And Now For Something More Difficult

As is my habit lately, I have read several news articles from NHK News Web Easy this week and also one article from the full NHK site (although I had lots of help from TangoRisto for that one).

This week’s stories have been about:

a museum featuring the work of a modern artist (which is when I realized that, yes, I do know how to say polkadots in Japanese)

a panel from a KLM airliner falling out of the sky and onto a car (no injuries were sustained)

a new building at an ancient onsen

the birth of baby turtles at an aquatic park

an explosion at a military building full of ammo in the Ukraine

people at risk for diabetes

Whew!  Did I really read that many articles this week?  That’s kind of nuts.

So, I am going to read one more.  However, I am going hardcore on this one.  It is about high school students and learning.  I printed up out, I crossed off nearly all the furigana, and I am tackling this article with no help from anyone or anything.  If I don’t know a word, I won’t look it up.  I’ll have to figure it out from context or get by without knowing what it is.  After I’m done with the article (or it’s done with me!) and I understand as much of it as I can, then I’ll look troublesome words up and see how well I did.

Looking at the page full of kanji, some part of me is thinking that this is a bad idea, but the rest of me is sure that it’s an excellent idea.  Periodically, you have to do one with no help of any kind just to see where you’re at.  After all, the goal is to eventually do them all without help of any kind, right?

If you’re a musician, you’ll get this one.  If you’ve been practicing a song at a slow tempo, sometimes you just have to crank the metronome up a few notches and see how you do at a faster tempo.  It’s good for you.

Wish me luck.




TangoRisto Part II

Last night was my first time really using the TangoRisto app. I did a review of it in the previous post, but I wanted to add a little more now that I’ve read an entire article using it.

Because I’m being lazy today, here’s what it says on the website:

A Japanese reader for language learners

With easy to access furigana and English definitions Tangoristo helps you learn Japanese faster. News articles are updated and processed every day to give you fresh and interesting content to read.


  • Sort articles by their difficulty level
  • Tap a word to see its English translation
  • Furigana for all words + adaptative display by JLPT level
  • Highlight vocabulary by its JLPT level
  • Verb conjugation identifier
  • Bookmark documents to read later
  • Bookmark words
  • Extracts vocabulary list for each text organized by JLPT level and part of speech
  • Quick links to look up each word on reference sites like, Tangorin, Japanese Exchange, etc.
  • Tap-to-reveal furigana mode new!
  • Night Mode new!

Text sources:

  • NHK News Easy analyzed and updated every day
  • NHK Top news for advanced readers new!
  • Japanese folk tales

In other words…

TangoRisto analyzes short Japanese texts from the web to facilitate your reading flow. This app encourages you to read and explore the vocabulary in short texts from the Web. You can review the vocabulary for each text, filter it by your reading level and bookmark your favorite articles.

I find more often than not real learning breakthroughs happen when observing language in context. Hopefully this app will help you to take the knowledge you are acquiring in class or through standard learning materials, and apply it to read real texts.


So, I used it last night to dig into the turtle article on NHK News Web.  I read the article first on NHK News Web Easy so that I would know what it was talking about, and then I moved on to the full version.

It was hard.

But, with TangoRisto, it was doable.  Yes, there were some grammar structures that I didn’t know, but I was able to follow the entire article.  It was outstanding.  I wouldn’t go right to the hard version, though, because I use the help too much, so I will continue to start with the easy version and read through it on my own, but I will also go to the full version fairly often, I think, because it was fun to be able to work my way through the article, and I did learn some new Kanji.  Also, it gives me a chance to see other words that I ought to know in the wild.



TangoRisto Part I

Let’s talk about TangoRisto, which Yanock kindly pointed me to a while back. Basically, it’s function is to help you read things in Japanese.  You can choose from articles on NHK News Web Easy as well as on the regular NHK News Web site and from a collection of fairy tales that I haven’t looked at yet.

Today I am reading an article on News Web Easy about the survival of a baby turtle.  After I read the article, I plan to check it out on the regular New Web site using TangoRisto, but, in the meantime, here’s what it looks like:

Photo 1

As you can see, I get the picture and the text. You will notice that some of the words are underlined and have furigana. Here’s a closeup of the toolbar:

photo 3

As you can see, I have it set to show furigana for N3 words.  You can choose from any of the JLPT levels or have no furigana at all.  It says highlight, but that seems to be the underline.  Next to that is the button to let you change the font size because, as we all know, tiny little kanji are a pain to read.

You’ll also notice in the first picture that you have three windows to choose from:  vocabulary, text and web.  The text window is the one you can see in the first picture.  The vocabulary window looks like this:

photo 2

So you get the word, the reading and the part of speech.  Pretty cool.  And, it was our favorite price ただ (free).

Oh, and this is a later edit, because, while working with the app, I just discovered that you can click on any word in the text and get the translation!  That’s both good and bad.  It’s good because it’s a obvious learning tool, but it’s bad because it’s too easy to simply click instead of trying to work it out from context.

So, step one for me tonight – finish reading the easy version of the turtle story.  Step two – read the regular version with some help from TangoRisto.

Step three – to ask you to please go over to Amazon and check out my novel to see if you might like to buy a copy.  Despite the title, I don’t think you’ll be sorry.  So, pretty please?

Well, gotta go now.  I’m anxious to find out about the baby turtle, though the title of the story let’s me know it has a happy ending: 沖縄県おきなわけん 「クロウミガメ」のあかちゃんがまれる




I am not knocking studying vocabulary.  Far from it!  I study vocabulary pretty much every day using my favorite SRS software.  For me, that happens to be memrise, but there are lots of other good ones out there.  Take your pick.

The thing is, though, that, while studying lists of vocabulary is important, you don’t really have the word until you can recognize it in the wild.  That is, u til you can recognize it in the middle of something you are reading or when it comes out of someone else’s mouth.  So, how can you help that process along?

I would say, use it.  Find reasons to use your new vocabulary in conversation, in writing, use it as much as possible.  If you have learned a group of related words, start a conversation or a journal entry on the topic the words relate to.  I prefer conversation, because there is the element of uncertainty – you don’t know which words the other person is going to use.

Yes, there are people who decry memoriz9ng lists of vocabulary words because it isn’t “natural”.  True.  It isn’t.  But, then again, I don’t live on Japan.  If I did, maybe I could pick up a lot of vocabulary in a natural manner through conversation.

What is helping me right now is reading.  I am meeting familiar words in new settings, and sometimes I recognize them, and sometimes I don’t.  T0day I read a whole long sentence and was baffled by it.  It made no sense at all, until I finally broke down and looked up one word which, as it turned out, didn’t mean what I thought it did, and instantly the whole sentence became clear.

Which leads me to this – don’t be in a hurry to look words up.  Try to figure them 0ut from context and only look them up if you have to.  Yes, it is more work and frustration, but it’s good for learning.

Well, this article I am reading in Japanese is beckoning me.  To be honest, I have been a little slack this last week.  I have kind of done the minimum, and it’s time to get back to work.  Japanese isn’t going to leap into my head on its own.


Ah, Some Good News

The article that I am reading today on NHK News Web easy is called: 日本でいちばん長生きの117女性をおい.  Just for fun, let’s break it down, shall we?

日本 – Sometimes this is 日本 and sometimes it is にっぽん, but, either way, it means Japan

で – one of those lovely particles that can mean a bunch of different things which I don’t have time to go into here

いちばん – literally means number one but can be used to mean -est.  I’ll explain that in a moment.  Well, depending on how fast you read!

長 – length

き – living

So, while we’re here, let’s put いちばん長生き together.  We get -est, length, living which I am going to render as longest living. Isn’t Japanese fun?

の – the connection or belong to particle

117 – I think we can figure out the number part, and the Kanji means years old

の – Again?  We already covered this one

女性 – woman

を – the direct object particle

い – celebration

And, so, what do we get?  How about something like, A celebration for the longest living woman in Japan, who is 117 years old.  There are obviously other (and less clunky) ways of putting that, but, what the heck, it gets the idea across.

That sounds like a happy story, so I’ll read that one.  At the same time, I printed out the version of the story from the regular news website.  We’ll see how that goes!  I”ll read the easy one first and then move on to the more difficult one.

By the way, thanks to Lady Caladium for the encouragement to push on to the harder articles, and to Yanock for telling me about the TangoRisto app, which I have added to the applist.  It’s good to have people give you a little nudge in the right direction.







Reading is Fundamental

Yes, I stole borrowed that title from a catchphrase that used to be popular in the United States.

Working my way through  stories on News Web Easy is continuing to pay dividends. I am encountering some very frustrating fascinating grammar structures, and I enjoy that lightbulb moment when a collection of words suddenly morphs into a coherent sentence. A thing which, incidentally, doesn’t always happen.  It seems like, if you know all the words, the sentence should make sense, but that hasn’t always been my experience.

Today’s article was unpleasantly topical.  It was about North Korea and missiles, and I did have to look up some words like 防衛省 (Ministry of Defense) but I don’t feel bad about that.  That one hasn’t been in any of my books!

When I read a story, I highlight in yellow any sentences that I can’t figure out so I can go over them with my tutor during my next lesson, but, very pleasantly, this article has nothing highlighted!  Admittedly, it has a few sentences that made me want to beat my head against the table have to work a little, but I eventually got some sense out of them.

One of the things that I would encourage everyone to do as soon as possible, is to find some level appropriate reading.  If you have to look up every word, it isn’t level appropriate.  And, on the other hand, if you breeze through it with no problem it isn’t level appropriate either (or you’re very good!).  Reading stuff that doesn’t require any effort can make you feel pretty good about your language skills, no doubt about that, but it doesn’t do anything to improve your language skills.

Your reading should stretch you a little.  That’s what we need if we are going to learn, right?  And, believe me, level appropriate reading is about there for you.  Everything from very simply children’s books to normal adult level Japanese and quite a bit in between.

One of the good things for me is that vocabulary from the N3 course I am doing on Memrise is popping up on New Web Easy.  It’s one thing to recognize a word when it pops up on your flashcards.  It’s another to recognize it when you sight it in the wild.  This is very good for me.

So, since the article on North Korea was so easy not as difficult as it might have been, I am going to celebrate by…reading another article.  Of course!  Maybe I’ll read the one about the Panda…ooh..about the dead panda.  Yeah…maybe one of the others…let’s see…Lady Gaga…nope…traffic accident…why is the news not more fun?…I think I’ll read the one about the Olympics.



It Doesn’t Seem That Impressive To Me…

I had a meeting to go to today, and I was pretty sure that it would involve some waiting time before the meeting started, so I brought my clipboard with me.  On my clipboard was the news story that I am currently working my way through.  The two others I was meeting with saw it when I put it down on the table and asked me what it said, so I read this out loud:   火災警報器かさいけいほうきは、建物たてものなかけむりねつセンサーつけると and then I translated it for them, and they were impressed.

I’ll be honest with you, this is not that impressive to me. (Hence, the title of this post!) It sounds impressive, I think, because it includes words like “sensor” which seem like it would be a hard word to know in another language.  Of course, in Japanese, it’s just センサー so, not that difficult.

But, then, I had to sit down and think about it.  If I could go back in time and visit myself right as I was starting to learn Japanese (a waste of a good time machine, if you ask me, but still…) I would be impressed with myself for being able to read and translate that sentence, so I guess whether it is impressive or not depends on where you’re viewing it from.  It doesn’t impress me know, though, because, of course I can read that.  There are furigana over the first word, and all the other words are old friends.  But it could easily give the impression that I know more Japanese that I feel like I do.

Maybe I should go back and change the title of this post…