“The minimum effective dose (MED) is defined simply: the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome… To boil water, the MED is 212° F (100° C) at standard air pressure. Boiled is boiled. Higher temperatures will not make it ‘more boiled.’ Higher temperatures just consume more resources that could be used for something else more productive.” ―Tim Ferriss, The 4-Hour Body. What does boiling water have to do with learning kanji? Simple: just as you only need a certain temperature to boil water, you only need to know a finite number of high-frequency kanji to read blogs, manga, books, magazines, newspapers, etc. Though there are approximately 50,000 Chinese characters listed in the dai kan-wa jiten (大漢和辞典, だいかんわじてん, “The Great Han–Japanese Dictionary”), the Japanese Ministry of Education limits the number of “common use” characters, jouyou kanji (常用漢字, じょうようかんじ), to only 2,136. Most publications limit themselves to just these characters, using kana instead of kanji for any word with characters outside the list. This means that the Japanese learner’s “Kanji MED” is 2,136, not 50,000! Phew!
In this excerpt from my Master Japanese guide, I answer a number of frequently asked questions about why and how to learn Japanese kana. Even if you only want to learn to speak Japanese, I highly recommend investing the time to learn hiragana and katakana as they will help you improve your pronunciation and significantly expand the number of language resources available to you on your learning journey.
Though I completely agree with Benny Lewis that HB 2.0 is the best “app” for learning a language, there are some pretty darn ninjetic smartphone apps that can help you improve your Japanese listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills from the convenience of the mobile device right in your pocket. A search of the Apple App Store or Google Play store reveals an overwhelming number of Japanese language apps, but sadly (or perhaps, fortunately) the vast majority are not very useful. To save you time and help you focus on actually acquiring Japanese instead of wasting time searching for tools, I have tried dozens and dozens of apps over the years and have narrowed down my list to just my top five favorites.
Chad Fowler’s “Harajuku Moment”: How Honest Self-Reflection and a Strong Enough “Why” Create Lasting Motivation
To succeed in any long-term endeavor, may it be learning a language or transforming your body, you need to have a strong enough “why”. “I kinda want to learn Japanese” or “It would be nice to lose 20 pounds of body fat” won’t cut it. Your objective must be a “need”, not a “want”. This concept is illustrated beautifully in a section of The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss titled “The Harajuku Moment”. Tim shares the inspring story of Chad Fowler―a CTO, programmer, author, and co-organizer of the RubyConf and RailsConf conferences―who lost over 70 pounds in less than a year! While his specific story is health related, you can apply the exact same wisdom to language learning.
Have you been so busy working, studying, or downing eggnog lattes that you forgot to get a gift for that special someone in your life? Here are some great last-minute gift ideas for those you know (including yourself!) learning Japanese. All but one of them are digital products that can be emailed to the recipient, so there’s no need to worry about shipping times. I’ve also made sure to select gifts that focus on action and application, not theory and academic “procrasturbation”. Have a wonderful holiday season and a fruitful New Year!
Today’s Japanese learner is but a click or tap away from a dizzying array of digital Japanese dictionaries. But which should you choose? The plethora of options available can lead to what author Barry Schwartz calls the “paradox of choice”. To help you avoid the anxiety, paralysis by analysis, and decision fatigue associated with so many choices, I have waded through dozens of Japanese dicitionary sites and apps for you and selected just the essential few that I think are best suited to mastering the Japanese language. Here now are the top eight Japanese dictionaries available online and on iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows.