甘いものはよく食べます I often eat sweet things

The confession came at the end of a Monday night Talktime Japanese event. Our class had been conducting a 健康アンケート(Kenkou Ankehto・Health survey), asking each other questions about each other’s diet and exercise. Up until then, I had been scoring highly. Just look at my responses:

野菜をよく食べます (YASAI O YOKU TABEMASU / I often eat vegetables).

まいにち運動します(MAINICHI UNDOU SHIMASU / I exercise everyday).

パンはあまり食べません (PAN WA AMARI TABEMASEN/ I don’t often eat bread).

In the end, a student asked me ”甘いものをよく食べますか” (AMAIMONO O YOKU TABEMASU KA?Do you often eat sweet things?) and the game was sup. I was partly pleased that she had asked question and used the new vocabulary so well, but also disappointed I had to confess to my secret sugar cravings.

I went home questioning my way of living as well as considering my way of teaching. I will have to cut down the 甘いもの (sweet things) in case I get asked again.

Overall though, it was great to have an extended period of language practice with the focus on exchanges of meaning, and not just the structure of sentences.

Preparing and carrying out the surveys, our students learnt useful food words and health-related vocabulary such as 砂糖 (SATOU/sugar), 運動(UNDOU/exercise), 体にいい(KARADA NI II (good for you/your body), 人参 (NINJIN/carrot)、玉ねぎ(TAMANEGI/onion)、かぼちゃ(KABOCHA/pumpkin). And by repeating the survey with different partners, students could improve their fluency and familiarity with the language.

We also realised how some common concepts in English don’t easily translate into Japanese. For example, how can you say brown bread in Japanese? According to one dictionary it’s 黒パン(KURO-PAN/literally black bread). Other dictionaries just list a long explanation of how it is made.

And we did not even get to touch on the almost criminal omission of crusts from sandwiches in Japan.

We hope you can join us at the next Talktime Japanese. We have events planned for Beginners for the next 2 Mondays at 7:15.

6 Tips for Learning Japanese

Make Japanese a habit Fit Japanese learning into your daily routine. Flick through flashcards while eating your cornflakes, read the language section of the Japan Times after your cornflakes, download Japanese learning apps for your phone for the morning commute, meet Japanese people and people interested in Japan at the pub (by joining Brighton Japan Club), watch Japanese programs on Netflix before bed.

I should clarify you do not need to eat cornflakes to learn Japanese.

Start small The temptation is to start with translating sentences but it’s more motivating and effective to start by building vocabulary. Nouns are a good place to start. Make a flashcard set on your phone (KEITAI) or on paper (KAMI) for everyday vocabulary.

We naturally learn like this. My 18 month year old nephew has begun learning how to identify things he sees. He has already learnt duck (KAMO), this (KORE) and car (KURUMA). Can you catch him up?

  • I should make clear my nephew is not actually learning Japanese at the moment, despite my best efforts to enroll him in our classes.

Use the best study material It sounds simple, but good learning resources can make so much difference, and some of them don’t cost a penny. For example the free MEMORY HINT app for learning HIRAGANA and KATAKANA gets excellent reviews from our Shimaguni students. If you prefer a book, Learning Japanese Hiragana and Katakana for Self Study is also very good. IMI WA is an excellent free Japanese-English dictionary app.

Learn the culture Part of learning Japanese is learning about Japanese culture. You can’t do one without the other. Think how have we all learnt the Japanese words all English speakers already know such as sushi, sake, sumo and karaoke (pronounced kah-rah-oh-kay in Japanese).  We see something unusual and we naturally want to know what it’s called: “here’s a duck, there’s a duck, everywhere’s a duck, duck”.

  • I should say my nephew currently identifies all living creatures (including uncles) as ducks. And who am I to correct him.

Speak Japanese I must admit I am quite mad. I talk to myself on a regular basis. I realised a while ago it was the only way to get regular Japanese speaking practice at a pace I was comfortable with.

You can’t assume just because you really want to speak Japanese, there are people crowds of people who are happy to patiently listen. And we do need to practice making the sounds. A vocal workout is genuine exercise.

So start singing along to Japanese pop songs, read aloud from Japanese textbooks and flashcards sets, even try to start thinking aloud in Japanese.

Just don’t do it in the queue at Co-Op. God, that was embarrassing.  

Join a class (group or private – ideally both) Classes provide structure, motivation and confidence. The structure helps you see how much you are improving. The motivation comes from being with other similar level students and from the constructive feedback provided by the teachers. The confidence comes from gaining real experience communicating in Japanese with other students and the teacher.    

If you would like to know about the private Japanese classes at our Brighton school, or our new group class schedule for July 2019 please email info@shimaguni.co.uk

Please let me know if you have any comments about this post.