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.

Read More

How to Read The Japanese News


When I first moved back to Brighton I had a lot of time on my hands. I also didn't have a job, so I was desperate for free Japanese reading material.

So I started borrowing Japanese books from the library.

This plan was not exactly a success. It turns out reading Twilight in Japanese is only slightly more entertaining than reading it in English.

But we are really lucky to live in a world where, if you have internet access, you can read just about anything you want in Japanese online. And the news is a great place to start.

If you can't read fluently yet, looking at a wall of Japanese text can be intimidating. You don't know the meaning of the word, or even how to sound it out.

You need a dictionary - a really smart free one like Rikaichan.

Rikaichan is a browser add-on that works as a pop-up dictionary. I used it every day for years, and I love it. Let's take a look at how it works, and start reading the news!

How Rikaichan works


Here we are on the website of the Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan's largest national newspapers.

I hover the cursor over the word 音楽. Rikaichan's little blue pop up tells me the reading of the word (おんがく ongaku) and what it means - "music".

Rikaichan also shows us the dictionary entries for individual kanji (Chinese characters).

Here, it's showing 音, the first character in the word 音楽, and telling us that 音 means "sound".

Learn where words begin and end


Japanese doesn't have spaces between words so if you're looking at unfamiliar words, it can be hard to know where each word starts and finishes.

Rikaichan is pretty smart at doing that bit for you.

Here, it knows that 九州 (Kyushu island) is one word, and 豪雨 (torrential rain) is the next, separate word.


How to get it


So that's what Rikaichan does. Here's how to get started with it!

1) Get the right browser


Rikaichan and its "little brother" Rikaikun are for the web browsers Firefox and Chrome. If you're not using one of those programmes, you'll need to download the browser first.

It's worth it. I used Firefox religiously for years just so I could use Rikaichan to get my morning news.

As far as I know the add-on doesn't work on mobile, unfortunately. (There's a similar-looking app called Wakaru for iOS - if you've used it, let me know what you think.)

2) Install Rikaichan or Rikaikun


Which one do you need? Rikaichan and Rikaikun are the same add-on, but for Firefox and Chrome.

So, download and install Rikaichan from the Mozilla add ons page, or Rikaikun from the Chrome Web Store.

3) Download a dictionary


Rikaichan needs a dictionary to pull readings and meanings from, so after you've installed the add-on, you'll be prompted to install at least one dictionary file.


If English is your first language, you want the "Japanese - English" dictionary.

I recommend installing the "Japanese Names" dictionary too, so that Rikaichan can identify common names when they pop up.

That way, it'll know that 中田 is Nakada, a common Japanese surname, and doesn't just mean "middle of the ricefield".

4) Turn Rikaichan on


You probably won't want Rikaichan on all the time. Sometimes you'll want to read without a dictionary, and sometimes you won't be reading Japanese. You can turn it off and on when you like.

Turn Rikaichan on, and let's give it a go.

Read everything!


Years ago when I started using Rikaichan, I set myself a challenge to read one headline with it every day.

Next, I made myself read three headlines per day. Then five. Then the first paragraph of an article. Eventually I was reading entire news articles, and using the dictionary less and less.

These days I get the Asahi Shimbun news straight to my inbox, because I don't need to look up words often enough to use Rikaichan any more.

But it was a completely invaluable part of my language learning journey. And it's definitely more interesting than reading Twilight in Japanese.

Plateaus in Language Learning and How to Overcome Them

The first three years I was learning Japanese I basically studied quite hard for tests and barely opened my mouth.

I like kanji, and what I saw as the oddness of the Japanese language. Three "alphabets"! A million different ways of counting things! I liked hiragana - so pretty! I studied hard and thought my university Japanese exams were easy.

Then, on holiday in China, I met a Japanese woman (at a super-interesting Sino-Japanese cultural exchange club, but that's a story for another time). I tried to speak to her in Japanese. And I couldn't.

I told this nice, patient lady that I was studying Japanese and she asked me how long I was staying in China for. I wanted to tell her I was going back to England next Thursday, but instead I said:

先週の水曜日に帰ります。
Senshuu no suiyoubi ni kaerimasu.

- "I'll go back last Wednesday."

OOPS.

I think about this day quite a lot because it shows, I think, that although I'd studied lots of Japanese at that point my communicative skills were pretty bad.

I couldn't quickly recall the word for Wednesday, or the word for last week.

I realised at that point that I hadn't made much real progress in the last two years. The first year I zipped along, memorising kana and walking around my house pointing at things saying "tansu, denki, tsukue". But after that my Japanese had plateaued.


So, I started actively trying to speak - I took small group lessons, engaged in them properly, did the prep work. I wrote down five sentences every day about my day and had my teacher check them. I met up with a Japanese friend regularly and did language exchange - he corrected my grammar and told me when I sounded odd (thanks Ken!)

(Most of this happened in Japan, but like I said, you don't need to live in Japan to learn Japanese.)

And I came out of the plateau. I set myself a concrete goal - to pass the JLPT N3. Then N2. I had some job interviews in Japanese. I wanted to get a job with a Board of Education, and a recruiter told me you needed N1 for that, so I started cramming kanji and obscure words. I was back on the Japanese-learning train.

I didn't pass N1 though.

And I was bored of English teaching and didn't want to wait to pass the test before I got a job using Japanese - that felt a bit like procrastinating - I quit my ALT job and got a job translating wacky entertainment news.

And after six months translating oddball news I passed the test.

↓ Artist's impression of me passing N1

That's partly because exams involve a certain amount of luck and it depends what comes up. But I also believe it's because using language to actively do something - working with the language - is a much, much better way of advancing your skills than just "studying" it.

Thanks to translation work, I was out of the plateau again. Hurrah!

When you're in the middle of something - on the road somewhere - it's hard to see your own development.  Progress doesn't move gradually upwards in a straight line. It comes in fits and starts.

Success doesn't look like this:
 It looks like this!
And if you feel like you're in a slump at the moment, there are two approaches.

One is to trust that - as long as you're working hard at it - if you keep plugging away, you'll suddenly notice you've jumped up a level without even realising. You're working hard? You got this.

The other approach is to change something. Make a concrete goal. Start something new. Find a new friend to talk to or a classmate to message in Japanese. Talk to the man in the noodle shop about Kansai-ben. Write five things you did each day in Japanese. Take the test. Get the job. がんばろう。

5 Apps to Download Before Your Trip To Japan


If you just love missing your bus because you waited in the wrong place, overpaying for things because you can't remember the exchange rate, or wandering around for hours looking for a wi-fi spot in vain - stop reading now, because this one's not for you.

Today I'd like to share with you five super-useful apps to download before you travel to Japan!

Whatever you've got planned in Japan, these apps should get you well-prepared.

(Looking for language-learning apps? You should read my other post Five (and a Half) Apps to Get You Started Learning Japanese!)

1) HyperDia



Once you look past the sometimes awkward-sounding English (when Hyperdia tells you "TAKE TIME", it's not wishing you a leisurely trip, but telling you the duration of your journey), it's a solid tool for navigating Japan's wonderful rail system.

Hyperdia's app, just like the website, allows you to plan journeys and search timetables for (almost) all of Japan's train services. In English! It also benefits from the "Japan Rail Pass Search", which as you might guess allows you to search for routes you can take with the JR pass.

The app is free for 30 days, which should be enough for most trips.

Hyperdia: App Store | Google Play

2) Norikae Annai



Norikae Annai is Japan's most-downloaded travel app. It's easier to navigate than Hyperdia, much more nicely designed and more user-friendly...so long you can read Japanese.

If you can't, you'll be a bit stuck. You might want to stick with Hyperdia - or you could always get someone who can read Japanese to help you. Or download both and use Hyperdia in a pinch?

Norikae Annai: App Store | Google Play

3) Tokyo Metro



I LOVE the Tokyo Metro app, because as well as transfer information it also has a fully offline, pinch-and-zoom map of - you guessed it - Tokyo's metro system.

Good for getting to grips with (what often seems like) the world's most complex underground rail system!

Tokyo Subway Navigation for Tourists: App Store | Google Play

4) Japan Connected-Free Wi-Fi




Even if you don't want to be connected all the time, you'll probably want wifi at some point on your travels. Navitime is an app with an offline map showing free wifi spots, as is JapanTravel and its sister app Japan Connected-free Wi-fi.

The wifi app also has downloadable offline maps of all the major cities in Japan - and all for free!

(Or you could just do what I do on holiday and stand outside McDonalds pretending to wait for someone while actually using the free internet. That's cool too, right?)

Japan Connected-free Wi-Fi: App Store | Google Play

5) XE Currency



Not Japan-specific, but definitely useful.

Until the exchange rate hits a nice easy number like 100 yen to the pound, you'll probably want a currency converter so you can figure out how far your spending money's going to go. And the XE converter works offline, too.

XE Currency: App Store | Google Play

So that's what's in my "essential Japan travel apps" folder! What's in yours?

Planning a trip to Japan this year? Check out the Travel Japanese for Beginners course at Step Up Japanese starting April 12th!