Three Ways You Should Be Using The Japanese Honorific お (Part 1)

Three Ways You Should Be Using The Japanese Honorific お (Part 1)

Fairly early on in your Japanese-learning journey, you'll learn some set phrases like:

o-genki desu ka? (How are you?)

o-shigoto wa nan desu ka? (What's your job?)

Usually I teach that the “o” in o-genki desu ka makes the question more polite. This is true, but it’s not the whole story.

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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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End-of-term Sushi Night! Easter 2018


When I started teaching Japanese, I thought it would primarily be an academic endeavour. 

I didn't think we'd go out for sushi, and do calligraphy workshops, and all kinds of other exciting things. 

It's good to get out of the classroom sometimes, spend time in a different environment (and of course eat Japanese food).

Here are some photos from the end-of-term sushi night this Easter. 








Thanks for coming!

Where shall we go for our next (non-academic) event?

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.

Japanese guys don’t want your Valentine’s Day chocolate anyway

ハッピーバレンタインデー! Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine's Day in Japan is pretty different from the U.K.  There's honmei choko (chocolate for someone you're into),  giri choko (obligation chocolate), and even tomo choko (chocolate for friends)...

And a month later there's White Day to contend with.

One survey revealed that 90% of Japanese men said they didn't care about getting Valentine's Day chocolate, and wished women wouldn't bother. Click here to read an article I wrote for SoraNews24 on the subject.

(It's from a couple of years ago, but I think it's still super relevant... especially on Valentine's Day).


P.S. are you looking for the next instalment in the Calligraphers of Instagram series? It'll be back in March :)
Why not read Part 1, Part 1-and-a-half, and Part 2 while you wait?

Christmas Party 2017!


Brrrrrrrr, it's cold. Or as they say in Japan, ブルブル "buruburu".

We escaped from the cold snap on Friday night with a Christmas noodle party!


↓ Off to E-Kagen on Sydney Street. Spot the Step Up Japanese students...


We started the night off with a film title quiz: guess the (western) film title from its Japanese translation.

Everybody did well, but there were a few tricky ones in there too.

↓ Intense concentration.



↓ Special thanks to Phil for making an appearance despite having to rush off to host his own event the same night!


It wouldn't be a Christmas party without crackers - these ones had Japan-themed jokes in them too.




I have just realised I didn't take any pictures of the food. I hate food photos. Pictures of people are much nicer, don't you think?

The food was great though! E-Kagen has a real family-style feel, and an open kitchen so you can see your dinner being prepared.


↓ Full bellies. Massive thanks to the owner at E-Kagen for hosting such a big group of us.


↓ Excellent Christmas jumpers.


↓ Off to the pub for a mulled wine. Or as they say in Japan, ホットワイン ("hotto wain").






↓ Impromptu kanji practice. 



Thanks for another great year guys! It's an absolute pleasure to work with such wonderful students.

メリークリスマス (Merry Christmas) - and stay warm!

More Ways of Counting in Japanese with "Ippon Demo Ninjin"


My student shared the funny song "Ippon Demo Ninjin" with us recently.

It's pretty pun-tastic, and very catchy.

It's also a good way to learn and practice some more counters (those words we stick on the end of numbers in Japanese, depending on what's being counted).


(Part 1)
1! いっぽん  でも  にんじん     Ichi! Ippon demo ninjin
2! にそく  でも  サンダル     Ni! Nisoku demo sandaru
3! さんそう  でも  ヨット     San! Sansou demo yotto
4!  よつぶ  でも  ごましお     Yon! Yotsubu demo gomashio
5! ごだい  でも  ロケット    Go! Godai demo roketto
6! ろくわ  でも  しちめんちょう    Roku! Rokuwa demo shichimencho
7! しちひき  でも  はち     Shichi! Shichihiki demo hachi
8! はっとう  でも  くじら     Hachi! Hattou demo kujira
9! きゅうはい  でも  ジュース     Kyuu! Kyuuhai demo juusu
10! じゅっこ  でも  いちご     Juu! Jukko demo ichigo

いちご、 にんじん、 サンダル、 ヨット、 ごましお、 ロケット、しちめんちょう 、はち、くじら、ジュース
Ichigo, ninjin, sandaru, yotto, gomashio, roketto, shichimencho, hachi, kujira, juusu
Strawberry, carrot, sandal, yacht, sesame and salt, rocket, turkey, bee, whale, juice

(Dance break)

(Repeat Part 1)

いっぽん、 にそく、 さんそう、 よつぶ、 ごだい、ろくわ、しちひき、はっとう、きゅうはい、 じゅっこ!
Ippon, nisoku, sansou, yotsubu, godai, rokuwa, shikihiki, hattou, kyuuhai, jukko!
One long thin thing, two shoes, three boats, four small round things, five vehicles, six birds, seven small animals, eight large animals, nine cups, ten small things!

The joke here is that all the numbers are "wrong"...

The beginning of ninjin (carrot) sounds like "ni" (two) but there's only one carrot.

And the beginning of sandaru (sandles) sounds like "san" (three) but...there are only two sandals!

We could translate いっぽん  でも  にんじん  Ippon demo ninjin, therefore, as:
"It's only one, but it's ninjin."
or
"Even if there's only one, a carrot is ninjin."
(Trust me, it sounds better in Japanese.)

Anyway, listen again and try and sing along.

I haven't translated the whole thing for you, just bits. See if you can work the rest of it out!