Some resources to help you learn an East Asian Language: Part 1

As I covered in my previous article (sorry about the gap, getting ready for University) learning an East Asian language can be quite difficult. But once you get the ball rolling and found whatever method of learning a language works for you, it starts to become a lot smoother. For the record, I have only studied Japanese to a respectable level but I am sure that most of the resources I mention in this article will be suitable for Japanese, Chinese and Korean.

Anki

Anki is the kingpin of digital flashcard programs, easy to set up and with compatible on so many different gadgets (I used the android app every morning to bash JLPT Vocab on my way to school) and it’s very easy to synchronise your cards between devices, the cards you learned on your commute in the morning won’t show up in your evening study.

Anki uses a system in which you select a button based on how easy you found it to remember the reverse of the card. I you got it instantly, you can make it come back in 8 days. If it took you a minute twig, click “hard” and it’ll come back tomorrow. Hit the fail button if you didn’t get the answer and you’ll do that card again at the end of your session. It’s a great system because this cycle means easy vocab up getting checked once every couple of weeks yet stuff you consistently forget gets drilled into you daily until you can’t forget it.

There is a huge database of card decks already made, it’s compatible with pictures and sound should you want to practice pronunciation. Anki has been quite popular with Asian studies students for years so there are plenty of beginners and more advanced decks for all languages, some are tailored to exams (JLPT vocab decks and what-not) others are vocab lists ripped from courses and textbooks, you can find something there to sit and drill through that will work for you!

Anki – ★★★★★ seriously, if you try one thing from this list, make it Anki, it does not disappoint.

DS – The “My Coach” Series

The first thing I bought when I wanted to learn Japanese back when I was 13 (Still a sprog) was a piece of software for the Nintendo DS called “My Japanese Coach”, I have also tried dabbling with its sister software “My Chinese Coach” (A Korean version was announced by Ubisoft but never came to fruition I believe). It’s difficult to review these pieces of software as it never really states which level they’re catering for, it can teach you right from the start but there is also a quiz so you can skip up to 10 lessons. Overall, the software is great if you’re starting but should be replaced quickly with a more developed course.

I say this because it starts you off slowly, you will learn 5 characters per lesson and 5 words per lesson for the first part, eventually you move onto vocab and very simple grammatical concepts (It isn’t great at teaching you grammar) but after the first 50 or so lessons, it starts to bombard you with just vocabulary and the occasional Kanji lesson. By the time I had got to this point, I had bought Genki and was a little more serious about learning Japanese.

The greatest feature of this software is the handwriting segments, they end up using the Nintendo DS’s bottom touch screen to full effect and it’s smooth and helps you learn stroke order very quickly. This is my favourite feature of the Japanese version of the software as it single-handedly taught me Hiragana and Katakana. I only dabbled with my friend’s copy of the Chinese version of the software and I can confirm it’s much of the same except the Chinese version feels slightly more polished.

The “My Coach” DS Software – ★ ★★ maybe being a little harsh but I can’t let nostalgia blind me!

BBC Languages

The BBC (or the beeb as we lovingly refer to it here) is a fantastic organisation. They just seem to do everything including language crash courses. The majority of my limited Chinese comes from their short introduction to the language. They offer a more fleshed out beginner’s course in Chinese as it’s more popular but there are also 20 phrase “travel” language guides for Japanese and Korean.

They also offer some games to help you practise and a few fact sheets about each language, nothing there for a serious learner but rather handy if you’re just floating through East Asia at some point, I imagine.

The BBC’s Language Stuff – ★★★★ I can’t give less than 4 as the BBC is a beautiful British institution and the Queen and her corgis would hunt me down if I did.

MIT Open Courseware

The Massachusetts (Very hard to spell if you’re not from around there) Institute of Technology releases a lot of their course content, summarised lecture notes and reading lists online for its courses in Japanese, Chinese and Korean as part of their open courseware program to promote free education around the world.  Some of the set language courses such as “Japanese I” or “Korean II” have quizzes and interactive online resources which are just fantastic.

It’s good to see such a prestigious University opening up its doors this way and some of the content is invaluable; there is enough for complete beginners to reach an elementary level of Japanese purely within the MIT catalogue. There are more advanced courses as well such as “Japanese IV” but also plenty of resources about the cultures of Korea, Japan and China. The “Intro to Japanese Culture (Spring 2012)” course has some great content on it for those interested.

MIT Open Courseware – ★★★★★ it’s just fantastic, hats off to MIT for all this stuff.

So there are a few things to look at if you are interested in picking up Chinese, Korean or Japanese at any point. I will be doing follow up articles for each language specifically after consulting with some people more experienced with Chinese and Korean than me. So be sure to subscribe to our site or follow us on twitter or something!

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