All posts by Cure Dolly

Japanese Particles Wa vs Ga – What the Textbooks Don’t Tell You

wa vs ga particles“Choosing between wa and ga” is often considered to be one of the most difficult things for foreign learners of Japanese to master.

One of the problems is that the very concept “choosing between wa and ga” is in itself something of a misunderstanding.

Wa and ga are not two similar particles.

They are two different species of particle.

If we understand this we can get a lot closer to knowing how they really work and why one rather than the other is used in any given case.

This is a fairly complex question so we are dealing with it over two lessons. This first lesson gives the foundation of how ga and wa really work.

If you have any questions, please post them on the YouTube page and I will answer very quickly.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the channel so that you never miss a lesson in this ground-breaking course that tells you the things the textbooks never taught you!

The WA Particle: What it REALLY does

The WA ParticleRight from the beginning standard textbooks get us off on the wrong foot with the wa-particle.

They tend to leave its real function rather loosely defined, and in some respects misdefined, which gives rise to a whole host of misunderstandings and unnecessary complications.

These complications and misunderstandings make Japanese more difficult than it needs to be for beginners, and they often persist long after the beginner stage. So students of all levels can benefit from the information in this video.

The wa-particle really has no equivalent in English or other European grammar. That is why the textbooks, which base themselves on European grammar ideas, tend to be unclear about it.

Nevertheless it is not difficult to understand if you go about it in the right way.

In this ten-minute class you will learn how WA really works, what it does, and just as importantly, what it doesn’t do.

If you have any questions about this lesson, please ask them in the comments on the YouTube page.

We also recommend that you subscribe to the KawaJapa channel so that you never miss a lesson.

The course-book for this course of lessons is Unlocking Japanese. If you  are taking the course seriously you need to get it!

Disclaimer: This video is not intended for the absolute beginner. If you’ve never even heard of the wa-particle, this probably isn’t the place to start. However, as soon as you are aware of the basic particles, this information can save you a lot of time, trouble and confusion. However this is information that most intermediate/advanced learners don’t have because it simply isn’t taught in regular westernized “Japanese grammar”. So everyone can benefit from learning this.

Learn Japanese with Anime – New Free Resources!

Learn Japanese with animeWe’ve always advocated learning Japanese with anime here at KawaJapa. It can be done and it should be done!

However, to actually learn anything you need subtitles. Japanese subtitles. English subtitles won’t help you learn Japanese with anime, and just listening to things you don’t understand or barely understand won’t do much good either.

Back when I started, and when I started writing about it, getting quantities of Japanese-subtitled anime was a somewhat complicated business. Usually you had to find the anime and the subtitles in two different places and tie them together by hand – often re-timing them several times.

Fortunately for you (you young folks have it so easy these days) there are simpler ways to do it now.

Two sites currently stream Japanese-subtitled anime: the well-established Animelon and a newcomer simply called Anime Japanese Subtitles which is a blogger site but very nicely organized.

Stop press: there is now a new subtitled anime site called AnimeJpnSub. The layout is very bare-bones and I don’t think it has anything the others don’t. However it is completely ad-free, which is a plus and seems to work seamlessly.

Both sites have both Japanese and English subtitles and allow you to turn them on and off at will. I strongly advise not watching with English subtitles because the human brain is hardwired to take the line of least resistance and you won’t learn much even if you think you will.

However, English subtitles can be useful for when you aren’t sure what a particular expression or way of speaking in Japanese means. If you use them for this, it is better to do a quick check by switching a single subtitle to English while paused and then switching back to Japanese before restarting. Think of it as a quick look-up tool rather than a functioning subtitle.

There is a lot of good anime between the two sites, including all of Ghibli on Anime Japanese Subtitles and the delightful Shirokuma Cafe on Animelon. Not to mention all the regular shounen stuff that I tend not to bother with.

I used not to be a fan of streaming anime, but these two sites have changed my habits radically. Recently I’ve been enjoying Flying Witch, Hotarubi no Mori e and Hoshi wo Ou Kodomo. Being a doll I tend to like gentler anime with fantasy themes, but whatever your taste you’ll find things you like on these sites.

If you are starting to learn Japanese with anime, life just got a whole lot easier!

Ninja Japanese! – How to spot the Japanese Zero Pronoun and understand sentences clearly

Japanese zero pronoounNext in our video course we are going to tackle the mysterious Japanese Zero Pronoun.

It’s the Ninja of Japanese grammar. You can’t see it. You can’t hear it. But it’s in probably 75% of all Japanese sentences, and if you don’t know it’s there it makes life a lot harder than it needs to be!

This lesson is really very simple, I think. Everything in it should be pretty obvious once it is pointed out, but this ten-minute lesson lays the foundation for understanding much more complex things with ease.

I should say that this is not intended for the absolute beginner. You need to know a little basic grammar for it to make sense. If you do it will help some important things to fall into place.

On the other hand, if you are more advanced this can help you to put your knowledge on a sounder footing.

The zero pronoun is something the textbooks don’t talk about, and they really should. It makes life so much easier!

As usual, if you have questions do post them on the YouTube page where I will answer them.

If you like the lessons and want to follow the course it is a good idea to subscribe to our channel so you can see them the day they come out and never miss one!

Japanese – What the Textbooks Don’t Teach You … the movie!

People have asked me to teach personally the secrets the textbooks don’t tell you.

The things that make Japanese so much easier to understand if only you know them (and it really is fundamentally not a difficult language).

So finally I have started a video channel – not the fun Japanese-language videos we sometimes feature here, but actual English-language teaching of the “inside secrets” of Japanese that feature in my book Unlocking Japanese.

This is the first in a series of video lessons. And also you get to see what I am really like. Actually my sensei-persona surprised even me. Rather more majime than I usually am, and perhaps a teensy bit two-dimensional. See what you think.

If you never want to miss a class, subscribe to the channel here.

If there is anything you don’t understand in the video or you have other questions, please put them in the comments on the YouTube page. And I will answer them fully as soon as possible.

Hot Summer Kanji!

This two-minute video is based on some Japanese wordplay.

Just to clarify the words in advance:

蒸し暑い – mushi-atsui is a word that gets used a lot in the Japanese summer. It means humid-hot – and that’s what the Japanese summer is like!

It actually has nothing to do with 虫 mushi – bugs, but the association of the two things is so close that it makes a very good mnemonic.

As for 無視 mushi meaning to ignore or disregard, well, that’s just another word altogether.

So now you’re clear on the real meanings of the words, sit back and enjoy this two-minute episode of Kinoko Channel where our heroine is menaced by flying kanji!

It should fix the words in your mind forever!

How to Check Your Japanese Level – self-checking method for self-learners

Knowing your Japanese level is difficult when you are a self-learner, especially if you are learning primarily by self-immersion.

Now in some ways, “knowing your level” is often neither possible nor desirable. That is because you don’t necessarily have a “level” measured in conventional terms.

But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need some kind of check on your progress and some way of ensuring that there aren’t gaps in your learning.

The Japanese taught in Genki, for example, is going to teach you to discuss your academic major in Japanese before you learn to tie your shoelaces in Japanese.

I sometimes call this “run-before-you-walk Japanese” and academic courses are full of it. For example, you learn to use teineigo (desu/masu form) before you learn ordinary speech. Japanese children don’t learn teineigo until they have been speaking for years.

I am not necessarily criticizing academic courses, but this, for their own reasons, is how they work.

So what do we mean by “Japanese level”? With Japanese children the progression is quite clear, and once they start school you can pretty much tell what level their language will be at by what year they are in.

Academic Japanese-for-foreigners goes in a direction that is almost the opposite of the way Japanese children learn. Self-immersion learning, as presented throughout this site,  goes in a direction that is somewhere between the two.

It might be ideal to learn in the way a Japanese child does, but that isn’t possible. However, we do learn in a way that is closer to the way a Japanese child learns than the academic approach.

So, say one year in, the Japanese child, the academic learner, and the self-immersion learner are all at a one-year Japanese level* but what that level entails is going to be rather different in all three cases.

At the same time, as a senpai once said to me, “there is only one Japanese language”. In other words we are all going to end up learning the same things, even if the order differs. And in things like basic Japanese grammar, we really need to be at much the same level. That is, we need to know all the basic ways the grammar works. For adult learners we should know this within the first year.

So how do we check our Japanese level in a practical way? Finding a “level” we can give some kind of a name to is probably not possible since “levels” differ between different kinds of learning.

But that doesn’t really matter. We aren’t trying to play a game of ranking ourselves so much as trying to make sure that we haven’t left any gaping “holes” in our Japanese – things we ought to know by our current stage but don’t.

So how do we go about this?

Checking your Japanese level

In my early days I used the Genki books for grammar. Confession time. I never did the drills, I rarely read the little stories, and I didn’t learn quite a lot of the vocabulary because it was university-based terminology that was useless to me (from quite an early stage I was learning by the Anime method a lot more vocabulary than the books taught).

Still, I did use the grammar sections of each chapter for most of the first book, chugging through it in a couple of weeks. After that I was picking up my grammar ad hoc as I found it  and needed it in anime. I picked things up mostly through the Internet, as it is easier to search for grammar forms you don’t know (often you have no idea what they are called) on the internet than in a book.

However, there comes a time in the affairs of dolls and peoples when you start to think “do I actually know basic grammar properly?” And what I did at that stage is what I advise you to do.

I used Genki as a checklist.

It doesn’t have to be Genki, of course. Anything that teaches grammar in the systematic step-by-step way that we didn’t learn it can be used to check off the grammar points one by one.

The way I did it was to go through it in regular sessions with Cure Yasashiku. Our sessions would consist of going through the grammar points in the grammar section saying

Do we know this one?

Yes.

Do we know this one?

Yes.

Do we know this one?

Not sure about that, let’s check it and make sure of it.

I knew probably 85-90% of it by that stage and Cure Yasashiku, who is my kouhai, knew perhaps 75%. Explaining the bits she didn’t know helped to consolidate my knowledge, and the bits neither of us knew, I learned there and then.

We hadn’t mostly used Genki 2 for learning but using it as a checklist meant we got our Japanese all stacked up and ready for moving on to Intermediate level.

After Genki 2 we went through the excellent Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar. This was pretty fast as we already knew most of it, but I have to say that this book supplemented our knowledge because it is very good on the finer nuances of expressions and has nice sections comparing one grammar form with other ones that have similar meanings, showing how they differ in tone and use.

It is a lot easier doing this sort of thing when you already know the grammar in a rough way – just as it is much easier reading a complex instruction manual when you are already playing the game.

After the basic grammar dictionary we went on to the Dictionary of Intermediate Grammar, which is equally good.

The thing is that we weren’t only doing this. It was by no means the core of our learning. It was a supplementary checklist to find and fill any holes in our real immersion learning.

This meant that by the time we’d finished checklisting the Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar we had already been operating at Intermediate level in our real immersion lives for some time. Which in turn meant that we were now ready to start using the intermediate dictionary as a checklist for checking our Japanese level for the stage we now were at.

We decided not to move on to the Dictionary of Advanced Japanese Grammar for two reasons. Firstly, I don’t think it is as good as its two predecessors. Second and more importantly, all three are written in English and by this stage we didn’t want to be working on Japanese in English any more. Or conversing in English at all, come to that.

What we did was use the Kanzen Master JLPT2 grammar book (the old one actually – since we weren’t taking the exam that didn’t matter). This is all-Japanese and we kept our sessions as far as possible in Japanese. We allowed “English breaks” where an explanation wasn’t possible for our current Japanese level, but they became fewer and fewer.

At this stage we were reading Japanese children’s novels (probably around Harry Potter level) as well as playing text-heavy games and visual novels, watching anime etc. Again, the grammar book was playing the role of a level-checker and hole-filler, not the place we were learning Japanese from.

Since then we have moved on to native kokugo grammar books – school textbooks for native Japanese speakers. These are no longer level-checkers. They are part of our Japanese life.

So am I still using a level checker? Up to a point, yes – at least for kanji.

Checking your Japanese kanji level

Checking your level in kanji is especially important if you are learning kanji as words by organic immersion rather than using kanji books.

One very good way of doing this is to find a children’s novel at what you estimate to be your level that does not have full furigana.

In such a book you can take it that those kanji that have furigana are above your roughly-estimated level. If you know some of them (and if you have been learning through organic immersion you will) that’s just bonus points!

But any kanji that don’t have furigana that you don’t know need to go straight into your Anki. Those are the “holes” in your current kanji level.

Since the Japanese school kanji-teaching system is very, very systematic, you know that a book marked at, say, middle-school 3-4 that does not have full furigana will have furigana for everything above middle school 2.

So once again we are using those systematic people to check-and-fill our non-systematic learning.

Japanese level-check summing up

To sum up:

You don’t need to use the same books we did (though actually I recommend them as what I would consider to be the best choices), but the method outlined here is a very good way for making sure that your freewheeling self-immersion learning isn’t leaving holes in your Japanese.

Checking your Japanese level by these methods essentially gives you most of the advantages of systematic textbook learning without actually having to do systematic textbook learning.

You don’t need drills and silly wooden textbook dialogues if you are self-immersing. You can benefit from using their systematic approach to check your Japanese level and ensure that it is firm and has no large gaps.


NOTE *I am using this “one year” very figuratively. We wouldn’t know where to start counting for the child, and for the adult learner what a “year” actually means depends on how much time she has spent on Japanese during that year. What I really mean is “an equivalent gobbet of learning”.

Japanese Pronunciation Challenge: Top Ten Difficult Words!


Today, Kinoko-chan talks about the top ten most difficult words for foreigners to pronounce and more importantly why they are difficult, so you can know what to work on.

She is speaking Japanese as usual, but for the first time we are including a full transcript in Japanese and English. So you can practice your Japanese listening by following the transcript, or if your Japanese isn’t ready for that yet, you can use the English translation.

Enjoy the fun as Kinoko-chan challenges the first half of what are reputed to be Japan’s top ten tough words!

Japanese pronunciation challenge transcript

(The Japanese-only version is beneath this one. If you want to try your Japanese, we suggest you open the video in a different window and follow along with the script)

皆さんこんにちは。木の子で〜す。

Minasan konnichiwa. Kinoko desu!

今日は外国人にとっての一番難しい言葉のトップ10のチャレンジを挑戦したいと思います。

Today I want to take on the challenge of the top ten most difficult words for foreigners to pronounce.

木の子の日本語はね、恥ずかしいほど下手ですね。

My Japanese is shamefully poor.

でも、頑張ってやってまます。

But I will try hard and give it a go.

深呼吸!

Deep breath!

【アナウンサー】木の子チャレンジ、スタート。その1

(Announcer) Kinoko challenge, start! Number 1.
(literally “that one” = “number one of (this list)”

それはツイッターどすね。なぜあんなに難しいよく分からない。ローマ字で書いたからかもしれません。

That is tsuittaa, isn’t it? I’m not sure why that’s so difficult. Perhaps because it’s written in Romaji.

英語を話す人は「(英語っぽい)twitter」と話すと思います。

English-speaking people say “twitter [English pronunciation]”, I think.

カタカナで書いたらもっと簡単になるかもしれないんですけど、英語を話す人は英語の言葉を見ると半分英語の発音がするかもしれません。

If it were written in katakana it might be easier, but when English-speaking people see an English word, perhaps their pronunciation becomes half-English.

ツイッターは正しいですか。

Is tsuittaa correct?

【アナウンサー】視聴者さまコメントをください。その2。

(Announcer) Viewer-sama, please comment. No. 2.

それは「伝えられなかった」ですね。実は早口言葉のような言葉ですね。

This is tsutaerarenakatta (couldn’t convey), isn’t it? Actually it’s a bit of a tongue-twister, isn’t it?

そして「ら、り、る、れ、ろ」という発音は外国人にとって難しそうですね。

Besides that, the pronunciation of RA, RE, RU, RE, RO seems to be difficult for foreigners.

【アナウンサー】その3。

(Announcer) No. 3.

それは侵略ですね。実は木の子にもそれはちょっと難しいと思います。「ら、り、る、れ、ろ」より「りゃ、りゅ、りょ」という発音は難しいと思います。

This is shinryaku (invasion), isn’t it? Actually this is a little hard for me too. The pronunciation of RYA, RYU, RYO is harder than RA, RI, RU, RE, RO, I think.

それは大丈夫ですけど、「んりゃ」、「んりゃ」はね、ちょっと難しい。

That’s all right, but NRYA – NRYA, that’s a bit difficult.

【アナウンサー】その4。

(Announcer) No. 4.

それは便利ですね。ほとんど同じ問題ですね。「んり」、「んり」と[いう]問題。

This is benri (convenient), isn’t it? It’s almost the same problem. The NRI problem.

でも、もっと簡単だと思います。「べんり」は大丈夫ですか。

But this is easier I think. “Benri”. Is that all right?

【アナウンサー】視聴者さまコメントをください。その5。

(Announcer) Viewer-sama, please comment. No 5.

それは出力ですね。出力は簡単だと思います。♪出力、出力♪、正しいですか。

This is shutsuryoku (output power), isn’t it? Shutsuryoku is easy, I think. ♪Shutsuryoku, shutsuryoku♪. Is that right?

【アナウンサー】今日はこれまでです。来週も来られますか。

(Announcer) That’s all for today. Can you come back next week?

はい。了解。

Yes, ma’am. Roger that.

木の子はどう出来ましたか。コメントをください。

How did I do? Please comment.

皆さまも来週来てください。チャレンジが続きますからね。

Minasama, please come back next week too because the challenge will continue.

これからもよろしくお願いします。

From now on, as always, please be good to me.

バイバイ!

Bye bye!

The blooper reel at the end has Kinoko-chan tripping over

それは「伝えられなかった」ですね。実は早口言葉のような

She is trying to say that tsutaerarenakatta is a bit of a tongue-twister and blooping the rest of the sentence!


Japanese-only version

皆さんこんにちは。木の子で〜す。

今日は外国人にとっての一番難しい言葉のトップ10のチャレンジを挑戦したいと思います。

木の子の日本語はね、恥ずかしいほど下手ですね。

でも、頑張ってやってまます。

深呼吸!

【アナウンサー】木の子チャレンジ、スタート。その1

それはツイッターどすね。なぜあんなに難しいよく分からない。ローマ字で書いたからかもしれません。

英語を話す人は「(英語っぽい)twitter」と話すと思います。

カタカナで書いたらもっと簡単になるかもしれないんですけど、英語を話す人は英語の言葉を見ると半分英語の発音がするかもしれません。

ツイッターは正しいですか。

【アナウンサー】視聴者さまコメントをください。その2。

それは「伝えられなかった」ですね。実は早口言葉のような言葉ですね。

そして「ら、り、る、れ、ろ」という発音は外国人にとって難しそうですね。

【アナウンサー】その3。

それは侵略ですね。実は木の子にもそれはちょっと難しいと思います。「ら、り、る、れ、ろ」より「りゃ、りゅ、りょ」という発音は難しいと思います。

それは大丈夫ですけど、「んりゃ」、「んりゃ」はね、ちょっと難しい。

【アナウンサー】その4。

それは便利ですね。ほとんど同じ問題ですね。「んり」、「んり」と[いう]問題。

でも、もっと簡単だと思います。「べんり」は大丈夫ですか。

【アナウンサー】視聴者さまコメントをください。その5。

それは出力ですね。出力は簡単だと思います。♪出力、出力♪、正しいですか。

【アナウンサー】今日はこれまでです。来週も来られますか。

はい。了解。

木の子はどう出来ましたか。コメントをください。

皆さまも来週来てください。チャレンジが続きますからね。

これからもよろしくお願いします。

バイバイ!

Kanji as Character and Adventure!

Kanji as character and adventure.

A phrase you probably haven’t heard before. But you’ll be hearing it again, as it is a theme of a major new project we have in the works.

Kanji may seem like abstract, difficult old things but actually they really are characters.

ABCD and friends are called characters but they aren’t. They don’t have personalities. They don’t do anything. They just sit on a page and make noises. In fact they don’t even make noises. They just silently indicate what noises they want you to make. Lazy things.

Kanji are entirely different. They are  a whole world of living things – cute, funny, scary, majestic, silly, just the way living things are. They have adventures all the time. Once you get to know some of them, they make sense and become much easier.

As I say, expect more on this fairly soon, and in English. For now, we have a little video to introduce the idea. It is in Japanese, but the main part is a story-picture so it’s easy to follow what is happening even if your Japanese is still little.

It is called “Foreign Doll’s Kanji Adventure”.

Please enjoy it.

How to Add Sample Sentences to Anki Automatically

Having a sample Japanese sentence to back up Anki’s definition of a word is often invaluable.

But if you are making your own immersion-experience-based deck rather than using pre-made decks (and you should be), you have to add them yourself. Isn’t this a bit mendokusai (Japanese for pain in the pinky)?

Luckily there is a way to automate this part of the card-making process too. It’s a bit obscure, but once you set it up, it looks after itself.

This article assumes that you are already using Rikaisama’s Real-time Anki function to make your cards with a single keypress. If you aren’t, this article will tell you how.

When I first noticed that there  is a token for adding sentences in Rikaisama’s Real-time (direct-to-Anki) setup I was a little puzzled. Does Rikaisama contain a database of sentences as well as a dictionary and audio database? How does this work?

Click to enlarge

So I shrugged and  set it up to put the sentences into my Audio folder as shown above, (the last $t moves the focus to my last field, which is Audio – I do audio for my sentences, but that’s for a future article).

Then I typed a word and Rikai’d it (my usual way of adding a word to Anki), hit R (the one-button card-maker) and – nothing.

I had my card made in a single keypress, of course. But there was no sample sentence.

I wasn’t entirely surprised – where were these sample sentences supposed to come from anyway? I didn’t really believe there was a database of sentences, even though there is one of  native-spoken audio for nearly every word which can be added with that same keypress (and which you should be using).

So this is one of the more obscure features of Rikaisama. Actually it isn’t so obscure if you are using Rikai the way Rikai thinks you are. That is, reading something online and using Rikai to give instant furigana plus definitions if you want them.

But that isn’t how I mostly use Rikaisama, and I suspect that is true of most people using it as part of a self-immersion deck-building process. I type in the word, which may have come from a novel or an anime, (usually into an online dictionary, though I don’t actually press Enter to get the dictionary’s definition unless I need some elaboration on Rikaisama’s answer). I hover over it to get the Rikai box, hit the R key and pring! I have a new card.

What the sentence function actually does (and it really is very clever) is import the sentence you were reading into Anki and drop it into whatever field you told it to in the save format (see picture above).

So obviously this kind of breaks down if you weren’t reading a sentence online.

The answer is simple. If you want a sample sentence for your word, you need to

  1. Find the sentence you want
  2. Hover over your target word inside the sentence you just found
  3. Hit R

And that’s it. You will have a new Anki card with all the usual features plus your sample sentence wherever you specified in the format.

Here is an example of the back of an Anki card with an automatically added sentence. Of course you can have your own format (mine are a bit ugly and functional, I’m afraid), and you can have the definition in English (and an English translation of the sentence) if you want to:

click to enlarge

As you see, my setup (which is the one on the first screenshot on this page) has the kanji from the front plus the reading in hiragana, the definition and the sample sentence.

If you are getting your sentences from online reading the process is fully automatic: one keypress for everything. If you are using Rikaisama as an Anki-helper to add words you found elsewhere, you need to go find your own sample sentence. There are plenty of ways to do this. You can use DenshiJisho’s sentence function or the very extensive Weblio sentence database (both of which have English translations) or you can just Google for a sentence. And of course you can always type in the sentence from your book or anime (or copy from the subs file) if you want to use the sentence in which you originally found the word.

The advantage of this is that you can choose a sentence that you think exemplifies how the word is used or perhaps clarifies something not made clear by the definition.

You don’t need a sentence for every word. You can use your own judgment to decide which words would benefit from having an example sentence.

For most of us using Anki as an immersion assistant, this is more like semi-automation than the full automation of the rest of the Rikaisama-to-Anki card-making process, but it still streamlines the procedure and makes adding sample sentences a lot quicker  and easier – and therefore makes one rather likelier to do it!

And it is worth doing because when a sample sentence is needed, it can be a huge help in understanding the word.

Part of the Anki for self-immersionists Master-Class series