Perapera makes its way to Chrome!


Thats right, surprise! I have actually been working on this and a pre-release version is now finished and available to download on the Chrome extension site. You can get it here:

Perapera Chinese for Chrome

Yes its only Chinese for now, and some features are missing, but let’s not dwell on whats missing. The main functionality is there and the new themes as well. Features will be added one by one until it is on par with the Firefox version. Install now and you will receive all those updates automatically as they are added. We look forward to your feedback!

We plan to expand this site significantly in the coming weeks and months. Like our Facebook page, or follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest updates!

Book review: 500 Basic Korean Verbs

In any language, verbs form the vital medium for effective communication. Korean is no exception. Its tricky verb conjugations and challenging grammar present tough obstacles for learners. 500 Basic Korean Verbs is an invaluable reference that breaks down 500 of the most common Korean verbs. I recommend that all serious students of Korean pick this one up.


Great index for looking up verbs in a rush

The index at the back of the book is very easy to use. You can look up Korean verbs by their romanized or hangul form as well as their English meaning.

Free audio content is an added bonus

The publisher includes the corresponding audio files for the dictionary form of each verb and for all of the example sentences. I tend to learn better with audio, so I found this to be a helpful addition. Pronunciation of all of the conjugations would have been even better, but I suppose that would make for a very long CD!


Sample sentences are a welcome addition

The sample sentences are great for mastering the various verb forms and picking up new vocabulary. Combining these sentences with the audio would be a good way of consolidating your knowledge.

Unnecessary romanization

A book covering various advanced verb forms, including causative and honorific usages, should safely assume that learners have mastered the hangul by now. It’s a minor point, but this book would be considerably easier to read without the distraction of romanization for every verb form.


500 Basic Korean Verbs is an essential book for your Korean studies. Whether for learning vocabulary or writing out emails, it will come in handy. You can pick up the Kindle version of this book here.

Full disclosure: We received a free review copy of 500 Basic Korean Verbs from Tuttle Publishing. Have you also used this book for your Korean studies? If so, we would be interested to hear your opinion about it. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Book review: Chinese for Beginners

Chinese for Beginners is an introductory book for busy learners starting out with Chinese. I previously enjoyed using its Korean language counterpart by the same publisher (reviewed here). What follows is my review of the Chinese version.

Easy-to-follow structure

The book is split into 16 chapters with a couple of dialogues for each. The situations given are typical for a beginner course, ranging from greeting a new person in Chinese to eating in a restaurant.

Full of interesting cultural information

I really liked how the book is packed with cultural details. It’s a nice touch that gives you some background knowledge about Chinese culture. Indeed, I was impressed to see Chinese poems from the Tang dynasty appearing at the end of most chapters! The below is a famous example from chapter 1 of the book:

Thoughts for a Quiet Night – Li Bai

The bright beams shine

across my coverlet,

Reminding me of frost

covering the ground.

I gaze up at the bright moon,

then bow my head,

And suddenly think of home.

Of course, the book includes the Chinese for the poem. The audio for is also included on the attached CD. Very cool.

Basic grammar notes

There are also some notes explaining new language points, but I thought these could have been a little more detailed. It’s a little bit curious that while the cultural sections are packed with information, the authors are relatively silent regarding explanations of the various linguistic patterns. That said, this may be a positive point for newbies who are easily overwhelmed by technical explanations and who would prefer a simpler book.

Other details

Chinese for Beginners retails at $12 on Amazon and comes with a CD with 190 audio files included – very reasonable as language books go. Interestingly, there is also a Kindle version available with the audio available for download online. Up until now, not many publishers of language resources have gone the e-book route, but perhaps this is a sign of more to come. My long-suffering bookshelf certainly hopes so.


All in all, I found Chinese for Beginners to be a gradual but useful introduction to the Chinese language. It’s not going to take you to an advanced level, but it’s a good start for learners who like to take things a little more slowly and would like a glimpse into Chinese culture.

If you want something a little more challenging, I recommend picking up the excellent Assimil Chinese course. That’s all for now. Watch this space for more reviews of Chinese learning materials in future!

Full disclosure: We received a free review copy of Chinese for Beginners from Tuttle Publishing. If you have also used this resource, why not leave your review in the comments below? We’d love to hear your opinions!

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Book review: Learning Japanese Kanji

Based on the same method as the popular Learning Chinese Characters, Glen Nolan Grant’s Learning Japanese Kanji offers a humorous and memorable approach to mastering the first 500 kanji.

Mnemonics are cool

Kanji characters are a totally abstract concept to the uninitiated westerner, so you need a helping hand to attach meaning to them. The Japanese mostly learn the kanji through a combination of daily exposure and grueling repetition at school, which mostly involves writing out the characters over and over again. Only by the end of high school is full proficiency achieved. Do you have that much time to burn? Didn’t think so. You need a better solution, which is where this book comes in.

A central part of the method for Learning Japanese Kanji lies in the usage of mnemonics to break down each kanji and make it more memorable. I am of the opinion that stories and mnemonics are the best way to learn the kanji. Why? Because they put sense into the seemingly nonsensical world of kanji characters. Grant uses a variety of funny and memorable mnemonics that should greatly aid you in your learning mission.

Learning by frequency makes a lot of sense

Learning Japanese Kanji focuses on the 520 most commonly occurring kanji characters. Although there are more than 2,000 characters included in the regular use list produced by the Japanese Ministry of Education, the truth is that you will function just fine with a lot less. Learning the 2,000+ list will make you fully literate, but tackling the most common 520 first makes sense to me. From this perspective, I think that the author took the correct approach with this book.

Extra details are appreciated

The inclusion of ON and KUN readings, relevant vocabulary and sample sentences for each character is a nice touch. I personally find example sentences to be one of the keys to learning Japanese.

Audio CD and example sentences

Learning that involves multiple senses has been shown to be more effective (see John Medina’s Brain Rules for reference). Reading and listening together are better than just reading. The audio CD is therefore a nice bonus, allowing you to listen to the character readings and example sentences to drill them into long-term memory.

Romaji transliteration is unnecessary

Romaji are a crutch that hold back learners from reading Japanese. If someone is learning the kanji, one might safely assume that this person has already mastered the hiragana/katakana by that stage. If they haven’t yet done so, then the kanji should not be attempted yet. This book would be better without the roman characters, but I suppose nothing is perfect.

Grant or Heisig?

As you may well know, another popular method for learning the kanji is the James Heisig approach. Choosing between Grant or Heisig is a tough call. I think it depends on your goals.

Looking back, our main issue with Heisig’s method was the irrelevance of some of the characters you learn early on. A rare kanji might be introduced on page 6, whereas an incredibly common kanji only comes into play on page 354. This is unavoidable really, as Heisig bases his method on building up a knowledge bank of the radicals which you then later combine to master more complicated characters.

So, if you are the obsessive (and slightly masochistic) type with time on your hands who wants to tackle all 2,000+ kanji in a grueling study campaign then Heisig’s method might be for you. We at Perapera probably fall into this first group.

Grant’s book is a little less ambitious, but, if used correctly, should achieve its aim of getting you a base knowledge of the kanji. If you are practical-minded and see the advantage of learning by frequency order then Learning Japanese Kanji might be a solid choice for you. This book may also be helpful for highly visual learners.

One thing is for certain. You definitely don’t want to use the two kanji methods at the same time. That would be confusing to the extreme, so choose one and stick to it.

Enjoy it!

Last of all, don’t forget to enjoy the process. I truly envy those of you who are just starting out with tackling the kanji. Even now I still find the kanji characters somewhat magical to behold, but nothing compares to those first few months of discovery. Happy learning!

Full disclosure: We received a free review copy of Learning Japanese Kanji from the guys at Tuttle Publishing.

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4 tips for a better self-study experience

In this installment, I share some pointers to give you a better study experience for learning languages. This isn’t gospel, just our informed opinion after having studied Asian languages for over a decade. Feel free to follow the parts that vibe with you and discard the rest. With that caveat in place, let’s get started!

1. Invest in your learning


As 21st century learners, we all live in an age of abundance. There has never been a time when it was easier (or cheaper!) to learn an Asian language. Useful tools such as Perapera and limitless foreign language media are available for free.

Free is fantastic but it does have its limits. Despite all the good free stuff available, it is still better to invest in your language learning. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, we as humans do not value what is free. It’s like having a gym membership – paying for it is part of what motivates you to go. Or it should do anyway!

Second, learning a language is also an investment in yourself. The money you spend now will pay you back many times over, both financially and personally. I now earn more yen in a week of work than the total of my spending on Japanese books and courses. This initial investment has given a massive financial return which continues to accrue every day. By all means, take steps to decrease the cost of your learning, but always invest, invest, invest.

The third and most important reason is that physical books and courses that cost some money are almost always better (see below).

2. Prioritize the offline over the online

Offline learning still beats the online

In the early stages of your learning you should spend more time offline than online.

This might sound strange coming from us – after all, we write a blog and make language plugins, but traditional offline resources are still vastly superior to (most) online language courses.

An insightful book will save you hours of time. A solid audio course will get you acquainted with the grammar and pronunciation of the language. A helpful language tutor will give you a huge boost in confidence. So invest in all of these offline resources to hit the language from different angles.

The danger with online resources is that, despite the best of intentions, you end up surfing around random sites. This represents wasted time that you could have spent being immersed in the new language. In addition, many internet forums and websites give outright poor advice and misleading information. Other free resources online are of low quality and produced by amateurs.

Once you are intermediate, you can (and should!) read news sites and check out blogs in the foreign language. But until you get there, it is more effective to focus on offline resources that give you a base proficiency. So turn off your laptop, make yourself a coffee and get to work.

3. Watch movies in your target language

redcliff_peraperaYou need to have some fun with your learning. In fact, that is the whole reason for doing this language thing!

Find some foreign movies that interest you. It is is fine to watch with English subtitles, although movies with both the audio and the subtitles in the foreign language are optimal.

In the beginning, most of the dialogue will still sound like random syllables, but your ears slowly adjust. You will begin to recognize words you have learned from other sources. This is highly motivating. As you progress, you will find that you increasingly follow the plot and grasp the gist of conversations. Eventually you will struggle to remember a time when you couldn’t understand films in Japanese or Chinese. Trust me, that moment will come much quicker than you expect!

You can watch a large selection of Asian movies for no cost at all by signing up for a free 30 day trial with Amazon Prime. If you prefer, just cancel the membership before the month is up and you won’t be charged anything.

In the near future, we plan to do a series of posts on the best Asian movies we have seen to date. Watch this space!

4. Remove distractions


People are becoming more and more addicted to their smartphones. This is a problem for language learners. You simply cannot study efficiently while you are texting friends, checking the weather and reading Twitter all at the same time. Even just having a phone in your pocket serves as a distraction more often than not.

The only solution to smartphone addiction is to turn your phone off or, at the very least, put it into airplane mode while you study. You do want to learn this language right?

I know the idea of turning off your smartphone will strike fear into the hearts of many of you. Admit it, you are paranoid of missing out on something. But how many of those notifications are actually urgent? The world can wait an hour or two, so take a break from being connected for a change and let your brain focus on the task at hand. Remember that the benefits of good habits build up over time.

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The multi-front attack for conquering a new language

We have already established that studying on your own is best, but what’s the optimal way to dive into a completely new language?

The secret lies in attacking the language from many different angles. This is not an original idea. In fact, I borrowed it from a personal hero of mine, Barry Farber. His method works!

Apply a multi-front attack to win the war

When Napoleon was busy conquering Europe, do you think he did it all with one army? Of course not. He deployed a multitude of armies and brigades with infantry, cavalry and artillery, not to mention skilled mercenaries hailing from close and afar. The enemy’s defenses were broken down by the sheer force and variety of Napoleon’s armies.

Studying a language isn’t all that different to warfare. Over time, you may grow to love your chosen language. It will become closer to you, like a friend or eventually even a lover. But do not be fooled! As a beginner, the language is your enemy. You must attack it on multiple fronts with a variety of armed units. You must show no mercy!

Infantry (books)


To build an army, you need to assemble some basic troops first. Your infantry, also known as books, will form the bulk of your armed forces. Get as many books as you want. I’m totally serious. As many as you want! Buy several different books and experiment with them to see which you like the most. It’s impossible to know which book is best for you just by looking at reviews on Amazon.

Before you cheapskate yourself out of your studies, think about this rationally for a moment. Even an investment of 15 or 20 books is peanuts compared to what you would shell out on going to language school. These books can be consulted whenever and wherever you need them. A good investment if I ever heard of one.

For the cost-conscious among you, buy your books used (veterans always come in handy!).  Either way, your books will be vital in the war against an enemy language. To save time, you might want to check out our book reviews:

Chinese books we liked
Japanese books we liked
Korean books we liked

Cavalry (audio courses)


In warfare, you need to move forward rapidly in your attacks and for this you need cavalry. You will want to buy a minimum of 2 audio courses for your target language. This is vital.

These courses will act as your teachers in the beginning stages. I’m a huge fan of the Michel Thomas series – We have used it for Chinese, French, German and Russian and can vouch for the quality of each course. In addition, I have heard good things about the Japanese course.

Pimsleur is another great choice if you can afford it. Assimil and Living Language are also excellent. I will cover these courses in more detail at a later date.

Artillery (vocabulary aids)


Vocabulary aids are the hard-hitting firepower that is your artillery. In the language wars, vocabulary trumps all, so you need to build up your vocab base as much as possible.

Books and audio courses will give you a start, but you should also seek out vocabulary yourselves. Use our free applications to discover new words online and save them to your preferred flashcard program. Vocabulary acquisition is truly the bread and butter, whether you are studying Chinese or Zulu. After all, at their core, languages are made from words.

If you prefer, you can also buy flashcards ready-made. This makes for easy revision so that you can learn any place, any time. You can find tons of sets for available for ChineseJapanese and Korean.

Mercenaries (personal tutors)


As with any armed force, you need some skilled mercenaries in the mix.

After reaching a certain level of proficiency, having a native speaker available to correct your errors will be extremely valuable.

You can now find personal tutors on sites like LingQ. A tutor can correct your errors and give you some gentle pointers on how to express yourself. But remember that nobody ever fought a successful war with mercenaries alone! The important point here is to use tutors as an extra boost. They are NOT there to teach you the language. The learning part will be achieved by your hard work alone.

So now you know how to raise an army ready for linguistic war. The rest is up to you.

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Assimil: An underrated gem for Asian languages

As far as I’m concerned, Assimil is one of the best kept secrets in language learning. They offer materials for a number of Asian languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Thai.

I was first introduced to Assimil by Professor Arguelles, who claims to have extensively used their courses to achieve a grounding in a multitude of languages.

Largely unknown in the English-speaking world

If you have ever been to a bookshop in France, then you will know that Assimil titles can be found there in abundance. Their unavailability in stores across the UK and US is a crying shame because Assimil produce some excellent courses for the independent learner. There is a certain French academic rigor to their books with no dumbing down permitted.

Great dialogues

Assimil seem to create more interesting and realistic dialogues than other publishers. I was especially impressed by the quality of the conversations in their Japanese course (see below).

Helpful explanations

Perhaps my favorite thing about Assimil is the detailed notes which are placed on an adjacent page to the dialogues. They are well-written and to the point, so you easily pick up tons of cultural and grammatical knowledge. It’s nice to be treated like an adult for a change, with new items explained properly, but not too much that you get confused.

Logical progression

Assimil’s courses progress in a systematic manner with acquired knowledge being built upon later. What you learn today will be used again tomorrow and next week. This is a common factor shared with other good courses such as MT and Pimsleur.

I have successfully used both volumes of the Chinese with Ease course. The content is a little basic but the dialogues are both humorous and of high quality. You can pick up a brand new copy for only $50. Check it out here.

Assimil have also produced a course for learning to write Chinese characters but I have yet to check it out for myself.

I have not personally used Japanese with Ease, but I got my dad onto it. He has been learning some basic Japanese for his annual trips to visit me here in Tokyo. According to him, a combination of this course and Michel Thomas have been very helpful. He still can’t remember how to say “Gochiso sama deshita” to save his life though.

I have listened to the Japanese dialogues and they are extremely authentic. None of the stilted, oversimplified crap you often find in audio courses produced by publishers in the UK and US (sorry guys). It’s impressive how far they take you by the end of the course. Some of the points covered took me years of living in Japan to understand! It would have been a much faster process for me if I’d had this course at my disposal. Highly recommended.

Unfortunately, the Assimil Korean Course is only available in French. If you have a decent base in Korean then you may still find it useful. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, it will also help you brush up your high-school French too! By the way, the “Sans Peine” (literally “Without Pain”) series is the equivalent of the English “With Ease” courses.

After a business trip to Southeast Asia sparked my interest, I have recently started on learning some basic Indonesian. Assimil was naturally the first course I turned to and it has delivered so far. Again, it is only available in French but give it a shot if you fancy a challenge or simply want to show off in front of your friends!

Thai is another language that has long been on my wish list. I will definitely pick up the Assimil Thai course if and when I decide to learn Thai. Too many languages, too little time!

That is all for today. Do you know of any other high quality courses for Asian languages? Let us know in the comments!

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How to save $$$ when learning a new language

If you are anything like me, you like to get value for money when you buy something. Whether it is for groceries, electronics or flights abroad, I tend to shop around and select the best deal. For most of us, this is just a reality of living within financial limits. Language learning is no different. Today I am going to share some tips for saving money on your quest to linguistic glory.

1. Self-study


I tend to repeat myself on this site but it’s for a reason. This point alone could save you thousands of dollars! You do NOT need to go to school to learn languages, period.

You can discover Chinese, Korean or Japanese on your own terms, with your own books and in your own time. It’s a wonderful experience.

Studying on your own transforms your learning experience from a passive one into an active endeavor – it’s more effective, cheaper and, most importantly, more enjoyable. The benefits extend far beyond learning a language. You will become more confident and believe in your abilities.

Many prospective students are still stuck in the mindset that they need to pay to go to an expensive language school. As far as I’m concerned, if this blog convinces one person to study on their own then it will all have been worth it.

2. Buy used books


Hypochondria aside, there is no reason to avoid second-hand books or courses. It’s the same information available for less.

When there’s a book I want, I usually check out Amazon to see if there are any used versions available for cheaper.

There are occasionally some real bargains. Last time I checked, Pimsleur Chinese was available for under $100 which is much cheaper than buying it new. Just make sure that the book listed is the latest edition and verify the seller’s past ratings.

3. FSI courses

FSI Language Courses is an incredible website with free US-government courses available for download in their entirety. The quality can be variable and a little old-fashioned but hey, it’s free!

I’ll leave you with the links. You can do the rest.

FSI Chinese courses – Download here
FSI Korean courses – Download here
FSI Japanese courses – Download here

4. Read the Bible


I’m the last person to push religion onto anyone, but the Bible is a useful resource for your language learning. This site has FREE audio recordings of the scriptures to download. Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese, Swahili, Zulgo – You name it, they’ve got it!

Find the accompanying text online and you are gold. This source alone provides you with hours and hours of learning material for free! The fact that the content will be somewhat familiar to most makes it a lot easier to comprehend and therefore helps you to pick up new vocabulary and grammatical patterns. Again, this is not an endorsement of the Bible so take it or leave it.

5. Make friends with native speakers


While using a tutor is the ideal way to improve your language skills, budget is an issue for most of us. One alternative is to seek out native speakers in your area.

Is there a Chinese community nearby? Engage them and make some friends.

Is the chef at your favorite sushi place from Japan? Try some Japanese on him. He may speak English back to you. That’s fine too. Go with it and then switch back later. A little politeness goes a long way in these situations! Being keen is a charming trait, acting like a linguistic steamroller isn’t.

6. Do a language exchange


Language exchanges can be a good way of practicing your target language but require discipline and organization. If there are Asian students living in your city then you may want to advertise at a local university.

Alternatively, there are sites where you can find online language exchange partners. These internet friends tend to be much flakier though – be careful to avoid wasting time on the web. All things equal, an offline exchange partner is vastly superior to an online one.

The most common problem encountered with language exchanges is that the stronger partner (usually the person learning English) dominates the conversation. Avoid this situation by deciding on some ground rules in advance, such as splitting the time 50:50 between each language so you can both practice.

All this said, I prefer to find native speakers in a more natural way. It’s simply more fun to make new friends and have the language practice as an added side bonus.

Well that’s all for today folks! Do you have any money-saving tips to add to the above? As always, let us know in the comments below!

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Our 8 best books for learning Korean

I have been tackling Korean for a while now and I’m thoroughly enjoying the experience. Hopefully, this post will be helpful for those of you getting started with Korean.

Until recently, Korean was a rare language for Westerners to learn. The rapid economic development of South Korea and increasing interest in Korean culture in recent years seems to have led to more Korean learning materials being made available. Unfortunately, there are still less high quality learning resources than you would find for Japanese or Chinese. That aside, we did find some useful books that helped us to get started with this challenging but beautiful language.

Elementary Korean

Elementary Korean is the golden standard for learning Korean. It is the most thorough and all-round introduction to Korean that I know of. The logical structure makes it easy to follow. This book is on the expensive side but you get 384 pages of material and tons of practice exercises to boot. On the downside, there aren’t a lot of pictures to break up the content so it isn’t the lightest read but this book will give you a comprehensive base in Korean. If you only buy one textbook for Korean, get this one.

Korean for Beginners: Mastering Conversational Korean

With its tricky pronunciation, complex grammar and elaborate honorific forms, the Korean language can present a daunting prospect. This was the first book I used. It is a nice option if you prefer a gentle introduction to Korean. It’s also entertaining with plenty of cultural information packed in. The $12 price is reasonable when you consider that an audio CD is provided too. This must be the first textbook I have seen that makes use of emoticons. The times they are a-changin’! ^_^

Korean Grammar in Use

The next logical step after Korean for Beginners. It goes into the grammar in more depth but still in a digestible form. I picked this book up in Seoul so it might be tricky to buy online.

Korean Grammar for International Learners

This is the most comprehensive grammar book we could find. It includes all the grammatical forms in loads of detail. It’s also packed with example sentences which I love. For some mysterious reason, the cover of this book highly resembles that of Kanji in Context (a Japanese learning classic). The mind boggles!

Spoken World: Korean

For as long as I can remember, Living Language have always made top notch course materials. Spoken World, their latest offering for Korean, is no exception. Get this for learning conversational Korean. There are six CDs included with a separate course book. The dialogues are easy to understand and introduced in a logical order. You won’t get much grammar from this one but it’s a nice little audio course. Highly recommended.

Pimsleur Korean

Many foreigners find Korean a difficult language to pronounce correctly. The sounds are “different”, which can make listening quite challenging. In this respect, it was certainly much harder for me to get started than Japanese or even Chinese. Pimsleur is an expensive option but it undeniably covers the listening side well. The Korean speakers break down each syllable of each word which helps train your ear. Keep with this course and you will be speaking and understanding whole Korean sentences within days. Definitely a great option if your budget allows for it. If you prefer to spend less, get Spoken World Korean (see above) instead.

Klear: Korean Reader for Chinese Characters

A good introduction to the Chinese characters (hanja) used in Korean. This book teaches you the most common 500 hanja by frequency of usage in modern Korean. It’s a good choice if you want to learn to read Korean literature or you’re simply curious about the Korean hanja like I was.

Continuing Korean

I don’t own this one yet but it has positive reviews on Amazon. It is the follow-up to Elementary Korean.

Edit: I recently discovered 500 Basic Korean Verbs, a highly useful book for students of the Korean language. You can check out my full review here.

So there you have it. Those are the best books we have found so far. Do you know of any other quality resources? Leave a comment in the section below!

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App Review: i-Sokki Japanese Vocabulary for JLPT

When preparing for the JLPT, one of the biggest problems learners face is the large amount of Japanese vocabulary. If you live in Japan or at least get enough Japanese input then the listening section of the exam is easy enough. You can cram on the grammar and learning kanji intelligently will greatly ease your pain. With vocabulary though, there’s no getting around it. You have to expose yourself to the language and put in enough time to learn it.

As I mentioned here, I am planning to take N1 this summer. I have always been lazy about the JLPT but I figure that the certification might come in handy someday. One of my friends mentioned that he was using a free app called i-Sokki (limited version) for drilling vocabulary for the exam. I downloaded it last week and I really like it so far.

I-Sokki is easy on the eye. It’s a nicely designed app. It comes with the vocabulary for N5 unlocked already. You have to pay to get access to the other levels, but at $1.99 per JLPT level or $4.99 for all levels, the price is reasonable. I’m mainly working on N1 words but, just in case, I’m brushing up on the N2 vocab too so I bought the whole set.

There are three different quiz modes for testing your vocab knowledge. All of them are multiple choice.

Japanese Mode tests from Japanese to English so it is probably the easiest test as you can intelligently guess a lot of words without truly knowing them.

Kanji mode tests from Japanese to the kana reading. I use this one a lot. One small gripe I have with the Kanji mode is that you can only see the English meaning after you have finished the review session. I would like the option to quickly remind myself of the meaning but anyway, it’s a minor flaw.

Finally, there is Reverse Mode which, as you might expect, tests you going from English to Japanese. I rarely use this one.

The app tests you based on your “familiarity” with the various vocabulary. I think they do a solid job. I’m using I-Sokki during the little moments when I’m sitting on the train or waiting for a friend. I look up new words in my Wisdom Dictionary (reviewed here) and read through the example sentences to help the meaning take root in my mind. This strategy is working well so far, although I passively know most of the vocabulary already. Depending on your Japanese level, your results may differ.

I-Sokki is not a perfect app. Sometimes I find the same vocabulary repeatedly coming up on the tests, so I’m confused how the algorithm works. Also, there is obviously no way that the app can know your starting knowledge so you have to review a bunch of known words in the beginning. The biggest downside for me though, is that the other words in the test are usually very different from the correct answer. The kanji mode, for example, will often show three ridiculous meanings that are obviously incorrect with one reasonable looking answer. This makes things too easy as you can guess the answer without even knowing it. In the JLPT, similar looking answers are displayed to confuse you. I wish this app did the same. One way to get around this is to mentally test yourself before looking at the four choices being displayed.

With the few caveats I mentioned, i-Sokki is a handy tool for studying for the exam. I recommend you pick up the free version and see how you go.

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How to learn any language

“To have another language is to possess a second soul.” 

- Charlemagne

Learning another language can be a lonely and frustrating process. Sometimes we need a gentle push to give us a break and boost our motivation. In this post, I am going to introduce a couple of books that serve as inspirational and practical resources for those who want to forgo expensive and ineffective language classes and go it alone in learning any language.

How to Learn Any Language – Barry Farber

If you must get a book on language learning, get this one. I have mentioned it before on this blog, but Barry Farber’s How to Learn Any Language Quickly, Easily and On Your Own has positively impacted my life in a huge way. I was lucky enough to read the book as a teenager. Without a doubt, my international exploits were made possible by Farber’s wise words. In all likelihood, I would never have gone to live in Italy, let alone Japan without reading this book. It is a classic take on how to study a language on your own.

I rarely read physical books these days (no room in my tiny Tokyo apartment!), so I was pleased to see a Kindle version had recently been released and promptly bought a copy. So why would I own two versions of this book? In short, because this book is inspiring and my other copy was getting pretty worn. Like other classic books, it is something you can return to again and again when you need encouragement.

The first part of the book is auto-biographical and details the author’s early life. Farber accounts how falling behind in Latin grammar class at school led him to learn Chinese. You get this comical image of a little American boy trying to speak Chinese with sailors stationed in Miami Beach during World War II. What started out as escapism from a class he detested eventually turned into a lifelong pursuit of Chinese and many other languages. Now in his 80s, Farber is said to have a working knowledge of more than 25 languages.

One downside of the book is that it was written in the pre-internet era. There is no mention of some of the great online resources that have cropped up in recent years. However, concepts like making the little moments count, using mnemonics and the multiple-track attack (using many resources at a time to attack the language from different angles) all hold true to this day. Another great insight is that if you are self-studying, you are free to buy as many books and resources as you need! The reason? It is still going to be cheaper and more effective than taking classes. I couldn’t recommend a book more highly.

The Way of the Linguist – Steve Kaufmann

Another helpful guide to learning languages via self-study is Steve Kaufmann’s The Way of the Linguist.

Kaufmann speaks 10 languages fluently. Some may think he is naturally gifted, but he is certainly no linguistic “genius” and makes no claims to be. Despite how that might sound, I mean that as a compliment. He has learned languages through a combination of hard work and lifestyle choice. Kaufmann has lived in various countries throughout an illustrious business career which he admits “would not have been possible” without learning languages.

On Amazon, there are a couple of negative reviews that seem to suggest that Kaufmann’s book is all about self-marketing. It didn’t strike me that way. I got a lot of practical value from it as I do from reading his language blog. He is much more realistic than certain others out there who make claims of reaching “fluency” in a matter of months, all with the goal of selling their latest eBook.

In a nutshell, Kaufmann’s learning approach focuses on getting as much input as possible by listening and reading content you’re interested in. I like this philosophy. Like detective novels? Pick one up in Chinese. Prefer tennis? Watch the latest Grand Slam on Japanese TV. Want to become an entrepreneur? Read stories of successful businessmen in Korean.

Some learners who wouldn’t usually watch the news in English somehow think they “should” when they study a foreign language.They are making the language into a chore.. Kaufmann encourages learners to do what they feel like doing. Find stuff you like and the language will follow. I agree. This is 2013! There are a wealth of resources out there, so follow your interests and find some content that you will enjoy.

What I like about Kaufmann is his willingness to air his views and speak on camera, in whatever language. Of course, anonymous users on YouTube sometimes pick at his grammatical mistakes or intonation. It is much easier to be a critic than to truly put yourself out there.

Like Barry Farber, Kaufmann is a strong advocate of self-study. He also laments the damaging status quo that exists in second language education. Despite the woeful results, schools continue to use the same methods to “teach” languages. Languages are learned, not taught. How tragic that negative classroom experiences are discouraging people from taking up foreign languages. It’s a lonely battle, but I admire Kaufmann’s personal crusade against the establishment. Every little helps.

I am not going to break down his language ability here (that is for native speakers of the respective languages) but I can personally attest that his French is excellent. You can get the Kindle version of his book here.