I have finally finished off the two elementary school level books that I had lying around the house. They were novelizations of “Toy Story” and “Surf’s Up” that I had picked up awhile ago. These novelizations tend to be pretty easy reads for N2/N1 level. I could get through about 10 to 12 pages in 20 minutes or so on the train.
I took a very casual approach to reading these books. Basically, I didn’t look up any words unless I absolutely had to or my curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to check a meaning here and there. I was surprised to find some grammar items that had come up in my N1 grammar books, but most of the grammar is around the N4, possibly N3 level. There is a lot of vocabulary you have to work through, but they are worth I try if you are that level.
I have a lot of fun with Chrono Trigger, an old Super Nintendo game that I am playing in Japanese. I think RPGs are the most helpful kind of video game to play for language learning because they have a story and lots of reading. However, most RPGs have a fantasy setting which means they usually use a slightly different way of speaking.
Still, it’s good practice and you can usually decipher what is trying to be said. The old Super Nintendo games are especially useful because, due to space limitations, they don’t use as much kanji as newer games. I would say the worst system for reading kanji tends to be the Playstation 1 and 2. Sometimes the characters are so smashed together you can hardly read them.
I’ve started experimenting with a couple of different ways of studying. Mostly because I still don’t feel like sticking my nose in a drill book quite yet. I’m also nearing the end of the jDrama I’ve been watching “Hanzawa Naoki” which is quite good. It’s a little difficult at times, but I can understand the main plot points which is about all you need. It has Masato Sakai and Aya Ueto, which I could watch in absolutely anything (for her talented acting of course).
I’m wondering what I should try to tackle next for TV shows. A lot of people have recommended variety shows. I have a hard time getting into them to be honest. I might end up watching more news stories on YouTube. I’ll keep you posted.
Revising My vocabulary decks
I made a course at Memrise of all the words that I had trouble with when I was studying my drill books to get ready for the N1 test. There are about 400 words total, which isn’t that much. But, to my surprise there were actually a few words on the test that were also on that list, so I’d like to finish it up.
Once I’m finished with that list I want to move on to the list of words I made for Harry Potter. I’ve found that a lot of words I tripped over in my reading lately have been words that I read in Harry Potter, but never really mastered. It turns out it is a pretty good list of words to study if you want to do some reading.
I’d also like to finish the course off. At the moment, I only have the first 4 chapters posted online. Sorry to anyone that has been patiently waiting for the rest of the chapters. I’m going to try to get a little better at posting them and keeping my Memrise lists updated.
I also have plenty of problems with vocabulary glut. I studied way too many N2 words and I have started to fall behind in them. So, I’ve been continuing to ignore some of the easier words and converting the more confusing words to an all Japanese deck. I still spend a good half hour every morning working through the huge list of words and I think a half hour is a little too much. I’d rather be doing something more natural with that time.
Although studying vocabulary all in Japanese is a little daunting at first, it has proven to be quite useful. Mostly because I have to think more about the vocabulary. Yes, this slows me down a little but really helps the vocab stick. I highly recommend it if you have a little patience.
Listening Reading method
This last month, I stumbled upon a method that a friend of mine recommended and swore by. It’s called the listening reading method or just l-r sometimes. It’s kind of drilling technique that seems to work for a lot of people, so I thought I would give it a try.
Basically, what you do is take some material in Japanese in both written and spoken form, and an English translation of the material. First, you listening to the audio of the Japanese to get used to the sounds of the conversation.
Then, you listen to the Japanese while reading the English. This is for you to understand the meaning of the Japanese. This part sounds a bit difficult and it can be, but does help with the meaning.
After that, you listen to the Japanese audio while reading the Japanese text. This is to help link the written words to the audio and it can be really helpful for visual learners that need to see something in front of them I think. It also helps internalize the pronunciation of the kanji used in the text.
Finally, you read along with the text while listening to the Japanese audio. Try to match your rhythm and intonation to the recording as much as possible. If you wanted to do a little extra practice I suppose you could do some shadowing as well. Shadowing is where you only listen to the CD (without looking at the text) and repeat what the speaker is saying while the CD keeps playing.
The hard part is finding some good, already made material for this. There are a few options available to you though. One pretty easy way is with a service like JapanesePod101 which has tons of bilingual materials along with Japanese audio. Or, you could find a Japanese friend to record some audio for you as well.
I experimented with some material from some online resources and having my wife record it for me. I’ll report back with how it worked out. So far, I’m a little mixed about it, but that might change after I get a little more used to it.
Does anyone have any experience with this method? It seems like it could be pretty effective and easy to stick with once you get a pattern down and have a good source of material.
How is your progress going?
How are your studies going? Have started doing some reading? If you are preparing for the December test you might want to check my first month’s JLPT study guide for the JLPT for some tips on how to get started.
Podcast: Play in new window | Download (Duration: 18:37 — 17.0MB)
For the listening reading method, you might want to check out https://etoeto.com
It’s in alpha, but the idea behind it is to provide a good, interesting source of bilingual written and spoken content. Koichi of Tofugu and wanikani is working this year on integrating it into textfugu and getting it out of alpha, so stay it should get more content then.
It looks like a pretty good resource, and Koichi generally knows what he is doing, so I’m sure it will be a slick resource once it is up and running. Thanks for pointing it out.
The method you describe – reading and listening – is very similar to what the old Linguaphone method prescribed. (You picked up the edge of the record to “pause” it.) I got the German set when I was in high-school and worked through the first lessons, including writing out the text in the old pointy German script. Unfortunately I ditched it when the lessons started to deal with a Mächen who opened the door to guests and served dinner, trips to the tailor to get a new suit … I was too dumb to realize you aren’t restricted to using a language in the settings described in the lessons, but when I went to Germany a few years later, I started in talking (and reading and listening to the radio all day) and it went pretty well. It was as if I’d been primed to absorb the language, despite the time lag.
I’ve started using the method again for Danish – https://www.avisen.dk has texts for at least some of its video stories. What helps for me is to load the audio into Audacity and insert pauses after phrases to give my brain time to catch up. It seems to help more than slowing the whole piece down. (It also makes it easier to repeat segments on my mp3 player.)
For Japanese I’ve started collecting a week to a month’s worth of audio from the JA Pod101 Word-of-the-Day widget. For those, just leaving some space between individual mp3 files is (or should be, I tell myself) enough. Rocket Japanese and Transparent Language are also generous with free audio – there’s really an embarrassment of riches for language learners these days.
BTW, I appreciate your emailed reminders not to slack off on Japanese. I started Danish about the same time as Japanese and of course it goes faster, and the temptation is to read real Danish about real topics (Ukraine, these days) rather than Japanese about make-believe people all being extraordinarily polite to each other in an office.
I really like the idea of breaking up the sentences with pauses. I feel like people often ‘think’ in sentences and not words if that makes sense. So, it makes sense to break things up that way. Yeah, the word of the day widget was what first got me into Japanesepod101. There is also a site called forvo.com where you can pick up pretty much any Japanese word pronounced, and if they don’t have one, you can request one. It is an extremely handy resource for building Anki decks and Memrise courses if you don’t have the audio from somewhere else.
I’m not sure how people think, but they speak and write in “chunks” – set expressions, prepositional phrases (or their equivalent), adjective-noun combinations (“grumpy old man”, “wine-dark sea”), time expressions (“next week,” “when I get back”). Memorizing entire sentences doesn’t work for me, but I do try to learn chunks as I come across them. The 101 widgets (to which I seem to have become addicted) are pretty good at this, and with audio no less. (But who ever told them that “inchworm” and “yak” are among the 2000 most important words for a beginner to learn?
I tried using Forvo for Arabic, which doesn’t have nearly the resources available that Japanese does. Since I’m usually looking for the pronunciation of chunks, it isn’t ideal even for Japanese. On the other hand, some of the text-to-speech programs are getting good, even for Arabic, which leaves out all those vowels that Japanese adds to its written language, making the algorithms more complicated by an order of magnitude (ballpark estimate). I’ve been using the one at https://www.oddcast.com/home/demos/tts/tts_example.php recently. This one even offers a wider range of languages than many of the others, with a choice of male and female voices for most. The speak tends to get bubbly for longer stretches of text, but for the 2-5 words I’m usually looking for it usually sounds ok.
I’d be interested in how the Japanese sounds to someone who actually knows how it’s supposed to sound, BTW. This is probably what the future looks like – speech with no need for the intervention of an actual human being at any point.
Thanks for the great info. I can see what you are saying by chunks. I lot of my students tend to speak in chunks, stopping and starting their sentences as they make them. I try to encourage them to lay out a whole sentence before trying to spit it out.
That text to speech engine is the most realistic I’ve seen so far. I tried another a while back, but it really wasn’t all that smooth at all. This one still sounds like a robot, but that is kind of good when you want to practice the language.
A thought on “speaking in chunks” : when I arrived in Prague I could translate easily from Czech to English, but I couldn’t say much of anything in Czech, certainly not fluently. (I’d learned the language by eye.) After a while I was able to understand the spoken language better, but I was still pretty much tongue-tied. Then one weekend I realized that you almost never hear words in isolation, they’re always in clusters, where the transitions from word to word disguise the components, for a foreigner, anyway. So I made it a rule never to learn a word alone – it had to be at least a prepositional phrase. Since noun and adjective endings change, based on a number of factors, this was not as simple as it is in English or Japanese, but it’s still pretty basic Czech. So I spent the weekend making chunk flashcards, and saying the Czech loud enough do be heard in the furthest corner of my (one) large room. On Monday, when I went to see the Czech company I was “cooperating with” the boss looked at me as though I had two heads – “You sound almost fluent!” (Cultural notes: Czechs do not praise easily, especially people who might want more money from them.) And it’s not as though I had been practicing greetings and salutations all weekend – I was reading something about the Czech lands during the Reformation, I think, but something had happened. Maybe these chunks are more important in a highly inflected language, and Czech is bad even by Slavic standards, but I pass the idea along for what it’s worth for Japanese.
As for encouraging people to think ahead, Czech teachers do that in school (for Czech kids) – speakers have to consider the patience of listeners, after all. For my Czech students who were learning English, I used to make cards with chunks of English and have them put the scrambled cards in sentence order – it removed some of the pressure of speaking aloud and made it easier for both of us to see where their problems came from. And a technique they taught at the school where I took a TEFL course: simply have the student repeat a response, or tell a story, three times. Usually they don’t need corrections – after hearing what they said they probably can fix the problems themselves. This also helps with smoothing out the transitions between chunks.
A question: in Prague, a lot of English teachers live by traveling around the city to people’s homes or offices (or pubs) to give private lessons. I haven’t heard of this in Japan – is everything done in classes at a school?
This method was kinda forced on me in my Japanese classes because every lesson test had a spoken component where we would have to present the lesson skit verbatim for the most part with native speed and pronunciation. This method is the drill the teacher would have us do the week before the verbal tests. Honestly I find I don’t remember using this method. I’m a visual and auditory learner but this was too easy to go into autopilot on. Maybe if I try it with more interesting material instead of the Genki textbook skits I might like it better, I don’t know.
I think some of this is useful (memorizing a set skit), but then you should take it start to customize it so that you can make it your own. Also, textbook conversations are always a bit dull, so using it with something a little more interesting might help as well. JapanesePod101 has more interesting conversations. Sometimes they can be a little strange as well though.