Category Archives: Languages

Choices in learning Japanese

Japanese is a Japonic language associated with ridiculously unique people, interesting shows, and world-renowned video games. The language has two alphabets (hiragana and katakana, collectively called kana) and one expansive set of characters (kanji). It can sound a bit intimidating, but don’t be daunted by this; you have a choice of just how fluent you want to be. For my personal learning, I wish to be able to associate any set of characters with any other set of characters I want, so in Japanese, I work on nearly all of the combinations, both ways:

  • Associate the kanji with the kana
  • Associate the kanji with the romaji
  • Associate the kanji with the meaning
  • Associate the kana with the kanji
  • Associate the kana with the romaji
  • Associate the kana with the meaning (not actively worked on)
  • Associate the romaji with the kanji
  • Associate the romaji with the kana
  • Associate the romaji with the meaning
  • Associate the meaning with the kanji
  • Associate the meaning with the kana (not actively worked on)
  • Associate the meaning with the romaji

For example, associating the kanji with the meaning involves things like tying what the kanji looks like to the idea it represents, like the kanji for cat (猫) and a picture or story of a cat. Associating the kana with the romaji would be a simple task of learning which hiragana or katakana corresponds to which romaji letters. By now, I know the kana well enough to be able to skip the kana vs. romaji combinations and treat them as if they were one, which cuts down on the separate matching that kana or romaji would make with kanji individually.

This form of learning gives me a solid foundation to understanding Japanese no matter its form or how it’s written to me, whereas – and there’s no harm in doing this if this is your preference – some people may choose to do this condensed version instead:

  • Associate the kanji with the meaning
  • Associate the meaning with the kanji

“But romaji is bad!”

Some people advise new learners to skip romaji. I absolutely do not recommend this. Being able to write Japanese in a form easily pronouncable and clear to non-Asians is a hugely useful skill.

I think the take-home idea of what people are trying to communicate when they say “don’t learn romaji” is this: don’t rely on only romaji to learn Japanese by, as kana and kanji are ridiculously important and 100% cannot be avoided if you truly wish for spoken as well as written fluency in the language. I do advise saving learning how to -write- kanji for really advanced learning, if even then, as even many Japanese can’t remember from scratch how to write many kanji, as shown in this video.

If you’re going to be reading a lot of Japanese material, the important focus is of course to learn how to recognize characters, not write them from scratch! Besides, unless you’re writing a job application in Japanese with no computer or outside help whatsoever, if you don’t know how to write a kanji, you can always just represent it with hiragana. While the Japanese can read their language in romaji, kana is of course preferred.

Don’t be afraid of the writing system. Besides, with so many resources available as well as so much interesting media, Japanese is a great language to learn, and learning the kanji gives you a fantastically solid head start if you want to learn Chinese later!

My Japanese resources

Here’s the Japanese equivalent for my Korean resources, my Swedish resources, and my Norwegian resources, in order from most to least used and helpful:

  • Memrise: Vocabulary building via flashcards. Used all the time during any stage of learning Japanese, or any other language, for that matter. Using Memrise is like using flashcards, but a lot more beneficial since it utilizes not just repetition, but spaced repetition. That means it checks how long ago you learned a word and reminds you to revisit the word at a time when you’re most likely to be about to forget it. It often has (user-created!) mnemonic devices to help aid the recall process even further. I wholeheartedly recommend Memrise to anyone who’s learning any language. You can even create your own deck to help other users practice! Here’s a detailed deck I made myself for Japanese that splits words into categories like godan verbs, na-adjectives, and more. 😀
  • Guide to Japanese: The Japanese Guide at Guide to Japanese is extremely helpful, and is the number one source I use to build my grammar.
  • Tanoshii Japanese: Tanoshii Japanese, while it’s a fantastic Japanese to English (and vice-versa) dictionary, also has hiragana, katakana, kanji, and vocabulary lessons, and will teach you kanji immediately before showing you some words containing the kanji you just learned! It also has extremely helpful games you can play, and you can tie your progress to your account. I absolutely recommend this site, as it’s basically somewhat of a Japanese-specific Memrise, catering specifically to ways that would help one test their hiragana, katakana, kanji, and vocabulary knowledge.
  • Lingua Junkie: Lingua Junkie gives a fantastic breakdown of many different ways to say the same thing, which means it’s a fantastic way to build your vocabulary and stop saying things the same way every time. For example, there’s an article about 22 awesome ways to say how are you in Japanese, and one for 22 ways to say I agree in Japanese. I definitely recommend these, and there are plenty more on the site!
  • JREF’s Japanese Slang article: Great for learning Japanese slang, the value of which cannot be understated if you want to learn real-world Japanese!
  • Tangorin: Like Tanoshii Japanese, Tangorin also serves as a great Japanese to English (and vice-versa) dictionary, and is incredibly helpful with the meanings of different kanji. Because of the extra features (and the more attractive interface), however, I like to use Tanoshii Japanese more often.
  • Hotarun: Like a hybrid of Tanoshii Japanese and Verbix, Hotarun will explain what a kanji means or conjugate verbs for you, among many other things!
  • Learn-Japanese.info: The vocabulary and grammar lessons here are very simple and to the point!
  • The Japanese Page: Over at The Japanese Page, there’s a great section called Fast Track: 100 Grammar Points that is just glorious in jump-starting your Japanese grammar knowledge. It teaches you 100 short grammar snippets on how to use words like “about”, “for example”, “this”, “that”, “that over there”, and more.
  • PuniPuniJapan: PuniPuniJapan definitely wins points for being adorable. It’s a fabulously colorful website that really makes Japanese learning cute and fun, and it teaches vocabulary, phrases, and grammar for free.
  • Japanese Professor: Japanese Professor has great lessons in order to learn Japanese!
  • Daiu International: Daiu International has a bunch of vocabulary lists to suit your fancy, whether you want to specifically learn more adjectives, pronouns, or even some Japanese proverbs.
  • Nihongo Ichiban: There are some grammar lessons here, and also some survival Japanese lessons if you just want to get your feet wet and no more. If you’re serious enough about Japanese to take the JLPT (general Japanese proficiency test) or BJT (business Japanese proficiency test), though, it also helpfully contains lists for vocabulary you’ll need to know for J5, J4, and so on.
  • Jonsay.co.uk: Like Daiu International, Jonsay has great vocabulary lists like this one for different categories such as computers, directions, and even the Japanese words for dinosaurs! They have vocabulary lists for other languages, too, not just Japanese.
  • Japanese websites about interests: For example, if you’re interested in anime, why not trying to read some words off of animeanime.jp once you have some kanji and vocabulary under your belt? Or maybe read some articles in English about some cool stuff Japan has going on and practice reading the Japanese around it.
  • Verbix: I use this verb conjugator for pretty much any language I’m learning!
  • Japanese Verb Conjugator: With a slightly easier to understand format than Verbix, this “Ultra Handy Japanese Verb Conjugator” is a great way to find out how to conjugate a Japanese verb if you’re at a loss! However, even though it has a prettier format than Verbix, the conjugations are automatically generated.

Continue reading My Japanese resources

Japanese katakana

Here are some mnemonics to help with learning Japanese katakana – which is the second best place (after hiragana) to start learning written Japanese (Check out this katakana chart, this one, and this one, too!):

  • ア – a: Looks like an “A”xe. (pronounced “ah”)
  • イ – i: Looks like a lowercase “I” with a long dot. (pronounced “ee”)
  • ウ – u: Looks like the hiragana “U”!
  • エ – e: Looks like an “E”levator!
  • オ – o: Looks like a man tripping – “O” no!
  • カ – ka: Looks like the hiragana “KA”!
  • キ – ki: Looks like the top of the hiragana skeleton “KI”y!
  • ク – ku: Looks like the side of a “KU”p! (pronounced “koo”)
  • ケ – ke: Looks like a lopsided letter “KE”! (pronounced “keh”)
  • コ – ko: Has two “KO”rners!
  • サ – sa: Dancing the “SA”mba/”SA”lsa!
  • シ – shi: “SHI” always smiles at me.
  • Continue reading Japanese katakana

English agreement

In English, our way to agree with someone is very confusing.

If you’re asked a negative question such as “Don’t you like it?” and you say “No”, this most probably means you don’t like “it”. But because of how inherently confusing this structure is, we often go on to clarify our answer: instead of saying “No”, we often say “No, I don’t” just to make super sure the person understands which way we lean. If we were asked “Don’t you like it?” and we said “Yes”, that would most likely mean we did like whatever “it” is (but of course, to clarify, we’d probably instead say “Yes, I do”).

Most Asian languages are the complete opposite of this. In Korean, Japanese, and other Asian and even non-Asian languages, saying “Yes” means you agree with the sentiment of whatever was said, regardless of whether it was positively or negatively worded. If the person didn’t like “it”, then in response to “Don’t you like it?”, they would simply say “Yes.” The asker asked if she didn’t like it, and that’s what the answerer agrees with.

Let’s do one more example to make the difference even clearer. If I say “No class today?”, and there was no class, an English speaker’s response would probably be “No”, as in “No, there is no class today.” However, a non-English speaker would most likely respond to the question “No class today?” with “Yes.” In response to “No class today?”, saying “No” would mean “No, there actually is class today.”

Another point: when asking for confirmation, we take the negative tense of whatever our verb was. Let me show a few examples:
Continue reading English agreement

My Korean resources

Here’s the Korean equivalent for my Swedish resources and my Norwegian resources, in order from most to least used and helpful:

  • Memrise: Used all the time during any stage of learning Korean, or any other language, for that matter. Using Memrise is like using flashcards, but a lot more beneficial since it utilizes not just repetition, but spaced repetition. That means it checks how long ago you learned a word and reminds you to revisit the word at a time when you’re most likely to be about to forget it. It often has (user-created!) mnemonic devices to help aid the recall process even further. I wholeheartedly recommend Memrise to anyone who’s learning any language. You can even create your own deck to help other users practice! In fact, here’s the deck my friend made to coincide with what you learn from Korean Made Simple, which I’ll talk about in a few bullets.
  • Dongsa: The Android and iOS versions are the equivalent of its website. It’s an incredibly useful site like Verbix (though Verbix has the Romanizations on the main page if that’s important to you, and also has far more languages available), and can be used on the go to type in an unfamiliar infinitive verb and have it conjugated for you, even if it’s irregular! One thing that Dongsa does have over Verbix is that, since it focuses solely on Korean, when you click on a conjugation, it tells you why the verb is conjugated that way! The value of this can’t be underestimated, of course.
  • Talk to Me in Korean podcast: Used from the very beginning. They have beginner and intermediate lessons, and their content is quite good! Their podcast is very helpful but also sometimes 10-20 minutes long, much of which is very fluffed up with lots of English conversation between the teachers. Now, though it is extremely helpful, I must say that, depending on how familiar you are with learning languages, it’s sometimes much faster to download their lesson .pdfs and learn them on your own, or maybe just fast-forward through the podcast past the fluff. Besides this, though, I definitely recommend the TTMIK community, as they’re a lovely and helpful bunch of people and will answer any Korean language or cultural questions you have!
  • Korean Made Simple: Great resource to teach incredibly useful vocabulary and grammar construction. This can be used from the beginning, and was made by a guy who learned Korean himself, so is quite familiar with the process of learning Korean.
  • LingQ: Used to start learning words, though given the occasional irregularities in Korean spacing of words, it can sometimes be less useful than for other languages. However, this can be used from the very beginning! LingQ is a fantastic site that allows you to hover your cursor over words in their different language lessons and stories and see the meaning. When you feel comfortable with a word, you mark it as known and move on. This is also the tool that gives me those nifty, auto-updated language badges on the right sidebar.

Continue reading My Korean resources

Guest post: Enhance your language skills through your smartphone

Hello everyone! Today I have a guest post for you, one written by Tongue-Twisting Girl, a fellow blogger and language learner. She is an advocate for learning languages through smartphone apps, and has some recommendations for some good ones! Take it away, girl!


Mobile devices have their own share of benefits to human beings, which includes making learning an interactive and engaging process. Given mobile’s ability to access a myriad of resources online, smartphones have now become an acceptable educational trend that has transcended many different forms. In the United States alone, more and more college students are using their smartphone for learning purposes, spending an average of 3.3 hours daily for mobile learning on their handsets.

Thus, learning a new language on your smartphone has been made easier, so long as you are equipped with the right information about to best do it. How can you enhance your vocabulary and language skills through your mobile device?

Get the right apps
As the often-used adage goes: “there’s always an app for that.” When it comes to learning a new language or developing your skills, there’s usually an application for it. But, there are thousands of mobile apps out there that offer the same things. So, how can you distinguish an effective and suitable educational app for you? Here are some recommendations:

Continue reading Guest post: Enhance your language skills through your smartphone

My Norwegian resources

Here’s the Norwegian equivalent for my Swedish resources and my Korean resources:

  • Sons of Norway – Norwegian in 5 Minutes a Month: Used from the very beginning. It teaches you useful vocabulary and starting phrases, as well as covers the Norwegian alphabet. Give it a go! =)
  • LingQ: Used to start learning words. This can be used from the very beginning! LingQ is a fantastic site that allows you to hover your cursor over words in their different language lessons and stories and see the meaning. When you feel comfortable with a word, you mark it as known and move on. This is also the tool that gives me those nifty, auto-updated language badges on the right sidebar.
  • Google translate: Used all-the-freaking-time to define single words. Here’s how it normally works for me: I see a word in LingQ or hear a word in a podcast (also coming up), and then look it up via Google translate if I know how it’s spelled. I hardly ever use Google translate for translating phrases, because if you give it more than one word, it often messes up. For best results, translate FROM your target language INTO English, as Google translate tends to have a better grasp on English than some of the other languages. It’s also decent enough to use vice-versa, but I don’t trust its English-to-Norwegian, etc. translations as much as the reverse. Remember, in the beginning, when translating something in Google translate, don’t use ambiguous sentences that can be translated in multiple different ways; try to stick to simple sentences until you can tell when Google translate is wrong, at which point you can feed it more complex things.

Continue reading My Norwegian resources

First impressions of Sweden

So, Sweden is a pretty incredible place.

I just came back from Stockholm where I stayed from Thursday (Aug. 1st) to Sunday (Aug. 4th), and I can say with confidence that Sweden isn’t entirely what I expected it to be…it’s more!

We arrived on Thursday at noon. Immediately, we converted 200 Norwegian kroner ($33.72) to 210 Swedish kronor (not including the exchange fee, of course; that made it only about 180 Swedish kronor), but it turns out we didn’t need the cash during the trip as cards work perfectly fine just about everywhere. This includes on the plane itself. My conclusion is that I don’t think it’s necessary to have more than a small emergency stock of Swedish cash on you in Stockholm, likely because Sweden is a pretty high-tech country and Stockholm is a very international city.

Continue reading First impressions of Sweden

Japanese hiragana

Here are some mnemonics to help with learning Japanese hiragana – which is a good place (just before katakana) to start learning written Japanese (Check out this hiragana chart, and this one, too!):

  • あ – a: Looks like a man with a snake wrapped around him screaming “AAAA!”
  • い – i: Looks like a pair of legs, perhaps kicking something that goes “IIII!”
  • う – u: Looks like a child pointing out a toy he wants to his mother and going “UUUU!”
  • え – e: Looks like a woman putting her hand up and walking away from a man she’s not interested in and going “Eh…”
  • お – o: Looks like a man rowing a boat with his “O”ar.
  • か – ka: Looks like a man doing a backflip! It’s amazing that he “K”an do that!
  • き – ki: Looks like a skeleton “KI”y!
  • く – ku: Looks like a bird’s beak that is “KU-KU”ing!
  • け – ke: Looks like one person carrying something, and another person asking to help. Alternatively, looks like a “KE”g.
  • こ – ko: Looks like a “KO”iled spring.
  • さ – sa: Looks like a guy with a big, “SA”gging belly!
  • し – shi: “SHI” has long hair!
  • Continue reading Japanese hiragana

My 2012 in pictures

2012 was simultaneously long and short, but either way, it was a very, very eventful year for me:

The Netherlands Part I

A windmill in Leiden, the Netherlands

I started the year off still in Dutchville on my December 10th – January 7th trip to the Netherlands. This was the first time I had ever left my own country at all, much less gone to Europe. I watched bikes regularly come within centimeters of cars, witnessed just how liberal Amsterdam is, and participated in and saw the aftermath of New Year’s fireworks as well as an awesome example of the extreme efficiency of public transportation. I ate a ton of new food and had the best, barely-modified meat I’d ever had. I learned a lot about water control and saw many times over how the Dutch control water levels very intimately (the Dutch will regularly live barely a few inches above canals!) and I fell in love with the environmentally-friendly and effective way in which the entire country operates (not only do you bag your own groceries, but stores don’t even offer plastic bags, only reusable! If you don’t bring one to the store, you have to pay a quarter or so to get one). I went to the store a bajillion times a week like the Dutch and got a lot of practice in listening to the language. I felt the Netherlands become my second home. I watched Eurovision for the first time. And I experienced a friend group much like the ones I have in Florida and felt completely at ease in my new surroundings.

Continue reading My 2012 in pictures