Learning hiragana and katakana

The basic syllabaries of Japanese are hiragana and katakana. It also seems to be one of the big stumbling blocks to learning Japanese. There are electronic and physical flashcards, workbooks, and apps for learning the characters from each.

The last time I started learning hiragana, I had flashcards and was doing rote memorization. It was hard, and I did not really retain much.

This time around, I’m focusing on remembering the characters through words. If I can learn and use them in vocabulary at the same time, I think I can remember them better.

dollhouse secrets has a great blog post on worksheets and posters from Japan. What I like about these is that there are examples of a word for each character. Nifty also has similar sheets for writing practice. I like these because the font is what the character would look like when written rather than printed. I’m relying on both these worksheets to learn hiragana and katakana. I think it’s sticking better this time around.

I’ll probably take few weeks to learn hiragana and katakana. Then I’m planning on working through NHK Easy Japanese before moving on to textbook work.


Re-start learning Japanese

I’ve decided to start learning Japanese, again. The last time I learned Japanese, I didn’t get really far. I don’t think I even memorized all the hiragana. And maybe I only got through one chapter of a textbook?

I suppose it’s a bit like starting from scratch, but not really. I have some ideas of what did not work last time, so I’ll be finding new ways to learn so it sticks. Let’s see how far it get this time!

Foreign language exam results and ability

I’ve been curious lately about the meaning of the results from foreign language exams. I used the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) as the main rubric and found the equivalent levels given by the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages), and for the following exams: TOEFL iBT (Test of English as a Foreign Language internet-based Test); TOCFL (Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language); and JLPT (Japanese Language Proficiency Test). The CEFR and ACTFL are two proficiency guidelines.




TOCFL level3

JLPT level4


Novice (high)



Intermediate (low, med)

Level 2



Intermediate (mid, high)


Level 3



Intermediate (high), Advanced (med)


Level 4



Advanced (mid, high)


Level 5




1Centro de Lenguas Modernas (UGR), Formación y Gestión de Granada – CEFR, ACTFL comparison.
2TOEFL: For Academic Institutions: Compare Scores – TOEFL iBT, CEFR comparison.
3Steering Committee for the Test of Proficiency – Huayu – TOCFL, CEFR, ACTFL, FSI/ILR comparison.
4Josai International University, Department of International Exchange Studies, English/Japanese Language Program – JPLT, CEFR comparison.

The CEFR, each letter reflects a different language level. Each level has a thorough description about the person is able to do in that language. The ACTFL also has a extensive description about what a person is capable of doing at each proficiency level. The descriptions are rather general. I like this post because it describes the proficiency levels in real-world terms. I especially like the TV show for reference.

I think it is telling that none of the exams test beyond C1 (CEFR) or Advanced High (ACTFL). I think it would take a native speaker some preparation before they would be ready for the level of discourse on “Charlie Rose.” A difference is that the exams are testing for proficiency in listening and reading skills in those languages, but not speaking. Most universities use these exams to determine if the applicant has a good handle on the language to be able to study get by in that language at the university level or beyond. I think most other exams would determine if the applicant’s academic level is adequate.

So, what does this mean to take any of these exams? I would like to think that a passing score at the highest level in the exam means that a person has acquired enough skills in the language to be able to understand an university lecture. These exams are not perfect and do not test for speaking. But I suppose it is a reasonable way to determine one’s proficiency in a language in a format that is easily accessible.

JetPens giveaway at Super Cute Kawaii

I am a big fan of Super Cute Kawaii. They are on the constant lookout for kawaii items from all over. From now until September 17, 2012, they are taking entries for a giveaway – a $25 gift voucher to JetPens.

JetPens sells pens, pencils, and other stationary that are not commonly found in other stores. I have always liked quality stationary, so I was glad to see that they carry my favorite Mono eraser, Pilot Hi-Tec-C gel ink pens, and Uni-ball Signo gel ink pens. I see these all the time in Asia, but not at many stationary stores in the U.S.

Make sure to check out the Super Cute Kawaii tumblr, it is filled with a lot of cute!

UNIQLO West Coast flagship store to open October 5, 2012

There is finally an opening date for the UNIQLO store in San Francisco! I am super excited after reading this press release from Uniqlo. The official opening date for the UNIQLO West Coast flagship store in San Francisco is October 5, 2012. I am really glad there is finally an opening date. The pop-up store is good, but it is temporary until the main store opens. Just another month and I will not have to take a plane to go to an UNIQLO store!

Uniqlo pop-up now open in San Francisco

An Uniqlo pop-up store has opened in San Francisco! Here is the press release from the Uniqlo website. The store opened on August 9, 2012 and will continue until the end of September when the Uniqlo flagship store opens. The pop-up store is at 117 Post Street. It’s closer to Montgomery than Union Square.

Since the store is only a pop-up store, it is rather small. There is only one floor. I saw extra-fine merino sweaters, premium down ultra light jackets, and UT T-shirts. There was also some jeans and flannel check shirts. The main lines available at the pop-up store are from the fall collection. I think it’s great introduction for people who do not know Uniqlo’s lines and style. However, I cannot wait for the flagship store to open so I can shop all the available styles!

There were store employees handing out flyers about the Uniqlo pop-up store and the flagship opening. The employees were in front of the pop-up store and across the street from the future flagship store on Powell Street.

The pop-up store also had lookbooks with clothing from the fall 2012 collection. The pieces look great! I really like the colors. I really like the map at the end of lookbook.