Japanese Journal 3: Resources

I’ve been studying Japanese off and on (accommodating a busy schedule) for about two months. During that time, I’ve accumulated a number of Japanese-learning resources that work incredibly well for me. So, here’s a short list!

Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide. Tae Kim is my best source for grammar so far. He teaches Japanese grammar from a Japanese perspective instead of trying to translate English phrases into Japanese. This guide is easier for me to understand and use than Genki, and it’s got the only decent explanation of the は vs が distinction that I’ve ever read. He absolutely does not skimp on the kanji though, which can make for slow going through his lessons.

Remembering the Kanji. This book lets you learn kanji the same way that people come up with kanji in the first place: by using your imagination. It gives you a key word for each kanji, and introduces them all in an order that builds on itself. You’ll be introduced to simple kanji, then more complicated kanji that combine the simple ones together. RTK contains all 2200 common-use kanji as approved in 2010.

For reference on the usefulness of this method: as of the date this was posted, I have seen 200 of the 2200 kanji in the book. I remember every single one, despite a complete lack of any kind of spaced repetition system, or in fact any memorization method besides the book itself. I made a handful of flashcards and I review them on rare occasion just to make sure I still remember everything. I always do.

(Note: RTK book 1 does not teach you to read the kanji. That comes afterwards, in RTK book 2. I have not used this book, so I can’t recommend it. However, once I finish RTK 1, I’m absolutely planning on buying RTK 2.)

Rikai extension for Firefox/Chrome. For Firefox, it’s Rikai-chan. For Chrome, it’s Rikai-kun. They’re the same thing. Basically, Rikai is a dictionary. You can hover your mouse over a word, and it will pop up with the pronunciation (in hiragana) and definition(s). It’s really helpful for figuring out unknown kanji readings, for unknown words in general, that kind of thing. Be sure that you know the grammar, though: beyond telling you which form a verb is in, Rikai will not tell you anything about the grammar of the sentence, or even which words are which. You hover over the first kana in a word. If you hover over a kana that is not the first one in the word, you will get the wrong definition. Rikai is a dictionary, not a language god, so treat it as such.

HiNative.com. HiNative is a super useful website for asking specific questions about any language. Basically, you put in your native language and your language of interest, then you answer non-native speakers’ questions about your native language while native speakers of your language of interest answer your questions about their language. My current questions-to-answers ratio is 1:50, but yours can be lower than that. Just to be courteous, try to make it at least 1:1.

Italki. Everybody needs conversation practice, and this is italki’s specialty. On italki, there are a whole bunch of teachers for a whole bunch of languages, Japanese included. You can get a professional teacher, who has an actual degree or teaching certificate to teach the relevant language. Or, you can get a community tutor, who is a knowledgeable native speaker with whom you can converse. This is the single most expensive resource on this list (RTK is $20 on Amazon and everything else is free), because you pay per lesson. Still, it’s also one of the most important resources. Conversation is the single most important part of learning a living language.

Japanese Youtubers. I cannot stress the importance of just hearing Japanese spoken by actual humans who are not actors. Just like people in America don’t actually talk the way characters do in American dramas and cartoons, neither do Japanese people talk the way that characters do in Japanese dramas and anime. My favorite Youtube channel is Dogen. He makes a series called “Advanced Japanese Lessons”, which are basically just ultra-dry-humor comedy skits in Japanese about the oddities of Japanese culture. Dogenさん is not a native Japanese speaker, but his accent is so absolutely perfect that he might as well be. (Don’t take my word for it. This native speaker with a penchant for nitpicking Japanese nitpicked Dogen’s Japanese.) I also occasionally listen to Japanese vlogs.

Finally, the built-in Mac dictionary. If you happen to have a Mac, make use of this. Not just for a dictionary, but for pronunciation practice. If you’re not already aware, Japanese is not stressed like English. (In English, we say “chopstick”, with the first syllable said louder. In Japanese, however, they say はしwith the first syllable higher pitched. It’s the same syllable that’s accented, but in English we use stress, whereas in Japanese they use pitch. This is why the accentuation of Japanese words is called “pitch accent”.

That being said, the Mac dictionary has the ability to tell you which syllables in a word have what pitch. Here’s a Dogen video where he explains how to use the Mac dictionary to find the pitch accent of Japanese words. I’ve been using this for some time, and evidently my pitch accent is pretty good, because in my very first ever Japanese lesson on italki—literally the first time I ever spoke Japanese aloud to another human being—my sensei thought I was capable of having actual conversations.

There is one main thing that I do not have a good resource for. Vocabulary. In absence of the “perfect” resource, I’ve been using Duolingo Japanese. There are a number of things I don’t like about it (pretending that が indicates the subject, for example, or not teaching all the kanji readings systematically), but it’s good for now. However, I am still on the lookout for good resources for this, and whenever I find one, I’ll be sure to post it here.

Have any good resources that you’d like to talk about? Put them in the comments!

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