Well, here we are with Part 3 of our rundown of some of the best tools for learning Japanese. If you missed out, be sure to check out Part 1 on Japanese Learning Books and Part 2 on Japanese Learning Websites. In this part we’re going to look at a few helpful tools to add to your Japanese studies.
Anki is a highly customizable flashcard system that will let you build your own Japanese learning decks. Where Anki shines is in its spaced repetition settings. This will mean that you should be shown flashcards at regular intervals or as you’re just about to forget the flashcard. This method works a whole lot better at drilling down things into your long term memory.
Things I like about Anki is that there are several pre-built Japanese decks out there from books like Genki etc. This will save you a ton of time from having to build your own decks. Also, Anki is available on almost every platform. Since you can have it on your computer, phone, tablet etc. it will always be close at hand if you find you have a quick moment to study.
I’ve been using Anki on and off now for a few years. For some reason I start off well with a new deck but it never makes it into my daily review rotation (I have several stagnant decks just collecting dust) . I suppose that says more about and my sporadic study interests than the program itself. Now that I’m writing about it, I’ll try harder to make it a part of my regular routine :)
Reviewing the Kanji
If you’re learning Kanji via the Heisig method, you owe it to yourself to use Reviewing the Kanji. The website is constructed around the Remembering the Kanji book, and much like Anki, it provides spaced repetition to aid in learning.
Where the website really shines is in how other users can share their mnemonic stories on how they remember a particular Kanji. As you progress through the book the stories become more and more vague to the point that Heisig will have you making up your own stories. I always check the website now for popular stories before I try and make up my own. Most times it’s other users stories that I will use as my memory aid because they’re just so good.
A few things I wish they would improve on the site is their review algorithm. I would like a little control on how quickly I’m quizzed on items. Currently you can’t make any adjustments to the review times. Also, I would love to have a “holiday” setting that allowed you to pause your reviews. There’s nothing more discouraging than coming back from a week vacation to find you have 200 kanji to review. I’m sure plenty of people have quit using the site entirely when faced with a mountain of cards to trudge through. A simple pause check box would fix this.
Japanese Phrase Books
I could have probably put this under Part 1 on Japanese Learning Books, but I think it fits a bit better as a helpful tool to learning Japanese rather than a complete system.
The reason I like phrase books (see our Japanese phrasebook review for a couple popular options) is that they allow you to quickly add very useful and complete sentences to your vocabulary. Most phrase books contain a whole bunch of everyday, simple conversation options. While you wont be learning to be conversationally fluent from a phrasebook alone, you will get a few sentences that you can incorporate into your daily rotation right away.
As a bonus, some phrase books now come with an audio accompaniment. Try adding these sentences and audio files to your Anki decks to make them even better.
Being around Japanese is a must if you want to learn the language quickly. For some, total Japanese immersion is a possibility. For others, myself included, opportunities to speak and hear Japanese are few and far between. That makes services like Verbal Planet all the more useful.
Verbal Planet allows you to find a Japanese teacher that will conduct lessons over Skype. I’ve been using the service for almost a year and I’ve found a wonderful teacher that has helped my Japanese learning a lot. After a lesson you can almost see the smoke coming out of my ears. Online lessons really help exercise a different part of the brain and really help re-enforce essential Japanese sentence construction. I just wish I could discipline myself to be more regular with my Japanese teacher. Sorry Rinko! :)
For more details, see our full review of Verbal Planet.
There are plenty of more helpful tools out there, so if you have any Japanese learning tools that you love, we want to hear about them in your comments!
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