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?

Read More

日本語教室で多読のコースを開いてみたイギリス人日本語教師の感想

日本語教室で多読のコースを開いてみたイギリス人日本語教師の感想

私はどっちかといえばもの静かなほうだと思いますが、日本語を教える時はうるさい時もあります。授業では歌を歌ったり、盆踊りを踊ったり、にぎやかなゲームをしたりしています。隣の部屋で会議を行おうとしていた人たちに「少し静かにしてくれませんか」と注意されたこともあります。 

でも、2018年に私はとても静かな日本語の授業を開きました。この授業では、生徒は主に一人で黙って勉強していました。 

私はその授業の「先生」だったけれど、私も一人で手作りの絵本を読んでいて、時々生徒が大丈夫かを確かめるために目を上げただけ。

これは「多読」です。普通の日本語の授業と全然違う読解の学習法です。

Read More

'Tadoku': Here's What I Learned From Running a Japanese Silent Reading Course

'Tadoku': Here's What I Learned From Running a Japanese Silent Reading Course

I’m not a particularly loud person, but some parts of my Japanese classes are quite loud. We sing and dance, talk and play games. We’ve even been asked to keep the noise down before by a group in the next room who were having a meeting (sorry about that!)

But in summer 2018, I ran a very quiet course. Students worked alone, in a comfortable silence.

And I was the teacher, but I mostly sat reading a hand-stapled book, looking up only to check that students were happily entertaining themselves.

This was Tadoku - a reading class with a difference.

Read More

What to Write in Japanese New Year's Cards

What to Write in Japanese New Year's Cards

Every year, Japanese households send and receive New Year’s postcards called nengajō (年賀状). The cards are sent to friends and family, as well as to people you have work connections with.

If you post your cards in Japan before the cut-off date in late December, the postal service guarantees to deliver them on January 1st.

Read More

Your First Ever Beginner Japanese Class


You've signed up, bought the textbook and are on your way to class. The day is here! It's your first ever Japanese lesson!

So, what are we going to do? What are you going to learn? Can't you just stay home and talk to the dog instead?

Your first class can be exciting, but also a bit daunting.

I've taught lots of first-ever Japanese classes to beginners over the years. Here's what we do.


A brief introduction to the Japanese writing system


Lots of people are really interested in the Japanese writing system, and it's a bit complex. So I usually start with a quick rundown of the three "alphabets".

The main reason I start with alphabets is that it helps you with pronunciation.

Pronouncing words in a new language can be difficult. Especially when those words are as long as:

Hajimemashite. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

"Nice to meet you."
Understanding the sounds of Japanese from the start will help you pronounce words correctly.

Introduce yourself!


Next, we learn to introduce ourselves in Japanese:

  • "Nice to meet you!"

  • "My name is..."

  • "I'm from..."

  • "I'm a teacher / engineer / lawyer, etc."

You'll learn to say your job, of course - not just the generic ones in the textbook. This is important.

By this point, you've learned to introduce yourself politely. And to tell a Japanese-speaking person something about yourself. Awesome.

Time for a break, and a cup of ホットコーヒー (hot coffee) from the reception cafe.

Question time!


Next up, we learn some questions:

  • "What's your name?"

  • "Where are you from?"

  • "What's your job?"

We'll practice them over and over, until they're glued into your brain. 

Depending on how much time we have, we might practice introducing each other:

"This is Agnes. She's from Poland. She's a structural engineer."
Phew!

With lots and lots of practice, that's probably all we have time for. But look what you've learned in one lesson!

Hopefully, you'll go home with your head full of new phrases, ready to test out on the dog.


(Pictured: graduating Beginner class students, 2016-17)


"You Said, I Did": Using Your Feedback To Improve Classes


Ever wondered what I do with your feedback forms?

Student feedback is super useful - it lets me know what I'm doing right, and what I can improve about our classes.

Here are some of the main points from February's mid-course feedback, and the action I took based on it in the Summer term.

It's what "you said", and what "I did"!

You said...

"Listening is difficult. Can we do more listening?"

I did:

Now we do listening practice in class every three weeks. It's on the course outline, so that I don't forget.


You said...

"We should have to ask questions in Japanese and not use English." 

I did:

In all classes next year, we'll learn some key questions like "How do you say...in Japanese?"

And then - this is the key point - I'm going to remind you all to actually do it!


You said...

"I like the fun and friendly atmosphere (including the drawing and singing and games)."

I did:

I've included even more singing, videos, drawing, and some board games too. Learning should be fun!


You said...

"I learn visually, and by repetition. Using more visual aids in class would help me remember."

I did:

I've tried to bring more picture flashcards. It's good to be reminded that people learn in different ways.


You said...

"Could we have a review week every month where we go over everything?"

I did:

We actually already do this every four weeks, so I obviously haven't explained that well enough! 

I started the summer term by explicitly telling students about review week and explaining what it's for.


You said...

"We'd like more one-on-one conversation with the teacher."

I did:

I've worked to make sure not every activity is pair work. I try to include myself in speaking activities too, so we can talk one-on-one.


You said...

"The class size is good - it gives us an opportunity to discuss complexities of the language."

I did:

I've set a maximum class size of 12 people.


You said...

"Can we do more "Step Up" questions? I like having the chance to say something a bit more complex, and more exposure to more complicated sentences."

"Step Up!" is the bit on your homework where I ask you to freestyle a bit. "Write about you" or "Write about your weekend plans". It's optional, but I highly recommend it. It's often my favourite bit of your homework to mark!

I did:

Since April, I've tried to put a Step Up! question on the bottom of every piece of homework.

You said...

"Sometimes we’d like a bit more explanation and time to absorb the more complicated aspects of the grammar."

I did:

I've added in more time in my lessons for you to absorb new ideas before I ask you to apply them - especially when we're covering something new and complex.

You said...

"I'd like to speak more about everyday stuff - go off piste, and have more opportunity to just talk amongst ourselves in Japanese."

I did:

I've introduced fortnightly "Free Talk" sections where we talk only in Japanese for 10 to 20 minutes. 


Thank you so much for your feedback - it helps me work to keep making things better!

P.S. Thought of anything else? Click here to get in touch.

Why Does The Japanese Language Have So Many Alphabets?

Why Does Japanese Have So Many "Alphabets"? - Step Up Japanese

My students ask a lot of good questions. And one that sent us off on a bit of a tangent a few weeks ago was:

“How old is Japanese writing?”

That'd make a good blog post, I thought (after we talked about it a bit).

So, let’s take a whistle-stop tour of Japanese history with a very brief introduction to Japanese writing systems!


Until the 1st or 2nd century, Japan had no writing system. Then, sometime before 500AD, kanji - Chinese characters - made its way to Japan from China (probably via Korea).

These characters were originally used for their meaning only - they weren't used to write native Japanese words.

↓ And at that time, Japanese writing looked like this. Look, it looks like Chinese!


But it was inconvenient not being able to write native Japanese words down, and so people began to use kanji to represent the phonetic sounds of Japanese words, not only the meaning. This is called manyougana and is the oldest native Japanese writing system.

For example, in manyougana the word asa (morning) was written 安佐 (that's a kanji for the a sound - 安 - and another for the sa sound - 佐). In modern Japanese we'd use 朝, the kanji that means "morning" for asa.

Problem was, manyougana used multiple kanji for each phonetic sound - over 900 characters for the 90 phonetic sounds in Japanese - so it was inefficient and time-consuming.

Gradually, people began to simplify kanji characters into simpler characters - that's where hiragana and katakana came from.

Katakana means "broken kana" or "fragmented characters". It was developed by monks in the 9th century who were annotating Chinese texts so that Japanese people could read them. So katakana was really an early form of shorthand.

Each katakana character comes from part of a kanji: for example, the top half of 呂 became katakana ロ (ro), the left side of 加 became katakana カ (ka).

↓ Each katakana comes from part of a kanji.


Women in Japan, on the other hand, wrote in cursive script, which was gradually simplified into hiragana. That's why hiragana looks all loopy and squiggly. Like katakana, hiragana characters don't have meaning - they just indicate sound.

↓ How kanji (top) evolved into manyougana (middle in red), and then hiragana (bottom).


Because it was simpler than kanji, hiragana was accessible for women who didn't have the same education level as men. The 11th-century classic The Tale of Genji was written almost entirely in hiragana, because it was written by a female author for a female audience.

What would 12th-century people in Japan think of my students, 800 years later, learning hiragana as they take their first steps into the Japanese language?

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -