The Simple Secret of Sou (“seems like” or “I heard”): “complex” grammar made easy

Don't be confused. It all makes sense once you know!
Don’t be confused.
It all makes sense once you know!

Putting sou da/desu on the end of a word can represent either hearsay or similarity. Which of the two it means depends on seemingly subtle and arbitrary grammar rules.

But actually that confusing “list of rules” boils down to one simple secret.

Every grammar explanation I have seen makes it seem that there is a complex set of rules that just happen to be what they are and all you can do is learn them by brute force.

But that isn’t really true. Like much of Japanese the rules make perfect logical and intuitive sense once you understand them.

Tae Kim’s excellent site gives a run-down of all the rules. I won’t try to explain them here. Tae Kim, or your textbook, is much better at that sort of thing than I am. I am just a doll.

What I am going to do is tell you why those rules actually make sense and are not just an abstract set of rules to be learned.

For example, Tae Kim tells us that for the “seems like” meaning:

  1. Verbs must be changed to the stem.
  2. The 「い」 in i-adjectives must be dropped except for 「いい」.
  3. いい」 must first be conjugated to 「よさ」.
  4. For all negatives, the 「い」 must be replaced with 「さ」.
  5. This grammar does not work with plain nouns.

One might also add that na-adjectives have the sou attached directly to them (rather than having putting da/desu between the adjective and the sou as you do when you mean “I heard that…”

What I am going to tell you is what you are actually doing when you are doing all this, and how knowing that makes it all very easy and intuitive.

Essentially, for the “seems like” meaning, you are grafting sou onto the word so that it becomes a new adjective. For the “I heard that” meaning you are completing the statement and then adding sou to mean “so I heard”.

Sou meaning “seems like”

For the “seems like” meaning you are simply changing a verb or an adjective to become a new adjective.

  • oishii (i-adj: delicious*) becomes oishisou (delicious-looking)
  • manzoku (na-adj: contentment/contented) becomes manzokusou (contented-looking)
  • ochiru (vb: fall) becomes ochisou (fall-looking: ie, looks as if it’s about to fall)

This is the reason you use the “seems like” sou in this way. Each time, you are creating a new na-adjective ending in sou, which means [original word]-looking or -seeming. Remember this and the rest makes sense.

Sou Meaning “I heard”

With the sou that means “I heard” you are not grafting sou onto what comes before it. You are completing the statement and then adding the rider “so I heard”.

oishii sou desu = It is delicious, so I hear

Note that this time we are not grafting sou onto oishii by removing the last i and replacing it with sou. We are completing the statement oishii (=it is delicious – remember that i-adjectives contain the “it is”/da/desu within themselves) and then adding the rider that this is what you have heard.

kirei da sou desu = It is pretty, so I have heard

Na adjectives do not contain da/desu within themselves, so we add da to the adjective to make it a complete statement before adding the rider sou desu.

(Note: I would recommend reading “I and Na Adjectives: what the textooks don’t tell you” because a lot of what makes these “rules” seem confusing is not understanding how adjectives really work)

ame ga furu sou desu = It is going to rain, so I have heard

Contrast this with

ame ga furisou desu = It is rainfall-looking (seems as if it will rain)

In one case we graft sou onto furu (using the masu-stem method of connection) making the new adjective furisou (=fall-seeming). In the other case we use the complete verb furu and then add the sou rider.

So now it is easy

Once you know this, the whole list of “annoying rules” becomes simple and obvious. We are doing the same thing in each case, in the standard way that Japanese always does these things.

The only tricky exceptions are:

When you connect sou to ii (good) to make the adjective “good-seeming” it becomes yosasou. This isn’t really confusing as ii always becomes yo when it is conjugated in any way.  For example the past tense of ii is yokatta.

The only really exceptional thing is that nai becomes nasa when connected to sou to make a negative “doesn’t seem like” adjective.

Tayorinai (unreliable) becomes tayorinasasou (unreliable-seeming).

So all that list of mind-muddling rules boils down to one that actually doesn’t make instant sense once you know how it all works. And nasasou (unlikely) is a very useful word on its own so you would be learning that anyway.

Cultural notes on sou meaning “seems like”

Words like omoshirosou, (interesting-seeming) are much more used in Japanese than the English equivalents are. The reason for this is that in Japanese we tend not to express an experience directly unless we have had it directly. So if I have done a thing and think it was interesting I say omoshiroi, but if I haven’t done it but think it would be interesting I have to say omoshirosou.

In two cases the –sou adjective of a word doesn’t mean what you might think.

Kawaii means cute, but kawaisou doesn’t mean cute-looking but pitiable. Be careful not to call someone’s baby kawaisou!

Erai means great, magnificent, admirable. However erasou doesn’t mean admirable-seeming. It means important-looking in the sense of trying to look important: arrogant. Again, don’t call anyone erasou because you think she looks distinguished!

These are the only two common cases where the sou-adjective doesn’t mean what you expect.


*Oishii can mean something more than just delicious. Go here to learn the full meaning.

Ojousama: the Aristocratic Young Lady and Her Kanji

Ojousama: a complex character but fine when you get to know her
Ojousama: a complex character but fine when you get to know her

A lot of people consider Ojousama to be a complicated character, and if you look at her portrait to the right you can see why.

The central part of お嬢さま ojousama is 嬢 jou (the rest is simply honorific o and sama, of course).

It is one of the more complicated kanji. Its right-hand section consists of 六 six, 井 well and the regular truncated form of 衣 clothes.

(If you want to know why a well looks like 井 you may want to go to this post on the forums.)

The right section together means “soft” and is a bit obscure. So we are going to associate it with ojousama herself:

ojousama-by-the-wellOjousama is a young 女 lady in beautiful 衣 clothing who comes upon 六 six 井 wells.

If we remember this little story we can remember Ojousama and we can use her to remember the other kanji in which her right-hand element appears. The most important of these is 譲 which we find in 譲る yuzuru which means to hand over or yield.

譲 is the Ojousama kanji with a word 言 as its left, type-defining radical, instead of a 女 girl. When Ojousama 言 speaks in her gentle voice, people hand over anything she wants. It is love, not usury (sound-mnemonic).

Another word with the Ojousama kanji is 醸 which means “brew” both literally (brewing wine or beer) and figuratively, (to cause or bring about, as in English “brew trouble”). This is the Ojousama right hand with 酒 sake, alcohol (without its own left liquid-definer) its left, type-defining, radical.

In the old days, brewing wasn’t done in factories but was a woman’s job. Ojousama is a fine lady and one of her activities is brewing fine sake.

There are other kanji with Ojousama’s right-hand side. We don’t need to learn them all now. In fact we don’t need to learn any of them now unless we want to. We can just learn Ojousama, and pick up the others as we come to them (譲る yuzuru is a particularly useful one).

This is a good example of how using the organic method of learning kanji, we often take the first or most striking or picturesque word that we come across using a particular kanji sub-section and then use that to remember other words with the same sub-section.

Six wells? Don’t magical things come in sevens? Actually Ojousama herself is the seventh 井 well, because she is so well-衣 dressed.

Learning Japanese: Immersion vs Study, Romantic vs Classical

Classical or Romantic? Two paths to Japanese

There are two ways of going about learning Japanese: immersion and study.

They are not, of course, mutually exclusive, but I am coming to the conclusion that they constitute two very different “cultures” and relationships with the language.

This feeling was recently confirmed by an article on a well-known Japanese-learning site entitled “What Would Happen if Your Japanese Got Too Good”.

The question was essentially: would you be bored if you “finished learning” Japanese? The very fact that the question was asked is interesting, and so were some of the replies. “There is always more to learn: old Japanese, obscure kanji etc.”; “There are plenty of other languages to learn” etc.

The site in question is one that encourages an “RPG” approach to learning Japanese and likens levels of Japanese skill to levels in a game. In one way this is making Japanese learning fun, which I am all for. On the other hand, it is what I would call “meta-Japanese” fun. The fun of this approach is in “learning Japanese”, not in Japanese itself. This seems to go hand in hand with the fact that the site is over 90% in English and essentially devoted to “meta-Japanese” English discussion.

Now I want to make it clear that I am not criticizing this approach. It works for a lot of people. The site is a very good one and I have great respect for its founder. However, it is an example of the “two cultures” that I am speaking about.

The article in question underlined what I have been thinking for a long time. That “learning Japanese” can easily become an end in itself. Again, I am not criticizing. If studying Japanese is your hobby, please enjoy it. It is undoubtedly a good hobby to have.

It just isn’t my hobby. I have never found much commonalty with the “language-learning community” because I am not interested in language learning. I am in love with Japanese. I want to dive into Japanese and live Japanese. I regard Japanese as my language, not “a language” I am “learning”.

What would happen if I “finished learning” Japanese? Well, what happened to you when you “finished learning” your native language?

Think about that for a moment. When did you “finish learning” your native language? Were you ever consciously learning it at all? Did “learning” it matter to you? Or were you just interested in getting on with life: watching movies, playing games, reading books, talking with friends?

Because that is my interest in Japanese. I am simply interested in getting on with my Japanese life. The fact that I have to “learn” it is just something that gets in the way.

It isn’t a bad thing, it’s just a thing. Like the small child who struggles to express her thought in her own language, or the older child who wants to read a book that has a lot of words and expressions she doesn’t understand. We “learn” by getting over the problems life throws in our path.

But “learning Japanese” isn’t the game to me. The game is the game. The book is the book. The movie is the movie.

A famous Internet personality founded what is broadly called “Immersion learning” in Internet circles today. He would write at length about how you don’t need to study you just need to dive into Japanese and “get used” to it. You just need to have fun and learn naturally. He would become very voluble (and at times a bit vulgar) about this.

And I have to say that (minus the vulgarity) I agree with every word he said along these lines. The problem is, he didn’t believe it himself. And neither do the many people who currently follow some version of his approach.

While he preached immersion, sometimes quite ferociously, his recommended practice was something else altogether.

What he actually said one should do is learn kanji via the Heisig Method, which essentially involves learning many hundreds of kanji “blind”, without knowing a single actual word of Japanese. Heisig-sensei himself likened it to putting oneself in the position of a Chinese student who begins knowing no Japanese but a lot of kanji.

The other arm of this method was learning 10,000 sentences using electronic flashcards (Anki). Oh and while you’re at it, do a lot of passive listening to Japanese audio.

Is this unfair? A little, but it is essentially the case. What starts off (and I have no doubt this person was sincere) as an “immersion” approach becomes in practice a massive program of abstract study.

Now I agree that pure immersion from day one is inadvisable. We do recommend learning the basics of grammar and continuing to learn grammar as you go along.

Like the site mentioned at the beginning, we do bring the RPG analogy to Japanese, but in a very different way. Rather than the RPG being a meta-Japanese game of “learning Japanese”. We liken Japanese itself to a huge, complex RPG, and we liken abstract learning to the game’s huge manual.

We recommend reading the introductory tutorial chapter of the manual, just to get enough information to get started, and then diving into the game itself, learning by playing and referring to the rest of the manual as and when necessary.

We do not recommend a long preparatory phase with the goal of using Japanese somewhere at the end of it. We do not recommend hundreds of hours of kanji study, thousands of sentence flashcards or extensive textbook study. We recommend spending most of that time on actually using Japanese. You will need some grammar help, and you will need Anki flashcards for learning kanji, though you will be doing it organically, learning kanji as you encounter them in real words.

Essentially, at every point after the first few months of getting  kana and basic grammar under your belt, you are using Japanese first and only “studying” as and when you need it as a support to your real-life use.

In this actual immersion approach, using Japanese is primary. Meta-Japanese elements (study, flashcards, English grammar explanations and the rest) are exactly what the word meta implies. Something on the side of your real Japanese life.

Now to be clear, I am not for a moment attempting to disparage all other ways of learning. There are fundamentally two approaches, and both of them work.

Ours isn’t new. We didn’t invent it. We did pioneer some of the ways to do it via the Internet, but the world is in fact full of people who went to places where other languages were spoken and learned them (at least the spoken versions) just by being there and using them. The true “immersion method” is as old as language itself.

The “study-first” approach isn’t quite so old but it has a long, long pedigree.

We are not claiming that true immersion is faster than study-first (no genuine method is all that fast) or easier than study-first (no method is easy). Which is fastest and most efficient depends on who you are, how you learn, and what your priorities are.

The real point is that these are two very different approaches. Two very different relationships with the process of acquiring Japanese.

Many people thrive on study. Many others burn out and give up before they get anywhere near the “goal” (whatever that actually is).

Many people love raising their levels by study (the idea of treating them as RPG levels was inspired).

True immersion learners probably have no idea what their level is (I know I don’t). On the other hand, they don’t much care. They are more concerned with whether they can enjoy this anime, read that book and express the idea that is in their mind.

I tend to think of study-first and immersion as the “Classical” and “Romantic” approaches respectively. If you want to pass exams the Classical approach is probably better. If you have a methodical mind you may well find it better (though I know some very methodical people who use true immersion).


If your love of Japanese is such that you want to dive into its warm waters and swim toward the golden sunlight…

If Japanese feels like your true language, not just “a language” to “learn”…

If you see mechanics of learning as just a necessary evil and what you want is to embrace Japanese herself…

If you are determined enough to climb the sheer cliff-face of real use, rather than use the long stone steps of study…

Then the Romantic method will call to you. And here is how to get started.

(If you need help with starting on the Romantic path to Japanese, you might want to go here)

Japanese Immersion: How to Get Started

Surrounding yourself with Japanese: First steps
Surrounding yourself with Japanese: First steps

So, you want to learn Japanese organically by immersion rather than by abstract study. It makes good sense, at least for many learners.

The problem is, how do you get started?

We have outlined the overall game-plan for immersion learning and talked about a lot of the specifics, like tackling kanji, vocabulary and grammar from an immersion perspective.

The problem still remains. How do you get started on what feels like the sheer rock-face of native Japanese material when you are a beginner or near-beginner?

As we have said before, it isn’t easy. It is like an assault-course that recruits look at and say “that isn’t possible”. But if you are sufficiently determined it is possible. And generations of recruits have gone through it before you.

So, as someone who has been through it, how would I recommend you actually start?

First of all, you really must pick up some grammar. You don’t have to be studying it for years. But get the basics, as explained in the linked article. You can do it pretty quickly by working smart rather than hard.

Even before that, learn hiragana. This is not a big job, but it is easy to turn it into one. You can, and should, learn hiragana in a week. Any longer and it starts becoming increasingly inefficient. You are wasting time forgetting almost as fast as you are learning.

How soon after this you learn katakana depends on your approach. A lot of small children’s material uses only hiragana or uses furigana (small hiragana to tell you the pronunciation) over any katakana or kanji (and even romaji), so, just like a Japanese child, you can manage for a short time with only hiragana. It depends what material you want to begin with.

All right, with that preparation done, how do you begin?

Japanese Immersion: The first steps

What I did was this:

Learn hiragana and katakana. Learn the rudiments of grammar essentially by going through Genki 1 (though I didn’t use the exercises) and pecking around various online grammar resources.

A few months in (I don’t recall exactly), having done most of Genki 1 and a few other things, started watching Japanese-subtitled anime. I began with Karigurashi no Arietty and Tonari no Totoro.

I would not say this was the ideal way to go about it, but I was treading a new path and had no one to advise me. Arietty, especially, was punching considerably above my weight and that was my very first. But it did work. It was like climbing a sheer rock-face (and it always will be but I am going to suggest some slightly gentler starting-slopes). I had to skip a lot of the more complicated sentences. But I got through it, taking a very long time, enjoyed it, and learned an enormous amount.

Gentler slopes

If I were doing it now, with rather more experience of how to go about it, what would I do?

I might start with the White Rabbit graded readers. These are a bit of a cheat as they are actually aimed at Japanese learners, not natives. On the other hand, they are really part of the pre-immersion preparation period done in a pseudo-immersion way.

They are a good way to consolidate your hiragana, early grammar and very early kanji.

I might then move on to the real thing in graded readers. That is graded readers intended for actual Japanese children. This could be your first step into genuine Japanese immersion.

Remember that small Japanese children have a far bigger vocabulary than you and a much better grasp of simple grammar, so even these are a little deep-endy for a beginner. So you can take pride that you are making your first step into the ranks of the immersion elite!

What about anime?

I believe anime is crucial. Books are good, but you can’t hear them (the for-foreigners books have CDs, but this is rather artificial though it may help you with your early pre-steps).

I would make one particular recommendation of a show that I wish I had known about when I was starting. That is:

Arupusu no Shoujo Haiji
Heidi, Girl of the Alps

Why this anime?

• It has Japanese subtitles with furigana. This is pretty rare for Japanese subtitles, at least ones that are easy to get hold of. This will make your early days much easier. I had to copy kanji out of the subtitle file and paste them into Denshi Jisho to look them up.

• Most of the interaction is small-child to small-child or adult to small-child. This means that you will mostly be getting dialog at child-level. However, it is not baby-talk (like, say, Chi’s Sweet Home) which is both difficult and of limited value. It is good usable Japanese.

Please feel free to skip adult-to-adult conversations in the beginning. You are a child in Japanese. Note that the first episode has a lot more of this than most. You might want to begin with Episode 2.

• There are a lot of episodes. 52 in fact. It is good to have media with a lot of episodes/volumes because every work has its own subset of vocabulary, so you are building steadily on the base you are acquiring.

(Note: obviously exercise due diligence and make sure whatever version you get has the Japanese audio and Japanese subtitles).

Heidi isn’t the only option of course, but it is one you may well want to think about. I think it is what I would go for if I were doing it over again.

As it is, I discovered the Precure series which was quite a bit easier than Ghibli, even though at first I was largely lost in the explanatory sections.

It is important to remember at the early stages that some things will be above your head. When I was in Japan the first time I had host-sisters of four and eight years old. They were crazy about Precure. There was a great deal they (especially the four-year-old) didn’t understand. That didn’t stop them getting a lot out of it and adoring it (and of course learning a lot).

Won’t I be bored stiff immersing in works for children?

It somewhat depends who you are, of course. But Arupusu no Shoujo Haiji is a classic, loved by adults and children alike. Precure has considerable depth that makes it far from being just a children’s show (just choose one of the “deeper” series like Smile or Doki Doki).

Immersion, especially early immersion, does entail working at something like your “Japanese age”. Learning grammar and your overall adult experience gives you a boost that allows you to work at the four-year-old level at three to six months in (if you are dedicated). If this is genuinely unsatisfactory to you, true immersion may not be for you.

Our concept has always been based on “walk-before-you-run Japanese”. University Japanese is “run-before-you-walk Japanese” in the sense that it tries to teach adult interactions to people who have no grounding in the language and  couldn’t hold a two-minute conversation with a five-year-old.

True immersion involves working your way up, rather than cutting corners and trying to build the roof before you’ve laid the foundations.

In organic immersion you are, in some respects, starting again as a child and getting the chance to experience all kinds of wonderful, innocent (but often profound) things.

Instead of learning abstract rules and vocabulary lists, you are growing up in Japanese.

If you are open to that, it turns “learning Japanese” into a wonderful, magical journey.

If you need personal help in getting started with Japanese immersion, go here.

Meet Your Japanese Immersion Senpai!

Senpai is a doll?

A lot of people tell me that they really like the immersion approach to Japanese on this site but that they really wish they could have some personal help in such things as:

  • Getting started
  • Transitioning from the conventional “study-first” approach to Immersion
  • Communicating/interacting in Japanese-only

In some cases I have given them some help and have found myself in the position of an Immersion senpai (or sometimes oneechan).

Because I wish I had had someone to help me when I was starting, I am trying an experiment in helping other people to use our immersion methods.

I am not a teacher and I am not a native Japanese speaker. What I am offering is two very specific services. These are:

1. Strategy Sessions

We have always said that there is no one “system” for Japanese Immersion. Everyone learns differently. Everyone works differently. Unless you are an absolute beginner, everyone is starting from a different base.

What I am offering here is simply to talk it over with you. There is nothing fancy about this. I am not offering any magic. It is simply that I have been through the assault-course of early immersion and I have helped several people with differing skills and priorities from myself to get through it.

I am not setting myself up as an expert. I am just a doll who lives in the territory you are trying to move into, and can show you some of the ropes.

I am simply offering to be the senpai I wish I had had when I was doing it all from scratch!

2. Japanese Immersion Relationship

To learn Japanese you have to use Japanese. Not just input but real two-way communication. Ideally you should have someone with whom your relationship is exclusively Japanese. I have talked about the psychological reasons for this elsewhere.

What is ideal is an relationship/environment where Japanese is Language itself. There is nothing else to fall back on. When you think of communicating with that person you have to think in Japanese.

In the early stages (and way up to intermediate in some cases) this can be very difficult. Your Japanese isn’t good enough yet to form relationships.

I have helped people through this stage. I have gone from patiently asking questions like:

まど の そと は、何が 見えますか?

to discussing things like the history of language in Japanese, with the same person, in about a year.

Obviously that person was also working hard on immersion! But what I was doing was bringing out her ability to communicate. Getting over the psychological barriers and creating an environment where Japanese is not “a language” but the means of communication.

I wish to make it clear I am not a native speaker. My Japanese isn’t perfect. I will be your senpai, not your sensei. The point here is not to learn Japanese from me (you will probably learn some, but that is incidental). The point is to learn to use Japanese as the means of communication. That is both psychologically and practically a whole new skill-set and outlook. And short of going to Japan there aren’t many ways of acquiring them.

If you don’t mind having a doll for a senpai and you want to meet me, please use this form. I’ll explain the practical details below.

Practical details

Cost is currently US $10 per session. You can pay by Paypal regardless of your currency. This is an experiment on my part. If it goes well and I like it I will probably end up charging rather more. If it doesn’t or I don’t, I will stop doing it altogether. So it might be a good idea to try it now!

Pay now if you are ready. It is all right if you want to ask questions and arrange the session time first via the form above.

Sessions will be via Skype. I don’t use a camera.

Once you have submitted the form I will contact you and we will arrange a session. If you have preferred time(s) please include them in the comments section of the form, but don’t worry. We can work it out later.

Please be aware that if you choose the Japanese Immersion Relationship option we will not speak any English, so if you have something you need to convey to me in English please do so in writing beforehand.

Japanese: How to Stop Studying and Start Learning

stop-studying-japanese1One of the greatest enemies of learning Japanese can be – studying Japanese.

You can’t learn a language by studying it. You can only learn about a language by studying it.

Am I saying you should never study? No, of course not. What I am saying is that study should not be at the center of your effort to learn Japanese. Study is a support to learning.

How much of it you do will vary depending on your approach. It can (and I think should) be a lot less than most people think. But one thing is certain. If all you do is study, you won’t learn Japanese.

When I say that learning Japanese should be like a game, here is what I mean. Imagine a big, complicated game. A really big game. There is a ton to learn in this game.

Now imagine someone who sets out to learn everything (or at least a very large proportion of the information) about the game before she ever touches the controller.

Six months in and she is still trying to memorize the names, characteristics, and elemental types of 1,893 monsters. Nine months in and she is working on the finer points of battle strategy. By a year she is tackling the intricacies of breeding monsters. She still hasn’t touched the game except for practice sessions in the game’s tutorial levels. It all feels terribly abstract and difficult.

Now there may be people who learn well that way. But I think the best approach is to start the game as soon as you know enough to begin. You will encounter monsters, battles and everything else as you go along. You can learn them as you need them. I am not saying this is easy. Learning Japanese is always going to take work. But it is going to make sense and feel like language rather than a set of words and rules.

We suggest that you learn the basics of grammar in a simple way, and then plunge in to using Japanese by watching anime with Japanese subtitles and other real Japanese (non-textbook) activities.

Let’s take some simple examples of how study can become an obstacle to learning.

I have heard people say that as they advance grammar becomes an increasingly complex set of rules that they forget as fast as they learn.

I am not surprised. Grammar should not primarily be learned as abstract rules. You should be using the language and making friends with the way it is used. The rules are not just abstractions to be learned. You need to get comfortable with them, hear them often, get the real-life feel of them. Trying to learn a hundred rules before having the real-life feel of even one is learning upside down.

People complain that one word may have ten definitions. How can they learn them all?

We shouldn’t be learning a list of definitions. We should be making friends with the words. We don’t need to learn a whole list of the ways a word can be used. All we need is to understand the way it is being used right now (in the anime we are watching or the book we are reading). We can enter that word into an application like Anki to help us learn it (especially its kanji). But we need to get familiar with that use.

Later on we will see the word used in other ways. We will see the relationship between the different uses. For example, how 切る kiru, to cut, has many extended meanings (Denshi Jisho lists 24) but all of them are based around the metaphor of cutting. Trying to learn them as a list is completely the wrong way to approach them. Just learn them as they come, and the feeling of how the word works will get clearer and clearer over time, just as it does for children.

This last part may take quite a while. It takes children a long time too. The subtleties of the language start falling together in our minds as we use it and use it. It doesn’t need to be rushed. It doesn’t help anything to try to rush it. We just end up with lists of abstractions in our minds that don’t make real sense. Because only making friends with words, grammar and the language as a whole makes real sense of them.

Now having said all this, I have to say that it does depend on what you have entered the world of Japanese for, and how long you plan to stay.

Our immersion approach is based on the assumption that you plan to stay for life. If you are cramming for an exam, you may be better off with lists of rules and lists of vocabulary and all the apparatus of “study”. You won’t learn Japanese, but you will learn a lot about Japanese, and that is what exams are for.

But if you are entering a life-long relationship with Japanese and planning to make her your Second Mother Tongue, the “primacy of study” can become your biggest obstacle. The idea that you spend many months or even years “preparing” before you use the language, for you, is flawed from the beginning.

In our article on how to build a Japanese core vocabulary organically, we gave the example of the person who asks:

How many “core vocabulary” words do I need to learn before I can read manga?

We explained how this approach often leads to disappointment and burnout. But more than that, for Second-Mother Tongue learners it is psychologically the wrong approach. It is developing the wrong relation to the language, as a “subject of study”.

The right question here is:

How much core vocabulary will I learn from reading this manga?

Actually, of course, we do not even ask this question. Our primary objective is reading the manga itself. We are using Japanese, not studying it. The fact that we are “learning core vocabulary” is just a magnificent by-product. Magnificent because it will make it that much easier to read the next manga, and the next, and to watch the next Japanese-subtitled anime, and to do whatever else we do.

Everything we do in Japanese feeds into everything else we do in Japanese. This is how we learn rather than “study”.

The whole “cult of study” can lead to what are, for the Second-Mother Tongue learner, bad practices. For example, if we are doing massive input we do not need to and should not put all our new vocabulary in Anki.

Why not? for two reasons:

  1. We should not be thinking in terms of “study” as the primary way forward. We will pick up words if we are immersing and using massive input. By the time we reach a middling intermediate stage, Anki is for learning words that we feel need a special boost and words that contain unfamiliar kanji (because kanji are a special case).
  2. We need to get over the “fear of forgetting”. We will temporarily forget some words we learn. But this is not our “only chance” to learn them. We will be encountering them again and again. We are in Japanese for the long haul, not cramming for an exam. We need to give the majority of our Japanese time to massive input (and output). Study is useful up to a point but it can easily suck time away from the real thing. (Of course this only works if your input is truly massive.)

So, after basic grammar, should we never study? This is a matter of personal learning style. But I think a Second-Mother Tongue learner, when she does study, takes a rather different approach.

For example, I read A Dictionary of Intermediate Japanese Grammar for fun. I didn’t try to “learn” it. It may seem odd, reading it for fun, but remember our game analogy. When you love a game, you don’t put off playing it until you have learned a huge amount about it. But you may well read everything about the game you can get your hands on when you aren’t actually playing it. If  you love playing the game, everything that helps you understand the game more deeply is a good read!

One caution here. While deepening our understanding of Japanese is a good thing, reading about Japanese in English can quickly become a bad habit. Do deepen your understanding with a few really good books (the dictionaries of Japanese grammar mentioned above are highly recommended if you are a bit of a grammar nerd like this doll). Do, of course, look up grammar on the Web or elsewhere when you don’t understand it.

For general browsing once you reach the intermediate level, it is a good idea to move it into Japanese as far as possible. I strongly recommend Nihongo no Mori N3 and N2 lessons on YouTube. These videos teach Japanese grammar in a conversational, entertaining manner and all in Japanese, you are in fact learning some Japanese at the same time as learning about Japanese.

But, a final caution. Don’t ever mistake reading English about Japanese for learning Japanese. Don’t think that by reading this site, or any other English-language site, you are learning Japanese. You aren’t. If you are reading to learn something you specifically need to know it can be useful. But more than that is just a distraction from actually learning Japanese.

Again it depends if you are a Second-Mother Tongue learner. If your heart-base is in English and Japanese is a hobby on the side, by all means have fun with your hobby in English.

But if Japanese is where you are going, don’t for a moment think that “playing Japanese” in English is getting you there. If Japanese is like exercise, then reading about Japanese in English (except for the occasional necessary and brief clarification) is like getting off the treadmill and eating cake.

Japanese only feels like a treadmill because we are still basing ourselves in English. The aim of the Second-Mother Tongue learner is to move that emotional base into Japanese.

And that takes effort. From struggling through your first anime to struggling to put your inner monologue into Japanese, acquiring Japanese takes ganbari, just as struggling to understand and express yourself in your first language took ganbari (that is one reason very small children often seem so cross-grained and frustrated). Study takes ganbari too, but it is a different kind of ganbari.

So is this site a distraction from acquiring Japanese too? Too much of it would be. Our aim is to provide the information and encouragement needed for true immersion and share some of the methods that have helped us on the way.

But the main Cures behind this site communicate among themselves almost exclusively in Japanese. We also started the Kawaii Japanese Forums so that other people could communicate in Japanese rather than use English-language “Japanese forums”. This is all part of the philosophy of using Japanese rather than studying Japanese.

We hope this site will help you to plunge into the big, deep, scary-but-wonderful world of real Japanese outside the textbooks. And we hope to meet you there some time!

Youkai Watch Review: THE game for Japanese learners?

youkai-watch-for-Japanese-learnersYoukai Watch is a huge phenomenon in Japan. The game Youkai Watch 2 has sold over five million copies and it hasn’t been released outside Japan.  You see Youkai Watch everywhere, from cereal packs to facecloths.

The Youkai Watch phenomenon resembles Pokemon in its heyday, and indeed it is in many ways very similar in concept to Pokemon.

As I write, the first game will go on sale in America next week (styled Yo-kai Watch). As it happens (the two events aren’t connected) I have just begun playing it (in Japanese, of course). Whether it will be anything like as big in America as it is in Japan remains to be seen. Will it be the next Pokemon in the West too? Or some obscure Japanese thing that never really caught on? People said Pokemon was “too Japanese” for the West,  but Yo-kai Watch is considerably more “Japanese” than Pokemon.

Youkai Watch for the Japanese Learner

The question that concerns us is: Is Youkai Watch a good game for the Japanese learner?

I would definitely say that it is. To begin with it has full furigana. Even Pokemon X/Y forces you to choose between all-kana text and text with kanji and no furigana. Personally I find all-kana even harder to read than than furigana-less kanji. Fortunately Youkai Watch doesn’t make one choose the lesser of two evils.

The game is packed with text at a level that is good for not-too-advanced learners. Even NPCs have a lot to say, and what they say is generally less random and odd than in Pokemon, which gives the player a much better chance of understanding what they mean.

But Youkai Watch also has a “secret ingredient” that I think makes it a winner for the Japanese learner.

I am guessing that most Japanese learners, especially those who are self-learning rather than doing it for school, have a love of Japan too. This is where Youkai Watch really shines. The game’s beautifully crafted 3D world is a kind of Japan simulator.

Youkai Watch will inevitably be compared to Pokemon. It is essentially the same monster-collecting/battling premise wrapped in a similar RPG environment with a similarly heartwarming underlying story.

The main difference is that while Pokemon is set in an alternate world where everyone interacts with Pokemon, Youkai Watch is set in the current Japan that its players know and love. Youkai are invisible to most people, just as they are in real life.

If you have spent time in Japan not doing “tourist things” but just wandering around a small town observing and drinking in every little thing, then Youkai Watch is going to bring a sense of heart-wrenchingly natsukashii deja vu.

Youkai watch genkan
Youkai Watch: a love letter to Japan

Your house has a real genkan, just like the house you lived in in Japan. When you leave you will automatically put your shoes on. When you re-enter you will automatically take them off and leave them there. Even the lavatory is detailed enough that you can see it is a Japanese-style one with an integrated handbasin and cistern.

When you leave the house you find that you are wandering Japanese streets just as you do/did in Japan. The shop fronts, the cars, the pedestrian crossings with bicycle lanes (you press the button and wait in the same way). The konbini – just like the real ones, the last shelves before the checkout have ready-to-eat food. When you buy some, you almost expect them to offer to warm it for you in the denshirenji the way they do in real life. The schools, the parks, the rainy days with ubiquitous umbrellas. Every little detail is so very much Japan.

If you have never been and want to get the feel of Japan, this game (the Japanese version, of course) is ideal. I imagine you will have the reverse reaction when you do get there. “Oh, this is just like the game!”

Youkai Watch vending machines
There are vending machines everywhere just as in real Japan. And yes, they do really work!

The makers of Youkai Watch, Level 5, also made Fantasy Life, and if you play both, you will realize how many things have been taken from that game. Not just its excellent 3D-world infrastructure, but also its ability to lead you around the game. If you want it, the game will constantly tell you your next objective and place pointers on the bottom screen map to lead you there.

You can turn this off in the options if you don’t like it. Personally I am 方向音痴 and get lost in games as easily as in real life, so I really appreciate this. Also, as a Japanese learner, you very likely want to spend as much time as possible with the extensive text rather than trying to figure out where you need to go next and how to get there.

On the other hand, if you are anything like me you will wander around quite a lot, just as I do in physical Japan. There is so much to drink in. You will want to read the shop signs and the posters in the bank and get annoyed when some of them aren’t quite detailed enough. If there is one thing I would add to this game it is a zoom function, but then I guess most people aren’t otaku-ing about the depth of Japanese detail. The amazing thing is that there really is enough everyday detail in the game to otaku about. And the fact that it is all in glorious glasses-free 3D is the frosting on the cake!

Fortunately, the game also rewards your wanderings. There are things to find everywhere: under cars, in tiny back alleys, up trees, and even under the ubiquitous (and functional) vending machines.

Like Fantasy Life before it, Youkai Watch is a generous game packed with surprises and extras that you didn’t expect. There is always something new and rich waiting for you at every turn. Rather than being a second-rate imitation of Pokemon, it brings many, many new things to the formula, refreshing and invigorating it. I am not saying that Pokemon is tired. I don’t think it is, even now. But Pokemon-alikes always were.

Youkai Watch is fresh, innovative and delightful, and it deserves every bit of the huge success it is enjoying.

Youkai Watch


Immersive experience that not only helps your Japanese but gives you a real sensation of being in Japan. The first Pokemon-type game to rival Pokemon itself in quality.

See the original post (in Japanese) that was later expanded into this review.

  • (5/5)

How to Learn Kanji Organically (as part of Japanese self-immersion)

Learn Kanji OrganicallyThere are a lot of kanji-learning systems around these days.

But what if the best system is no system?

Our method of learning Japanese is based on a minimum of abstract study and a maximum of immersing yourself in the language and really using and enjoying it.

But what about kanji?

Why they say you can’t learn kanji organically

On the face of it, there is a strong case against the possibility of learning kanji organically.

Children don’t learn to speak their own language out of textbooks. Their grasp of grammar and vocabulary comes from hearing it and using it. Before they learn to read, they already have a grasp of vocabulary and grammar that takes a foreign student years to acquire.

But writing is different. No one acquires the alphabet naturally. They actually have to sit down and learn it. Kanji is the same, only several hundred times bigger. Japanese children study kanji in school for years before they become fully literate. So what is this talk about learning kanji organically? Surely they have to be learned by an abstract system. Even Japanese people learn them that way.

The  answer to this is “yes, and no”. Japanese children do learn kanji as kanji. But they already know the words that they signify. They are not learning them in the abstract. The minute they learn a kanji, it attaches to a body of knowledge they already possess and becomes a living part of their language understanding.

This is why we say, “learn words, not kanji”. Which is to say, learn words with their kanji. And learn vocabulary not from vocabulary lists, but from organic encounters. We have already discussed how to build vocabulary organically. This article is tackling the question of how to learn kanji as a part of this process.

It is largely because of kanji that we recommend using Anki. You can learn vocabulary purely organically, but you do need to drill kanji, and, if you don’t need to write kanji, then Anki is in our opinion the best way to learn vocabulary and kanji at once. This gives you the basic minimum of drilling that you absolutely need, and makes it do double duty for kanji and vocabulary.

However, we aren’t going to talk about Anki here, but about the actual strategy for breaking down and remembering the kanji.

Remembering the Kanji (without the system)

James Heisig’s book Remembering the Kanji has been hugely influential in showing people how to see kanji as picture stories rather than abstract patterns of strokes. Some people seem to think Heisig-sensei invented this technique, but as he makes clear in his introduction, he didn’t. What he did was to systematize and popularize it.

Since then other people have made systems with the same general principles. What we do is to de-systematize it.


Well, it depends on how you learn and what you want to do. Some people want to spend a long time systematically learning kanji. We wanted to spend that time acquiring Japanese by immersing ourselves in it, with kanji as one of the things we pick up as we go along.

How to Learn Kanji Naturally and Organically

So without more ado. This is how to actually tackle kanji.

From early on you will be aware of the pictographic nature of some of the simpler radicals and kanji, and how they combine to form concepts. For example:

早 quick/early (a kanji in itself)
⺾ plant (not a kanji but a common kanji element)
草 grass (⺾ plus 早), which is the earliest, most basic, (and quickest growing) of plants

When you look at the most common kanji elements in Wikipedia, you learn that 30 of them make up 70% of the common use kanji (this figure seems a little exaggerated to me, but the principle is true).

So what you are going to do with kanji is work out what they are made up of, and see how the elements fit together. Sometimes you will see a very logical and obvious meaning. Sometimes you will be making up a far-fetched  mnemonic story to tie the elements to their meaning.

So how do you know what elements a kanji is made up of?

There are various methods you can use. You may indeed want to browse books such as Heisig-sensei’s or other kanji memory books. There are lots of resources online such as Kanjialive’s list of the 217 traditional radicals (traditional names and meanings) and Toufugu’s kanji radicals cheat sheet (somewhat fanciful). The quickest, simplest, on-the-fly tool is the search box on Rikaisama‘s toolbar (you can embed the search box on your browser without having the whole toolbar). This gives results like this (click to enlarge):

learn kanji naturally

As you see, this gives a breakdown of the elements in each kanji (ringed) when you look up a word. Another interesting feature is that the Heisig reference (ringed) is a link that will take you to the Reviewing the Kanji site, a user resource where people share their Heisig-based mnemonic stories for the kanji.

This latter can be useful, but I recommend using it with caution. Let me explain why, because it will make clearer how organic kanji learning works.

The Heisig system gives a unique English keyword to every kanji and kanji element. It has to do that because in this system you need to know from the keyword exactly how to write each kanji. This is done without knowing the meaning or pronunciation of any Japanese word. As a result there are some pretty strange and sometimes dubiously relevant English keywords.

Now we aren’t doing this. We aren’t associating kanji with English keywords, but with actual Japanese words.

When I see 蕩 I think torokeru (which is the main word in which it is used. I know it means “melt” both in the sense of a solid melting into a liquid and a heart melting (becoming charmed or enchanted). A Heisig student is simply trying to associate this kanji with the Heisig keyword “Prodigal”(!).

Now if we look at the elements of this kanji we get a clearer idea of how our organic approach works. The elements are⺡the water side-element ⺾ grass/flower 日 sun and 勿 piglets.

Now in our eclectic way I do owe something to Heisig-sensei here 勿 is in fact a diminutive of 豕 the pig element and since small pigs can be piglets, well that’s kind of cute so we borrowed it.

But here is where we diverge. When you put 日 on top of 勿 you get 易 to which Heisig-sensei gives the keyword “Piggy Bank”. (Piglets you put money in every day – 日 sun can also be day).

All right you can make stories out of this and Heisig-sensei is forced to do this sort of thing because his system demands exclusive keywords.

But 易 is actually a fundamental element which refers to the light warmth of the sun. If you need a mnemonic just think of the bright sun warming the dear little piglets basking below.

Let’s see how 易 the sunshine-component works in some more complex kanji:

A very frequently used word for the sun is 太陽 taiyou (kanji elements: 太=great, 易=warmth/light, coming over the ⻖=hill).

陽 alone is the word for yang (which refers etymologically to sunshine as opposed to yin, shade).

湯 is hot water (⺡=water plus our 易 sun-warmth).

場 is a place – originally and still usually an outdoor place: thus a piece of earth 土 out in the sunshine 易.

We really don’t need to bring Piggy Banks into any of this. It may be necessary for producing a unique English keyword, but it disrupts the natural conceptual symbolism of the kanji element.

To return to 蕩, we can now see how hot water  (湯) may melt many solids, but it leaves everything with the loving, enchanted scent of flowers (⺾). We don’t need keywords, but we do need the right concepts.

So if we don’t verbally associate kanji and their elements with keywords, what do we associate them with? Usually with the first word we learned them in, or the word we most commonly associate them with. I think of 正 as “the kanji of tadashii” (right, proper, correct) although it is used in many other places with related meanings but other pronunciations (for help with those pronunciations, meet the Sound Sisters and discover that 正 is a sei/shou sister).

We also tend to remember elements by the word we first or most often encounter them in. So, for example the left side of 優 (the kanji of yasashii, gentle) is actually 愛 (the kanji of ai, love) with the ⺤ replaced by ⾴ (head, page. Bottom element merged). So we have a person with head as well as a loving heart. This kanji as well as meaning gentle, can also mean actor/actress or superior/best. You see how a single keyword is not entirely adequate!

As we develop our knowledge of the kanji by meeting it in other words, we develop also our mnemonic associations. The person with loving heart as well as a good head on her shoulders is not only gentle, she is the best. And having both intelligence and warmth makes her a great actress.

Sometimes actual mnemonic stories are helpful. For example, do you know why human bodies float? When the first child fell in the water she sank like a stone, but was pulled up by Tsume-chan, the kind crane-game-type claw. Ever since then, the invisible claw has always made human bodies float. 浮くuku, to float, is made up of water, claw and child.

You will be making your own meanings out of the kanji elements. Incidentally, after hand-holding through the first few hundred kanji, Heisig-sensei also leaves students to make their own stories out of his keywords, and rightly so, as the mnemonics we make for ourselves stick best.

The difference is, that instead of using artificial, and often eccentric, keywords, you will be learning kanji not as abstractions but as part of the living language as you make friends with words and their symbols and build your vocabulary organically.

On and Kun readings in Japanese and English

Kun reading "see". On reading "vis" (-ible, -ion)
Kun reading: “see”.
On reading: “vis” (-ible, -ion)

People sometimes find the concept of on and kun readings of kanji difficult to grasp, and consider them terribly complicated and foreign. However, they have a rather exact parallel in English.

What I am about to explain does not directly assist us in learning Japanese, but some people have told me that it makes the whole concept of on and kun readings much more friendly and graspable, so I am presenting it to you in case you too find it helpful.

The truth is that differing readings are not unique to Japanese. Something  very similar can be found in English, and it came about for very similar reasons.

Kun readings represent the original Japanese pronunciation of a word while on readings represent the more “learned” Chinese word that came into Japanese so long ago that it is now a completely naturalized Japanese word. On readings are more usually found in compounds and more “learned” or abstract words.

Exactly the same is true of English. English “on readings” are not Chinese but Latin (sometimes Greek), and because English doesn’t use kanji it is less immediately obvious, but when we take a few examples it becomes very clear:

見 see
Japanese: Kun reading mi(ru). On reading ken/kan (ex: 見物  kenbutsu = watching, sightseeing
English: Kun reading see. On reading vis (ex: vision, visible)

手 hand
Japanese: Kun reading te. On reading shu (ex: 手動 shudou = manual, by hand)
English: Kun reading hand. On reading man (ex: manual)

星 star
Japanese: Kun reading hoshi. On reading sei (ex: 火星 kasei = fire-star = Mars)
English: Kun reading star. On reading stell (ex: stellar, constellation)

犬 dog
Japanese: Kun reading inu. On reading ken (ex:犬舎 kensha = kennel, doghouse)
English: Kun reading dog. On reading ken/kan (ex: canine, kennel)

Sometimes, of course, there are several readings in both Japanese and English. English words sometimes have on readings from both Latin and Greek. For example book has the on readings bibl (as in bibliography, Bible) and libr (as in library).

Of course this is somewhat fanciful, since English does not have kanji and therefore we do not really have the concept of “readings” in English. However, if Greek/Latin had had “kanji” (ideograms) and English had adopted them (as Japan did Chinese characters) we would probably have had an exactly parallel situation.

In many ways kanji make things easier. It is clear to see how the concepts expressed in a kanji are in fact the closely related despite pronunciation differences. The foreign learner of English is forced to learn book, library, bibliophile etc by “brute force” as unrelated words. Kanji  make such relationships clearer.

But, as you see, on and kun readings are not actually something that is very foreign to English even though they work somewhat differently in the two languages.

I hope this makes them feel a little more approachable.

Why You Need to Write Japanese

write-japaneseWriting Japanese is important. Vitally important.

I am not talking about pens and paper here. Whether you need to learn to write kanji by hand is something we have already discussed, and a brief summary of the answer is “not necessarily”.

But you do need to write Japanese.

That is to say, you need to express things in written form. There are four fundamental skills in any language: listening, speaking, reading and writing, and you do need them all even if you don’t intend to do a lot of all of them.

Input-only Japanese will only take you so far. Your mind needs to use Japanese regularly as a means of communication – yes, real two-way communication – if it is ever going to treat Japanese as real Language and not just something it plays at.

Spoken communication is very important. But written communication is too. In speech you will begin by expressing yourself very simply and will make mistakes.

With reading you have a chance to take in complex sentences that you could not follow at spoken speed (and without seeing the kanji)

With writing you get a chance to compose some of those more complex sentences. Your Japanese is still limited, but your written Japanese can be a lot less limited than your spoken Japanese. It can, and should lead your spoken Japanese into deeper and more complex levels.

When writing you have a chance to work out the correct way to express what you want. In speech you have to manage the best you can in real time. Communicating somewhere like the Kawaii Japanese Forums gives you the opportunity to learn how to express yourself.

It is good to use the method outlined in How to Write Correct Natural Japanese. Look for precedents for what you want to say. Instead of constructing an English sentence and dropping in Japanese words, you can find out how a natural Japanese sentence expresses the same idea.

You will never get this from speaking. You will get it over time from listening and reading, but it takes a long, long time because you are not really aware of the problems. Once you have struggled with expressing a certain kind of structure, you will be much more receptive when you read or hear it again.

Children learn natural expressions by hearing and using them. They have a huge advantage though because they don’t already have a different template for structuring that  thought. To them the structure they learn in their native language becomes the natural and only way to express it.

You will find it much harder to pick up passively because your mind will continually try to revert to its older and more familiar template. In certain not-very-useful ways, the mind is surprisingly language-neutral. Unless it was very impressed with a turn of phrase it will tend to remember what was said but not exactly how it was structured. And it will tend to re-build it for recollection in the manner it is most familiar and comfortable with. Which leads to “eihongo” (English-structured Japanese – the counterpart of wapanese).

You can hear and read a great deal of Japanese without this changing much, simply because even a great deal of Japanese does not add up to all your years of English exposure, or the fact that you first learned to structure language in English.

Writing intelligently, using precedents to make sure you are constructing a sentence in a Japanese manner, rather than using Japanese bricks to build an English house, helps you to internalize the correct manner of structuring Japanese and recognize it clearly the next time you see it.

In this way, even if you had no particular desire to write Japanese in the long term, writing Japanese is an invaluable aid to hearing and reading Japanese and really taking in its structures rather than gliding over them as the mind prefers to do.

Writing little stories (I started off that way), or a diary is a fine. But I cannot stress too much that your mind won’t take Japanese seriously as a language unless you are using it, not just practising it. When you are communicating something you want to say with other people the mind is suddenly forced to see Japanese as Language, rather than a game or an exercise. The mind works very differently around Language – its means of communication – than it does around other self-consistent structures like games or branches of  mathematics.

Part of the reason people find “languages” so difficult is that they never become Language. They never move from being games or exercises to being the primary means of communication. The mind cannot and will not prioritize other systems in the same automatic and intuitive way that it prioritizes Language.

So, 1: you should write Japanese and 2: you should write it communicatively.

One way to get started on this is to go to the Kawaii Japanese Forums. At the time of writing I am in Japan and popping some of my posts on the Forums. If you wanted you could reply, talk about your time in Japan, or whether you want to go to Japan, or comment on another thread, start a thread of your own about your favorite anime or… well whatever you might do in English.

Only in, you know, Japanese.

Sorry to sound oversimplistic,  but this seems to be a point  that most English speakers just don’t get. They spend time studying Japanese and even watching anime or reading Japanese, but then they want to talk about it. There are endless sites and forums discussing Japanese from every angle.

In English.

Well, of course in English. English is Language, isn’t it? Japanese is just – Japanese.

Japanese is fine for practising, studying and playing with, but when you actually want to communicate you naturally go back to Language.

These people also wonder why they never really internalize Japanese. After all, they work on it such a lot…

Problems with writing Japanese and their answers

1. I can’t express everything I want to in Japanese.

Answer: That’s right. You are a growing child in Japanese. Like any child you can express what your current level allows you to express. Children can’t “cheat” into some other language. If you want to grow in Japanese you shouldn’t either, at least for your Japanese life.

2. I might make mistakes and look stupid.

Answer: Not might. You will make mistakes. You won’t look stupid because you are learning and trying your best. Anyone who calls you stupid is stupid. I don’t know if there is some harsh culture of mistake criticism in Western Human circles these days. Anyway the solution I would suggest is to use a kawaii Japanese persona for your Japanese writing. No one needs to know it is you. That persona will be the Japanese child you are raising. Enjoy the freedom to grow a new you!

3. I don’t now how to express things properly.

Answer: Use our precedent method. It isn’t foolproof and you will still make mistakes, but it will get you a lot nearer to writing correctly and teach you an enormous amount of Japanese that you can’t learn easily any other way. Using the precedent method allows you to punch considerably above your weight in Japanese and advances you as you do it.

4. I don’t want to write messy text full of simple slip-ups.

Answer: This is a danger. As learners, we can’t proofread Japanese as efficiently as we can English. However there is a Secret Weapon.

Use Rikaichan or (better) Rikaisama. In this case I would suggest using it in English mode. Rikai, among its other great merits, is a formidable proofreading machine. Run it over your text and it will tell you

• Whether the word you used meant what you thought it meant.

• Whether you misspelled it.

• Whether you conjugated it correctly.

• Whether you made a 変換ミス henkanmisu. That is, selecting the wrong kanji when converting kana. Japanese people do this fairly often too.

And various other useful information. A quick proofread with Rikai will help you clean up your writing considerably. It’s kind of like having a Japanese-competent co-editor.

All right. If you’re ready to join the tiny elite of learners who actually use Japanese, you know how to get started.

Name your Japanese child and start raising her!