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?


Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 3) - Isawo Murayama


Hello and welcome to the third instalment of "Calligraphers of Instagram", where I introduce amazing artists making Japanese calligraphy - and sharing it online.

Isawo Murayama is a busy mum-of-four who makes time to create new pieces daily.

Her work feels a bit like a diary - together with her descriptive Instagram captions, her calligraphy offers up a little slice of her day-to-day life.

Traditional Japanese calligraphy uses a brush which is dipped into ink, but Murayama uses a 筆ペン (fude-pen) or "brush pen" to write.

A brush pen is like a fountain pen with a soft nib. It handles like a pen, but writes like a brush.

I love her stories and the little explanations behind her words, as well as the bold, small lettering.

In this first one she talks about the importance of two words: ごめん "sorry" and ありがとう "thank you".
ごめんと言える勇気とありがとうと言える素直さと。
Gomen to ieru yuuki to arigatou to ieru sunao-sa to.
The courage to say sorry, and the grace to say thank you.


Some of her posts are like little motivational speeches:
自分を信じることから始めよう。
Jibun o shinjiru koto kara hajimeyou.
"Start by believing in yourself."
I really like the juxtaposition of big thoughts on small paper here.



As well as telling stories about her kids in her captions, Murayama also writes powerfully about the advice she would like to give her younger self:
あなたを思ってくれる人はたくさんいる / 気づいて... /心...ひらいて
Anata o omotte kureru hito wa takusan iru / kizuite / kokoro hiraite
"There are lots of people who care about you / Realise this... / Open your heart"

Isn't that lovely?

You can find Isawo Murayama (@isaisa5963) on Instagram here, or read more on her (Japanese-language) blog.

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.

What is Community Interpreting and Why Does it Matter?


The dentist talked for a long time, in Japanese I didn't understand, pointing and waving his hands at the X-ray on the wall. I was completely lost.

After he'd talked for about five minutes, my Japanese boss translated for me: "He says you need to fix this tooth."

That's it? I thought. The dentist had been talking for ages. He can't possibly have only said "you need to fix this tooth".

The first year I was in Japan I had a lot of dental work done.

I broke a tooth (ouch!) and then it kept breaking. It was unpleasant.

I'm very grateful that my Japanese boss came to these appointments with me. And when he couldn't come, his mum would come with me. It was really kind of them.

But I usually didn't really understand what was going on. Imagine if I'd had access to a professional interpreter instead?

I often have interpreting on the brain. My "other job" (i.e. what I do when I don't have my Step Up Japanese hat on) is working in the offices of a community interpreting service here in Brighton.

So what is Community Interpreting?

Interpreting is listening to what is said in one language, and communicating the meaning in another language. And Community Interpreting (as opposed to conference interpreting, or interpreting in business meetings etc) basically exists to enable people to access public services.

Community Interpreters attend medical, legal and housing appointments with people who have limited English, helping them to understand fully what's going on.

Using a professional interpreter guarantees that interpreting is accurate and unbiased.

The interpreter's job is to remain impartial in a three-way conversation between the person with the language need (in Japan, that was me), and the professional they're seeing (the dentist).

Ah yes, my Japanese dentist.

After a while I could understand enough to attend the appointments by myself. Sometimes, I could tell the dentist was using simple language, to ensure I understood. That was kind of him.

But some medical messages are too important to be said in simple language.

So how would my experiences in Japan have been different if I'd had access to a professional interpreter?

It would have been empowering to make decisions about my medical care, without having to ask my boss's mum. I'm sure I would have felt a little less scared of the dentist waving his hands around, too.

If you'd like to learn more about Community Interpreting from a global perspective, you should check out Madeline Vadkerty's talk "Making the World a Better Place As an Interpreter" at next week's Women in Language event.

I'm really looking forward to hearing Madeline speak about her experiences as a Community Interpreter, helping asylum seekers and survivors of torture to rebuild their lives.

(I'll be speaking too - eek!)

Your ticket for Women in Language gets you access to the entire 4-day event with over 25 awesome women speaking. Click here to get your ticket before the event begins on Thursday 8th March.


I quit my day job! (sort of...)


Don't worry mum - I haven't quit my day job. Not as such. I recently went from full time to 3 days a week though.

It's great.

One of my students mentioned this week in passing that I must be busy, working full time somewhere else, and also running Japanese courses. I realised that I haven't told a lot of my students that I no longer have a full time day job.


I now work three days a week in the offices of a community interpreting agency, here in sunny Brighton.

And I teach Japanese three nights a week, to lovely people with language-related goals and dreams. I get to share in my students' successes and triumphs, and hopefully help them through the tough bits too.

Life is more balanced now that I don't work elsewhere full time. I'm less "bad-busy" and more "good-busy".

And I get to feel part of two things - the interpreting charity, and my own little language school. That sense of community is really important to me.

Do you have a day job, and do something else on the side? If you have more than one job, how do you balance your time? I'd love to know what tips you can share. Let me know in the comments 😃


P.S. If you'd like to know more about how I started Step Up Japanese (and how you can open a language school!) I'll be giving a talk at Women in Language, a brilliant new online event March 8th-11th. Click here to find out more.

P.P.S.  Calligraphers of Instagram will be back in March. Why not read Part 1Part 1-and-a-half, and Part 2 while you wait?

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?

Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 2) - Mitsuru Nagata


Mitsuru Nagata was born in Kyoto, and works extensively in Spain. His work combines elements of calligraphy with sumi-e (Japanese ink painting) techniques.

He performs at "live-painting" events, where he produces huge calligraphy paintings in front of a live audience.

These large-scale performances are often at festivals:


I love the simplicity of Nagata's work, like this stunning commission, with the traditional thatched roof home in the background:
おかえりなさい (o kaeri nasai) "Welcome home"
(Calligraphy is a good opportunity to get your eyes used to vertical writing, too!)

A post shared by Mitsuru Nagata (@nagatayakyoto) on

If hiragana's not your thing, there's plenty of complex kanji to get your teeth into too.

Like this new year's post, with a pug for the year of the dog (2018):
謹賀新年 (kinga shinnen) "Happy New Year"


I love the movement in these videos, and the combination of precision brushwork and watery ink.

This one's a promo for one of Nagata's live performances in Spain - a beckoning cat saying おいでね! (oide ne!) "Please come!"


Follow Mitsuru Nagata (@nagatayakyoto) on Instagram, or find out more on his website.


Read more in this series: Calligraphers of Instagram (Part 1) - @yogai888emi