Friday, April 27, 2012

Quick update

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Whoops, I realized that I may not have mentioned that I was going to Japan! Please excuse the lack of posting and communications until I get back next week. Until then!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Service Review: LinguaLift

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You may have noticed that recently an ad cropped up on the sidebar for a website called LinguaLift. Normally we don't do much advertising around here, but that's mainly because I've decided to try and keep any JADJ content related to Japan or learning Japanese. When I received an advertising request from LinguaLift, I accepted knowing that they (a) are a Japanese learning service and (b) have been around for a while, though under a different name.

That said, I do want to put it out there that the advertising is paid, but this review is not.

LinguaLift


Rating: 4/5*


First off, I'd like to say that while if you skip to the end I do recommend this service, that is qualified. I think some people would benefit from this a lot more than others in its current form, as I will explain. If you are interested in this review, please consider the fact that learning is a very personal thing and I can only review this from my own perspective, colored by my own experiences and Japanese study history.

For this review, I'm going to first present an overview of LinguaLift and its features, along with my thoughts and impressions, and then at the end I'll tie it up with some miscellaneous closing thoughts and a bottom line. I'm also including Joe's thoughts. His own "Japanese path" has been very different than mine and so I think his feedback may be especially valuable to those who are studying or looking to study Japanese with little to no formal Japanese language education.

Overview






What is LinguaLift? This is what the site itself has to say:


What is LinguaLift?

LinguaLift is a web application for students and self-learners which will guide you on your way to mastering a foreign language, and to teach you how to learn efficiently while having fun at the same time.
Subscribers have unlimited access to a wide array of custom-built applications—such as the E-Textbook, Kanji and Verb Academy, Vocab Lab, and the Frenzy game—each focusing on a different aspect of language acquisition and retention, ensuring a holistic approach to your language learning.

I think that sums it up pretty well. LinguaLift is an online study kit that contains a series of tools for learning/strengthening different aspects of the language. As of now I believe Japanese is the only language offered (and the one we're reviewing), but the site notes that more languages will be available  in the future.

LinguaLift is browser-based, which means that you must be connected to the internet in order to use it. Pricing is $29 for a month, $145 for 6 months (1 month free) or $261 for a year (3 months free). Compared to TextFugu, which is probably its largest competitor, this may be a little steep (TextFugu is $20 a month or $120 for a lifetime subscription), however I can't speak comparatively as to the content of TextFugu.

Jumping into the LinguaLift interface, there are currently 4 different tools: an E-textbook, Kanji Academy, Vocab Lab, and Arcade.



The E-textbook starts off with an overview of the Japanese language, proceeds into hiragana and katakana, and then lays out lessons to introduce new vocabulary and grammar. We were both a little mixed on how the material is laid out. Here is some feedback from Joe:

"I'm still going through the site as I write this, and I just came upon this:

'Rōmaji is a tool that no serious learner of Japanese should use.'

Well, I concur!

'...learning kana is in fact crucial and helps one to avoid many difficulties in the future. Bad pronunciation, incorrect understanding of verb conjugation & particles, and insufficient knowledge of kanji are all cause for regret in the long term.'

True!

'Your video treat for the end of this lesson is a not-to-be-taken-seriously look at sushi bar etiquette!'

And then they insert 'The Japanese Tradition'
 clip from youtube. I'm starting to think these are men after my own heart.

I just got to the learning hiragana part. It's kind of strange they didn't just give a list of all the hiragana and say 'learn these'. It feels like they're just stretching everything out. It'd be nice if they had some sort of flash game to help learn the kana. They don't really need all those pages of text describing what kana is. That's not really helpful in learning it."


I also felt that some of the material is a bit academic, which isn't really a good or bad thing but depends more upon the learner. For example, one of the early lessons taught me the difference between morae and syllables. While I think it's extremely easy to learn Japanese without knowing the difference between the two (or rather not being able to vocalize the difference, perhaps?), it is interesting, especially if you happen to like linguistics.

The pacing of the lessons is quite nice, though. As Joe noted, there are some videos and pictures interspersed throughout the text. If they could add some simple flash activities or games in the future, I think they might really have something unique.

One other nice feature is that the text includes a Rikai-like tool that displays reading and definition information when you hover your mouse over a kanji.

Moving on, the Kanji Academy is a neat little tool that introduces you to various kanji along with common compounds that employ them, and then gives you little questions to help you learn and review the ones you've seen. A nice way to learn perhaps, but I couldn't find a way to skip through kanji I'd already learned - if I said I knew them, they would just be added to the set of kanji I would be given in review questions. Not a problem for those who are just starting out, but potentially a nuisance for those who aren't. At least there is a way to roughly set your level, however. At the moment it doesn't appear all of the Joyo (daily use) kanji are available.

The Vocab Lab allows you to select the levels you want to test (1-4) and then presents you with new words in a fashion similar to the Kanji Academy. In general, these two tools remind me of Anki and I think could be of real value to those willing to dedicate the time to really using them. It did occur to me that intermediate to advanced students would probably benefit from studying Japanese in Japanese, a feature not (yet?) offered in these tools.

The last tool, the Arcade, currently only has one game. The Flash game, Japanese Frenzy, strikes me as a Japanese cross between Math Blaster and Space Invaders. Though it's meant for those learning hiragana and katakana, I enjoyed trying it out and played it a bit more than I needed to. I think Joe and I share similar feelings here. As he said:

"Japanese Frenzy is a pretty cool game. I like the music. I wish you could do it with Kanji too. I'd actually play that, if I had to type in the readings."

Agreed - with some kanji, I think this game would really be appealing to higher level students, as well.

Final notes and bottom line


One thing that struck Joe (and me as well) is that there is in the LinguaLift interface, right below whatever tool you're using, a bar for feedback. Additionally, there is a "Contact us" button that indicates when a staff member is available to chat.

Ollie Capehorn, one of the site's founders, kindly made himself available and answered some questions I had about the future of the service. Without getting into specifics, it does appear that the developers do have a lot of ideas for improvements and updates are in the works. One thing he mentioned is that there are several new games for the arcade that are slated to be added to the site by the end of the year.

At the moment, it seems to me that most of the material is geared towards new and low-level Japanese learners and that intermediate and advanced students would probably benefit more from other investments. That said, upcoming updates may change that. There are some features that I would be interested in using if I felt the material was at my level, and I think Joe felt the same way.

So in terms of personality, service, and user-friendliness, I'd like to give LinguaLift a 5/5. If you are a Japanese beginner and are willing to dedicate the time and money required to advance at independent study, I think this is a great tool. In light of the fact that intermediate and advanced students probably won't get much out of it at the moment, however, I need to give it a qualified 4/5.

I may update this review in the future if we have a chance to try some of the new features and updates as they are released.

If you're interested in checking it out, once again, here is the link to LinguaLift.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kotowaza #2: You only live once

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Ok, so I'm not quite sure whether this one is so much a 諺 (proverb or saying) as much as a popular 表現 (expression). But I'm going to give myself the benefit of the doubt because either way it's one that you may actually hear used a fair amount in real life:

一期一会
(いちごいちえ)

いちごいちえ is a phrase I've heard especially often around adventurous, younger people. I think it gets kind of cliche and overused, but it's a great expression to throw into an enkai (drinking party) speech to impress an unsuspecting group of Japanese people.

Actually, Yoshie likes this one quite a bit and I think her former blog was called 一期一会.

Anyway, when you break apart the two pieces of this four-character construct, you have 一期 (lifetime or one's life) and  一会 (one encounter). The ALC rendering of the phrase is "Treasure every encounter, for it will never recur." That is the basic sentiment of the expression, but not quite as catchy and concise in English as it is in Japanese. While the literal meaning is a little different, I think the closest thing we have is "You only live once."

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Holidays

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A happy Easter and Passover to those of you who celebrate!

J-Word Play #24 (Answer)

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The belated answer to our last J-Word Play, but first some kudos:

This time Rene of Shojiki Shindoi and Cocomino of Life in Kawagoe were able to puzzle this one out (no surprises there, really - these guys are turning out to be riddle pros).

タバコをやめると何円?
(タバコをやめるとなにえん?)

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Still here

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Always some excuse, I know. The past three weeks I've been adjusting to a new job at a Japanese office in D.C. Between that and trying to get the most out of my gym membership, I'm still trying to find my stride and efficiently use what little free time I now have during the week. Still, there are some posts I want to make, including a review that I sorely need to finish writing...

Anyway, just wanted to let you know I haven't gone anywhere.

P.S., I'm going to Japan for about 10 days near the end of the month to visit Yoshie (and visit with a couple of friends briefly). So that'll be good.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Pottermore

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Recently J.K. Rowling launched Pottermore, where customers can buy audio and ebook versions of the Harry Potter series in several different languages. According to a certain source, Japanese will likely be available later this year. Considering the price and (in)availability of Japanese audio and ebooks, could be a good deal. Hopefully they'll be available for purchase in the States...