What interests you?

Many of our students started to learn the Japanese language for various reasons such as travel, culture, food, job, anime and manga.

Some questions that are always on our minds are as follows: How can we sustain your interest in learning the language? Is there a magic formula? How can we better support your learning needs? Besides classroom lessons, is there anything else that we can do?

Can Bunka be a one-stop information centre for all the questions you might have on Japan? Should we start a student portal where all our students can exchange notes on anything related to Japanese?

Do you have any suggestions? Let us know!

 

The Bunka Team
29th June 2016

What you can do daily to improve your Japanese language skills

If you have read our post “10 reasons why you should study Japanese” (http://www.bunkalang.com/blog/10-reasons-why-you-should-study-japanese/),  you would know that we shared reasons why one should learn the Japanese language. The “Why” question is important because that is the factor that  drives you; motivates you; and inspires you to carry on, no matter how hard it is, how tired you are or just that, you have simply lost that interest.

We always emphasize that learning the Japanese language is a journey. It is never a 10-week thing. It is a skill. And like all other skills, it needs time – time to build vocabulary, master the grammar, hone listening skills and speak fluently.

There is an old adage: Every journey begins with a single step. The steps we take everyday are important.There are no short-cuts, just plain hard work, determination and consistency. So  the question is : What can you do on a daily basis to improve your Japanese language skills?

Attending lessons once a week for 3 hours is not enough. You need to work on it everyday. You can give yourself some cheat days, but not more than 3 days in a row. For a start, set aside 5 to 30 minutes a day as part of your daily routine called “My Me Time with Japanese”. And these are the things you can do to improve your Japanese language skills :

  1.  Listen to Japanese songs. Try to catch the lyrics. That is a relaxing way to hone your listening skill.
  2.  Learn to sing a Japanese song!
  3.  Watch an episode of anime (if you are an otaku). Start with subtitles first. And when you think you  are ready, turn off the subtitles.
  4.  Memorise 5 words a day. 5 x 365 days = 1825 words. That is a lot!!!!
  5.  Think in Japanese. Learn to construct sentences in your mind.
  6.  Learn 1 sentence structure per day. Read out loud.
  7.  Be like a Japanese. Use sounds or words like : sou desu ka, honto desu ka…,  eto desu ne…. , sou  sou sou…., hai, iie iie..
  8.  Read a chapter of manga (again if you are an otaku). For those who are not, fall back on  Doraemon, it is a good start! (And we have some interesting titles in our book library that you can  borrow)

All the things that we suggested do not take up a lot of your time. But these small efforts build up your ability to speak the Japanese language in the long run.

Let us know if you have more interesting ideas!

The Bunka Team
6th April 2016

Journey to JLPT N1 : An interview with Caitlyn

Q: Why did you decide to start learning the Japanese language?

A: This is pretty embarrassing, but probably true for many who started off in secondary school like I did. In primary school, my classmates introduced me to anime, and I was hooked. (Any One Piece fans out there? :b) This sparked my interest in the language, and when I received the opportunity to pick up a Third Language in secondary school, I was thrilled. I envisioned being able to understand my favourite shows without subtitles, and was really excited to expand my vocabulary beyond the typical “arigato”, “kawaii” or “baka”. I took up the language in Secondary 1, and studied for 6 years up till the A levels. It started off with just wanting to understand Japanese shows, but it’s more of a hobby that I enjoy now! It’s so much fun to study Japanese with like-minded people, and there’s always something new to learn!

Q: What are some of the challenges you faced?

A: I think the first and biggest hurdle was learning Hiragana. I remember struggling with reading in the first few months when Hiragana was new and foreign – they just looked like random squiggles to me! I had to refer to the Hiragana chart for every single character just to be able to read it, before trying to figure out what it meant. (Let’s not even talk about the nightmare of memorising Katakana..) But don’t worry! It gets easier once you’ve familiarised yourself with the Japanese alphabets.

There are other things I had difficulty with – remembering Kanji, counters, and the list goes on. Even now, I still don’t remember the dates of the month well! (Don’t be like me haha.) But I guess one thing that still boggles my mind is how formal or informal to be under different circumstances. It’s important to use Keigo, the honorific form, when it comes to speaking with people of authority (your bosses, teachers etc) and in the business setting. But when it comes to grey areas, I find it difficult to know how polite or casual to be.

For instance, with friends, the casual form is usually used. But when you first meet, it seems a little too presumptuous or rude to start using that form immediately. At the same time, it doesn’t leave a good impression and you may come off as snobbish or distant if you keep using the polite form! And when is it socially acceptable to start addressing someone by their first name instead of their last? This is my struggle when I speak to the Japanese. But I’m still learning, figuring it out along the way! Share some tips if you know of any! :)

Q: In spite of all these difficulties, what is it that keeps you going?

A: There were times when I thought of quitting because of all the extra work involved – in Junior College, I had to go for Japanese class twice a week, in the evening, while everyone else would be comfortably home by the early afternoon. Japanese was an extra commitment and to be honest, it did get really tiring sometimes. But since I’ve already started learning the language, I wanted to at least complete my O levels and later on, A levels as well. I guess it was a good thing that I studied Japanese in school – with my grades on the line, I had to press on even when I got tired or busy! I don’t know how you guys do it – coming down to Bunka even after work for night classes!

Other than that, what kept me going and sustained me through the 6 years was really my passion and interest for Japan’s vibrant and unique culture. It never felt like just another subject I had to study for, and revision didn’t feel as dull when I’m learning what I want to, instead of what I have to. Every lesson was an adventure and a challenge to learn the language proper, instead of just picking up random words commonly used in the shows I watched.

There’s also that great sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I found myself able to express myself and converse in a whole new language! I could recognise words and read Japanese signboards, or even the small print on Japanese products! It’s a really great feeling, and never fails to motivate me to study harder! I’m also thankful for all the friends I’ve met along the way, who share the same passion as I do. We went for exchanges and cultural events together, and even studying can be fun when you have someone going through it with you!

Q: What is your greatest takeaway?

A: My greatest takeaway was learning about a whole new country – not just their language, but Japan as a whole – its history, traditions, pop culture, social problems and so on. In JC, the syllabus focused more on Japan’s current issues, rather than the language itself. In class, we read articles, had group discussions and prepared presentations on various topics like gender equality, aging population, unemployment, nuclear energy and so on. It was kind of like GP (General Paper), except in the Japanese language, and from a Japanese perspective. It’s interesting that I started off learning Japanese just as a language, but later it seemed more like a Humanities subject!

But more than just gaining knowledge about the country, it is the connection with Japan that I developed over the years that means the most to me. I’m not sure how to explain this, but you may have experienced it before – getting really excited when you pass by Japanese tourists on the streets and realising you can understand them (and maybe you start to eavesdrop as well), anything on the news, magazines, Facebook, or even ads that mentions Japan just catches your attention immediately, and you have the most interesting conversations when you realise that the other person likes Japan as well. And when you finally get to visit the country, there’s this great sense of belonging (even though you don’t live there) and you feel like you have to start planning your next trip there already! Anyone feels the same way? :b

Q: What is one memorable incident in your journey of learning the language?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is really silly – it still makes me laugh when I think about it! In Secondary 2, my friend (she speaks Japanese too) and I were at Orchard Road and we were really bored, so we decided to do this: we stood in front of a huge Christmas tree and pretended to be Japanese tourists. We asked random people on the street to help take a photo of us in Japanese and broken English, and it was really amusing to see their reactions! (I’m sorry, I really have no idea why we did that.)

Q: How long did it take for you to achieve JLPT N1?

A: I started studying Japanese in Secondary 1 and took the JLPT N1 exam when I graduated from JC. So that’s 6 years in total! But it really differs from person to person. I have a friend who took the exam after 4 years, but she does a lot of self-studying and is really into Japanese music. She is also the top student of my cohort, so she may not be a good reference point for everyone. :b I took the exam after 6 years of studying – and even then, the N1 exam was really tough. Most of the words tested in the vocabulary were completely foreign to me; I probably got by because of the additional advantage of knowing Chinese and being able to recognise the Kanji. It also depends on the lessons you are taking – how intensive they are, and whether they are specifically for students to prepare for the JLPT exam.

Q: How was your experience taking the JLPT exam?

A: The JLPT exam is pretty important, especially if you are looking to study in Japan or work in a Japanese company. This certification is recognised internationally, and most companies would require at least JLPT N2 if they are looking for an employee who is proficient in the language. The exam is held every year in July and December and you can register for the exam with JCS. (I always did the registration with my friends so that we could sit together during the exam. :b)

I took the N4 exam at the end of Secondary 2, N3 in Secondary 3, N2 in Secondary 4 (bad idea – I barely passed, haha) and finally N1 at the end of JC. Most schools don’t follow the JLPT syllabus, but as you learn more of the language, there should be no problem taking the exam as most of the syllabus will overlap. Nevertheless, it’s important to try out the trial questions on the JLPT website to check if the level is suitable for you. There are also websites you can visit (I used this one: http://www.tanos.co.uk/jlpt/) to get a list of vocabulary and grammar that will be covered in for each level. It’s really useful – I had the list on my phone so I could study on the go. For the higher levels, it would be good to get some practice by buying or borrowing JLPT assessment books. Some libraries should have them; otherwise, I bought mine from Kinokuniya.

Q: Do you have some tips for studying Japanese?

A: Even though I’m really not a model student in anyway (my teachers probably hated me haha), I think being consistent in class is really important. This would definitely build up your foundation in the language and ensure that you remember what was taught. I never imagined in Sec 1 that I would continue studying Japanese all the way for 6 years, or even take the A levels and N1 exam. But it’s the consistent work you put in each time, bit by bit, that adds up to a whole lot of progress – sooner or later, as you look back, you’ll be amazed at how far you’ve come!

Other than that, I think the best way to improve in the language is to immerse yourself in the Japanese culture. (#wherelanguagemeetsculture hahaha) Whether it is looking up the lyrics of your favourite Japanese song, watching dramas or speaking Japanese with your friends, grab every opportunity to apply and practise what you have learnt! If possible, go for things like cultural events, immersion programmes, matsuris and so on. There are also volunteer programmes (you even get paid for some of them!) for you to act as tour guides for Japanese high school students who visit Singapore. Otherwise, you can make Japanese friends through social media too.

By the way, Bunka holds cultural events every 7 weeks, so do look out for them and go together with your classmates! It’s a really fun and affordable way to experience the Japanese culture, and get to know your classmates better too! The tickets run out really quickly because there are limited slots, so make sure to get your tickets early!

Also, I find this website (http://www3.nhk.or.jp/news/easy/) really useful! You can read news articles in simple Japanese here, with furigana too! For words that are more difficult, little textbooks explaining them appear when you mouse over them. It’s a good way to practise reading in Japanese, as well as pick up commonly used words, all while catching up on the news. If there are words you don’t understand, you can also look them up on online dictionaries like weblio (http://ejje.weblio.jp/), or even apps like imiwa (http://www.imiwaapp.com/) for iPhone users.

All in all, I think it’s important to know why you’re doing what you’re doing. It could be to understand your favourite shows, communicate with the locals while you’re in Japan, or have an edge in a Japanese company – whichever it is, find something that keeps you going! I like this quote from Stefan Michalak – “Your why is far more than just your core reason that drives you, it’s the foundation you need to build upon, the thing you’ll need to reflect on when things get hard and you feel like giving up.”

SkillsFuture Credit

Taiyou skills future AND BUNKA

Great news for all Singaporeans aged 25 and above! The SkillsFuture Credit, a $500 credit given to individuals to support them in taking control of their lifelong learning journey, will start in January 2016.

You will receive a letter soon informing you how to activate your account. Do be patient as there are 2.5 million Singaporeans but only one Singpost.

A few key points that you need to know about this SkillsFuture Credit:

SkillsFuture 3
Bunka has five courses claimable under the SkillsFuture Credit:

  1. Elementary 1
  2. Elementary 2
  3. Elementary 3
  4. Business Japanese
  5. Basic Business Japanese

If you are an Intermediate level or Pre-advanced student, we are trying to get the courses approved, but this is subjected to WDA / SkillsFuture’s approval. I will update again on this blog.

Three simple steps to follow if you want to utilise your credit:

SkillsFuture 2
There are two options in submitting your claim:
      a. 30 days before the course start date if you want to credit to Bunka OR
      b. 90 days after the course start date if you want to credit to your bank account.

If you are thinking of learning the Japanese language, do consider using the SkillsFuture Credit as a stepping stone. Mastering a language, like all other skills, takes time, discipline and hard work.

Bunka will provide you with a system to shorten your learning curve, a conducive environment to practise the language and most importantly, connect you with like-minded friends so that your learning journey will be fun and interesting.

Do not hesitate to contact our Admin team if you have any questions about the SkillsFuture Credit.

Joe Tan
The Bunka Team
29th December 2015

 

10 Reasons Why You Should Study Japanese

2015 is wrapping up in a few days’ time. We hope that you have enjoyed your lessons in Bunka so far. Language learning is a lifelong journey and interest plays a very important part in sustaining one’s motivation. There is a saying that if you understand your “whys”, the “hows” and “whats” will somehow fill the gap. Here is a list of 10 reasons why you should study Japanese :

1. Enter the world of JapXcitement
Knowing the language will help you access Japanese popular culture and traditions in their original form. Anime, Bunka, Cha-do, Drama, Zen… the list is non-exhaustive. You will be able to immerse yourself in the beauty and colour of all things Japanese.

2. Bilingual or Tri-lingual = an EDGE over others
Learning languages boosts your employability and is beneficial salary-wise. In the highly competitive job market, your additional skill of knowing Japanese sets you apart from other applicants.

3. Break the “hard to reach” Japanese market
Learning the Japanese language will allow you to delve deeper into understanding socio-cultural trends and business etiquette. This will help you greatly in your business dealings with the Japanese.

4. Experience Japan like a local
If you know the language and explore Japan own your own, your travel experience will be much more enjoyable and satisfying as you can communicate with the locals.

5. More than a Facebook friend
You study and interact with like-minded people in your class. Your social circle gets wider.

6. I’m not a frog in a well
Knowing other languages and cultures gives you the unique opportunity to broaden your mindset and perspective on life.

7. Go beyond language ability
Knowing one more language enhances your cognitive development in terms of mental flexibility, creativity and higher-order thinking skills to help you cope better in a fast-changing world.

8. It may benefit my parents / grandparents too
Learning Japanese language pushes your mental capacities to the limit. The constant brain stimulation helps to keep away degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia. You may want to encourage your parents / grandparents to learn Japanese too.

9. It’s not as hard as you think
The Japanese language has adopted Chinese ideographs in its kanji writing system. People who already know Chinese will find that learning Japanese can be much faster and simpler than they think.

10. Yatta! I did it!
Your hard work and discipline will pay off when you are able to understand and use Japanese as a communication tool. Give yourself a pat on the back and shout “やったぁ~!”.

Joe Tan
The Bunka Team
26th Dec 2015

5 secrets to learning the Japanese language


A common situation faced by Japanese language learners is that they often find themselves being able to read and write the language well, but when it comes to conversation, words don’t flow as easily as compared to understanding written Japanese. Why is this so?

The reason is that learners usually learn through reading and writing rather than listening and speaking. Once you are able to recognise and read the characters, you should try to listen and speak. Conversation should be a spontaneous activity; it should not be a case of you still trying to construct the sentence in your mind and keeping the other party waiting.

I shall share with you five of my secrets to learning the Japanese language.

1. Set realistic expectations

When you decide to learn Japanese, you probably imagine yourself being able to speak like a native Japanese. But learning Japanese is a journey, not a destination. If you imagine yourself speaking Japanese language like a native Japanese in just 3 months’ time, it’s impossible. Language learning is a long term process which takes a lot of commitment, discipline and hard work. Set realistic goals. Speak short practical phrases rather than trying to construct a long sentence. The conversation will be over by the time you have finished constructing the long sentence. Start with a few words, followed by short phrases, then progress to short sentences and finally long sentences.

2. Listen, listen, listen 

Imagine that you are a baby. All human beings spend two years as a baby just listening to what other people are talking before we start saying a few words. We need to get used to listening to the Japanese language before we can even pick up words and respond. Listen to the Japanese language on a daily basis. There are so many Japanese podcasts, dramas and songs available on the internet. There is no excuse for saying that you have no time to listen.

3. Interest, interest, interest

Just making up your mind to learn Japanese is not enough. You need a strong interest to motivate you to keep going. Be it Japanese culture, food, anime, cosplay, manga, J-pop, drama or travelling to Japan, make it what drives you. Keep the fire burning. First understand “why” you want to learn the language, then the “hows” and “whats” will fall in place. You will realise that this interest will play a big part for you in mastering the language.

4. Think in Japanese 

If you can speak a language, you are probably thinking in that particular language. So thinking in Japanese will help you to be able to speak Japanese. When you want to find out what time it is now, ask yourself : Ima nan ji? Take a look at your watch or a clock, and say “ah, shichi ji da”. (Ah.. it’s seven already). A conscious effort to think in Japanese will further improve your ability to articulate well in the language.

5. Speak, speak, speak 

Don’t feel shy trying to speak the language. Practice makes perfect. If you are learning the Japanese language but still feel shy to speak it, it won’t bring you anywhere. Don’t worry too much about offending people if you don’t speak the polite forms. It is okay. Would you mind if a native Japanese speaks to you in broken English? If you don’t mind, I am sure the native Japanese won’t mind you speaking broken Japanese to them. They will admire you for trying to speak the language to them.

In conclusion, once you have made up your mind to learn the Japanese language, make it fun, enjoy the journey, and keep going.

Joe Tan