Point me to some good websites/apps
November 13, 2010 5:43 PM   Subscribe

Japanese Learning 2010

So I took 3 semesters of Japanese in college back in 1998-99. Besides watching a lot of dramas, I haven't studied it at all after that. I can watch dramas raw if I cant find subs. I would say I understand 60%-80% of the plot without subs. I can do hiragana/katakana but barely any kanjis (about 50) .

So I want start studying again. Probably from the beginning since I have forgotten so much stuff.

So tell me what websites / apps / tips would you recommend? Bonus points for websites where i could do a language exchange or meet penpals.

PS: I have a Mac and an iPhone 3GS.
posted by Aya to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
alljapaneseallthetime.com and anki. Go get started on Heisig's "Remembering the Kanji" method...
posted by johnnybeggs at 6:16 PM on November 13, 2010

my standard website for kanji learning is Read the Kanji, which used to be free, but now has a one-time fee, I believe. Good flashcards, decent system for controlling the level of repetition. It helped me with my Kanji to the point where there was only a single kanji on the N3 I didn't know.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:17 PM on November 13, 2010

I want to emphasize right away that I don't know if this is the best way for everyone, but it has been working well for me (with modifications): All Japanese All The Time. I don't always agree with his ideas, and I think lately he's had too much stuff of dubious merit and it smells like he's really just trying to keep people coming back, but the basic idea is that you use James Heisig's Remembering the Kanji to get a grasp of all the meanings of the Jōyō kanji, load up your SRS with the kanji and sentences, and in the meantime basically create as much of an immersive Japanese environment for yourself as you can. Also, this site is set up to use the Heisig ordering and methodology and has a built-in review and study system. While the details regarding stuff like Heisig are specific to Japanese, the basic strategy is not language-specific and can be attributed to these Polish guys, and before them this guy (and probably a bunch of other people I don't know about).

So TLDR version is: get tons of input, and use an SRS to effectively retain what you've learned. It works.

As far as specific resources for Japanese, I've found Veoh to be an amazing source of raw Japanese TV–you can get a lot of Japanese dramas that way. Otherwise I have set my iTunes to be in Japanese so I can pretty easily poke around and find podcasts to listen to at various levels of complexity. Feel free to Me-mail me if you want more details.

Just to be a bit of a Heisig apologist for a minute, I will say that, while I don't have anything to compare it to in terms of learning methods, I've found it extremely useful, because oftentimes the meanings of the Kanji have a direct relationship to the meanings of the words they are used in, and having something to "attach" the reading to is great. It seems like an obvious thing, but many people question the value of Heisig, as you don't learn any on- or kun-yomi, just English meanings. But I've found that it helps both learning on- and kun-yomi as well as figuring out the meanings of words you may not even know the pronunciation for.

Finally, I will say that since I've started being able to read books my vocabulary and grasp of grammar has really started to pick up. I think Krashen's Input Hypothesis is really dead-on; struggling through grammar rules has relatively little to do with really *getting* how a particular grammatical construction works in an intuitive way. That's not to say that a bit of grammar isn't helpful or even necessary at first, but I feel like you don't really get stuff until you've seen it twenty times or so in various permutations, how it is actually used. So reading and listening is key.
posted by dubitable at 6:21 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: Great suggestions so far, checking the links now.

Any of you guys have experience with any of these language exhange sites / social networks:
1. http://www.livemocha.com/
2. http://www.italki.com/
3. http://www.languageexchange.org/
posted by Aya at 7:25 PM on November 13, 2010

Aya, I don't know any of those sites (but I'll check them out!). However, your response made me think of another site you may find useful, there are a ton of Japanese folks on there. It's called Lang-8, and the idea is that you write short pieces in the language you are trying to learn, and correct other folks who are writing in your language. I have been a slacker on there but the few things I wrote I got amazing feedback on.
posted by dubitable at 7:51 PM on November 13, 2010

Oh, also (sorry to keep posting!) check out RhinoSpike.
posted by dubitable at 7:54 PM on November 13, 2010

For whatever it's worth, Nihongodict is the best free online dictionary I know of. It includes a radical-lookup to identify kanji.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:50 PM on November 13, 2010

Smart.fm is a pretty good online flashcard tool. It has a lot of Japanese resources, including kanji, although most of it is meant for first-time learners and might be too basic for you.
posted by marakesh at 11:15 PM on November 13, 2010

Response by poster: @johnnybeggs - AJATT seems like there is tons of info, but the website is too messy, and at least on the main page there's mostly Cantonese articles. Checked out Anki iPhone app on the App Store but the price is $25 :(

@Ghidorah and marakesh - Great links thanks they are now bookmarked.

@dubitable - I think I have Remembering the Kanji in a box somewhere. So I will try that. Awesome links; specially the Lang-8 and RhinoSpike. Sadly I can't watch Veoh in my country.

@Chocolate Pickle. - Cool dictionary. I usually use Denshi Jisho. Check it out!
posted by Aya at 4:46 AM on November 14, 2010

Whoa, $25 is bonkers! Especially weird since, it was free for android. Could always just go with the regular non-mobile version or according to their website, use iAnki. Sorry, not too familiar with iphones...

My biggest recommendation for anki/any SRS is to use pre-made decks--at least for me, actually making the decks is the most tedious part, not having to do that means I actually study...
posted by johnnybeggs at 5:41 AM on November 14, 2010

but the website is too messy

table of contents
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 6:35 AM on November 14, 2010

I'll get the disclosure bit out of the way first up - I work for a Company called Cerego, who are the creators of smart.fm. (It's a free service. Please forgive me if this sounds like an advert, but I'm a fan of the product)

I'm a heavy user of the site and have been finding it very effective for vocab expansion, reading and aural comprehension. One area where it's not so strong is kanji writing, but given most word processors handle that for you these days it's not absolutely necessary.

Anki's logic is based largely on Smart.fm, so if you've used that then you have a fair idea of how the model works. They have a bunch of pre-made content with professionally recorded. (The most popular 6000 words in the Japanese language).

There's also a bunch of user-generated content, both for Japanese and for other languages. My recommendation would be to check out the official stuff first, see how well that suits your needs and if you're looking for something a little more niche, then go with the UGC.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 6:39 AM on November 14, 2010

sorry - that should read 'professionally recorded sound'.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 6:40 AM on November 14, 2010

Anki's logic is based largely on Smart.fm, so if you've used that then you have a fair idea of how the model works. They have a bunch of pre-made content with professionally recorded. (The most popular 6000 words in the Japanese language).

Um, Anki's "logic" is based largely on spaced recognition, something that smart.fm did not come up with. I'm not denying that smart.fm is a useful site, but please don't be misleading here.

Also, I've never paid for Anki; but I've never tried using the iPhone app. The desktop app is pretty awesome, and, like smart.fm, has a ton of free user-generated content for many languages (especially Japanese) available.

Also, agreed that AJATT is a pretty messy site; and all the Chinese stuff he's had lately is a bit annoying...he should put it on another site (say, "All Chinese All the Time?")! The table of contents linked to above helps a good bit though.
posted by dubitable at 7:06 AM on November 14, 2010

Not being misleading at all.
From what I understand, a large amount of the logic Anki uses to determine spacing is based directly on smart.fm whose API they used until the latter discontinued making it publicly available.

I'm not ragging on Anki. I've used it a whole lot also. I quite liked it. I put together a bunch of custom content and found it quite effective for vocab learning. I did more kanji writing when I as using Anki, but I do find that my Japanese is more rounded since I switched over.

Most of the other stuff I know about are paid services and/or aren't that effective, so I haven't mentioned them. AJATT is a pretty good site for inspiration, but yeah the organization can be offputting. There's a bunch of stuff posted here I didn't know about though, so I'm going to go check that out.

As far as dead-tree stuff goes, 'A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar' (published by The Japan Times) has come in handy (there are 'intermediate' and 'advanced' versions also). I still read through these quite regularly.

If you want to use a Japanese dictionary (in Japanese), I've found http://www.alc.co.jp useful. As far as reading Japanese websites go, if you're using Firefox, check out pera pera kun It has a useful search bar for searching both English and Japanese text, as well as popping up word translations when you roll over Japanese text.
posted by CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet at 2:12 PM on November 14, 2010

I've used LiveMocha. Its Japanese lessons are wrong. They teach factually wrong grammar and vocabulary. I can't speak for the social networking part but I can't imagine it's as good as speaking face to face with an acquaintance.

In terms of kanji practice, I've used Kanji Box, but I recommend installing Rikaichan and reading Japanese websites directly.
posted by shii at 6:38 PM on November 14, 2010

I'm in a similar situation of picking up japanese after a long hiatus (though I look forward to the day where I understand 60% of a show unsubbed :) Here's what wish I had known about when I started earlier this year:
Anki iPhone app on the App Store but the price is $25 :(
If you are serious about getting back into study, then the $25 for anki will be funds well spent. It's not just home screen on my phone, it's home row! Far and away the most used app on my phone. I use it to rationalize staying in bed 10 min longer to run through the reps. I had anki on my macbook for years and never used it. On iphone, it removes that barrier from "oh I should study" to "oh I just studied."

For kanji I've been using the ordering from kanjidamage.com. I like that new kanji are built with radicals from the previously studied kanji. It means you learn some obscure ones early, but I think the trade off is worth it when trying to learn ~2000 of them. I'm also easily amused by the intentionally offensive mnemonics. Didn't dig the page design so I turned it into a 2000 chapter ebook and corresponding anki deck.

Smart.fm Oh how I want to like you. But the iphone client was so frustrating that I gave up on it. They have great content though (particularly the core series with the spoken examples.)

kotoba is the go to free dictionary for iphone. Some of the example sentences are a bit dodgy, but I've found it helpful. Saved the day multiple times when I was in Japan this spring.

Book wise I second 'A dictionary of basic Japanese grammar' (full disclosure, the author was my professor at university), but I do really like the text. It's a bit academic at times and formal, but it's chock full of examples that you know are grammatically correct. I'm currently working on entering it into Anki (if anyone else is undertaking a similar task send me mefi mail. As is, it's slow going.)

I agree with dubitable's take on AJATT. I don't go there these days, but it gave me the kick in the pants to leave shows playing in the background when I'm cooking / doing other things around the house.

Finally I pair the above study with weekly classes. I find 2 hours a week with someone paid to answer my questions make me far more willing to make mistakes and push the boundaries of what I can say / understand.

posted by lucidprose at 10:02 PM on November 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle thanks for the ref to Nihongodict . Far better presentation than what I was using before.

The one thing I forgot to mention is adding translation bots to google chat . Adding en2ja@bot.talk.google.com and ja2en@bot.talk.google.com to friends list gives you easy access to google translate from within gmail. Handy! Translations are saved in your chat history. It's an essential resource (crutch) for me when chatting with friends in japanese. I find the transcripts, with their admittedly rough machine translations, great reference of actual-using-japanese-to-communicate-with-people-I-know moments.

dubitable: mefi mail coming your way asking for podcast recommendations.
posted by lucidprose at 10:24 PM on November 14, 2010

Response by poster: I should mention Apps I already have on my phone are: Kotoba, Kotoba! (a different app), ShinKanji, JapaneseMate, Japanese Word of the Day, Japanese Verb Conjugator.
posted by Aya at 4:01 PM on November 15, 2010

Response by poster: @CardinalRichelieuHandPuppet - Thanks for the link to smart.fm. Seems like a great resource. Sadly all the iOS apps seem aimed at Japanese people trying to learn English?

@shii - Awww, while I was looking at LiveMocha as a wait to meet people I could language exchange on Skype with. It sucks that they give incorrect lessons. Will approach with care.

@lucidprose - I would actually consider to pay the $25 dollars for the app (to support the developer) if I new I was gonna use it. Over $200 bucks in apps so far, some never to be used again. :( Thanks for the google bot trick.
posted by Aya at 4:03 PM on November 15, 2010

Response by poster: *"as a way" - Note to self: Preview before posting.

I also have the WunderRadio app which I use to listen to Japanese radio stations. Didn't consider podcast though. Any good ones?
posted by Aya at 4:07 PM on November 15, 2010

I haven't done a thorough comparison of all the Japanese language learning apps, so there may be others that are better, etc, but...
I have been very happy with Japanese for my iPod Touch. The flash card part seems to work on a similar principal to Anki, it has great built in sample sentences, has a built-in dictionary with optional SKIP look-up (etc), and is quite easy to navigate through, etc.
It's not inexpensive, but I don't regret the purchase at all, unlike many apps I've bought for much less. YRMV.
posted by segatakai at 11:21 PM on November 15, 2010

bookmarking this page for later!

smart.fm has already been mentioned (bummed they discontinued their iphone app), but what about tae kim's guide to japanese? it's my go to reference when i forget the rules for a certain grammar pattern.

i also use the 'kotoba' dictionary app on my ipod, i like that it shows me the korean readings when i look up a kanji, though that probably isn't relevant for you.

i also strongly recommend lang-8! at first i only posted essays that i had to write for class, but i'm trying to write more frequently and on more casual topics, like a drama i recently watched. the people there are great :)

i also visit tofugu time to time, and he also designed his own curriculum (for lack of a better word). i haven't checked it out but it does look pretty good
posted by qvinx at 9:55 PM on November 19, 2010

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