A New Book

I got a new book.  It looks like this:


日本語パワードリル – Japanese Language Power Drill

N3文法 – N3 grammar

My Cafetalk tutor told me that it was a good book but very difficult.  She was at least right about the second part.  I think she was right about the first part, two, but I won’t know until I dig into the book a little more, as I only got it two days ago and haven’t had much chance to really look at it yet.

Here’s the basic structure of the book:

First it has a few question examples, with the answers given and explained.

This is followed by skills development, consisting of

-grammar in the sentence section I

-grammar forms by semantic function

-ensuring correct use of grammar forms

-grammar in the sentence section 2

-grammar in longer text

-mock test

Well, that ought to keep me busy.

I have looked over the first section which largely consists of grammar explanations, with related forms being put side by side.  This means that you hit several forms that are similar but not quite the same all at once, which can be a bit confusing.

Still, it looks like a book that will reward solid effort, so we’ll see.

In the meantime, I cam continuing to plow my way through N3 vocabulary and have downloaded some different N3 listening apps which I will comment on after I’ve had a chance to really start using them.

Well, time to get to work.


If You Can’t Say Something In Japanese…

And, we’re still talking about the video from Abroad in Japan.  One his points is this:  If you can’t say it in Japanese, don’t say it.  It is too easy to revert back to your native language to say something when you can’t find the right words or the right grammar to say it in Japanese.

I have been guilty of this one.  This morning, I had another excellent Cafetalk lesson, but, during conversation, I got completely stuck on what is probably a fairly simple sentence: This will be the first year that I go.  Thinking about it afterwards, with all the time in the world and no one looking at me, I would go for something like これは行く最初の年になります. At the moment, however, it just would not come into my head, and I started to say it in English instead.

But 日本語だけ。  Japanese only.

So, what do you do when you can’t say what you want to say in Japanese?  Well, you either string together words and hope it gets the point across, even if it makes you sound like a caveman, or you find some (possibly highly convoluted) way to more or less say what you want or (and this is the hardest of all) you abandon the idea of saying it and move on.

After all, what would you do if the person you were speaking to didn’t know any English at all?  Pretend that’s the case and do that.  If you want to learn Japanese, then, when you are having a conversation, force yourself to rely exclusively on Japanese.

You’ll hate it.  It’s very frustrating and makes you feel like an idiot sometimes.  That’s okay.  It also helps you learn the language better.

I haven’t mentioned the JLPT in while, but it will be time to sign up in a couple of months, and I am going to take the N3.  I have been packing in the vocabulary every day, and I am getting ready to start serious grammar drills ( because I am only now getting a grammar drill book).  I have been working on N3 grammar for awhile.

The pass rate tends to be less than 50%.  The tests are not meant to be easy.  For example, if they want you to select the right kanji for a word written in kana, the kanji that you get to choose from will all be very similar to each other.

So, who knows if I’ll pass, but I’m going to give it a good try.  And, after all, if I don’t pass this year, I’ll have a whole year to study, since it’s only offered in December in the U.S.








A while back, my daughter did an impression of me speaking Japanese.  Her version goes like this:



The “oy” is probably meant to be はい and the uh………………………… is clearly my mouth making a random sound while my brain tries to think of a Japanese word.

I mention this because it relates to the video from Abroad in Japan that I put up in the last post.  (I’m not including a link here because, well, it was just the last post.)

In that video two of the things that he mentions are “backfilling” and “conversation fillers”.

By backfilling he means making noises so that the person you are talking to knows that you are paying attention.  I had noticed that various people I speak with in Japanese do this.  While I’m speaking, they’re nodding and saying うん or はい、はい and I had simply acquired the habit myself.  Mind you, in my case it didn’t so much signal I’m paying attention as it did Okay, I understood that.

By conversation fillers, he means the Japanese equivalent of “uh…………………………”  That is, something to say while your brain scrambles frantically looking for a Japanese word.  I hadn’t really thought about that concept until I watched the video, but then I realized that several of my Japanese friends do this when they are speaking English, but they do it in Japanese.   The ones that I hear the most are そうか and なんだろうか with the occasional あのう thrown in for good measure.

Me, I have generally used “uh…………………………” without really thinking about it.

Then I heard my daughter’s impression of me and I thought, “Wow, I really sound pretty goofy there…”

Then I watched the aforementioned video.

Last night I had a conversation exchange on Skype – half an hour in Japanese and half an hour in English.  There came that magic moment when I was looking for a word, and I heard myself say あのう。。。

And, you know what?  It really does help.  One of the things that he said in the video is that the goal is to think in Japanese, and that is absolutely the goal.  When you use a Japanese conversation filler, it helps to keep your mind in Japanese mode.  (It also makes you sound more like you know what you’re doing, if that matters to you.)

Language exchanges are great, by the way.  For those of us who don’t live in Japan, they are a brilliant way to get conversation practice, and conversation practice will make your language skills improve by leaps and bounds.

A while back I was bemoaning the fact that I couldn’t get any conversation practice.  Then I was wishing I could get some practice during the week instead of just on the weekend.  Now, each week,  I have a Tuesday night exchange, a Thursday morning exchange, plus one on Saturday (and my Japanese lesson) and two on Sunday.  That ought to be enough conversation for me.

I learn new words, I hear spoken Japanese, I am forced to speak Japanese in real time…it’s all good.

I also have a couple of contacts who are too nervous to Skype.  They feel that their English isn’t up to it, so they are only willing to exchange written messages, and good for them for doing that much.


My feeling is that you should jump right in.  Even if your language skills are very basic, go for it.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen?  You might make a mistake or not understand something someone says to you.  Depending on who you are, I suppose that might embarrass you, but my feeling is that I’m learning.  Of course I’m going to say things wrong.  Of course there are going to be times when I don’t understand what the other person says to me.

No bog deal, especially during a language exchange.  The other person is learning, too.  Nobody is going to get upset because I make a mistake.

Just go for it.  Your Japanese will get dramatically better faster than you realize.

Just practice saying あのう and ええーと and そうですね and you’ll be speaking Japanese even when you have no idea how to say what you want to say next.  すごい。







Cool Video

I found this video while stumbling around YouTube looking at Japanese grammar videos.

This video is called Speaking Japanese Fluently in 6 Months | 6 Steps to Success and is by Abroad in Japan.  It has what I think are some really helpful tips.  He does use some bad language, so the video may not be for everyone.

I’ve never been a fan of the “get fluent in X months” school, and fluency is somewhat elastic.  Different people define it in different ways.  His definition seems to be basic daily conversation at around a JLPT N4 level with about a 1500 word vocabulary.

Aside from being helpful, I think the video is pretty funny (which will certainly tell you something about my sense of humor, I guess).  Also, he references Genki and italki, and I can’t really comment on them, since I used Minna No Nihongo and Cafetalk. YMMV.



Gotta Love It

One more example of why we love Kanji.

The character 生 is obviously related to life, but how do you pronounce it?  (To put it more technically, “What is it’s reading?”  To put it even more technically, 読み方は何ですか。To put it in Spanish…no, wait.  Sorry.  I was getting carried away. )

The short answer is that, like Kanji in general, the way it is pronounced depends on the characters around it and its place in the word.

That isn’t particularly helpful, so let’s look at some examples:

生き物 – いきもの – living things

生物 – せいぶつ – organisms

誕生 – たんじょう – birth

生える – はえる – growth

On the plus side, these words are clearly all related, so it makes sense to have the same kanji appear in them all, but it is pronounced 、い、せい、じょう、は and probably some others ways in words that I can’t think of at the moment.

You either love Japanese or you don’t.  If you do, it’s quirks are fascinating and fun.  If you don’t, I guess they drive you bonkers.  Me, I love it.  Since you’re reading this, I’m assuming you do too.

Have fun.


A Good Week

This was my week of “as much Japanese as possible”. I blogged in Japanese, responded to comments in Japanese, watched Japanese videos without subtitles (and often without understanding!), I read Japanese, I listened to Japanese music…in other words, I got as close to immersion as I could while having to live and work in an English speaking place.

Quite frankly, it was sometimes very frustrating, but I’m going to do it some more.  I have a few more options for more immersion that I’ll share in a later post.

I found an interesting resource for Ghibli fans called Ghibli script. They sell transcripts in Japanese (kanji with furigana) with English translations of the scripts to Ghibli films. It seemed like it might be a good learning resource, so I got the one for となりのトトロ.

After looking over the first few pages, I’m glad I got it. After I really read through it (and deconstruct the grammar) I’ll watch the movie with the script in hand.

I had a great Japanese lesson this morning. Instead of working through my homework, though, I spent it asking questions about things I had read on Satori Reader and in the Totoro script. The script especially is a mix of informal and more formal Japanese, and I ran into some things that I had never seen before.

One of them was おうちの方. My Cafetalk tutor doesn’t use English with me anymore, so, when I asked what this meant, the first thing she said was 家の人 which eventually worked out to be something like “the people in charge of the house”. I also ran into どなたか. Now, though I knew that  どなた is the polite version of だれ, for some reason it just didn’t click that どなたか is the polite version of だれか. I think that it didn’t click because I saw the word in a sentence, and, since Japanese sentences don’t have spaces between the words, my brain separated the from the rest of the word.

And there was this one: くたびれたかい. That was absolutely a new one on me, and the dictionary was of limited help. くたびれる means “to get tired” so this could just as well have been 疲れた which is a word that is an old friend, but what about かい? This is where the dictionary was no help and my tutor had to step in. If you look かい up, you get many definitions, some of which were familiar to me, but none of which made any sense at all in this context. It turns out that かい is an informal version of , so all that it did was into the question “Are you tired?”

I also ran into this sentence: そこには、永遠に続きそうな階段、そらにその上に広がる別の世界があった。

そこには – that’s basically just there

永遠に続きそうな階段 (I had to break this one down. It did not roll lightly off my tongue

永遠に forever

続きそうな – from 続くmeaning to continue but with an ending meaning to look like and a making the whole phrase an adjective which modifed

階段 staircase

そらに furthermore

その上に – from the top

広がる – to spread out, to extend

別の another

世界が – world and indicating that we finally got to the subject!

あった – past tense informal of ある。

So, how about something like There, there was a stairway that looked like it went on forever, and, furthermore, another new world that spread out from the top of it.

I freely admit, that one took me awhile. If you can simply read and understand it right away, outstanding. If, however, you look at a sentence like that and get stuck, you can always just do what I did: break it down and put it back together again and get some sense out of it.

Start with two assumptions:

1. No matter how much it looks like the demented ravings of a gibbering lunatic at first glance, the sentence actually does make sense

2. You can figure it out

Then break it down.  If nothing else, start by splitting it up at the particles.  That’s always a good first step.  You may have to break it down further after that, but at least you will have made a start.

Now, a site like Satori Reader will give you the translation of each sentence with the click of a mouse, and that’s how you don’t learn.

“Oh, this one looks tough.”  Click  “Oh, that’s what it means.”

What have you just learned?  Nowhere near as much as you could have.  Don’t go for the easy out.  Wrack you brain and try to figure the sentence out on your own, and never look at the translation until after you’ve given it your best shot.  Yeah, it’s more work that way, but you sure do learn a lot more.




As Much Japanese As Possible This Week Day 5

There are a lot of posts here in English, but this week I’m trying to use Japanese at every possible opportunity.  Today, it isn’t going so well.