Tag Archives: Kanji

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.


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:


 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.


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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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.


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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Maruzen: Japanese Learning Resource Jackpot

For those looking for Japanese resources beyond a few sub-par textbooks and books titled “how to curse in Japanese!” I would suggest looking at the White Rabbit Press, as they carry a large number of Japanese-related books that you won’t find in your average Barnes & Noble.

However, the other day in Japan I just found the Japanese-learning Jackpot. Behold: Maruzen near Tokyo Station in the Marunouchi OAZO shopping complex:

Four floors of Japanese bookstore -- mmmm!

I walked in casually, expecting the usual fair of books that could be found in any small mall bookstore, but soon found myself on the fourth floor, face-to-face with a rather drool-worthy site.

Yeah, there was a lot. Maruzen in Marunouchi OAZO building near Tokyo Station.

For some reason I’ve always had this obsession with collecting Japanese-learning resources and books without actually using those resources. Of course, I always have the intention of using said resources, but something about amassing a huge amount of books on learning Kanji or vocabulary simply makes feel like I’m actually learning, even if I’m not.

Perhaps one day I will be able to learn Japanese through osmosis simply by pressing my face into my Japanese textbooks. Until then!

Lots of grammar books. The fat red and orange one is the Dictionary of Misused Japanese

In any case, to cater to my book collecting habit, seeing multiple shelves of “no use this book to study for the JLPT” was quite a feast. And while there are a ton of books to look through, I unfortunately do not have the infinite time (and money) necessary to look through and consider all of them. Nonetheless, two books did catch my attention:

  1. A Dictionary of Misused Japanese.
  2. New Penguin Parallel Text: Short Stories in Japanese

The first, completely in Japanese, goes over common grammar errors and provides correct and incorrect examples of language usage. I liked the comprehensiveness of the book, but I admit I did get a little fatigued looking through it. Perhaps in a perfect world I would go through it, but it’s over 700 pages long — more a reference than anything else. Probably a great supplement for those wanting to cement a new grammar point into their heads.

The second looked especially excellent: it’s a bilingual book in both Japanese and English, with the Japanese text sufficiently furigana’d. Of the stories I quickly browsed through, they seemed sufficiently interesting, and because the English translation is provided, I avoid having input fatigue. Because while I like to think I could just immerse myself in a Japanese book and read, at this point it’s just not something I can do for very long, or very quickly. While English is a crutch, it also keeps me from giving up on reading after a few dragged-out pages, something that would likely happened were I to pick up any Japanese book off the shelf.

Next time I may go over books that Japanese people use to learn English — both how those books work and how they can be used to study Japanese as well (hint: you study the Japanese translations, not the English).

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Japanese Learning Badassery Part II: Watch Anime But Actually Learn Japanese

This post is the second in a series about real Japanese practice out of fun Japanese things. Be sure to check out the first part, about using video games to study Japanese as well.

Anime is fun to watch, but surely it's a cornucopia of Japanese to be learned too, right?

If you’ve read anything on the internet about teenagers and young adults trying to learn Japanese, you’ve probably come across the story of the sad little anime fan—the weeaboo as he is also known—who attempts to learn Japanese, only to fail horribly. His excitement over anime leads him to believe he’d be good at learning Japanese; after all, when he finished watching all 500 episodes of One Piece he feels he has acquired a rather extensive vocabulary, such as the words 仲間 (nakama), 大丈夫 (daijobu), and 海賊 (kaizoku).

This reason this happens is simple: watching (english subtitled) anime will not help you improve your Japanese beyond getting used to hearing Japanese being spoken. Watching subtitled anime requires no effort on the learners part; in other words, there’s no resistance.

As I’ve said before, self-studying requires that you incorporate resistance into your reviews. In other words, you need to challenge yourself.

Watching anime in hard mode (AKA: resistance ON; subtitles OFF)

The first thing I should mention is that complete beginners should not try to learn a lot of Japanese from anime. It’s fun to pick up common words, and useful to learn various 相づち (aizuchi / filler words), but beyond that, I’m going to require the same prerequisites that I stated in my shadowing post:

  • Knowledge of Kana and basic Kanji
  • Decent Japanese grammar skills
  • At least a month or two listening to and understanding beginner-level Japanese. For example, after having gone through a level or two of Pimsleur Japanese.

To learn from anime, you need to set up a consistent study system where in which you’re not just watching anime—you’re learning from it. That means simply watching un-subtitled anime straight through is not particularly helpful: it’s too easy and quick. There’s no way to avoid actually spending the necessary study time.

Watch your anime with Japanese subtitles

Japanese subtitles are great things. You get to read and hear Japanese at the same time without any English interference. As a someone who (supposedly) isn’t completely fluent in Japanese, having the words written down will help with comprehension greatly. There’s a large collection of Japanese subtitles that can be found here. I’ll go with a personal favorite: Death Note.

Now let’s go over how I would go about studying:

1. Write down the Japanese sentence (from the subtitles). It’s important to write the sentence yourself even if you can just copy-paste it from your subtitle file: you’ll end up remembering more.


2. If you want to study vocabulary, follow the same five-side flashcard procedure I’ve detailed before. To refresh your memory, here’s a sample card for 「性格」:

Side 1: 性格

Side 2: せいかく

Side 3: character; personality

Side 4: そんなことしたら、[性格]悪いのはお前だけになるぞ。

Side 5: そんなことしたら、[せ…]悪いのはお前だけになるぞ。

3. However, since this is an anime, you can also rip the audio using any recording program of your choice and use it in conjunction with your Japanese text. I used WireTap Anywhere to choose my video player as my input audio source, and recorded the audio to Audacity:

[audio https://sites.google.com/site/coldfrost/files/ryuk.mp3]

The test of your listening and speaking ability comes when you can repeat the sentence after you hear it without looking at the Japanese text—but you should look in order to see if you get the reading correct. Remember, there is no penalty for being unoriginal when learning Japanese. Even if you’re unoriginal, and are merely repeating, you’re correct. The point is to get yourself speaking in real Japanese rather than a strange mess of incorrect grammar and Japanese-sounding English words that beginners often find themselves using.

4. After you feel you’ve reviewed enough, such as making flashcards for all of the words you didn’t know, and after having gone through a good number of listen-and-repeat sentences as well, test yourself! Go back to the episode after a few days and watch it without subtitles. Hopefully you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll understand.

There’s no secret trick to any of this.

By using anime as your study material, you essentially turn your favorite episodes into your Japanese textbook. You have to create the study material yourself, but you’ll be better served in your learning process by doing so. While the Japanese in a good textbook will be no less valid than the Japanese in an episode of Death Note, hopefully you find anime more interesting so you feel actually interested in studying it.

I know that when I go through textbook sentences, while they’re not bad, they don’t exactly make me super-excited about Japanese either. However, as an anime fan, I’m able to vest more energy into studying because I enjoy it. And frankly, when I study something I enjoy, I’m much more efficient and I enjoy it much more.

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Using Video Games to Study Japanese: A Grandia Case Example

Alternate Title: How to be badass: get better at Japanese by playing video games while your friends are stuck in class using Genki I.

I’ll admit that the alternate title here is a little misleading: you might be able to become better than your friends, but simply playing your video game of choice isn’t going to do anything for you. You need to have a plan, and you need to follow it carefully and methodically. You might be playing a game, but you’re not playing around.

My Experiences Using Grandia to learn Japanese

Title screen from grandia—but you're not allowed to begin until you look up all the kanji!

The great thing about using video games to learn Japanese is that the video games that are going to contain the most text are RPGs, and many of these originate in Japan. So if you have a favorite RPG—think Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Dragon Age, Pokémon, etc—then a Japanese version is bound to exist. One that contains lots of text to read will obviously be better.

I personally love Grandia, so going through the Japanese version and trying to figure out what is being said is fun. There’s lots of text to read and the characters travel to a variety of places so the vocab will be varied. Plus, having gone through the original English version, I’m not completely lost on what to do. Here’s what you’ll need in order to effectively study from your video game of choice:

  1. The game.
  2. Your flashcard program of choice that supports multi-sided flashcards. A popular choice is Anki, although I’m personally partial to iFlash—it’s your choice in the end.
  3. If possible, a separate English translation of the Japanese text—one for Grandia can be found on GameFAQs, although they probably exist for many other games as well.
  4. Patience—you’re not playing the game normally this time around.

The search for the Sulfer Weed medicine begins!

Your task while playing is to essentially mine the game for all that it’s worth—jot down every sentence you think is useful and not overly convoluted with difficult or rarely-used words. Using the above screenshot as an example, let’s see how I would go about creating my flashcards:

1. Write down the sentence in Japanese.



If you’re not sure how to read a kanji so that you can enter it into your computer, you can search by kanji by handwriting or by kanji radical.

2. Know what the sentence means in English.

If you’re having trouble, the sentence may be too difficult for you at this point—you can save it for later after you’ve improved your grammar—or you can check your English translation for an idea.

3. Now you’re ready to build your flashcard. Here’s what I would use for the new unknown word 薬草:

Side 1薬草

Side 2: やくそう

Side 3: medicinal plants

Side 4: 苦しそう。。いま[薬草]を見つけてきてあげるからがんばってね。

Side 5: 苦しそう。。いま[や…]を見つけてきてあげるからがんばってね。

Multiple-sided flashcards gives me a wide variety of ways to go about studying. I could start by studying the sentence, doing Side 4 first by reading it out loud. If I don’t understand the key word I’m trying to study (I put it in brackets in case there’s more than one word in the sentence I might be studying), I’ll look at Side 3, the English meaning, to remind me. If I don’t remember the reading as well, I can also look at Side 2.

And when I want a bit more intensive practice after I get the meaning down, I could do a Side 5-2-1 review. That is, look at Side 5 first and try to recall the reading (Side 2), and after that, recall the writing of the kanji itself (Side 1).

There are many different ways you can choose to study your cards, but I believe combining these two methods—meaning you go over each card at least twice before you can count it as memorized—is very effective.

Words of warning

When playing through games with authentic Japanese text, you’re bound to run into a lot of words you don’t know—this is a good thing! However, don’t try and rush through studying by quickly creating cards and moving on; slowly work your way through the cards and the game so you’re actually learning.

There may be thousands of words you don’t know, so this isn’t going to be a fast process if you actually want to get something out of it. Going to fast leads to input overload, as I’ve discussed before. So take your time and enjoy learning Japanese! These techniques can be applied to anime and manga as well—so choose whatever medium you like best when studying.

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Learning Kanji: Using Shorter Sentences to Study more Efficiently

Alternate Title: The Secret to Learning Kanji: Don’t Learn kanji.


The good news: if you learn these, you'll be on your way to basic reading fluency!

The great thing about the kanji is that there are a lot of them. However, this may or may not in fact be a good thing depending on your point of view. The Dai Kan-Wa jiten apparently contains over 50,000 kanji, although it is generally recognized that the some 2000 Joyo Kanji are what is necessary for basic reading fluency in Japanese. Furthermore, because each kanji can take on more than one reading depending on the word, the task before the Japanese learner seems rather arduous.

But not to fear, right? After all, the most common 1000 kanji covers 93% of what you should expect to read. Except that this statistic—and I’ve heard it from Japanese teachers as well—is rather misleading. First, even if you did understand 93% of the kanji being used in an article, that’s still an unknown kanji to look up every 10 or so words—not exactly reading fluency by any means.

Furthermore, even if you recognize a Kanji, it might be used in a word that contains unknown kanji as well, making the word incomprehensible without decent guessing skills, and making your 1000 kanji knowledge base not as useful as you may have hoped.

So what do we do?

The most common kanji learning methods

There’s no reason to go over these in detail since they’ve been discussed ad nauseum:

1. Study just a few kanji by rote a day—if you studied just 3 kanji a day for two years, you would have studied 2190 kanji, a bit more than the entire joyo kanji list! Problem: sticking to a daily schedule for two entire years is easier said than done, not to mention the necessary need to review what you’ve learned already. Plus, what does “3 kanji” even mean? Just writing the kanji? Writing and all of its readings? Just recognizing it and its rough english meanings? There’s more here than meets the eye.

2. Use RTK (as I discussed briefly before along with AJATT) as a way to internalize kanji meanings to aid in the learning and writing of vocabulary words. Problem: and as I said before, I’m not the biggest fan of RTK. It advocates a piece-wise learning process that is not as useful as it seems. It’s possible to pick up kanji meanings without needing to study them explicitly first through rote-memorization.

3. Play/read/watch X game/manga/anime in Japanese to pick up kanji naturally. Problem: non-textbook style materials are very helpful, but they can lead to input overload when it comes to kanji—more on that below—and so students should exercise discipline when using this route.

All of these are useful ways of learning Kanji, but they each have flaws as well—as any learning method will likely have. Nonetheless, I have one more of my own to propose.

Learn Kanji by Not Learning Kanji

The problem I see with a lot of Kanji learning material is that you go one character at a time, treating the kanji as a sort of separate entity from the rest of your Japanese learning. This may be perfectly effective, but I feel that it’s actually more efficient rather than less to study kanji through the study of vocabulary.

That’s right—don’t study the Kanji; study words.

But why? Isn’t studying words long and tedious? Shouldn’t I learn the alphabet first?

Kanji is not phonetic like English or the Kana; as a result, trying to learn it like an alphabet may actually be inefficient. I’m not going to flat out say it is inefficient, but I think there are better methods.

So how do I go about learning word-by-word?

One thing you may notice about Japanese is that even when a kanji is used in multiple words, these words tend to take on similar meanings. This may not always be the case, but it’s a good general rule. For example, I have a list of JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test) words that I can sort by Kanji:

There seems to be a common theme here...

Even if we don’t explicitly study the meaning of 「予」we can get the sense of what meaning we should expect if we see this Kanji in a word. And by studying words, we ultimately assimilate both this meaning and the meaning of a real Japanese word as well—a two for one deal.

However, what I am not suggesting is to simply study lists of words rather than Kanji. Studying words by themselves is ineffective because we won’t know when to use them in real conversations or contexts. Four of the words on the list above have the listed meaning “forecast,” but only one of them would be used in the common construction, “weather forecast,” in Japanese:

  • 「天気予報」= 51,600,000 Google hits.
  • 「天気予想」= 154,000 Google hits
  • 「天気予期」= 123 Google hits
  • 「天気予測」= 108,000 Google hits

Despite the similar meanings, the winner here is pretty clear. We need to study words in context—more specifically, we need to study sentences.

Where do I get sentences to study?

Not all sentences are created equal—some can be too long or too complex, something we want to avoid when studying. Generally, your sentences should contain no more than a handful of unknown words, and you should be able to easily guess at the meaning of the sentence without too much difficulty without those words. That way, you won’t overload yourself.

Grabbing haphazardly from newspapers or tv shows—that while filled with useful Japanese—will likely result in having sentences with too much content for a reasonable human to study at one time: that’s input overload. You can take from a newspaper, book, or tv show if you feel you’re at that level, but keep the sentences very short while still retaining some semblance of context. Taking or transcribing sentences from tv shows in particular may be useful, since you’ll remember the context of when the words were used and thus remember both the meaning and when to use the word more easily.

But for the beginner, the following would probably be more useful:



Taken from the beginner-level shadowing book I mentioned previously.

An easy-to-understand exchange about going to the convenience store to purchase lunch gives the beginner the chance to practice 「弁当」and 「買」while giving some context as to when to use these words as well.

After reviewing the sentence, one should practice writing it by hand—using fill-in-the-blank with the kanji—to review. By going over short sentences, we avoid input overload, study both kanji and words simultaneously without doing too much of either at one time, and study grammar and natural Japanese constructions as well.

In a future post, I’ll go over where to find good sentences to practice, and how to incorporate more fun things like anime into serious study.


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

On Learning Japanese: Self-Studying with Resistance

Alternative title: So how do I go about learning Japanese—or any language—anyway?

As I draw closer to the two-year mark in my Japanese language studies, I always wonder if the way I’m studying is the most efficient or useful. With such a huge number of learning resources out there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and not know where to start, or where to go from where you might find yourself in your studies.

For example, I expect most people who have tried to self-study Japanese on their own have come across the following things:

I have a particular interest in AJATT, not because I find his method (1. Memorize the Kanji via RTK 2. Memorize sentences 3. Now you’re fluent) especially useful, but because he lays out a self-study method very different than what is found in your average Japanese 101 class. In that respect, AJATT is unique, and the author’s inspirational blog posts are always fun to read. It’s also quite popular among the self-studying crowd, so I’ll address it briefly first.

To start, I don’t think AJATT is incredibly useful. The first step, RTK, asks learners to memorize how to write and the English meaning of each Kanji individually, but nothing else. As a result, I expect that the learner who starts with RTK is sure to find himself frustrated by the amount of study time he has put in compared to the amount he will be able to actually read or understand in Japanese.

Nonetheless, I am not against RTK as a method; in fact, I think it’s incredibly useful for remembering how to write Kanji and differentiate similar Kanji when reading. I just don’t think I would use it FIRST—to me, that seems the least helpful time to learn Kanji, when the student has had no other Japanese input.

How to Self-Study Effectively: Do it with Resistance!

One thing to note is that I actually have not self-studied Japanese—I took classes at my university. I don’t think classes are a bad idea, not because I found the textbook used (Nakama) very good, but because taking classes causes what I like to call resistance, or some sort of discomfort while learning.

A good teacher in a language-learning class will force you to constantly use the language you’re learning. You’ll have to use specific structures, talk with your equally-confused peers, and in general feel some sort of discomfort as you try to say something or use a new vocabulary term but have initial trouble doing so.

That’s resistance.

That’s what you should feel when you’re learning a language. The feeling that it’s hard, and that things aren’t going smoothly. Because when that feeling hits, you’re learning. However, the self-studier can easily remove any resistance in his learning by skipping reviews, or doing easier tasks; there is no teacher forcing him to interact or speak in a language using structures or vocabulary that are just above his level.

Perhaps the most dedicated student will plow through and always force himself to reach the resistance state, but in general, we’re lazy. The old adage that I could learn everything in college for the same price as a few late fees at the library rings true at first, but simply reading a book in the library without any pressure removes resistance, and in that same way, removes a good deal of the learning in the process.

School as an institution is something we resist. We don’t want to be there. We don’t want to go to class. We don’t want to do this stupid five-page essay assignment. By having others tell us what to do and giving us deadlines on when to do it, we experience resistance. But again, this resistance, in my view, is when we are learning the most. On average, the hard class will teach us more than the easy class—resistance follows that same idea.

How do I incorporate resistance into my self-studying?

I will actually save specific ideas and methods that I have devised for later posts, but for now, two of my better recommendations:

Pimsleur acts as a teacher, forcing you to respond and use the language; it’s very effective, and I would say the best resource to have when you’re in your beginning stage of learning. Shadowing forces you to use the language as well, and allows for not just aural learning, but practice in reading (and writing, if you go far enough) as well.

I will go into how these work (especially shadowing, since it seems vastly underrated in my opinion) in a later post. Until then, good luck studying!


Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language, Self-studying