09 10

Japanese Methods & Resources

I've written several posts about what we use for learning Japanese, but I think that it's time to collect them and keep them all in one place: Japanese resource gathering for myself and my kids is a significant project. I have a two-pronged approach: we do some formal study, particularly Hero(12) and I, and then we do a lot of passive exposure and try to find ways to have fun in the new language. I am a student of Japanese myself, but to the degree that we are able, I always try to find ways to pull our efforts toward bilingual learning and natural use of the language, and away from sterile lessons from apps or textbooks, though those do have a place from time to time, particularly in my efforts to stay ahead of the kids. But finding ways to incorporate the language into our daily living always works better than lessons.

The daily [Japanese] lesson is that which should not be omitted. That children should learn [Japanese] orally, by listening to and repeating [Japanese] words and phrases; that they should begin so young that the difference of accent does not strike them, but they repeat the new [Japanese] word all the same as if it were English and use it as freely; that they should learn a few––two or three, five or six––new [Japanese] words daily, and that, at the same time, the old words should be kept in use––are points to be considered more fully hereafter: in the meantime, it is so important to keep tongue and ear familiar with [Japanese] vocables, that not a lesson should be omitted. The [Japanese] lesson may, however, be made to fit in with the spirit of the other out-of-door occupations; the half-dozen words may be the parts––leaves, branches, bark, trunk of a tree, or the colours of the flowers, or the movements of bird, cloud, lamb, child; in fact, the new [Japanese] words should be but another form of expression for the ideas that for the time fill the child's mind.
-Charlotte Mason, Volume 1, p80-81

My Posts on Foreign Language Instruction: 

Charlotte Mason and Foreign Languages (Published at By Study and Faith)
Moving Beyond the Textbook
What to Read
A Web of Language
Ears Before Eyes

Blog Posts at Baby Steps
Making it Safe to Not Know
A Bilingual Math Lesson
Expanding our Linguistic Web
It's Working: Foreign Language Learning the Charlotte Mason Way
Experimenting With the Gouin Method of Foreign Language Instruction
Trying Foreign Language Narration
Intensive Language Learning Day 
Study Tools For Mama
Bilingual Calendar Update
Japanese Grammar Memory Work
Practicing Japanese 
A Day in the Life (there are several of these on the homeschool article page)
Home From Japan (only Daddy went, but he brought gifts)
New Games (the grammar one was a dead end, but the math games have lasted)
Bilingual Calendar Time

Hiragana and Katakana:

If you're serious about learning Japanese, then the first thing you need to do is learn their alphabet. Don't waste your time fooling around with romanized Japanese; that's not the real stuff, and the sooner that you can sound out the words, the better off you'll be. Hiragana and katakana are like our alphabet - they are symbols that represent sounds, and many of them are visually related to each other, not unlike our uppercase and lowercase letters, so it's not a huge project to learn them. We have used a variety of resources to play around with this, but one of my favorites is comes from Memrise, their Learn Hiragana Through Vocabulary course. This course is great because it not only teaches hiragana, but it also helps you move into real reading right away -- and it's the practice through reading that helps to solidify it. They have a number of courses that will also help you to remember katakana; do the hiragana first because it's used much more frequently.

In addition to learning to recognize the letters, it's also convenient to learn to write. And when you write, you should know that stroke order matters: you have to learn to draw the characters in the correct order. If you don't, your letters will tell on you, and never look quite right. It's really not so bad, though, as there are patterns to how things are drawn that you'll start to figure out. Print yourself some genkyo yoshi paper, and start copying. A chart like this one can tell you the stroke order, and there are videos on YouTube that will show you how it looks. Take the time; learn to do it well. This is a huge part of your foundation.

From my blog:
Hiragana Post-its 
Katakana (on the virtues of Fancy Pens)

For Native By Natives And Passive Exposure: 

I try to expose us all, myself, and all three kids, to materials that are made for natives by natives. It's got natural pacing, expression, pronunciation... all the good stuff. And I try to make it fun. Fun matters.

Getting good is good. Those things are all good. It’s nice to be full and it’s nice to have a big vocabulary. It’s just that you’re more likely to eat more if you focus more or less totally on making and procuring tasty food than “efficient”, “filling” food. Similarly, if you focus just about exclusively on having fun through the language, while you still suck, while you’re not full yet, you’ll naturally “eat” more of it, and eat more often, and naturally get “fuller” faster.
-Khatzmuto, Why Don't You Learn Like You Eat?, emphasis original (content warning: this article is clean, but if you browse his site, be aware he's sometimes rude, and occasionally pretty crude)

 We watch a couple of Japanese Minecraft channels, sometimes just for passive exposure, sometimes I harvest sentences for the kids, sometimes I keep my dictionary close as we're watching so we can look up words that are said. It is really remarkable how much my kids pick up from this, and how good their pronunciation is when they say things they've learned from these. It sounds hokey and stupid, but it's amazing.

This one is good for just putting on as background noise, so that we can listen all morning. It's the first of a lengthy list; he seems to add to it nearly every day. But part of the magic is the repetition, which helps it to slowly come into "focus" in your ear:

This is a fun one that we like to watch. She's entertaining, even with minimal understanding, which makes it easier to actually watch the videos... which makes it easier to pick out a word here and there, which adds up. Plus, what's not to love about putting everything in a waffle maker?! We even tried imitating a few of her ideas...

Miku-Sensei has a growing collection of videos on both YouTube and Instagram, and I really like her: she's cleared up a couple of grammar things I was uncertain of, and she typically introduces practical kinds of sentences you'd use in a family, and I like that she makes me stretch for the vocabulary just a little. Plus, she's funny. Even though my kids don't really understand everything, they sometimes watch her with me because she's got a gift for making grammar entertaining.

And I just recently found this one, by accident, when I was looking for a watercolor tutorial. I'm excited to watch some more of his stuff and learn both watercolors and Japanese at the same time -- which is something that you want to attempt to do: bring your hobbies into the new language.

Japanese Language Books:
You can get a surprising amount of Japanese books, especially Japanese-English bilingual books, and Japanese editions, but also Japanese picture books, from just the regular Amazon.com. Amazon.jp, once you get an account, can be set up so that the interface is in English. Sometimes, I can find them at the local Half-Price Books store, which is great. Having books helps us to become more fluent. It helps us to get used to handling them (some are printed opposite the way that English ones are), and to seeing the kanji and kana. It encourages us to read, which helps our vocabulary to grow. All the things that help with literacy and fluency in your first language do the same things in your second language: books are worth the effort to find.

In addition to books, the Church has a large amount of content available in Japanese. We have a Japanese Children's Songbook that we use, I read part of my scriptures in the Japanese Book of Mormon - the regular app for the phones has it, and it will read to me. I've got a Bible as well, but it's more difficult to read, and doesn't have the audio, so I'm doing the Book of Mormon first. And General Conference is translated into Japanese as well.

From my blog:
Japanese Storytime
It's the Same, But Different, in Japanese
Foreign Language Comparison (Scripture Study Technique)
Switching Languages in the Gospel Library App

SRS or Spaced Repetition System:

If you're not familiar already, here's a quick explanation of what an SRS is.

I have been using Sticky Study for years, and it's working great. It's an iPhone app, which means that I've got it in my pocket when I have a few minutes, which is key to my success: 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there, it adds up to meaningful learning with time. This is something that I do for my own study, so that I can better speak to my kids: they have not really taken to SRS at this point, and I haven't forced the issue.

For checking to see if sentences we want to say are correct, HiNative is invaluable. It's made by the same folks that bring us Lang-8, which is also fantastic.

From my blog:
A Win in Japanese!

Explicit Instruction:

We (off and on) work on memorizing some verb and adjective conjugations. We are also slowly working on the materials from And Introduction to Modern Japanese, and the grammar books I have to go with it. These are intended for adult learners, but taking it slowly has been working for us pretty well. A lot of this material goes into my SRS for extended practice, and from there into the things that I say to my kids. The younger they are, the more they learn from just me talking to them. Sometime around 8 years old, the kids start playing with Mango lessons through our library. I consider these to be a support only, and not the main instruction: languages aren't learned in the lesson so much as they are in the living.

Language Resources: 

High-frequency words
Hiragana chart w/ stroke orders
NHK Easy Japanese
NHK for School
Simple Grammar Introduction
Speaking-Japanese.com (Breaking into Japanese Literature)
Tae Kim's Guide to Japanese Grammar
Tae Kim's Facebook Group

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