The Ideal Advanced Language Class

When Language Classes Aren’t Challenging Enough

In my previous post I praised my university’s Chinese 101 class, which was both challenging and interesting enough to make me want to study Chinese in the future. I now want to move on to Japanese, which I have been studying now for four and a half years since starting in college. My general thoughts on Japanese study in college are as follows:

The 101/102 level of Japanese, like Chinese, was great. Things were moving fast, I felt challenged everyday, and I was excited to learn. The second year classes were similar, and I struggled a bit in the beginning while trying to keep up (I did two semesters of Japanese in 2 months via an “intensive Japanese” summer program). By my third and fourth years into studying Japanese, however, I started to like Japanese class less and less. Having gotten the basics down, there was less pressure to memorize tons of words or grammar points. I would internally groan every time I had to listen to one of my classmates struggle to discuss something relatively difficult or abstract in class.

textbooks

All of the textbooks I used in college, taking 1.5 years to go through the first three, and 2.5 years for the following three. Looking back, being intermediate level (books 3~5) is the most frustrating.

1. Nakama 1
2. Nakama 2
3. Tobira
4. 日本への招待
5. 中級から上級への日本語
6. 文化へのまなざし

I didn’t feel challenged in class, and as a result I began to feel that an hour and a half in class was less helpful than an hour and a half of study on my own. In a good class, obviously, this should not happen; if lecture or class is less beneficial or interesting than self-study, then going to class has no purpose.

At this point some people draw the conclusion that classes are only useful up to a certain point, and self-studying and immersion is the only way to go. I agree that both of those things are useful (if not necessary in order to seriously improve), but I don’t want to give up on classes just yet. Surely there must be a way to make an advanced Japanese (or any advanced language class) useful and relevant. I’m nowhere *close* to knowing everything in Japanese, and so if I have the chance, aren’t there things I could still learn in a classroom environment? And if so, what kind of environment would be necessary?

Why I like Job Searching in Japan/at Japanese companies

Actually, the title is wrong. I hate job searching in Japan. In fact, I hate job searching entirely, regardless of country. It’s a soul-sucking, energy-draining, ego-destroying waste of time. But for the language learner doing job searching in their non-native language, it’s perhaps also the biggest motivator to study a language more than anything else. When you’re competing against native speakers as a non-native speaker yourself, it’s essentially a language test ramped up to eleven. You don’t know how terrible you are at a language until you’re being tested as if you were a native-speaker.

And call me masochistic, but I love it.

Last year I attended the Boston Career Forum, where I interviewed for a position at BCG, an international business strategy consulting firm. The interviews I had were completely in Japanese, and not once was my Japanese praised, nor was I told how 上手 (skilled) I was at speaking. It felt great, like I was being treated as an equal. After all, fluent Japanese was excepted for the position, and a company has no time to help you with your ego. If you can’t communicate, then say goodbye to any future interviews. While you can also talk to a Japanese friend in Japanese, it’s generally a low stress situation compared to an interview. With a friend you get the benefit of the doubt both because you both already know each other, and because you’re a non-native speaker. In an interview, this only works against you.

After the career forum I was invited by BCG to partake in a three-day long event in December called a “Winter Job”, which is used at BCG’s Tokyo office in place of final round interviews. When I arrived in Tokyo, I was the only non-Asian person (there was one Chinese student as well, but everyone else was Japanese) out of about 25 or so students at the Winter Job, most of whom were Todai/Kyodai/Keio  level undergraduate and graduate students. All communication before and after the event took place in Japanese, with the three days at the BCG office naturally spent entirely in Japanese as well. I wish I could say I became this badass, completely bilingual speaker overnight for the event, but I did not; over the three days I struggled quite a lot. Keeping up—let alone competing—with everyone else was hard, and I pushed myself to the limits of my Japanese ability.

So what if a class could recreate that same environment?

Being Challenged in a Language

Finding materials to challenge myself with in Japanese is not hard. If I pick up a Japanese book and try to read it, I’ll be challenged. A recent analysis over on Reddit finds that a good 4-5000 kanji may be necessary to fluently read relatively difficult Japanese literature. If I want to challenge myself in listening or speaking, I could listen to or try to recite  NHK news podcasts. If I try to read a couple of articles from Bloomberg Japan, I’ll run into an unknown word before long.

Simply put, there are plenty of Japanese challenges out there for the advanced learner. If anything, being at an “advanced” level makes it easier to find material because basically anything a native speaker would look at becomes fair game. At the same time, however, this proves to be challenging to adapt to the classroom environment. Choose something too difficult and learning slows down. As mentioned in a Language Learning & Technology journal article titled The Development of Advanced Learner Oral Proficiency Using Ipads, the author professor Lys cites that

…exposure [according to linguist Stephen Krashen] to the target language is crucial and that the amount and quality of comprehensible input learners receive—defined as i+1—determines how fast they will learn.

Going right after native materials from the start might be something we want to do, but the reality is that we need comprehensible input as well. But what I found in my advanced Japanese classes was that the input was dumbed down too far. I was understanding everything. Now that sounds fine, of course, but in my Japanese 101/102 classes, that wasn’t the case. If I didn’t study the night before I would be lost in class. After all, starting from zero meant I had no background knowledge of the language to fall back on.

In my advanced classes, there were occasionally words I did not know, but nothing that required advanced studying in order to follow along. And if someone in class didn’t understand a word, the teacher would explain it throughly in class. Again, while that might seem fine at first glance, in 101/102 you were expected to have studied prior to the class because there was so much material being crammed into so little time, limiting any time for explanations. In short, the leisurely pace in the advanced class—while it allowed for deeper discussion of certain tricky words or grammar points—did little to stimulate my interest or get me really excited about facing another challenging class. If I want to look up new words or slowly go through a reading, I can do that by myself. The chance to be challenged to speak quickly, accurately, and sophisticatedly on a difficult subject is something that is hard to recreate without a teacher to be your parter.

Consider this next quote from the Professor Lys’ article:

In a study assessing language gain in Spanish speaking students spending a semester abroad, only 12 of the 22 students were able to improve their proficiency by one level (from Intermediate Low to Intermediate Mid), even though they had reported that they had used Spanish outside of class for more than forty-five hours per week (Segalowitz & Freed, 2004, as cited in Tschirner, 2007, p. 111). Students apparently blamed the repetitive and predictable nature of many exchanges with their host family.

As an intermediate or advanced learner, it’s too easy to cheat using your basic language knowledge. If you get stuck not knowing a certain word, you can talk your way around it and convey the meaning you want. This technique is called circumlocution, and it’s not a bad strategy for the beginning learner with limited vocabulary, but as the following article points out, it can become a bad habit where advanced learners “fail to push themselves to try to remember a particular word or phrase.” The Spanish students in the above example likely fell victim to the same habit: they didn’t push themselves out of their comfort zone to use more difficult vocabulary or phrasing.

The Advanced Classroom should be like a Job Interview

In a video featuring Khatzumoto of AJATT fame, Khatz points out at one point that Japanese learners (post-Japan’s 1990 bubble) are often studying Japanese out of their love of anime and other cultural interests, rather than for any economic reason. Unsurprisingly, my advanced Japanese classes have often revolved around Japanese anime and dramas, simply because most of the learners enjoy those kinds of materials. That’s all well and good—I am not suggesting that we use more dry materials in an attempt to be “serious”—but as a result the atmosphere in the class tends to be very low-stress. “Let’s all discuss this episode” or “What happened to the character in this scene” tend to be the usual discussion points, repeated ad nauseam. And when we do talk about a recent news article in class, it’s basically a “free discussion” time, with students giving their best shot at sounding intelligent. The teacher does not interfere.

This might just be me disagreeing with a certain type of teaching methodology, but I think this style of classroom is setting intermediate and advanced learners up for failure. The teacher needs to be pushing students to speak accurately by making the class a little more stressful. We don’t want students to freeze up and fail completely, but allowing them to struggle freely by themselves out loud for five minutes as they attempt to produce intelligible output is not acceptable in an advanced level classroom.

For example, a roll-playing activity could involve being an interviewee for a large bank, and therefore the role would require memorizing how to use a large number of economic-related vocabulary. If the student is not particularly interested in economics, they could be asked to roll-play describing an abstract concept related to psychology in front of a professor, or be asked to describe a photo or movie in great detail in English, and then be asked to repeat the same description—with the same level of detail and vocabulary—in Japanese. See the following “English Lesson” video from a TV variety show:

The video is comedy, but repeating what you have just said in your native language in a language you are studying (at the same level of vocabulary and fluency) is difficult.

With these examples I am trying to think of ways students could be placed under more stress. I want situations where they would be forced to memorize a great deal more of the language than they already know. With a teacher there to correct mistakes and put pressure on students to be accurate and fast, the advanced class could potentially be just as intense—if not more so—than my intro level language classes. The native-level materials are out there and can be studied on one’s own, but I still believe a well structured class could be added-value for a student, rather than a leisurely waste of time.

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Filed under Japan, Japanese, Kanji, Language, Self-studying

The Value of the Beginner Language Class

In my junior year of college I enrolled in two language classes: one for Japanese and one for Chinese. For Japanese I enrolled in something called “Advanced Integrative Japanese”, which was a fancy way of saying “fourth-year Japanese class.” And as a complete beginner in Chinese, I also signed up for the “Chinese 101” class that I’m sure is offered at colleges around the world.

One thing I have noticed is that language classes get a lot of flack on the Internet, perhaps unsurprisingly by the self-studying crowd, which tends to be especially active on online forums and blogs. Traditional classes are often shunned as obsolete relics of the past, and perhaps that’s because of the breadth of material we have at our fingertips. After all, we’re all on the internet now, and we have (especially as a self-studier) more access to native-language material than ever before. Three popular blog posts come to mind that are particularly critical of language classes:

Why Language Classes Don’t Work: How to Cut Classes and Double Your Learning Rate (4-hour work week)

Classes Suck (AJATT)

Using AJATT to Pwn Japanese Classes (Which Still Suck) (AJATT, again)

There are a lot of good points in all of these posts, but their messages are similar: classes slow you down, and that the fastest way to learn is through native interaction, either with native speakers or native materials. The post on 4-hour Work Week is especially critical of classes when it claims that classes merely create “the illusion of progress” for students who are too lazy/scared/uninterested in using the language in the real world through interactions with native speakers.

This seems particularly true of most students who are forced to learn a foreign language they’re not really interested in, such as in high school. Often the only real speaking practice that goes on for languages learned in high school classes ends up occurring in the classroom, and as a result the language is merely treated as another academic subject that will be quickly forgotten by the end of the year. I certainly don’t remember every fact that I used to have memorized when I took American History back in high school, and that’s because I don’t constantly place myself in an environment where I would need to recall any of those previously memorized pieces of information. The same goes even more so for foreign languages. If I don’t care about the material enough to study it beyond what is presented in class, then the best teacher in the world is not going make a difference.

That’s why language classes outside of a mandatory curriculum are so much better—that is, classes taken in college by choice—and why I think they deserve more credit. These classes are populated (ideally) by students who, for some reason or another, care about taking the class. That means that even when the class ends, the studying goes on. Especially at the beginner level these students want to learn the language on some level, and are ready to dive in.

The Beginner Language Class – A Time-Wasting Hell of Poor Speakers or A Bastion of Language Learning?

My Chinese language class had the following format: once a day, 5 days a week, about 10 people in the room. The teacher puts a new grammar structure up on the board and asks a question—in Chinese, of course—to one of the students at random. He answers. She asks another person a related question. He stumbles, she starts the sentence for him, he finishes it. She tells another student to ask the person next to him a related question. That person answers. And so on.

The in-class pace is fast, and the content is all speaking. There’s no writing during this class, no worksheets, and no handouts—that’s for your own practice as homework to be done outside of class. The textbook is a collection of ~30 conversations presented in both English and Chinese, with grammar notes explained in English and Chinese on subsequent pages. Homework involves memorizing the current week’s conversation, translating short paragraphs in English to Chinese (there’s your writing practice), memorizing short speeches in Chinese that you’ve written, and being able to transcribe short spoken sentences into Chinese characters. There’s a comprehensive quiz every week.

That was my Chinese Class, and for me it was awesome. I learned a lot, and I probably made as much progress as an average student does in 1-3 years of Chinese in high school. Seriously, it was hardcore.

Study the Language to Study the Language

I’m raving about my Chinese 101 class, but now let’s flash forward 1 year after finishing it. The result? I have forgotten most of what I learned. If I walked into my Chinese 101 final today I know I would surely fail; it has literally been over a year since I studied or engaged in the Chinese language in any serious way.

So does that prove the “class haters” points? After all, I took a class and now have few results to show from it—surely that means classes don’t matter. And if I can’t remember any Chinese, doesn’t that mean I’m in the same place as where I was after finishing my Spanish classes in high school? The answer, however, is no; and it’s because my mindset is quite different. Let me explain.

The Chinese class mattered because I’m still excited about picking up Chinese at some point in the future. Had I not taken the class, I might have had a vague desire to start learning at some point, but no language foundation or starting momentum. On the other hand, I have no desire whatsoever to study Spanish, regardless of how “useful” it is considered. The difference here is that the Chinese class instilled an interest in the Chinese language. I made rapid progress during the class and I feel confident I could do it again. I enjoyed speaking in Chinese and would love to be able to do it again at a higher level. There were very few lessons on “culture” in my Chinese class, but that’s because the class made the language challenging and interesting enough to be worth studying because it was fun. In other words, I studied Chinese because I wanted to become a beast at Chinese.

In my high school Spanish classes, the teachers tried to introduce students to Spanish culture, music, etc, as an attempt to give us reasons to study the language. While I understand the reasoning, I tuned most of it out. I didn’t give a damn about Cinco de Mayo, and it just turned me off to studying if this was supposed the “fun” part of the language. I should first be excited about studying the language because I simply like studying the language. For me, this is the purest and best form of motivation, and it’s something that a good class can do for a student. Cultural/native-language stuff like movies and music can be found on one’s own and can come later once the student has a decent foundation to actually make sense of the material.

Plus, since cultural stuff has to do a lot with personal taste—I would rather have my eyebrows plucked out than be forced to learn about traditional Japanese festivals and ancient shrines—trying to appeal to everyone in a single class is impossible. Classes in the beginner level, therefore, should focus on making the language challenging and interesting. And because an entire language can’t be taught in a single class, the goal should be to provide motivation and basis for further study if the student chooses to do so. Chinese 101 did that well.

Later I want to talk a little more about “Advanced language classes”, something I feel could be done a lot better than what I have experienced so far in my study of the language. Until next time…

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Filed under Chinese, Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying

The SPI Test & Job Searching in Japan — Learn Japanese Antonyms & Synonyms

If you’re like me, then you’re probably one or both of these two things:

  1. You’re thinking about working in Japan one day (but perhaps aren’t a computer science major…)
  2. You want to enhance your Japanese vocabulary

If you ever want to work for a Japanese company, especially as a fresh graduate right out of college, then you might find yourself having to take something called the SPI適性検査, which is one of the most popular “recruitment aptitude tests” in Japan. While many learners aiming for Japanese company employment might assume that having JLPT skills at Level 1 would be sufficient for general job searching in Japan, this is in fact not the case in the beginning of the process. Let me explain.

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Welcome to your worst Japanese nightmare

When you apply to a typical Japanese company, assuming you have no direct connections that would boost you straight through to the interview process, after listening to a general info session (can be online but quite often in person) you first submit an エントリーシート (entry sheet), which is a one-page form that includes your name, university, and perhaps a small box for your 志望動機 (reason for applying). When you submit this form in person—such as at a career fair with Japanese companies, including CFN, Mynavi, Works Global Japan, Top Career, etc—you will hand write it in Japanese, so be sure to practice writing Kanji just enough to answer the questions that are typically asked. Memorizing your 志望動機 down to the letter is probably not a bad strategy.

If the company is interested in talking to you further, you will likely receive instructions to take a WEB検査, or online test. If you’re lucky you’ll skip right to the interview where you can show off your Japanese and interviewing skills, but there are plenty of large corporations in Japan (Softbank, for example), that require the test first. And while some companies, such as Rakuten and most foreign investment banks have their own English version, most companies have it in Japanese only. In this blog post, Ms. Melfi sums up the test quite well:

Imagine having to take the JLPT1 in 30 minutes, with two more 30 minute sections on logic and math. […]

Unequivocally, the JLPT1 does not qualify you as ready for the Job Hunting process.

In other words, if you just passed the JLPT level 1 and are feeling rather good about yourself for barely squeaking by, be prepared to be pummeled by the typical web test (SPI test) that job searchers are required to take. Sure, if you were able to skip the test and get right to the interview and show your employer that you’re perfectly competent at speaking, and could look up unknown job-specific vocabulary as it comes your way, the world would be a perfect place. But it’s not, and the SPI, in my opinion, is a big unspoken roadblock that prevents non-native Japanese from entering Japanese companies, despite their constant pleas for “more global talent.”

According to a friend of a friend, he was asked by a Japanese company to take the test, but he responded that as a non-native Japanese person the test had no meaning, and that he should not have to take it. In reply, the company agreed with him, moved him right along to the interview process, and then he got the job. I can’t say this is typical, or even if the story is true, but if you don’t feel ready for the test this might be a nice hail mary move to try out.

At any rate, just because the test is hard does not mean it’s impossible. It’s a Japanese test, which means, for the most part, it’s perfectly study-able. If you have come this far in your Japanese study to consider applying to a Japanese company, then you can get over this as well. It just requires you to change what you’ve been studying.

Enter the Antonyms (and Synonyms)

When studying Japanese, my vocabulary generally comes from sentences and vocabulary lists that correspond to something I’m reading. I believe this is a fairly practical way to go about learning new words, since I’m learning things that directly relate to what I want to understand. For the SPI test, however, a decent portion of the 国語 (Japanese language) section revolves around identifying antonyms (反対語) and synonyms (同意語), which is something I simply have never done before in Japanese. Thankfully, this is probably the part of the test that is easiest to study: rote memorize enough antonym/synonym pairs and that should mean a decent shot at doing well.

There are two sites online I have found (other than buying a test-prep book on Amazon.co.jp) that seem useful and are free:

  1. StudyPro ~SPI2 • SPI3対応
  2. SPI試験対策集会所 (site looks right out of the early 90s, but still good)

For instance, combining the lists of 同意語 (synonyms)  provided on both of these sites, I’m able to compile a list of 238 vocabulary words. Each word’s reading and definition is listed, along with its synonym provided in parenthesis. If for each word in Kanji you can quickly recall it’s reading, meaning, and corresponding synonym, you should be good to go.

封建  ほうけん    feudalistic(独裁)
独裁  どくさい    dictatorship(封建)
宿命  しゅくめい   fate(運命)
運命  うんめい    fate(宿命)
冷静  れいせい    calm(沈着)
沈着  ちんちゃく   calm(冷静)
没頭  ぼっとう    absorption in(専念、熱中)
専念  せんねん    absorption in(没頭、熱中)
熱中  ねっちゅう   absorption in(没頭、専念)
不平  ふへい     discontent(不服)
不服  ふふく     discontent(不平)
傑作  けっさく    masterpiece(名作)
名作  めいさく    masterpiece(傑作)
秀才  しゅうさい   prodigy(俊秀)
俊秀  しゅんしゅう  prodigy(秀才)
損益  そんえき    profit and loss(損失)
損失  そんしつ    loss(損益)
欠点  けってん    defect(短所)
短所  たんしょ    defect(欠点)
欠乏  けつぼう    shortage(不足)
不足  ふそく     shortage(欠乏)
著名  ちょめい    famous(有名)
有名  ゆうめい    famous(著名)
規定  きてい     regulation(規則)
規則  きそく     regulation(規定)
形見  かたみ     memento(遺品)
遺品  いひん     memento(形見)
意外  いがい     unexpected(案外)
案外  あんがい    unexpected(意外)
尽力  じんりょく   endeavor(献身)
献身  けんしん    endeavor(尽力)
断続  だんぞく    intermittent(中断)
中断  ちゅうだん   interruption(断続)
不意  ふい      sudden(突然)
突然  とつぜん    sudden(不意)
必然  ひつぜん    inevitable(当然)
当然  とうぜん    natural(必然)
転居  てんきょ    moving(移転)
移転  いてん     moving(転居)
疑問  ぎもん     doubt(疑念)
疑念  ぎねん     doubt(疑問)
了承  りょうしょう  consent(許諾)
許諾  きょだく    consent(了承)
滋養  じよう     nourishment(栄養)
栄養  えいよう    nourishment(滋養)
準備  じゅんび    preparation(用意、支度)
用意  ようい     preparation(準備、支度)
支度  したく     preparation(準備、用意)
落胆  らくたん    disappointment(失望)
失望  しつぼう    disappointment(落胆)
自然  しぜん     natural(天然)
天然  てんねん    natural(自然)
督促  とくそく    demand, urge(催促)
催促  さいそく    demand, urge(督促)
順序  じゅんじょ   order(次第)
次第  しだい     order(順序)
永遠  えいえん    eternity(永久)
永久  えいきゅう   eternity(永遠)
対等  たいとう    equivalent(互角)
互角  ごかく     equality(対等)
願望  がんぼう    wish(希望)
希望  きぼう     wish(願望)
筆記  ひっき     written(記述)
記述  きじゅつ    written(筆記)
不偏  ふへん     universal(一般)
一般  いっぱん    universal(不偏)
負債  ふさい     debt(借金)
借金  しゃっきん   debt(負債)
知己  ちき      friend(友人)
友人  ゆうじん    friend(知己)
発達  はったつ    development(進歩)
進歩  しんぽ     development(発達)
親切  しんせつ    kindness(厚意)
厚意  こうい     kindness(親切)
質素  しっそ     thirfty(倹約)
倹約  けんやく    thrifty(質素)
原料  げんりょう   materials(材料)
材料  ざいりょう   materials(原料)
承認  しょうにん   approval(承諾)
承諾  しょうだく   approval(承認)
同意  どうい     agreement(賛成)
賛成  さんせい    agreement(同意)
瞬間  しゅんかん   moment(瞬時)
瞬時  しゅんじ    moment(瞬間)
模範  もはん     model(手本)
手本  てほん     model(模範)
関与  かんよ     participate(介入)
介入  かいにゅう   intervene(関与)
待望  たいぼう    long desired(念願)
念願  ねんがん    long desired(待望)
根底  こんてい    foundation(基本、基礎)
基礎  きそ      foundation(根底、基本)
基本  きほん     foundation(根底、基礎)
責任  せきにん    duty(責務)
責務  せきむ     duty(責任)
冷淡  れいたん    cold-hearted(薄情)
薄情  はくじょう   cold-hearted(冷淡)
実践  じっせん    put into practice(実行)
実行  じっこう    put into practice(実践)
活用  かつよう    use(利用)
利用  りよう     use(活用)
手腕  しゅわん    ability(技量)
技量  ぎりょう    ability(手腕)
便利  べんり     useful(重宝)
重宝  ちょうほう   useful(便利)
綿密  めんみつ    careful, detailed(細心)
細心  さいしん    careful, detailed(綿密)
正確  せいかく    accurate(的確)
的確  てきかく    accurate(正確)
帰省  きせい     return home(帰郷)
帰郷  ききょう    return home(帰省)
生涯  しょうがい   (one’s) lifetime(一生)
一生  いっしょう   (one’s) lifetime(生涯)
起源  きげん     origin(発祥)
発祥  はっしょう   origin(起源)
揶揄  やゆ      tease(愚弄)
愚弄  ぐろう     tease(揶揄)
我慢  がまん     endure(忍耐、辛抱)
忍耐  にんたい    endure(我慢、辛抱)
辛抱  しんぼう    endure(忍耐、我慢)
高尚  こうしょう   refined(典雅、上品)
典雅  てんが     refined(高尚、上品)
上品  じょうひん   refined(高尚、典雅)
貢献  こうけん    contribution(寄与)
寄与  きよ      contribution(貢献)
出色  しゅっしょく  excellence(抜群)
抜群  ばつぐん    excellence(出色)
疎外  そがい     (to be) cast out(排斥)
排斥  はいせき    (to be) cast out(疎外)
漂泊  ひょうはく   wandering(放浪)
放浪  ほうろう    wandering(漂泊)
腐心  ふしん     take pains to(苦心)
苦心  くしん     take pains to(腐心)
歴然  れきぜん    evident(明白)
明白  めいはく    evident(歴然)
廉価  れんか     low price(安価)
安価  あんか     low price(廉価)
頑丈  がんじょう   healthy, solid(壮健)
壮健  そうけん    healthy, solid(頑丈)
横柄  おうへい    arrogance(尊大)
尊大  そんだい    arrogance(横柄)
堅持  けんじ     adhere to(墨守)
墨守  ぼくしゅ    adhere to(堅持)
邂逅  かいこう    chance meeting(遭遇)
遭遇  そうぐう    chance meeting(邂逅)
格言  かくげん    proverb(金言)
金言  きんげん    proverb(格言)
確執  かくしつ    fued(反目)
反目  はんもく    fued(確執)
敢行  かんこう    decisive action(断行)
断行  だんこう    decisive action(敢行)
簡単  かんたん    simple(容易)
容易  ようい     simple(簡単)
機転  きてん     quick wit(機知)
機知  きち      quick wit(機転)
工面  くめん     raise money(算段)
算段  さんだん    raise money(工面)
啓蒙  けいもう    enlightenment(啓発)
啓発  けいはつ    enlightenment(啓蒙)
激励  げきれい    encouragement(鼓舞)
鼓舞  こぶ      encouragement(激励)
回顧  かいこ     recollection(追憶)
追憶  ついおく    recollection(回顧)
険悪  けんあく    threatening(不穏)
不穏  ふおん     threatening(険悪)
原因  げんいん    reason(理由)
理由  りゆう     reason(原因)
合格  ごうかく    pass an exam(及第)
及第  きゅうだい   pass an exam(合格)
安泰  あんたい    tranquil(静穏)
静穏  せいおん    tranquil(安泰)
婚礼  こんれい    wedding(婚儀)
婚儀  こんぎ     wedding(婚礼)
妨害  ぼうがい    hindrance(阻止)
そし  そし      hindrance(妨害)
蹉跌  さてつ     setback(挫折)
挫折  ざせつ     setback(蹉跌)
残念  ざんねん    unfortunate(遺憾)
遺憾  いかん     unfortunate(残念)
賛美  さんび     praise(称揚)
称揚  しょうよう   praise(賛美)
示唆  しさ      hint, suggestion(暗示)
暗示  あんじ     hint, suggestion(示唆)
交渉  こうしょう   negotiation(折衝)
折衝  せっしょう   negotiation(交渉)
多弁  たべん     talkativeness(饒舌)
饒舌  じょうぜつ   talkativeness(多弁)
知悉  ちしつ     deep knowledge(精通)
精通  せいつう    deep knowledge(知悉)
執着  しゅうちゃく  be a stickler(拘泥)
拘泥  こうでい    be a stickler(執着)
大衆  たいしゅう   the masses(庶民)
庶民  しょみん    the masses(大衆)
賢明  けんめい    wisdom(利発)
利発  りはつ     wisdom(賢明)
詳細  しょうさい   details(委細)
委細  いさい     details(詳細)
長所  ちょうしょ   strong point(美点)
美点  びてん     strong point(長所)
崇拝  すうはい    admire(敬慕、傾倒)
敬慕  けいぼ     admire(崇拝、傾倒)
傾倒  けいとう    admire(崇拝、敬慕)
心配  しんぱい    worry(懸念)
懸念  けねん     worry(心配)
辛酸  しんさん    hardships(困窮)
困窮  こんきゅう   hardships(辛酸)
頑健  がんけん    robust, brawny(屈強)
屈強  くっきょう   robust, brawny(頑健)
精読  せいどく    careful reading(熟読)
熟読  じゅくどく   careful reading(精読)
切望  せつぼう    longing for(熱望)
熱望  ねつぼう    longing for(切望)
束縛  そくばく    restraint(拘束)
拘束  こうそく    restraint(束縛)
粗相  そそう     blunder(失敗)
失敗  しっぱい    blunder(粗相)
完遂  かんすい    to accomplish(成就)
成就  じょうじゅ   to accomplish(完遂)
抜粋  ばっすい    selection from text(抄録)
抄録  しょうろく   selection from text(抜粋)
核心  かくしん    kernel, core(枢要)
枢要  すうよう    kernel, core(核心)
奪取  だっしゅ    capture by force(攻略)
攻略  こうりゃく   capture by force(奪取)
敗走  はいそう    retreat(退却)
退却  たいきゃく   retreat(敗走)
功名  こうみょう   great feat(殊勲)
殊勲  しゅくん    great feat(功名)
繁忙  はんぼう    busy(多忙)
多忙  たぼう     busy(繁忙)
卑近  ひきん     familiar(身近)
身近  みぢか     familiar(卑近)
緩慢  かんまん    slow (worker)(遅鈍)
遅鈍  ちどん     slow (worker)(緩慢)
歳月  さいげつ    time, years(星霜)
星霜  せいそう    time, years(歳月)
変遷  へんせん    (historical) change(沿革)
沿革  えんかく    (historical) change(変遷)

Some of these words are not especially difficult, such as 有名 and 当然, but being able to point out from a list of words which has the closest meaning in about 15 seconds is likely something that requires a bit of studying, hence the hefty list above. Using the links above you could compile a similar (but perhaps even longer) list for antonyms as well.

After antonyms and synonyms, the next part of the Japanese language section of the SPI test involves reading short passages and answering 1-3 questions about them, often in less than a minute or 90 seconds. I wish I could say I had an ultimate trick or study method for this portion of the test for us non-native speakers (as reading speed is not exactly an easily upgraded skill), but purchasing an SPI test-prep book and going through questions is likely your best chance. Something else you may want to try is to estimate how fast you read English, and then give yourself that amount of time to answer a JLPT level 1 reading passage. Obviously you’ll be hampered by the time limit, but you may discover what works for you when trying to rush through a Japanese passage.

Finally, there is also a math section in the SPI test, which isn’t terribly difficult (think back to the SAT or ACT if you’re from the United States), but is made difficult because, again, it’s in Japanese. What that means, then, is that additional practice is  required. In a future blog I hope to go over some math vocabulary in Japanese (which I have been meaning to study myself), something is not covered in typical Japanese language classes as far as I know.

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Edgy Japanese Music — あべりょう

I’m a fan of Phil Ochs’ single, Outside a Small Circle of Friendswhich has a catchy, upbeat tune, while at the same time being fairy harsh criticism of the current state of social apathy in the United States. Worth a listen for those who have never heard it before, see below:

So you can imagine my delight when I came across something similar in Japanese, in this case a (band? singer?) called あべりょう or Abe-ryou if written in English. You can check out a list of their music for download on iTunes, here, or see their official website, although I personally found the official site clunky and hard to use due to it being a Flash site (damn you Flash websites). Therefore, I’d recommend heading straight to iTunes for further information.

There are also quite a few music videos for their songs available on Youtube, so let’s examine one of my favorites. This song is called 「ナパーム弾」which means “Napalm Bomb.” First, watch the video:

If you don’t know any Japanese, I imagine the video probably seems pretty weird. And if you do know Japanese, you might be thinking, “damn, that’s some harsh stuff.” Let’s go through the lyrics and try to come up with a translation. Luckily, the Japanese lyrics are on the official site, so that makes the translation job much easier.

低所得だっていいじゃない 非正規雇用でいいじゃない 年収三百万円すごいじゃない
Being low income [poor] is ok! Being a temp worker is ok! Making 300,000 yen [30,000 dollars] a year is amazing!

 

社会のゴミなんかじゃない 道の端っこでいいじゃない 生きているだけとてもすごいじゃない
You’re not society’s trash. Sitting on the edge of the street is fine. Just being able to survive is totally awesome!

 

ナイスファイト 税金払わない ドンマイ 公共サービスタダ乗りの 邪魔な国民だなんて思わない
Nice work [literally: fight] not paying taxes. No worries, don’t think of yourself as some useless citizen who leeches off of public services.

 

無料のクーポン 無料のサンプル お試し体験で 一箇所に集めてナパーム弾
[people who use] Free coupons, free samples, and free trials. Gather them up in one place and… Napalm bomb! [blow them up]

 

無料のゲームに有料アイテム コンプでガチャられて 一箇所に集めてナパーム弾
[people who play] Free cell phone games but then purchase all the in-app items, gather them in one place and… Napalm bomb!

 

キャバクラ嬢でもいいじゃない 風俗嬢でもいいじゃない 従軍慰安婦必要だったじゃない
Being a Hostess club girl is fine. Being a prostitute is ok, too! After all, comfort women were necessary, right?

 

あなたの時給すごいじゃない 男のニーズ満たすじゃない 大阪市長も認めてしまうじゃない
You’ve got such a high income [being a prostitute]. You’re fulling men’s needs, right? The mayor of Osaka thinks it’s fine, too!

 

カンパイ お酒を飲むだけ バンザイ 夜な夜な体を売るだけの 安い存在だなんて思わない
Cheers! You’re just drinking alcohol. Hooray! You certainly don’t lead a cheap existence selling your body every night.

 

女性の権利はどうでもいいから場内指名して わめいてるババァにナパーム弾
Who gives a shit about women’s rights? Go ahead and pick one out [a woman from a list of prostitutes in a brothel]. As for any whining grannies… [blow them up with a] Napalm Bomb!

 

職業差別もどうでもいいからとっとと射精して 喘いでるジジィにナパーム弾
Who gives a shit about workplace discrimination; hurry up and cum! As for any panting geezers… Napalm Bomb!

 

慰安婦も兵士もナパーム弾
Comfort women and soldiers too… Napalm Bomb!

I can’t say that the lyrics are especially…deep, but they’re certainly edgy and not like what I have ever heard before in a “regular” Japanese song. I linked a few Wikipedia articles in the lyrics of the song in order to provide some additional background info on the political/culturally-specific references, but overall the song is fairly straightforward.

Other あべりょう songs I find interesting include:

There are a lot more than just those, too, so if this kind of stuff catches your fancy, there’s much more on YouTube. Personally, I find some of these songs really hilarious, so if you have a twisted sense of humor, this should be right down your alley. As a warning, however, I mentioned at one point I liked あべりょう to one of my Japanese friends, and after showing him the lyrics, he told me that while it’s fine to mention the songs among guy friends, (typical Japanese) women might not find the songs as funny because the language in many of them is rather discriminatory and beyond the boundary of what is socially acceptable.

Considering that much of American humor revolves around politics and sex, the lyrics in these songs might not be surprising to a western/American audience, but politics and sex are the two topics that typically don’t get covered in Japanese humor (that gets aired anywhere public at least), so proceed with caution before telling any Japanese people—especially girls—that you “know this cool band called あべりょう”. As another Japanese guy mentions on his blog, Nanokamo, regarding the lyrics in Napalm Bomb, 「街中で口ずさんだら白い目で見られること間違いなし」, or “if you walk down the street singing these lyrics, you’re definitely going to attract some nasty looks.”

One final thing I want to mention about あべりょう is that the band seems to be generally disliked by the Japanese net population. I assume this is similar to being dislike by 4chan in the US—so not necessarily mainstream dislike—but first see the following ranking list on Niconico, a Japanese video streaming site.

スクリーンショット(2014-01-25 12.40.21)

On both the “monthly” and “total” rankings list, there are four あべりょう songs with the following names:

While the bottom two are the real names of the songs, the first two are not, instead having fake titles likely used to draw attention to the videos. Furthermore, the videos are ranked highly, but this is because on Niconico you can purchase advertising for your video to push it higher in the rankings, even if the video is not popular. In あべりょう’s case, a significant amount of advertising money seems to have been spent, but the music videos still have  comparatively few views and favorites, and  most comments are negative.

An online thread about あべりょう also reveals that most people are not happy with the group, calling the songs “terrible”, “going too far”, and “having no meaning.” Much of the negativity, however, seems to stem from the excessive advertising and use of misleading titles and tags on Niconico, causing the videos show up in searches unexpectedly and fill up the top rankings list. A lot of the posters are also confused at how あべりょう has so much money to spend on advertising, with some believing the singer to be someone rich and highly connected in politics.

But putting aside the negative forum banter and conspiracy theories for now, あべりょう is certainly an interesting find, and perhaps being non-Japanese I actually like the songs better than a typical Japanese person, despite the fact the lyrics are very much aimed at a Japanese audience. Or perhaps I just have a twisted sense of humor in general.

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Amaze your Japanese friends: Ace the 漢字テスト

While aimlessly searching the Internets as I so often do, I came across a Japanese Kanji test aimed at Japanese natives. The quiz purports to test “difficult readings” of certain Kanji, and it doesn’t disappoint. Click here to check it out.

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The game is simple enough: a word will appear on screen and you have to enter the correct reading within ten seconds, in Hiragana, to play. There are a grand total of five levels, with five questions each. In other words, get 25 questions correct in a row and you win. Answer a question wrong and the game ends.

Let’s begin:

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 Quick, you’ve only got 5 seconds left! What’s the answer?

It’s おかみ, of course, meaning a female proprietress of some kind, such as a restaurant or inn owner. But you knew that, right? Perhaps not. Let’s try again.

スクリーンショット(2014-01-24 18.18.34)

Haha, why that’s しにせ (although ろうほ is also acceptable), meaning a trustworthy or long-established store that has been passed down for generations. I learned that in my freshman year Japanese 101 class, didn’t you?

I hope my deep sarcasm by now has penetrated through the Internet and into your brain, as these are not “everyday” words, or even words that an average Japanese person would be likely to know without a little effort. And remember that these are level 1 words, with the words getting (supposedly) harder with each level.

The great thing about this particular Kanji test is that it is popular among Japanese internet folks, with quite a few videos appearing online (check out a YouTube search for 漢字テスト) where Japanese people attempt the test in real time, recording their thought process and reactions. I find these fun to watch. For example, the following video is titled “A student preparing for (college) examinations attempts the ogre-level Kanji Test (so hard you’ll laugh)”

He gets fairly far and knows quite a few words without much thinking, but there are still more than a few words in the test that are simply not common knowledge.

The next video (link below) is from Niconico, a popular video sharing site in Japan. In this case the female test-taker in question is, let’s just say, a bit “dumber” than average. You may need a free account to view the video, but I promise you it will be worth it. Be sure to enable Japanese language comments so you can watch her get a Japanese verbal smack-down in real time.

【ニコニコ動画】^o^)<漢字テストやるよ!(実況プレイ)

The screen shot below explains what I mean by “verbal smack-down:”

スクリーンショット(2014-01-24 18.37.31)

At about 3 and a half minutes into the video the girl taking the test proudly exclaims that the answer is かいせき, only to be completely wrong. The comments that follow include things like「ドヤ顔で間違えんなwww」and 「せめてかいせつじゃないかw」, which mean “don’t act all confident and then get it wrong lmao” and “at the very least you could have guessed kaisetsu lol” respectively (my usage of “lol” and “lmao” here is pretty loose, I’m just translating based on the number of w’s, which indicate laughter in text form).

Of course, if you’re like me, meaning you’re not native in Japanese and not some insane Kanji master dude named Bret Mayer who was the first non-Chinese/Korean person  to pass the Kanji Kentei Level 1, then you probably won’t do much better than the girl in the Niconico video. If you attempt the test in front of your Japanese friends or teachers, chances are you’ll only hear things like  漢字が難しいね (Kanji sure is hard) to soothe your pain, which of course it will not.

So how do you beat this test? Well, the obvious answer is “study Kanji,” but getting to the level necessary to answer the kind of questions on a test like this would take years. Unless, of course, you studied all the questions and just all the questions on the test instead.

In which case, Behold! See the following list (warning, it’s 504 vocabulary words):

嗚呼   ああ     Ah! Oh!
生憎   あいにく   unfortunately, Sorry, but ….
阿吽   あうん    Aun (chanting)
紫陽花  あじさい   hydrangea
渾名   あだな    nickname
斡旋   あっせん   mediation
天晴   あっぱれ   Well Done! Admirable
海女   あま     woman diver
殺める  あやめる   to wound, to murder
行脚   あんぎゃ   pilgrimage, walking tour
杏    あんず    (food) apricot
塩梅   あんばい   seasoning, condition
許嫁   いいなずけ  fiance, fiancee
意気地  いくじ    self-respect, self-confidence
生け贄  いけにえ   sacrifice, scapegoat
意固地  いこじ    obstinate, stubborn
漁火   いさりび   fire for luring fish at night
悪戯   いたずら   tease, prank
稲荷   いなり    Inari (god of harvests)
息吹   いぶき    breath
苛々   いらいら   getting nervous, irritation
刺青   いれずみ   tattoo
曰く   いわく    according to …,
所謂   いわゆる   so-called
自惚れ  うぬぼれ   hubris
云々   うんぬん   and so on
餌食   えじき    prey, victim
冤罪   えんざい   false charge
花魁   おいらん   prostitute-entertainer during Edo period
押捺   おうなつ   sealing (document)
嗚咽   おえつ    sobbing, weeping
女将   おかみ    landlady, proprietress
奢る   おごる    to treat (someone)
驕る   おごる    be proud and arrogant
雄叫び  おたけび   a war cry
億劫   おっくう   a bother, hassle
仰る   おっしゃる  to talk
囮    おとり    lure, decoy
介錯   かいしゃく  assist (someone) in doing hara-kiri
凱旋   がいせん   triumphant return
却って  かえって   on the countrary, rather
案山子  かかし    scarecrow
鑑    かがみ    a paragon, model
匿う   かくまう   to shelter, hide (a criminal)
陽炎   かげろう   heat, haze
呵責   かしゃく   blame, tortue
且つ   かつ     yet, moreover
恰幅   かっぷく   physique, bodily build
割烹   かっぽう   cooking (Japanese style)
黴    かび     mold
南瓜   かぼちゃ   pumpkin
瓦礫   がれき    rubble
鑑みる  かんがみる  to take into account
諫言   かんげん   to warn, admonish
癇癪   かんしゃく  temper
干瓢   かんぴょう  dried gourd used in Japanese cooking
帰依   きえ     to embrace Buddhisim
義捐金  ぎえんきん  donation money, contribution
祇園   ぎおん    entertainment district in Kyoto
毀損   きそん    damage, injury
忌憚   きたん    reserve, modesty
奇譚   きたん    mysterious story
牛車   ぎっしゃ   ox carriage (for Heian era nobles)
生粋   きっすい   pure, native
気っ風  きっぷ    character, disposition
奇天烈  きてれつ   very strange
華奢   きゃしゃ   delicate, slender
脚立   きゃたつ   stepladder
教唆   きょうさ   instigation
均衡   きんこう   equilibrium, balance
銀杏   ぎんなん   ginko tree
曲者   くせもの   ruffian, suspicious (thing, person)
口説く  くどく    to hit on, seduce
倶楽部  くらぶ    club, fraternity
胡桃   くるみ    walnut
玄人   くろうと   expert (professional)
繋留   けいりゅう  mooring (ship)
稀有   けう     rare, uncommon
逆鱗   げきりん   imperial wrath
袈裟   けさ     Kasaya, robes worn by Buddhist preist
解脱   げだつ    liberation from ignorance to enlightenment
健気   けなげ    brave, gallant
研鑽   けんさん   devoting oneself to study
語彙   ごい     vocabulary
好悪   こうお    likes and dislikes
好々爺  こうこうや  good-natured old man
恍惚   こうこつ   ecstasy, trane
膠着   こうちゃく  adhesion (stick), deadlock
更迭   こうてつ   reshuffle (cabinet, staff)
蝙蝠   こうもり   bat (animal)
此処   ここ     here (location)
忽然   こつぜん   sudden, unexpected
権化   ごんげ    incarnation
困憊   こんぱい   exhaustion, fatigue
幸先   さいさき   good omen
些細   ささい    trivial, slight
流石   さすが    as one would expect…
颯爽   さっそう   gallant, dashing
五月雨  さみだれ   early-summer rain
白湯   さゆ     plain hot water
晒す   さらす    to bleach, expose to (weather, danger)
秋刀魚  さんま    pike (fish)
潮騒   しおさい   roar of the sea
栞    しおり    bookmark, guidebook
時雨   しぐれ    drizzle, shower in late autumn
四股   しこ     sumo-style leg stomp
嗜好   しこう    taste, liking
雫    しずく    drop (of water)
叱咤   しった    scolding, rebuke
老舗   しにせ    shop passed down through generations
鯱    しゃち    killer whale
洒落   しゃれ    joke, pun
終焉   しゅうえん  demise
呪詛   じゅそ    curse, hex
憔悴   しょうすい  to be worn out, exhausted
贖罪   しょくざい  to atone (for sins)
不知火  しらぬい   will-o’-the-wisp (lights)
師走   しわす    December
西瓜   すいか    watermelon
推敲   すいこう   polish, revise (written work)
素性   すじょう   birth, lineage
統べる  すべる    to control, supervise
殺生   せっしょう  destruction of life (Buddhism)
刹那   せつな    smallest unit of time in Buddhism
台詞   せりふ    one’s lines (script)
羨望   せんぼう   envy
殲滅   せんめつ   extermination, annihilate
巣窟   そうくつ   den (of robbers, etc), hangout
造詣   ぞうけい   deep knowledge
相殺   そうさい   offset (something)
草鞋   わらじ    straw sandals
遡行   そこう    going upstream
咀嚼   そしゃく   chew, comprehend
醍醐味  だいごみ   (something’s) true charm, meaning
長ける  たける    to excel at
山車   だし     Japanese festival float
嗜む   たしなむ   have an interest in
殺陣   たて     sword battle
辿る   たどる    to follow (a road, course)
足袋   たび     tabi, Japanese socks
拿捕   だほ     capture, seize
団欒   だんらん   sitting together in a circle
知己   ちき     acquaintance
因む   ちなむ    be associated/connected with
鋳造   ちゅうぞう  cast (statue), mint (coin)
躊躇   ちゅうちょ  hesitate
弔意   ちょうい   condolence, sympathy
釣果   ちょうか   a catch (fishing)
椿事   ちんじ    strange occurrence
美人局  つつもたせ  extortion scheme involving adultery
丁稚   でっち    an apprentice
天婦羅  てんぷら   tempura
慟哭   どうこく   wail, lament
淘汰   とうた    select, weed out
陶冶   とうや    training, education
咎める  とがめる   to blame for an error
朱鷺   とき     Crested Ibis (bird)
常夏   とこなつ   everlasting summer (tale of Genji)
土壇場  どたんば   last minute
兎に角  とにかく   anyhow, at any rate
銅鑼   どら     gong
乃至   ないし    or, from … to (cost, numbers)
生業   なりわい   occupation, livelihood
捏造   ねつぞう   fabrication, forgery
暖簾   のれん    curtain hung at shop entrance
呑気   のんき    carefree
育む   はぐくむ   to raise, rear
博打   ばくち    gambling
梯子   はしご    ladder
範疇   はんちゅう  category
般若   はんにゃ   Buddhist wisdom
頒布   はんぷ    distribution
凡例   はんれい   explanatory notes, legend
贔屓   ひいき    to favor, support
非道い  ひどい    cruel, awful
雲雀   ひばり    Japanese skylark
向日葵  ひまわり   sunflower
顰蹙   ひんしゅく  to frown upon
吹聴   ふいちょう  to make public, spread a rumor
風靡   ふうび    dominate, influence
福音   ふくいん   the Gospel
払拭   ふっしょく  wipe out
葡萄   ぶどう    grape
辟易   へきえき   to wince, be fed up by
布袋   ほてい    Laughing Buddha
不如帰  ほととぎす  Lesser Cuckoo (bird)
不味い  まずい    bad taste
瞬く   またたく   to twinkle (stars, etc)
神輿   みこし    portable shrine in festivals
未曽有  みぞう    unprecedented
禊ぎ   みそぎ    purification ceremony (standing under waterfall)
貪る   むさぼる   to devour, indulge
蝕む   むしばむ   to eat into, spoil
寧ろ   むしろ    rather, better
目眩   めまい    dizziness
猛者   もさ     man of valor
悶える  もだえる   to be in agony
尤も   もっとも   quite right, naturally
揶揄   やゆ     tease, make fun of
遊説   ゆうぜい   election tour, stumping
浴衣   ゆかた    Yukata
委ねる  ゆだねる   to entrust everything
寄席   よせ     variety theater, music hall
蘇る   よみがえる  to be resurrected
駱駝   らくだ    camel
掠奪   りゃくだつ  plunder, loot
林檎   りんご    apple
流布   るふ     circulate, disseminate
煉瓦   れんが    brick
蝋燭   ろうそく   candle
狼狽   ろうばい   panic, confusion
呂律   ろれつ    articulation
賄賂   わいろ    bribe
若人   わこうど   young person
和える  あえる    to dress vegetables (salad)
崇める  あがめる   to reverse, worship (the sun, Buddha)
欠伸   あくび    yawn
阿漕   あこぎ    ruthless, greedy
褪せる  あせる    to fade (color, skin, power)
軋轢   あつれき   friction, discord
数多   あまた    a large number of
予め   あらかじめ  beforehand
安穏   あんのん   (live in) peace and quiet (used mostly in writing)
烏賊   いか     squid
諍い   いさかい   quarrel, dispute
何れ   いずれ    anyway, which
勤しむ  いそしむ   to work hard, dilligently
徒に   いたずらに  in vain
悼む   いたむ    to grieve, lament
厭う   いとう    to dislike, mind (a job)
海豚   いるか    dolphin
穿つ   うがつ    to dig into, hit the mark,
蠢く   うごめく   to squirm
疼く   うずく    to ache
唸る   うなる    to growl (at), groan (stomach)
海栗   うに     sea urchin
倦む   うむ     get tired of (literary term)
憾み   うらみ    resentment, regret
閏年   うるうどし  leap year
蘊蓄   うんちく   great knowledge, draw from~ (〜を傾ける)
似非   えせ     false, sham
逢瀬   おうせ    secret meeting of lovers (old fashioned term)
概ね   おおむね   in general
大童   おおわらわ  strenuous effort
厳か   おごそか   solemnly
煽てる  おだてる   to flatter (into doing something)
嚇す   おどす    to threaten
諧謔   かいぎゃく  humor, joke (not used in daily conversation)
邂逅   かいこう   chance meeting (only used in written language)
灰燼   かいじん   ash, embers (used in written language)
乖離   かいり    divergence (between ideas, opinions)
牡蠣   かき     oyster
翳す   かざす    hold one’s hands out
下賜   かし     bestowal, imperial grant
河岸   かし     fish market by a river bank
姦しい  かしましい  noisy, boisterous
瓦斯   がす     gas
固唾   かたず    saliva in one’s mouth while nervous
蝸牛   かたつむり  snail
刮目   かつもく   careful observation
蝦蟇   がま     Japanese toad
硝子   がらす    glass
搦め手  からめて   rear gate
鰈    かれい    flounder
艱難   かんなん   hardships
麾下   きか     troop’s under one’s command
気障   きざ     pretentious, showy
僥倖   ぎょうこう  fortuitous
矜持   きょうじ   pride, honor
煌めく  きらめく   to glitter, sparkle
公達   きんだち   young noblemen
久遠   くおん    eternity
口伝   くでん    oral tradition
与する  くみする   to side with, support
海月   くらげ    jellyfish
薫陶   くんとう   discipline, education
啓蟄   けいちつ   day when dormant insects emerge (around March 6)
怪訝   けげん    perplexed, puzzled
貶す   けなす    to speak ill of
言質   げんち    commitment, pledge
剣呑   けんのん   risky, dangerous
嚆矢   こうし    whistling arrow used to signal the start of battle
好事家  こうずか   dilettante
叩頭   こうとう   a deep bow; a kowtow
虚仮   こけ     folly, fool
強面   こわもて   scary/tough-looking face
苛む   さいなむ   to torment
遡る   さかのぼる  to trace back
殺戮   さつりく   slaughter
仙人掌  さぼてん   cactus
彷徨う  さまよう   to loiter
作務衣  さむえ    work clothing of Japanese Zen Buddhist monks
残滓   ざんし    remains (of a kind of thinking), dregs
恣意   しい     arbitrariness
弑逆   しいぎゃく  regicide, killing of a king
弛緩   しかん    relaxation (of muscles)
時化   しけ     stormy weather
市井   しせい    the street, town (written language)
疾病   しっぺい   illness
東雲   しののめ   daybreak
飛沫   しぶき    a splash (of water)
娑婆   しゃば    corrupt world, outside world (Buddhist term)
蹂躙   じゅうりん  trampling down
収斂   しゅうれん  convergence
入内   じゅだい   imperial bridal party’s entry into the court
出奔   しゅっぽん  run away, elope
上梓   じょうし   wood-block printing
饒舌   じょうぜつ  talkative
招聘   しょうへい  invite (to a post, position)
進捗   しんちょく  progress
誰何   すいか    asking a person’s identity
趨勢   すうせい   tendency, trend (of society, an era, etc)
縋る   すがる    to rely on, cling to (sympathy, etc)
杜撰   ずさん    careless
煤    すす     soot
廃る   すたる    go out of use
拗ねる  すねる    to sulk
所為   せい     cause, fault
雪隠   せっちん   toilet
齟齬   そご     disagreement, discrepancy
算盤   そろばん   abacus
蛇蠍   だかつ    serpent and scorpion
逞しい  たくましい  burly, strong
筍    たけのこ   bamboo shoot
湛える  たたえる   to fill (to the brim)
質す   ただす    to question (about something)
忽ち   たちまち   at once, suddenly
荼毘   だび     cremation (original Buddhist term)
容易い  たやすい   easy, simple
耽溺   たんでき   indulgence (in alcohol, women) (written language)
蒲公英  たんぽぽ   dandelion
知悉   ちしつ    know throughly
凋落   ちょうらく  wither and fall (plant, fortune, etc)
猪口   ちょこ    sake cup
終ぞ   ついぞ    never, not at all
土筆   つくし    Horsetail (plant)
鶴嘴   つるはし   pickax
木偶   でく     wooden doll
手練   てだれ    skill, dexterity
読経   どきょう   sutra chanting
髑髏   どくろ    skull (weatherbeaten)
心太   ところてん  noodle shaped jelly made from seaweed (Japanese food)
団栗   どんぐり   acorn
蔑ろ   ないがしろ  to slight (someone), neglect
亡骸   なきがら   remains, corpse
均す   ならす    to level (ground)
睨む   にらむ    to glare at
窺く   のぞく    to peek
宣う   のたまう   to say, be pleased to say (with sarcasm)
罵る   ののしる   to speak ill of
狼煙   のろし    signal fire
莫迦   ばか     stupid (old kanji spelling)
憚る   はばかる   to hesitate, be afraid to do
嵌まる  はまる    be fit for
食む   はむ     to eat
柊    ひいらぎ   Hiiragi (Holly) tree
彼我   ひが     he and I, oneself and one’s opponent
僻む   ひがむ    feel one has been wronged, envy
罷業   ひぎょう   strike, walkout
鄙びた  ひなびた   become rustic, countryside-like
怯む   ひるむ    to falter
河豚   ふぐ     blow fish
梟    ふくろう   owl
耽る   ふける    indulge (in reading, study)
不躾   ぶしつけ   ill-bred, rude
不束   ふつつか   unrefined, impolite
反吐   へど     vomit (substance)
反故   ほご     scrap paper, scrap
蝮    まむし    pit viper
微塵子  みじんこ   water flea
看做す  みなす    to consider as
百足   むかで    centipede
虫酸   むしず    heartburn, ~be disgusted (〜が走る)
狢    むじな    badger
目処   めど     aim, goal
瑪瑙   めのう    agate, type of ornamental stone
耄碌   もうろく   (become) senile
土竜   もぐら    mole
百舌   もず     Bull-headed Shrike (bird)
八百万  やおよろず  countless things
所以   ゆえん    reason, cause
夢現   ゆめうつつ  half asleep state
漸く   ようやく   finally, at last
他所   よそ     another place
世迷言  よまいごと  grumbling, muttering
辣腕   らつわん   efficient, quick but effective
罹災   りさい    suffer from (a disaster) (written language)
栗鼠   りす     squirrel
坩堝   るつぼ    pot, crucible
山葵   わさび    wasabi
轍    わだち    wheel track
蕨    わらび    Bracken (fern)
隘路   あいろ    narrow path
贖う   あがなう   to compensate for (damages, etc)
灰汁   あく     scum (from boiling meat, food)
胡坐   あぐら    sitting cross-legged
嘲る   あざける   to deride, ridiculue (a person)
海豹   あざらし   seal (animal)
家鴨   あひる    duck (animal)
遍く   あまねく   widely, extensively (known, etc)
抗う   あらがう   fight against
些か   いささか   a little bit, somewhat
諫める  いさめる   protest against
労る   いたわる   to pity, sympathize with
嘶く   いななく   to neigh
訝る   いぶかる   to wonder, to puzzle oneself
燻す   いぶす    to smoke (out)
謂れ   いわれ    a reason; a cause
況や   いわんや   not to speak of, to say nothing of
慇懃   いんぎん   courtesy, intimacy
嗽    うがい    gargle
窺う   うかがう   to peep
泡沫   うたかた   bubble on the surface, transient
俯く   うつむく   to hang one’s head in shame,
首肯く  うなずく   to nod
呻く   うめく    to moan, groan
演繹   えんえき   deduction
大鋸屑  おがくず   sawdust
貶める  おとしめる  to look down on
澱    おり     sediment, dregs
膾炙   かいしゃ   be well-known to all
開闢   かいびゃく  beginning of the world
罹る   かかる    to fall ill, suffer from
馘首   かくしゅ   to be fired (written language)
瑕疵   かし     flaw, defect
齧る   かじる    to chew, bite
騙る   かたる    to swindle
嘗て   かつて    before, formerly
稀覯本  きこうぼん  a rare book
旗幟   きし     flag, (party) platform
煙管   きせる    khsier, Oriental pipe
侠客   きょうかく  gangs acting under the pretense of chivalry
炯眼   けいがん   penetrating eyes, insightful
頃日   けいじつ   recently, these days
蓋し   けだし    perhaps, probably
悉く   ことごとく  altogether, entirely
牛蒡   ごぼう    Burdock plant, used in Japanese dishes
蠱惑   こわく    to enchant, fascinate
賢しら  さかしら   knowingly, impertinent
山茶花  さざんか   Camellia plant, found in China/Japan
讒言   ざんげん   slander, false charge
顰める  しかめる   to grimace (face), frown
忸怩   じくじ    feel ashamed, blush
奢侈   しゃし    luxury, extravagance
浚渫   しゅんせつ  to dredge (a river, etc)
馴致   じゅんち   gradual habituation, get used to
瀟洒   しょうしゃ  simple but elegant
虱    しらみ    Lice
滲出   しんしゅつ  to ooze, exude (liquid, etc)
鼈    すっぽん   soft-shelled turtle
須く   すべからく  by all means, ought to do
寸毫   すんごう   very little, a bit
蠕動   ぜんどう   wriggle, crawl like a worm
嫉む   そねむ    be jealous, envious
躊躇う  ためらう   to hesitate
弛む   たるむ    to sag, slack
啄む   ついばむ   (bird) to peck at (corn, bread)
衒う   てらう    to show off, make a display
猫糞   ねこばば   play dumb (after stealing), pocketing (something)
謀    はかりごと  plot, strategy
跋扈   ばっこ    infested with, be rampant
餞    はなむけ   parting gift
蔓延る  はびこる   grow thickly, spread (weeds, something bad)
腹癒せ  はらいせ   retaliation, out of revenge
跪く   ひざまずく  to kneel
人熱れ  ひといきれ  stuffy air (from many people in a small space)
人集り  ひとだかり  crowd of people
為人   ひととなり  temperament, personality
睥睨   へいげい   to glare (at an audience, troops, etc) (written language)
匍匐   ほふく    to crawl flat on the ground (towards an enemy, etc)
小火   ぼや     small fire
襤褸   ぼろ     tattered, rag
微酔い  ほろよい   slightly drunk
澪標   みおつくし  sea course/route marker
身動ぎ  みじろぎ   slight movement
目眩く  めくるめく  to dazzle, blind
娶る   めとる    to marry, take a wife
悖る   もとる    be inhuman, to go against
吝か   やぶさか   reluctant, hesitant (often used in negative)
所縁   ゆかり    connection, relation (between people)
御伽噺   おとぎばなし   fairy-tale
蒐集    しゅうしゅう   gathering up, collection
有耶無耶  うやむや     hazy, unsettled
四方山話  よもやまばなし  talk about various topics
減り張り  めりはり     modulate, control (one’s voice)
猛々しい  たけだけしい   ferocious
禍々しい  まがまがしい   ominous, ill-omened
太々しい  ふてぶてしい   shameless, bold
跳梁    ちょうりょう   run wild, be rampant (something bad)
面映ゆい  おもはゆい    feel embarrassed, self-conscious
蝶番    ちょうつがい   a hinge
相応しい  ふさわしい    appropriate
狼狽える  うろたえる    to be flustered
唯々諾々  いいだくだく   obediently, willingly
十姉妹   じゅうしまつ   Society Finch (bird)
気色ばむ  けしきばむ    show one’s anger
緘口令   かんこうれい   impose a gag order
有象無象  うぞうむぞう   the (unimportant) masses, rabble
凛々しい  りりしい     gallant, brave
胡散臭い  うさんくさい   suspicious looking, shady
呆気ない  あっけない    disappointingly brief
小賢しい  こざかしい    clever, smart-aleck
忌々しい  いまいましい   annoying, provoking
五月蠅い  うるさい     noisy, loud

Just to be clear, I didn’t play the quiz a million times to compile this list. Rather, using a simple .swf (Flash file) decompiler I extracted the list of words used in the quiz and added English definitions for each of them. While it’s easy to look up the definition of a word on your own, I used a combination of not only EDICT, but also 英和/英和辞典, 国語辞典, 類語辞典, and Wikipedia to come to a “more accurate” English definition, or at least one I understood based on the dictionary-provided example sentences and explanations. Your millage may vary, and looking up example sentences or Wikipedia articles is probably your best bet in order to come to your own understanding of an unknown word.

If you were to actually memorize all the words in the list (all 504 of them), you would then be able to totally ace the Kanji test, thereby freaking the shit out of any Japanese person you know as you casually blast through a list of extremely difficult words without breaking a sweat. I know I would spend the hours necessary just for that reaction.

Finally, while the two videos above featured Japanese people struggling with the test, I did find one person who  breezed through the test (multiple times) with extreme ease. Some people are scary…

I ended up finding this guy’s blog where he mentions filming himself taking the test—see this link. It turns out he likes to blog about studying Kanji specifically for the Kanji Kentei, and keeps detailed notes about his progress. Not only that, he’s also rather good at Rubik’s cubes, which should clue you in that the guy enjoys memorizing stuff and is good at it too. In short: he’s a bit better than the average Japanese guy when it comes to Kanji. Fear not.

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New Challenger: Chinese

I’m not good at updating blogs. They’re too easy to ignore and I’m too good at procrastinating. And it’s not just blogs either; emails, Facebook messages, texts—you name it and I’ll be sure to read it and not reply. Oh sure, I’ll think of a brilliant reply in my head, and carefully formulate exactly what it is I want to say, but I won’t write it down. My friends who wonder why I take so long to reply sometimes hate me for it. I swear it’s a curse.

But putting that aside (after all, I’m blogging right now!), I’ve decided to blog today to talk about two things near and dear to my heart:

  • I passed the JLPT N1 (that’s the highest level)
  • I am going to start learning Chinese again more seriously, this time through self-studying.

I have always been a Japanese language focused person, but seeing that I have been able to come pretty far with Japanese gives me hope I’ll be able to something similar with Chinese. Perhaps not to the same level and not at the same rate as Japanese, simply because I actively sought out study-abroad opportunities in Japan throughout college and pursued every one of them and that’s not possible time-wise with Chinese, but I think If I worked hard enough I could get to a level I could be satisfied with. Hopefully.

But let’s start with the good news — the JLPT passing and all that jazziness.

The JLPT

If you’re reading this you probably have a good idea what the JLPT is, but it’s a test designed for foreign speakers of Japanese to test their proficiency in the language. The test only measures reading, grammar and listening skills, with no writing or speaking portions in the test whatsoever. As someone who believes their strongest abilities lie in speaking I think that’s a huge mistake, but it’s a widely recognized test by employers (at least while going to various career forums in Japan and abroad, required Japanese level nearly always tended to be measured in JLPT score, with N1 corresponding to “Native” in many cases, although I wouldn’t agree with that).

So I took the test in July while I was in Japan—I remember quite vividly that it was humid as balls, and that on top of this I was taking the test at a college with a giant campus, meaning even more thick layers of humidity to swim through before I made it to the thankfully air-conditioned testing room.

I also remember that after finishing the test I was 99.999% sure that I did not pass. Because even though I had purchased a few test prep books, namely the Kanzen Master Series, (which I was wary of buying at first because of the massive hype it has online, but it really does live up to it), I barely touched the books due to poor time management up until the day of the test. I had gone through about 1/3 of the Kanji book and 1/2 the grammar book, but don’t ask me if I remembered anything on test day. I simply cursed myself for not having prepared more throughly and walked away from the testing site in what I’m sure was some sort of melancholy daze.

And then I didn’t think too much about the test after that, telling everyone that “yeah, I took it, but will probably take it again because I don’t think I passed.” A total no-confidence answer, which couldn’t have prepared me for what came next:

jlpt

With the applicant number edited out for security reasons (?)

Result: passed

It floored me. I didn’t check the results until the beginning of September (even though they were released on August 27th), assuming I had failed. I simply checked only because I was preparing to sign up for the December exam and I wanted to see how much more I would need to study.

I should point out one thing about my result, which is of course the ROFLOLOLMAO score of 100/180. Because it’s literally the lowest score you can get on the exam and still pass. One question more wrong and I would have failed. In fact, probably even less than that considering the exam is curved.

But I still passed, bitches.

So what do I do now? Well, as a professor at the University of Kyoto points out in a page on his website about how he passed the TOEIC exam with a perfect score:

TOEICの満点は掃いて捨てるほど居ます

Or in English, “people who get perfect scores on the TOEIC are a dime a dozen.” I don’t know about that, but it’s what motivated the guy to get a perfect score on the TOEFL as well. He’s certainly pretty darn badass at English. But what I’m trying to get at is that it’s the same (and probably even worse) for people who pass N1 as well:

People who pass the JLPT (N1) are a dime a dozen. And for me, I’m still not as good as I want to be. There are still so many words to know, and so many more ways in which I could get more fluent at speaking. I don’t consider being able to do Japanese some kind of parlor trick to impress Japanese people—I’m in it to actually learn it, and being at some arbitrary line in skill level as determined by a test doesn’t really mean much to me. It’s time to move on to bigger and better stuff: Novels, newspaper articles, TV shows—anything I can get my grubby foreigner paws on. I didn’t come this far to call it quits just yet.

Learning Chinese: An exercise in motivating myself… again

So I have been wanting to learn Chinese for some time now, and I even started Chinese at college two years back to get myself going. Furthermore, because my school probably offers one of the best Chinese language curriculums in the country, I don’t think I’m exaggerating too much when I say I got a fine introduction to the language at an intense pace unlikely found at many other places.

But then I studied abroad in Japan for a year and have since forgotten almost everything (at least production-wise).

Oh great.

So I find myself in a bit of a crappy position: I am currently in my last year in college and could take the next level of Chinese, but it would require me to play a huge amount of catch-up in terms of material to re-learn, all while trying to keep pace with kids who are more fresh and who have more free time to study. I feel like by not taking Chinese this year I’m turning down a super hot girlfriend who simply is too needy when I don’t have a lot of free time. Or something.

At any rate, this sucks.

So I’ve decided to study Chinese on my own and chronicle my attempts at doing so on this blog assuming I don’t run out of enthusiasm along the way. I think it will also be a good exercise for me to practice various language-learning techniques and programs,  see what really works for me, and discover if there are new ways of studying I should pay attention to. This will be all super beginner stuff, and I’ll be using a Chinese language textbook called “First Step” that I purchased from the Chinese department, as I don’t think it has actually been published yet officially. That makes me cool, by the way.

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My Kanji Skills Suck Worse Than Those of a Six Year Old — And What I’m Doing to Fix It

The Background Story

Just yesterday I took a two-hour Japanese exam for the MEXT Scholarship, which would give me a free-ride for a year at a Japanese university to study Japanese. A great deal, but apparently so highly competitive that my local Japanese consulate has been only able to successfully send one student in the past several years to Japan—and on top of that, the person they were able to send was half-Japanese, and apparently already fluent in Japanese. For example, I found this post on the Reviewing the Kanji  forum posted by Zorlee, who is going for the same scholarship, except that he’s already long passed the highest level of the JLPT, and therefore is much more likely to get the scholarship than I am. Hmm, perhaps if the Japanese government were really trying to bring more foreigners over to Japan, they shouldn’t require near-native Japanese as a prerequisite? (Sorry, that’s my bitterness speaking.)

At any rate, I had already come down to the consulate for the interview, so they let me take the qualifying Japanese exam for the scholarship as well. It was mostly multiple-choice, split into 3 difficulty levels. If you’re familiar with the JLPT, I would say the easiest difficulty was around 5/4-kyuu on the JLPT, the intermediate level around 3-kyuu, and the hardest difficulty 2/1-kyuu—certainly no walk in the park. The test was two hours long, with each difficulty level having the same sorts of questions. First some grammar fill-ins, then some expression/keigo questions, and then a reading passage.

Furthermore, while there was no listening section to the test, the test did have a short “Kanji Writing” section, where you would have to produce Kanji based off the given readings in a sentence. This is where I failed, big time.

While I’ve gotten pretty good at recognizing the meaning and readings of Kanji when I come across them in reading, my writing-kanji-by-hand skills have taken a very sharp nose-dive. After all, I do all my writing on the computer, so thanks to the magic of auto hiragana-to-Kanji input, my ability to actually write almost any even moderately complicated Kanji has all but disappeared.

For example, with a word like 準備 (junbipreparation), I can recognize it in writing, hear and understand it easily, and even use it in a conversation freely without much effort. But if you were to place a blank piece of paper in front of me and ask me to write it down, I would laugh in your face—I would simply have no idea where to start. How do I bring my horribly deficient writing skills up to speed with my comparatively strong listening and speaking skills?

Enter Kanji Kentei — Kanji Learning Software for the DS

On my way back from the Japanese Consulate, I stopped off at BookOff to browse a few manga titles to distract myself from my failure at being able to reading Kanji when I came across a used copy of 200 Mannin no Kankena Kanji learning game for the DS. Kanji learning games for the DS are nothing new, but at least for me, I had always been tempted by the idea of buying one but had yet to through with it. But since I was already there at the BookOff, I what-the-heck-ly decided to purchase it.

For those who don’t know, the game is actually designed to prep one for the Kanji Kentei (Kanken) — a test of Kanji ability designed for Japanese people, which has a wide variety of levels, from  elementary school all the way up to beyond-adult at the highest level, where even a fully-literate Japanese adult would need to sit down and do some studying in order to expect to pass. And unlike tests of Japanese ability designed for non-natives (e.g. the JLPT), the Kanken is not fully multiple-choice—rather, many of the questions require production of Kanji just from its reading in context, or from its location in a 4-kanji expression. Example questions can be found here.

I’m not sure how interested I am in taking the test—it seems like there’s too much emphasis on memorization of tiny little Kanji rules that wouldn’t be so useful for me to learn as a non-native, at least not at my current, relatively-low Japanese level.

But getting back to the game, while the reviews for it on Amazon.co.jp are not terribly high, most of the given complaints have to do with how the Kanji-recognition system is not too great (often being too generous with writing mistakes). While I understand the complaints, I’ve found that for my purposes, the recognition system is good enough. What’s most important is that it’s giving me a chance to easily practice my Kanji recognition and writing skills in a rather fun way. I’ve been reviewing the easiest Kanji levels (the ones designed for first graders) pretty quickly, but expect to slow down once I head into middle-school level and start coming across lots of new words. Perhaps it’s just the strange pull of using a DS itself, but I do find myself a little addicted to learning Kanji right now using this game. Here’s hoping this isn’t just a passing obsession.

Gameplay

This is the basic Kanji writing mode I've been using the most. Not as concerned about the other modes, like "count the number of strokes" or "what stroke number is this." Maybe helpful, but I think I have the general writing order down without feeling the need to go into crazy-anal-kanji-learning-mode.

There are a number of gameplay modes, including ones that force the player to count the number of strokes in a character, or figure out which number a certain stroke is, but I don’t find those too useful. The ones I’ve been using most often include:

– Write the kanji from the given reading in context

– Write the reading of the kanji in the sentence

– Write the correct Furigana (for example, choosing whether 登る or 登ぼる is correct)

There are also modes for writing 3 and 4 character kanji compounds and for determining if the kanji in a certain word are compliments, opposites, etc, but again, at the moment I just want bare-bones kanji writing and reading practice. The modes I’ve listed above have been sufficient for my needs in that respect so far.

So is this the Best Method? Is this worth my precious Japanese-learning time?

Everyone on the internet seems to be concerned about using the “best” and “fastest” method to learn Japanese—just see the claims made on AJATT about various learning methods that say, “This […] is not how to learn. Not effectively.”

I’m wary to suggest one learning method over another, but I will say that the addictiveness of the game environment has been important to me in helping me stick with it. I can just pop open my DS and do some reviews of Kanji for a little bit without much hassle. I’m also a sucker for progress bars and learning statistics pages, and the game is luckily chock-full of those too. Furthermore, the game has lots of sample sentences that I plan on compiling in order to review for later.

Since the game is designed for native-speakers, the game does not include any sort of dictionary (the biggest problem for me in my opinion), but I’ve been able to supplement my playing by looking up unknown words on my computer. A lot of the vocabulary in the sentences is not always the every-day sort of stuff found in Japanese textbooks—even on the easiest levels I’ve come across words I never bothered to learn in Japanese, like stilts, plaza, steamboat, harbor, feather, etc. Not the most useful words in the world, but at this point, these are words I need to force into my passive vocabulary so I can prepare myself to read texts more fluently, and not get tripped up when a conversation turns to something rather specific.

I’ll try to update this blog with sentences from the game so that others can see what it offers more concretely, and for my own learning purposes. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the sentences in the game for shadowing practice—the vocabulary is not terribly useful—but for kanji and reading practice these should be worth a look.

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