A year and 300+ words later…

Wow, it’s been over a year already since I started tweeting a new word a day (almost daily minus weekends). So 300+ words later, let’s take a moment to reflect.

Looking back, it’s kind of shocking how many words I didn’t know. But then again, I’ll probably feel the same way looking back at the next 300 words I learn. For example, I tweeted 「処方」 back in 2011/11/2 and I had a Skype conversation (via mixxer) recently with a 「薬剤師」. I can’t believe I didn’t know those words till last year.

I also recently remembered 「男尊女卑」 and I see that I tweeted this way back in 2011/11/11 so I’m pretty happy about that.

I always learn new words in context and so I got to catch up to quite a bit of culture by searching for additional usages online. These words originally come from books I’m reading (huh? you mean on dead trees?), chatting locally and online (wha? like with… people?), games, shows online (Hulu/Youtube), and various podcasts.

For example, I learned the expression 「二進も三進も」 while playing FF13 (I used my phone to save the word). Much later (in this case several months), I look for other stuff online from my list that uses the same vocab like this.

Catching up on culture

Here are some highlights from my Twitter feed.

そばかす – Song from the 90s
(Lots of) Vocaloid and 東方 music
SKE48, AKB48
ニコニコ
Minecraft
Anime
Manga
TV
Weird commercial
Politics
2012 was a leap year

Looking back, 300+ words is actually a pretty small list. I still have over 600 stocked up that I have learned to various degrees in the last year. Us language learners have to do a lot of memorizing. 🙂

I feel sorry for those learning from just flash cards, classes, and textbooks. Real life is so much more interesting.

Don’t README

This post is about how you shouldn’t be reading this post.

Still here? Tsk tsk.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with the ratio of how much English vs Japanese to use in my guide. The more Japanese I can get you to read, the better. But if there’s too much, it will be too difficult and overwhelming, having the opposite effect.

I’ve noticed that many websites for learning Japanese use WAY too much English. You can spend hours reading pages and pages of English text on how to learn Japanese (which seems ironic to me). This blog is mostly in English as well, so really, you should stop reading this and spend your time on something more productive.

I’ll try to keep it short, then. If your Japanese study material consists of reading a lot of English, you might want to try something else that has more Japanese text. Oh, I dunno, maybe something like this? (I know, totally no bias here).

As a fellow Japanese learner, I should probably be writing this in Japanese too… でも、めんどくさいからやめとこう。

Best site for learning Japanese

What do you think is the best site for learning Japanese (excluding dictionaries)?

Earlier this year, I’ve been trying to add more content and tune my site to rank higher for searches on “learning japanese” not just “japanese grammar”. (You can compare which searches are more popular with Google Trends). When I did some ad hoc testing at the time, it ranked somewhere around the 40-50s.

I still have quite a bit of work to do on the content side but here’s the results from the last few months. Unfortunately, the data doesn’t go back farther and it’s not representative as over half of the search queries do not provide the search keyword (unless I become an adwords customer apparently). As it is, the site ranking has been improved to an average of 6.8.

I expect the CTR to be miserable until the site ranking goes up to at least around 3-4. Lately, I’ve been concentrating on my own studies, but I’d like to eventually get back to working on the complete guide soon. In the meantime, if you think my site is useful for learning Japanese, any inbound links with the phrase “learn Japanese” would be appreciated.

Oddly, the most common search query was “katakana”, about 2-3 times more impressions than “learn japanese” and “hiragana”. I wonder why? Maybe I should beef up my Katakana sections?

Research indicates that page load time is also critical for traffic. So I also installed Boost for my drupal installation to speed things up a bit yesterday. The results are inconclusive but it does seem a bit snappier to me.

Anki 2 review

So since I did a review of Anki, it seems only fair that I revisit it now that Anki 2 is out. I’ve been using it for the past few weeks and my overall impression is that things have improved significantly.

Overall, the look and usability have been greatly improved. There is no longer a popup per deck, which is great because popups SUCK. Though browsing a deck is still a popup, it’s not as annoying as Anki 1. AnkiDroid is much better as well in that it’s actually usable now. Before, it would crash on my phone at least once basically every time I’ve used it. In addition, Synch can now actually SYNCH (ie “synchronize” not just whack one set of changes with another).

I would highly recommend upgrading though the upgrade process hosed all my old decks (don’t know if this is just me or a common issue). It’s much better once you get everything setup. However, I must warn you that getting setup initially is very confusing. The UI can still use a lot of improvement in that regard.

  1. No menu option to login. You do this by synching for the first time, which also doesn’t have a menu option. You have to use the icon on the top-right. Not very obvious.
  2. Do not use the Default deck! It disappears when you add another deck. As you can see, the Default deck is nowhere in the desktop app even though it appears in AnkiDroid.

    Anki 2 Screen Shot

    AnkiDroid 2

  3. “Full synch” is a misnomer. What it means is basically, scrap everything I have locally, and replace it with what’s online. This caused me to lose my changes several times before I realized what was going on. This should be called “Reset”.

Once you get over the initial confusion and get all your decks setup and ready to go, it’s not too bad.

You may be wondering, didn’t I recommend against using SRS? Well, while I still think it’s an inferior way to memorize things, I have to admit, it’s nice to have something to study when I’m waiting in line at the grocery story or whatever. I don’t have much time nowadays to sit down with a book or watch a show so it’s a convenient way to review something when I have a few minutes to spare. Also, I was previously using iGoogle, which is going away, so it’s also a convenient way to store interesting words to share on twitter or facebook later.

By the way, my main deck had only one side and it completely failed to migrate over to Anki 2. Obviously, I’m not using it like most people. 🙂

Finding time in a busy life

I must confess, I’m a pretty fickle person. I usually start work on something, ignore it for a long time, and come back to it when it’s fresh and exciting again. I’m sure some of you have noticed long periods of neglect on certain projects of mine (such as this blog). As it is, it’s pretty much impossible to work on everything I have going on at the same time with a (completely unrelated) full-time job and a family. I could decide to just work on a single thing at a time but since Japanese is my hobby, I have no obligation or inclination to work on anything unless I feel like it.

Lately, my speaking has been getting very rusty so I’ve been trying to find a conversation partner via mixxer. However, I found out that the west coast is pretty much the worst in terms of time difference for conversing with people in Japan. Also, most of my activities are done in small spurts, 5-10 minutes at a time (like this blog post) so allocating a contiguous block of time is difficult.

On the other hand, I’ve also been reading/listening a lot and learning tons of new vocabulary. I probably learned hundreds of new words and expressions in the last year. These include words in my twitter feed and more such as: うなぎのぼり、くまなく、鬼が出るか蛇が出るか、甚大、にっちもさっちも、もどかしい、色白、往生際、大往生、雑然、しらばくれる、張り子の虎、森羅万象、波乱万丈、前途洋々、後悔先に立たず. So how much has this improved my speaking?

Not one iota, zilch, nada, zip
まったくまるでぜんぜんちっともこれっぽっちも

So don’t fool yourself into thinking studying hours and hours with classes, dictionaries, and books will enable you to speak Japanese.

Anyway, my (admittedly poorly-made) point is that while you might not have as much time as you’d like to devote to something, the important thing is to do as much as you can and to get enjoyment out of it. I listen to podcasts on my commute and read things online here and there whenever I have the chance. This morning, I learned the word for fuse (信管), reading this short article. This word in particular took no effort to remember because I know the kanji and it’s a memorable combination (“a pipe I believe/rely on” = fuse).

What did you learn by doing what today?

PS: Lately, I’m totally addicted to Disgaea. It’s evil. Even though the game is in Japanese, even I have to admit that the education value vs time spent (wasted) is extremely low.

Who needs grammar? We all do.

This guy says don’t study grammar and I obviously disagree. 🙂

So you’re supposed to hear things until you can naturally tell what sounds right and what’s wrong and not study grammar at all. This is bad advice unless you live in Japan or speak/hear Japanese everyday with someone willing to correct everything you say. As with most things in real life, the correct solution is to use a balanced and practical approach.

The problem with anecdotes is that someone can always come up different ones to make an argument. Ok, you’ve met people who have studied grammar and still can’t speak the language, well, I have met people who haven’t studied grammar and still can’t speak the language. It proves nothing. For instance, my dad has lived in the United States for as long as I have and his English is still broken and a grammatical mess. He has listened to English naturally for over 30 years, day in and day out, and he can do anything he wants in English whether it’s conversation, filing taxes, or starting a small business. But he hasn’t studied a lick of grammar and his English still sucks.

Heck, I’ve lived in the US since elementary school and they still taught me grammar in school. I learned things like subject-verb agreement, double negatives, and how to avoid run-ons and sentence fragments. you needs to learn these stuffs; so we don’t sounds like no dummy.

The fact of the matter is, grammar is one tool of many in your arsenal that you would be foolish to ignore completely. You shouldn’t be thinking about grammar when you’re talking but it is a stepping stone or guideline you can use to reach the point where you don’t need it. If you only learn with phrases, you need to be exposed to every type of grammar, verb conjugation, and vocabulary usage to internalize it naturally. This is fine for learning your native language as a child but it will take far too long for adults seeking second+ language proficiency, especially in a non-immersive environment. Grammar can help you systematically organize the language such that you can learn entirely new words, phrases, and sentences and quickly incorporate them using the same rules that apply for all words without having to encounter them over and over again. The rules themselves are simply a means to an end, not the end result.

Grammar can also help you break down sentences you don’t understand and provide guidelines on how to structure your own sentences. I’ve often met people who know all the vocabulary they need to say something but still can’t figure out how to organize them into a sentence to express what they want to say.

Of course, you need to do lots of listening and speaking practice but I don’t see why that precludes you from learning grammar and applying it as needed. Eventually, with enough practice, you won’t need to think about the grammar anymore but until then, it can help you figure out how to say what you want. Sure, it may be slow, but it’s better than not being able to say anything at all. Japanese classes often spend TOO much time on grammar with very little actual conversation practice. That’s obviously a problem but it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn ANY grammar.

Rocket Japanese review (Updated)

Update: Ok, these guys are now spamming my youtube channel with obvious and obnoxious spam. DO NOT BUY FROM THESE A**HOLES! Hopefully, this post ranks #1 for any search related to Rocket Japanese so that people are aware of their shady business practices.

I was asked to review Rocket Japanese several months ago and totally forgot about it. So before I forget about it some more, here it is.

My first impression was wow, there’s a lot of marketing and no clear picture of what products are available at what price. You have to scroll through various links and pages of marketing to even see what’s for sale. A simple product matrix would be nice.

Signing up for a free trial shows a checkbox: “YES! I want to try Rocket Japanese for free!”. Ok, why would I want to uncheck that? Anyway, once you’re in, there are 5 major sections, parts of which are inaccessible in a trial.

Interactive Audio Lessons

I could only force myself to listen to the first few lessons. Overall, it’s a nice introduction to some useful Japanese phrases but Kenny’s pronunciation is so bad, it’s really a mystery why anyone would want to learn Japanese from him. Unfortunately, he drives the lessons instead of the native speaker. JapanesePod101 had the same problem in the beginning but they now have much better hosts on their staff. (I should do a review of JapanesePod101, they’ve come a long way.)

The grammar explanations are useless and creating your own sentences from these lessons is impossible. For example, they mention things like the stem or te-form but offer no explanation on how one would go about conjugating a verb to these forms. The explanations also sound like they came out of a 20 year-old Japanese textbook including instructions on how to bow and the overuse of 「あなた」. Let’s review the definition of 「あなた」.

From 大辞泉:
あなた
1 対等または目下の者に対して、丁寧に、または親しみをこめていう。「―の考えを教えてください」
2 妻が夫に対して、軽い敬意や親しみをこめていう。「―、今日のお帰りは何時ですか」

◆現代語では敬意の程度は低く、学生が先生に、また若者が年配者に対して用いるのは好ましくない。

1. Address someone of equal or lower social status politely and/or with familiarity.
2. Wife addressing husband with light respect and/or familiarity.

*In modern Japanese, the level of politeness is low so it’s not preferred for student or young people to address a teacher or elder (with あなた).

Plus

  1. Exposure to Japanese phrases

Minus

  1. Kenny’s pronunciation is terrible
  2. Quizzes use romaji
  3. Grammatical explanations are terrible
  4. Cultural notes are outdated
  5. Kenny

Basically, if you want to get some exposure to Japanese and get to repeat some phrases, ignore everything Kenny says and you might get some value out of it.

Language & Culture Lessons

Once again, there’s no real explanation of how the example sentences are constructed so you won’t be able to make your own sentences but you can hear the pronunciation of the sentences that are there. Some of the culture notes are informative but romaji is used in quite a few places including most of the quizzes.

Plus

  1. A smattering of words/sentences with audio you can use to practice listening and pronunciation
  2. Some informative culture notes

Minus

  1. Frequent use of romaji
  2. Grammatical explanations are nonexistent

Writing

There are tons of websites that teach Hiragana and Katakana because it’s an easy thing to learn and teach. Rocket Japanese’s version has nice videos for the stroke order though it only covers up to 「な、に、ぬ、ね、の」 in the trial. I also don’t see any mention of long vowel sounds in the menu (though I can’t verify). It’s a very important and often overlooked part of Japanese pronunciation. Considering how many free resources there are for learning kana such as Memrise‘s innovative approach, it’s surprising that you get so little with the trial.

Games

The games are really cool! But it uses romaji. Darn. I haven’t progressed far enough to know if they switch to kana/kanji at a higher level.

Other

On the left nav panel, there’s a section called “My community” which is basically an online forum and “My motivation”, which has some good learning tips worth perusing.

Conclusion

It’s not clear which of the five sections on the top I should start with and when to go from one to the next. Replace Kenny, teach the full kana in the trial, kill the romaji, and make the navigation and progression clearer and you might have a decent package for practicing and learning phrases. However, if you want to learn grammar and how to construct complex sentences from scratch, you won’t get it with their teaching methodology, which basically consists of translating bits and pieces of pre-constructed sentences.

To sum up: Rocket Japanese is a confusing mishmash of audio lessons, culture notes, writing lessons, and unhelpful quizzes with no clear ordering or curriculum covered up by a mountain of marketing. You can find some useful learning tips and nuggets of good audio phrases buried in a confusing interface, romaji, and Kenny’s horrible pronunciation.

Verdict: Try out the trial if you’re really bored but keep your money.

Pocoyo Japan

My daughter (now 1.5 years old) is obsessed with Pocoyo. She has watched Pocoyo on Netflix like 20 million times. Recently, I wondered, “Hey, since she likes it so much, I wonder if it’s available in Japanese?” The Great Internet has answered and here it is.

Interesting phrase I noticed in this episode at 5:15: 「ポコヨを慰めてあげてくれる?」

Let’s hang out in Tokyo!

I will be visiting Tokyo in September so let’s hang out if you happen to be there and free Friday night, September 7.

If you’re interested in hanging out, sign up for either event below (not both!)
Will update with more details the week of.

9月、東京に行きます。9月7日金曜日の夜は、暇だったら、一緒に遊びませんか?
興味がある方は下記のイベントどちらかに登録してくださいな。詳細は後で更新します。
場所は多分渋谷・新宿辺りになります。

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