netflix download for iOS and AndroidIt's here, It was rumored that Netflix was going to allow downloading of its video files for offline viewing, but they've delivered an early Christmas gift to Stranger Things lovers everywhere. Not all videos are available, but all of the Netflix series are, as well as select others.  This new feature is available on both Netflix's Android and iPad apps and I just tested it out.  

    For the past week, I had been bingewatching Mischievous Kiss, a Fuji TV Japanese drama series.  One of the best features of Netflix is its subtitles. You can choose the language on a number of them.  On some series, you can even choose the audio language too.

    In any case, I had been watching it first in Japanese, then in English to see how well I actually understood the story.  I'm now going back and rewatching it again in Japanese to commit more words and sentences to memory.  Now that I can take my movies on the go I'll be able to squeeze in even more study time -- although the series is so addictive I doubt I'll think of it as study at all.

    In any case, Netflix lovers, your offline prayers are here.  Check your Netflix tablet app to see if your series is available for download.

  • Niu Valley Middle School has a world language core requirement, either Mandarin Chinese or Japanese.  Once that language is selected, if your child goes on to Kaiser, they must continue in that language unless that language is spoken regularly outside of school.  It's all part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum the two schools are a part of.

    It drives me crazy to no end because one of my children has absolutely no interest in learning Japanese: it's just a "dumb" requirement that he struggles with and doesn't excel in naturally.

    Short story: I'm determined to show that it can be done with just a minimal commitment.

    As part of my learning plan, I committed 30 minutes a day to some form of learning Japanese.  I use the term "committed" loosely because I'm willing to give myself credit for nearly anything involving Japanese language.  That includes things like quizzing myself on my phone while standing in line at the supermarket or passively listening to language tapes in the car.

    So far, I'm doing better than I expected.  Here's what has been the most effective for me:

  • The more I work at trying to learn Japanese, the more I think that schools shouldn’t make world language mandatory.  It’s not that I’m not progressing; I am.  In fact, more so than when enrolled in formal classes.

    It really boils down to the learning curve and the amount of time students have to focus on all of their studies.  Foreign language is an exaggerated version of the typical learning process.  Think about all of the time you had to learn your first language.  You had probably heard no less than 10,000 words before you first uttered your own.  To illustrate,  I found a graph from James Ryan, via LinkedIn. 

    graph of the learning curve

    Essentially, it boils down to the space between “you can’t know what you don’t know,” i.e. “unconsciously incompetent” and the next phase, “consciously incompetent.”  This particular graph is drawn somewhat how I expect for a foreign language.  There is a very long period between the two and nearly no progress.  I fear this is where most of us get stuck.  As a toddler, you had no choice but to continue.  As an adult, you do.

    In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell famously made the 10,000 hour rule a household phrase among tiger moms.  Essentially, Gladwell provides empirical evidence to support his idea that it takes no less than 10,000 hours for someone to become proficient at what they do.  Those that get a head start -- for example, kids in Little League born earlier in the recruiting group -- are often given more encouragement and are more likely to continue to practice and to grow.  Ultimately, however, it is the actual application of practice that makes them “prodigies” and not any special inherent talent.

    That’s another shortfall of foreign language in the classroom.  Looking back, didn’t you hate how some of the kids had vast exposure to the language while others did not?  It’s enough to make you not want to start your 10,000 hours at all.

    For me, I failed at foreign language proficiency over and over again.  First at Japanese language school as a kid, then in middle school and high school while taking French and even a bit of Japanese again in high school -- which I honestly took just because my mother speaks Japanese and I would be one of those kids you hate in class.  When I say failed, I don’t mean my grades.  I mean the final result.  Taking Japanese in high school did serve its purpose.  I got good grades, but that’s because I had a stronger foundation to begin with.  I just couldn’t be trusted to communicate effectively with anyone in Japanese.

    I’ve often wondered how people become proficient in foreign language.  This time, largely inspired by one of the Niu Valley Japanese instructors who was successful, I’m determined to give it a consistent effort for one whole year.  To be realistic about whether or not this is something anyone can do, I’ve dedicated a reasonable amount of time to doing so, an average of 30 minutes a day, about 183 hours for the whole year.  

    So far, it’s going better than I anticipated.  I’m planning on sharing some of the techniques I think are working, and some that are not.  Not surprisingly, the current method of teaching world language in schools ranks low on the effectiveness scale.


  • I'm in heaven.  Today I stopped by at Don Quixote on Kaheka Street and discovered that Book Off used bookstore has opened inside the supermarket.  I bought a set of Karuta from them.

    Karuta is a child's game for learning the Japanese alphabet.  Players race to find the right card as the leader (who has a separate set of reading cards corresponding to the alphabet) reads a passage containing the letter the kids are looking for.  It's a great game concept I've adopted for other learning tasks too, like for teaching the kids multiplication.

    Book Off sells used books and other media such as videos, CDs, and video games.  A little more than half of their stock is Japanese.  Book Off has been in business for some time at Shirokiya.  However,  with the new renovation they opted to move to both the Don Quixote store and Ward Warehouse (next to Hakubundo),  

    My great news is that I scored a practically new karuta set for me and the kids for just $5.  I'll have to read and understand the cards before using them, and that will help my Japanese studies.  The kids will learn from the game itself, where they will race for the right card.

    Book Off is not the only source of great printed material for learning Japanese.  Hawaii Kai Library has a used bookstore in their basement   It is run by the Friends of Hawaii Kai Library and it has a plethora of material, mostly in English but with a handful of Japanese books as well.  Of the Japanese books, a good number of them are children's books written primarily in hiragana and katakana.  Kanji is usually accompanied by alphabet script known as furigana, essentially clues for the reader.  Amazingly, these books usually cost no more than a dollar, with some as inexpensive as 25 cents.

    Another great source of printed material is NHK's "easy news" website.  This site contains a lot of Kanji, but it's all accompanied by furigana.  Additionally, it's also a transcript of audio which you can play while reading along.  For adults like me, it's a good way to learn relevant material you might actually get a chance to use.  As much as I like reading children's books from the Hawaii Kai Library bookstore, I doubt I'll ever have to discuss talking dogs, cats, and mice with other adults.  This site takes me a bit longer to translate because the vocabulary is mostly unfamiliar to me.  In any case, it's completely free and there are usually 3-4 current event pieces for every weekday.  

    (For translation, I like Jisho.org.  I just cut and paste the Kanji from NHK to find what I need to know.  A word of caution on Japanese translation, Google Translate isn't a very good source and I would never use it to directly translate from English to Japanese and send it out.  For individual words, Google will work in a pinch, but I still prefer Jisho.org.)



  • In order to type Japanese characters on an English keyboard, you'll need to install language packs.  The link below will guide you through the steps for either a Macintosh (Apple Computer) or Windows PC.

     Japanese Typing Practice for Beginners (Windows and Mac installation instructions included)

    for those who use Linux, you can use the following instruction set to install fonts, then use the keyboarding guidelines for Windows.

    Adding Japanese Fonts and Typing on Linux


    The first link will also take you to a practice site where you can test your ability to type in Japanese.  I'm excerpting the important shortcuts you'll need to know here.  These are tips I wish I had taken the time to learn earlier.

    1.  If you need to create a small character such as the っ in あさって, hit "x" or "l" before the letter that you would like to make small.  You can also do double letters, such as asatte, if that's easier for you. 

    2.  To toggle between modes for Hiragana, Katakana and English, on a Windows PC you can use:

    • Alt-Caps Lock for カタカナ (Katakana)
    • Ctrl-Caps Lock for ひらがな (Hiragana)
    • Either Shift-Caps Lock or Alt-[tilde] toggles AlphaNumeric English and Hiragana
    • Alt-Shift will toggle between language packs, e.g. Japanese Microsoft IME and English

    On an Apple PC you can use:

    • CTRL+SHIFT+j switch to hiragana input
    • CTRL+SHIFT+k switch to katakana input
    • CTRL+SHIFT+; switch to romaji (standard English) input 
    • APPLE + SPACE switch between English/hiragana/katakana

    3.  If you hit the space bar, the computer will suggest a series of different Kanji for your typing.  To avoid using Kanji (I'm at the stage where if I use it, I have to look it up to make sure it hasn't changed into something else), don't use the space bar.  Use [enter] instead. Or, you can hit F6 to accept the typing entirely in hiragana or F7 to accept the typing entirely in katakana. F8 will also toggle between Kanji choices.

    4.  “Reconverting” is essentially calling back the kanji selection list for a word that has already been entered. Select the word you want to change, right click and choose “Reconversion.” On a Mac you can use two fingers on the touchpad to simulate a right click.

    4.  If you make a mistake, don't worry.  In Windows you can still use Ctrl-Z to undo your work.  On the Mac, use Command-Z.

  • I could very possibly be the worst advocate of an educational foreign language requirement.  That would apply to any level of education, be it junior high, high school or college.

    For me, the issue is context and need.  As the internet has proven to us, you can learn anything, anywhere, and pretty much free.  The question is whether what you learn is valuable.

    When my son was five, he was frustrated because his teacher sent him home with a fresh new coloring page as homework.  Apparently, his initial effort was too messy for her taste, and his assignment was to do a better job of it.  He wanted to know WHY he needed coloring skills.  Today, I could probably give him a better answer than I did then -- perhaps he might lose out on an important internship when they found out he couldn't color in the lines?

    Again, my son has faced me with the WHY of foreign language learning.  For me, I took French in high school. Since then, I have never used French in any meaningful way, and I have not had to look for the French library either. (Où est la bibliothèque?).

    With regard to Japanese however, I must say that living in Hawaii my son does have context; additionally we've added context by scheduling a trip to Japan in the near future.

    It is for me, the upcoming trip that fuels my desire to learn conversational Japanese.  That, and perhaps one of those middle-aged -- if only I had tried harder moments.  In any case, if there is one thing I have learned about motherhood, it is that when your children are suffering in their classwork, you are too.  It's better for me to stay at least a few steps ahead so I can be a little useful.

    With that, we embark on this foreign language journey in the new era of technology.

  • A distinguishing characteristic of public education in Hawaii Kai is the availablity of an International Baccalaureate program from kindergarten through high school. Hahaione Elementary, Niu Valley Middle School and Kaiser High School are three of five such public school programs available statewide.

    An International Baccalaureate (IB) certification is a recognition that the school meets additional standards set by a nonprofit educational foundation founded in 1968 in Geneva, Switzerland. "Headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands, IB programs reach more than 1 million students in 144 countries. IB aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect." 

    One of the hallmarks of an IB education is the world language requirement.  At Kaiser High School, the offered languages are Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.  There is a catch however.  At Niu Valley Middle School which feeds into Kaiser, only Japanese and Mandarin Chinese are offered.  Students moving from Niu Valley to Kaiser can only take the language that they were studying in middle school.

    For my child, who intends to go to college on the mainland, this meant that he could not study Spanish; Spanish would have been ideal because of its prevalence throughout most of the Continental United States.

    You may be wondering who then, can take Spanish at Kaiser.  The answer is that the student must fall into one of two categories. (1) a new student transferring into the school who did not attend Niu Valley Middle School; or (2) a student whose native language is the one they were studying at Niu Valley.

    In any case, this means that my child now needs to work doubly hard to study Japanese.  Having lived on the mainland, none of the language is familiar to him: not the sounds nor the commonly borrowed words we use here in Hawaii.

    In any case, this setback seemed the perfect opportunity for me to try and learn Japanese "for real" this time.  As a child, like many Hawaii kids, I attended after-school language class and I studied Japanese in high school.  Still, I'm far from a conversational level of comfort.

    As I discover new resources, I'll post them here.  Perhaps it will be useful to others as well.