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    Blog Posts - How To Learn Japanese

    Teaching English in Japan.

    Why would you want to?

    For people who have an interest in Japan, learning Japanese is a dream. But learning Japanese is hard. Truthfully, textbooks and typical courses don’t prepare you for learning to communicate in Japanese. One of the biggest points is that they push the “proper” or polite Japanese onto students. Not that that is too hard. You can do it, but it’ll take a lot of time! On top of that, it’s not necessary and not very natural. That’s why there is a slight mixture of polite and casual language in the Japanese lessons at

    Returning to the motherland

    Anytime you talk to someone who speaks a second (or more) language fluently, they inevitably say, “You have to live there.” While that isn’t easy or even possible in many countries, it is very possible and downright easy in Japan. But, not all is a walk in a rose garden. So I’ll break down the three main options, giving the good and the bad points of each. I briefly introduced them in my last post, so if you haven’t read that yet, please take a look before you continue here. I don’t want to make this too long.

    the JET program

    This is the government program and perhaps the easiest to get into. It was once the only way to actually get into teaching in the public school system. In the past few years, the number of JET teachers has dropped though.

    A JET teacher usually gets sent to elementary schools, so if that’s your thing, it might be a good choice.

    The program also supplies you with an apartment (furnished) and a rather kind salary. The contracts are for one year and usually people can renew for up to 6 years.

    The downsides

    The jets that I have known work in a large number of schools. The bad side is that you’re never there enough to get to know the kids or make a difference. You’re kind of like a guest or special speaker.

    Another thing is that because the program has fallen out of favor with local boards of education, jets are mostly put out into the countryside. But appointments are up to individual boards of education. So there is a chance to be somewhere a little closer to a big city.


    Probably in the 80’s or 90’s when Japan’s economy was skyrocketing, an industry popped up. Japanese people have been studying English in school for decades, but to no avail. (I’ll write about that in another blog.) So, people began to study privately. And they paid big bucks to do it too!

    Basically, there are advertised as a foreign experience. Ryu gaku, which means to study abroad, is how these are billed. These private schools bring young English speakers over and teach conversational English to people willing to spend a lot of money.

    The upsides

    If you want to stay only for a year or two, these schools are a good way to start out. The pay is the minimum allowed in order to qualify for a visa.

    The work is easy (sometimes long though). No study or certification is necessary. In fact, I started teaching on my first day of training! There is paid vacation and paid sick days (not all that common in Japan). People who want to travel around Japan and hop over to other Asian countries find this type of job to be convenient.

    The Downsides

    These companies, big or small, are private businesses and many of them started out because it was easy to make a lot of money without putting in any effort. If you are serious about teaching, this probably isn’t for you. It’s like a dietician working at a fast food restaurant. And the lessons are monotonous!

    While pay is ok, keep in mind, you’ll never be treated that well or even as a professional. Basically, you’re there to entertain people who have money to burn. Some students are more serious, others just do it for something interesting to do.

    Health insurance is not given. Some places offer a sort of accident insurance that pays if you get sick or have an accident. Actually, they are not legal, but they are still used.

    ALT jobs

    ALT stands for assistant language teacher. This is the job that I currently do. It’s an opportunity for native English speakers to teach in the Japanese public school system, usually in junior high.

    The Upsides

    It’s the chance to see the real Japan. You meet a lot of people who have nothing to do with the ESL interest group. You meet a lot of children and see the basis for a lot of the culture. You get public holidays off and a long summer and winter vacation.

    The pay isn’t bad, but it’s the lowest of all the available jobs. You are offered cheap insurance (which isn’t actually legal in Japan, but it works). The hours are probably the shortest out of all the jobs.

    With an ALT job, you have a lot of time to travel and opportunity to get to know about real Japanese culture.

    The Downside

    The downsides of this job depends on your feelings about things. Despite Japan’s spending huge amounts of money on English education, they’re not very serious about getting students to the point where they can actually speak!

    Working with kids isn’t for the feint of heart, or at least those who don’t like kids. Especially if you teach junior high. There are more discipline problems than the Japanese stereotype would lead you to believe.

    Many schools in Japan don’t have heating or air conditioning (depending where in the country it is.) so if you’re succeptible to humid weather or freezing temperature, it might not be a fun experience.


    To be honest, all jobs are good for getting you here. That being said, none of them are fulfilling. There are other jobs here, but the ones that I outlined are the ones for people coming for the first time. The others require more experience.

    its important to know that in any of these jobs, you will not be treated fairly by the company that you work for. The owners and managers are often unethical and or incompetent. Yes, harsh, but I wish I had known that before I had come.

    But, once you are here and get to know your way around, you can make choices that are best for you. Many people put up with it and just use it to earn money so they can easily and cheaply travel to mainland Asia and around Japan.

    so, if you are interested in living in Japan or Asia in general, you can find a job pretty easily.

    What to do when you can’t understand.

    When Japanese people learn English, they are taught to say, “Could you repeat that please?” or “Could you speak more slowly, please?” Consequently, when we learn Japanese, we are taught to say the same kind of things. Sounds like a good idea, but there’s just one problem: it doesn’t work.

    It’s just not natural

    If you think about it, when you are talking to your friends, if someone says someone that you didn’t quite catch or could understand, you don’t use those phrases. Japanese people don’t use those phrases either. Furthermore, Japanese people aren’t used to talking with non Japanese people so when someone can’t understand they often don’t know how to react. So when you ask someone to repeat something or to speak more slowly, it often has the opposite effect. It stops the conversation.

    What to say

    There is a way in Japanese to indicate a quote. It’s a glottal stop in front of the syllable, TE (て) (pronounced teh) Because it’s a glottal stop, you hold back your breath before pronouncing the “T”. It kind of explodes, but don’t do it too strongly. You don’t want to spit on anyone!

    The structure

    This way of quoting is written like this; って. The small つ (TSU) indicates a doubling of the consonant that follows.  The pronunciation changes to a glottal stop. The word or phrase in question comes first and the って comes last.  It’s kind of like saying, ” ____ you said?”


    Here is a simple conversation.

    Daisuke: さば は すき です か?(approximate pronunciation) Saba (WA) ski dess kaw?

    Do you like makeral?

    John: さば って?saba tteh

    You said, “Saba”?

    Daisuke: はい、魚です。(approximate pronunciation) hai saw kaw naw dess

    Yes, it’s a fish.


    Of course the conversation would go on but John could quickly, naturally and easily get at least some idea of what Daisuke was talking about.

    Where the rubber meets the road

    So learning those phrases aren’t a bad thing, but most of the time they will not bring about the desired result, even when talking with your Japanese friends. As I listened to Japanese people talk to each other, I picked up on this gem, and it has helped me ever since.

    Particles (a brief explanation)

    A Simple Explanation
    (Video) Particle Explanation

    は (HA) (pronounced WA) is the topic marker. It tells you what the sentence is about. There is no English equivalent.

    私 は(topic) アメリカ 人 です。 Watashi WA amerika jeen dess. (I am an American.)[literally: I America person is.)

    が (GA) is the subject marker. It tells you which noun performs the verb. (However, subjects in Japanese do not behave the same way as they do in English. It is not always evident what the subject is doing.)

    赤 が 好き です。Awe kaw GA ski dess (I like red.) [literally: red like is]

    を (WO) (pronounced O) is the direct object marker. It shows you which noun is acted on by the verb. (Again, objects and verbs do not always behave the same way as they do in English.)

    英語 を 勉強する。ey go O benkyo soo ru (I study English.)[literal: English study)

    に (NI) (pronounced NEE) performs similar to the prepositions ‘at’, ‘to’ and ‘for’.

    彼 に 上げて 下さい。kaw ray NI awe get ay koo duh sai. (Please give it to him.) [literal: Him to give please.]

    へ (HE) (pronounced E) indicates direction like the preposition, to.

    大阪 へ 行く oh saw kaw EH ee koo (go to Osaka) [literal: Osaka to go]

    で (DE) indicates where an action takes place. Performs similar to the prepositions ‘at’ and ‘in’.

    列車 内 で resh shaw nai day (On the train) [literal: train inside in]

    の (NO) is the possessive marker. (I + possessive marker = My)

    私の 犬 watashi no eenu (my dog)

    と (TO) (pronounced like TOW) There are 4 different と’s. The two most common ones mean ‘and’ and ‘with’.

    彼 と 一緒 に 行くkaw ray toe ish show NI ee koo (I will go with him.)[literal: he with together to go]

    か (KA) is the question marker. It comes at the end of a question. Traditional Japanese doesn’t use a question mark.

    いい です か。ee dess kaw (is it ok?) [literal: good is ?]

    よ (YO) is a particle used for emphasis. It comes at the end of a sentence.

    いい です よ。 ee dess yo (it’s good/that’ll be good)[literal: good is]

    ね (NE) is another end of sentence particle. It elicits a response from the listener. It’s like saying, “Right?” or, “Don’t you think so?” at the end of a sentence. Feminine speech has more frequent use of ね, which doesn’t require a response from the listener, but is more of a style of speaking.

    美味しい です ね。oi shee dess nay (it’s delicious, isn’t it?) [literal: delicious is)

    Lesson Order

    Level 1

    Free lesson
    Introduction to Japanese I
    Introduction to Japanese II
    Introduction to Japanese III
    Introduction to Japanese IV

    Level 2

    Pre lesson Ultimate Beginner’s Lesson Part
    Ultimate Beginner’s Lesson Part 1
    Pre lesson Ultimate Beginner’s Lesson Part 1& 2
    Pre lesson Ultimate Beginner’s Lesson Part 2
    Ultimate Beginner’s Lesson Part 2
    Pre lesson 1 Common greetings
    Pre lesson 2 Common Greetings
    Common Greetings
    Pre lesson Compliments 1
    Compliments 1
    Pre lesson Compliments 2
    Pre lesson 1&2 Compliments
    Compliments 2
    Pre lesson Survival Phrases 1
    Survival Phrases 1
    Pre lesson Survival Phrases 2
    Survival Phrases
    Pre lesson 1 Getting Acquainted
    Pre lesson 2 Getting Acquainted
    Pre lesson 3 Getting Acquainted
    Getting Acquainted
    Pre lesson 1 How Do You Feel?
    Pre lesson 2 How Do You Feel?
    Grammar I – To be and to do. Part 1
    Grammar I – To be and to do. Part 2
    Grammar II – To be and to do. Part 1
    Grammar II- To be and to do. Part 2
    Grammar III Par 1
    Grammar III Part 2
    Ordinal numbers
    Counting to 1,000
    Counting to a million

    Level 3

    Pre lesson 1 Talking About Travel
    Pre lesson 2 Talking About Travel
    Talking About Travel
    Pre Lesson 1 Asking Directions
    Pre lesson 2 Asking Directions
    Asking Directions
    Pre lesson Where part I
    Where part I
    Pre lesson Where part II
    Pre lesson Where parts I&II
    Where part II
    Pre lesson Learning Japanese in Japanese
    Learning Japanese in Japanese I
    Learning Japanese in Japanese II
    Pre lesson Travel Advice I
    Travel Advice I
    Pre lesson Travel Advice II
    Pre lesson Travel Advice I&II
    Travel Advice II
    Pre lesson Things in My Past I
    Things in My Past I
    Pre lesson Things in My past II
    Pre lesson Things in My Past I&II
    Things in My Past II
    Pre lesson Things in My Present I
    Things in My Present I
    Pre lesson Things in My Present II
    Pre lesson Things in My Present I&II
    Things in My Present II
    Pre lesson Things in My Future I
    Things in My Future I
    Pre lesson Things in My Future II
    Pre lesson Things in My Future I&II
    Things in My Future II
    Pre lesson Eating and Drinking
    Eating and Drinking
    Pre lesson Avoiding Travel Danger I
    Avoiding Travel Danger I
    Pre lesson Avoiding Travel Danger II
    Pre lesson Avoiding Travel Danger I&II
    Avoiding Travel Danger II
    Pre lesson Me and Transition words I
    Me and Transition Words I
    Pre lesson Me and Transition Words II
    Pre lesson Me and Transition Words I&II
    Me and Transition Words II
    Pre lesson Up Down More and Less I
    Up Down More and Less I
    Pre lesson Up Down More and Less II
    Pre lesson Up Down More and Less I&II
    Up Down More and Less II

    Level 4

    Pre lesson Family and Relatives I
    Family and Relatives I
    Pre lesson Family and Relatives II
    Pre lesson Family and Relatives I&II
    Family and Relatives II
    Days of the Week
    What Do You Do? Detailed
    Pre lesson Going to the Grocery Store I
    Going to the Grocery Store I
    Pre lesson Going to the Grocery Store II
    Pre lesson Going to the Grocery Store I&II
    Going to the Grocery Store II
    Pre lesson Making Plans With Friends I
    Making Plans With Friends I
    Pre lesson Making Plans With Friends II
    Pre lesson Making Plans With Friends I & II
    Making Plans With Friends
    Pre lesson In the Kitchen I
    In the Kitchen I
    Pre lesson In the Kitchen II
    Pre lesson In the Kitchen I & II
    In the Kitchen II
    Pre lesson 1 Eating at Home
    Pre lesson 2 Eating at Home
    Eating at Home
    Pre lesson Emergencies
    Pre lesson Shopping I
    Shopping I
    Pre lesson Shopping II
    Shopping II
    Pre lesson Shopping III
    Shopping III
    Pre lesson The Weather
    The Weather
    Months and Seasons I
    Months and Seasons II
    Pre lesson Sleep and Rest
    Sleep and Rest
    Pre lesson At the Restaurant I
    At the Restaurant I
    Pre lesson At the Restaurant II
    Pre lesson At the Restaurant II
    Pre lesson Dreams

    Level 5

    Dating I
    Dating II
    Marriage I
    Marriage II
    Divorce I
    Divorce II
    Pregnancy I
    Pregnancy II
    Babies I
    Babies II
    Children I
    Children II
    Pre lesson Talking With Travelers
    Talking With Travelers
    Pre lesson Reservations I
    Reservations I
    Reservations II
    Pre lesson Tickets I
    Tickets I
    Tickets II
    Pre lesson Planes I
    Planes I
    Planes II
    Pre lesson Buses Metros and Trains I
    Buses Metros and Trains I
    Buses Metros and Trains II
    Renting a car I
    Renting a car II
    Pre lesson Where to Stay I
    Where to Stay I
    Where to Stay II
    Pre lesson Buying food I
    Buying Food I
    Buying Food II
    Assignments and Due Dates 1
    Assignments and Due Dates II
    Using the Library
    Elections I
    Elections II
    Government Holidays
    Pre lesson Money

    Level 6

    Laws and Ordinances
    Contracts I
    Contracts II
    Basic Math
    Math II
    Pre lesson Studies I
    Studies I
    Pre lesson Studies II
    Studies II
    Chemistry/Physics I
    Chemistry/Physics I
    Using computers I
    Using Computers II
    Reading and Writing I
    Reading and Writing II
    History I
    History II
    Movies and TV I
    Movies and TV II
    Fine Arts
    Symptoms I
    Symptoms II
    Doctor Visits I
    Doctor Visits II
    Pharmacy and Medicines
    Payment and Insurance
    Hospitals I
    Hospitals II
    Procedures I
    Procedures II
    Results I
    Results II
    Giving Birth I
    Giving Birth II
    Dying I
    Dying II
    Fine Dining
    Asking About Recipes I
    Asking about Recipes II
    Shopping for Ingredients I
    Shopping for Ingredients II
    In the Kitchen III
    Adding Spice I
    Adding Spice II
    Specialty Items I
    Specialty Items II
    Inviting a Friend to Dinner
    Making Reservations

    Japanese Particles


    In English, word order of a sentence is very important. Not just the basic subject, verb, object order, but also things like prepositional phrases. For example:

    I saw the lady on the train.

    On the train, I saw the lady.

    It’s not an important point for the story, perhaps, but it does change whether I was on the train or not.

    In Japanese, such differences do not exist. Things like who did what and where, are signified by grammar called particles. Of course Japanese has a typical word order. One does not just put a subject wherever one pleases. But the point is that even if you do, the sentence will be understandable.

    For new learners of Japanese, it can be quite a daunting or confusing task. It takes some time not only to get used to speaking that way, but also to understand how they are used. To make matters worse, the explanations that one often comes across are rarely helpful. This isn’t because they are bad explanations, to the contrary, most of them are rather good. But trying to explain the grammar rules of one language, in a different language, well, loses something in the translation. No one explanation ever helps you get a clear picture of what is going on. The answer? Practice.

    N’est-ce pas?

    When I studied French in high school, the masculine and feminine forms of everything was overwhelming. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. One day my teacher said to the class, “You just lean it (le or la) as part of the word. French people don’t think, “Oh, table… let’s see… it’s feminine, so it would be la table!” You just learn it as a set.

    Learning to speak Japanese is the same way. When you say, “Watashi ha (WA)” it means that you are taking about yourself. That’s it. There is no need to think any further. Of course reading various explanations can speed up your learning of grammar points. Just don’t rely on them to solve all the problems.

    Knowing is half the battle.

    One of the particles that I learned (WO) I thought I had understood perfectly. It is the direct object marker. After all, English has direct objects. But an important point to note is that verbs in Japanese do not behave the same way as they do in English. The sentence that confounded me? “When the bus comes to a complete stop, stand the seat.” (Rough translation) the noun “seat” was marked as the direct object. How on earth do you stand a seat? Of course I knew what the announcement meant, but even to this day, that particular use of the direct object is strange to me.

    Be done!

    In Japanese, verbs often become passive. It’s very natural and has a very different nuance than it has in English. If you see something that has been translated from English to Japanese, you are likely to see a passive English sentence. Another perplexing example of English and Japanese differences that I learned was when I tried to explain that I had heard something. In English we have:

    I heard something.

    Normal, right? Not in Japanese. If you directly translate the sentence from Japanese you get:

    A sound was heard.

    Sound is the subject so your Japanese sentence is おと(sound) が(subject marker) 聞こえた(could be heard)。 Approximate pronunciation (owe tow GA kee ko ay tah) or, “A sound was hearable.” “Sound” is marked as the subject because of its relation to the verb. In English we would consider it the object because it received an action by the speaker, who would be the subject. Yeah, it can be that different.

    So, what do I do?

    So the idea is that practice is best. It takes time. Read as much as you can about and see as many examples as you can. Each will help you a little further toward understanding. Remember, there is no magic answer that will suddenly bring you to a perfect knowledge of the subject. Patience pays off and is a lot less stressful.

    Why we don’t use the alphabet to teach you Japanese words

    Why no use of the alphabet for Japanese words (romanization)

    When studying a new language it’s always fun to learn those first few words. It feels exciting and adventurous. However, as the phrases grow so too grows the difficulty in remembering. By far, however, the most difficult part has to be learning to read.

    English speakers are actually pretty lucky. Many of the major languages use the same alphabet as English or something that looks similar. Of course there are different letters and symbols, but the familiarity helps put us at ease. However, when learning an eastern language, we are not so lucky.

    Learning to speak is as old as people and learning to speak a second language is probably almost as old. So many countries have come up with a “sounding system” to represent words for people who are learning to speak their language. The romanized Japanese words are called romaji.

    Side Effects

    Romaji gives the closest representation using the English alphabet for the pronunciation of Japanese words. This system kind of helps the new learner to wrap their head around what it is that they are trying to say. It puts us at ease. But unfortunately it does another thing; it gets our brain to give us the wrong information. Because our native language is so ingrained in our minds, when we hear these new sounds, they are automatically associated with what we know. That’s why it is so difficult to hear all of the different sounds and subtle nuances of a new language. Using the English alphabet to learn Japanese only serves to solidify that reliance on what we already know.

    Starting off by learning the basic sounds and the basic writing of Japanese will help you start off in the right direction. That may be an uncomfortable way to go about things for some people, but that is how we learned our first language. It will also help us to learn things without having to first try to understand it in English. It will also give us the chance to make mistakes as little children do!

    Gay Cheese

    One of the hardest things about learning Japanese is hearing all of the little syllables that seem so quickly strung together. I still sometimes miss one or two. But in the beginning, I missed a lot! I was talking to a friend of mine and I was telling him about missing having real cheese. (Japanese people still aren’t big fans of cheese.) The word for “real” is one syllable different than the word for homosexual. My friend kept looking at me strangely. He finally asked me what on earth I was talking about. I used a different word for “real” and then he finally understood! I’m sure he was relieved that I wasn’t trying to strike up a conversation about homosexual cheese.

    Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride

    So in learning Japanese (or any other new language) you are going to have a rough time at first. You’re going to make mistakes. However, those mistakes will also be some of your greatest teaching points. They also make great stories!

    As you go through the Japanese lessons, you will notice that the real Japanese words appear and not words written using the English alphabet. This may be a little overwhelming at first. At, it’s not our intent to teach you how to read. Nor is it our intent to teach you with through written language. The learning comes through the hearing, repeating and timed practice. All of us learned our primary language by listening and repeating. So that feeling of “wow, this is hard” will only be at first. You’ll become accustomed to it. The learning will come from practice. Your brain will begin listening to and remembering the words and phrases. Then you will begin to
    have fun with learning.

    Classifiers (how to count things)

    Classifiers or Counters


    In Japanese, they use a type of grammar word called a counter or classifier. This way of speaking exists in many eastern Asian languages.


    In English and many other languages, there are ways to indicate plural. For example, one person two people. In Japanese, that’s not the case. Whether you have one or a hundred, the word never changes. In fact, some people I’ve met think its strange to have to refer to plurals of things.


    So in Japanese, you don’t usually have to worry about referring to how much or how many of something there is. But when you do, there are specific counting systems for different groups of items.


    First, there is a general counting system. This can be used to count anything and it’s the one that I use the most!


    一つ hee tote sue


    二つ foo tawt sue


    三つ meet sue


    四つ yote sue


    五つ eat soot sue


    六つ moots sue


    七つ naw nawt sue


    八つ yawts sue


    九つ ko ko note sue


    と tow


    This system of counting stops at 10.


    The counters


    The three most common you will encounter are for thin objects, 枚 (my); for long slender objects such as pens, pencils and bottles, 本 (hone); and for small objects, 個 (ko).


    一本 (ee pone)


    二本 (nee hone)


    三本 (sawm bone)




    一枚 (ee chee my)


    二枚 (nee my)


    三枚 (sawm my)




    一個 (eek ko)



    二個 (nee ko)



    三個 (sawn ko)


    There are many counters for objects, so much so that even Japanese people don’t even know them all. Not to worry though. The ones contained in the counter lessons and ones you can find on the internet are all you need.


    The one thing to be careful of is the pronunciation. Some of the counters change depending on what number they are with. For example, 本 (hone) becomes (pone) when put with 1 and (bone) when it’s put with 3.


    When counting or stating how many of something, the object comes first, then the counter.


    ペン三本 (pen sawm bone) This means: 3 pens


    紙一枚 (kaw mee ee chee mai) This means: one piece of paper






    Another counter that you will be likely to use is the one for people. For one and two people, it has an irregular form. After that, it’s pretty easy.


    一人 (he toe ree)


    二人 (foo taw ree)


    三人 (sawn neen)


    四人 (yo neen)