Review: JLPT N2 Grammar Drills

6 Feb

Level: Upper intermediate, N2
Format: App (Android)
Publisher: Sanshusha Publishing Co. Ltd.

N2 Grammar Drills 1

JLPT N2 Grammar Drills is exactly that – an app designed to drill all the grammar that appears in level N2 of the JLPT. Developed and published by Sanshusha, this app is currently only available for Android devices and can be downloaded for free. The app is very user friendly and navigation requires no knowledge of Japanese.

There are nine units, each of which contains around 30 questions. Each unit focuses on grammar that is similar in either meaning or structure. Generally, around 20 grammar structures are included per unit, so given the limited number of questions you should only expect to see one or two questions per structure.

The questions themselves are multiple choice and require you to choose the correct answer from four options (and on the rare occasion from five). If you answer a question incorrectly you are given the right answer on the next screen.  A nice little addition is the kanji button in the top corner. When you press this button the app displays the readings of the kanji in the question. Though for some reason not all the kanji in the question are included, which we feel makes it a bit pointless. Once you’ve completed the unit you are shown an overview of your answers. Three quizzes that cover all nine units are also included so that you can review grammar terms from all units at once.

JLPT N2 Grammar Drills isn’t the prettiest app we have ever seen but the fonts are easy to read and it is nice to see a free app with no advertising. Throughout the test phase we didn’t experience any crashing on our Android device running ICS either.

If you are looking for an app that will teach you N2 grammar, then you should give this one a miss. Since there aren’t any grammar explanations this app is only really useful if you have previously studied the grammar from some other source (such as Kanzen Master N2 Grammar). It might be useful for doing a quick revision while on the bus to your exam site or in the days leading up to the JLPT, but overall the app’s use is rather limited.

SCORE: 4/10

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5 Really Useful Japanese Onomatopoeia

3 Feb

Like the English language, Japanese has quite a number of words used to express sounds, words which are known as onomatopoeia. Some common English onomatopoeia are words like ‘bang’, ‘crash’ or ‘boom’. However the Japanese have perfected these words into an art form that they are no longer used to only represent sounds, but also emotions, people’s behaviour and the state of objects.

In Japanese these words are known as 擬声語 (giseigo) and can be broken down into a couple of groups. The two we are interested in are 擬音語 (giongo), which represent sounds such as a dog’s bark or a door slamming, and 擬態語 (gitaigo), which are used for behaviour and emotions. Words similar to gitaigo don’t really exist in English; instead we tend to use an adverb to give a person’s behaviour the characteristics of something else. Think sluggishly and sheepishly. On the other hand, the sound of a gitaigo word represents the way someone does something or how they feel. ニコニコ笑う (niko niko warau)  means to smile while くすくす笑う (kusu kusu warau) means to chuckle to oneself. To different actions but both use the verb 笑う (warau) meaning ‘to laugh/smile’.

What’s more, these words are actually quite common in everyday spoken and written Japanese so it pays to know a few of the more common ones. If you use these words your Japanese will sound much more lively and natural, and they really help to emphasise what you’re talking about. They are also kind of fun to say because in English we don’t really have anything that sounds like these words at all. In this post we are going to focus on some 擬態語 (gitaigo). Here’s five to get you started.

1. ゆっくり – ‘Yukkuri’ is one of the most common gitaigo you will hear, and it means to do something slowly, calmly or restfully. It can be used with any number of verbs, for example ゆっくり歩く (yukkuri aruku) to walk slowly, ゆっくり食べる (yukkuri taberu) to eat slowly or ゆっくり考える (yukkuri kangaeru) to think slowly about something/to think something over. It can even be used with the verb する to mean ‘not really doing much of anything, just taking your time to do as you please’.

2. びっくり – ‘Bikkuri’ is another word you will hear ALL OF THE TIME. It’s used when you’re surprised or shocked about something and is paired with する.  You bump into your friend unexpectedly while getting some groceries, びっくりしました! Your teacher tells you that you aced that exam you were sure you had failed, びっくりしました! You get the picture. It’s a really versatile word and very very Japanese.

3. たっぷり – ‘Tappuri’ is often used with food and means ample or plenty. A sign advertising a new donburi outside a restaurant might read 牛肉たっぷり! (gyuuniku tappuri) meaning ‘there is heaps and heaps of beef in this!’ or you might see お野菜をたっぷり入りました on the menu of a Chinese restaurant, which essentially means ‘We’ve put a lot of veggies in this’.

4. ぐっすり – ‘Gussuri’ is used with the verb 寝る (neru) to sleep and together they mean to sleep soundly, or to be in a deep sleep. A useful one to remember when you’re telling your friends how you slept after your night out at karaoke.

5. こっそり – ‘Kossori’ means to do something sneakily or stealthily and generally has a negative connotation to it. For example こっそり入る (kossori hairu) means to come in/enter sneakily. We could be talking about a burglar entering a house or a teenager sneaking back inside after going out. Another example is こっそり見る (kossori miru) meaning to sneak a glance. You could use it to say you looked at your friend’s answers in an exam or took a peek inside a closed door.

So there you have it! Five new words that will really help to lift your Japanese and make it a touch more expressive. We’ll bring you some more of these words soon since there are A LOT more of them out there.

Review: Talking About Japan

1 Feb

Japanese: 英語で話す日本 Q&A
Level: Intermediate – Advanced
Format: Reference book
Publisher: Kodansha International

Talking About Japan is a bilingual Japanese-English book that covers a wide range of topics from Japanese history and geography to the economy, government and society. This book is great for improving reading comprehension as it’s printed in Japanese on the left-hand page and in English on the right.

At approximately 300 pages the book isn’t a light read. However remembering that half of Talking About Japan is printed English, it really isn’t that huge and as each chapter covers a particular topic about Japan it’s easy to pick up and put down without losing ‘reading momentum’. Topics covered include geography, history, government and the economy, way of life and society, culture, clothing and housing, and Japanese customs.

Kodansha first published this book in 1996, so figures on the economy and population, for example, are now out-dated. Despite this you will still find the vocabulary and terminology used in these chapters useful, particularly if you have limited exposure to materials that concern more specific areas  like taxation, exports and natural resources, the political system, and the constitution for instance.

The chapters on culture, customs, food and daily life in Japan makes for an interesting read. Luckily for us Japan is very traditional in these areas so the information presented here is still relevant, even in more recent times.

Each chapter contains a range of questions and are answered in about half a page. We feel this is an appropriate length since the answers can be detailed enough without becoming long-winded and over complicated. Some questions discussed in the book include, ‘How many volcanoes are there in Japan?’, ‘What kind of crimes are the most common in Japan?’, ‘What is Zen?’, ‘What is a common wedding ceremony in Japan like?’ and ‘What is the correct way of bowing?’. There really is quite an extensive list of topics being covered here.

Like other books we have reviewed from Kodansha (see our review of Konna Eigo ga Wakaranai!?) this book has been written for native Japanese speakers. Kanji is frequent and furigana is limited unless the name of a person or location is being discussed. This means the book might be out of reach for learners who are not at an upper intermediate or JLPT N2/N1 level. The grammar used in the book averages around the N2 level.

If your Japanese comprehension is around this level then we can see this book becoming a useful resource. Talking About Japan will definitely strengthen your vocabulary given the native-level Japanese it contains and the wide range of topics it covers. If you are preparing to take the JLPT, this book would be especially useful with improving your reading speed for the short and medium length questions. On the other hand, if you aren’t sitting for the JLPT and would just like to read up on Japan and all aspects of its culture and people then you too will find this book interesting

Overall we think the best thing about Talking About Japan is the ability to read the text in either Japanese or English. Once you’ve tried reading the Japanese text you can read the English translation for extra clarification, or if you vocabulary is lacking in a particular area, you can focus on reading those chapters first. We do recommend having a kanji or electronic dictionary beside you, however, to look up the readings of unfamiliar words given the lack of furigana.

SCORE: 7/10

Dec 2012 JLPT Results Out Soon!

31 Jan

Well today is the day that the results from the Japanese Language Proficiency Test held in back in December last year are released! While those of you who were lucky enough to sit the exam in Japan can already access your results, Japanese students in the rest of the world are eagerly (or should that be anxiously?) waiting to see whether they passed.

If you sat the exam in December we would love to hear from you! Which level did you sit? Are you confident or nervous? If you pass what will you do to celebrate? Share with us some of your study secrets or resources that you couldn’t have done without while preparing for the exam.

Good luck everyone, there isn’t long to go now!

Review: Konna Eigo ga Wakaranai!?

31 Jan

Japanese: こんな英語がわからない!?
Level: Intermediate
Format: Reference book
Publisher: Kodansha International

Konna Eigo ga Wakaranai!? is a reference book from the Kodansha Power English series designed for native Japanese speakers. Strictly speaking it hasn’t been written with Japanese learners in mind since its purpose is to explain the meaning and use of obscure (and sometimes quite strange) English phrases.

The book contains 386 phrases which the writers say can be heard in everyday English. While some of them do pop up fairly frequently, others are pretty rare and would raise a few eyebrows if you said them at the dinner table. That being said, you could still use the equivalent Japanese phrase in conversation to sound more native-like or to help improve your listening comprehension. We recommend either asking a Japanese friend or waiting to hear the phrase used in conversation first before trying it out yourself just to be on the safe side. (There is also a graphic showing the frequency and nuance of the phrase – general, humorous or angry – though it’s not really relevant from a Japanese language learning point-of-view).

Phrases are arranged in English alphabetical order with the English phrase in large bold type followed by the Japanese equivalent underneath. A small paragraph written in Japanese clarifies how and when to use the saying, explains subtle similarities between phrases and defines any English words that may pose a problem for non-native speakers.

The entry is completed with an example dialogue in English demonstrating the context the phrase is used in. The dialogue is translated in Japanese as well, though strangely the translation does not always use the Japanese phrase. The phrase ‘Hit the books!’ is a great example of this where the writers say the Japanese phrase 一生懸命勉強なさい can be used, yet in their example they use a similar, but different phrase in Japanese.

A: Hit the books! You want to graduate don’t you?

B: Yeah, but I sure am tired after that party last night.

To gain the most from this book learners should already have a sound understanding of Japanese, particularly conversational Japanese, and a knowledge of Japanese customs and communication styles. Without this, we feel that readers might miss the subtleties of how the phrase should be used.

Keeping in mind that this book isn’t a Japanese textbook but rather a book about English written for Japanese people, not everyone is going to find it useful. So while it isn’t a ‘must have’ for learning Japanese, those who would like to improve their conversational skills may find it worth the read.

SCORE: 6/10

Review: Shougakusei Tegaki Kanji Drill 1006

30 Jan

Japanese: 小学生手書き漢字ドリル1006
Level: All
Format: App
Available on: Android, iPhone
Price: Free
Publisher: Gakko Net
Site: Tegaki Kanji Drill 1006 (1)

This is a fantastic app for anyone who is learning kanji. Shougakusei Tegaki Kanji Drill 1006 covers all 1006 kanji learnt by students in Japanese elementary school and tests your ability to be able to recall and write kanji from memory. The app is available for both Android and Apple devices and best of all it’s free!

All kanji in this app are categorized based on the grade in which they are taught at Japanese elementary school, so 上 belongs to level 1, while 密 belongs to level 6. There are only 80 first grade kanji while there are in excess of 150 kanji for each of the remaining grades, again reflecting the curriculum taught at school in Japan. Within each grade, kanji are broken down into groups of five and when completed gives a score based on how well you did.

The app is easy to navigate with bright colourful menus and cute anime-style characters. However as the app is designed for students in Japan, there is no English to be seen. But as we are all students of Japanese, this shouldn’t pose too much of a problem! After selecting the level and group of kanji you would like to practice, a blank canvas appears with a word written in kanji or hiragana at the top.

A circle (or maru in Japanese) indicates which kanji you need to draw onto the canvas. Continuing with the above example, for 上 the phrase つくえの○ is given, and for 密 it’s 綿○な計画. The higher levels can be quite challenging, particularly if the word given is unfamiliar. You might find yourself having to rely on your knowledge of onyomi and kunyomi to make an educated guess! If you are completely stumped then the answer button is always there to save you…

Most of the time the app can accurately read the kanji you have written, or at least it will match it to the kanji it thinks is the closest. Sometimes it will ignore stroke order mistakes, while other times it will refuse to accept what you have drawn. On occasions we became so frustrated with the app not accepting our drawing, despite it being correct, that we hit the answer button and traced the kanji just so we could move on.

One thing we love about this app is the flexibility it adds to your study schedule. If you find yourself with five minutes or even an hour to spare, you can just whip out your phone and do a few reviews. Another great thing is the portability. It is great to be able to do kanji practice while on public transport, waiting for an appointment or laying in bed without having to lug around a huge kanji textbook!

As the app is free it is unsurprising that a small advertisement banner appears across the bottom of the app. This is no way detracts from the app’s usability and do not intrude on the user experience as a pop-ad may do. We didn’t experience any stability issues or crashes on our Android device while using this app either.

For those studying Japanese who are keen to practice kanji on-the-go and already have some knowledge of kanji, we highly recommend this app. Intermediate students will probably benefit the most from Tegaki Kanji Drill, as beginning students may find that they are unfamiliar with some of the words or the readings of kanji. Likewise, advanced users will find the earlier levels simple but will get a nice challenge out of the higher levels. Best of all it’s free, so really you have nothing to lose!

Score: 9/10

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Review: Nihongo Kanzen Master Level 2 Grammar

30 Jan

Japanese: 完全マスター2級日本語能力試験文法問題対策
Level: Upper intermediate, JLPT N2
Format: Textbook/Exercise book
Publisher: 3anetwork

Please note this publication has since been updated to reflect the new JLPT exam levels.

Nihongo Kanzen Master Level 2 Grammar has been written to familiarize learners with grammar that is likely to appear on Level 2 of the JLPT. This volume covers a total of 173 grammar points, though a number of these have two entries, so the total number of individual points is closer to 180. It should be noted that the whole book is published in Japanese, so learners without a sound grasp of Japanese vocabulary and grammar (read: intermediate or N3 level) are likely to struggle with understanding.

Each grammar entry is complete with its meaning in a simplified form, or paired with grammar from an earlier level that shares the same or similar meaning. Construction of the grammar is explained clearly showing whether, for example, the dictionary, past, or -te form of the verb is used, or whether extra particles, such as の, must be used between a noun and the grammar. There are also three to four example sentences per grammar structure that demonstrate various contexts the grammar is used in.

The overall layout of Nihongo Kanzen Master Level 2 grammar has been well planned, with related grammar generally presented in the same unit, although the units themselves are not labelled with the theme they relate to, such as time, comparisons or opinions. At the end of each unit is a review with approximately 30 questions to test your understanding of the grammar presented in that unit.

As would be expected from a book aimed at learners with N3-N2 understanding, there is a significant amount of kanji, however most have furigana unless they are rudimentary (雨,学生,来週 etc.). In that sense it will also help with kanji and vocabulary revision.

Studying this book alone is unlikely to be sufficient to pass the grammar section of the JLPT N2 exam comfortably. Ideally it should be used in conjunction with a textbook devoted to grammar questions as the review questions at the end of each unit are varied, but limited. And as with all language learning, seeing the grammar in a real-world context will help with acquisition and understanding.

Nihongo Kanzen Master Level 2 Grammar presents its content in a logical, thorough manner, which most learners at this level will find easy to follow and comprehend. It is definitely one of the more ‘vital’ resources to be used when studying for N2 and one that all learners will gain from.

SCORE: 8/10