Japan-ize Your Schoolwork

For many people, December signals the end of a semester and that means big projects, final papers, and final examinations.  I’m willing to bet those of us in education (and many others) are pretty busy, and it can often feel difficult to keep Japanese in our daily lives when we’re getting overwhelmed by schoolwork

I recently moved to a new country and started grad school.  “Overwhelmed” would be a good word to describe how I have often felt.

When obligations take over, it’s easy to forget how simple it can be to keep Japanese a part of our lives.  So, here’s a reminder:

Japan-ize your activities in any way practical.

  • Keep it simple, you want to add fun and learning, not more stress.
    (As your stress level increases, your ability to learn decreases!)
  • Get Japanese in on your school-related tasks. Even if you’re not studying Japanese, there are plenty of creative and non-intrusive ways to incorporate it into your school learning.  There are even cases where incorporating Japanese may improve your learning! (ie: If you’re studying anatomical terms, the Japanese words for the same terms may give clues as to their location/structure/function through their kanji. Take the Japanese for “pons”, the part of the brain that connects the medulla oblongata and cerebellum with the midbrain, it’s: 橋(きょう)Look familiar?  It’s the kanji for はし/bridge. Brilliant!)  

I’m studying clinical animal behavior. One of my assignments involves analyzing behavior in videos. No reason I can’t pick out Japanese videos: searching, reading, and listening all in Japanese! How can you mix your subject with Japanese? 

And don’t forget, little things add up!  What if you can’t dedicate hours a day?  Doing a few minutes a day will keep you afloat far better than no minutes!  Use it or lose it, baby. (Going to the grocery store: Why not write up your list in Japanese?  Got a few minutes on the bus?  Challenge yourself to a few short rounds of SRS reps.)

How do you fit Japanese in when you’re busy with school?  Have any habits to share or ideas you want to try?  Tell us in the comments!

PS: Check out this old post for an intro to using YouTube as a way to immerse yourself!


Song of the Moment #2

Here’s another “Song of the Moment” for you!  This one’s a good bit more advanced than the first, sure, but you can learn from it no matter what level you’re at!

Bump of Chicken’s ダンデライオン

Like it?  Click here to see more Bump of Chicken vids on YouTube!

Pre-Made SRS Cards = Fail (For me)

I’m always tweaking my learning methods to see what works best for me.
Here’s a recent tweak that didn’t work…

I love me some SRS’ing, and I’ve been hand-picking sentences for my main deck for a couple years now.  I’m usually in some sort of “phase” with my SRS habits, but a few months ago I thought…

Who came up with this gem? (Not me!)

“Gee, I would really like some audio and pictures with my sentences.   But that’s a lot of work on my own… I think I’ll add a pre-made deck to my sentence deck!  Yeah, yeah, good idea, Liz!”

Even though I’d read recommendations from numerous other learners not to use generic sentences, I couldn’t resist the urge to try them out.  After all, it’s always best to take the advice of others with a grain of salt, and I’m on an adventure here, people, I’ve got to try things for  myself!  I downloaded a couple shared Japanese Core 2000 decks, neutered them of their single-word cards, and integrated them with my sentence deck.

“Yay listening and pretty pictures!” For the first week or so I was all about my new cards. I enjoyed having the audio and photos with every sentence.  I loved the ability to replay audio over and over and definitely noticed an improvement in my listening comprehension.

After a few weeks, the novelty wore off and I was slacking on my reps.  And I slacked more and more.  It took me a disturbingly long time to realize…

The pre-made sentences were “I’d-rather-wash-dishes”-boring to me. (And I flipping hate washing dishes.)

I probably didn’t like 98% of them.  And some of the sentences were just…ridiculous, and not in a funny haha way. (See example.)  I could feel my SRS’ing mojo being depleted.  For some reason, I thought I should continue this unnecessary self-torture until I’d finished the first reps for all for all of them.

As soon as I finished, the new picked-by-me cards started showing up for reviews.  What a difference!  It was like I snapped out of a coma.  I loved SRS’ing again.  I felt like I was making progress.  I decided that for me:

Hand-picked cards…

  • are more effective. I learn them more easily and quickly.  My recall is way better.
  • are more fun. And fun = motivation to SRS .  Win!

This is more like it. From the Wiki article on Chuck Norris (日本語で)

As long as it works for you, work it!
So, pre-made cards aren’t my thing.  Maybe they aren’t yours either.  Or maybe you do get giddy over the thought of learning things like, “There are 8 clocks in that house.”  Whatever works, I hope you go for it!

As for picking SRS sentences, I know what’s worked best for me so far.  Maybe it’ll work for you, or help you figure out a way that works for you!

The most HARDENed criminals are the OLD ones PENT IN jail for a long time.

Improving my immersion

I just can’t get over how awesome immersion is.  Srsly.

I spent yesterday in NYC, in my two favorite places there: BookOff and Kinokuniya. I spent several hours immersed in Japanese: reading signs, sifting through book and DVD titles, reading book summaries, scanning a few pages of books I might be interested in, searching for authors, using a computer to find out if specific books were in stock…

BookOff in NYC- a bastion of awesomeness

Seven hours of this and I left with my brain anticipating Japanese and thinking in Japanese.  (ie: When I heard something, my brain was listening for Japanese, when I read something, my brain was expecting it to be Japanese.)  Another thing I noticed was that I learned a ton!  Yes, new kanji and vocab, but more importantly, new skills for learning and getting the info I need without the help of English.  I was on Japanese-learning fire!  But why?

There were three elements of this that I don’t always have in my in-home immersion that I think contributed to better, faster learning…

1. No way out but Japanese.
All the things I set out to do, from finding the pet book and cookbook sections to the paperback  村上春樹, couldn’t be done in English.  No whipping out my jisho, no turning on Rikaichan.  Time to use real skills in the real world.

2. Through-the-roof excitement.
When I go to NYC for my book-movie-music hunting, I am giddy with excitement, just bursting to sift through and find as much as possible.  I love every author-hunting  moment, every”I can’t believe I just looked up and saw this book” instant, and every little victory I get to experience while I’m there (“I just read this summary and understood it!”, or “I just read a huge chunk of this page before I hit something I couldn’t read!”, or “I found the vegetable cookbooks!”.)

3. Lots of people I could look ridiculous in front of.
Nothing like a bit of social pressure to motivate you to do your best.  Not to say that I don’t regularly look ridiculous to strangers on a daily basis, but I felt extra pressure to really know what I was doing and understand what I was reading- or figure it out, lest I end up looking for ハリー・ポッター in the 日本者 section (Harry Potter in the Japanese authors section).  There was, admittedly, some “I can do this and I’ll prove it to you!” feeling in me too.

The NYC Kinokuniya- a more expensive but still awesome bastion of awesomeness

So now, I’ll work on incorporating these apsects in my at-home immersion.

Well, the first two anyways.  Time to figure out how to limit my English “outs” when I meet a challenge, and how to get more excitement out of my immersion!

What do you do to get yourself hyped for immersion?
Do you limit your English “outs” when you’re figuring out a kanji/word/sentence?
Leave a comment and tell us about it!




3 Tools to Immerse On-the-Go

When you’re out and about, doing the bajillion errands life requires we do, your day can quickly become very 英語だらけ (full of English, in a bad way).

I’ve taken to carrying a few things with me at all times to help maximize my immersion, even in the Englishy-est of times. Here are a few suggestions of things to bring with you wherever you go, based on what I’ve been doing.  If you like ’em, give it a try!

Take your immersion to-go. Pack your bag with things to listen to, read, and write on.

1.  A book

Carry a book.  A good one.  Or two.  (I carry a novel and a manga at all times.)

Whip it out whenever you get the chance. Long line at the store?  Got business at the DMV?  Awkward silence in the Jiffy Lube waiting room?  Need to sit and take a break from your shopping spree?  Awesome, read!

2. Music + Podcasts

Get tunes.  Get Japanese podcasts.  Whatever floats your boat.  Don’t forget to keep it fresh.

Don your headphones and listen whenever you can: while you’re grocery shopping, at the mall, whenever you’ve got a minute and don’t want to read.  It doesn’t matter if you’re not actively listening the whole time.  When your brain wants to listen, it’s going to get Japanese.  (And I doubt you’ll miss the prime musical selections played by most stores….).

3. Paper + Pen

Pack some paper and something to write with.  Fun stationary, post-its, a plain ol’ notepad, whatever will work.

Simple, of course.  And you can just practice writing when you take a break or have a spare minute on your errands, but there are more creative and motivating ways to get writing practice, too.  My personal favorite: leaving guerrilla notes in Japanese for other people to find.

What does this entail?  Writing on a piece of paper and leaving it somewhere.  Yup, that’s it.  You could write some lyrics from a song,  a line or so from the book you’re reading, a favorite quote, a secret, something ridiculous you just thought up on the spot…  Write it down, fold it up, and leave it somewhere.  The public restroom, the coffee shop seat you were sitting on, tucked into a park bench, peeking out from a book at the bookstore, between the tissue boxes at Target…you get the idea.

Knowing someone will find it can help motivate you to write, to make sure it’s relatively correct, and to use your best handwriting. (Even if it’s someone who can’t read or understand it)

And that concludes the post! 
If you like the ideas, get packing!  Got more ideas?  Share them in the comments!

PS:  I’ll have a post on guerrilla art in Japanese in the future, because it’s  just that awesome and fun.

Reach for Your Goals by Reaching for a Pen

Did you know you’re WAY SUPER EXTRA more likely to accomplish a goal if you write it down?

I do, thanks to Tofugu’s blog post, “How to get a Japanese Scholarship”.  One of his recommendations was this:

Write your goals down: I mean it, take out a piece of paper and write it. Then, figure out 10 people that can help you get closer to that goal and contact them about it. Every day, figure out who you can talk to and what you can do to achieve it. There was a study done recently. One group of people at the same college wrote their goals down, one group came up with goals (and didn’t write them down), and the last group came up with no goals. The group that didn’t write their goals down were twice as successful (in terms of salary), and those that did write their goals down made eleven times more. The people who didn’t think about goals at all are asking for your money when you walk by them on the street. WRITE THEM.”  (Check out the whole post here).

Exhibit A

This particular part of the post really hit home with me, and I thought it made a whole lot of sense.  (I also love research!  Yay research!)  It really motivated me to solidify and write down my own goals.

Have you ever really thought about what exactly it is you want to achieve?  I realized I never really had worked out more than the big picture, I was just working towards some vague ideas I had in my head.  That all changed when I sat my butt down and really thought about what I wanted to do.  I came up with 4 goals, all achievable within the next 5 years or so.  I wrote them down on a piece of stationary and tacked them in the center of my corkboard.  (See Exhibit A.  The blurred-out goals are part of a top-secret project, which has nothing to do with Japanese and everything to do with puppies.  You’ll find out more when it’s up and running…)

Now I’m reminded of my goals every day. And because I’m reminded about them, I think about them much more.  And because of that, I take more steps towards achieving them on a daily basis.

If you’re serious about learning Japanese, I highly recommend this exercise! Heck, even if you’re  not, you should do it.  Maybe you just want to learn enough to get by when you travel.  Awesome, write it down.  You’ve probably got some non-Japanese-related goals that could really benefit from some brainstorming and a written commitment, too.

You can even start here!  Tell us in the comments: What’s YOUR personal Japanese-learning goal?

YouTube Japan is Srsly Awesome

I visit and use websites in Japanese like it’s my job.  I’m constantly trying to interact with the language as much as possible.  More interaction time = more learning!

One of my favorite ways to do this is YouTube.

No, not looking up Japanese-learning videos.  I mean YouTube the way you’d see it if you were logging in from Japan: Set in Japanese with Japan’s featured content.  (Each country has its own featured videos, categories, popular videos, etc.  The videos that display on the US homepage are different from the ones on the Japan homepage and from the ones on the Korea homepage, etc.)

Here's what the homepage looks like when I log in. I'll let you know how to do this with your account (And why you should!) later in the post!

YouTube opens up a whole new portal to Japan and Japanese for language learners! Music PV’s, concerts, how-to’s, cooking ideas, personal vlogs, game shows, news, cute animal videos, you name it.  There is literally something for everybody, and nearly endless content to explore!  What an awesome way to have fun and immerse yourself in the language!

Especially awesome are the various videos (mostly music and TV shows) you can find that have captions (captions, not subtitles, naughty naughty!).  Woo hoo!  Makes listening a whole lot easier when you can read along, too.

You can use YouTube to find different movies, musical artists, animes, dramas, etc. that you really enjoy and then hunt down the DVD/CD/manga/etc. at stores or online!  This is one of my favorite things to do, and I can’t wait until my BookOff/Kinokuniya trip next week to hunt down the ones on my lists.

How To Set YouTube to Japanese interface with Japan’s content

This is pretty easy, and perhaps more important than how to do it is why to do it. We’ll start with how to do it…

Scroll alllll the way to the bottom of the page.  You’ll see two categories on the lower left-hand side: Current Location and Current Language.  Click “Show locations” and “Show languages” to change them to 日本 and 日本語 respectively, and you’re good to go!  Easy, right?

You might be tempted to set the location to Japan so you can get Japan’s content, but keep the language in English (or your native language if it’s different).  Resist the urge!  Setting the interface to Japanese adds way more Japanese-learning and reinforcement time!  If you don’t know what おすすめ、音楽、動画、人気、or お気に入り mean, I bet you will after a few times visiting the site like this!  And if you already know how to use YouTube in your language, a lot of it is very intuitive.  (Plus, you can always turn on your Rikaichan to help you if you need it.)  You’ll likely see a lot of stuff you recognize too, which is super encouraging and exciting!

If you want, you can get some ideas by finding me on YouTube (veganlizz) and checking out my favorites and playlists.

Here’s a cute commercial that’s been popular lately.  It was the first commercial I ever fully understood, so I tweaked out about it!

Ideas for Making the Most of YouTube

  • Find and favorite whatever you’re into.  Trust me, it’s on there.  Great way to learn vocab for your areas of interest, too!
  • Find new stuff to be into! Check out the related videos on the right hand side of the page after you’re done watching a video.  This will often lead you on a trail of videos where you find great new stuff you dig!
  • Explore the most popular videos and most favorited videos. (In the box 人気の動画)  See what’s popular in Japan right now, get some more cultural knowledge, be in on the “in” things in Japan!
  • Make playlists. These’ll help you sort all those favorites on your ever-growing list.
  • Share with friends.  Send fellow learners/friends links to your favorite videos!  Challenge them to make and trade a playlist with a theme with you.  You both make your own playlist of  “Best/Weirdest Commercials” or “Favorite Japanese Disney songs” or “Top 10 Moments in J-Dramas”, or something less corny… and then share with eachother and enjoy!
  • Have fun! All of this is assuming you enjoy perusing the site, as there’s no use trying to learn by doing something you dislike!  But with the vast expanse of Japanese goodness offered to you by YouTube, there really is no reason not to head over to the site, Japan-ify it, and get exploring!
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