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What is Voseo?

What is Voseo?

This post is contributed by Rodney. He is an avid traveler who enjoys sharing his language learning experiences and love of the Spanish language through blogging. Check out his blog –  My Spanish Notes.

I was several years into my Spanish studies when I started hearing and seeing things like:

Hola, ¿Cómo estás? Bien, ¿y vos?

¿De dónde sos?

¿Vos qué hacés?

VosSos? Hacés?  Say what?  I couldn’t help but think, is that even Spanish?  How could I have gone all these years and never have heard these terms before?


So what is vos, sos and hacés?  Let’s take a look at them, starting with vos.

Vos is actually the equivalent of , in that it’s an informal way of addressing someone.

¿Cómo estás tú? = ¿Cómo estás vos? (How are you?)

Sos is the equivalent of eres.

¿De dónde sos? = ¿De dónde eres? (Where are you from?)

Let’s look at the next example.

¿Vos qué hacés? (What are you doing?)

I’ll bet you’re thinking, shouldn’t that be haces, with no accent?  Well, it would be if we weren’t using vos.  And now it’s time to look under the hood at this thing called vos.

Not to be confused with vosotros, when you use vos you’re actually using what’s called voseoVoseo is simply another conjugation method equivalent to the informal form.   Voseo is used instead of in numerous Spanish speaking countries, like Argentina for example.

By the way, I’ll let you in on another little secret.  When you speak using the conjugation, i.e. tú eres, tú tienes, that also has a name – tuteo.   But let’s get back voseo, or vos.

¿Vos qué hacés? (What are you doing?)

Let’s take a closer look.  This sentence should look familiar, with the exception of two things: vos instead of and hacés instead of haces.  What’s up with that?  It’s because voseo a follows a different conjugation pattern.   Let’s compare conjugating the form (tuteo) to conjugating vos (voseo).


Not to hard is it? Let’s look at the conjugations rules.

Present Tense

For AR verbs: Drop the AR and add ás
For ER verbs: Drop the ER and add és
For IR verbs: Drop the IR and add ís

The nice thing about vos is that there are no stem changes in the present tense, so conjugating verbs like tener is super easy.  Instead of tienes it’s tenés.

There are only three irregular verbs in the present tense – ser, haber and ir.

Rather than reinvent the wheel (and make this article super long) I’m going to send you to a great page that tells you everything you need to know about conjugating vos and how voseo compares to and vosotros.

Spanish from Argentina

There are a number of countries that use vos besides Argentina, including Chile, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Uruguay and a whole lot more.  Wikipedia has a very informative page on who uses vos and to what extent.

I’ll leave you with this short video, Como hablar argentino, which is about using vos.  Although the video is titled Argentinian Spanish, what you learn about vos can be used in any country that uses vos, so it’s worth the 3 minutes.  It’s also a great listening practice as it’s in Spanish.  But if your Spanish isn’t that great, don’t worry, he has some great slides in the video that illustrate the key points.

That’s it, now you’re ready to vosear (speak using the vos conjugations) with the best of them.

¡Ojalá que les sirva!

Learning Japanese through audio (… and some tips on what to avoid)

Learning Japanese through audio (… and some tips on what to avoid)

This post is contributed by Matt. He has a blog which has a mixture of Japanese related content, such as; living in Japan for a few months, Japanese events in the UK, and tips on learning Japanese.  Japan and Japanese culture have always been a huge interest to Matt, so the aim of his blog is to share his love of Japan with others, as he is keen to help other people discover how wonderful Japan and its culture are.

When learning a language there are a lot of elements to take in; grammar, vocabulary, the writing system (or systems in the case of Japanese), listening skills and pronunciation.  There are certain methods and resources that are very effective, but everyone learns differently.  In my case, for example, I tend to remember a word better if I have listened to it, rather than read it.  So in this article I would like to cover some audio resources that I have found useful, and also give a few tips on areas where I went wrong.

Anime and films

This area was an interesting one for me, in that as a child I grew up watching a lot of anime and movies in Japanese with English subtitles. At the time I wasn’t actually studying Japanese, I was just enjoying the programs.  However, after watching a few I did start to learn a few words and phrases, though some of them, such as それは秘密です (That’s a secret), are perhaps not that useful in everyday conversation.

But still, the point is just by watching anime and movies in Japanese I was picking up some words without intentionally trying to learn the language.  The other benefit that comes from this is that by hearing so much Japanese in a variety of contexts and styles you tend to pick up the pronunciation faster when you start to learn.  In Japan, a lot of native people complimented me on having a natural pronunciation of words.  I attribute this to having heard so much of the language as a child.

Of course, I am not going to say that you should try and learn Japanese solely with anime or movies, as depending on the show, they may use slang or strange terms that aren’t used in everyday Japanese.  For example, I am a big fan of Rurouni Kenshin (anime & live action), but due to the time period in which it is set, his way of talking is quite historic and not used in modern Japanese, such as replacing です with でござる. Though, I must admit, I still like it.

Audio apps

A lot of apps have the option of audio speech, which reads out a passage or selection of text,  and this is a feature certainly worth making use of.  A good example being Hello Talk.  As I am still learning kanji, when I receive a message or reply in Japanese, I will often use the play audio feature to read the message aloud, so that I can hear what the kanji is and how it is pronounced.

I have also found the NHK Easy Japanese News app (on Android and iOS) to be a great listening and learning resource.  In the app you are able to read short news segments about happenings in Japan; generally each is around three paragraphs long.  The written text is often a good way to learn new vocabulary, but also get to grips with some kanji as well.  All of the kanji has furigana above it so you can read them even if you don’t know the actual kanji.  A key feature is that you have the option to play the audio for each article, so that you can practise your listening skills, and again get an idea of how any kanji you haven’t seen before sounds.

JA Audiobook (which I believe is only on Android) is another great app for practising listening skills, as the app contains several short audio books with accompanying text to practice your reading, and all of the kanji have furigana above them.  At the end you can also take a quiz on each story to test how well you have understood them.  I am using one of the stories as a performance benchmark, I listen to it every couple of weeks to see how much more of it I understand.  Being able to understand a little more each time is quite a rewarding feeling.

Mistakes I’ve made so far

Since starting out on my path to learn Japanese I have fallen into a few pit-holes along the way that I feel are worth pointing out, in the hope it helps other people to avoid them.

App overload!

One of the first things I did when I decided to learn Japanese was grab my tablet and download as many Japanese language learning apps as I could find.  My logic being that the more things I had, the faster I would learn.  However, while it’s good to try lots of different resources to find which works best for you, it’s probably a bad idea to download them all at once.

I ended up with three full home pages of Japanese language apps…  A sight which made things look very overwhelming and confusing.  Having so many ended up being counterproductive, and focusing on just a few key ones is a much better approach.  After all, you don’t really need 10 different apps just to practice kana.

Don’t keep putting Kanji off!

I cannot stress this one enough… The sooner you can start chipping away at kanji, the better.  Initially, when I saw any kanji I would run for the hills.  But the fact is you need to learn them, and there is no point putting it off.  When I used to write messages in Japanese I would only use kana, but now I try to use the correct kanji as it makes blocks of text much easier to view, and also gets me gradually remembering more kanji.  The sooner you get familiar seeing it the better.

Sadly I haven’t found any magic trick to make kanji easy to learn, it’s just a patience game of writing them out and practicing them till I remember.  One point to note though: Don’t just look at them. Writing them out is a much more effective way to remember them.

Don’t try to rush it!

Being full of enthusiasm and with my mind fully set on returning to Japan, I figured that I would study in all of my free time, every day, and fly through learning x amount of kanji a week.  However, trying to learn so much in such a short space of time just does not work unless you have a natural ability to store information at an intense pace.  In my case, I have realised it is much better to simply take my time to make sure that I practice and remember what I have learnt.  There is no point looking at 100 kanji in a day if your brain won’t remember any of them the day after…

Avoid romaji!

This isn’t a mistake I made as I was already aware of it, but feel it’s worth mentioning to anyone who is starting to study Japanese.  Kana is really one of the first things you should start learning (alongside a few others), once you know it then that’s what you should be using.

This is also something to keep in mind if you buy a textbook that only contains romaji.  A textbook where all of the questions are written out in romaji isn’t really going to help you practice your reading skills, and you might even be tempted to write answers in romaji too, meaning you’ll lose out on writing practice as well.


As I mentioned before, everyone learns in different ways so it’s up to the individual to find the way that best suits them.  But hopefully by making you aware of some of the areas where I went wrong or wasted time, you can make your learning experience more efficient and enjoyable. Good luck!



This post is contributed by It’s a website where you can find guides for the best places to go or lists on the most interesting foods to eat in South Korea. It provides insight into what life is like there for locals and expats alike!

South Korea has a long dated history, through the passing of the years, some of its oldest traditions are still being passed to younger generations. One of them is their drinking culture. South Koreans are one of the biggest consumers of alcohol in the world.
Drinking CultureHowever, contrary to popular belief, Koreans don’t drink to the sole purpose of getting drunk. Getting together for a drink is to build up relationship with our peers, whether that may be our friends or our colleges at work.

Koreans drink to set the mood, rather that only consume alcohol. A drink can stimulate the appetite, perk up the atmosphere and keep the conversation going.

During drinking sessions Koreans have a variety of alcoholic drinks; normally during after-work get-togethers beer used to be consumed, but in recent years Soju’s consumptions has been overshadowing beer’s consumption with more people, ordering Soju’s newest alternatives: “Flavored Soju”.


Since the olden days the younger seek to learn good manners from their elders, to this day, South Korea keeps the drinking protocol as one of the most treasured traditions.

Drinking Culture Drinking Culture Drinking Culture
Drinking Culture Drinking Culture Drinking Culture
Don’t drink alone, the whole point on drinking in group is bond with each other. Don’t fill your own drink, it’s impolite. Let others fill your glass, hold your glass with two hands.
Drinking Culture
 Drinking Culture
 If you see someone’s glass empty, offer to fill it up, it’s good etiquette to hold the bottle with two hands, or with one hand resting on your elbow.
Drinking Culture
 Drinking Culture
 If you are drinking with superiors (in age or position) turn away your head away as you drink.
Drinking Culture
 Drinking Culture
 Drink responsibly! Remember it is not about getting drunk, don’t make it uncomfortable to others and save the embarrassing moment of having to explain yourself next day.

Drinking Culture

When consuming alcohol with South Koreans it isn’t about how much you can drink, like said before;

“People are drinking to enjoy relationships and hobby activities rather than for the drink itself”

                                                                                                                                                                          – HA JONG-EUN

President of the Korean Alcohol Research Foundation


There is also a saying that goes:


One glass is not enough,

Three is still lacking,

Five is just right,

Seven is over drinking.

So try not to overthink it and just enjoy it.

Bear in mind that even though you have every right to say no, South Korean can be pushy when it comes to drink so be prepared for your refusal to drink be refused. Because drinking is to strengthen the bond between your peers, if you refuse without giving a good reason it can be taken as you don’t want to be part of it.

These are some of the most acceptable excuses for not drinking, most South Koreans won’t insist after you’ve given a “good” reason as of why you can’t drink.

Drinking CultureYou are pregnant Drinking CultureYou are the designated driver. Drinking CultureYou are taking medication.
Drinking CultureYou can’t drink because of your religion. Drinking CultureYou have alcohol allergies.
Immersing yourself in the Japanese language

Immersing yourself in the Japanese language

This post is contributed by Matt. He has a blog which has a mixture of Japanese related content, such as; living in Japan for a few months, Japanese events in the UK, and tips on learning Japanese.  Japan and Japanese culture have always been a huge interest to Matt, so the aim of his blog is to share his love of Japan with others, as he is keen to help other people discover how wonderful Japan and its culture are.

One of the best ways to help with learning any new language is to immerse yourself in an environment where you are constantly hearing and seeing it.  In this article I will tell you about how I made the most of my short time in Japan to practice as much Japanese as possible.  And also ways I have found to stay immersed in the language and culture since my return to the UK.

Learning in Japan

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to stay in Japan for a few months while helping out at a English language school in Otsu, Shiga.  Living in Japan for a short while was the perfect opportunity to absorb more of the language and culture.  Of course, I met up with a lot of people and made some friends out there who helped me practice the language, but when I was on my own I still found extra ways to practice.

Initially I felt quite nervous about speaking to people in case I pronounced things incorrectly, or said things that didn’t make sense.  But on my first day out from the house I decided the best thing to do was ignore my nerves, try my best and just go for it!  I started using very basic phrases such as 袋をください (roughly ‘A bag please’) or お水を三つください (3 waters please). Just using basic phrases every day was quite a confidence boost.

Eventually I made a habit of asking things I already knew the answer to, just to get more practise each day.  Often I would ask a stranger at the station ‘この電車は京都に止まりますか‘ (Does this train stop in Kyoto?) even if i already knew that it did.  This allowed me to listen to native speech, and even though I didn’t get every word, I got enough to understand the basic answers to things.

Of course, some things I got wrong and made no sense at all… As was evident by the blank face of whoever I’d just spoken to.  But it was all fun and part of the learning process.  The main thing is that by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone you will gain more!   

A couple of weeks into my stay and I was able to have a very basic conversation with an elderly shopkeeper out in Arashiyama.  Near the end of my time in Japan I found myself staying in Wakayama, where I stumbled across a random dance/music competition in the park.  By that time I was able to understand a fair amount of what the presenter on stage was saying during the intermissions.

It really is a case that by finding things to listen to, whether it’s music, conversations or announcements, you will be able to pick up more of the language and improve your pronunciation as well.  The more effort you put in by going out of your way to ask strangers questions or start conversations, the more your Japanese will improve, and the more rewarding it will be.


Immersion outside of Japan

Now although being in Japan is the ideal scenario for learning Japanese, it is not always possible due to a number of reasons, from costs to visas etc.  However, even outside of Japan there many other ways you can still surround yourself in the language and often the culture.  If there are Japanese language meet-ups or classes in your area, those are a good place to start.  Another key thing to keep an eye out for are Japanese events, such as a few major UK ones I’ll mention below, but I’m sure by searching you can find ones in your area as well.

Hyper Japan + Hyper Japan Christmas Market

Hyper Japan is normally at the London Olympia around July, and the Christmas Market is normally around November at Tobacco Dock, London.  Both events last for three days and feature a great way to experience some Japanese culture, as both have live music and performances, seminars, workshops, various merchandise and snack stalls, and, of course, a great ranges of Japanese food.

These events are great for meeting people with an interest in Japan, and also for practising Japanese.  Most of the shop vendors and food stall vendors will speak Japanese and English, so it’s a good chance to try ordering things in Japanese, while knowing that you can switch back to English if you really get in a muddle. (Though please keep in mind they may be quite busy and will mostly likely have a queue of customers waiting.)

The live performances are great to get some listening practise in while experiencing a variety of Japanese music.  Often the host on stage will also speak in Japanese, then again in English, so again a good way to test your listening skills.

Okinawa Day

This is an annual event held at Spitalfields, London, normally in June.  As the name suggests the day is a celebration of Okinawan culture.  Again there are a variety of stalls where you have the chance to practise your Japanese talking skills, and the main stage is a good chance to listen to some traditional Okinawan music.  

Japan Matsuri

This is another annual event, held around the end of September.  For a whole day, Trafalgar Square is transformed into a massive Japanese festival!  While only for one day, it still gives a fantastic opportunity to experience a huge variety of Japanese culture.

This year, for example, there were performances of traditional dances by the Aozasa Shishi-Odori (青笹しし踊り), from the Iwate prefecture; traditional Tezuma magic by Taiju Fujiyama, Radio Taiso! (ラジオ体操), who are very famous in Japan for their work out routines; Enka music by Jiro Yamauchi; and many more including Taiko drummers and Okinawan sanshin players.

Another highlight is the Mikoshi (神輿)procession, where a Mikoshi (portable shrine) is carried around the area – something you don’t get a chance to see much outside of Japan!

As with all the other festivals there is plenty of different Japanese food to try, such as okonomiyaki, udon, soba, yakitori, gyoza, katsu-don, bento boxes, and many more, including my personal favourite, takoyaki!

Kyoto Gardens

This place isn’t really an event, but a nice peaceful Japanese park in Holland Park, London.  It’s a small park, but a nice place to relax with a welcome feeling of being in Japan while still being in London.  On a nice day it can be a good place to sit with a notepad and practise writing some kana or kanji, and a fair amount of Japanese people do come to visit it, so again it can be nice place to start a conversation or two.


The conclusion really is an obvious one: that surrounding yourself in the language you are learning offers massive benefits and goes a long way to helping you improve your knowledge of that language.  Even if you are not able to get to the Japan, there are often events where you can surround yourself in the culture and language, even if only for a short time. Studying at home with apps and textbooks is great, but getting out and interacting with people can really improve your confidence in a language.  

Why the “Hardest” Language is Actually the Easiest

Why the “Hardest” Language is Actually the Easiest

Whenever I tell people that I’m learning two languages they seem to think it is something incredible. The comments I get when I tell them the languages are Mandarin Chinese and Arabic are even more complimentary. People seem to think that these languages are the most difficult languages in the world and if I were to somehow try to learn both at the same time, I must be some type of genius. Let’s stop right there. I am by no means a genius. Most the people I surround myself with I feel are much smarter than I am. So why is it that I can take on these two languages? My attitude.


Positivity is a large part of what I build my image around. I try to look at the positives of any circumstance. I carry this same approach to learn a language: if you think a language is exceptionally hard, it will be. If you approach the language by noticing all of the ways that it is easy, you can have a better attitude about how you can go about learning it.I’m going use this approach to explain how the language I originally thought was the hardest language in the world is actually one of the easiest: Mandarin Chinese.


Many times we get confused as we learn a new language because the rules that we apply to our native language don’t match up with our new language. Since we are more used to our native tongue, this foreign language can see “confusing”, “frustrating”, or “hard” just because of these differences. When I approach these situations, I like to assume that the foreign language is the correct way and that I’ve always learned the wrong way. This has allowed me to keep a level head as I go about approaching different challenges along the way.


There is a whole lot of “pinyin” that will be included in this article. Pinyin is a phonetic medium of how to speak Chinese characters using English letters. If you’ve already started learning Chinese, you likely have already started to see these. It also marks the tones (which we can cover later) that you may have heard of as well. Most of it can be sounded out pretty standard with English. A few to note are “z” and “c”. These are pronounced like the “-ds” and “-ts” at the end of “words” and “cats” respectively. Also, x-, sh-, j-, zh-, q-, and ch- all sound similar to each other except one is pronounced in the front and the other is in the back of the mouth.


I’m going to start you off with my favorite part of Chinese that makes it SOOOOO much easier than most European languages: the grammar. You don’t have to conjugate verbs! There are no genders with regards to different objects. The grammar is so simple to use. Here are some examples of how to say different things in English and Chinese:

English: Chinese Pinyin:
I am American

You are American

He is American

She is American

You (pl.) are American

We are American

They are American








wǒ shì měi guó rén

nǐ shì měi guó rén

tā shì měi guó rén

tā shì měi guó rén

nǐ men shì měi guó rén

wǒ men shì měi guó rén

tā men shì měi guó rén


If you noticed, the only word that changed was the noun. The verb was always the same. When you learn the verb for noun, you know it for all nouns. This also works with tenses. You don’t have to change tenses for words as well.

English Chinese Pinyin
This morning I ate breakfast

Right now I am eating lunch

Later I will eat dinner




zhè zǎo shang wǒ chī le zǎo cān

xiàn zài wǒ chī wǔ cān

rán hòu wǒ chī wǎn cān


My favorite part though is that you can easily form a question with very little vocabulary. All you have to do is add a question word at the end of a sentence. The easiest translation for it would be to say “yes?” at the end of a sentence in hopes of confirmation. If instead of telling something they are American, I would ask them, “You are American, yes?” Obviously this isn’t how we usually ask somebody in English, but it also shows why you may notice some people form questions to you in this manner.

English Chinese Pinyin
You are American

Are you American? (You are American yes?)



nǐ shì měi guó rén

nǐ shì měi guó rén ma?


So let’s talk about what people think makes this language difficult. People mention that they don’t like that it is a tonal language because they aren’t musically gifted of sorts. We actually use tones in English, we just don’t realize it. “I’m Ron Burgundy?” (from the American film, “Anchorman”)  is a perfect example of where a tone can drastically change the meaning of a sentence. In Chinese you have 5 tones: Flat, Rising, Dipping, Falling, and Neutral tone. The best example of how different these are is by using the word “ma”


Mother, hemp, horse, scold, question


mā má mǎ mà ma


All five of these words mean something very different. Making sure you use the right tone can be the difference between saying something or just utter nonsense. The good thing is that as you are beginning and tones are hard to differentiate, context can typically give you a good idea. If I was telling you about my breakfast and I said, “I ate with my ‘ma’ ” but you were unsure of which tone I used, I’m guessing you could easily single out which word I meant to use.


By now you’re probably realizing that the characters are pretty confusing. The reason pinyin was created was to help be a middle ground specifically because there is not any indication of how to say a word based on the character. Honestly, when I come across a new word there is no easy method to figure it out besides looking it up. Chinese characters are graphical representations of the words. Basically, I like to think of them as cave drawings. The easiest one is for the words “person” and “big”. If you look below, the first character is a very simplified stick PERSON. The second is as if the person was trying to explain how BIG of a fish they caught. These are the “simplified” characters as the “traditional” characters were much more complex and people would spend hours practicing how to write them (only Taiwan still uses the traditional characters as their native language).




Lastly, the vocabulary is pretty entertaining. Any new words that have been created typically reside in one of two categories: loan words or combination words. A loan word is basically taking a word from another language and turning it into a Chinese word. A good example of this is the word pizza in Chinese (比萨 “bǐ sà”). The combination words are the ones that I really love. Basically as a new word is needed it is a combination of other words to describe it. Here are a few examples, try to see if you can determine what the full word is based on the other words that make it up:

diàn yǐng

Electronic Shadow


shǒu yǔ

Hand Language (this is currently my favorite one)


Both load words and combination words are words that are new to the Chinese language. Obviously these were not phrases that existed hundreds of years ago when the language was just starting up. This does allow you to build on your vocabulary more than you first thought.


English Words From Above:


Sign Language


When you approach a problem with the right attitude it can really affect how simple that problem may seem. We can’t think that the “hardest” language in the world has the largest native population as well, can we?

This post is contributed by Alex. Alex is a Mechanical Engineer living in the Washington, DC area who became passionate about learning other languages and cultures. He enjoys making people laugh, embracing every day, and doing what intrigues him at the time. He currently is learning Mandarin Chinese and Arabic but counted 13 different languages he can say at least one word with. In the future, he hopes to polish up his Spanish and next pursue American Sign Language before moving on to a few European languages.
Alex’s blog, “What Did You Just Say?”, follows his journey through the struggles of learning a new language (Arabic) from day one. He hopes that other people will be encouraged by seeing the mistakes he makes to allow themselves to be more comfortable about pushing themselves to learn a new language and share the struggle. The blog breaks down some of the tips that Alex was able to learn and use as he was able to get to a conversational level of Mandarin Chinese in a short time.
Six Tips to Learning Japanese—and Sticking to It

Six Tips to Learning Japanese—and Sticking to It

This post is contributed by Valera. She lives in Pennsylvania and loves learning and teaching languages! Her blog,, is for English learners and ESL enthusiasts. 

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So you’ve decided to learn Japanese! Whether you’re in it for friendship, travel, business, or just straight-up otaku goodness, the promising adventure teems with fun—and challenges. The intimidating alphabetic system, the “backward” grammar, the culture shock, among other things, often slap beginners with such intensity that many drop out before the real journey even starts. But you’re different; and you’ve determined to stick with learning Japanese until you’ve reached your goal, whatever it may be. The problem is, where do you start? And once you do start, how do you stay on track?


As a language learner myself (English is my second language—ten years ago I didn’t know what “what’s up” and “so far” meant), I’ve figured out at least one answer to those two questions: start somewhere, and once you start, don’t look back. With Japanese, however, the starting points seem too numerous and complicated at first; for this reason, I’d like to share with you some pointers and tips on how to start learning Japanese—and stick to it.


Granted, take my words with a grain of salt. Each person’s learning style is different (maybe you’re one of those rare species who can read—and whip out—高齢化社会 on the second page of their kanji workbook like it’s no big deal). So while I’m suggesting a certain order, I’m only doing so because it’s most intuitive to mere mortals like me; if you feel like changing the order to fit your learning style, change away!


Tip #1: Learn hiragana and katakana first.

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Some of you may be sighing a duh! at this point already, but mark my words: if you start by reading romaji (the English transcription of Japanese words), your brain will quickly get used to it, rendering the study of actual Japanese letters—hiragana and katakana—more difficult than it really should be. On the other hand, if you start by learning hiragana (46 letters total), you will be able not only to read basic words (and feel incredibly accomplished) but also to learn katakana (another set of the same 46 letters as hiragana, just written differently) more easily and quickly. On a side note, it makes sense to learn hiragana before katakana because the former is used more often for native Japanese words and Chinese character transcriptions, while the latter is used mostly for either foreign words or for spelling out proper nouns (i.e. names). In any case, drill those hiragana and katakana letters into your head before even looking at kanji—I’ll explain why later.

One of the most helpful tools for learning the two kanas for me was the app called TenguGo Kana. It provides you with everything you need to know about the alphabetic system, plus pronunciation and stroke order. If you’re looking for a place to start, download that app and learn the kana!


Tip #2: Write out everything.

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One of the best ways to reinforce newly learned information is to make it personal; so when it comes to learning a foreign language, repeatedly writing out characters with your own hand helps to solidify information in your brain. Think of this process as making abstract concepts—letters, meanings, whatnot—tactile and relatable. After you pen them down in your own handwriting, they’re no longer foreign; after you write them out, they’ve become personal. They’ve become yours. So when you learn the kana and kanji, don’t just look at them on the screen or in a book—write them out as you learn! Don’t settle for typing them (seriously, even my cat can do that), but draw them out with your own hand.


Tip #3: Listen to real Japanese, like, all the time.

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Forget about English-speaking singers. Don’t even think about watching dubbed anime or j-drama. Fill your playlists with Japanese artists, your podcasts with Japanese programs, your YouTube channel with Japanese videos. Even if you have no idea what they’re saying/singing/yelling, still do it. In short, immerse your ears—and your brain—in Japanese language. For those of us who can just take off and land in Japan the next day—great! But for most of us, total immersion is probably one of the biggest challenges. Yet immersion in the sounds of the language serves as probably the most effective step toward mastering that language’s sound system and pronunciation. Ultimately, the goal of immersing yourself in Japanese is to replicate the sounds of native Japanese as much as possible and eventually to start thinking in Japanese. If you think humming a song in a foreign language is nothing special (even if you don’t understand any of it), you’re greatly mistaken. I mean, there is a reason why your ears are on your head—and their proximity to your brain corresponds to the process of auditory learning, too. Bottom line: listen to native Japanese as much as possible and imitate it as much as you can, even if it seems counterproductive at first. This exercise will help you familiarize yourself with the sounds of Japanese and develop a much more comprehensible accent as you begin to speak.


Tip #4: Learn kanji wisely and don’t overwhelm yourself.

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Once you got your kana down, you can boldly move on to learning kanji. Admittedly, kanji (Chinese characters) are probably the hardest part of learning Japanese. You’ve likely heard the numbers: there are at least 200 most basic characters, and you need to know at least 2000 to be able to read an average newspaper. On top of that, each kanji can have two, three, or even five different ways of reading, depending on the combination with other kanji. Many Japanese language enthusiasts get swamped right about this point: overwhelmed with the amount of kanji and their complexity (the reading, the meaning, the stroke order), people drop out because they just don’t see an end to all the learning they’d have to do.

My advice? Don’t try to look ahead and see the end—because there isn’t any. Native Japanese themselves often speak of their struggle with kanji; and if even they are running into obstacles, how much more do we! So instead of dwelling on how hard or insurmountable kanji are, just deal with them gradually. Learn the numbers (一、二、三、四、etc.) first; then move on to some basic elementary kanji (大meaning “big,” 人 meaning “human”, 日meaning “sun,” etc.); and just keep going. Use everything at your disposal: kanji learning apps, textbooks, websites, videos, people, anything. Some people like to pick an easy kids book or story and learn the kanji that occur in that book; others like to be a little more systematic and learn kanji by levels of difficulty (JLPT levels or grade-school levels). The method is up to you (and there are tons out there), but the point is to develop your own system for learning kanji. In other words, be smart about how you memorize them. Instead of learning all the possible readings of a kanji at once, pick the most frequently occurring and learn those first, and as you encounter new words, you’ll learn new ways of reading kanji, too. Learn to write them, say them out loud, read them in context—get to know them as you would a real person. And if you feel like you’re stuck on the kanji you’ve already covered and just can’t seem to remember them, limit the amount of new kanji and focus primarily on the kanji you’ve learned already. Don’t overwhelm yourself. And finally, don’t be afraid to experiment: if one method doesn’t work for you, try another one. With beginning kanji, it’s really about perseverance; once you get past the 200-characters hurdle, it’ll become much more intuitive. At that point, you should be thinking, “I’ve learned 200 kanji already!” instead of, “I still have 1,800 more to go.”


Tip #5: Learn grammar simultaneously.

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Don’t wait to learn grammar until after you’ve learned the kana or some of the kanji. Start learning some basic Japanese grammar right away. It’s best to begin with the basics: word order (“blue sky” is 青い空, not 空青い); the foundations of keigo, or polite language; the rules of negation; etc. In other words, finding and using a guide to Japanese grammar in order to understand the mechanics of the language you’re learning must accompany the process of acquisition. Otherwise, if you just learn Japanese by memorizing “survival phrases” or stock expressions (called “formulaic sequences” in the Second Language Acquisition world), you may feel like you’re progressing at first but soon enough will realize that you don’t understand half of what you’re saying. On the other hand, if you learn new words or phrases AND study up on the grammar behind them, you not only will remember them better but will actually know why they are the way they are. One thing to take note of: grammar not only shapes language but also connects directly to pragmatics, or the real use of language; if you keep ignoring it, pretty soon your Japanese will hit the wall. So, what can you do? Find a Japanese grammar guide you can actually understand (I like, ask for explanations from your penpals or language partners when they correct your sentences, and explore unfamiliar grammatical patterns when you encounter them. And of course, don’t be afraid to make mistakes—because that’s just how we all learn, anyway.


Tip #6: Make Japanese friends and start practicing ASAP.

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As you might have noticed by now, I’m really advocating holistic learning from day one. All four skills—reading, speaking, writing, and listening—require special attention from the learner, since none of them stands on its own. When it comes to communication, listening comprehension plays a vital role in receiving information; however, conversation is a two-way deal comprised of both input and output. If you don’t respond, your thoughts/opinions/emotions will not get across to the other person. Now, some may say, “I can just text—I don’t need to talk right away.” While I get the point behind this argument (texting is much less stressful than speaking), here’s the truth: if you don’t break down that wall from the start, the wall will only grow taller as time goes by. It’s okay to be embarrassed or scared or lost, but it’s not okay to let those barriers prevent you from developing your speaking, one of the fundamental language skills. Plus, your language partner who’s learning English is probably just as embarrassed or scared or lost as you are, so there really isn’t that much of a difference between you two. And when people are in the same boat, especially in a raging storm, they bond much faster. Trust me, after the first try, you will definitely want to try again—because in reality, talking to new friends is more fun than scary. Finally, some food for thought: the way you speak a language creates your identity in that language. Under Tip #2, I argued that writing out characters by hand makes them yours—the same applies here: when you speak Japanese (or any other language for that matter), you identify with it.


So make an effort to create your identity with Japanese as early as possible. Think of a purpose for your endeavor (why am I learning Japanese?) and pursue it. Keep practicing, trying, making mistakes, learning, and persevering. Once you immerse yourself in the language and its people, you will become one of them, too.

22 Colombian Spanish Words You Should Know

22 Colombian Spanish Words You Should Know

This post is contributed by Rodney. He is an avid traveler who enjoys sharing his language learning experiences and love of the Spanish language through blogging. Check out his blog –  My Spanish Notes.

A lot of people say Colombian Spanish is the “best Spanish in the world”.  Well, I don’t know about all of that, but I will say based on my experiences in Colombia and talking to Colombianos in general, the people from Medellín and Bogotá speak pretty clearly and are relatively easy to understand. 


However, if you don’t understand the local terms, that’s a moot point. 

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In this article we’re going to look at some words that I’m calling the staples of Colombian Spanish.  I recently went to Medellín and having known some of these words in advance definitely made my life a little easier.  These words are so common and in-grained in the vocabulary of the Colombian people that they use them without thinking, and you’ll quickly find yourself lost if you’re not familiar with them.


With that said, let’s take a look at some words you should know before going to Colombia. 


1. Who’s who in Colombia


Ask someone in Medellín where they’re from, and there’s a good chance they’ll say:


Soy Paisa


So what does paisa mean?  Paisa is the term used to refer to anyone from the state (estado) of Antioquia.  However, in practice the term paisa is mostly used to refer to people from Medellín.


Depending on who you talk to, you may also hear the terms rolo or rola and costeña or costeñoRolos are from Bogotá and costeños are from the coast.  Of course you’ll run into people from all over Colombia so this list is far from exhaustive, but it’s a good start.


2. Saying Hi


Of course you have your basic Spanish greetings, but there are two perhaps not so common greetings I heard that stood out in my mind.  I haven’t heard these as much in my travels to other Spanish speaking countries, but they were unavoidable in Medellín and I imagine most, if not all of Colombia.




This is an informal greeting,  I would say it’s along the lines of what’s up. 


You can use this in really informal situations and with friends.  It’s on par with que onda for Mexicans and que lo que for Dominicans. 

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This is a catch all greeting that you can use anytime.  Instead of buenos días, buenas noches or buenas tardes, you can just say buenas.


And we can’t forget the famous Que más.  This is another way to say what’s up and is uniquely Colombian.


3. Minding Your Manners

Que pena


If you’re thinking this phrase means what a shame, then you’d be right.  Unless you’re in Colombia. 


In Colombian Spanish que pena means I’m sorry.  You can use it to apologize for anything, from something small to something big.


If you bump into someone – Que pena con usted


Forgot to send that email to your sister?  Ay, que pena, se me olvidó


Que pena con usted! no tengo plata sencilla, tranquilo! yo le cambio

I’m sorry sir, I don’t have any small bills, no worries, I’ll get change


Murió mi abuelita – Que pena, tienes mi mas sentido pésame

My grandmother died – I’m sorry, you have my deepest sympathy


Bien pueda


The easiest way for me to explain this is to give you some examples of this very Colombian expression.


You answer the door and want to tell them to come in?  Bien pueda.


Someone asks you if it’s ok to turn on the radio.  Bien pueda.


You ask someone if you can use their bathroom.  They reply bien pueda.


Want to offer someone a seat? Bien pueda, siéntese


You’re out shopping and walking past a store?  The clerk will likely say bien pueda (come in) as you walk by.


Now that we’re on the topic of shopping, it’s the perfect lead in to the next expression . 


A la orden


You’ll hear this when shopping or receiving any other type of help or service.  When you’re passing by a tienda the clerk is as likely to say A la orden as much as bien pueda.  So what does A la orden mean


A la orden means at your service or at your command.  If you walk up to someone and ask for help, they’re likely to reply “A la orden“.   It can also be used to say gracias. Here  are a few a real life examples.


In my hotel I would ask the clerk if he or she could call me a cab.  The response?  A la orden


I bought a Colombian soccer jersey and thanked the salesperson.  The response?  A la orden.


Con mucho gusto


When you say gracias for something, you’ll very often hear con mucho gusto in reply.  It’s the Colombian way of saying de nada


4. Night Life


You don’t go out to party in Colombia (ir de fiesta) you ir de rumba, or rumbearse.


Nos vamos de rumba

Let’s go party


Estoy de rumba

I’m out partying

Cuando estés de rumba (whenever you’re out partying), you’ll probably be offered some guaro


What is guaro? Guaro is what they call aguardiente. A very popular choice of alcohol in Colombia   In fact, it’s probably the most popular alcoholic beverage in Colombia and is made from sugar cane (caña de azúcar).

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5. Food and Drink


Well, we’ve covered some of the local lingo, so let’s talk a little about the local food.  And the superstar of Colombian dishes is none other than the bandeja Paisa


What’s a bandeja paisa you ask?  Well, más vale una imagen que mil palabras – A picture’s worth a thousand words. 

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That’s a lot of food.  And that’s the way it’s served, every time.


Let me guess, you want to know:


¿Qué lleva una bandeja paisa?

 What does a bandeja paisa have in it?


Es un plato típico de la región antioqueña de Colombia.  Consta de frijoles, arepa, chorizo, chicharrón, arroz blanco, huevo frito, papa criolla, carne molida , trocito de morcilla, tajada de aguacate, tajadas fritas de plátano maduro


I’ll leave the translation of that as homework for you.  Or you can click on the link below and watch a YouTube video.  Actually, I’m leaving you two videos, one in English and one in Spanish, so you can choose which one you’d like to watch, or you can watch both.


Bandeja Paisa – Anthony East America


Bandeja Paisa Colombiana – Despierta America


Tinto / Tintico


After enjoying your bandeja paisa, you just might want to enjoy a cup of coffee, but don’t expect anyone to offer you un café.  More than likely they’ll offer you un tinto, or un tintico instead.  What’s a tinto you ask?  It’s the Colombian word for coffee.  Café negro to be exact.  So when you find yourself in Colombia, show off your Spanish a little bit and order like a true Colombian by asking for a tinto or a tintico if you really want to show off.




I won’t go so far as to say this word is uniquely Colombian, but it’s most certainly the word you want to use for soda in Colombia.  In most other places the word you’ll want is refresco.




Don’t let This strange looking word confuse you.  Agüita  is actually the diminutive form of agua.  I won’t say this is uniquely Colombian Spanish, but you’ll hear it quite a bit when you’re there.


I had heard this word before in Colombian telenovelas, so I decided to try it out.  I was at a small convenience store and instead of asking for una botella de agua, I simply said una agüita por favor. It was like magic, he gave me exactly what I wanted, a bottle of water.  And just to clarify, agüita doesn’t have to be in a bottle.


¿Te traigo un vaso de agüita?

Can I bring you a glass of water?


Tengo sed.  Dame una agüita

I’m thirsty. Give me some water


6. Everything Else


Que chimba


The word chimba is definitely one of the trademarks of Colombian Spanish and quite possibly the trickiest word of all to master.  It’s meaning changes based on context and/or the intonation of your voice, but for now we’re going to keep it simple.

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What a great country)


When you say Que chimba you’re saying that something is really cool or great. 


Que concierto tan chimba

What a great concert


Que chimba





Just like que chimba, chévere is way to say something is really cool, good, or great.  It’s probably a lot less slangy than que chimba though.   In fact, unless you’re hanging out with a very young and hip crowd, I would recommend you use this over que chimba


Que Chévere

How cool


La película estaba chévere

The movie was really good


Es una persona muy chévere

He’s a really cool guy


Parce or parcero


Sin duda (without a doubt) this word is very Colombian.  It means friend, or amigo in standard Spanish.  You’ll also hear it used in the same manner we use the word dude, or man.  Keep in mind these are equivalents, not exact translations.  Also keep in mind that you can use this term with men or women.


Parce is the short form of parcero (parcera for a woman).  You’ll often hear this combined with a greeting.


¿Qué más parce?

What’s up dude?

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Most Spanish speakers use the verb dar when they order or ask for something.

Me da un café por favor

Can you give me a coffee please?




¿Me puede dar una servilleta?

Can you give me a napkin?


But in Colombian Spanish you’re going to hear the verb regalar.


Me regala un café por favor

Can you give me a coffee please?

¿Me puede regalar una servilleta?

Can you give me a napkin?


¿Me regalas una cerveza?

Can you give me a beer?


Pero ¡Pilas parce!


In standard Spanish regalar means to give something as a gift, so don’t be surprised if you order you beer in another Spanish speaking country by asking:


¿Me regalas una cerveza?


And the bartender replies…


Aquí no regalamos nada

We don’t give anything away here




The dictionary says pilas means batteries, so you’ll probably be confused when a Colombian points at his eye while saying pilas.   No, he doesn’t need a battery for his bionic eye.  Although that would be cool, right?


In Colombian Spanish pilas has another meaning.  It’s a way to say watch out, be careful.  Sure, you could say cuidado or maybe even ojo, but you know what they say, “when in Rome…”.  Besides, you’ll sound way cooler. And although it’s optional, you can add the body language and point at your eye when you say it.


¡Pilas!  Ese barrio es bien peligroso

Be careful!  This neighborhood is dangerous


And that’s it.  Master these terms and you’ll have the basics you need to survive in the world of Colombian Spanish.


¡Espero que los sirva!

Let’s talk sports: the Olympics and the popularity of sports in Japan

Let’s talk sports: the Olympics and the popularity of sports in Japan

LL-logo-blueThis post is contributed by Chikako. Chikako is a language tutor at LinguaLift, an online language school teaching Japanese.

We, Japanese people, always get very excited before the Olympic events. Personally, I think the way we approach the games can hardly be compared to anywhere else in the world! But, I’m Japanese, so I might be biased 😉


In Japan the Olympics are more popular than other sports events, such as the World Cup. During the games all TV programs are full of exclusive broadcasting with reporters designated to covering the events. Everyday the names of the medal-winning athletes are featured on the top page of every newspaper.


When the Olympics start, the land-mark tower of Tokyo gets light up especially to celebrate the event.

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The Japanese athletes who have been chosen to represent the country at the Olympics receive gifts before they leave for the games: money, cards and… plenty of farewell-parties! Needless to add, if they come back with a medal, they are welcomed with big festivities to celebrate their triumph. Each winning athlete receives an award from the mayor of their city and for a long time remains a hero of both the country and their town.


During the Olympic games, a lot of people get together to watch live transmissions on big screens set up in their home towns, schools, or even their companies. People go to great lengths to cheer the athlets they support. It’s a common sight to see fans wearing the same uniforms as the Japanese sports team, yelling through megaphones and even crying while watching inerviews with the medalists. Fans in Japan develop a very strong emotional attachment with the sportspeople!


Sporty Japanese

Following the sport on TV is one thing, how about practising sports in Japan?


Let’s have a look at the number of people engaging in each sport.


I’m not sure if walking should be included in this list as a sport, but it is definitely a popular pass-time in Japan.


Now, let’s see which sports at the Rio Olympics 2016 got most attention from the Japanese viewers. Here are the top eight:

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The conclusions are simple: there is a clear difference between what we enjoy watching and what we actually do in our spare time.


However, you could argue that the data talking about a special event like the Olympics does not reflect the geneal sentiment of the Japanese population. And you’d be right!


If you look at the sports with the highest fan base in Japan the statistics are quite different. According to Central Research Service the most popular game is baseball, with 41.7% fans declaring it being their favourite sport, the second and third ones are soccer and tennis with 29% and 22.4% of the sports’ fans respecitvely.


There are professional leagues for baseball and soccer in Japan. When people get very involved in sport we no longer call them just fans (ファン), but rather supporters (サポーター). In Japanese the difference between the two is that a fan is just a “watcher”, while a supporter can be aggressive during the games: yelling, jumping, “going crazy” at the studium. And, if their team looses, it really badly affects their mood!

The Olympics come to Tokyo

A sports event that the Japanese are already excited about is of course the Tokyo Olympics of 2020.


The whole country is already preparing for the event. All the major Japanese companies are listed as the sponsors or official partners of the competition. Apart from a number of new stadiums getting constructed, there are also wi-fi network developments taking place everywhere in Tokyo, almost all hotels are getting renovated, and heaps of new accomodation are being built.


The online official shop dedicated to the games is already working, and a selection process to choose a musician to perform at the ceremony has also been commenced.


The upcoming games also have a large impact on the economy, and the life of the local people. The value and prices of the land have increased, and there is much more demand for jobs in sectors like construction, translation, security, transport and tourism.


The Olympics also have an effect on the language proficiency of the Japanese people. Employees in the industries listed above receive extensive English training, and there already seem to be more English signs in the city itself. The government has invested a lot to make the event run smoothly.


Let’s all hope or an amazing event in Tokyo in 2020!


Let’s practice sport-talk


Even though many Japanese people are learning English to help international fans feel at home, it doesn’t mean you should abandon your Japanese study pursuits! Here are a few phrases to help you talk about sports with your Japanese friends:



@@ won a gold/silver/bronze medal in 〜〜.


(@@ga、〜〜de kin-medaru/gin-medal/do-medal wo tori mashi ta!)



@@ beat their own record


(@@ga、jiko-shinkiroku wo dasi mashita!)



which team is your favourite?


(Dono chi-mu no fan des ka?)



what sport do you follow?


(Dono supo-tsu ga suki des ka?)



have you seen yesterday’s game?


(Kinou no shiai mita?)



@@ has won!


(@@ga kattayo!)



Do you play any sports?


(Nanika supo-tsu wo shimas ka?)



Have you been to a @@ game before?


(@@no shiai ni itta koto arimas ka?)



@@ broke the Olympic record!


(@@ga, orinpikku shin kiroku wo dashita yo!)



I think I’ll take up tennis next year.


(Rainen, tenisu wo hajime yoto omoi mas.)



The team lost by 5 points.


(Go ten sa de make mashita.)



The team won by 3 goals.


(San go-ru totte kachi mashita.)



Who’s winning?


(Docchi ga katteru?)



Who’s playing today?


(Dare ga deteru?)



What’s the score?


(Ima nan ten?)

A Common Japanese Intonation Myth

A Common Japanese Intonation Myth

This post is contributed by Dogen, an American Youtuber who writes and performs comedic skits in Japanese. Below is an excerpt from Dogen’s Japanese Phonetics, an upcoming video series Dogen hopes to become the internet’s definitive guide for Japanese pronunciation and intonation (pitch-accent). According to Dogen, the series will be announced in the near future on his Youtube channel. We hope you enjoy this article; if it’s helpful let us know and we’ll try and get Dogen back in the future!

In this brief article I would like to discuss a misconception you’re likely to run into while studying Japanese. For the sake of argument, I will be using the terms ‘pitch-accent’ and ‘intonation’ interchangeably here to very simply describe the high and low sounds of individual words.


The myth: Japanese intonation is flat. Japanese intonation is flat, so it’s not important to study Japanese intonation. Only pronunciation matters.


There are typically two contexts in which this myth occurs, the first being Japanese as a non-tonal East Asian Language, and the second being Japanese as perceived by native Japanese speakers and teachers. In this particular newsletter I will be covering context one—Japanese as a non-tonal East Asian language. Please note that as I am addressing only a limited context in which the ‘Japanese intonation is flat’ misconception occurs, the following points shouldn’t be used to argue with Japanese teachers who encourage a flat way of speaking (this is generally good—albeit limiting—advice for native English speakers). For the more comprehensive argument—which also covers context two—please see my YouTube Channel.


Onto the debunking!


The ‘Japanese intonation is flat’ myth—in context one—stems primarily from well-known ‘tonal vs. non-tonal’ binary language classification, which often limits Japanese learners’ phonetic perceptions of the language to ‘similar to Chinese’ or ‘similar to English’. In other words, because oral languages are typically classified into very broad ‘tonal or non-tonal’ terms, Japanese learners often assume the following.

  1. Japanese is non-tonal, therefore it’s flat

          and / or:

       2. Japanese is non-tonal, therefore it follows the same intonation / accent rules as English


These assumptions are wrong because:

  1. Non-tonal language  ≠  ‘flat language’
  2. There are multiple types of non-tonal languages


You can think of the above in the following way: English is not a tonal language, but it also isn’t flat—English words have accents. When the accent is missing or placed on the wrong syllable, as in syllaBLE, it sounds unnatural. Japanese is similar—there aren’t tones like ‘á’, or ‘ǎ’, as in Mandarin, but there are distinct pitch-accent patterns, and when these pitch accent patterns are missing or wrong, it sounds unnatural. Thus, it’s misleading to say that Japanese intonation is flat just because Japanese is a non-tonal language. A lack of tones does not equate to flat pitch-accent, because tonality and pitch-accent are different phonetic phenomenons.


It’s critically important to emphasize, however, that just because Japanese and English are both non-tonal doesn’t mean they share the same set of intonation rules—the truth is quite the opposite! While English words are typically characterized by a single accent, as in ‘uniVERsity’ or the adopted ‘karaOke’, many Japanese words can have multiple ‘high-pitch’ consonants, as in ‘daIGAKU’ or ‘kaRAOKE’. It’s necessary, therefore, for aspiring Japanese learners to push beyond the common ‘tonal or non-tonal’ terms when speaking about Japanese phonetics.


In summary:

  1. Just because a language is non-tonal doesn’t mean it’s acoustically flat
  2. Try to stop thinking about it like this:
  •          Tonal languages: Mandarin, Vietnamese
  •          Non-tonal languages: English, Japanese

          and start thinking about it like this:

  •          Tonal language: Mandarin, Vietnamese
  •          Stress-accent language: English
  •          Pitch-accent language: Japanese
When You Don’t Have Time to Study, Stop Studying

When You Don’t Have Time to Study, Stop Studying

It’s always a wonderful thing when you find time in your day to do all the things you want to do. Unfortunately, so many people today are completely overwhelmed with things in their life that they always seem to run out of time. We always tell ourselves that we will dedicate an hour, two hours, 30 minutes, etc., everyday to studying a language, but do you find yourself struggling to meet those amounts from time to time? Do you miss that quota everyday? If so, let’s take a look at ways you can be more effective in your language learning by not “studying” as much in the sense that we typically think.


Do What’s Important to You

First off, what is it you really want from a new language? Do you want to be able to read literature pieces in their original forms, watch foreign movies, or expand the number of people with whom you can speak? Each one of these requires different skills within language learning. When you are pressed for time, only spend time improving what you intend to do with the language. If your primary goal is to be able to read then being able to speak is something that you might not focus your time on. In contrast, will you see a benefit in your speaking if you delegate time to reading? To effectively use the time you have, it is best to use as much of it for your primary language learning goal. You get out what you put in, so if you put in the time for your main goal, you’ll find those same results.


Talk to Yourself

This is by far my favorite one. There are 24 hours in a day and we all spend some of that time by ourselves. Why not take that time to practice? I talk to myself everyday in a foreign language about what I am doing or what I have done. This not only helps me feel comfortable speaking, forming sentences, and thinking on my feet, but it also helps to make myself aware of words or phrases that I don’t know and I need to use. If you spend a lot of time at the gym, but you can’t say it, that may be a word that is important for you to know how to say. This is also a fun way to pretend to have a conversation and will help you prepare what types of questions may be asked and what to listen for regarding those questions. If you are talking about going to have coffee with a friend and you ask yourself, “Was it a quiet cafe?” you will have to know how to ask that and in turn know what to listen for when that same question is asked in a real conversation. Doing both sides of the conversation can really help expose areas that you need to improve within your language learning. You can also turn this into a challenge by talking about various topics and seeing how long you can carry on a monologue. I like to ask somebody when I leave a social setting, “What topic should I talk about?” and then carry on a speech about it when I’m alone. It keeps it fresh since somebody else came up with the topic but you still have to use the words you know.


This is also a wonderful time to exaggerate your speech patterns. Nobody sounds like a native when we start. Every foreign language sounds a bit odd; if it didn’t we wouldn’t consider it foreign. These different noises and shapes we have to make to produce this language can seem uncomfortable and awkward. Being alone can give you a great time to really exaggerate how to generate this new language. Nobody else can hear you, it’s totally fine. When it does come time to practice in front of people, subconsciously you will dial it back but these sounds will feel less strange and more comfortable to both hear and create.


Translate Conversations

Maybe you don’t have as much alone time as me. Maybe you are surrounded by people from dawn till dusk. This is an even better way to utilize the conversations you have around you! I like to play a game where I see how well I can translate conversations I’m engaged in WHILE I am in them. Somebody may ask a question and then you task yourself with translating it (probably best to keep it in your head as to not confuse them) prior to responding. If there is more than two people in the conversation you can challenge yourself by translating everything that is said before somebody can respond to it. Not only does this allow you to again push your vocabulary and grammar, but also helps to see the direction of conversations to help you anticipate what will be said next. Especially as you begin a language this can really help in realizing the direction of conversation and vocabulary that you can focus on.



More than anything, when we set down a time and place for studying we break ourselves away from our everyday life. We associate using our language in only one location. If you can only recall a language when you are sitting at your desk, how will that affect your ability to recall when you are in an outside environment? Will you be able to remember everything or will you be searching for your notebook that isn’t sitting next to you? The more you are able to break away from the “studying environment” the more comfortable you will be in actually using a language in a natural state. Sure, the first time you try to talk to somebody on a ski slope will be confusing, but there also is a rush as you recognize the accomplishments of at least having SOME interaction that you didn’t have in front of a computer screen. As you walk through the grocery store can you say types of food you are purchasing? Try recapping what you did today as you do your household chores at the end of the day. Allowing yourself to use the language while you go about your day will help to associate the language as something you use during your day.


All of these practices have helped me to make speaking another language be more of a natural part of my day instead of a separate part of what I do each day. When we force ourselves to only think of “studying” the language we forget the purpose of learning the language in the first place: to “use” the language. This was never more evident than when I was driving at night during a rainstorm yet carrying on a conversation in a foreign language. The conditions on the road were subpar so I was able to focus on my driving and still be aware of the dialogue I was having at the same time. Sure it might not have been a graceful conversation but it was a conversation nonetheless. Pushing yourself out of the study environment can really help move you outside of just “studying” and starting to “live” in a language.

This post is contributed by Alex. Alex is a Mechanical Engineer living in the Washington, DC area who became passionate about learning other languages and cultures. He enjoys making people laugh, embracing every day, and doing what intrigues him at the time. He currently is learning Mandarin Chinese and Arabic but counted 13 different languages he can say at least one word with. In the future, he hopes to polish up his Spanish and next pursue American Sign Language before moving on to a few European languages.
Alex’s blog, “What Did You Just Say?”, follows his journey through the struggles of learning a new language (Arabic) from day one. He hopes that other people will be encouraged by seeing the mistakes he makes to allow themselves to be more comfortable about pushing themselves to learn a new language and share the struggle. The blog breaks down some of the tips that Alex was able to learn and use as he was able to get to a conversational level of Mandarin Chinese in a short time.