japanese classic audiobooks free download – and an app to play them

Khatz had an excellent post today on learning through the spoken word, which inspired me to start looking for some audiobooks, and also to find a way to play them properly on my iPhone.

I’ve been half-heartedly collecting podcasts* but seldom actually listen to them, because I have little idea whether they’ll actually be talking about anything I’m interested in for one thing, and there’s usually also no transcripts so if you want to follow along you can’t. Not a problem of course for natives or more advanced learners but for an intermediate whose reading is much stronger than listening it removes a significant potential advantage.

So then I thought, well yes let’s get audiobooks; they’re a known quantity, they have text, they’re pretty long, there’s no real downside here.

A problem I ran into right away though is that every audiobook player app wants to lock you into its own store or market or at least file source. It seems like most will not allow you to import your own mp3 or other audio files, or if they do the description at least says nothing about it. I did eventually find one that does, and looks like it should be easy to use and work well; namely Bookmobile. It does also handle podcasts to some extent with a built-in RSS capability, but I imagine dedicated apps like Downcast will be better for that.

Then the books themselves. The #ajatt IRC channel has had a link in the header for a long time to some that user Decoface converted to MP3 and shared – those are here. From there I also found a link back to the original list of files on the RTK wiki, which I’m not sure why I’d forgotten about; that’s here.

If you import them into iTunes and it doesn’t recognize them as being audiobooks, which is quite likely, select all the files, Get Info (⌘I will do it), go to Options tab and in the media type list pick Audiobook. Also make sure all the files for a book are in a single album.

Should be set for a good long while now.

 

* surely I’m not the only one who always types “podcats” first? and then conjures up a little mental image of podcats?

track your tadoku between rounds with IFTTT

If you’ve wished that there were a way to keep track of your extensive reading in between tadoku rounds as easily as with the tadokubot, there is a very simple way to do just that. All you need is a Google account and an IFTTT (If This Then That) account, both free. IFTTT is a very useful free web service that allows you to automate a wide variety of things. In this case, we send it a text message tagged with the reading medium you wish to track, and the service adds a row to a spreadsheet in your Google Drive. Then all that’s left is to put a couple of simple formulas in the spreadsheet to total things up.

A link to the IFTTT recipe is here.  Adapt as needed to add media. Use an additional space between three pipes (||| |||) to place the update in the correct column. The ||| is the cell divider, so ||| ||| places an empty cell. If you want the data for a certain hashtag in the fourth column, for example, your action would look like:

{{ReceivedAt}} ||| ||| ||| {{MessageNoHashtag}}

In my case, text messages to the US cost me extra, so if you’re in the same situation I recommend you use textPlus or a similar free texting service. You can even use that from an iPod Touch. It’s possible to use Google Talk chat messages as a trigger, but I’ve never seen the IFTTT bot actually online, so it’s best to stick with text messages.

Comments Off on track your tadoku between rounds with IFTTT Posted in Learning Tools

anki 2.0 – filtered decks and making things stick

Since I do most of my reviewing on my phone or iPad, I hadn’t jumped into Anki 2.0 like many people already did. Now that I’m on the new version and am discovering its capabilities a little, I quite like what I see. My favourite of the new features has to be the filtered decks. I suppose you can use these for cramming before an exam or the like, or studying just a certain subset of vocabulary for instance, but what I really like to do is using the ability to re-review the day’s failed cards at the end of the day. Usually I have my reviews done by noon, so later on in the day it’s really nice to get another look at the cards I missed. Some stubborn vocabulary cards especially benefit from this extra look.

It’s easy to set up a deck like this. Just go to tools > create filtered deck, and put your search and options like so:

Options for Today's Failed Cards

That search will find all the cards you marked wrong in the current cycle, and unchecking the “reschedule cards” option will turn this into an additional review instead of replacing the next day’s reviews, which would defeat the purpose in this case.

Once you’ve made the deck, it will be automatically synced to your mobile client as well, and you can also edit settings there. For that matter you can create the deck on the mobile client too; just hit the “filter/cram” button at bottom right in the decks screen.

Filtered Deck Settings on Mobile

Then to review it, just hit “rebuild deck” on desktop or “build deck” on mobile, and enjoy learning faster!

RTK2 Anki deck update

Briefly:

Have finished making the deck, and decided to work through it to check for errors and decide on settings before releasing it. Have found quite a few typos and other errors, and have dispensed with most of my more experimental settings, so this is a good thing. I did get permission from Dr. Heisig to make it available. Unfortunately he did not want the primitives as part of the deck. So users will have to add that back in themselves.

I’m about halfway through, and Kiriyama who has kindly agreed to help proofread is a little further. So the deck will probably be ready in a bit over a month from now. I want to get this done because the portion of my day spent in Anki has gone completely out of control …

Remembering the Kanji volume 2 Anki deck – progress notes

I’ve been skipping out on a lot of things I’d like to do lately, such as readthekanji.com, memrise, and so on, and it’s all because of this RTK2 project. I’m convinced it’ll be worth it though, not only for myself but for everyone else who has ever looked at Heisig’s second volume and said something like “well that’s nice but what does one DO with this?” Honestly this project would be a great deal quicker if I actually enjoyed making the deck, but if anyone cares to explain how to enjoy copying a book into flashcards I’d be much obliged.

Here’s a sample of the cards:

RTK2 card

So as you can see, the target kanji is highlighted in red. For sets of cards with more than one reading (the “semi-pure” and “mixed” groups), the highlighting is green for secondary readings, and occasionally purple for tertiary readings. Then below that, there is the word again with the non-target characters replaced by their hiragana readings. Remember, only one piece of information per card! Below that, there is the signal primitive, for cards that use them. The answer has just the reading, word again, and a brief English definition. At first I was using Japanese definitions, but looking them up was adding a tremendous amount of time to an already slow process, and wasn’t likely to be terribly helpful anyway.

There is a another field as well, called “ReadingOnly”, which is used to match to what you are to type in to answer the card.

Right now I have 1182 cards made, which is a little less than halfway it looks like. I’m at the beginning of the “mixed” groups and that will be slow(er) going because a lot of frames have more than one word, requiring two cards per frame. Also, finding signal primitives can occasionally be time-consuming, though I don’t waste a great deal of time on that anymore. Often a signal primitive will be a Japanese character on its own, though sometimes a very rare one. Sometimes it will not be a Japanese character, but will be a Chinese one. If those two options fail I just indicate it as “right side of such a character” or something like that.

I don’t think I’m alone in considering learning the writing and meaning of the characters the easy part. The readings each have such a long and convoluted history that they seem random at first glance, and impossibly confusing. This should help. Onwards then we plod.

best ipad twitter app for language learners: twitbird

Very briefly:

I’ve acquired an iPad now that the current models have a screen that you can read on for extended periods. I hunted about a bit for a good Twitter app, which seems to be something I do pretty regularly no matter what platform, since they all seem to have their share of shortcomings. For reading Japanese though, it seems TwitBird is the best solution. This app is in general more “adequate” than “excellent”, but it does have one feature that should be standard in any app but seems actually to be exceedingly rare; and that is that when you view a tweet by itself, it displays it in plain text, and supports the built-in dictionary. No other app I tried lets you select or look up individual words.

It’s also localized into Japanese (Niburutech is actually a Japanese company), and of course the built-in dictionary will give you Japanese definitions if you have your device set to Japanese interface.

You can also select any portion of the tweet (or the whole thing) and copy it, so then you can switch to your favourite text editor (I like PlainText, saves notes as .txt files and syncs with DropBox) and paste it in for use in MCDs later.

If you know of any better apps that also support the dictionary, please post them in the comments!

turning reading comprehension into listening comprehension: three simple strategies

Once you have kanji at least somewhat tamed, reading is the easiest skill to develop to a high level. You can take all the time you need to get through a passage, no one is rushing you, you don’t need to depend on anyone else to talk to or correct your writing, and you can do it all day long if you like. And especially for those of us using extensive reading as the foundation for our studies (which, it hardly needs repeating, I strongly support), we will most likely arrive at a stage in our learning where reading is quite far advanced above the other three skills. Then when you try to listen to material that’s at the same level that you’re comfortably reading, it’s completely incomprehensible. This can be very frustrating! It’s like solving a Chinese puzzle with mittens on. The question then is, how can we use that reading skill to boost our listening skill?

Certainly massive immersion is foundational to listening skill. Listen as much as you can. Listening is something you can multitask, so take advantage of that. Going out for a run? Headphones in. Punching numbers in Excel at the office? Headphones in. Deep discussion with your significant other? Headphones in. (Kidding … maybe?)

But that’s a little random for our purposes here, and doesn’t really answer the question. How then can we focus our listening a little more closely? Here’s three simple things I’ve found to work well, in order of precision.

Firstly, you might remember I’ve previously mentioned incremental reading combined with audio. This SRS exercise will result in exceptionally complete comprehension and retention of short passages. A quick summary of the method: find a source for short passages where you have both audio and text. You can select passages that are quite difficult as long as you find them interesting, but don’t overdo it because the quantity of repetitions you’ll need for a passage that’s too far over your level will only result in you getting sick of it. Podcasts are perfect material. I like the audio blogs over at japanesepod101. Your card, then, will have the text on the front, the text with readings on the back, and the audio. Have Anki set to not play audio automatically. Reviews are done by reading the card and then listening. Feel free to look up as much as you need to while reading. Particularly unfamiliar words should probably be added to a simple vocabulary deck or an MCD deck. The reading should be fairly easy though, because the point is to bootstrap the difficult listening with the higher skill level of the reading. Grading can be done like any other SRS card.

That’s the most effective method in some ways, but the focus is quite narrow, and there’s a lot of setup required. It also has a fairly high burn-out risk.

Secondly, let’s consider a method for using Japanese subtitles. Now, just watching video with J-subs is something I have found to be not terribly effective. It does aid comprehension, and I’m sure if you could read at the same speed as normal speech it would be a lot more effective than it is for me. But as it is, it often ends up going by all too quickly to be much use. So what I do instead is put the text of the subtitles file in Learning With Texts. (You could just as easily use a plain text file – maybe put them in an e-reader program like iBunko – and make MCD cards for words or grammar points as needed.) The process then is to first watch the video without subtitles, then read through the text carefully taking all the time you need to understand everything, and then re-watch the video. This should be done without too much delay between, but a day or two is fine. You will notice a big difference in comprehension between first and second viewings!

For this method, the video must be reasonably within your grasp before reading the text, otherwise two viewings won’t be nearly enough. And if you’re anything like me, two viewings of anything is already very nearly one too many, no matter how good the material is. Also, it must not be too long, or it will take you all day to study the text, and you won’t be able to retain all of it. I find the 20 minutes of a typical anime episode to be pretty much perfect.

That might still be too much structure for your taste, so lastly let’s consider a method (that’s so loose it can hardly be called a method) that will let you take in the most volume of text and audio of any of these. For tadoku, it’s often recommended that you concentrate on the works of a particular author for periods of time, since you get used to their style and their selection of vocabulary. We can take advantage of this for listening as well. Most anime are based on manga, as are many dramas. So all you need to do is watch your favourite series, read through the manga (SRS as much or as little as you like), re-watch the series, reread, etc., until you’re tired of it, which is your sign to move on to something else. Very often the lines in the anime or drama are lifted directly from the manga, and even when they’re not, they’ll be in the same style and using the same set of vocabulary. Sometimes you can also find audio dramas (”Drama CD’s”) that are also based closely on the manga. ARIA in particular has a great many of these, so you can get a lot of listening immersion that’s all based on material you already know from reading. As well as ARIA, I like みなみけ and ひだまりスケッチ for this approach. Any simple slice-of-life anime or drama is a good bet for practical and realistic everyday vocabulary. But make sure to follow your interests! The brain is like a little kid faced with a plate of broccoli; very good at rejecting what it doesn’t enjoy. Luckily when it comes to language even the chocolate cake is nourishing!

I always remember something loafyi said in the #ajatt channel one day – something like “when I can recognize a word in listening, that’s when I feel like I really have it”. I’ve found this to be very true. I hope that these simple common-sense suggestions can help you to use your hard-earned reading comprehension to raise your listening to a similar level.