helps me practice listening and speaking on a daily basis. But I had strong fundamentals which helped me do this, and had I not studied extensively it would have been hard to raise a child on a language that is not my native one. It still is quite difficult, though.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

Native-level fluency in all areas, and the ability to translate and interpret between Japanese and English.

Perfect pronunciation gets harder the older you are, and while I still pay attention to pronunciation, I think I’ve given up the goal of sounding 100% like a native.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

It really depends on the phase of my studying. Back years ago, I used the Kanji Leaner's Dictionary and Jim Breen’s WWDC site often. One of my first textbooks was Youkoso which I still think is a good resource. Now I use Dictionary Goo and just general web searches.

With all the resources on the web, I think it’s easy to get fooled into thinking if you read enough random web sites you’ll get all the basics down, but I don’t think that’s the case. Whether paper or digital form, I think you need to go through a comprehensive treatment of things like grammar.

I have a page of resources if you would like more suggestions

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

Syosetu's logoDictionary Goo, as I just mentioned above, is one of the main ones. The last few months, I’ve been using Syosetu to read free, online novels in Japanese. Once you get to the point where you can read native-level Japanese text, it opens up so many more resources that are not available in English. I highly recommend novels once you get to that point.

If I am trying to get a good overview of a single phrase or word, I may just do a Google search and read a handful of pages about the word, some in English and some in Japanese.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

One of the only areas of Japanese that I pretty actively de-emphasize is writing. While I was able to write a few hundred Kanji at one point, I’ve forgotten how to write a majority of them. I can even forget how to write characters in Hiragana and Katakana because I write by hand so rarely, though I can quickly re-learn the ones I forgot with a little time. I am sure living in Japan requires the ability to write by hand, but otherwise I see very few reasons to learn to write by hand.

Having said that, when I did focus on learning to write Kanji I learned a great deal about radicals in the process, and that helped me memorize Kanji for reading more easily. Kanji Learners Dictionary and A Guide To Remember Japanese Characters really helped me through this.

Kanji is important, and for raw memorization I think are many websites and mobile apps out there to help you. But the fact is that if you don’t use that memory, you’ll quickly forget them (unless you happen to have a great memory). So it’s equally important to actually read texts that contain those Kanji to help you integrate that knowledge.

For me, after a few years of study and a few hundred Kanji under my belt, I just started reading adult-level Japanese novels. While the first few were quite slow going, having to look up many Kanji and words along the way, years later I am much more comfortable with reading. My main frustration to this day is just that my Japanese reading speed is still much slower than my English speed.

One trick I use is making sure I (almost) always know how to pronounce words as I read. This slows things down, but makes it easier for me to look them up in the future, or use them in conversation.

Are there any software tools you use in your learning?

I’ve experimented with a few, but there is really none that I use consistently (not counting Google Docs for writing translations). Many of them are targeted at beginner or intermediate level students, so there isn’t that much for me to learn.

I think some of these tools can be great, but none of them replaces the need to put in serious effort to learn the basics, especially regarding grammar.

Can you tell us some of you favorite experiences in Japan?

Japanese TravelI’ve been there three times, each trip no more than two weeks or less.

I’ve actually written a series of detailed articles on my last trip, so rather than rehashing that please check it out if you are interested.

But to talk briefly on this topic, there is little that I don’t like about Japan: the big cities, beautiful countrysides, ancient temples and shrines, etc. It’s visually stunning and the food is almost always superb. I haven’t done as much world traveling as I would like, but Japan just feels so different from the US and everything is so fresh, despite the recent strong western influences in recent years.

And of course, Japan is the best place to learn Japanese, whether that is seeing how written Japanese is used in context, listening to college students speak at a cafe, or figuring out how to check in at a hotel.

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

Mandarin Chinese CharactersEnglish is my native language, and I studied a little Spanish in high school (forgot most of it, though). Not counting programming languages and music, Japanese is my second most fluent language after English.

I think learning languages is great, but being a perfectionist it may be a long time until I decide to switch gears. I think Mandarin Chinese might be my next language, eventually.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Since I don’t particularly regret anything about how I studied Japanese, I am not sure if I would do anything differently for that language. I guess I could have done things more efficiently, but half the fun is getting there ☺

I guess a more realistic and less philosophical question is how I would study another language from scratch, like Mandarin. As with Japanese, I would focus on getting strong grammar fundamentals, however I’d like to experiment immersing myself more in the language early on. For example, just watch random TV shows without subtitles and see if I can gradually pick up on words. I might try to read children’s books earlier, since while I do suggest that for Japanese, I didn’t actually try it myself until I had studied for a few years.

How would you compare learning Japanese today, to how it was when you first got started?

Japanese Drama 心がポキっとねI touched on this briefly in a different question, but now we have many more resources available, especially in the form of websites and mobile apps. We also have the ability to experience various forms of Japanese media (books, magazines, TV shows, etc.), often for free. There are also more specialized websites to help with reading or online instruction.

While I think these tools can make studying more efficient than, say, a decade or two ago, overall an aspiring student still has to put in the hours of time to become fluent or close to it. There are really no shortcuts. Actually, living in Japan can be considered to be a shortcut since it puts all this information and context in your face to make it easier to pick up. In particular, learning conversation is ultimately about real people and real life, so if you watch anime all day you’ll never become fluent in it. However, even if you are in Japan, learning Japanese still ultimately requires great effort, and if you continue to use English in Japan you’ll be wasting your time. Just because you’ve lived in Japan doesn’t mean you are fluent, though the longer the period the higher the chances.

While I have never taken a class in Japanese, It is not because I am against them. Rather the contrary–having a great teacher is an important element in increasing your odds to pick up the language in a short time.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

I think learning strong grammar fundamentals is one of the keys to allowing you to bootstrap your learning to take it to the next level. I guess Youkoso is a bit old now, but I’ve heard good things about Genki so I think that might be a good resource to begin with. But don’t stop after that. I recommend getting your hands on as many textbooks as you can and go through them at a comfortable pace.

But most importantly, make sure you are enjoying your Japanese studies, and try to incorporate things like anime, manga, and dramas to create a positive feedback loop to increase motivation.

Oh, and also try to make friends with Japanese people that you can exchange emails with, as that helped me greatly in my early years. I think there still may be a few “penpal” of “penfriend” sites out there.

What have you learned from translating Japanese to English? Do you have any advice to people who want to become translators?

I’m really into translation now and actually spending more time on this than nearly anything else (in my hobby time). I have a great deal to write on this matter and could probably fill a few pages, but I’ll keep it brief for now. However, at the same time, my experience in translating pales in comparison to my experience in Japanese, so I am not sure if I am really qualified to speak much about it.

In short, translation is a great way to make sure you actually comprehend a piece a text, and it’s very satisfying to be able to leverage my knowledge of both languages to enable an original Japanese work to be appreciated by a English speaker. However, I am still in the process of evaluating whether I can ever make a career (or side job) out of it.

If you are interested in translation, first make sure you are pretty confident about your reading comprehension abilities and have read a lot of native Japanese to start picking up nuances of words. Then you can start somewhere like Gengo, which will give you a taste of what translating as a profession is like.

I’m in the process of translating several works (fiction novels or short stories) and am in active contact with several authors, something which helps me improve my polite-level Japanese. I have done sample chapters of published works, and more extensive translations (at least several chapters) of some unpublished works. If you are interested, please check out my list of translations.

The work I have been spending the most time on lately is a light novel called “Welcome to the Raindance Cafe”.

Finally, I have written a few posts on translation. This one goes over my translation process in depth.

How can we contact you?

I always welcome comments and questions, so please feel free to email me at the below address:

SelfTaughtJapanese (at)

JLPT N1 Study Materials and Habits for Success Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sat, 18 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000 Bryan tells us how he passed the JLPT N1 and about his experiences living in Japan and participating in the JET Programme. What is your current Japanese level like?

My level varies depending on what I’m doing. In my daily life I have no trouble making my ideas and thoughts understood to both friends and strangers. There are times when I’m with a doctor or some other professional that I may feel a bit lost due to jargon that I’m not familiar with.

These days I don’t watch a lot of anime, but I think I could understand enough to grasp the plots and dialog to be able to enjoy it. Japanese dramas would probably be better for me if they’re grounded in reality versus something like the Gundam anime series where you have characters spouting terms often found in science fiction shows.

I have taken the JLPT from N4 to N1 and have successfully passed them all. 😁

There’s a small survey you can fill out when registering to take the test about the amount of hours studied. At this point, I really have no idea how many hours I’ve studied! Probably more than average but likely less than some of my hardcore translator friends.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Final Fantasy XV logoThe first thing was my fascination with various video game series from Japan such as Final Fantasy. The second and probably most influential was anime. It was during a time when most people around me weren’t aware of anime that existed outside of what was shown on TV. I watched shows with Japanese audio and English subtitles, which introduced me to so many things.

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

Burn out is something that I think almost everyone experiences, especially with a language like Japanese if you’re an English speaker.

What helped me the most was learning to stop looking at learning Japanese as such a massive goal. That mountain is so huge that you’ll freeze up just thinking about how high you have to go. Pace yourself and don’t look up. Whether it’s learning new words every day or getting through a textbook, make a small goal that you can get through.

My biggest fear in life has always been starting things, because I could imagine how hard the journey would be. Force yourself to start something with small steps and you’ll be surprised how far you’ll go if you keep at it.

Has blogging helped you with motivation?

Kuro Pixel Blog BannerAt the time I made my blog, Kuro Pixel, I think I was at the N2 level. In a way, I did stay motivated because I was thinking of things to review and checking my own methods as I was writing my advice for others.

The reason I started blogging about my Japanese learning/studying experience was that my friends/coworkers would always respond to my advice by saying, “Bryan, that’s really useful! You should post that somewhere.”

How do you organize or plan your studying?

During my hardcore studying days I most certainly had a routine. I would find time to study during my lunch breaks at work and then continue in the evenings when I went home. The most important thing for me was to keep studying every day, even if just for a little bit.

I’ve always self-studied, so I have never been to any sort of lessons. However, if the option of lessons is available to someone, I say definitely do that! It can help with motivation if you have to answer to someone such as a teacher when going through a textbook.

How did you prepare for the JLPTs?

N2 is such a huge leap compared to the previous tests, you really need to learn much more vocabulary/kanji to stay afloat. One thing that helped me tremendously was taking an interest in reading Japanese news. I would print out one or two Japanese news articles every day and try to comprehend them, circling words I didn’t know. This resulted in a LOT of circles! After doing this every day, I became faster at reading and picked up quite a lot of vocabulary that appears in N2 or above tests. Plus I became able to read Japanese news which was a big step for me.

How did you read news in Japanese?

NHK Japanese News SiteI would choose one or two articles that looked interesting on the normal NHK news site, print them out, and then try to make my way through them. If I came across a word I didn’t know, I would circle it and keep going until I came across another unknown word. The goal was to try to get through the article, skipping what I didn’t know and still try to get the main idea of the passage.

After I finished reading what I could until the end of the article, I would go back and look up the words I circled. The fastest method for me was to have the article open on my computer and use a browser extension to allow me to highlight words and quickly get the reading and meaning.

After looking up all the necessary words, I would try to read again through the article hopefully knowing the words this time around. In order to not forget everything I looked up, I created a Japanese News Vocabulary course on Memrise and input them there.

I think many students of both English and Japanese fall into the trap of trying to understand exactly everything, stopping to look up words they don’t know. This will slow you down and prevent you from trying to understand things in context. Try to read your way around the unknown word and see if you can figure it out from context first.

How did you prepare for the JLPT N1?

I passed N1, but the one thing I did to prepare was read read read. I was pretty decent at listening and okay at grammar, but reading comprehension questions were the bane of my existence. I loaded myself with practice books geared towards reading comprehension. Even if you can understand what articles are trying to say, you can fail if you don’t pay attention to the nuance of what the questions are asking. It was this tricky dance that I had to learn.

What is your ultimate desired level in the language?

My desired level would be to enjoy reading a novel without having to look anything up.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

For getting started: Genki Elementary Japanese textbook

For the JLPT, the Kanzen Master and Sou Matome series of books have been the most useful.

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

I enjoy the news page from Yahoo Japan and editorials from Yomiuri Shimbun’s website. To make things interesting I also read miscellaneous blogs that cover all sorts of topics from funny to gaming. One particular site that is easy to get into is RocketNews. It's a blog site that covers all kinds of silly and fun topics in Japan. They have an English site and a Japanese site, so you can see articles ahead of time on the Japanese side.

The site that helped me the most would have to be NHK’s standard news site. Their articles and not too long and are great for digesting lots of different topics.

How have you incorporated gaming into your studies?

I’m not sure whether to call it gaming or not, but I made Japanese friends in the virtual world Second Life, which helped with speaking/writing practice.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

I remember learning the strokes and practiced writing a lot of kanji when I first started out. Some people prefer to learn everything by writing, but I’ve mostly been a typist so writing everything was never my goal. However, I think it is essential for anyone learning kanji for the first time to learn strokes and how to write maybe the first 50-100. It will give you a foundation that will help later on.

Do you use any software tools in your learning?

StickyStudy iPhone AppI originally started with Anki many years ago, but I got tired of the interface and moved on to other apps and websites. Memrise became my daily driver when I started studying for N3 and N2. I don’t have an Android device, but for iOS I highly recommend the StickyStudy Japanese app. You can choose from the many built in lists of vocab/kanji or make your own list of flash cards. It’s served me well and I continue to use it today.

You are currently living in Japan?

I’ve been in Japan since 2010. I originally came through the JET Programme to teach English which I did for five years. These days I still teach, but I also do more freelance jobs as well. I’m originally from the south in the US, so snow was interesting at first but now I find myself wishing snow away in winter.

There is no doubt that being in Japan is the best way to improve your Japanese studies and give you immersion. However, that still requires self-discipline to improve your skills. I’ve seen many others give up their study habits when they become attached to foreign bubble communities.

Do you have any advice for people who want to get into the JET Programme?

I do have in-depth advice on my blog for people considering applying for the JET Programme, but here are a few tips.

On the initial application

Remind yourself that the JET Programme is about teaching English to young people in Japan. No one needs to know how many seasons of X anime you’ve seen. Emphasize the skills/experience you have that will help you with teaching or sharing your culture with others.

Doing the interview

Try to show that you can be the person that reaches out to interact. If you’re shy, make more of an effort to appear outgoing if you make it to the interview process. Don’t share too much about your passion for Japanese music/dramas/anime/etc. Mention it but focus on how YOU can contribute to the JET Programme.

How did you transition from the JET Programme to your current job?

I was fortunate enough that I didn’t have to rush after leaving the JET Programme, but I think the biggest issue for most people is finding a company that will help with your visa.

If you plan to stay in Japan after the JET Programme, it’s in your best interest to start looking around before you finish. Seek out companies you’re interested in through job search websites such as Gaijin Pot Jobs.

Another thing is to try to get qualifications while you have the time. If you can get JLPT certification, programming, or anything that will help your resume, do it now!

Interviewing is great to do too. You can let your potential employer know you’re eager to start and make a smooth transition from the JET Programme to your new workplace. The JET Programme even holds job fairs for people thinking of staying after JET, one in Osaka and the other in Tokyo last time I checked.

How do you find freelance jobs in Japan? Any simple tips for those looking to do this kind of work in the future?

It depends what sort of area you want to deal with, but first try networking or asking Japanese friends/acquaintances. Going through people is very important.

Another thing I recommend is putting yourself out there online at the Japanese site “Lancers”. You can post what services you offer and slowly build a good reputation.

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

I can only speak English/Japanese, but I’m off and on learning Korean. My goal is to become somewhat competent in that language in my lifetime.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I would try not to be afraid of starting things sooner. Things are always more scary or difficult than we imagine them to be. Don’t be afraid to crack open a new study book or try out a new course, whether it be for languages or anything else you’re learning.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Think about what you want to do with the language and the specific goals that would come from that. Work on things little by little and eventually you’ll turn around and see how far you’ve already climbed that mountain!

My last tip would be to stay focused and don’t try to do too many things at once. If you find resources that work for you, double down and use those. Do not waste your time jumping to different learning resources just because you have so many choices. I did that and ended up spreading myself too thin with nothing to show for it. Focus on a small number of resources for learning and stick with them!

Which posts do you recommend people who want to checkout your blog, Kuro Pixel?

For people just getting their feet wet with Japanese, I would ask them to check out my “Common Mistakes when learning Japanese” post.

For people interested in intermediate to advanced JLPT study recommendations, my Kanzen Master series review might be a good start.

I wrote about my method and experience learning to read Japanese news, so those interested should check it out.

You can also checkout my YouTube channel, where I provide further JLPT N1 Advice.

JLPT N2 Practice Tips and Experiences Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 2 Feb 2017 19:14:00 +0000 Jeffrey has taken the JLPT N2 twice and tells us how he prepared for the test and about his experiences working in a Japanese restaurant. What is your current Japanese level like?

I have taken the JLPT N2 twice and I’ve been studying for five years. Currently I know around 1500 kanji and about seven or eight thousand words. At this level, I can skim through most news articles and get the gist of the stories. Speaking is more difficult, especially with rougher, more masculine speaking partners. I can’t understand half of what they say. I can watch a lot of anime but drama are impossible.

What is the hardest part of the JLPT N2? How did you prepare for the JLPT N2?

All time Anki stats for Jeffrey

The hardest part of the N2 is probably the reading section. It’s a comprehensive test of your Japanese skills. The first time I took the JLPT N2 I did worst on the reading section.

For preparing for my second attempt, I went back and looked at practice questions for the reading section. I realized that my biggest gap was in vocabulary. It turns out that on the N2 reading section I was mostly missing N3 level words, so I started studying an N3 vocab list.

For kanji, I started searching through my KanjiDamage Anki flashcards for N2 level Kanji and only studied those. I also read NHK Easy News every now and then, and I studied an N2 sentence deck that had multiple examples for each grammar point. Overall, I definitely had gaps in listening and N2 level vocabulary. I just couldn’t find the time to fit in more practice. I will eventually go back for a third attempt.

What got you interested in learning Japanese?

Tokyo Tower

I get asked this so much and I don’t have a great answer. I think it might have been the challenge. Spanish just didn’t inspire me. I was also attracted to the possibility of opening up a massively rich foreign culture.

Going to Japan during undergrad sealed the deal. Seeing the concrete and lights of Tokyo in the rain was life-changing. I honestly started out more obsessed with Tokyo than Japan as a whole. But that has changed as I have explored more of the country.

What keeps you going? What keeps you motivated?

Motivation is an almost everyday struggle. Lately I have been spending less time on doing Anki flashcard reviews. Instead, I’ve been speaking more in Japanese and I have also been teaching Japanese to more students than ever. In addition, I have also been doing more English to Japanese translation work than ever.

How did you find work as a Japanese teacher?

To find students I post on Craigslist, a classifieds website, and I also get referrals from former students.

How is it like to teach Japanese as a non-native speaker?

I find it rewarding to figure out exactly what is holding back each and every student and helping them out. I think that me being a native English speaker helps me better understand how other English speakers are having problems with Japanese. I think that the obsession with being taught by a native speaker is misplaced.

Out of all my previous Japanese teachers, my favorite was a college professor from the United State's Midwest. I think it’s more important to accurately and intuitively understand the students' problems than to give the most nuanced and perfect explanation of a grammar point, especially for beginners. That said, at the higher levels, Japanese can be learned more and more through exposure.

How did find work as a Japanese translator?

I am a member of Pro-Z and have applied to many different online agencies that send me work occasionally. These are very low paying jobs and I mostly do it for the experience and practice.

How do you organize or plan your studying?

Jeffrey's Anki Stats

For me It changes constantly. I’m transitioning away from studying grammar and vocabulary through Anki to having as much real conversations in Japanese as I can and only adding words that I hear or encounter to my Anki lists. I practice conversations through Skype exchanges with friends in Japan, with a Japanese person here in Atlanta, and while working about sixteen hours a week in the kitchen of a Japanese restaurant with an all Japanese speaking staff.

I am also considering to start studying an hour a week with a private native speaker tutor. I recognize that if I want to take and pass the JLPT N1 I will have to eventually return to learning vocabulary lists with Anki. Anki allows you to study while walking down the street or waiting for the train. If you take advantage of every five minutes of free time you have you can get through a couple hundred reviews a day.

How did you find a job working on a Japanese restaurant? How is the experience like?

I simply replied to a sign I saw. It’s intense working there; very Japanese. Eight hour shifts with no breaks and you are expected to always be doing something, even when there are no customers. I mostly make ramen and prepare the fish and meat for sushi and yakitori. The kitchen staff speaks Japanese to me but they are very stern and aren’t interested in helping me learn Japanese for the most part (they’ll indulge me if I ask them to define a single word). If I ask them to repeat or speak more slowly they usually just speak in broken English.


I see working there more as a proving ground for already acquired skills rather than the learning of new skills. The staff speak in the style typical of casual, hyper-masculine Japanese, which I find to be the most difficult to understand, so it will continue to be an excellent opportunity to practice speaking, if I can handle the stress of working there.

What kind of customers go to this restaurant?

The customers are mostly non-Asian, although there are lots of Koreans. There are at least some Japanese customers everyday. This is in intown Atlanta rather than the suburbs so I find that quite impressive.

What is your favorite Japanese food?

My favorite Japanese food is probably yakisoba or some sort of soup like nabeyaki or sukiyaki. Any grilled seafood is great too.

What is your ultimate desired Japanese level?

Books Kinokuniya Picture

To be able to speak fluidly about complex topics such as politics and literature. To be able to open a book in 紀伊国屋, the famous Japanese bookstore, and flip to a random page and quickly figure out what’s going on. To be able to converse with the roughest, most casual, slangy, and accented speakers. Homeless people in Tokyo might be a good metric.

Which resources have you helped you the most?

Anki definitely. The Japanese Pod 101 lessons are also excellent given you have a premium membership that will let you play the dialogs and read along with them.

What are your favorite native resources to consume?

I’ve been mostly using resources designed for learning. I need to transition away from those.

Living in Tokyo helped me the most, but not in the way you would think. Simply being part of a community of Japanese language learners was probably much more helpful than saying the same five Japanese words in a コンビニ(konbini) everyday.

Unless you plan to work in Japan, you probably won’t get as much language learning out of it as you expect, unless you actively try to speak with people in Japanese and interact with the environment. Learn Japanese takesl takes a lot of effort even when you're in Japan.

What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

Kanji Damage Screenshot

Kanji has been one of the easier aspects of the language for me. I started with school textbooks (Nakama and So-Matome) but I advanced the most by grinding on KanjiDamage, using a corresponding Anki deck. If you actually intend to learn all of the 常用漢字(jouyou kanji), studying in the frequency order is not necessary.

KanjiDamage organizes kanji by radicals and similarity. This makes it much easier to remember the difference between kanji that would otherwise be hard to tell apart. 持 and 待 are two early ones that are taught right next to each other in KanjiDamage so that you never confuse them.

While studying KanjiDamage with Anki. Did you write kanji? How did you do you practice with the KanjiDamage + Anki combo?

I did not write Kanji. I found that after learning to write a few hundred kanji, I no longer felt it necessary to continue writing practice. I am familiar with every radical I come across now and I can remember them more easily through mnemonics than writing. If I ever end up living in Japan and having to write in Japanese constantly (very unlikely) I will have to study writing intensely though.

Can you share more about your time in Japan?

I did a study abroad in Chiba for three months. I also lived in Harajuku, Tokyo for nine months while I was enrolled in a language school. I also lived in Hiroshima for a couple weeks. I go back to Japan at least once year. This year I’m going to Japan for three weeks in November.

How did you find and decide on a Japanese language school? Do you have advice for people looking for a Japanese language school?

Kai Japanese Language School IN ShinokuboI simply researched the various schools on the west side of Tokyo (where I knew I wanted to be). I chose Kai in Shinokubo as it had a great website and good reviews and was in Korea town, which I took as evidence of being friendly to the mindset of the “global citizen.” Studying there was intense and it eventually switched from a class setting to private tutoring.

If I where looking for a language school again, I would now ignore location and instead focus on the community and the opportunities they offer to engage with Japanese society. The main problem with a language school is that it is extremely easy to simply spend your time with your fellow students speaking English (the lingua franca of just about everyone there).

What other languages do you speak? Are you interested in learning other languages?

I can understand a bit of Spanish. I’d love to eventually understand Chinese, because it’s such a massive and fascinating culture. But learning Chinese is a huge undertaking and I currently have no plans for doing it. I may also learn more Spanish as it’s pretty useful around Atlanta.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

Focus my times in Japan less on hanging out with foreigners and more on conversation exchange. I also wish I had started earlier with KanjiDamage or a similar kanji learning program.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

Find a community. Do whatever you need to do to remain motivated and disciplined. Try to integrate Japanese into your leisure time as much as possible. Go out with Japanese speakers to get beers. Go see a Japanese movie or read manga. It needs to be a normal part of your life instead of just this monumental task hanging over your head.

Where can we find you online?

You can message me via Linked In or you can visit my Japanese lessons page

January Month in Review Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Thu, 2 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000 996 page views and $54 US dollars in revenue This is the first of what will be a series of blog posts that I will be publishing about the story behind Koipun. I was inspired by Indie Hackers to start doing this series. I love Allen's blogging style for Indie Hackers so much that I will base this series around it.

Well, I am crazy excited about Koipun and my girlfriend is probably super tired of hearing me talk about it, so at the very least this shall give her some respite.

Revenue and Expenses

This month I got a total of $54 US dollars in revenue, all of it from Anki flash card sales. Given that I still haven't started monetizing Koipun Reader this is the only current source of income. $54 dollars is about an average month in Anki flash card sales. As for expenses, I had the following:

  • Payment Processing Costs: $3.92
  • Heroku for hosting the website: $7
  • MailChimp for the Koipun Newsletter: $11
  • Registering Koipun LLC: $200

That comes to a grand total of $221.92 in expenses, which puts me in the red for this month. But that is only because I finally got around to officially register Koipun as a US LLC!

Traffic after launch

In December of last year I launched Koipun on which gave me a huge spike in traffic which quickly died out.Koipun Reddit Launch Traffic Spike Chart

This is how a regular traffic pattern for Koipun looks like.

Google Analytic traffic report for Koipun for January

As you can see, this month I got 996 page views. A great portion of it is still reddit traffic! It seems that people are still finding a way to the original launch post. The rest are mostly from Ankiweb where I have the free version of our Genki I grammar deck. Getting consistent traffic to Koipun is going to be a big challenge, but I have several ideas to help attract more traffic.

"How I learned Japanese" Interview Series

As part of an effort to get more traffic to Koipun I started a new blog series. For this series I also borrowed a page from Indie Hackers. In Indie Hackers style, I am interviewing successful Japanese learners about their study methods.

Learning a language is a personal journey and everybody will end up developing their own study methods. I have always been curious about other people's methods and have tried to integrate other learners' techniques into my own repertoire. I have a hunch that other Japanese learners feel the same, so I started seeking out folks to interview. 

So far I have published two interviews. After I gather six interviews or more I plan to start promoting the blog. But even if the blog ultimately fails, I have already been reaping benefits from this project. Reaching out to many of the Japanese learning bloggers and gurus has been great.

In the process of doing the interviews I have learned some lessons which will affect the design of Koipun Reader. Furthermore, these interviewees have been extremely generous and have given me tremendously valuable feedback on Koipun Reader. The frosting of the cake is that I am getting to further validate the Koipun Reader idea!

Koipun Blog Infrastructure

In order to host the new "How I learned Japanese" interview series I needed a blog to host it. I had built a Wordpress blog a couple of months back on a sub-domain, but I never got around to using it. I could have just used that Wordpress blog but I ended up getting rid of it and making a new blog hosted at For the new blog I used ButterCMS, which is a category of product I didn't even know existed. It is a blog/CMS as an API.

The rational part of thought I should just use the Wordpress I had setup for speed and not waste time on adding a new blog, but I talked myself into making the new one because I thought that maybe having the blog on a sub-domain would be bad for SEO purposes.

I am still not sure if hosting a blog on a sub-domain vs on the root domain makes any difference for SEO, but I am glad I did the move to having the blog on the main domain using ButterCMS. Now I am able to integrate the styling with the rest of the site and style the blog to my liking without having to deal with customizing Worpress themes or building a Wordpress theme from scratch.

The Koipun Newsletter

This month at around the one month anniversary of the Koipun Reader launch on Reddit I started the weekly Koipun Newsletter. So far I have modeled the newsletter around the Indie Hackers and the Tofugu newsletters, but I haven't settled on a format yet. I have only sent two newsletters so far, so I need to experiment a lot more to see what kind of content are the subscribers interested in.

I have given away free Anki decks on every newsletter so far, but I am not sure if this model is sustainable as creating the Anki decks is a substantial amount of work. Also, I am still not sure if the subscribers enjoy these Anki decks. Newsletters are definitely a lot harder than they seem, but writing them has been rewarding plus it helps a lot with accountability! 

Koipun Reader Development

The Reader barely saw any development this month as I have been focusing on marketing and validation efforts, but it did receive an update! Koipun Reader now counts the ability to export Anki decks for SRS reviews of Koipun Reader content. It has been an interesting month dedicating myself to marketing and reading about SEO and other topics I have no experience with, but I am getting very itchy to get back to coding.


This month I spent a substantial amount of time just learning new things. I know next to nothing about marketing and SEO, so I started reading about those topics. In addition to reading, I have listened to many episodes of Startups for the Rest of Us, which have been incredibly helpful. I can not recommend it enough. Also, I have read every single interview on Indie Hackers, all of which have been a tremendous source of inspiration and knowledge.

In the past, I have had the problem of learning as a form procrastination. I would read tons of books about a topic and never make any actual progress on my projects. But this month I tried my best to not slip into that and just do "just in time learning" i.e. just learning what I need, right when I need the information.

Finally, I joined a Mastermind Group via MastermindJam. I joined the group because I wanted to have people  with whom I could brainstorm and discuss problems with, but after further reflection I realized that what I need is more of a support group to share the ups and downs with. I am not sure if the Mastermind can fulfill that need, but I will assist a few meetings and see if helps.

Goals for February

If everything goes as planned, February is going to be a big month. I plan on having three launches this month:

  1. Launch the "How I learned Japanese" blog on
  2. Launch the Anki Grammar deck for Genki II on the newsletter and Ankiweb
  3. Launch a new version of the Koipun Reader on the newsletter.

Releasing the blog and new the new Anki Grammar deck should be doable, but I am not sure if I will make it for the new Koipun Reader version. For the new release I want to port the Reader code to Vue.js from Angular 1 which should take at least one week worth of development, but could end up sucking a lot more time.

For February, I also want to get better at time tracking. I want to measure how many hours I am spending on Koipun. I have started using PomoDoneApp for time tracking, but sometimes I get in the flow and forget setting the timer, among other issues.

Thanks everyone for all your support this month — if you've got any ideas, feedback, or questions, please email me!

4 Japanese Learning Goals for 2017 Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Wed, 25 Jan 2017 19:55:00 +0000 My 4 Japanese Learning goals for 2017. Following the 80/20 principle, I will focus on these four goals to get my Japanese to the next level. 1. Finish studying Tobira

TOBIRA: Gateway to Advanced Japanese textbook picture

In 2016 I started seriously studying an intermediate level Japanese textbook called 上級へのとびら. This book is commonly called Tobira and its full English title is Tobira: Gateway To Avanced Japanese. In late 2015 I had done some initial work on it, but very little to count for any significant progress. In all of 2016 I managed to cover six of the chapters of Tobira with my Japanese teacher, 絵理子先生. The book has a total of 15 chapters so if I work somewhat faster than last year, I should be able to finish this texbook by the end of the year.

Why this goal?

After finishing Tobira I should be able to pass the JLPT N3 without much effort and should put me on track to take the JLPT N2. Furthermore it will greatly expand my vocabulary and improve my reading skills significanlty.

I have found that many people do not enjoy working through textbooks, because they find them dry and boring. Also, the practice excercises can get repetitive. Yet, I enjoy working with textbooks because they give me a sense of progress and achievement that I can not get with other kinds of materials. With a textbook I can easily measure progress, but when I study native materials exclusively sometimes I wonder if I am just spinning the wheels.

How can I achieve this goal?

To achieve this goal I need to cover each of the remaining chapters in under five weeks.

2. Finish studying Heisig's Remembering the Kanji

Heisig's Remembering the KanjiHeisig is supposed to be something one finishes studying in a couple of months, but I have already spent almost three years on it and I am still at about 60% completion. Part of the reason it has taken me so long is because I am spending a lot of time practicing writing every single kanji by hand. Also, against Heisig's recommendations, I have never dedicated myself solely to studying this book. I have always been studying it in parallel to my other Japanese studies. I usually do about thirty minutes practice with Anki, so I can not add many new cards or they simply do not stick in my mind with the number of small number of daily reviews I am doing.

Why this goal?

I have often questioned myself if studying Heisig's at this pace and writing everything by hand with correct stroke orders and endings is worth it. But I enjoy being able to write Japanese by hand, and this is the only method that has allowed me to learn to write kanji fluently without forgetting, so I have kept going at it. Furthermore, this is the sunk cost fallacy, but I still don't want to lose all the hardwork I have already put into this.

After finishing studying Heisig's Remembering the Kanji, I will be able to write all of the 常用漢字 by hand. More importantly I will be able to indentify all of the kanji in this book, which will put me on a fast track to learn Kanji readings by just simply reading and watching media with subtitles.

How can I achieve this goal?

I have 852 kaji left to study. By studying just three kanji a day I am good to go with this goal.

3. Finish Chrono Trigger in Japanese

Chrono Trigger drawingLast year I started playing Chrono Trigger, the Nintendo DS version, in Japanese. This game is a masterpiece and it is often cited on best video games of all times. The soundtrack, the story, the art, all give me tons of motivation to work through it. I have found the vocabulary and grammar levels of this game are appropiate for my Japanese level. It is challenging enough that I am pushing myself and learning new things, but not so hard that I get frustrated and bored. Another thing going for this game is that because of the Chrono Trigger Retranslation Project, we have access to the full game script with translations in an accesible format, which is a tremendous advantage for learners.

Why this goal?

I want to start diving more into native materials and I love JRPGs and this is one of the best of the genre. Also, I remember how video games helped me learn English when I was young, so I want to experiment with replicating that with Japanese.

How can I achieve this goal?

Just by playing a few times a week should be enough. The game is not very long and I have already spent a good number of hours on this. A bigger challenge than time, is that I need to figure out out how to actually learn from this game. Without any kind of reviewing and formal studying I don't think I will get much out of it. I expect to be able to use Koipun Reader to help me in this area, once I finish the import text feature.

4. Spend more time chatting on the phone and on Skype with my Japanese friends

Me and my great friend TatsuhiroWhile I was on the JET programme I made tons of friends in Japan. I became very close to them very fast. We just clicked in a way that I rarely do with most people. Unfortunately although I stay in touch with them, I haven't been seeing them on Skype all that much. I miss them so much, so I will put more effort in staying in touch, even though dealing with schedules and time zone differences can make it a bit difficult. As a sidenote, I should also speak more in Japanese with my girlfriend. Although I text her almost exclusively in Japanese, when we speak, unless it is for basic conversations we usually speak in English.

Why this goal?

I miss my friends. Also, while simply speaking with them, I naturally get to practice.

How can I achieve this goal?

I will schedule more time to spend talking with friends, instead of relying on spontainiaty. I will phone/skype of one of them at least once a week.

What is the counter word for kanji? Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Wed, 25 Jan 2017 00:00:00 +0000 How can you count kanji in Japanese? The answer is simple enough. I was wondering what is the counter word for kanji and I couldn't find a realiable answer online, so I asked my Japanese teacher, 絵理子先生. The answer is surprisingly simple. One of those that when one sees them, one things to oneself, duh! Without further ado, for counting kanji in Japanese you can use ひとふた or いち. Now, trick question. How do you count かんじ?

Learning Japanese with Anki and video games Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Fri, 13 Jan 2017 01:27:00 +0000 Alan tells us how he uses Anki SRS and video games to learn Japanese. He also explains how blogging keeps him motivated. For how long have you been studying Japanese?

I've been studying Japanese off and on for over a decade. I used to be a bit of an anime otaku and that is what got me started. I first took some classes in college, but I ended up having to quit school for a while. I tried to keep studying on my own, but I didn't really know how to do self-study effectively, and there weren't as many online resources back then as there are now. I eventually quit studying and ended up forgetting almost everything I had learned. Then I went back to school later and began taking classes again. Once I graduated from college, I continued studying on my own and I've kept at it since then.

What is your ultimate desired Japanese level?

I would be happy to get to the point where I can get the gist of most TV shows and conversations. From there, I think my Japanese will be able to build upon itself a lot easier just from watching and reading things.

What has kept you going? What keeps you motivated?

SRS forgetting curveI've been doing my Anki (SRS software) reviews every day for years now. I think that is what keeps me in. It's a habit that has become a normal part of my life. The other parts of my study are frequently being changed up, so its hard to develop a habit for them. There have been times when I just quit learning new things or I'm not interacting with Japanese in any way aside from just Anki reviews, but as long as I keep doing those reviews everyday, it keeps me from losing most of what I already know. If it weren't for my Anki reviews, I probably would be just another person who gave up.

How do you use Anki for learning Japanese? What is your study habit like?

I typically do my Anki reivews on my breaks at work. On weekends I do them whenever I am free. Sometimes I'll add new content into Anki, but I try to keep it at a low volume these days, around 5-10 new items per day. It's important for me to have a basic plan for what I want to do aside from my Anki reviews. There have been some times in the past when I quit learning new things for a while, I attribute that mostly to not having a plan.

Have you started doing study plans now? How did you get back into learning new material?

Nihongo No Baka LogoI decided to start a blog called Nihongo No Baka to help me get my thoughts organized, and because I thought it might help me with my motivation. At the time I decided to start the site, I had just come to the realization that I hadn't been studying any new material or even using Japanese (aside from doing Anki reviews) for half a year or more. I realized that I needed to get myself more organized and start tackling things in a calculated manner. I also had some content that I was looking to share, so I thought that perhaps a blog would be a simple way of tackling all of these goals. Taking the time to write down some things that I have been thinking about has allowed me to look at things from different perspectives that I didn't really notice before. In part, thanks to that, now I am studying in a more structured way and learning new things.

What is your Japanese study plan?

Right now, my plan just consists of reading some articles on a site I found recently, 和タのC, and reviewing my Genki textbooks, which I haven't looked at in a few years. Once I finish with that, I've got some other things planned. I keep a short list of the things I want to study, read and watch next, so that I don't forget about them. I don't really make my plans much more detailed than "okay, this is what I'm working through for the next few weeks". I try to keep myself focused on just one or two things at a time and then shift to something else. I don't want to find myself in a situation where I don't know what to do next.

Typically, when do you study?

I usually study either after dinner or right before I go to bed. There are days when I might not feel well or might not have time, so I don't study anything new, but I'll typically get back into it in a day or two just as long as I have that basic plan in place.

Do you use native resources to study?

I'm a fan of Stephen Krashen's Input Hypothesis, which states that we acquire language when we understand what we are reading/hearing. In order for that to work you need to consume material that is on or below your current level. So jumping straight into native material isn't highly effective, and can be really frustrating. Unfortunately, there isn't nearly enough content out there for Japanese learners, so I think we often feel like we have no choice but to try and jump right into something that is way over our heads and just slog through it.

Yotsubato manga cover

There are a handful of graded readers out there, which are a fantastic resource, but they are usually prohibitively expensive and there aren't nearly enough of them. I've read the "standard" beginners manga, Yotsubato!, but when you look at the actual amount of text in the whole series, it's still not enough to make much of an impact. This is the most frustrating thing about learning Japanese for me. I want massive amounts of EASY material, but its just not there, not at lower levels. So I'm always keeping my eyes peeled for the next thing that I can try.

What is your favorite native resource?

My favorite native resource is probably EhonNavi, which offers hundreds of children's books that you can read once for free. Children's books aren't exactly ideal for adults learning Japanese as a second language, but I feel that this is one of the best free resources currently available.

Which resources have helped you the most?

There are so many useful resources out there these days that I think it would be easy for a new learner to get overwhelmed by them all. I think the kanji koohii forums and the /r/LearnJapanese subreddit are both useful to see what is working for other people, and to keep an eye on new things that are coming out. Those are probably where I learned about most of the other resources I have used! I'd also like to mention 和タのC because I don't think this site is very well known, but they offer a some good Japanese articles targeted to learners, I just wish they had more!

For my SRS reviews, I use Anki and Ankidroid all the time. I'm used to them, and they work great for me. I've never really found any compelling reason to switch to any of this newer stuff like Memrise, but maybe I'm just an old fogey. I also use the Rikai-sama extension on Firefox, and I've used a lot of really useful tools created by "cb4960" who posts his stuff on the Kanji koohii forum.

Kanji can be one of the most intimidating aspects of studying Japanese. What methods and resources have you used to learn kanji?

Heisig's Remembering the KanjiWhen I was taking classes, I always struggled with kanji. Then I discovered Heisig's Remembering the Kanji (RTK), and it sort of felt like magic to me, because I was able to remember how to write the characters from memory so easily. I did all of RTK over 3 months one summer (about 3 hours per day), and once that was done, it felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. Before, kanji where very intimidating to me. If it wasn't one of the beginner level kanji, then they all just looked like a big blob of strokes, but after studying Heisig, I could pick up any new vocabulary word in its kanji form easily. I never had a need to use my writing skills though, so I can't remember how to write most of them anymore, but who needs to write anything in today's world? I can't even remember the last time I wrote something in English.

Have you been to Japan?

I've been several times, but always just for a couple weeks. I had applied to the JET Programme once but I didn't make it in. After that, I decided I'd just take a trip, and that trip wasn't enough for me! I'm sure there are a lot of other countries that would be just as fun to visit, but every time I go to Japan I have a lot of new and amazing experiences, and there is still so much more I want to see!

Are you interested in learning other languages?

I have halfheartedly started learning a couple other languages in the past, like Russian and Korean, but I never had any real motivation to learn them, so I would just give up after a couple weeks. Also, the thought of trying to juggle both another language and Japanese gives me a headache.

If you had to start over, what would you do differently?

I would not do a lot differently, aside from avoiding things that are obviously too difficult for me. I have wasted too much time slogging through stuff that I don't understand and then not having much to show for it afterwards.

What is your advice for people who want to learn Japanese?

It takes a lot of time and effort. Don't be in a hurry, and just try to enjoy the journey.

You have posted on Nihongo No Baka about using video games to learn Japanese. Particularly, you did a detailed series about the Nintendo DS game Little Charo. Do you recommend Little Charo for Japanese learners?

Little Charo Game for Nintendo DS

Little Charo is a bilingual visual novel for the Nintendo DS that is intended for Japanese people who are learning English. Due to the fairly simple nature of the Japanese text, it is also useful the other way around. I took the text from the game, and posted scripts for every single chapter as I played through the game. I highly recommend checking it out if your Japanese is around an N4 or N3 level. I don't know of any other resource that can offer you such a vast amount of reading material at this level of difficulty.

Do you have any recommendations for folks who are interested in learning Japanese through video games?

I wrote a detailed post with some of my thoughts on how to effectively learn Japanese from games. Unfortunately, most games simply aren't accessible until your Japanese is pretty good, so I would caution people against trying to jump into games for learning too early.

Are there any favorite posts from Nihongo No Baka you would like to recommend to people who want to check out your blog?

My most popular post by far, is one where I listed the Top 11 Games for Learning Japanese. A lot of these are somewhat older games, so I would love to hear if readers have come across any recent releases that tend to be on the easier side.

The post which seems to have been the most well-received is one where I wrote up mini-reviews for all of the different lessons offered on They have some great content available, but also some (in my opinion) really crappy content, and a lot of people have found this post  helpful in determining what to check out from JapanesePod101.

How to Learn Kanji: A visual study method for Heisig's Remembering the Kanji Gabriel J. Pérez Irizarry Sun, 8 Jan 2017 03:08:00 +0000 Learn how to learn Kanji with Heisig's Remembering the Kanji and a study method that makes the most out of visual memory. Kanji is one of the toughest parts of learning Japanese. How to learn Kanji? That is a question all students of Japanese will have to tackle. There are many popular resources for learning Kanji such as Heisig's Remembering the Kanji. A few weeks ago I reached the halfway point of Heisig's Remembering the Kanji. Throughout the course of my kanji studies with this book I have refined my study methods. I have now reached a point where I have found a method that works well for me and lets me make the most out of Heisig's book. I will share my method and along the way discuss some of the weaknesses and strengths of Heisig's method along with how I reached this point.

The sit Kanji on Anki SRS with Heisig's story

Pre-Heisig: How I first started learning kanji

I didn't start studying kanji from Heisig's book. I started by studying kanji with the method of the first Japanese class I ever took, which was Japanese 1001 Elementary Japanese I at Georgia Tech with Matsushima Sensei. This was a fairly intensive four hours a week class that made me fall in love with studying Japanese. Since it was an introductory class, we only studied these 25 kanjiElementary Kanji from JAPN 1001, but this was enough to get me started on the "Georgia Tech" method of studying kanji, which is probably what you will see at most college level Japanese courses. After we thoroughly studied hiragana and katakana we started studying kanji. Every week a few kanji would be introduced with a kanji homework which consists of writing each character around eight times and then working through some sentences where you have to add the readings in hiragana to the new kanji and write the correct kanji for some hiragana. Then during class, the (せん)(せい)(teacher) would quiz us about the meanings and readings of the kanji. It was quite embarrassing to not get them right in front of the class; that provided a good incentive to study. We would also do pair work in which would sit down next to a partner and each one would hold two different versions of the same sheet. With the sheets, we would quiz each other on the kanji. Again, it was quite embarrassing to not get the kanji with your classmate, so the social pressure helped with studying. It was also fun and helpful to work together. Finally, we would be quizzed individually on the kanji we had studied. The quizzes were similar to the homework and easily doable if you had studied enough time. I wanted to get a nice sticker from Matsushima Sensei so I studied hard.

Problems with my original method

This method was fun and made me feel happy and proud. Since I was a little boy I had always been enthralled by the mysterious kanji and now I was able to write and understand a few them. This method gave me solid progress, but there were also some terrible realizations. まさか・・・

Frame from the manga Kaiji
まさか(masaka) NO WAY!!!

  Will it really take me this long to learn kanji?! I will never become fluent in Japanese!!? According to the Georgia Tech syllabi, after studying Japanese for five semesters I would only know about 350 kanji. It takes Japanese children all the way until the last year of high school to learn all the (じょう)よう)(かん)()(jouyou kanji), the 2,136 kanji that the government of Japan thinks everyone should know. Would it also take me twelve years to become literate in Japanese?! Furthermore, I realized that I was quickly forgetting how to write the kanji I had worked so hard to memorize, and I wasn't the only one. I saw how most of my classmates would also forget the kanji we had previously studied. I tried to remedy this first by creating my own flashcards for Anki, a flashcards software based on spaced repetition, to review the kanji I had learned in class. My retention improved dramatically after doing this, but it was terribly painful to memorize the kanji. I had to do constant reviews to not forget the kanji and my pace for learning new kanji was glacial. Then I found out about Heisig's Remembering the Kanji.

Enter the Heisig

Secrene from the movie Enter the Dragon
燃(も)えよドラゴン (Enter the Dragon)

Although there are several methods similar to Heisig's method, such as Kanji Damage, Heisig was one of the first to publish this kind of approach to learning kanji. The premise is captivating; learn 2200 kanji in months instead of years. Instead of learning the kanji by rote memorization, Heisig invites us to create short story plots using as elements of the plots the parts that make up the kanji that we are learning. Let's take the kanji The "risk" Kanji from Heisig's Remembering the Kanji 冒 which has the keyboard "risk" on the Heisig book. This kanji is the combination of two other kanji 日(sun) and 目(eye). The 日 on top of the 目. Instead of memorizing a seemingly random assortment of lines, we memorize the following story.

Remember when you were young and your mother told you never to look directly into the sun for fear you might burn out your eyes? Probably you were foolish enough to risk a quick glance once or twice; but just as probably, you passed that bit of folk wisdom on to someone else as you grew older. Here, too, the kanji that has a sun above and an eye right below looking up at it has the meaning of risk.

The Hesig Kanji order

Another radical departure from more traditional methods is the order in which it teaches kanji. For the earlier story to work, the students need to already know the parts of the kanji, 日, and 目. For that reason, instead of teaching kanji by order of usefulness or frequency, we learn them in a logical order in which we unlock entire families of kanji as we slowly learn more about the elements that make up each kanji. It is also important to note what this method doesn't teach.

With this method we don't attempt to learn how to read these kanji or how to make up actual Japanese words with them. We only learn one basic meaning, e.g. "risk" as in the earlier example, and how to write it. You may wonder if this is useful at all. The usefulness depends on your goals.

If you are aiming for an advanced level in Japanese you will need to achieve literacy, and to achieve literacy you need to learn the kanji. This method will put you in a powerful position to tackle real kanji literacy, which means being able to read them.

How is Heisig's method useful if it doesn't teach me how to actually read Kanji?

Let's take the word ()ち葉()(fallen leaves). Perhaps you have never encountered this word, but if you know that the first kanji means fall and the second one means leaves, you will be able to figure out the meaning of the word without looking at the dictionary. Furthermore, if you then memorize how to read this word, the next time you encounter a word with either of the kanji 落, 葉, you will be able to make an educated guess on how to read it. Let's try to guess how to read ()(がき)(postcard). This word uses the same "leaf" kanji as ()ち葉, (),,,,with the same は pronunciation (although in the previous case it is vocalized into ば because of Rendaku) and if you already knew to read 書(write) then voilà, you just deduced how to read this new word. Now you can also easily memorize this new word by remembering that in Japanese postcards are leaves with writing. This is just one example of the powers that learning kanji with Heisig will give you.

How I started to learn Kanji with Heisig

From the start, I have studied Heisig with Anki Spaced Repetition Software (SRS) and this deck of flashcards made for Anki. If you haven't introduced any form of SRS into your language studies I highly recommended it. It structures your studies, hacks your brain to increase your memory and keeps you motivated by measuring your progress.

My Kanji notebook for Kanji writing practice
Filling up these notebooks can give one quite a good sense of achievement

With Anki, I would study between four or five new cards every day with one kanji on each card and review the kanji as Anki gave me review cards. For each review, I would write the kanji by hand using correct stroke order. Writing the kanji using the correct stroke order while reviewing is essential. Learning the correct stroke order might seem like a nuisance at first, but it will systematize how you write the kanji thus making them easier to write. Eventually, stroke order will become intuitive and it won't become something you need to memorize anymore, instead, it will help you recall how to write kanji when you are writing them. Often I think I forgot how to write a kanji and once I start writing it the rest flows out my hand as if it were deeply ingrained in some primitive part of my brain. I believe stroke order is a part of making that happen.

The importance of writing Kanji by hand

Writing the kanji by hand, even if you are not interested in mastering handwriting, is also important for learning the differences in the kanji. (みぎ) and (いし) look almost identical and are often confused by beginners, but to somebody who knows how to write them both the differences are clear. Writing practice is something I have kept in my studies as of today, but there are many parts of my method which I have discarded or changed.

The cover of my Kanji notebook
My Kanji study notebook. This a first grader's level notebook

At the slightest mistake, I would mark flashcards as forgotten on Anki. This made my progress way too slow. Another constant road block was the often cited problem that many of the Heisig keywords, the meanings you learn for each kanji on the book, are often very vague and quite similar to each other. This often turned my studies into a game of remembering useless things such as ways to distinguish two very similar keywords so that I could recall the precise kanji for that keyword. This made me lose motivation since it didn't give me real value. The value of Heisig's method doesn't come from remembering all the keywords. It comes from being able to dissect most kanji you meet into its components and thus making them easier to read, understand and write. This opens the door to something even more important, the improved ability to acquire vocabulary. When you meet new words they will be easier to remember, because you can recognize the kanji the word consists of and use those facts for memorizing the word. Deciding to focus on this aspect, I changed my method.

Move fast and use images to learn Kanji

Image that use on Anki to study Kanji
 The story I used to remember this kanji is "In association with consummate (#540), our sow is on the road pursuing a mate.
The pursue kanji from Heisig's Remembering the Kanji
Much easier to recall with the image

I now see around 8 new kanji a day. This is still slow, but it is a speed I am comfortable with and with which I can stay consistent. I have tried going faster but then the reviews get too long and tiring. If instead, I limit the reviews then I have trouble learning the kanji. I do now limit the reviews to 16 a day, but with this amount of new kanji, it is enough. This practice takes around 20 to 30 minutes a day. I have managed to get to this speed while still doing the writing practice by adding images to the keywords. The images greatly aid in my recall and I no longer have the issue of the keywords that are hard to differentiate. The images I chose act as visual representations of the stories. They help me remember the stories and the stories make me remember the kanji. I even use the images to help me write. When I am writing, I recall the image in my mind and then everything comes into place and I can write the kanji. Finally, I have stopped being a perfectionist. Instead of settings flashcards as forgotten at the slightest mistake, I would only mark the card as "hard" on Anki and add a star to it. When a card with a star comes back on a review, if I fail again to recall it then I do set it as forgotten. Could I go even faster? If I followed Heisig's recommendation and focused only on learning the kanji, I would be able to finish this book in a matter of months. The reality is that although I have fun with this method if this all the studying I did I would get bored and quit. If I were learning Japanese from scratch and I wasn't taking a class I would then consider focusing exclusively on studying this book.


Heisig's Remembering the Kanji is not for everyone, but any serious Japanese learner should at least give it a try. Even if you don't stick with the method, it will get you on a path of finding what works for you for learning kanji. Language learning is hard; you don't only have to learn the language itself, you have to learn how to learn it. If you decide to give Heisig's Method a try, combine the keywords with images and review with real writing practice but without being a perfectionist. Move fast!!