Learning Japanese in Hawaii: what is working

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:

  1.  My new friend Mari whom I met on mylanguageexchange.com
  2.  Free audio flashcard files from japaneseaudiolessons.com
  3.  Free Kotoba app for Android

Here’s what has been the most fun for me:

  1.  Going out with my new friend Mari whom I met on mylanguageexchange.com
  2.  NewsWeb Easy from NHK: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/
  3.  Watching Document 72 Hours on NHK World: http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/live/

My Language Exchange

It’s free to sign up on mylanguageexchange.com, but in order to send initial messages to another member, you need to sign up for a Gold Membership.  Membership fees are $6 for one month, $12 for three months, or $24 for a year.

The site is essentially a bulletin board of members looking to exchange communication with another person in either their native language or the one they’re trying to learn.  Members have a choice of what types of communication they’ll accept, be it text only, email, phone or even in person.

About six months ago I signed up for a one-month Gold Membership and met my first friend.  As it turns out, she had been listed on the site for several years and I was the first person who contacted her.  She left for Japan less than a month after I met her, as her work visa had run out.

I logged back in, but then decided against signing up for a Gold Membership again.  As luck would have it, my new friend Mari* contacted me soon thereafter.  She had signed up for the Gold Membership.  We met shortly thereafter and now we usually go out to some event once a week or so.  I probably learn the most Japanese from her and it’s all relevant to what we want to communicate.

It was largely luck that Mari contacted me, although now I realize that each time you sign in to the site, it moves your name to the top of the list.  If you don’t buy a membership, at least check in from time to time and maybe someone will contact you.  There are probably about 50 people on the site in Hawaii whose native language is Japanese and who want to learn English.  As with all internet sites, exercise the same caution you would in any circumstance where you are meeting someone for the first time.


*not her real name.  What did you expect from someone who calls herself Auntie?

Japanese Audio Flashcard Lessons

Japanese Audio Flashcard Lessons (JAFL) http://www.japaneseaudiolessons.com/ are the brainchild of Roger Lake, a language angel to me.  He and his wife have put out hundreds of hours of conversational flashcards to the public, and all free of charge.  Even more amazingly, these products are easily — hands-down — THE best resource I’ve ever used.  Although Mr Lake has carefully transcribed the lessons to the tune of 400+ pages, I don’t think I’ve read more than a dozen pages.  The audio is so intuitive, the only time I need to look up anything is for additional clarification.  Most of the time though, I can figure it out from the recording.

The way I’ve been using these flashcards is while I’m driving.  I burned a CD and I play it when I run errands.  Even with the five minute trip to Safeway, I’ve been picking up all kinds of new vocabulary.  More importantly though, I think Mr. Lake does an incredible job of explaining sentence structure by not explaining sentence structure.  Instead, he restructures the English so that it fits into the way you use it in Japanese.  For example, in Japanese, the particle “wa” is a topic marker.  Mr. Lake reads the statement to be translated as, “As for. . .” so that you know that this is the topic of the sentence, and therefore the word that precedes “wa.”  JAFL is also different from many other products in that it teaches all of the variations of the same translation, from the most casual to the more formal.

Kotoba (by Yutani) for Android

You probably carry your smartphone everywhere, right?  Well, if you’re on Android, you can use the Kotoba App and really maximize the use of your time when waiting for your kids or standing in line at the grocery store.  

I’m really impressed by the number of words this app contains.  For instance there’s a section of 8,600 common words.  Then, there’s a section of all of the JLPT vocabulary tests.  Then, there’s a section of the 22,000 most common words out from a leading newspaper, the Mainichi Shimbun.

But that’s not reason enough for being impressed.  Each of the vocabulary words is accompanied by example sentences; you can test yourself on the meaning through either multiple choice Japanese, or multiple choice English.  The app uses testing logic and will give you the ones you got wrong more often than the ones you got right.  As you demonstrate proficiency, the marker turns from red to yellow, then green.

Given its portability, this is a learning tool that seemingly squeezes extra time into your busy day.

NewsWeb Easy from NHK

As much as I love NewsWeb Easy from NHK, I’m not going to plug this one as a resource for most people.  Rather, if you’re an acrostic lover and you’re studying written Japanese, this would be a great pastime for you.  It’s a news site in Japanese with written Japanese transcription and with audio read in as slow and  simple a manner as possible.  I like it, but in a former life, I wrote crossword puzzles.  

Document 72 Hours

Document 72 Hours is television show on NHK World.  The show brings its cameras into a location for three days and films the events that transpire.  What makes this show useful for learning Japanese is that they don’t dub over the interviewees.  Rather, they subtitle the work so you can listen and read along.

The show itself is a lot of fun, from its documenting the lost and found at a busy Tokyo subway station to interviewing guests at a capsule hotel.  It’s a great slice of life piece that can also be educational to the Japanese learner.  Hawaiian Tel customers get NHK World as part of the Advantage Plus series.  Oceanic Cable customers get NHK World as part of the Digital Variety Pack.  However, NHK World is also available without charge as live TV through the Internet : http://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/live/

And One More to Recommend

There are a number of other really good resources out there for learning Japanese.  Of note, Anki is a useful open source tool for not just Japanese, but any type of memorization.  The link can be found at http://ankisrs.net/,  It’s customizable, but it’s also likely someone has a similar resource they’ll share with you on its companion site, https://ankiweb.net/about.

That’s it on my update.  If you’re in the same boat as me, がんばろう,  It seems as if it gets easier and more productive with each new step.

P.S.  If you need to translate, Jisho.org is also fantastic but you’ll need to be able to read hiragana and katakana (or at least cut and paste if it’s already in Japanese).







Hawaii Kai Auntie

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Hawaii Kai Auntie

News from Hawaii Kai and East Oahu. My ❤ passions include kids, education, #rstats, technology and our environment. Casual strategy game player and DIY er.