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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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.

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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?

Say yes!


A couple of months ago I was invited to speak online at a new event all about languages. My first thought was, heck no! That sounds utterly terrifying.

My second thought was, what would Karli Dendy do?

Karli co-runs designosaur and YEAH laser here in Brighton. We've known each other since university, when we watched enormous amounts of bad TV, and went to every club in the city in one year.

Now that we are grown-ups (apparently), I proofread her copy, and she gives me great business advice.

Anyway, I knew what Karli would say. Say yes

"I know the new mantra is to learn to say no to things, but I'm very much still in the say YES to everything phase, check your inbox every five minutes and reply to every strange direct message you get."
  - Karli on the designosaur blog

Isn't that awesome advice?

I've seen what amazing exciting opportunities Karli, and her boyfriend and business partner Jacques Keogh, have had by saying yes to things.

So I said yes.

And I did it! And it was great!

My talk was titled "The Classroom is Not Dead", and I spoke about my experiences setting up an offline language school, in an increasingly online world. 

This was the first ever Women in Language event, put together by Kerstin Cable, Lindsay Williams, and Shannon Kennedy. There were 25 speakers - all women - and the online event ran from International Women's Day on March 8th to (UK) Mother's Day on March 11th. 

The talks were divided up into four categories: Starting Language, Mastering Language, Living With Language, and Working With Language (that's me!)

I really enjoyed all the sessions I watched. There was a great mix of practical language learning advice, and more academic perspectives.

I missed a lot, but the talks are available online to ticket holders, so I can play catch-up over the next few weeks.

Speaking online was a new experience for me, but it was a lot of fun. I got some great questions in the Q&A too - about my experiences as a non-native teacher, and how to find a language class near you.

I also got to "meet" a bunch of new people online, and find other language teachers and learner to share experiences with. 

And to think I wanted to say "heck no". It's a good thing I didn't.

So...what are you going to say yes to next?


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?

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!