Japan is a culture of indirect communication. When I first started learning Japanese, my teachers never failed to stress this. The language has countless examples of indirect communication via subtle queues that you just have to discern and somehow figure out. Japanese culture values politeness in speech, so indirect is always considered far more polite than direct, especially when it comes to something like refusal.
I'm a major slacker when it comes to studying Japanese, so my New Year's resolution was to seriously up my game when it came to my language studies. I waded through a lengthy internal debate--should I go with an online language learning service or traditional classroom study? Online is generally considered more cost-effective, but classroom can boost motivation with its consistent face-to-face human interaction (aka social pressure, aka a kick in the rear-end). My fear with the online thing was like that of a gym membership. Would I sign up and never go? That would be a damn shame...
A long-time free member of JapanesePod101.com, I decided to pull the trigger and try their premium plus subscription. Why did I go with this? Because it seemed to offer a bit of the best of both worlds--their entire online learning library along with access to a real Japanese teacher. My hope was that the human teacher would give me a solid kick in the pants once in a while to keep me on a righteous academic path.
In true "Mondaiji" style, I summarize the good and not-so-good of my experience below.
At yesterday's office drinking party, some Japanese coworkers told me they were amused as they overheard me on the phone struggling to spell-out my email address to an older Japanese woman. My mind flashed back to earlier that day: Wiping beads of sweat from my brow, it felt like 30 minutes passed as I grudgingly navigated shaky communication waters. In the end I was successful, but I vowed to drastically improve my workflow.
Indeed--I often grapple with spelling-out English words or names for Japanese people. The most common example is when I have to provide my email address or the romaji spelling of my name to a Japanese person over the phone. My long foreign name combined with my company's longer foreign name make this an (unwelcome) Japanese communication challenge. I wondered how Japanese people deal with this situation, and I discovered that they rely upon place names to clarify the letter they're spelling. For example, they'll say something like 「アメリカのA」.
Unfortunately since we Americans use uncommon words like "bravo" and "foxtrot," or person names like "Alex" or "Mike," the American approach doesn't function well in Japan. Therefore, working with some native Japanese speakers, I developed the following phonetic alphabet for spelling-out English words. This list is now posted next to my office phone, and I eagerly await the next time I have to spell-out my email address. がんばります！
I welcome feedback and suggestions. Enjoy!
Do you want to improve your Japanese level? Maybe you have just moved to Japan and want to get a leg-up on your language studies? Maybe you have been in Japan for years and would finally like to learn to speak fluently? Maybe you want to move to Japan, but are afraid you won’t be able to understand anything around you?
Using the Japanese language everyday is one of the most challenging things foreigners to Japan encounter when facing life in this country. As an expat you must command more than just the basics; living here requires an entirely new vocabulary, alphabet, and way of speaking. Like most foreigners who end up in Japan, I had a dream of living here for a long time. As an English speaker, I always thought the best way to try out life in Japan would be to teach English for a year, but a full-time job gives most teachers little time to study the language, which can lead to missing out on myriad rewarding experiences. While searching for other options, I discovered language school. It was a perfect plan to catch a glimpse of life in Japan while learning the language. After graduating from the program, I had basic Japanese under my belt and enough knowledge about Japan to get started in the workforce.
Everyone learns differently, but when you are in an environment where you are using Japanese everyday, you are almost guaranteed to see your skills improve. Like any language learner will tell you—immersion is key.
Learning a new language, whether you are looking at adding English or Japanese to your list, is difficult for many individuals. Something that often times makes the process less frustrating and much, much easier is to simply keep an open mind and make sure the attitude stays in check. Maintaining a positive outlook during the learning stage and keeping a zealous attitude about the process can go a long way in making it easier and more enjoyable to learn a new language. So whether you have a trip planned, are looking to make future education plans easier, are seeking an enchantingly attractive foreigner mate, or simply want the ability to speak another language, get ready to learn with these important yet fairly simple tips:
Apps I Like
Japanese LS Touch
by Jan Bogner
This app is on a short list of those that enable you to study by writing kanji with a finger or iPhone stylus. I'm attracted to this study method because one of the best Japanese study apps I've ever owned utilized this approach--King Kanji for the old-school Windows mobile pocket PC platform (e.g. iPaq). Japanese LS unfortunately suffers from a fatal flaw. Although it's teaching you words (not single kanji characters), it only tests 1 character on the screen at once, which really interrupts my study groove. I find studying full words far more effective than single characters, and this app defeats that benefit by forcing you to pause after each character and go to the next screen.
Japanese My Way
Another app on a short list that tests kanji handwriting is JMW. Like Japanese LS, this one only allows you to write one character of a word at a time on the screen. I suppose what King Kanji achieved on stylus-based Windows mobile isn't easily implemented on finger-based iPhone. A cool feature is how it can give you hints (like what radicals are in the kanji); but I find navigating the app's convoluted menus rather confusing. Not bad, but not one of my favs. It might be cool if there was a handwriting app like this that required you to use a stylus. That way you might be able to study whole words at once.
by Unknown Genius Software
KanjiBox is a well-built flashcard-type app with optional add-on kanji writing features, but I just find Japanese Sensei Deluxe better. Lacking features like engaging sample sentences, studying with this app gets a bit dull after a while. Plus, how many flashcard apps do you really need? This app does get better and better after each update, so while it may not yet be my top fav, it certainly deserves an honorable mention.
Apps I Don't Like
by ThinkMac Software
This app is so frustrating to use it makes me want to throw my iPhone out the window. Maybe I'm not a typical student of Japanese, but I'm not the type of person to sit down and study single kanji characters along with all their pronunciations. That approach is so dry and monotonous, it leeches any and all fun out of Japanese for me. If you like studying in the most unimaginative possible way, then this app is for you.
MyWords - Learn Japanese Vocabulary
by Innovative Learning, LLC
Here are some words, now let's test you! Yeah, good luck with that. This app taught me 1 thing--I wasted my money.
Further Reading Here: Japanese Study