Is it Shinbun or Shimbun?

Is it Shinbun or Shimbun?

It’s both. And it’s neither.

Beginner students often ask whether “shinbun” or “shimbun” (the word for “newspaper” in Japanese) is correct.

You’ll see both spellings...and books about the Japanese language don’t seem to be able to agree either.

If you look at the two most popular Japanese beginner textbooks, Genki has “shinbun”, whereas Japanese for Busy People has “shimbun” and also “kombanwa”.

But why?

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What’s the difference between sensei and kyōshi?

What’s the difference between sensei and kyōshi?

The word "sensei" is pretty well-known even among people who don't speak Japanese, but did you know that you shouldn't use sensei about yourself?

Here's what the textbook has to say:

"Use 'kyōshi' for yourself and the respectful 'sensei' for another person."

That's a pretty good starting point. But there's a bit more to it than that.

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How to Use Anki to Not Forget Vocabulary

How to Use Anki to Not Forget Vocabulary

Lots of you probably use flashcards already. Why not use really, really clever ones?

Imagine you're studying Japanese vocabulary with a set of flashcards. You go through the cards one by one, putting them into a "pass" pile if you remembered them, and a "fail" pile if you didn't.

When you finish, you work through the "fail" pile again. You get about half of them right.

The next day, you go through all the cards again. It takes ages, and it's boring - you did all these yesterday.

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Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 4) - Uchiyama Kenichi


Welcome to Part 4 of Calligraphers of Instagram, and this week we're keeping things super simple with Uchiyama Kenichi.

The Japanese way of giving names is to put the family name (Uchiyama) first, and then the given name (Kenichi).

That's the Japanese way, so I'll keep it that way too.

Also, I have a friend with exactly the same name, so I'll call my friend Kenichi Uchiyama and the calligrapher Uchiyama Kenichi. It keeps things simple.

Uchiyama is a designer from Yokohama, Japan.

He posts clean, minimalist Japanese handwriting on a separate handwriting Instagram account.

I'm not even sure if you can call it calligraphy, it's so gloriously simple. But he's got nice handwriting, and I love having it in my feed.

↓ こんにちは konnichiwa ("hello!")



Challenge time!

Can you read these next three?









Did you get it? These are the three Japanese "alphabets": ひらがな hiragana, カタカナ katakana, and 漢字 kanji. Each is written in its own alphabet, of course.

What I love most though is Uchiyama's series of Japanese placenames:

↓ 北海道 Hokkaido



↓ 名古屋市 Nagoya-shi (Nagoya city)



I love the balance and simplicity in his writing. It's not big or ostentatious. It has a quiet confidence, I think.

Follow Uchiyama Kenichi (or Kenichi Uchiyama!) on his writing-only Instagram account at @u.handwriting

Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 3) - Isawo Murayama


Hello and welcome to the third instalment of "Calligraphers of Instagram", where I introduce amazing artists making Japanese calligraphy - and sharing it online.

Isawo Murayama is a busy mum-of-four who makes time to create new pieces daily.

Her work feels a bit like a diary - together with her descriptive Instagram captions, her calligraphy offers up a little slice of her day-to-day life.

Traditional Japanese calligraphy uses a brush which is dipped into ink, but Murayama uses a 筆ペン (fude-pen) or "brush pen" to write.

A brush pen is like a fountain pen with a soft nib. It handles like a pen, but writes like a brush.

I love her stories and the little explanations behind her words, as well as the bold, small lettering.

In this first one she talks about the importance of two words: ごめん "sorry" and ありがとう "thank you".
ごめんと言える勇気とありがとうと言える素直さと。
Gomen to ieru yuuki to arigatou to ieru sunao-sa to.
The courage to say sorry, and the grace to say thank you.


Some of her posts are like little motivational speeches:
自分を信じることから始めよう。
Jibun o shinjiru koto kara hajimeyou.
"Start by believing in yourself."
I really like the juxtaposition of big thoughts on small paper here.



As well as telling stories about her kids in her captions, Murayama also writes powerfully about the advice she would like to give her younger self:
あなたを思ってくれる人はたくさんいる / 気づいて... /心...ひらいて
Anata o omotte kureru hito wa takusan iru / kizuite / kokoro hiraite
"There are lots of people who care about you / Realise this... / Open your heart"

Isn't that lovely?

You can find Isawo Murayama (@isaisa5963) on Instagram here, or read more on her (Japanese-language) blog.

Three Reasons Why Language Learning is Just Like Skateboarding


I bought a skateboard. And not just so I can start calling myself "the skateboarding Japanese teacher".

I've wanted to learn to skate for a long time. I'm turning 30 this year and I thought I should probably get on with it.

You know that Chinese proverb, "The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now"?

Well, I should probably have started skateboarding 20 years ago, because it turns out skateboarding is really hard. I didn't start when I was nine though, so now will have to do.

I'm not very good yet. In fact, I'm very bad.

I know I can do it though. It's just like learning Japanese! (Hear me out, ok...?)

1. You need to fall over a lot


You're going to fall off a skateboard, and make mistakes, and mess things up. It's going to hurt.

Sound familiar? 

Learning to speak a language is a process of making constant mistakes, and gradually getting better.  If you don't make any mistakes when you're speaking a foreign language, you're not learning anything.

The only way to learn how to be good at something, is to first be very bad at it. 

(I tell myself this constantly as I wobble around town on my little skateboard).

Image source: Verity Lane / Tofugu

2. It takes discipline


Learning any new skill takes considerable time and effort. You have to practice, even when you don't feel like it or when something else seems more appealing.

In a way, it's easy to be motivated, i.e. to want to do something. It's much more difficult to be disciplined - to do something even when you don't want to.

Taking your skateboard out on Saturday, even when it looks a bit windy, and you're not any good yet, and there are builders on the corner of the street who might laugh at you - that's discipline.

Studying a little bit of Japanese every day, even when you just feel like watching TV instead - that's discipline too.

Nothing that's worth doing can be learned overnight. (Unfortunately.)

3. You might feel like a bit of an idiot


One of my students wrote this on his class feedback form last year:
"...while I feel terrible and clumsy while doing it, the speaking practice afforded by the class is something that is very difficult to get anywhere else."
I was a bit taken aback by this, because he doesn't sound terrible or clumsy when he speaks Japanese.

But a lot of people feel this way about doing something new, especially in front of other people. I certainly do.

Making mistakes can make us feel embarrassed or awkward.

(As a teacher, there's an added dynamic: I don't want my students to feel uncomfortable. But I do want to stretch them, and help them to push out of their comfort zone. It's a difficult balance, sometimes.)

I feel like a right prat on my skateboard. Sometimes you've just got to push through it, I think, and focus on the goal.

"Think how good you'll feel when you can casually skateboard to work", I tell myself. For me, it's the same feeling as:

"Think how good you'll feel when you can read a whole book in Japanese. Or have a ten-minute conversation. Or 30 minutes. Or a whole day!"

What do you think?


P.S. Don't forget to get your ticket to see me this Sunday 10th March at Women in Language, a brilliant new online event. I'll be talking about running an offline language school in an online world. There'll be skateboarding references, too ... Click here to find out more.

How did I do? A look back at 2017's goals


It's no use just making goals. You need to assess them.

How did I do with last year's New Year's Resolutions? Let's find out.

I scored myself a pass or fail for each one...

2017's goals were:

1. Blog more


I published 26 blog posts in 2017, up from 11 in 2016.

That's not the one a week I planned (it's literally half that!) but I'm still pretty happy.

I was helped along the way by an adorable twitter bot created by my student @EliteFreq which tweeted at me when I didn't blog that week:

This was genuinely very motivating.

Conclusion: PASS. Tell your friends your goals, so they can support you along the way.

2. Finish some books


My plan was to read more fiction and to actually finish a book instead of getting excited and moving on to the next one. This didn't exactly go to plan.

However, I reckon I read Japanese news every single day in 2017. I'm pretty proud of that.

I also completed Zero Escape 999, and two (nearly three) Ace Attorney games. Visual novels are reading too...


Conclusion: FAIL but maybe that's fine


3. Watch more drama with my students


This goal didn't come to fruition either. I was on the lookout for things to watch but never found anything "just right".

I planned to use Terrace House (Netflix's Japanese reality TV show - think Big Brother circa 2003), but the logistics of showing Netflix in class got the better of me...

We did watch some Japanese TV ads in class though. That was a lot of fun.

Conclusion: がんばれ! (KEEP TRYING!)


4. Have more parties


From Origami Night, to the Summer Barbecue, to the end-of-year Christmas Party, this year has been really busy. Good busy!

We definitely had more parties and attended more events this year. Onwards and upwards!


Conclusion: PASS


5. Be reflective


I think I have actually spent less time reflecting in 2017 than in previous years, and more time actively doing things. This is probably a good thing.

Conclusion: いいじゃないですか? (That's alright, isn't it?)

How did you get on with your New Year's resolutions in 2017?

And have you made this year's yet? I'm still whittling down my list...