New font incorporates English pronunciations into Japanese katakana

Dramafever:

A U.K. company named Johnson Banks has come with an ingenious way to include English pronunciation in Japanese katakana characters. The company has dubbed this new font cleverly as “Phonetikana,” where each katakana character featured a few English letters to help English speakers say the word properly.

The company started incorporating the new font in simple words like “banana” and “tomato” but also showed what longer phrases such as the “sound of something spinning” would look like. The first simple example that company showed is the katakana characters for Uniqlo versus the new Phonetikana.

It’s a really brilliant idea, and I’m sure it will be incredibly helpful for so many people who are trying to learn Japanese.

The name Michael

Uniqlo 

Uniqlo in Phonetikana

Niko Niko=smile

 ˜Doki Doki =the sound of my heart beating

Kuru Kuru=˜sound of something spinning

Cheese=Group Photo

Tomato=tomato

Toppu banana=top banana

Biggu Appuru=big apple

Study reveals Chinese speakers use more of their brain than English speakers

gaokao-prep.jpg

Shanghaiist:

A study has found that people who speak tonal languages such as Mandarin or Cantonese use both hemispheres of their brain rather than just the left hemisphere, which researchers have long emphasized as being the primary processing center for languages.

Quartz sorts out the report, which was recently published in the in the Proceedings for the National Academy of Science:

After analyzing brain imaging data from Mandarin and English speakers listening their respective languages, researchers from Peking University and other universities found that native Mandarin speakers and native English speakers both showed evidence of activity in the brain’s left hemisphere. But Mandarin speakers also saw activation in the right hemisphere, specifically in a region important for processing music, via pitch and tone, that has long been seen as largely unrelated to language comprehension.

Since at least the 1950s, researchers in the field of neurolinguistics have been questioning how languages influence perception, and physiological behavior. This latest study supports one emerging theory, connectionism, that maintains that some languages require interactions across the entire brain. The findings are important for better protecting language-related regions during brain surgery as well as understanding the “constitution of knowledge of language, as well as how it is acquired,” according to the study.

languages-brain.jpg

It can be reasonably concluded then that all native speakers of tonal languages, including Vietnamese, Cantonese and Thai, use more of their brain than non-tonal language speakers, Gang Peng, a co-author of the study, told Quartz. Bonus: these speakers are more likely to have perfect pitch.

Struggling with Japanese? Let Tako lend you a hand… or tentacle.

RocketNews 24:

Yes, I know octopi have eight tentacles not six, but Tako of Takos Japanese has five. It’s the same cartoon logic that makes the Simpson family all have eight fingers. And yes, I know the name should probably read “Tako’s Japanese.” Really though, let’s not get bogged down in talk of appendages and apostrophes right now.

Today we’re here to look at a new Japanese study app released by Spain-based Giant Soul Interactive. A lot of Japanese study apps found online are either fun but limited in content or deep but boring and stodgy. Learn Japanese with Tako (recently changed from “Takos Japanese”) aims to strike a happy balance of a fun way to learn the language that’s also rich in content. Let’s find out if they succeed.

■ Brings the cute

In Learn Japanese with Tako you assume the role of the titular Tako, a young octopus studying the ways of reading and writing Japanese. You are aided by a wise old octopus in the ways of properly writing in the three language sets hiragana, katakana, and kanji.

The animated menus and practice areas are all brightly colored and downright cute, which really goes a long way to help you forget that you’re essentially doing handwriting and reading drills. More than just an added frill, the entertaining style of it helps keep you focused on the task at hand.

■ Handwriting Practice

It starts by teaching the hiragana alphabet and uses Latin characters as references. First, Sensei demonstrates the proper stroke order and direction of the characters on a white board which you can follow along.

A common weakness of these kinds of apps is in the handwriting recognition. In an old kanji study app I would sometimes have to write something as simple as the number “2” 20 times before it could register as anything other than “N.” Learn Japanese with Tako, however, seems to understand our handwriting with a good degree of leniency.

It’s not too loose though. I got marked down as not learning my あs (Japanese equivalent of the letter “A”) because my loop at the bottom right was hanging a little too low and it pissed-off Sensei octopus. However, rather than the confusing mess of the “2=N” fiasco, this app let me understand what it was about my あ that led to the problem and allowed me to correct it accordingly. As a result I’d like to think my handwriting is now just a little bit prettier.

■ Mini-Games

After learning the basic writing and reading of the characters you are given a mini-game to review. They all focus on memorizing the characters in different ways. For example, my weak point has always been remembering the correct pronunciation of kanji despite knowing the meanings. This means I’d benefit from the Izakaya mini-game the most.

In this game we have to serve the various sea creatures their order label in kanji as they call out for them phonetically. Like all the games it’s timed which adds a good level of challenge and pressure. There’s also a whack-a-mole game requiring even faster matching of character and pronunciations. Even more advanced students of Japanese might find themselves scrambling with basic words on this one.

Other games include an arcade machine where you have to memorize the order of flashing kanji with their English meanings. There’s also a baseball game which requires speedy handwriting skills. They’re all pretty fun and simple games that you can play whenever you have a minute or two.

■ Room for more

Learn Japanese with Tako starts with hiragana then moves into katakana and beginner kanji. As of this writing it offered up to the Japanese Language Proficiency Test N5 level but they plan to roll out N4 in the coming months. That should be more than enough content for those just starting out learning the language but for people further along it only serves as a nice brush-up program for the moment.

Also, although the games are fun and well designed, it remains to be seen what replay value they have, especially for people just starting out. Learning Japanese can be a long haul and the games will have to be addictive enough to sustain that journey. To address this concern, Giant Soul say there are currently working on expanding the types of mini-games based on user-feedback.

Overall though, Takos Japanese is a very well designed study app both in terms of presentation and educational value, and it has a solid, sleek interface. Another great feature is that in addition to English,the app is available in Spanish, Korean, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German.

▼ Why not switch the language setting and learn two languages at once!

For anyone starting out in Japanese it would be a great tool well worth its 400-yen (US$3.40) asking price the Japanese app store (prices may vary according to region). For those further along, you might want to wait until if they add the higher level kanji. Hopefully they can soon!

Takos Japanese is available from

iTunes
Google Play
Amazon

The science behind why English speakers can’t pronounce the Japanese “fu”

fu-man

Learning a foreign language is hard. Even if you master all the vocabulary and grammar, there’s still no guarantee that you’ll ever achieve a native-like accent. For Japanese learners of English, differentiating between the “l” and “r” sounds and pronouncing the “th” sound correctly can be tricky them no matter how many years they’ve been practicing.

But have you ever wondered what it’s like the other way around? What sounds do we English speakers make that sound strange when we speak Japanese? Well it turns out the sound that we mess up the most is one you might not have expected: “fu”.

Now you might be thinking: The “fu” sound? What’s so hard about that? I pronounce it fine all the time. Like when I slept on a futon at Mt. Fuji in fuyu (winter) and woke up feeling futsukayoi (hungover).

Well if you’re pronouncing those words with an “f” sound like we have in English, thenyou’re actually saying them all wrong. To find out the reason why, we have to have a quick linguistics lesson.

▼ Yes there will be a test. No you haven’t studied. You haven’t even shown up to class all semester. Also you’re in your underwear and falling from a skyscraper.

teacher

The English “f” sound is, in phonetic terms, a “voiceless labiodental fricative.” Don’t worry, by the end of this article you’ll be a master of that phrase and more and will totally impress all of your friends, I swear.

Basically what that long phrase means is, the “f” sound, like most sounds humans can make, has three components that come together to make it up. First, it’s “voiceless.”That means it doesn’t vibrate your vocal cords when you say it. To feel what a “voicedlabiodental fricative” feels like, hold your fingers to your throat and make the “v” sound. You should feel a lot of vibration, but nothing when you make the “f” sound.

Second, it’s a “labiodental.” That means it’s pronounced using your lips (labio) andteeth (dental). There’s a bunch of different places sounds can be made: your lips (“p”), your teeth (“t”), at different points on your tongue (“l”), in your throat (“h”), or a combination of them.

Lastly, it’s a “fricative.” This means the sound is made by the “friction” of air coming through a gap, in this case the small opening between your lips and teeth. Some other fricatives are the “s” sound, a fricative between your teeth, and the “th” sound, a fricative between your teeth and tongue.

Putting it all together, we now know that the English “f” sound is a “voiceless labiodental fricative,” meaning your vocal cords don’t vibrate, it’s pronounced using your lips and teeth, and by pushing air through the gap they make.

the more you know

So what does this have to do with Japanese pronunciation? Well now we have thetools to clearly see where the pronunciation has gone wrong. The English “f” may be a “voiceless labiodental fricative” but the Japanese “f” is a “voiceless bilabial fricative” – one component different.

Since the Japanese “f” is a “bilabial” instead of a “labiodental,” that means it’s pronounced using both your lips, no teeth necessary. Instead of touching your teeth to your lip and spitting out air like you just slammed your finger with a hammer, instead bring your lips together like you’re blowing out a candle (no need to stick them out like you’re kissing), then try to say “fu” without moving your lips or teeth or anything at all.

▼ I’m learning Japanese!

Mike Sherin's 80th Birthday

If you did it correctly, then you should have made a beautiful “fu” sound. If you’re still having trouble though, then let the knowledgeable Sayuri-san guide you to enlightenment.

If you’ve seen a Japanese syllabary chart like one below, you may well have noticed that ha, hi, he, and ho are all written with an “h”. Weirdly, though, only “fu” – despite being in the same column as the characters beginning with “h” – is written with an “f” when Roman characters are used.

Screen Shot 2015-01-02 at 11.25.53 PM

Weird, right? So if the Japanese “f” sound is different from the English “f” sound, why do we even use the letter “f” to write it in the first place? Well the answer is: because it’s close enough. It could be written with the letter “h” too (a “voiceless glottal fricative” – only one component different just like “f”), and sometimes it is. Just be thankful it’s not written with the technically correct International Phonetic Alphabet symbol: ɸ. You’d have to copy/paste that badboy into your textbox every time you want to write about how you ate fugu (blowfish) and feel perfectly futsuu (normal).

▼ You also might inadvertently open a gate to Phyrexia if you use that symbol, so stick with the “f.”

phyrexia

Since the Japanese “voiceless bilabial fricative” (see, I told you that you’d get these by the end!) is actually quite rare among languages, the “f” pronunciation problem unfortunately goes both ways – it hinders Japanese speakers trying to learn English too, and so “f” can come out sounding more like “h”, leading to mix-ups between words like “food” and “hood,” “furry” and “hurry,” or the ever-dangerous “heart and “fart.”

Of course, in the end, perfect pronunciation isn’t what’s important about speaking a language. It’s about having a solid vocabulary, a good grasp of the grammar, cultural knowledge, and most importantly the confidence to actually speak, even if you have a horribly broken accent.

Is an entirely English-speaking village coming to Tokyo?

english village 1

RocketNews 24:

What is the best way to learn a language? Many foreign people in Japan will tell you living here and being immersed in Japanese is a pretty good way to pick up the lingo. When you realize you have to be able to speak and understand the language in order to live your daily life, it certainly becomes a huge motivation to make the Japanese language your own.

Do you know what isn’t a particularly good method of learning a language? Four classes a week of language learning taught in your native language with little to no chances to utilize what you’ve learned.

As the whole world knows, the Olympic Games will be held in Tokyo in 2020, and Tokyo wants to be as prepared as possible. The city is trying to do everything it can to improve its citizens’ grasp of English, and there is now talk of plans to create an “English Village” where everything will be conducted in the language so many Japanese wish they were fluent in.

Total English immersion. Foreign English teachers in public schools have been begging to hear those words for years. Many happy polyglots will tell you that it’s an excellent way to learn any language.

In preparation for the Olympics, Tokyo announced some of the “Long Term Visions” for English in preparation for the 2020 Games, and through 2024. This plan is geared to help Tokyo become the “best city in the world.” Besides encouraging and supporting students to take part in foreign exchange programs and helping Japanese people be better English teachers, they also want to give elementary, junior high and high school students the chance to spend time in an “English Village” where the only language of communication allowed is English.

▼“English Village” it appears, is the temporary name. 

english village 2

This isn’t a weekend trip to fun English land, this will be a fully functional town that will use English as its official language. It’s bound to be tough to pull off, but it takes big ideas and motivation to make it to the top. Some of the features of the village are to have restaurants, shops and sports centers; typical buildings that can be found in any city. The staff would be foreigners who have the support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency and also the JET Programme, which already assists in bringing thousands of English speakers to Japan each and every year. The details of the plan will be finalized within the next three years with plans to open it to every citizen also in the plans.

Learning a language isn’t difficult but it does require time and effort! Here’s hoping this unusual plan is a success, and that the village will be open to not just Japan’s most privileged language learners.