Japanese podcasts on iTunes

I recently discovered this trick to get Japanese podcasts on iTunes with my student during one of my private lessons. It involves the most unintuitive UI I’ve seen in a while.

1. Go to the iTunes Store and scroll all the way to the bottom of the page and find the round icon to the right, which is supposed to be the flag of the country you’re in.

2. Select the Japanese flag (or what to me looks like a “stop” button). When I first tried this, my version was already on Japanese by default and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out that the “stop” button was actually clickable and was supposed to be the Japanese flag.

3. Click on “Podcasts” and enjoy more audio learning material than you probably know what to do with.

Man, you kids have it so good. I remember having to scrounge around for any tiny piece of Japanese learning material I could back in the day. Of course, being that it’s Apple, all of this awesome content is locked up in their walled garden so I don’t know of any easy way to browse this stuff with an Android device besides using iTunes and manually copying the URLs.

The smartphone bandwagon

Last week, I finally caved and got an android phone. I’ve held off mostly because of the monthly expense but the cost turned out to be mostly the same by switching to a family plan. I spend most of my time at home or work so I haven’t really found much use for the device. However, I can now start trying out and reviewing android apps for learning Japanese. I’ve already tried OpenWnn Plus and Simeji for Japanese input. So far, I haven’t use both enough to really have an opinion on which is better.

Any other android apps I should be looking at?

Another one bites the dust…

Yet another good language resource does the bait-and-switch tactic. So it appears my new series was a bit premature because smart.fm is being shutdown in favor of a paid subscription service. So know I need to rewrite all my previous posts. Total bummer! ๐Ÿ™

Does anybody have a good recommendation for a site/tool for learning how to read Hiragana+Katakana? It should include all pronunciations including the voiced sounds and small ใ‚„ใ€ใ‚†ใ€ใ‚ˆ and some form of quizzes. SRS functionality is a plus.

Tips for learning via anime/manga

Many people get interested in learning Japanese because they enjoy anime or manga and that’s great. I would much prefer more people interested in learning Japanese for whatever reason versus less people interested in the language for the “right reasons”. In addition, any exposure to the language is a good thing. However, one just has to be aware that the language you may find in anime or manga isn’t necessarily practical or common in real-life. So here are my suggestions if you’re learning Japanese via anime/manga.

  1. Do NOT ask for or do translations! Translating does not help you learn the language whatsoever, and is in fact detrimental to understanding Japanese. In addition, people (especially me) get annoyed when asked for free translations for lyrics or whatever.
  2. Learn and be aware of the various politeness levels as language in anime/manga can be highly colloquial or even offensive.
  3. If possible, pick a story set in a modern and fairly realistic setting. Vocabulary about magic, made up combat moves (eg rasengan), etc isn’t very useful in real life as you can imagine.
  4. Many (including myself) enjoy action or ้’ๅนด comics (primary from Jump). However, these stories with very short dialogs peppered with “I will not lose!” or “I will defeat you!”, while entertaining, will not give you much exposure to useful vocabulary and grammar.

Here are some comics I suggest for learning material ordered in difficulty with links to the first volume of each series:

  1. ใ‚ˆใคใฐใจ! – A good manga to start with about a cheerful and eccentric child though some of the child-like dialog is a bit casual. Bonus: Furigana included!
  2. ใ‚ใšใพใ‚“ใŒๅคง็Ž‹ – ๅ››ใ‚ณใƒž or four box comic strips are short, easy to digest, and this one is cute and funny. It also has good cultural info mostly for high-school life.
  3. ใ‚ใŸใ—ใƒณใก – Finding humor in regular (in Japan) daily life.
  4. ใ‚ใžใ‚“ไธ€ๅˆป – Fans of Ranma 1/2 or Inuyasha may enjoy this older title, which is a romantic comedy of a tenant and his landlord.
  5. ใกใณใพใ‚‹ๅญใกใ‚ƒใ‚“ – A classic title, started in 1987. Man, it’s got a lot of dialog to pile through.

Add any suggestions for titles you’ve enjoyed in the comments!

Learning Japanese via anime/manga

There’s a fairly large thread about the merits (or lack thereof) of learning Japanese via anime on my main grammar guide page which I deleted primarily to keep the page clean (and it’s also off-topic). I will follow up with a more detailed post but to sum up my opinion on the matter, I would say anything that engages you and helps you spend more time using Japanese is a good thing. However, it also depends on what anime/manga you’re using. The important thing is that you’re using anime/manga to learn Japanese and not just trying to translate or learn Japanese to watch anime or read manga.

Here’s the full thread:

Hi i am from india
I am watcing the japanese anime last 1 year.But i learned basics of japanese language how to learn japanese language
Posted by Anonymous on Apr 22nd, 2010 at 1:44 am.


I think it’s great that you’re learning Japanese, for whatever reason.
Don’t listen to people that say anime/manga is not a good reason.

Good luck with your studies!


Don’t learn Japanese because of anime. The real Japan is completely different than what anime-fans think. You should work on learning English first if you’re going to consult in this language.


Why do you think so,..???
I think your argument is false…
Bacause javanese language is most popular in my country…


Trust me, it is not a great idea to learn Japanese just because of anime. It is a really shallow reason because the truth is, as any Japanese person would tell you, anime is just TV shows and does not bring insight to the culture. Learn Japanese if you intend to interact with Japanese people, which would broaden your world more than just an easy way to watch TV.


You should learn a language for the reason that you want to learn it. It’s annoying when people flank out or look down on anime or manga as an invalid reason or resource for language study – it just shows ignorance on the part of the person giving the opinion.

Denying anime as a resource or considering it ‘shallow’ is denying an element of Japanese culture. A lot of Japanese people would not consider it to be irrelevant or pointless, plus it’s a great way to improve listening and pronunciation without having to struggle through a news bulletin or a long documentary.

Japanese is the third foreign language I’ve studied to a post-school level and the advantage of it over others is the diversity of material available. I was taught to use all and every available resource when studying a foreign language because that’s the only way to learn it naturally as well as grammatically.

I didn’t start learning Japanese becuase of anime – I have an interest in the history and family connections to the country. On my bookshelf are copies of the Heike Monogatari in it’s original kobun, so I take studying Japanese very seriously. However, I have found anime extremely useful and educational along with several other resources. Plus, it’s fun. People seem to think if you have fun studying a language you’re doing something frivolous and wrong. Truth is it’s the opposite – you learn more if you learn from something you enjoy.

People also have this wrong idea that all anime is for children and involves the same stunted and repeated phrases through episode after episode. Doubtless these exist, but perhaps folk outside of Japan forget that anime is not the same as ‘cartoon’ and that it’s not always just for children. Imposing western ideas on learning an eastern language just makes learning it harder.


Does it really matter what the reason is? As long as there is a genuine will to learn I think it’s all right. I started out with Anime as well, and got interested in the culture later.
No offence, but there’s really no need to try to stop someone from learning a language they’re interested in just because you don’t like the reason as to why they’re interested.


Agreed. I don’t know why some people think their reason for learning something is more superior than others.


No, learning Japanese just to watch anime with is inane. Learning it to do business with is a superior reason.


No, it’s not. Learning because of anime and learning because of you want to do business are both extrinsic rewards and doesn’t help motivate you to continue studying the language as much as intrinsic rewards. For example, an intrinsic reward is wanting to expand your views of the world or because it’s a challenge for you to overcome.

So what if they want to learn the language because of anime? Maybe they start out that way but ended up continue learning because they genuinely want to learn about the culture. If to do business is your only reason to learn Japanese… then I want to ask you, that’s it? Only business? Kind of a waste if you ask me. You’re not going to make friends with the language? You’re not going to visit and learn more about their culture? But if that’s what you want. It’s all you.

Grammar Guide now available in PDF (again)

I’m constantly being amazed at some of the clever and awesome stuff people come up with and contribute.

Philipp Kerling recently sent me an awesome perl script that converts the grammar guide to PDF. This is a lot better than the old version which is simply the html file printed to pdf. This version also allows me to keep it up to date with the site.

The PDF version is available here.

Thanks Philipp!

Guide featured on NIHONGO eใช

Totally forgot about this as it was sitting in my inbox since early April, but the guide has been featured on NIHONGO eใช, a (kinda) new portal site for learning Japanese!

It’s a brief introduction (with a Japanese version as well) so it may be old hat to regular visitors. However, the site overall looks very well put together and looks great for introducing various tools and sites currently on the web for learning Japanese like this one: “Read the same novel in Japanese and English”. Check it out.

In other news, I backtracked to this very well-written article, which translates my explanation of the difference between ใ€Œใฏใ€ and ใ€ŒใŒใ€ in Japanese. There’s also other interesting posts in Japanese such as ใ€Œ้ ‘ๅผตใฃใฆใ€ใจ”Good luck.”.

Learning phases

I started learning Japanese as an adult (college sophomore) and became proficient in about 5 years (full story here). So I’d like to think I know the various phases you go through when learning a foreign language. There are different things to watch out for in each phase so let’s look at the long journey and how to successfully reach the end of the rainbow to find the pot of gold. Unfortunately, in real life, a rainbow is completely round so there is actually no end so good luck with that. Ha ha.

There are roughly 4 stages of language acquisition: excitement, depression, laziness, and acceptance. The excited stage is when everything is new and you feel a tremendous amount of progress everyday as you learn words like “to do”. Following that is depression upon realizing that no matter how much you learn, it’s still not enough. After you reach a certain level, you then become lazy because you can get by most of the time with what you know. If you overcome the lazy stage, the final stage is acceptance as you become resigned to the fact that learning a language has no end. You try the best you can and keep learning for as long as you use the language.

Phase 1 – It’s a whole new world!

Yay, you’ve always wanted to learn Japanese and now you’re finally doing it. Everything is new and shiny and you’re making huge progress everyday. Relative to what you already know about the language (nothing), every additional piece of information easily doubles or triples your knowledge of the language. Enjoy the feeling while you can but don’t get enamored with that artificial feeling of ease and progress because it has diminishing returns. As you learn more, each additional piece of knowledge will count for less and less as compared to the whole even though you need to exert the same amount of effort.

Phase 2 – The world is confusing

The more you learn, the more options you have to sort through. The sentences get more and more complicated and you don’t know what to use for what or when. You’ve learned a bunch of grammar and vocab, and you might even understand quite a bit of the language (perhaps once you ask the speaker to slow down and repeat several times). But when it comes to expressing your own thoughts, you just don’t know where to start. All the knowledge you have is just floating around in a jumbled mess and you don’t know how to fit it all together. You’re stuck in a very frustrating position which one can describe as a “language limbo”.

This is a very depressing stage because it feels like even though you’re studying and working hard, you’re not getting any better at the language. This is the most difficult stage to go through especially if you don’t know it’s a stage that has an end. Don’t worry, it will not last forever. It’s a very important step where you need to take your cognitive knowledge and train it to the instinctual level. In other words, even though you can technically learn a new word or grammar, you don’t really know it until you’ve trained yourself with many hours of speaking and reading practice. Language is not a cognitive process. If you need to think about what grammar to use or how to construct your sentence, you haven’t actually learned it yet.

Punch through and practice, practice, practice. Like a tangled wire, it’ll look like a mess for a while until you reach the end of untangling the mess. It’ll also help to meet new and interesting people to practice with (especially of the opposite sex ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Get out there and meet people!

Phase 3 – The world is not so different after all

There’s a certain point in your language studies where everything just starts to make sense. You get a feel for how the language works as a whole and you can start to pick up and absorb new parts of the language relatively easily. This is the point where you generally have at least a rough idea of how to say everything even if you don’t know the exact vocabulary or grammar. This is also the point where you can talk about and learn new vocabulary or grammar within the language you’re learning.

This is a pretty good phase to be in. Even though you don’t know how to say everything, you can generally break it down with simpler words and concepts. Instead of saying, “I’m so hungry I could die”, you can say “I’m very hungry”. Sure it may not be exactly what you wanted to say but you can get by. But that’s the big danger of this phase.

You should always try to push yourself beyond the vocab, phrases, and grammar you’re comfortable with. Try out some more difficult words such as ใ€Œ็พๅœจใ€ instead of ใ€ŒไปŠใ€, ใ€Œๅฟ…่ฆใ€ instead of ใ€Œใ„ใ‚‹ใ€ or ใ€Œๅˆคๆ–ญใ€ instead of ใ€Œๆฑบใ‚ใ‚‹ใ€. Push yourself to be more than someone who can speak Japanese but rather someone who can speak Japanese as an educated native speaker would. Sure, you rarely use phrases such as ใ€Œใ€œ้™ใ‚Šใ€ใ€ใ€Œใ€œใ‹ใญใชใ„ใ€ใ€ or ใ€Œใ€œใซ้–ขใ—ใฆใฏใ€ but you know what? Rarely doesn’t mean never. And if you put all those more advanced phrases and vocabulary together, an educated adult speaker will use them quite frequently on the whole.

Read! Reading is still one of the best ways to expand your vocabulary and power of expression. And don’t just read manga! Read real books that challenge you. And watch programs or talk with people about something more complicated than what you did last weekend.

Phase 4 – It’s a new world after all

If you reach this phase, congratulate yourself and take a look around. With all your experiences and hard work, you’ve truly achieved something remarkable. You crossed language and cultural boundaries to open up a whole new world of potential in culture, job opportunities, and interpersonal relationships. You’ve also gained a lot of growth as a person and expanded your outlook and broken some assumptions you’ve had. You also probably got a lot more than you bargained for when you initially decided just to “learn a new language” that most likely changed your life path in a significant way.

As you and I know, we’ll never stop learning. There’s always a new word or expression. As I’m writing this, I’m thinking of a word I just learned with a Kanji I’ve never seen before even though I don’t even live in Japan anymore. If you’re reading this and you’re still in phases 1-3, just know that all the hard work will totally be worth it. Or maybe you already know that.

The truly correct translation

After decades of innovation, we now have pocket-size computers that are more powerful than ones that used to take up whole rooms. But despite all the hardware advances we’ve made and the decades of research in computer natural language processing, Google translater still gives me this translation.

ไฝ•ใ—ใฆใ„ใ‚‹ใฎ๏ผŸ – What are you?

Hmm… nice try. The point I’m trying to make is that translation is and always will be an art and not a science. Especially with languages that are so different from each other such as English and Japanese. There will always be different interpretations and decisions to make on defining what the “best” translation is. It’s like trying to piece together the same lego set but with entirely different pieces. You can get some things to look similar or even almost identical but you’re gonna have to improvise on places where the pieces just don’t match.

However, there is an easy benchmark for determining how good a translation is for language acquisition: “how does the translation help you learn the language”? As adults learning a second language, it behooves us to learn new words by translating to our native language. You can save a lot of time by memorizing the word ใ€Œๅ‹้”ใ€ as “friend” rather than learning how a baby might from scratch. However, with longer sentences and more abstract concepts, translation can often be more of an hindrance than an aid depending on how you go about it. Ideally, translations should serve as a stepping stone to learn the core concepts with the aim of doing away with translation altogether. In most cases, this means going for the most literal translation.

For example, which of the following is a “better” translation?

1. May I eat it?
2. Even if eat, is good?

In the first translation, the translator (in this case, me) made a lot of decisions to try to craft what I thought was the most natural translation (“may” vs “can”, etc). If I was hired to translate a Japanese movie or text, #2 would be a terrible choice. But as a language learner, looking at translation #1 doesn’t help me understand anything about the core concepts that can explain other similarly structured sentences nor does it help me internalize the language for my own use.

Even if don’t eat, is it good?

Even if go from now, will not make it in time.

Some concepts just don’t translate into English very well at all as you can see in the following sentences.

It is that manner/appearance.

Morning doing in manner/appearance of waking up early.

Finally became manner/appearance of able to swim.

ใ“ใฎๆ˜ ็”ปใฏใ€ใ‚‚ใ†่ฆ‹ใŸใ‚ˆใ†ใชๆฐ—ใŒใ—ใพใ™ใ€‚
As for this movie, feeling of manner/appearance of having already seen.

But it doesn’t matter how bad the translation is, as long as it gives you an idea of the intent of the original Japanese and helps you conceptualize and internalize the concepts. That’s really the “best” translation. That also means my translations are just as bad if they don’t work for you, so take translations as just a hint for you to figure out the meaning on your own. When you can “feel” the meaning without quite being able to express it in English, that’s when you know you’ve truly learned it.