I’m Back and Ready to Kick Butt in 2018!

Happy New Year, friends!

Yes, I’m finally back. Our trip to Japan was incredible, and I do plan to post about it soon, but for now I want to jump into the “fresh new year full of possibilities” Zeitgeist and resume blogging.

The blog has been quiet, but my life has not! I went to Japan after a twelve-year absence, took a trip home to Michigan and Ohio with a side road trip to Tennessee, continued volunteering, moved again (the photo above is the view from our new home), and continued to think, “I really need to get back to blogging!” pretty much every day. Well, here I am!

I’ve also been doing a lot of reflecting on my goals for my work, my family, and my life in general. Going back to Japan after twelve years reignited my motivation to master Japanese. To be honest, I really haven’t improved my Japanese skills in all that time, I don’t think; in fact, I’m sure I’ve forgotten a lot because I haven’t kept myself immersed in the language. Even on the short trip we took, so much came back to me. I especially realized this when we visited my former host parents and お母さん (Okaasan – “Mother”) mentioned getting out the おつまみ (otsumami – “snacks”) for us to share. If you had asked me one minute prior to that what the word for “snacks” was, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, even though I knew I’d known it when I lived in Japan. Suddenly it was back in my brain, hopefully to stay!

I desperately want to live in Japan again, but until that opportunity comes, there’s no better time in history to be able to enjoy and learn through Japanese media, which are more available than ever thanks to the internet. In addition, we currently live in the Bay Area of California, a land replete with Japanese markets and bookstores (at least compared to where I’m from!) where I can easily procure Japanese books, food products, and free regional magazines in Japanese, not to mention a decent number of local Japanese people with whom I could speak in person. I really have no excuse to stay in my upper-intermediate rut. Being able to function in Japanese is not good enough — I want to be awesome at it!

With that goal in mind, I’ve joined a kanji-learning site called WaniKani (not a paid endorsement — I wish!). In fact, I’m about to pull the trigger on joining the lifetime membership to the site while their annual sale is still on. Only the first three (out of 60) levels are free, and I’ll soon be finishing the third level. Obviously I like it enough to pay a couple hundred dollars for lifetime.

Out of the 300 or so kanji and vocabulary words I’ve unlocked so far, I already knew almost all of them already (this site teaches kanji in a slightly different order than other books I’ve used), but I’m taking the long view here. Even if it takes me six months or longer to get to mostly-new content, if I know 2000+ kanji and thousands more words in a couple years, it’s worth it! I’ve had many books and found many websites, yet I haven’t been motivated because the goal seems too large. WaniKani’s teaching methods (to be discussed in detail in future posts) and gamification have me motivated to finish it all, while the other books and sites have not. I’ve been in a rut for too long and I think this is my key to being able to pass the JLPT N1 in two or three years.

When I tutor Japanese, I realize how much knowledge I have that I take for granted, and I certainly have a lot to offer beginner and low-intermediate students. I’ve gleaned a ton from all my studies and living and working in Japan, but I haven’t had the motivation to push myself to that higher level. Having the goal of finishing WaniKani will get me there. I’ll be writing much more about this process as I go.

To switch gears, I’m also working on an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) certificate, “just to have the piece of paper” as I’m known to say. I’ll be writing about my progress with that as well. I’m already through 11 modules out of 27 or so. It’s supposed to be a 160-hour course, but with my prior experience and knowledge, I think it’ll take me much less time.

Finally, I’m strongly considering becoming certified as a Spanish medical interpreter. I’ll go into detail about how and why in future posts.

As you can see, I have plenty of goals on my plate, long- and short-term, and I plan to use the blog to keep myself accountable and share my experiences for anyone who may be interested in similar pursuits. In addition, I’m always open to tutoring English, Spanish, and Japanese, online or in person.

I hope your 2018 is starting off well, and that you’re just as excited about what’s in store for your year!

明けましておめでとうございます。今年もよろしくお願いします!

¡Prospero año nuevo! Espero que logren sus deseos este año y que 2018 sea un gran éxito para todos.

Learning Japanese with TokyoTreat!

こんにちは!Konnichiwa! What’s up, my 友達 (tomodachi — friends)? I’ve been meaning to start posts like today’s for a long time, but life has been quite busy. I’m getting it done today, though!

I wanted to share a method I’ve used for a long time to study languages: reading product packaging! I’m sure that doesn’t sound exciting, but especially once you get beyond the very beginning stages of language learning, deciphering packaging can be a very useful way to learn common vocabulary and grammar.

Before we go any further, if you’re studying Japanese, you really have to learn the two phonetic syllabaries — ひらがな hiragana and カタカナkatakana. There’s just no getting around it. Learning how Japanese is written is by far the best way to get your pronunciation and listening comprehension on point, in addition to the obvious reading and writing skills.

Japanese is not that hard to pronounce most of the time, but if you’re trying to use ローマ字 roomaji (“Roman characters” — or good ol’ English letters) to learn Japanese pronunciation, you’ll likely end up with a very strong accent at best, or at worst, you’ll be incomprehensible to native speakers. Learning the kana (the collective term for hiragana and katakana) will go a long way in keeping your pronunciation on track.

Chinese characters used in Japanese — 漢字 kanji — are also extremely important, but they can be learned over a much longer period of time, and as needed. Kana, however, should be learned as soon as possible once you’ve decided to study Japanese. It will take a few hours, probably, but they’re hours well spent.

When I was learning kana I used old-school flashcards made of paper! Nowadays, of course, there are tons of apps, computer programs, books, whatever you prefer. My co-contributor here, Thomas Typo, will likely make a post about the methods he’s currently using to study beginner-level Japanese, but I know you can easily find support for your preferred method.

I’m going into all this because if you want to study Japanese with product packaging, you really need to know kana at a minimum. Of course, being able to look up kanji you don’t know is also necessary, but if you don’t know kana, even a lot of Japanese dictionaries will be far less useful to you. Just learn ’em!

Now, I currently live in the Bay Area of California where we are blessed with several Japanese grocery stores and even two Japantowns! I’ve been loving that aspect of living here! But what if you don’t have easy access to Japanese products? Well, that’s where TokyoTreat can help. There are other similar subscription crates out there but this is the one I’ve tried and I’m happy with it so far. I wrote an introductory post about it here. I admit that I’m behind in even opening the boxes beyond January because I want to review each one at least a little bit in order and give each one the attention it deserves. That’s obsessive of me, I know. I’ll get to the new ones!

I wanted to share some bits I noticed from the January box.

The main words on the above package are chenjikoora shuwaboo sofutokyandi. The first and third words are very easy to understand — “change cola” and “soft candy,” very simple if you know English and can read katakana. The biggest word, written in big rainbow katakana, was one I didn’t know. I know that bou (pronounced with a long “o” sound — reminder that you need to learn kana so you won’t pronounce things as in English!) means “stick” and that part is self-explanatory since it’s a stick of candy. But what about shuwa?

The little blue dialog bubble next to the blue squid gives a clue. It says shuwashuwa paudaa. All right, some kind of powder. But I didn’t know what shuwashuwa meant. I went to one of my favorite Japanese dictionaries, Jisho.org, and looked it up. Success! It means “bubbliness (of a carbonated drink); sound of bubbles (of a carbonated drink); fluffiness (of a cake, souffle or whipped cream).

This candy is basically a stick of taffy (orange flavor and lemon flavor, as the red and orange bubbles say) with powder inside. The idea is that when you chew the taffy and it mixes with the powder, the whole shebang turns into cola flavor in your mouth! Personally, I’m not a fan of cola flavor in general — I’m a rare American who never drinks pop — and I’m not the biggest fan of lemon or orange flavors, either. So while I agree that the taste does change to resemble cola, I wasn’t a fan of this particular candy, just because of the flavors.

But even though I didn’t love this candy, I learned a new word! Japanese has tons of onomatopoeic words, and I know very few of them. This candy was not bubbly or fluffy as shuwashuwa would suggest, but I think they gave it that description because it’s supposed to remind you of the bubbly taste of cola.

I’ll mention one other small part of this package, the bit that is next to the brown squid. It says orenji + remon issho ni tabero to coora!? That explains the main draw of this candy, that if you add the orange and lemon flavors together with the powder, it makes cola. This little phrase reinforces that if you want to say something is together, you say issho ni — it reminds you that the particle ni is what goes with issho. It’s also an example of the construction of verb + to = result. If you eat the orange and lemon flavors, the result is a cola flavor.

Well, I’ll end here for this post, but I have lots of other TokyoTreat snacks to comment on! I want to make this a regular feature. Your Japanese level will determine how useful these posts are to you, but I hope that you can learn something from even the simplest package, as I did here. 読んでくれてありがとう!また今度いっしょに読んで勉強しましょうね。Thanks for reading! Next time let’s read and learn some more together, all right?

 

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“Thank You Day” and the Good and Bad of Japanese Customer Service

In Japan, today is “Thank You Day.” Today is 3/9 — well, it still is here in California, anyway.

Numbers in Japanese have several possible pronunciations, so there’s a lot of wordplay based on that. Business phone numbers will often reflect the business’ service in some way by combining the pronunciations of the numbers in a way that makes a phrase relating to the business. This page has a lot of examples.

Today is “Thank You Day” in Japan because one way to pronounce the numbers 3 and 9 is “san kyu,” or “thank you.” Isn’t that cute? The above picture explains it. It’s from the Facebook page 今日は何の日, which means “What Day Is Today.” The little sign says, “いつも見てくれてありがとうございます,” which means “Thank you for always looking (at this page/site).”


I saw a listing for a freelance job editing mystery shopper narratives and decided to apply. The application requires a short writing sample about a good or bad customer service experience, so I’m going to include it right here and let my writing do double duty! I don’t know if the job will be right for my circumstances, but it won’t hurt to write a short entry, as follows:

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Daily Audio Bible — iPhone App Review

If you’re like me, you don’t have enough hours in the day to get done all the things you wish you could do. Does that sound familiar?

One thing that’s important to me is increasing my knowledge of the Bible. Don’t worry; this is not a proselytizing post! But it is a post about another resource for practicing languages if you’re open to learning more about the Bible, even if just to study it as literature.

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TokyoTreat Box — January 2017 Edition!

こんばんは! That’s konbanwa or “good evening” to those of you who can’t read Japanese. Well, in Japan it’s the morning now, but here in California it’s the evening, so I’m going with it.

Today I’m starting a series that I hope to continue a long time. You’ve probably seen or heard about all kinds of monthly subscription boxes where you sign up to receive a box of products chosen for you to fit a particular theme. I’ve seen them for makeup, baby items, toys, various hobby items, and of course all kinds of niche foods.

I lived in Japan for 3 years total and I’ve always appreciated Japanese snacks and treats. Of course, Japan is famous for healthy food, but when the Japanese do something, they tend to go all out and produce a great product no matter what it is. Snacks are no exception! Japanese goodies are cute, creative, with lovely (and easy-to-open) packaging, and generally less sweet than their American counterparts.

One day I was wasting time on Facebook and came across an ad for a subscription box called TokyoTreat. Their website looked attractive and their products looked tasty, with a good mix of familiar and new-to-me cookies, candies and chips. I decided to order a six-month subscription of the regular size to try it out. I paid about $140 up front for six months’ worth, which includes a small discount compared to subscribing a month at a time.

A few weeks later, this is what I got in the mail:

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I Think I’m Learning Japanese

Thomas Typo here.

So over the years since being married to Lee, I’ve wanted to learn Japanese, which is one of the languages she knows. Back in 2008, I purchased Rosetta Stone with the meager tax refund we had. I worked on it pretty dutifully (at least I remember doing that!), but despite using the product consistently for many hours, I really didn’t learn a whole lot outside of random vocabulary (“Watashi wa Thomas Typo desu,” meaning “I am Thomas Typo,” and tamago being “egg” and so forth).

The reason is that Rosetta Stone — while being really cool and slickly marketed — attempts to imitate an immersion environment. That is, they want to dispense with grammar and structure and just have you learn the language “naturally,” like your first language.

Well… yeah. I’m skeptical that approach works. I have an adult mind, and structure helps fast-track learning in a way that pretending to immerse yourself does not. A baby is surrounded by native speakers 24/7. When you consider how long most children take to speak reasonably well (years, despite being *totally* immersed!), is that really the best model for an adult?

Anyway, we have a trip coming up to Japan soon so I was inspired once again to try to learn the language. Since language is a huge part of this blog, I’m going to blog about my progress and review the various educational products I try along the way!

So far, I am using an app called “Easy Japanese,” and I’m pretty excited about my progress! What Lee and I like about it is that it combines vocabulary, grammar, and hiragana/katakana in a holistic fashion in bite-sized lessons. If I’m busy, I could easily get a lesson in that is meaningful in 20 minutes. As I continue to use this app, I’ll let you all know here how useful we find it! It comes free to try, with all lessons combined costing $5.99. Not bad; certainly much cheaper than Rosetta Stone…

I look forward to reporting my progress with Japanese, as well as reviewing all the educational materials I try!

I Need to Choose a Goal!

There’s a lot I’d like to do with this blog in the future. Something I’d like to use it for is to document my own language studies, with the eventual goals of passing certain exams. My college degree is in Spanish and Japanese, but I’d like to go far beyond what I learned in college. Someday I’d like to go to grad school if I can make it work with all my other responsibilities, but there are other things I can do to show my linguistic qualifications.

In high school, I took the AP Spanish Language exam and became the first person from my high school to earn a score of 5, which is the highest possible. As far as I know, I’m still the only person to have done that in my high school. I was pretty proud of that and I received 5 college credits for it.

Recently I’ve become interested in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, or CEFR. You can find more info about it here. As with any test, you can find sample versions on the internet, and when I tried a sample for the Spanish C2 exam (the highest level), I passed it. Of course, that’s no guarantee I’d pass the real thing. So at some point in the future, I’d like to attempt this test and document my studies for it.

Maybe I’ll even attempt to improve my French skills to the point where I could try one of the tests! I think I read French pretty well and I have no problem reading French for my day job or when we visited Paris or when I see it on product packaging, but my other skills are lacking when it comes to French. I’ve come across some resources about French that I’ll blog about eventually.

The CEFR is for European languages, but the standard test for Japanese is the JLPT, the Japanese-Language Proficiency Test. Years ago, when I started studying Japanese, there were four levels of this test, with N1 being the toughest and N4 the easiest. At my university, in order to be able to graduate with a Japanese minor as I did, we had to be able to pass an old sample version of the N3 test, which I did easily.  This was after I did the 9-month work/study program in Japan, but before I participated in the JET Program, which requires a 4-year degree. So I’d had one year of high school Japanese, almost a year of working and studying in Japan, and several college classes to get me to that point.

During JET, I was chosen to study Japanese at the Japan Foundation near Osaka for a short time during summer break. There weren’t very many participants, but many of those in my class were planning on taking the N2 level of the JLPT. I didn’t plan on taking it because I lacked confidence in my kanji skills. Kanji are the Chinese characters used in Japan, for anyone who isn’t familiar with Japanese.

The other issue was that although I was confident I could have passed the N3 test, at the time there was a huge gulf between the N3 test and the N2 test and I didn’t want to bother with N3, only N2. You had to know a ton more kanji and vocabulary to get up to the N2 level. The difference between N4 and N3, or N2 and N1, was much more manageable. Because of this, a few years ago they renumbered the levels and added a level in between the old N3 and N2, so now there are 5 levels with more of an even spread between them.

But if I want to take the time and effort to do the real JLPT exam, I think I’d want to go all the way and go for N1. That’s pretty much the standard for foreigners who want to work in Japan in jobs that aren’t English teaching. Some employers will accept N2, but N1 is the best and it’s what I’d want to go for! Of course, that would require a lot of study and effort, and the fact that I’m not living in Japan anymore would make it that much more challenging. On the plus side, it’s never been easier to access Japanese media (and friends), so I could choose to surround myself with it as much as possible.

We (my husband, our kids, my mom, and I) have bought our plane tickets to go to Japan in April, which we’re really excited about! That makes me want to study Japanese more. But on the other hand, being there for just over a week will not get me ready to take a challenging test. I’m thinking I may study Japanese until the trip so I can enjoy it as much as possible, and then switch to Spanish. I’m much more confident in my ability to pass the C2 Spanish exam on short notice. Once I pass the C2 exam, I can set a longer-term goal of the JLPT. Then… maybe French? Someday?

 

“Japanese for All Occasions” E-book Typos

こんばんは! (Good evening!)

I wasn’t feeling too great today, so I had decided to take the day off from posting and just read an e-book instead. Of course, the result of that decision was that the e-book I started reading through our library’s Hoopla service (a wonderful resource, by the way!) had typo after typo after typo, and I’m only a few chapters into the book!

The book is called Japanese for All Occasions by Anne Kaneko. I put the title in quotation marks for the post title because I can’t use italics there. Perhaps there’s a way, but I haven’t figured it out. Anyway, overall it seems to be a useful book since it’s chock full of phrases for everyday life in Japan. Japanese culture and language are highly contextual, with many situations having a set phrase that people are expected to use to maintain politeness. Most of the phrases I already knew, since Japanese was my minor in college and I lived there almost 3 years in total, but I always enjoy finding a new phrase or word I can use. And the book is free to me through Hoopla, so why not?

Sadly, the book suffers from several errors in the Japanese text, which is unfortunate for a book whose aim is to teach Japanese. From what I’ve read so far, the English explanations and translations are perfect, but the Japanese needed more proofreading. Well, here I am! I’ve only read partway through Chapter 3 in a book that has 15 chapters! Hopefully the rest of the book will be better.

In this screenshot, what they have as isogashikuit should be “isogashikute.” Anyone who is familiar with Japanese phonetics would know that the former is not possible to pronounce in Japanese. This would be rather confusing to a beginner.

In this picture, the error isn’t nearly as egregious, but it’s there. The word for “child” in Japanese is “kodomo,” but they have it as “KoDōmo,” which, in addition to the strange capitalization of the “d,” indicates a long “o” sound in Japanese, which is incorrect for this word.

The error in this image is pretty minor. In one instance it says “O-sak ni,” which is missing the final “i” in the phrase “O-saki ni.” Still, it could confuse a beginner.

The error in this image may be due to the Japanese proofreader’s unfamiliarity with English letters, since in romaji (writing Japanese with English letters) “mammasu” looks similar to the correct “mairimasu.” This is especially so with the font and italics in this book.

This is a minor error with just one letter wrong since instead of “Tukkuri” it should be “Yukkuri,” but again, if you’re a beginner, you’d learn the wrong word and communication with Japanese people would be impeded. Not what you want from a book on foreign language learning.

Another minor error here. This one is only an extra space in the word “Iie,” but again, confusing to a beginner.

Here’s another example where the font and relative unfamiliarity with writing Japanese in romaji may have tripped them up. The word “chmgami” is not possible in Japanese phonetics, and it should instead say “chirigami.”

This one has two typos, both of which form words that are impossible pronunciations in Japanese. The first is that the word “ukagaimasmta” should be “ukagaimashita.” The second is “Shujm,” which should be “Shujin.”

 

So that’s what I’ve found in this book so far. Again, rather disappointing to see so many Japanese errors in a book that teaches Japanese. The actual content seems beneficial, but the proofreading needs some help. If I were a beginner I’d either be confused about the Japanese sound system or I’d be learning some incorrect Japanese. I’m sure that’s not the author’s intention.

I didn’t get these wrong, did I? I wasn’t wearing my glasses but these typos jumped out at me.

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Store Sign Editing

We had a pretty busy weekend around here, but I came across a typo-filled sign that was part of a store display. Might as well post it!

Yes, of course I was in a store that sells cute Japanese goods! That’s one of the perks of living in the Bay Area. Where I last lived, in Wisconsin, this stuff was not easy to come by. Anyway, this sign really needs some help. The most basic and least subjective problem is that “doesn’t” is misspelled. Any spell checker would have caught that.

My other critiques are more subjective but I think they’re quite valid. To start, the top line of the sign that says “Iwako Eraser” should add “s” at the end because they’re selling many erasers, not just one.

In addition to that, the brand name “Iwako” should be capitalized, and if it were up to me, I’d completely rewrite the “iwako 3 reasons for kids” part. I get the meaning, but it just sounds clunky. I’d probably phrase it something like, “3 reasons Iwako erasers are great for kids:” and continue from there.  I’d rewrite the descriptions of the three reasons as well.

For the first reason describing why the erasers are great, I’d change it to: “Passed the JIS 6050 eraser quality test in Japan,” or “Passed the Japanese eraser quality test (JIS 6050).” I don’t think anyone in the US knows what a JIS 6050 test is, so adding the word “quality” tells you what you need to know. “It” is superfluous here. If you keep the version that says “in Japan,” the word “in” should not be capitalized as they have it in the sign now.

The second reason isn’t bad but lacks consistency. Are we capitalizing all the main words in the ad or not?

The third reason, other than the misspelling, isn’t horrible either, but I’d simplify it to: “No PVC or lead!” Easy and gets the point across.

That’s my compulsive proofreading and editing of the day!

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