Hirogaru – Yet another source of beginner’s reading material!

I can’t believe how much reading material I have been finding recently. I remember my early days in Japanese, struggling to find anything at all that was on my level, but now I keep seeing more and more material becoming available. This latest resource is the newest website from The Japan Foundation. Called ひろがる、it launched in 2016 and seems to have at least 50-60 easy articles on it so far.

The level of the material seems to be aimed at those who have perhaps completed about one year of studying (able to pass JLPT N5, or completed the first Genki textbook), but may still be somewhat challenging for more advanced students as well, due to the diverse range of topics that the articles cover. Topics include:

  • Astronomy
  • Outdoors
  • Martial Arts
  • Tea
  • Sweets
  • Shopping
  • Calligraphy
  • Anime/Manga
  • Books
  • Temples
  • Music
  • Aquarium

Each topic generally contains about 4-5 articles that you can read. I believe that they may be adding new articles from time to time, but it does not seem to be at a very fast pace. Besides just the articles, there is usually a short video about each topic, as well as some short commentary from Japanese people saying what that topic means to them. For some reason, most topics also have a section containing pictures of food. There is also a comment section in each topic, which allows you to write a Japanese response to three different questions.

The articles are really the main attraction of this site, so let’s talk about those for a bit. Each article is fairly short, so that a beginner student could probably read it in 5 or 10 minutes. The articles are broken up into several paragraphs, and each paragraph has audio so you can hear it read aloud. At the end of each article you will find a quiz with a couple of multiple choice questions, to test your comprehension. At the top of the site, there are some controls which can assist you in reading the articles. One is a “Ruby” toggle, which turns furigana on or off for all of the kanji in the article. The other setting is an “English/Japanese” toggle. This seems to be poorly named, because it does not function how you might expect. If you set it to “English”, the articles remain fully in Japanese. The only thing that really changes is the navigation buttons, and also when it is set to English there will be a button under each paragraph that you can press to see a list of the difficult vocabulary. As such, I would recommend keeping it set to “English” at all times so you have access to the vocabulary words.

Overall its a nice site, and certainly worth spending some time on. My only real gripe is that the articles are kinda lame and boring (to me at least), but that’s sort of hard to avoid with these kinds of generic topics. But all in all, it’s a fantastic source of reading material at a level where such material has often been overlooked. Check it out!

Listen to Simple Japanese Stories

I recently happened across a small collection of basic listening material that some of you might find helpful. There is a collection of Japanese Graded Readers called にほんご多読ブックス (not to be confused with the more well-known レベル別日本語多読ライブラリー series of readers). While I strongly recommend these types of books for learners, they are quite expensive. However, it looks like you can download audio of the books completely free! There are several hours of simplified Japanese audio here, so it could be well worth your time to check it out. Of course, this is no substitute for the real product, but it can at least give your listening skills a workout!

にほんご多読ブックス MP3 Download

Top 11 Games for Learning Japanese

Alright, so you read my previous post on how to learn Japanese through video games, but you are still having trouble choosing the perfect game start off with? Below you will find several of the top titles that I have frequently seen recommended on various forums and websites, along with some of my own additions, and my thoughts on each. Please check them out through videos or other means before playing, to ensure that you will be able to handle them! You will see several games developed by Level-5 here, because they are one of the few developers who make it a point to include furigana in their games. Thank you, Level 5! Also, this used to be my “Top 10 Games for Learning Japanese”, but then I noticed that I had miscounted and actually listed 11 games instead… sooo yea, now its my “Top 11 Games for Learning Japanese”.

Click the “Read More” button if you don’t see the list below.

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Beginner’s Media – Erin’s Challenge

One of my focuses with this blog is to point out various interesting media that is suitable for beginner and intermediate level learners. The most important thing for being able to learn from any type of media is ensuring that the media is at or just slightly above your level. If you can barely understand anything, then you are not going to learn much.

One of the most basic video sources is part of a course titled Erin’s Challenge! I can speak Japanese, produced by the Japan Foundation. Essentially a free multimedia textbook, it teaches Japanese through videos and manga.

Through a series of 25 lessons, you can watch a short video detailing the life of Erin, a new international student at a Japanese high school. Each lesson has both a beginner video and an advanced video, with four different subtitle options available on all of them: Kanji, Hiragana, Romaji, and English. All four subtitle tracks can be toggled on and off independently.

In addition to the videos, there are a number of additional features. A script is available which lets you play each line of audio individually, with a pop-up dictionary explaining the words. A short manga with audio lets you practice reading. And then there are review questions and exercises to practice what you have learned. Grammar explanations and example sentences help ensure that you understand everything that occurred in the dialogue. There are also additional videos explaining different aspects of Japanese culture, and a picture-dictionary in each lesson helps to teach additional vocabulary.

A while back, I generated an Anki deck from the scripts and audio. You can download the deck here. It is set up to test listening, but you can of course modify how Anki displays the deck to you. It also contains every line, so you will probably want to delete a lot of them. I did not find the deck itself particularly useful, and these days I don’t really advocate reviewing full sentences like those contained in this deck. Simply working through the lessons on the website and then moving on to something else will probably suffice. But, there it is if you want it.

Overall, this is a fantastic resource for the self-directed learner. While aimed at beginners, intermediate-level learners might benefit from listening practice in the advanced lessons, particularly if you still have trouble watching much of anything else yet. This is one resource that I would gladly pay for, but the fact that it is free is just icing on the cake. If you feel like you aren’t anywhere close to being ready to watch and understand real anime or dramas, this is an excellent starting point to help get you up and running.