Japanese Journals #1: Digital Materials for Learning Kana

Happy Friday to you all!

Today, I am (finally) going to be sharing with you the first instalment of my Japanese Journals series. When I originally announced the creation of this series back in the middle of December, I had mentioned that it would be made specifically for my BookTube channel, would more than likely be bi-monthly, and I would iron the rest of the details as I went ahead. Since then, I have completely outlined everything that I want to do with the Japanese Journals series, as well as chosen a permanent platform that I feel fits the structure of the series the best.

Nihongo Journals Logo

First, let us chat about the platform. While when I first coined the idea, YouTube seemed like the best choice. However, upon practising Japanese diligently for the past month and a half, and compiling the information for sharing, I have discovered that YouTube makes it rather difficult to fully discuss everything that I want to share. As such, Japanese Journals will be a blog exclusive series. What this means is that I will not be sharing my Japanese learning escapade on YouTube. I may chat about it in a BiblioNyan video (occasional VLOG where I randomly chat about whatever floats my fancy in that moment), but aside from that it will not be getting any special attention on that platform.

I apologise to anyone who may have been looking forward to the videos specifically. I am just a lot better at explaining things and articulating myself via a writing sphere than a video one, and this is something that I believe is quite essential when discussing elements of language learning, particularly one as challenging as Japanese. With that said, if after reading these posts, you feel that the video option may work better, please let me know! I am open-minded to trying any avenues that work best for you all out there. 😊

The rest of the details pertaining to the series are listed below. They are straight-forward and do not need as much explaining. Once again, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please do not hesitate to contact me (either under Inquiries for a more private conversation, or down below in the comments), and I will reply as promptly as I am able.

  • Posting will be monthly. This gives me time to focus on the actual learning part of the series, and thus will allow me to give more thorough posts.
  • Learning materials & personal experience. Each entry will consist of one of two things, or occasionally a combination of both, and these are: 1) Learning materials that I have tried & whether I recommend them or not; 2) My experiences with learning the language—the good, the bad, the fantastic, and the horrendously frustrating.
  • Total honesty. You can expect me to be brutally honest with how things are going. I will not sugar coat my experiences or say what I think people want to hear. I have a different learning style than other people out there, so my sugar-coating things really will not help anyone. My honesty will include any frustrations or issues that I come across that involve my learning disabilities as well (i.e.: dyslexia, ADHD, etc.).
  • Occasional VLOGs. Occasionally, I may include a VLOG that will only be shared on the BiblioNyan Blog. These will mostly be any trips that I take to a Japanese specific bookstore, or when I head down to San Francisco to begin taking my JLPT exams! I think it would help in sharing the full adventures that I will be embarking on in regard to learning Japanese.

Okay, now that all the technical mumbo-jumbo is out of the way, let us move on to the meat of today’s post: digital materials that I have been using to teach myself hiragana and katakana (basic Japanese alphabets). These will be broken down into two sections: apps (applications) and video games (on a computer). Please note that all the apps I have used, I personally use them on my Apple iPad, but I will list the devices that they are available for!

Applications:

Memrise:

Memrise is an app that was recommended to me by a very close friend, who just returned after teaching English in Japan for the past two years. She is an amazing teacher, so when she pointed this out to me, I had to jump on it. It is a language learning application for iOS and Android devices that consists of lessons from linguists all around the world. It offers very basic lessons to in-depth lessons that focus on grammar. One of my favourite aspects of the app is that while it teaches you, it shares videos of native speakers pronouncing the words from the lessons, so you receive the most accurate pronunciation of the language that is available. Overall, the app is free, however you can pay $30 (USD) per year for full access to all the lessons available, as well as offline learning. I do pay the annual fee since internet in my corner of the world tends to be moody, and I like being able to learn offline. RECOMMENDED.

DuoLingo:

DuoLingo is an app that Sir Betrothed introduced me to. He has been using it to learn German and enjoys the interface quite a lot. So, I looked up Japanese and gave it a go. Of the two apps I have listed, I can safely say this is one that I enjoy more. It is available for iOS, Android, and Windows devices. One of the cool things about this app is that is utilises diversity in the lessons, which helps someone like me who has ADHD to keep from getting bored. Some of the lesson types include: focus on spelling (romaji and Japanese), multiple choice questions, pictograms, etc. DuoLingo is perfect for busy people too as each lesson is provided in small five to seven minutes doses. You can choose the level of learning you want for each day—10 min at lowest level up to 30 minutes at highest level—that makes it comfortable for all types of learners. You can use this app for free, which is how I use it, and while it does implement ads, there are very few of them. All the ads are also non-intrusive, minimising frustrations or learning disruption. RECOMMENDED.


Video Games:

Learn Japanese to Survive: Hiragana Battle!

This is a small series of video games that I found over on Steam (video game client for PC gamers) that intrigued me by its listed gameplay style: JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game). As someone who is a huge fan of the Final Fantasy franchise, especially the older titles, I knew I had to try it out. I love this series!

It is developed by Sleepy Duck studios and is super affordable at $6.99 (USD). Aside from the classic JRPG gameplay, the game teaches you each of the hiragana characters, including the stroke order, and simple vocabulary words and basic phrases. It is the perfect introduction to the Japanese alphabet! As someone who is a hands-on learner with ADHD, one of the most difficult parts of learning for me is staying engaged and focused. I became so invested in the gameplay that I forgot on multiple occasions that I was learning a language. It felt wonderful. Even though I forgot I was learning, I noticed that I retained knowledge of each of the characters much better when compared to reading them out of a textbook or using flashcards. I also retained information on the stroke order; another task I have difficulty with. If you are a gamer and want to learn Japanese, definitely check this out! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Learn Japanese to Survive: Katakana War!

The second game in the Learn Japanese to Survive! Series, Katakana War!, is just as it sounds: devoted to teaching you the katakana alphabet. This is also developed by Sleepy Duck studios and runs the same cost as the first game, $6.99 (USD). However instead of using JRPG gameplay mechanics, it also focuses a bit on the visual novel style. This can be a good thing if you are a fan of visual novels, but if you are not then it may be mildly irritating. Personally, I enjoy visual novels. I just have to be in the mood to play them, which does not happen as often as I would like.

Nonetheless, the visual novel gameplay addition allows the player to befriend their party members and build “Affection Levels,” which contributes more to that element of gaming versus learning that I mentioned earlier. Like the first instalment, players learn the stroke orders for each of the katakana characters, along with simple vocabulary and basic phrases.

If there is anything that I did not like with Katakana War! it would have to be the voice acting. All the voices are done in English and it is terrible. I wholeheartedly wish there was a Japanese voice option, or an option to turn the voices off completely. I do believe you can turn the volume of the voices all the way down in the Options menu, but I am not 100% sure. Minus that one minor inconvenience, I think it is an excellent learning tool. RECOMMENDED.

Kanji Training Game

Kanji Training Game is developed by Targhen Games studio and is another one that I use quite often to help me with memorisation of the Japanese alphabets. Now, this game helps you learn both alphabets in addition to Kanji (Chinese characters in Japanese language), however for the purpose of this post, I will only be focusing on the kana.

The best part about this game: the price! It costs $4.99 (USD) and I believe that it is worth every dollar, more so if you are someone who prefers mnemonic based learning. The game allows you to pick either hiragana or katakana (or both). Then a screen pops up with a square shaped grid filled with the characters in their respective alphabets with the romaji listed at the top. You simply match the romaji to their corresponding character. I mostly use this when I have a spare five to ten minutes and I want to refresh my memorisation. I will time myself and try to find the characters as fast as possible. It sharpens your recognition and reflexes for reading Japanese extraordinarily. Nonetheless, if you do not like memory-type lessons or gameplay, you will more than likely not enjoy this game. It comes down to personal preference. Overall, for five bucks, this is an excellent learning tool! RECOMMENDED.

Hiragana Pixel Party

Okay… this next one I will admit upfront that I did not really care for. However, I can see this being a super enjoyable game for other people, and it deserves a little bit of love… So here we are.

Hiragana Pixel Party is a video game developed by Springloaded studios and is a game that can be found on the PlayStation Network and Nintendo eShop, as well as on Steam. It is a very accessible game to anyone out there who has one console type or another. I also found it on the iOS App Store! I do not know for certainty if it is available on Android or Windows devices, but I strongly believe that it would be on the former at the very least.

I originally found this game on Steam, as I do most of my games, and the video had me immediately interested. I bought it for $7.99 (USD), however if you want the soundtrack then you can get the game with the soundtrack for $11.99 (USD). It is very addicting. I played through the first ten lessons non-stop. I had already been studying hiragana and I needed something exciting to help me with my memorisation. It is a chiptune rhythm-action game reminiscent of DDR (Dance Dance Revolution), but for your fingers. Because I have carpal tunnel and arthritis, the more I played the game, the more my fingers would lock up and make me lose. I do not lose well at all!! I would nerd rage like an idiot. So… I had to give up the game.

Yet, I strongly believe that this game is another phenomenal way to train your reflexes and recognition of the hiragana characters, like Kanji Learning Game. The main difference is that this game forces a time limit on you. You must be very quick on the draw with nimble phalanges to boot. Hiragana Pixel Party emphasises the ability to react to what you are seeing and hearing. Not only do you see the characters, but you must listen to which characters are being said. If you hear hi () but push the key for the character ka (か), you lose. As you get more into the game, multiple characters will appear on the screen and your ability to recognise sounds will be the only way to progress.

It is very fast-paced and challenging, but highly addicting and enjoyable, especially if you are a competitive beast. Hiragana Pixel Party is one of the most interactive and engaging ways to successfully learn and retain knowledge of the hiragana alphabet. While my old-person limbs and short gamer temper cannot handle it, I still RECOMMEND IT.


HOLY SHIT, I AM DONE WITH THIS POST!!

I know that there was a lot of information in today’s post. I wholeheartedly appreciate you taking the time to read it. Due to the length of the Japanese Journals this is another reason why I shall only be posting them once a month, as they will be some of the longest posts that I make.

I hope that anyone out there who is interested in learning Japanese has found some useful and motivating tools to get you started. If you want to learn, but feel intimidated, I promise you that a lot of people make it much harder than it seems. As long as you are serious and devoted, I know that you can learn it! If someone like me, who has an abundance of learning disabilities, can make positive and successful headway, I know that you can kick ass and do it too.

With that I wish you all a very lovely weekend ahead, and I shall see you on Monday with some anime/manga musings.


 

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