Japanese FAQs: How & Why to Learn Kana

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.

The Top 5 Apps for Learning Japanese

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.

The Art of Learning & The Road to Mastery

There are many great books about learning out there, but one of my favorites to date is “The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance” by Josh Waitzkin. The book shares core learning principles that have allowed Josh to master multiple diverse disciplines, including chess (the movie Searching for Bobby Fisher is based on Josh’s childhood, during which time his impressive chess skills led to him being called a “prodigy”, a word he doesn’t particularly care for as it discounts the massive amount of practice, effort, and psychological tactics he relied on to win eight National Chess Championships), Taiji Push Hands (Josh has won a number of medals in the sport, the World Champion Title in 2004, and went on to coach others to victory themselves), and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (Josh holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu which he obtained training under Marcelo Garcia, considered to be one of the world’s best practitioners and teachers of the art). So what do chess and martial arts have to do with language learning? Quite a bit, actually. Mastering any skill requires that you travel down the same basic road. Whether you are learning the Japanese language or a Japanese martial art, you will encounter many of the same challenges, pitfalls, and joys on your journey. And, many of the same metalearning techniques can be applied. Here are few key learning principles that Josh shares in the book that can be of big help in reaching fluency in a foreign language.

5 Last-Minute Gift Ideas for Japanese Language Learners

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!

The Top 8 Japanese Dictionaries for Web, iOS, Android, Mac & Windows

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.

Why Uncertainty is Good For You: Language Learning Lessons from “Antifragile”

Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder is the first book I’ve read by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, but it will certainly not be the last. The book is actually the fourth in a four-volume series on uncertainty the author calls “Incerto”, which also includes the previous works Fooled by Randomness (2001), The Black Swan (2007–2010), and The Bed of Procrustes (2010). Taleb sums up the basic premise of the book as follows: “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.” This is definitely true of language acquisition. The safe, predictable, highly structured nature of classroom-based academic language study does not prepare one for the messy interactions that one will encounter in the real world. To reach fluency in a foreign language, one needs randomness, not a lesson plan. Read on for a few of the best language learning lessons from Antifragile.

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