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As a Japanese tutor, a lot of questions I hear are about kanji.  How do I study them?  How do I read them?  Why do I read it one way or another at different times?  What are they exactly?  Do I really need them?   Kanji are Chinese-derived characters used in written Japanese to form nouns and the base of most verbs and adjectives.  Many have purely mechanical function, acting as prefixes or suffixes, or to narrow definition indicating something such as places or occupations.  Many pull double duty not only in function (noun, verb, etc) but in meaning.  In Japanese, the character for "metal" can also mean "money," "gold" (both substance or color) and "Friday."  Pronunciation also varied between the Chinese-approximate on'yomi (sound reading) and the native Japanese kun'yomi.  The Chinese readings, borrowed throughout centuries (thus leading to various readings as Chinese dynasties,... read more

Hi, everyone.  It's been a while, so I'm easing back into things with a nice, easy post.  Many of my friends and students have asked me and each other "what are the best methods for learning Japanese?  What do you use?"  And so, I'm going to offer my take on some of the materials I have found most useful.   Textbooks:   The Genki Series:  Perhaps the most commonly used textbook out there, as well as most easy to use.  This elementary course is 23 chapters long and offers 300+ kanji, as well as easy to understand grammar points.  I think it's main weak point is a lack of in-depth cultural topics, somewhat less than thematic kanji featured in each chapter and very embarrassingly slow audio. However, these weaknesses really don't hinder the experience.  Toss in supplementary kanji resources, audio and some healthy curiosity (or a great teacher) and you have a darn good resource.   The... read more

If you want to learn the Japanese language "Nihongo",you came to the right place! My sessions can get you well on your way to learning how to speak, read, and write.  I will help you comprehend and communicate with Japanese.   We will start from Japanese alphabet (Hiragana and Katakana) as well as Kanji (Chinese characters), grammar, common words and phrases. 

One question I get often deals with memorization, which makes sense.  There is a lot of memorization in any subject, but especially with Japanese.  New vocabulary and kanji are the two biggest examples I can give you.  Thankfully this is a short post.  To sum it up: I find a dual flashcards/sentences approach works very well for both instances.   The study of Japanese, in my experience goes from broad, simple concepts to more complex kanji and more refined and specific vocabulary and grammar.  Some words or kanji might be near identical, but have certain nuances.  This can double or even triple the amount of vocabulary very quickly.  As a student, I started off very strong, but learning the nuances as I progressed started to become very difficult and I had to revamp my game.   Before I went to Japan, I downloaded a great app on my iPod, jFlash, which takes a lot from Jim Breem's JDIC (an online Japanese dictionary),... read more

Every beginning student of Japanese, myself included, has had trouble in one way or another with particles.  JOSHI, as they are called in Japanese, are "helping words" which we use to identify parts of speech, join clauses, indicate direction, mode and exclusivity.  Basically, they're the sweet little things that make Japanese cohesive rather than a jumble of words.  These JOSHI are written as hiragana, but some may have pronunciation changes.   The hiragana HA, pronounced WA, has multiple functions.  First and foremost is it's function as a TOPIC MARKER, the "what I'd like to talk about."  After the topic has been established, it can be omitted from future information until the topic changes.   Rooney-san WA Fruansugo to Eigo wo hanashimasu.  Sei ga hikakute, atama ga ii desu..  Senmon WA hikakubungaku desu. -- Ms. Rooney speaks French and English.  She is short and smart.  (Changing the... read more

Dear Students who are new to Japanese and interested in learning Japanese,   I have been tutoring Japanese on-line and my students love it.  My on-line lessons are inexpensive and convenient.  You can learn a lot in 8 basic lessons.  By the end of 8 lessons you can introduce yourself in Japanese.  I would like to promote my on-line lessons to the people who are outside California.  My first lesson is free and you are welcome to contact me.   I will be waiting for you! Sincerely, Izumi 

Learning a language is a funny thing. Lots of people in the world today learn their second language as a child and that language is (maybe) usually English. Many people in the world are introduced to a new language as children during a period when learning a language is optimal. I am well past this age and I have just now begun to start learning a second language, formally. For what it's worth, I knew a little Japanese before I went to Japan. I could read Kana and maybe a couple hundred kanji, so I wasn't a total newbie. But, this was my first time really learning it for real and being in a country where it is spoken. A few things that I learned about learning a language for real: 1. Frustration and disappointment. I came in this knowing some words and the disappointment I experienced when I could hear NONE of them rained on my parade a bit. The frustration was a bit unbearable in the beginning. I was only in the country for a semester... read more

The pre-masu stem of Japanese verbs, technically called the RENYOUKEI (conjunctive form) is usually one of the first conjugations students of Japanese learn.  By adding MASU, which is technically a verb in-and-of itself, one creates a more formal utterance which shows respect to the audience.  MASU has no inherent meaning except to demonstrate this respect.   In this vein, several other verbs can be attached to the RENYOUKEI: DASU, HAJIMERU, NAOSU, KAERU/GAERU, AGARU, ERU, KAKARU, KIRU, KESU, KOMU, SAGERU, SUGIRU, TSUKERU, TSUDZUKERU, TOOSU, NUKERU, NOKOSU, NOKORU, WAKERU, WASURERU are a few of the more common ones, and have some special rules.   DASU means to "start to do X," but the subtle meaning comes across as an abrupt start. Okutte uchi wo dedaketa node, kagi wo kakete kara, hashiridashita.  Because I was late leaving the house, I locked the door and took off running.   HAJIMERU also means "to start,"... read more

Expressing ease or difficulty in Japanese has two forms which divide the psychological and physical reasons whether or not something is hard to do.   The first, the psychological, is the pre-masu form plus NIKUI for difficulty. Tanaka no ji wa yominikui.  Tanaka's handwriting is hard to read (because I find it messy.) Be careful!  The adjective, MINUKUI ugly) sounds a lot like "hard to see."  Try saying "YOKU MIEMASEN."    For an inactive action, like thinking or remembering, you can use GATAI after the pre-masu form. Ryugakusei jidai wa wasuregatai.  It's hard to forget my days as an exchange students.   A course way of saying something is tough (or closer to a pain in the... neck) would be subsittuting either with DZURAI. Obaachan no meshi wa kuidzurai, naa.  Man, eating Gramma's cooking is tough (because its been cooked to heck and has no flavor.)   We can also say... read more

Desire in Japanese is very strange.  Since it is a private feeling, one cannot say that someone else wants something, but we have to preface it with they "appear" to want it, or something similar.  Additionally, there are two adjectives (not verbs) which are used to state this want.  The first is adding the adjectival -tai to the pre-masu form of a verb, and the other is by using the adjective HOSHII.   Watashi ha osushi ga tabetai desu.  I want to eat suchi.   Watashi ha hon ga hoshii desu.  I want a book.   As explained above, we need to say that someone showed signs of wanting, or stated that the wanted something because we do not know their private thoughts.  One way of doing this is to drop the final -i and adding GATTEIRU to say someone is "showing signs of...."  We can use this form for other -i adjectives to suggest an appearance of a quality.   Imouto ha Disneyworld... read more

Japanese has many words for the concept of reciprocal exchanges.  This is fundamentally related to the concepts of hierarchy and in-group/out-group relationships.  I'll explain these concepts:   First of all, Japanese society retained their feudalistic system for about 300 years longer than the Western world in about 1868, and immediately the emperor was reinstated as the leader of unified Japan.  Although it was in contact with the Western world, Japan became fiercely nationalistic, and embracing Shintoism, saw the emperor as a decedent of the sun goddess, which reinforced the idea of a hierarchy among the Japanese, and neighboring countries. Seeing as the Japanese emperor could claim lineage to a god, and the emperor was leader of Japan, by that logic all others were inferior, so a strong national identity was formed.  There was a strong idea of Japanese and non-Japanese: a trait which lingers to this day.  Furthermore, within Japan,... read more

In my opinion, of the verb forms taught in the average Elementary Japanese class, te-form is perhaps the most important and flexible.  By using this form, it can boast one's grammatical complexity, allow one to speak more fluently and with more nuance.  Let's review it.   Conjunction   This form, can be used to link two sentences and imply a relationship as found in this example.  By inserting kara, the implication would suggest that two actions occur right after each other.  It can be used like "and" for adjective (he is nice and smart) and verbs (I play soccer and swim).  The "and" implies a finite list of activities or qualities.  If the second sentence finished with "n(o) da/desu," there is an explanatory/reasoning nuance: Atama ga itakute, shukudai wo shinakattan desu. "My head hurt, so I didn't do my homework."   Gerund (-te +iru) and... read more

One thing that had me stumped for a while was the complex relationship of Japanese verbs and politeness levels.  Most Japanese educational materials start you off learning the "~masu" form, also called the "polite form."  It's very helpful, so you don't accidentally offend someone, but can come across as somewhat reserved if used frequently.  All of this came crashing down around me when my class started plain form verbs.  When do we use them?  Why?  And how the heck does conjugation work?  Let's find out and learn some plain-form verbs!   To start, I suppose we can say there are about 5 levels of politeness in Japanese:   Level 5 – Honorific/Humble: certain words are substituted to increase the politeness level when speaking of or to a superior (honorific), or of your own actions (humble).  The passive voice can be used as honorific, but is less respectful that an honorific/humble... read more

I sometimes go to a local bookstore, looking around for some good books to use in my Japanese tutoring sessions, and I came across the following books that looked promising:   For the Beginners: - Japanese in 10 minutes a day, by Kristine K. Kershul.    I liked this book because each section seemed nice and concise, just the right amount of material to cover in a 60 minute session.  It has a good description of each topic a session covers, along with helpful illustrations and phrases that students can get to use right away.  It seemed to have the right blend of memorization learning and hands-on exercises.  It has a very familiar format to one of my old conversational English textbooks that was very helpful to me when I was learning English.  It also comes with a CD to allow students to learn the sounds on their own between the sessions. -Basic Japanese: Learn to Speak Everyday Japanese in 10 Carefully Structured Lessons,... read more

The Summer of 2012 I embarked on a study abroad journey to Hikone, Japan. Hikone is home to the historic Hikone castle and known for it's close proximity to the largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa. The Japanese language school I attended is called JCMU (Japan Center for Michigan Universities). It is right on the edge of the lake and provides many beaches and opportunities for chatting with the locals. Most of us stayed in the dorms connected to the main building. We woke up 5 days a week at 8 am and by 9am were in our classrooms learning Japanese straight until 3 pm. On Fridays we got to stop at 1 pm and enjoy a cultural activity. I tested into the fourth and highest level with two other students. I was in this level for three weeks before deciding to drop down to the third level because of the lack of sleep and stress level. That was a good decision because instead of constantly studying my textbooks I could leave and explore Hikone, using my language skills in real interactions... read more

I am finally getting my blog set up! As I try to expand my audience, I have made a craigslist post for my tutoring services, directing potential students to this website: http://flint.craigslist.org/lss/3167663221.html The business end of things seems to have put a damper on my leisure reading time. Because of this, I think I'll use a tip I usually reserve for students on myself- a word of the day! It helps to expand one's vocabulary while using up only minimal time. I'll borrow today's word from dictionary.com: Intrapaneur- An employee of a large corporation who is given freedom and financial support to create new products, services, systems, etc., and does not have to follow the corporation's usual routines or protocols. Interesting indeed... As time progresses, I hope to write about some exciting things here, and hopefully I'll have some handy tips for those who wish to gain greater knowledge and skill in the areas of reading and writing.

I've been re-reading an old copy of Barry Farber's book How to Learn Any Language. The copy I have is more than a little out-of-date, as the author talks about the "innovation" of portable audio-cassette players as a language-learning tool. The internet has opened up countless new tools for learners of foreign languages. If I were to update Farber's book myself, here are the online tools I would add to his list of advice. If you would like the details of any language-specific sites or need help navigating the overwhelming amount of available online resources, feel free to contact me through WyzAnt by email to set up a tutoring session. (I specialize in tutoring Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, and English, but I have also "dabbled" in other languages). Online dictionaries that provide two-way look-up are usually much easier than looking up words in a paper dictionary, especially for character-based languages like Chinese and Japanese. Podcasts online are... read more

Whether you're learning Spanish, French, English, or even new science or social studies vocabulary, developing vocabulary is the key to a world of new conversations. When approaching a new set of vocabulary, different techniques work for different kinds of learning. Watching movies, listening to music, and interacting with people in the new language are fun and effective means of immersion. When you hear unfamiliar terms, sound them out and jot them down to look up later. When preparing for a test or working with a textbook, a systematic approach can help reinforce and practice new terms. With a new set of thirty words from a textbook chapter, follow these four easy steps to quickly learn up to thirty terms in one sitting: 1. Make a list of new words in the target language. 2. Attempt to translate them on the same line in a second column, using cognates as clues to recall the term in your native language. 3. After attempting to translate all the vocabulary, use a... read more

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