Category Archives: Power Tools

KawaJapa Japanese Learners’ Line App Group

japanese-learners-line-groupWe are happy to announce that we have a new group on the Line messaging application for readers of this blog, members of the KawaJapa Forums and Japanese learners in general.

We engage in casual text conversation, sometimes real-time, sometimes not, and some of us play online Japanese games like Pigg Party or synchronize meetings in Doubutsu no Mori.

We are happy to welcome new members. The only rules are, be polite and courteous and only use Japanese.

This is not a group for beginners. You must be able to function at least minimally in Japanese. It is a kind, supportive group, so it’s fine if you are a long way from perfect (none of us is perfect), but if you need to use English for some things, you need a different group.

There are endless resources online for people who want to “play Japanese” in English, and very, very little for people who actually want to use Japanese (it seems not many people do!), so we try to fill that gap.

The Line group is one way of expanding your “Japanese life” in a supportive group that is perhaps a gentler entry-point than native Japanese online locations.

If you want to join, please contact me, Cure Dolly, via the KawaJapa Forums, or the Dollygram (my address is on all Dollygrams, including the introductory one. Just hit Reply).

Or you can just use the comment box below.

Please write in Japanese. There is no test to join the group other than that, but if you can’t write a little note in Japanese, the group would not be of much use to you. Don’t worry, it isn’t an essay – a one-line yoroshiku will be fine!

Once in the group, you are free to interact as you like or just watch. The only reasons we would ever eject anyone is for being rude or unkind to other members, expressing hentai, cruel or hateful things, or using English.

Looking forward to hearing from you and making a new Line friend!

Interview on Line App group and Japanese communication in general→

The Key to Kanji Learning

There aren’t many shortcuts to learning Japanese. But there is at least one, and we want to share it with you!

People say that there is no Golden Key to the kanji. You just have to learn them. Preferably as words, bit by bit, organically.

But while there is no Golden Key, there is a Silver Key that can help enormously.

You can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

It can help you to recognize kanji you only half-know. It can help you to guess the pronunciation of kanji you don’t know at all. It can help you with words where you know the sound but are very vague on the appearance of the kanji, and conversely it can help you with words where you know the kanji but don’t remember the pronunciation.

number-one-kanji-hackYou can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

It can help you learn the kanji in the first place, and it can help tie together the triplicity of sound, meaning and appearance. It even talks to you (audio on every card).

The secret of this kanji hack is that there are a number – something under 100 – of kanji elements that pretty regularly indicate the on-reading of a kanji (the one usually used in two-or-more-kanji words, which make up the majority of Japanese words). I introduced an important selection of them in my Sound-Sisters article. I have now made a Complete Sound Sisters Anki deck with all the main Sound Sisters (including many not in the article).

I am not a fan of learning kanji in the abstract. I am especially not a fan of trying to learn kanji readings in the abstract. However, the leverage involved in learning the full Sound Sister set is so huge that (pragmatist as I am) I make an exception in this case.

For the investment of mastering a very small set of kanji elements and their sounds (the main part of it will take a week or so at a few minutes a day), one has in one’s hand a key that will make kanji much, much easier. It affects many thousands of words and a substantial proportion of all the Joyo kanji.

key-to-learning-kanjiYou can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

This deck includes the fundamental 90 most common and regular Sound-Sisters elements, main examples of the kanji they appear in, audio and mnemonics for each of them, and other notes where appropriate.

Using the Deck

The deck is designed to be used in conjunction with the Sound Sisters article, which groups together similar sounds with mnemonic narrative. It helps you to learn the elements there and a large number of others.

Download the deck, unzip it (your computer will likely do that for you automatically) and add it to your Anki.

Pro tips:

Use the deck in conjunction with the Sound Sisters page. Remember that you will only need the mnemonics for a short time.

Remember that sounds may sometimes appear as their voiced variants – ひょう as びょう, さい as ざい etc.

You will “finish” the deck quite shortly as it is a small deck by Anki standards. After that, either keep it in your deck-list and run through it when reviews appear, or merge it with your main deck (but don’t do that until the reviews have dropped off to zero or very few most days).

Apply what you’ve learned. Use it to help you learn kanji as words. Also do some Sister-spotting while reviewing words, even with kanji you already know. This gets you used to the Sisters and helps to cement the whole process. You will also be using it to firm up still-learning words where you are a bit shaky on the appearance and/or pronunciation.

You can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

Half-Sisters

Another importance of knowing the Sound Sisters is that working with them helps one to be more aware of the many other sound-connections in kanji.

There are a lot of Sound Half-Sisters: that is, sound relationships that are not regular enough to be included in the deck, but certainly very useful. Rather than learning them in the abstract it is best to become aware of them in an organic manner. But the use of the regular Sound Sisters is excellent training for spotting and using the Half-Sisters.

For example, the hyou/byou of 平等 byoudou is found in 評価 hyouka and 評判 hyouban and we will find it in other places too. 忍 and 認 are nin most of the time (the nin of 忍者 ninja).

Such examples are either not regular enough or do not govern enough kanji to be full Sound Sisters, but once we become attuned to these links by using the main Sound Sisters we will find this sort of thing quite often and it is very useful.

斉, sei on her own, is sai/zai often enough (剤, 済, 斎) that I almost included her as a full Sound Sister*. I may do so in a future edition of the deck (of course subscribers will receive any updates as they come along).

This really shows how fluid the situation is, and how getting a feel for the sound-associations of kanji elements can help so enormously.

Some of this really has to work organically, by reading, making friends with kanji, and getting used to Japanese.

But with a set of nearly 100 reasonably regular Sound Sisters that are easily assimilated, we can give the organic process a huge kick-start.

You can get it right here. The cost is – free, ’cause Dolly loves you!

___
* We did eventually includein the deck.

HabitRPG – New Features

I have now been using HabitRPG for almost a year now, and it continues to be useful for me in my Japanese studies and in general. Some recent changes have made HabitRPG even more useful than it was before. We have written various articles about HabitRPG on this site, and Cure Dolly has previously written a very helpful article explaining this application.

Habit RPG QuestOne of the most important of these changes is that there is a Japanese translation available now. Of course, switching over to Japanese gives us the usual advantages of having one’s computer and applications in Japanese.  Because HabitRPG is a role-playing game as well as a productivity application, this also gives many of the advantages of playing games in Japanese. Many of the Quests are written in Japanese, and all of the pets, mounts, food, equipment and other items are listed in Japanese. This is excellent for reinforcing important vocabulary on a daily basis. For example, from feeding Pets in my Japanese HabitRPG, I now can recognize the word じゃがいも as potato, a word I frequently failed in my Anki.

Another very useful change is that Habits now count for damage against Quest Bosses. Previously, only Dailies and Todos would do damage to Quest Bosses. While it is certainly helpful to make immersion activities such as listening, reading, and watching Anime into Dailies, for many of these activities, one really wants to do as much as possible. With a Daily, once it is checked off, it is checked off for the day; one can not get credit for doing more than is required by the Daily. Habits can be clicked as many times a day as they are done. Of course, one always received Experience and Gold from Habits, I (and my party mates) have found that doing damage against a Quest Boss is extremely motivating, so having Habits “count” is a really wonderful change.

Habits are also good for immersion activities that are important but should not become a chore. HabitRPG punishes us for undone Dailies by dealing damage at our cron (the time we set for the beginning of the new day). When we are on a Boss Quest, the Boss does damage to the entire party, so it particularly important to do the Dailies on those days. For myself, there are certain immersion activities that I want to keep as optional, so that they psychologically remain leisure activities. For myself, some of those examples are reading novels, reading manga, and playing games. Now that Habits “count” against Bosses, I have more incentive to do those できるだけ (as much as possible).

Another exciting new feature is the Enchanted Armoire, which solved a huge difficulty with HabitRPG for long term use. The difficulty was that eventually one would buy up all of the available equipment, and Gold would become meaningless. One could forestall that trouble for a time by switching classes and buying up the equipment for all of the classes; however, sooner or later, one would reach the point of Gold losing its motivational value. Now, the developers created the Enchanted Armoire, which for 100 Gold Pieces randomly gives special items, experience points, or food.

My party donning items obtained from the Enchanted Armoire

Another wonderful change is the brand new option of creating Dailies which will become due in a certain number of days. Before one could only create Dailies that were due on specific days of the week. While the “number of days” option is not specifically useful to me with respect to my Japanese studies, it is useful for my other responsibilities, such as paying the rent and other bills, which are due on a monthly basis.

Oh yes, and the Japanese Deep Cave Adventures’ Guild is still going strong, and we are still playing Shiritori.

Rikaisama Review

rikaisamaWe have written extensively about Rikaichan because in our view it is one of the most important tools in the arsenal (if you’ll excuse the mildly mixed metaphor) of an online Japanese learner.

Now Rikaichan has a big sister: Rikaisama. Not even Rikaisan. Sounds like a very big sister, doesn’t she? How does she measure up?

Rikaisama is essentially Rikaichan Mk 2. Still the Japanese dictionary add-on for Firefox that works the same way and keeps all your Rikaichan settings (in a few places she still refers to herself as Rikaichan) and looks just the same. Nothing has actually changed, but several things have been added.

Among these new additions, the most important are: direct on‐the‐fly addition to Anki, human voice pronunciation of words, Sanseido mode (optional Japanese definitions instead of English), pitch information, and new frequency information.

The direct‐to‐Anki feature is a blessing. You need to install the associated Anki add-on, but once you’ve done that, a single keypress while hovering over a word will create a card for it with the kanji on the front, kana‐reading and meaning on the back. You also have the  option of putting the kana on the front. This is really useful and saves a lot of time. Apparently you can also add the sound of the word, but…

Actual native‐voiced audio readings are another important new feature of Rikaisama, but that has been rather disappointing to this doll as they just don’t seem to work with the Mac OS. Actually no OSX installation instructions for Rikaisama are given at all. I just followed the Windows instructions and it worked fine. There are special instructions for getting the voices on Linux, but it seems that on a Mac there is no way. Consequently I can’t review the sound. If anyone wants to add something on that, please feel free to use the comment section below. [By the way, Mac owners should not feel too short‐changed in the voiced‐Japanese department ‐ you still have the best Japanese voice synthesizer available].

Update: The current Rikaisama now supports recent OS X versions correctly.

Sanseido mode is very useful, I think. It allows access to the Sanseido (that big chain bookstore you see everywhere in Japan) dictionary. You were always able to turn definitions on and off, so you just got interactive furigana, but now you can also get a J‐J definition. You can switch between the three (E‐definition, J‐definition, and no definition) with a keypress. The only small drawback is that you can’t download the Sanseido dictionary, so there is a (usually very) small delay while it downloads the definition each time (and it won’t work at all offline).

You can also install Epwing dictionaries, but I am afraid they don’t work on Mac either, and I have no experience of them.

An important point is that if you are in Sanseido mode (and presumably in J-J epwing mode) when you do use the direct-to-Anki feature, you get J-J (Japanese word with Japanese definition) cards.

Whether you’re using J-J or J-E definitions, you can harness Rikaisama’s huge database of native-speaker recordings of the words and set up Rikaisama and Anki so that the spoken word is placed on the back (or if you want to make an audio-recognition deck, on the front). This is a truly wonderful feature, but unfortunately it is not at all obvious how to use it, so we have given full instructions in this article.

In addition to the old (P) used to indicate if a word is common (it is still there—Rikaisama hasn’t taken anything away from her little sister), there is more kuwashii frequency information in the form of a number that tells you how many words are more frequent than the one you are looking at (so 5 would be a very common word and 10000 would be a rare one). The number is also color‐coded: Green=very common, dull greeny-yellow=common, orange=less common, pink=relatively rare.

This more detailed Rikaisama frequency information is also taken from a different source from the (P) classification. Rather than newspapers, it is distilled from 5000+ novels. I find that reassuring as I don’t really find newspaper‐language all that useful. I don’t bother with the news even in English. This also allows a very rough cross‐check between two frequency assessments, which is also useful.

I have heard some folks say that since one aims to learn all Japanese words anyway, why worry about frequency?

The answer, in my view at least for those who are learning Japanese by self-immersion is this: The less skilled you are at Japanese, the slower you can imbibe Japanese media. Your aim should be to increase this speed as quickly and efficiently as possible. You learn words best when they are reinforced by real encounters with them (not just Anki encounters, wonderful as Anki is).

So, since you can only learn so many words per day, you should be concentrating on the ones you are most likely to re‐encounter relatively often. This keeps cementing your vocabulary base as it increases. No harm learning a few rare words (we all do it). But your overall strategy is best served by learning well‐used words first and slowly moving to lower‐frequency ones as your base grows. This way you are not only absorbing vocabulary, but equipping yourself to absorb more by increasing your ease of exposure to Japanese as efficiently as possible.

As your speed and volume of media consumption increases, your chances of re‐encountering less common words grows proportionately (at first it is very low because your consumption is so slow and limited). So tackling words (very roughly) in order of frequency makes good strategic sense.

Now I am not suggesting that you should be slavishly bound by frequency numbers, but they are definitely useful information to have and bear in mind. So this addition in Rikaisama is very welcome.

There are a few more additions, including pitch accent information, which the main online dictionaries do not supply.

One more clever addition is the ability to click the Heisig number of a kanji (usually from the Rikaichan toolbar or the more streamlined search‐box addition to your regular toolbar) and go to the Heisig mnemonic page. You have to be a member of the site to do that (it’s free). I joined just because of the Rikaisama functionality. I am not a major Heisig fan, but this is definitely a function that is worth having available.

All in all, I would say that the promotion from “chan” to “sama” is justified. This is not really a new Rikai; it is decidedly Rikaichan with several more tricks up her sleeve. But they are valuable tricks that really take an already valuable application to a whole new level. The direct‐to‐Anki function is worth the installation alone.

You need to uninstall your current Rikaichan in order to install Rikaisama, but don’t let that put you off. You won’t lose anything and you will gain quite a lot. And if you use Anki for vocabulary, I strongly recommend that you install the Anki add-on too.

If you don’t understand the full power of Rikai, I suggest you read our Rikaichan review. It was far more than just a quick way to furiganize kanji and look up words even before the new features were added. Because of the way it is structured it can answer many of your basic grammar questions on the fly, and is an invaluable tool for proofreading your Japanese writing. It is as much a writing tool as a reading tool.

And if you were starting to think you had outgrown J-E, Rikaichan just grew with you!

Hajimemashite, Rikaisama. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.

Using Rikaisama’s auto-Anki-card function to turbo-charge your learning

unlocking-japanese-ad3

How to Write Kanji—a free kanji tutor (for people who don’t write kanji)

how-to-write-kanjiKanji Recognizer as a self-teaching tool

How to write kanji is a question that Cure Dolly would precede with another question, namely whether to write kanji. As a matter of fact, I am largely of her school. Like Cure Dolly, I hand-write maybe two dozen words a year in English. So why do I want to learn to do in Japanese what I don’t even do in English?

The arguments over whether you need to learn how to write kanji in order to learn kanji at all are discussed by Cure Dolly, and I am broadly in agreement. It depends on who you are, what your needs are, and how you learn best.

But let’s say you are like Cure Dolly (and I am). Let’s say you don’t need to write kanji (for exams or whatever) and you only need to recognize them for purposes of both reading and (electronically) writing. Is there any need to learn to write them at all?

I really don’t see any value in sitting down to write kanji hundreds of times. I have heard people complain about doing this and still finding the kanji to be strangers to them in a week or so.

I actually am learning a tiny bit to write kanji, but none of them are strangers to me. I know the kanji. I am familiar with their components. That isn’t the point of writing them to me. So what is it?

One thing I have realized is that while my recognition is reasonably good, my ability to picture shapes is (perhaps abnormally) terrible. I can read hiragana with no problem, but I recently realized that I could no longer write several of them. I did learn them in the beginning and could write them easily. I found that a year or so later, even though I had no trouble at all recognizing them and reading them, I don’t actually remember how they are made up. I can’t picture them in my head. I only know them when I see them.

I am not saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Personally I don’t want to lose my ability to hand-write kana, so I did a little practice with a kana-writing app just to get it back. If I wrote anything by hand—shopping lists, anything—I would do it in Japanese just to keep my hand in. But I don’t. I am a near-total non-writer.

However, kana is not the point here. The point is kanji. What I have found there is similar. Since I didn’t know how to write kanji, I didn’t really know how they were made up. I didn’t really know the difference between 家 and 象, for example. I tended to recognize them by context rather than their actual differences. I don’t think learning to write kanji is the only way to overcome this problem. One could just familiarize oneself more firmly with the components of each and make up little stories around them, which is how I learned them in the first place.

One of my problems with writing is a pathological fear of paper. I really can’t manage the stuff. If you start allowing it into the house it gets everywhere—but you can never find the bit you want. I really can’t start toodling around with bits of paper. For me it would open the door to nameless chaos.

But I did start to feel it would be worthwhile to write kanji. Not hundreds of times—just a few times each. Not in order to learn them—the kanji I write I already know by sight—but simply in order to clarify my mind on their exact composition.

And it works. But you really need the right tool. Fortunately I found it. It is called Kanji Recognizer. It is an Android app. You can write the kanji with a stylus on your tablet or keitai. Although this is not the purpose of the software, what it does is both allow you to write kanji (without all that scary paper) and act as an instant tutor at the same time.

Let me show you how:

how-to-write-kanji-1

You write the kanji freely, and as you can see, Kanji Recognizer tries to work out what you wrote and places its top ten guesses along the top. The higher you come in the top ten, the more accurately you have written the kanji. This in itself is very, very useful.

The software also numbers your strokes, so you are able to check your stroke order. It puts the number at the start of each stroke so you can also check the stroke direction (this comes into its own later as you will see).

The two buttons ringed in mizuiro (pale blue—I don’t know why there isn’t an English word for the “pink” of blue, but there isn’t) are 画削除 kakusakujo (delete stroke) and クリア (clear). 画削除 is very nice as it allows you to get rid of strokes you messed up. Paper is just mean about that sort of thing.

The app is free, though ad-supported. If you have your device in Japanese (and you should) the ads will tend to be Japanese too, as you can see at the bottom of the screenshots.

Once you have written your kanji, you can tap the correct one at the top to get a screen of information about it:

how-to-write-kani-2This, of course, is immediately useful for making sure the kanji is what you thought it was! The most important thing here for our purpose is the button we have ringed: 書き順 kakijun (writing order—or stroke order, as they tend to say in English). This gives you, as you might expect, an image of the kanji (written with an enviably steady hand) with its correct stroke order marked:

how-to-write-kanji-3

However, the really useful thing here is the (ringed) button labeled 動画 douga (animation). Press this and the app will clear the kanji and re-draw it for you, so you can watch it forming stroke by stroke and see how it is done.

You can then click the home button (ringed) which will take you back to the page where you wrote the kanji originally. It will still be there, just as you wrote it, so you can check whether you had the stroke order and direction right. If you didn’t make number one in the top ten, you can hit クリア and try again.

If you have an idea of the general rules for stroke order, you will get it right a lot of the time. The surprises will tend to impress themselves on your mind. The animation is particularly useful for this, I find. What you will also start to find instinctively is a lot of kanji-order sub-rules. They aren’t taught and rightly so, as they are fiddly and have exceptions, but they do start to make a kind of sense in practice, I find.

I am still not really trying to learn how to write kanji. I know hand-writing is never going to be a part of my real life. Actually, I would like to learn Japanese calligraphy one day, but that is something of another matter. What I am finding is that this gives me a better feeling for how the kanji work, how they hang together.

My method is perhaps unusual. I have never in my life “learned a kanji”. I learn words as I go along, and I make friends with the kanji that form them. People have occasionally asked “how many kanji do you know?”. I have no idea how to answer. How would I know? Maybe some people go through a book from Kanji 0001 to Kanji 2500, but I really wouldn’t even know how to do that, and I am sure it wouldn’t stick that way.

When I write kanji on my little slate, I am already friends with those kanji. I have known them for some time. Now I am taking tea with them and learning their funny little ways. I am a horribly inattentive friend, and there are so many things about them I never noticed. I love them so I want to learn.

If you love something, you should pet it. Kanji recognizer was essentially made to be a dictionary, not a tutor. It works as a tutor, and (for me at least) as something else too. It is my favorite Virtual Pet game!

Keeping Up Studies During the Holidays (or other Busy Times)

Like many people this time of year, I am busy with holiday preparations.  I am much further behind on my gift knitting/crocheting than I would like to be, and we are hosting the family holiday dinner this year.  I have started decorating, but there is still quite a bit of decorating (and cleaning) to do.  With all of this going on, it is tempting to back off on my Japanese studies during this time.

vlcsnap-2014-04-15-11h31m26s209This being said, I think that this is a temptation to avoid.  I have gotten into a rhythm with my studies that I do not want to interrupt.  Also, with language learning, I think that it is really easy to lose ground.  I have noticed that even after one day using mostly English, my Japanese is worse the next day.  I can only imagine what would happen if I interrupted my studies for a few weeks.

Still, there is only so much time in a day, and holiday preparations are important.  Luckily though, there are ways to adjust my study schedule to accommodate the holidays.  While I have less time for active study, I have many more opportunities for passive learning.  It is quite easy to knit and crochet while watching Anime, and I can listen to Japanese while I am cooking, cleaning, and decorating.

For myself, I find that it is extremely important to use a time management tool, especially busy times.  I continue to use HabitRPG as my tool.  Without such a tool, I find it too easy to get distracted by my 気分 (kibun, or feeling or mood).  As is so clearly illustrated in the kanji, one’s mood is often the spirit (気) of the moment (分).  During busy times, my spirit of the moment is usually stress and nervousness, making it a really bad time to be making decisions about what I should be doing when.  Without a time management tool, I find myself running about in circles feeling busy, but often not really accomplishing anything.  It is quite likely that in the spirit of the moment, my Japanese studies would be the first tasks to get lost.

Instead, with the advice and guidance of my senpai, I made decisions about my goals during this season of busy-ness, which I then recorded on my HabitRPG.  This way the decisions are already made, and I do not have to worry about them while I am stressed and busy.  I can simply follow the schedule that has already been set.

HabitRPG is set up in such a way as to make it quite easy to readjust my schedule during this time.  I chose not to eliminate any of my active study dailies; however, I did make many of them due fewer days of the week.  I increased my daily minimum for passive study tasks, such as Anime watching and listening.  I used the checklist feature to do this.  I also increased my daily minimum for handcrafting (knitting and crocheting).  I have positive Habits of extra watching, listening, and handcrafting.  This makes a nice combination as handcrafting and watching/listening go well together as multitasking activities.  If there are times when I have met my handcrafting requirement but still need to do more watching/listening, I might do extra handcrafting while watching/listening (and vice versa).

Because of the added listening requirement, I spend time listening to Japanese, rather than holiday music in English.  On my HabitRPG, listening to music in English is a reward that I have to pay for.  I considered relaxing that during the holiday season, but I chose not to.  I am working on keeping my mind in Japanese, and the last thing I need is catchy holiday music (in English) crowding out the Japanese.  I have not yet found Japanese holiday music (although I would like to).  I did borrow some holiday music in Swedish from my grandmother, and my spouse found music in Latin for me, which I can listen to if I have met my Japanese listening requirement for the day.  While it is not Japanese, my Japanese is far better than my Swedish (of which, at best, I know a few words and phrases), and I do not know any Latin at all.  As a result, neither of those languages are likely to crowd out Japanese, like English would.

I hope that some of these ideas are helpful, and please feel free to comment on your own strategies for maintaining your studies during busy times, such as the holiday season.

Creating an Immersion Environment Using HabitRPG

habit-rpg3As my studies have progressed, I have found that immersion has been a very effective tool.  Using Japanese is a very important supplement to active study.  It can be difficult though.  In many ways, it is so much easier to take the path of least resistance and do things in one’s native language, rather than struggle through with the language one is learning.

In addition to having Dailies of listening to Japanese and watching Anime in Japanese, I have found that Habits and Rewards are also effective tools.  My own HabitRPG is set up such that my entire day is governed by it.  If something is not an activity that is a Daily, a Todo, or a positive Habit, it is something that I have to pay for as a Reward.  While in some ways, this might seem a bit kibishii, it really is quite effective in tipping the scales away from English in favor of Japanese.

https://i2.wp.com/38.media.tumblr.com/1f293e3d9522d4110a8e023aba1cf4fd/tumblr_n7spq1JLh81sb4cpyo2_1280.jpg?resize=231%2C173&ssl=1The basic theory is that using Japanese gives me bonuses via positive Habits, and I have to pay to use English using Rewards.  I started this with video games, but I have extended this to other areas as well.  I can play a game for a half of an hour in Japanese for 5 Gold pieces, and I can get one to three “pluses” under my positive Habit of “extra Japanese,” depending on how much Japanese I had to use in the game.  In a role-playing game, such as Dragonquest IX, I can get 3 “pluses” if I have to get through a long plot line or a talk to a lot of people in a town to find out what to do next.  I only get one if I spend the entire time fighting monsters in a dungeon, and I get two “pluses” for anything in between.  To play a game in English, it costs me 30 Gold pieces to play for the same half of an hour, and there are no available rewards for doing so.  So, I can play a game in English if I really want to, but…

I have extended this to many other areas.  I now have to pay to watch any television or videos in English or with English subtitles (even if it is with my spouse, who is not studying Japanese), while at the same time having a Daily requiring a minimum amount of Japanese Anime watching, with positive Habit of extra Anime.  I also have to pay to listen music in English or to talk or chat in English with my Nihongo senpai (who are also dear friends).  I actually recently had to raise the price of talking in English with my Nihongo senpai because I got into some rather bad habits surrounding that.

In order for this to work well, I think it is important to keep the Habits and Rewards very specific, and decide what they really entail.  For example, I first started with a negative Habit of unnecessary English, but that did not work at all.  What is “unnecessary”?  Creating costs for specific defined uses of English was far more effective, at least for me.  The ability to create a combination of bonuses for Japanese and costs for English has really helped me to ganbaru in Japanese, much more than I would do otherwise.

Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild: Beginner’s Immersion Challenge – Level Up

During the month of August, the Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers’ Guild sponsored its first challenge, the Beginner’s Immersion Challenge.  About a dozen people signed up for the challenge, and everyone did very well.*  We will be hosting that challenge again during the month of September.   The prize for the winner of the Beginner’s Challenge will again be 1 Gem.

Additionally, in September, the Guild will host an additional, level up challenge.  This challenge will be similar to the Beginner’s Challenge, but will take it to the next level.  The details of this challenge are as follows:

vlcsnap-2014-06-16-16h50m21s87Todo:

Watch 3 episodes of Anime during the month, slowly, using Japanese subtitles.  Cure Dolly wrote a very good article about using Anime to study Japanese which can be found here.

Daily:

The Daily for this challenge will be the same as for the Beginner’s Immersion Challenge, listening to a story or anime episode in Japanese.

Habits:

In addition to the daily of listening to Japanese, there will be a Habit of extra listening.  For this level up challenge, one can listen to as many stories or episodes in a day as one likes, and they will all count towards the challenge.

As with the Beginner’s Immersion Challenge, writing tasks on HabitRPG in Japanese will also be a positive habit for bonuses, and which will count toward the challenge.  Changing a task from English to Japanese will count towards this Habit.  It will also count if one edits a previously written task from incorrect Japanese to correct Japanese.

Reward (not exactly a “reward”):

As this is a level-up challenge, we will be taking another step towards making HabitRPG an immersion environment.  In the level up challenge, participants will still be allowed to write their tasks in English if they wish; however, for this challenge there will be a cost to it.  This challenge will include a “reward” of 5 GP to write a new task in English.  Of course, this only applies to tasks that are written by the participant, and not to tasks that come from other HabitRPG Challenges.

Here is what the challenge will look like on HabitRPG:

初心者の集中訓練の挑戦 -レベルアップ

ToDo

日本語の字幕でアニメを1話見る (“Watch one episode of Anime, using Japanese subtitles”) (x3)

Daily

日本語を聞く (“Listen to Japanese”)

Habits

+   余分な日本語の聞いている (Extra Japanese listening)

+  日本語で新しいHabitRPGの用事を書く (“Write new HabitRPG task using Japanese”)

Reward

5GP  英語で新しいHabitRPGの用事を書く (“Write new HabitRPG task using English”)

The winner of the Level Up Challenge will receive 2 Gems.

Both Challenges will start on September 6, 2014 and end on October 6, 2014.

Good luck!

頑張ってください。

_______________________________________________________

*If you signed up for the challenge in August, there should be a broken megaphone on the tag for the challenge.  When you click the megaphone, it should allow you to remove the tasks from the August challenge, if you would like.  If you are participating in either one of the September challenges, it is probably a good idea to remove the tasks from the August challenge, so as not to have the tasks doubled on your lists.

HabitRPG: The Adventure Continues

Several of us here on Kawaii Japanese have begun to use HabitRPG as a time management tool, as Cure Dolly has discussed here.  Time management can be a big stumbling block to being able to continue one’s studies, i.e., “I would love to learn Japanese, but I really do not have the time.”

Really all of us have the same amount of time….there are 24 hours in the day for all of us!  It is really a matter of what we decide to do with our time.  I am not sure about anyone else, but left to my own devices, I will wander around all day feeling like I have been busy, without any sense of accomplishment, and having no idea what it is I was actually busy doing.  I absolutely *need* some sort of time management tool.

I have been looking for the perfect time management tool for decades.  I still miss my old Palm Pilot, which was very nicely laid out for how I like to work.  I have spent these same decades learning and practicing about every procrastination avoidance/time management system under Ohisama.  HabitRPG is not quite perfect, but it is pretty close, I think!  Cure Dolly has given a very good description of the basics of the game/tool in her previous article, so I will concentrate on the things that I have learned that are relevant to us here on Kawaii Japanese.

Approach to the “game”

One of the things that I have noticed as a difficulty for my party members is a reluctance to give themselves “credit” for their tasks and habits.  I think that here on Kawaii Japanese, many of us are studying Japanese because we feel much more at home in the cultural assumptions of the East.  One of these assumptions is that modesty is proper, and self-aggrandizement is not.  I think that one of the ways to get past this is to really understand what the purpose of the “game” is.

The purpose of the “game” is to help us all manage our time better, and to get things done.  For us, this is important so we can manage our study time and manage our other tasks and chores, so that we DO have study time.  The game itself is very well designed, so that actually the “tricks” to playing the “game” are mostly good time-management and task-management habits.

For example, dailies, todos, and habits change colors depending on how well we are doing with them.  They all start off as yellow, and turn green, then blue, and then bright blue, if we are doing well with them.  If we are doing poorly with them or letting them sit in our “todo” list, they turn orange, then red, and then deep red.  The redder the task or habit is the more damage it can do to us, but by the same token, we get more rewards for actually doing it!

Generally, tasks that turn red are tasks we REALLY don’t want to do and are putting off.  Getting more points for them helps to turn these tasks into our friends!  Heee…and doesn’t that seem like a very Japanese way to look at things!

HabitRPG current

Social aspects

The social aspects of HabitRPG are really wonderful.  I am now working with a party, and that has been really nice.   My party consists of close friends (who are also study partners).  We are all geographically far apart, but HabitRPG is helping to give us the sense that we are all working together.  We can actually see avatars of each other on our personal pages, so for me, it gives the feeling of my party being with me while doing my daily chores and tasks.

We already done about 3 “Quests” together.  The quests we have done are Boss quests, which means that we are battling a Monster.  When we do tasks and dailies, they do damage to the Boss, and missed Dailies of any one of us mean that the Boss does damage to the party.

Because we are all close friends, no one wants to do damage to the party, so we all work extra hard to do our Dailies.  Yet, also because we are all friends, we can support and comfort each other when we don’t do as well as we would like.  Below is a typical exchange in our Party chat.

ごめんなさい。(Gomen nasai. “I am very sorry”…for causing the party damage)

大丈夫ですよ。今日はがんばりましょうね!(Daijoubu desu yo. Kyou wa ganbarimashou ne!
“It is ok.  Today, let’s do our best together!”)

I think that it has very much helped our group’s bond to grow and develop!

It is also nice, that so far, all of the Quests are written in a way that is very much in line with our philosophy.  The “Bosses” are often tamed, rather than “killed”, and it is quite easy to see in these stories the traditional story themes we know and love from our favorite Anime.  We can imagine the Bosses as being taken over by Evil Spirits to be cleansed, or that they are our own False Selves.

There is also a Tavern, where just like any role playing game, one can go to hear rumors and get information!  The Tavern chat is very well moderated and is polite and pleasant, for the most part.  For many of us, part of the reason we are studying Japanese is that we are attracted to the more gentle and polite culture of Japan, so many English speaking social places on the Internet can be jarring and poisonous.  On HabitRPG, I have found the Tavern quite pleasant.  One of the really nice things is that swearing is not allowed at all, and posts with swear words are promptly removed!

Aesthetics

This is Kawaii Japanese, so, of course, aesthetics are quite important to us.  The basic game itself is quite kirei.  On the other hand, at the Tavern, I learned a way to make the game even prettier!  There is an add-on which works for Firefox, known as Stylish.  It also works on other browsers, I think, but of course we recommend Firefox here because of the availability of the Rikaichan and Procon Latte addons.

With the Stylish add-on, one can customize the interface of the program.  A link to this add-on is here.  The default theme is quite nice, and is the one that I use.  You can see it in the image above.  This add-on also has an option to hide the game aspects, which might be important if one is using HabitRPG at work.  There is also the option to create your own custom theme, but really the default one itself is quite nice, ne.

Oh dear, I had a lot more to say, but this article has already gotten quite long.  Maybe I will need to write a sequel later!

行かなければ行きません。

またね。

頑張りましょうね!

P.S.  I just received 76 experience, about 9 Gold pieces, and replenished 2.6 Mana Points by writing this post!  (this was a very red Todo)

Habit RPG for Japanese Learners – and the Kawaii Japanese Adventurers’ Guild

Habit RPG literally makes a game out of time management. This can be important for Japanese learners who have a problem managing their time and getting Japanese-related tasks done, as well as co-ordinating them with other tasks.

I have tried various ways to manage my time with very little success, but Habit RPG has really revolutionized the way I use my time and its effectiveness in working on Japanese. Partly that is because I understand games better than I understand practicalities. But also it is because with Habit RPG I am can be part of a group with Japanese Adventurer friends.

Kawaii Japanese has its own Guild (Japanese Deep Cave Adventurers) on Habit RPG. Everyone is welcome to join it and (optionally) take part in our Guild Challenges and talk about Japanese learning in Japanese. Don’t worry if your level is low. If you just want to pop in and say こんにちは you are more than welcome.

A thing one notices about the Internet is that it is full of Japanese learners blathering endlessly about Japanese in English. Now some things do need to be explained in English, but actually using Japanese, even at a low level, is crucial. Studying Japanese textbooks and even watching anime/playing games is of limited value if the minute you stop doing that you go straight back to “the real language” – English – for actually communicating and receiving communication. Japanese has to become the real language, at least for part of your life.

It is important to begin using – not just learning or practicing – Japanese as early as possible in your Japanese adventure.

This is the key to how we at Kawaii Japanese (and our guild on the game itself) use Habit RPG. The guild communicates only in Japanese (it is mostly quite simple and you can and should use Rikaichan as much as you need) and we encourage using the time management system to increase Japanese activity. Some of us actually have 不要な英語 – unnecessary English – as a bad habit that loses hit points.

So, let’s look at Habit RPG itself:

Habit RPG - making a game out of life
Habit RPG – making a game out of life

I am told by a friend who has considerable experience of task-managers that Habit RPG is one of the better ones even aside from the game aspect. It divides “tasks” into three kinds:

・Dailies (things you should do every day and lose hit-points if you don’t).

・Habits – things you should be trying to do, or not do, or do one way rather than another.

・To dos – a simple to do list.

You can also filter these – for example I have filters (tags) for articles and posts, mails and letters I should be writing etc. I am not well-organized and my system is pretty rudimentary as yet, but it does help even me to find things.

At the top you see your own avatar and those of your party. You earn gold and experience for completing tasks and lose hit points for not completing or for doing bad “habits” (unnecessary English, for example, or flipping peas across the dinner table).

There is much more to the game than this, and more and more gets unlocked as you level up. You can use your gold to buy equipment, pets and mounts become available, eggs hatch. There is a real sense of playing a game, especially with a party or Guild or both.

Here is a look at the Kawaii Japanese guild:

Habit-RPG-kawaii-Japanese-guild
We are an open guild, so please join the fun!

The Guild issues challenges and is a place for chat, interaction, discussion and recommendations. Among other things it is a good place to practice using a little Japanese and a source of support and encouragement on your Japanese adventure.

If you sign up for Habit RPG you should then go to Social > Guilds and type in “kawaii” (or 日本語)and find us. Please don’t be shy or worried about your Japanese. We are all learning, and making mistakes is how one progresses. Using Japanese from an early stage is of great importance. It is a very different thing from just practicing Japanese. Actually communicating things (however small) that you actually want to communicate and learning things you want to learn. And it is good to have a friendly environment to try it in – as well as one that uses reasonably simple Japanese and is friendly and gentle.

It is also a place to discuss recommendations for Japanese games, books, anime and other “immersion materials” – i.e. the culture of our Japanese life.

There are only  a few things I would say have actually changed my life and Habit RPG is one of those few – largely because I am very poor at managing my time and have never gotten on at all well with “serious” time management software. I am definitely more productive both in Japanese and other areas as a result of Habit RPG. This is a lot to do with its game aspect and also its social aspect. It has allowed me to make my work into a game I share with Japanese-using, like-minded friends.

Cons: The two main cons about Habit RPG are:

• It does not handle monthly tasks well (it is fine with weeklies). That doesn’t affect me but is a drawback for some folks.

• It is not available in Japanese. There are several languages available and at the time of writing a Japanese translation is said to be 65% complete. We encourage people to enter tasks, tags etc in Japanese only, though of course that is up to you. If you do that and join the Guild you will be working in a largely-Japanese environment.

Neither of these is a major drawback (unless monthlies are super-important to you), and Habit RPG is well worth a try.