I Tried to Speak Japanese Every Day for a Month (Without Being in Japan)

 I Tried to Speak Japanese Every Day for a Month (Without Being in Japan)

Many people believe you need to live abroad to get speaking practice in a foreign language, but this isn’t true.

Similarly, people often assume that if you in Japan, like I did, you’ll pick up the language easily. But that’s not necessarily true either.

If you speak English, it’s possible - indeed easy - to live in another country for years and not become fluent in the language.

I didn't make any year-long New Years’ Resolutions this year. Instead, I decided to set myself some monthly language-related challenges. I’ll decide them as the year goes on, and I’ll probably do one every other month.

In January, I decided to speak Japanese every day for a month.

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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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Are Loanwords "Real" Japanese?

Are Loanwords "Real" Japanese?

Shortly after I started studying Japanese at university, I got an email from a friend in Sweden:

“How’s it going? Learned any more ‘Japanese words’ like camera and video?”

I’d copy-pasted her some of the "new words" from my textbook. There was a list of them - words like kamera (camera) and rajio (radio)…

I felt like I was cheating. These aren’t Japanese words!

Or are they?

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Is it "douzo" or "dōzo"?


"Wait, is it douzo? In the book it says dōzo..."

It's both. And it's neither!

In the beginning stages I use rōmaji (English letters) to write Japanese in class. This is to give you a head start in learning to speak.

Some people think you shouldn't use rōmaji at all, because it will give you bad pronunciation.
That might be true if you're studying by yourself.

But if you have a teacher to teach you how to pronounce Japanese words correctly, and correct your mistakes, you can learn Japanese correctly using rōmaji.

I'm pretty strict on pronunciation, I think. My students have good pronunciation - even the beginners.

Anyway, there are different systems for writing Japanese in the English alphabet. Depending on which system is being used, a word could be spelled quite differently.

どうぞ (do-u-zo) means "here you are" / "go ahead".

Some writing systems use a macron (a horizontal bar over the letter) to write the long vowel sound: ā ī ū ē ō.  Then, it would be written "dōzo".

Another method is to spell out the letters: aa, ii, uu, ei, ou.   That gives us "douzo".

Both "dōzo" and "douzo" are correct.

Sometimes, the long vowel isn't written in: "dozo". This is wrong!

You might also see ee and oo used instead of ei and ou: "doozo".

Personally I think "doozo" is just asking for trouble. That's not how the word is spelled in Japanese (it's どうぞ  do-u-zo).

Of course, the only truly correct way to spell the word is to write it in Japanese: どうぞ.

But both "dōzo" and "douzo" are fine too. Just don't forget the long vowel!



Japanese Does Have Plurals Really


After the excitement of our first school Summer Barbecue, I spent last Sunday in bed watching one of my favourite films in Japanese.

It's not a Japanese film though. I watched Hot Fuzz (or to give its Japanese title ホット・ファズ -俺たちスーパーポリスメン! "Hot Fuzz: We Are The Super-Policemen!")

Watching dubbed British comedies might not be the "purest" way to practise Japanese. But if you enjoy it, it's definitely worth doing. Dubbed films are easy to watch, too, assuming you've seen the film before and know the plot already.

Anyway, there's a little scene in the Hotto Fazzu dub that's a nice example of Japanese plurals in action, so I thought I'd share it with you.

Angel and Danny are in the corner shop, and the shopkeeper asks them:

殺人犯たち捕まらないの?
satsujinhan tachi tsukamaranai no?

"No luck catching them killers then?"

"Killers" is translated as 殺人犯たち satsujinhan-tachi.

You take the word 殺人犯 satsujinhan (murderer) and add the suffix たち tachi - which makes it plural.

See? Japanese does have plurals! ...when it needs them.


Danny doesn't notice the shopkeeper's slip-up (she knows more than she's letting on), and replies:

人しかいないんだけど。
hitori shika inai n da kedo.

"It's just the one killer actually."



PC Angel, of course, mulls over the shopkeeper's words, and realises their significance: there's more than one killer on the loose.

It's the turning point of the movie, and it rests on a plural. Yay!

You can use たち like this when you need to indicate plurality:

私たち watashi-tachi we, us (plural)
あなたたち anata-tachi you (plural)
ジョンたち jon-tachi John and his mates

It's not common, but it does exist. Keep an eye out for it! You never know, you might just solve a murder case.


Why Does Everybody Forget Katakana?


I'll let you into a secret. I hate katakana.

Students of Japanese tend to start with its two phonetic alphabets. We start with hiragana, the loopy, flowing letters that make up all the sounds of Japanese.

Then we move on to katakana - all the same sounds, but in angular blocky font.

Hiragana seems fairly easy, I think. And when you start learning Japanese everything you read is written in hiragana, so by reading you constantly reinforce and remember.

Katakana? Not so much.

The katakana "alphabet" is used extensively on signs in Japan - if you're searching for カラオケ (karaoke) or ラーメン (ramen noodles) you'll need katakana.



But if you're outside Japan, then beyond the letters in foreign names, you don't get a lot of exposure to katakana.

I think that's why a lot of beginning students really struggle to remember katakana.

Here are a couple of suggestions:

1) Use mnemonics


Personally I still can't remember some of those sticky similar katakana without goofy mnemonics.

For example, I still think katakana ウ (u) and ワ (wa) look super similar - I remember that ウ has a dash on the top, just like hiragana う (u) .


2) Practice, practice, practice


I'm not a huge fan of having you copy letters over and over again, but there is something to be said for "writing things out".

By writing letters down, you activate muscle memory, which helps you remember. So get writing katakana!


3) Start learning kanji


It might feel like running before you can walk, but starting to read and write kanji (Chinese characters) before your katakana is completely perfect can be a good option.

Kanji textbooks have the Chinese readings of the characters in katakana, so learning kanji is also really good katakana practice.


And maybe, you'll turn into a katakana lover, not a hater.