Friday, 9 June 2017


In the last post I discussed some of the differences between high and low context cultures and suggested that knowing these differences can help us to communicate better with foreigners.Taking another look at one of the photos that I added in the last post we can see that North America and Japan are on opposite sides of the spectrum with America falling in the middle of the Left hand side of the Low Context Culture countries and Japan falling on the far Right hand side of the High Context Culture countries.
( on January 26, 2015)

The Trip
I travelled to New York City the day after posting the last blog entry. It had been 4 years since I had been to North America and I was really looking forward to immersing myself in the Low Context Culture and enjoying the subtle and not so subtle differences of the experience. And I did. I enjoyed every minute of my time there immersed in so many different cultures. People of many different colours speaking many different languages and so many different kinds of beautiful! I realised on the streets of New York City that I had been starved of cultural diversity in Japan where there is more conformity than difference and, although the architecture and nature is amazingly beautiful the people who fill the spaces are, for the most part, not very diverse. In my experience in Japan when you pass people on the streets you can predict with a high level of accuracy what language they will be speaking and if there is any spontaneous interaction with the passer by (Which is a VERY RARE occurrence usually initiated by a foreigner) you can guess what they will say. I hadn't realised this with such clarity before. One of the things that really stood out for me on this trip is how often complete strangers have conversations with each other in North America, while waiting in the check out line at the local bagel shop, in the elevator, on the street, for example and how rare these kinds of interactions are in Japan.

Jet-leg, Culture Shock, and Culture-leg
Two things that people often talk about when travelling to such far off places are jet leg and culture shock. The jet leg is caused by the time differences and the fatigue of long travel times. One can cope using various strategies of which there are numerous sites for on the Internet. I have never really had much of a problem with jet leg. I try to stay up as long as I can and wake up early the day after arriving. But, in all fairness I survive on a regular night's sleep of only about 4 hours on average. Culture shock can only happen if you are not prepared for the differences in the cultures. Having been born in Canada and living in Japan for almost half of my life I was prepared for the differences, but what I found was a bit of a 'Culture leg' as I transitioned between the two cultures. This is what I would like to talk about in this post.
 If I could liken the cultural exposure that I have experienced while living in Japan to food and use this comparison to illustrate how I felt during my recent trip to the States regarding the amount of culturally diverse exposure I have experienced in both countries, I would say that I felt like I have been eaten nothing but white rice for four years with the occasional side dish of something else. But, in America every meal was something different, not new, but different from what I had eaten previously and certainly different than the white rice that I had been eating for so long. Now I had the choice to eat steak, tacos, fish n chips, pizza, BBQ, veal, they were all there waiting to be consumed. I am using this illustration to describe the fact that even though I hadn't known it, I had been starved of cultural diversity while living in Japan. Walking down the streets of NYC made it clear to me that Japan, especially rural Japan; cities such as Kumamoto, are still very mono cultural. When you walk down the streets you are surrounded by Japanese people speaking Japanese. But, when you walk down the streets of New York you are surrounded by people of all different ethnicity and they are all speaking different languages. I couldn't help but smile and feel the joy of being surrounded with so much diversity after being away from it for so long.

(Photo retreived at, on June, 10th, 2017)

I have experienced culture shock, well reverse culture shock after returning to Canada after my one year university study exchange in Hakodate, Hokkaido. I noticed all of the 'in your face' differences between the two cultures but I couldn't understand how I hadn't noticed these differences before. And I had no way to justify the validity of these differences. I was just in shock by the way people interacted differently and how food that once tasted so good to me was now way too sweet. Looking back now, I can see that the differences in the way people interact is a direct result of the differences between the high and low context culture. I understand these differences and can switch back and forth to fit either one, but there is usually a leg, especially if I am tired, and switching programs takes a lot of energy. It used to drain me just switching back and forth between languages. Now I know that the reason it takes so much energy is because you are not just switching back and forth between languages, translating in your head as you go. You are actually switching back and forth between cultures and making compensations for each of the other cultural differences, i.e. the differences between the high context culture and the low context culture as you go, dealing with the differences in what Gee calls the "big D" Discourses. These differences among groups of people are more deeply rooted and harder to deal with than "little d" discourse because in "big D" Discourse we are really dealing with behavioural differences and trying to change our behaviours to conform with a set of behaviours defined by a different group.

In his work in social linguistics, Gee explored the concept of Discourse ("big D" Discourse), discourse ("little d") refers to language-in-use. When discussing the combination of language with other social practises (behaviour, values, ways of thinking, clothes, food, customs, perspectives) within a specific group, Gee refers to that as Discourse. Individuals may be part of many different Discourse communities, for example “when you ‘pull-off’ being a culturally specific sort of ‘everyday’ person, a ‘regular’ at the local bar…a teacher or a student of a certain sort, or any of a great many other ‘ways of being in the world’” (p. 7). (Gee, J. P. (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: theory and method. London and New York: Routledge.)

Perhaps the example of switching back and forth between two completely different computer programs that run on completely different codes is appropriate here. It is impossible to boot and or re-boot two different programs simultaneously on the same computer. But, that is exactly what we are doing when we interpret between languages and cultures. When we switch back and forth between cultures we need to reboot and when we are engaged and interacting within different cultures simultaneously we are running two different programs in our minds at the same time. It is understandable that this process would be draining. This is why there are strict time limits for professional translators and interpreters working for such organisations at the United Nations or at the highest levels of politics and business.

The Demands of Interpreting
"It's an intense experience that can drain even the most accomplished interpreters. To avoid a Qaddafi-like marathon, in fact, the UN abides by a strict timetable in which interpreters work in teams of two, with one typically working no more than 20 minutes at a time before switching to his or her partner. (General Assembly speeches, moreover, are usually kept to 15 minutes or less.)" The "Qaddafi-like marathon" referred to here is as follows:
UNITED NATIONS -- When Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi delivered his notorious 96-minute speech before the UN General Assembly last autumn, no one may have been more aware of each passing minute than his personal translator, Fouad Zlitni, whom he had brought along for the occasion.
Nearly three-quarters of the way into Qaddafi's address, Zlitni collapsed, undone by the effort of translating the Libyan leader's rambling, at times angry, speech from Arabic into English for nearly 75 minutes straight.
Hossam Fahr, the Egyptian-born head of the UN's interpretation service, says Qaddafi's translator went far beyond the normal limits of what an interpreter can reasonably be expected to do.

This exhaustion felt when translating and or interpreting between high context and low context cultures which have very different rules of Discourse is what I like to call "Culture leg". It is not culture shock because you know what to expect, but it is possible one of the most physically draining experiences even though you are not always that physically active during the procedure.

Final Thoughts
After this trip to NYC in May I do have to say that I felt it was a little harder to re-adjust to the lifestyle in Japan. But, I think the bottom line is if you are sincere and honest with those most close to you, you will never be left standing alone when you are in need of guidance. We are all caught between one culture or another and confused on our journey to find ourselves that is why the martial arts are so important to us on an emotional level. And as martial artists we continue to push forward both physically and emotionally in the pursuit of knowledge and development of character. The road we are on is not a smooth one, but personally, I wouldn't have it any other way. So I'll leave you with this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Recognizing the Cultural Differences that Hinder Cross Cultural Communication

Heading into the final Months of preparation for your trip to Japan, what should you be doing? Of course, you are focusing on stepping up your training. But, have you been able to step up your linguistic and cultural learning?

I have recommended before in multiple posts that learning important cultural aspects of Asian beliefs and specifically Japanese social structure can make all the difference in your depth of linguistic understanding. To be honest, getting around in Japan with any amount of fluency demands of us more than just knowing where the toilet is. This statement reminds me of something my Sensei, Micheal Delaney once said to us shortly after we were promoted in rank. He said, that "when you attain your shodan level you are told where the metaphorical toilet is. But, when you attain nidan you are given the key to the toilet." After living in Japan for almost half of my life, I think that I can now add to his statement in the following way. The more time you spend in the martial arts the deeper your understanding of how and when to use the keys your are given develops. In this post I would like to help you with your final Months of Linguistic and especially cultural development leading up to your August travels to Japan.

Possibly one of the most important things to understand for this endeavour is the difference between "high context culture" and "low context culture"(popularised by Edward Hall) because this will totally change the way you use the language and improve your communicative competence!

High context refers to societies or groups where people have close connections over a long period of time. Many aspects of cultural behaviour are not made explicit because most members know what to do and what to think from years of interaction with each other. Your family is probably an example of a high context environment.
Low context refers to societies where people tend to have many connections but of shorter duration or for some specific reason. In these societies, cultural behaviour and beliefs may need to be spelled out explicitly so that those coming into the cultural environment know how to behave.
(1997-2003 Jennifer E. Beer )
( on January 26, 2015)

Here are some interesting links to websites focusing on this subject. The first link is especially interesting because it offers a lot of information specifically about Japanese and North American social patterns in the context of high and low context culture commonalities. Follow the links at the bottom of the page by clicking on Japan for more information.

Another interesting website that presents this concept in an easy to understand way, however with a more general application of high and low context culture is:

The interesting thing about this page is that it offers us the opportunity to take a quick questionnaire to assess our level of cultural context. I took it and scored 4 points higher leaning toward high context.
(Retreived from,, 2017, 05, 12)

I have not travelled to North America for a number of years so I have not been in a Low Context Cultural environment for a long time. However, I will be going to New York tomorrow and while I am there I will be paying careful attention to this. I intend to write another post after I get back which goes into more specific detail regarding these differences. Please familiarise yourself with this concept and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Essential Kanji for Getting Around in Japan

I apologise for taking so long between posts. I know some of you have been anxiously awaiting for the next instalment of this Japanese language learning series.

April is a very busy Month in Japan because it is the beginning of the new academic year. I have been especially busy as this year I will begin my PhD. studies at Kumamoto University. (Below is a photo of the acceptance for enrolment into the Kumamoto University Doctoral Program) It is a three year course and my research study will be in teacher development. I am excited about this challenge and the opportunity to become more through this process. I will include you on my journey as we grow together over the next three years.

Now let's get into the blog. In this post I will introduce essential Kanji that you will encounter on your travels. This post will focus on the kanji you need to know when you are connecting to flights in the airport of travelling by train or subway. You will see these kanji everywhere and once you can recognise what they mean you will never get totally lost again!

I also recommend that you look at convenient apps that can help you along the way. One of the English/Japanese dictionary apps that I use and highly recommend is, JED Check out the link for download options:
Furthermore, the kanji that I will be introducing can be found on-line or in textbooks like the Japanese for Busy People series that I introduced in my previous post. I also recommend 250 Essential Kanji for Everyday Use (Picture of the cover below) as a very good reference for kanji that you will encounter on your trip to Japan. I should point out that this text deals extensively with very relevant topics such as Trains, Stations, Banks, the Post Office, Shopping, and Real Estate.

For those of you travelling to 熊本県 Kumamoto Ken; Kumamoto Prefecture, for the the first time it may be useful to be able to recognise the kanji for Kumamoto (above) and 九州 Kyushu, where Kumamoto is located in the South of 西日本 Nishi Nihon; Western Japan (the kanji for South and West are written below). Japan is divided into East and West. Tokyo and Chiba are located in Eastern Japan, Osaka and Kyoto are located in the West. Kumamoto is considered to be part of Western Japan
When travelling it is always good to start with direction. In this case North, South, East, and West are of importance to us as well as Entrance and Exit as we will be looking for the entrances and exits in stations and they are all divided into North, South, East, and West.

You will see these Kanji in the 駅 Eki; Station(s) and in the 空港 Kuukou; Airport(s) all across Japan:
Kita; North
Minami; South
Higashi; East
西 Nishi; West

入口 Iriguchi; Entrance
出口 Deguchi; Exit

Now with the few kanji we have looked at how much of the following photo can you understand? It is a photo of the floor plan of Kumamoto Station. Can you see 熊本駅 Kumamoto Eki written in the top left hand corner? How about 口 Kuchi? There are 西口 Nishiguchi and 東口 Higashiguchi visible as well. If you ask for directions and were told to go to the East Exit, where do you think you should go?

These days most stations and airports have English signs. However, the further you travel outside of large city centres the fewer English signs there are. It is still a good idea to familiarise yourself with these kanji. Numbers not are usually written in kanji so you don't need to spend too much tim on them, but Year, Months, and days of the week and are still written in kanji on some tickets so it may be a good idea to be able to recognise them as well.

While in the station or airports you may need to go to the お手洗い O Tearai; toilet, literally translated as (the place) to wash one's hands, sometimes referred to as the "wash closet" (WC) so you may also see signs with the WC written on them. Most stations and airports have the generic Male and Female signs as seen below, but it may be a good idea to know the kanji for man and woman if you don't already know them.

Otoko; Man and 女 Onna; Woman are the kanji used to identify changing rooms and lavatories, but they may be written in combination with other kanji as follows: 男性(用) Dansei(yo) or 女性(用) Jyosei(yo) which translates to (for the use of) Men or Women; Male or Female (use).

Now that we can get around and do our business we can venture further. You may have received your tickets from the travel agent, but you may want to purchase tickets while you are here and go for an adventure on the train or shinkansen. In this case you may have to fill out some forms if you are thinking about getting a rail pass, but if you are only buying single tickets you probably won't have to fill out any forms. However, it is a good idea to know dates to make scheduling go more smoothly. Dates are written in the opposite order from North America. And Japan uses its own calender which runs for the length of time of the reign of the emperor to identify the Year. For example, It is now the 29th Year of Heisei, the Month of April and let's say that it is a Monday. The date would look like this: 平成 29年4月10日(月). Monday may be written as 月曜日Getsuyoubi, or abbreviated as (月). This holds true for every day of the week:
月曜日 Getsuyoubi; Monday
火曜日 Kayoubi; Tuesday
水曜日 Suiyoubi; Wednesday
木曜日 Mokuyoubi; Thursday
金曜日 Kinyoubi; Friday
土曜日 Doyoubi; Saturday
日曜日 Nichiyoubi; Sunday

Here is an, easy to understand, explanation of what is actually written on the reserved tickets for the 新幹線 Shinkansen; bullet train.

In order to reserve a rail pass you may have to fill out a form like the one below:

(Commuter's pass application form, 250 Essential Kanji, 1994)

There are some kanji on this form that are very useful to know as they are commonly found on most 申込書 Moushikomi sho; Official Forms and in Japan there seems to be a paper form for EVERYTHING! So let's take a look at the important kanji on the example above.

If you are studying Japanese already you have probably learned 名前 Namae; Name and, more than likely know the sentence 私の名前は___. But on the form above you will notice that it is written a slightly differently. 名 Na is there, but it comes after another kanji as opposed to coming before 前 Mae; Before. This time it is read 氏名 Shimei; Full Name or Identity. You have to write your Last name (Family name) first, followed by your first name (Shita no namae). In my case, I would write Waterfield Marc, as you see on the photo of the acceptance for enrolment into the Kumamoto University Doctoral Program at the top of this page. The kanji for 男女 Dan Jyo; male or female are written next to the name to be circled. Under that is a space to fill in your age __才, I would write 39才 and cross out 様 Sama to the left of 才, by making two horizontal lines through the kanji. This was not done in the example, but after living here for any length of time you would know that it is a common gesture of politeness to do such a thing. I don't want to get into the 'why' this is done in this post. At this point, all you need to know is that this simple act, of crossing out the 様 after your own name on forms like this (especially forms that you need to send by mail) or writing it after someone else's name who you are mailing something to, will send the message to anyone who involved that you understand Japanese 礼儀作法 Reigi Sahou; often translated as etiquette or manners. I would go as far as to say that Reigisahou is the 'backbone' of Japanese social structure.

Moving on, can you recognise any of the kanji in the section to the right of the name and age? You will notice that 平成 Heisei is written along with 年, 月, and 日 followed by some kana and numbers. What do you suppose this signifies?

Below the these two sections is the section to write your 住所 Jyusho; address and 電話番号 Denwa Bangou; Telephone Number. In the section below that you must give the address of either your 通勤先 Tsuukin saki; Place of Work or the 通学先 Tsuugaku saki; address of the school you are attending if you are a student.

The two example forms are slightly different from one another and these forms may be a little bit out of date as the book I am using to reference these examples was printed in 1994, but they still offer us an easy to understand example of the information commonly found on such forms.

I hope this series of posts is helpful to you as you continue your Japanese language studies and as you prepare for your visit to Japan. I know that your time spent in Japan will be an experience of a lifetime. This series is not designed to teach you everything there is to know about Japan and the Japanese language, rather it is my aim to help facilitate smoother travels and help you to develop your own tools of conversation in order to facilitate deeper levels of communication between you and the Japanese Karate-do community and Japanese Nationals in general.

If there is anything specific that you would like me to focus on, please comment on this blog or send me a private message. The Chito-Ryu World Championships "Soke Cup" is 4 Months away, 準備万端、頑張りましょう!

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Building the Sentence Structure

Recap of Previous Post
In the last post we looked at some tips to get us started with our language learning project. I hope you found them helpful and at that you are now well on your way to broadening your understanding of Japanese vocabulary. I recommended that you focus on increasing your vocabulary by focusing on verbs (動詞, Doushi). I recommended this because we are focusing on increasing our communicative abilities and with a wide range of verbs at our command, we can describe the other words, such as nouns (名詞, Meishi) that we don't yet know or have forgotten in the heat of the moment, but are necessary to express that which we want to say. This communicative technique, which I often use, also helps to build our vocabulary base in a natural and communicative way.

Learning Approach
There are many ways to learn, but I agree with the philosophy that "learning is social" (Vygotsky, 1962). I learn best in the "zone of proximal development," (illustrated in the photo below) just outside my "comfort zone" and I seem to retain the information better in a "mentor/apprentice" dynamic.

(Photo retrieved at:

There is no question that it will take a lot of effort on your part to remember vocabulary and it may be very difficult to find a conversation partner, as mentioned in the previous post, but engaging with someone else in the target language will have a profound effect on your retention and fluency.

Useful Materials and Texts
In order to converse with any amount of fluency we must understand how the sentence structure works. When I was studying Japanese language and culture at Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, the text that we used was the Japanese for Busy People series (Cover pictured below).

This was my first formal introduction to Japanese language learning and the materials were very well organised and easy to follow with a nice progression from romaji in the first text to kana in the second. There is also a third text which is a workbook. If you are hard core and price is not an issue you can purchase copies for about $30.00 each or you may be able to find pdf. copies on-line.

I cannot even begin to cover the material found in these texts in this blog and strongly recommend that you augment your language learning with as many materials as you can. The most important thing in choosing a study guide or textbook for such a purpose is that it has to agree with you. That is to say, you should feel good when you are looking at it; it should be visually pleasing to you and easy to follow and progress with. The materials covered in language texts and work books are usually the same or very similar. Therefore, I recommend taking the time and looking at many before choosing the one that speaks to you. Remember you will use it to speak for yourself!

And now for the Lesson...
Today we will look at something that I found on-line in a recent search, "The Surprisingly Simple Logic Behind Japanese Sentence Structure" (Raw Lisard, 2016)
The paper covers the "Basic desu 「です」 sentences, how particles work, defining different roles, and expanding individual elements."
Today we will look at the "Basic desu 「です」 sentences."
Desu pronounced "dess" is presented as the "equivalent to the English verb "be" (am, are, is)." This usually comes at the end of the sentence. Simple sentences that use desu usually follow the same basic structure:
"[topic] wa は ... (something that describes the toic)... desu です。"
Raw Lisard gives some common examples.
I recommend trying to personalise this material by making and practising your own example sentences.

Raw Lisard gives the example (This and following examples will be written in English, then in romaji, followed by kana, and finally kana including kanji):
Example 1) "I am a person. Watashi wa hito desu.
わたし は ひと です。 私 は 人 です。"
This could easily be altered to, I am Marc. Watashi wa Ma-ku desu.
わたし は まーく です。 私 は マーク です。

By altering the subject of the example sentence, by entering your own name, you not only personalise it, you also make it more functional. In this case, you can use it in your self introduction.
Let's look at some more examples and consider how they can be personalised or altered to express something that you want to say using the same sentence structure.

Example 2) "This is a car. Kore wa kuruma desu.
これ は くるま です。 これ は 車 です。"

Notice the difference of the [topic], it changed from watashi to kore. Use kore for non living things; objects that are close to you in distance. The above sentence gives the impression that the person speaking is standing next to a car, telling something what it is. While it serves the purpose, it is not very practical. Perhaps it would be better to change the subject of the sentence; the car, to something else. A taxi stand, or a bus stop/station. Instead of saying ,"This is a taxi," it would be more beneficial to learn and practise this is the taxi stand kore wa takushi noriba desu. (noriba is pronounced "No li ba")

Example 3) "The Car is red. Kuruma wa akai desu.
くるま は あかい です。 車 は 赤い です。"
Again, here I feel that with slight alteration to the subject we can increase the functionality of the example. The following example comes to mind, but please consider your own:
 The (traffic) light is red. Shingou wa aka desu.
しんごう は あか です。 信吾 は 赤 です。
The point that Raw Lisard is trying to make in these examples is in the structure of the sentence itself. Within the examples are "three very important rules."They are:
1. The particle wa 「は」 identifies the topic of the sentence
2. The verb comes at the end of the sentence
3. The articles "a", "an",  and "the" do not exist in Japanese.

Raw Lisard states that, "these rules apply to everything, so using the first two in particular, we can adapt our sentence structure... [to]:
[topic] wa は ... (other information) ... [verb]. This is a very easy to understand format that is highly adaptable to use in "real life" situations. He closes the section with the following:
When the verb is desu 「です」, the 'other information' can just be a noun (kore wa kuruma desu これは 車 です) or adjective (kuruma wa akai desu 車 は 赤い です). In fact, the last thing immediately before desu 「です」 should be either a noun or an adjective.

If you can remember and aply this simple rule when developing your sentences you will be well on your way to communicating in the target language. The next step is to understand what you are doing more deeply so that you can develop more elaborate sentences by using "particles" correctly. But, speaking from personal experience, leaving particles out completely will not hinder the communicative power of your sentence in the beginning. The rule presented in this article is a very good one to start with!

I will finish off this post with a quick grammar point related to the above examples and ground this learning approach in the literature, but if you are not interested in that stuff, you can stop reading now and get to work with your conversation partner. Stay tuned for the next post where we will look at some essential Kanji to help you get around when you are travelling.

Monday, 6 March 2017

Framing a Japanese Language Learning Project

As many of you reading this blog know, the International Chito-Ryu Karate-do Federation (ICKF) will hold its Tri-annual World Championships "Soke Cup" this year in Kumamoto, Japan. The championships will take place on August 12th and 13th at the Kumamoto Prefectural Gymnasium (Pictured below).
(2010 Chito-Ryu Karate-do Soke Cup, Kumamoto, Japan)

I have been very fortunate to have competed in this tournament representing both Canada and Japan and it has been an honour to compete alongside of my good friends and fellow karate-ka each and every time. This event was originally scheduled to take place in Kumamoto last summer. However, it had to be postponed due to the devastating earthquake that hit Kumamoto hard in the Spring of that year (see "Reflection on My Changing Perspective" for more information on the earthquake, there are also Internet sites provided on the page which offer detailed information).

Although I qualified for the Japanese National Team by winning the Grand-championship award at the ICKF All Japan National Championships (see "Focusing on the Goals not the Results Changes Everything!") and was looking forward to competing one last time for Japan last year, I have since decided to retire from competition. I will focus my time and energy to helping strengthen the relationships of the international membership.

I have been appointed to the position of Chief Liaison of the Public Relations Division of the All Japan Chito-Kai and as such am a member of the organising committee for this year's Soke Cup. I have been charged with the responsibility to coordinate a staff of translators for the event and am excited about the opportunity to help members of the Chito-Ryu community communicate more effectively with each other to develop and strengthen friendships with one another. This responsibility has caused me to consider ways to facilitate better communication and in this respect I would like to use this blog to help people who may be thinking about preparing for their trip to Kumamoto by learning some Japanese.

Over the next few posts I will provide you with some helpful Japanese language learning materials. In each post I will share with you something beneficial that I have found useful in my own language studies, but I  recommend that you perform your own online searches as well. From personal experience I suggest focusing on learning applicable phases and practising the correct pronunciation of the phrases you are learning. With regards to vocabulary building I recommend focusing on verbs.

When learning any language there are some simple steps that one can take to increase success and sustain motivation. There is an abundance of information online that can help you frame your learning approach, but the bottom line is that as a language learner you must do the work. Therefore, motivation plays an essential role in the success of your studies. I believe that we can maintain our levels of motivation by knowing the purpose of the endeavour. Understanding the purpose also helps us form more effective goals.
(Japan image from

In this post I will introduce you to the following information on how to learn a language in 7 days written by Ed M. Wood and presented by multilingual twins,  Matthew and Michael Youlden. Unfortunately the support site, Babbel does not offer study guides for Japanese so I will try to relate the tricks to our goal of using them to learn Japanese as the study tips may help to frame your study approach. Visit the site in the link below to view the video or read the 7 tricks in more detail:

7 Tricks To Learn Any Language In 7 Days (From The Superpolyglot Twins Who Did It)

Trick 1 - Get to know why - The tip here is to clearly define your goal(s) at the very beginning and then plot a route towards the achievement of your goal(s). In this case, your time line would start today and lead to your trip in August. As you continue your studies and practise of the language you should develop proficiency and confidence which will peak during your time in Japan, very similar to your physical and mental preparation for the competition.

Trick 2 - Get Sticky - They recommend mapping and labelling your immediate environment in the new language as the very first physical step to learning. This builds and reinforces passive associations without drastically altering your daily routines. The visual stimulus will help you familiarise yourself with the vocabulary however, since Japanese is a 漢字 kanji (character) based language there is a debate regarding whether it is better to label in romanji (alphabet) or kanji. Either way I recommend that if your goal is to develop communicative competence you should worry less about spelling and more about phonetic pronunciation even when labelling.

Trick 3 - Get a Partner - "There are few better motivations than a peer with the same goal." I totally agree with this statement. Whether you are training for competition, studying for a test, or learning a language, the importance of a training partner is massive! With a partner it doesn't matter what your motivational trigger is, i.e., competition or a sense of responsibility, the mere presence of a training partner will add the type and amount of intrinsic pressure needed to 'force' yourself to do the work even on those days when you are tired or don't really feel like it (sound familiar? I'm sure you have experienced those days when you didn't really feel like going into the Dojo to train, but you got that phone call from your training partner who persuaded you to go and that night becomes the best training session of the week. Thank you Fabian Massol for those times you called me!).

Trick 4 - Prepare Mini Motivations - It is now March, 5 Months out, you need to create "landmarks" on your route towards your over all goal. The article suggests that these "landmarks can consist of small challenges" such as real like interactions in the target language which force you to prepare areas of vocabulary to overcome them. They state that "gratification will come with the completion [and] will serve to spur you onto even greater heights."

Trick 5 - Eat the Language - They suggest finding ways to tie everything you are learning together. You could surround yourself with the food, music, movies, etc. "so that even in your down time you can prime your mind towards the language and... trigger further areas of interest and motivation." In hind sight, this is exactly what I did when I was a high school student. My room was filled with anything and everything Japanese. Looking back, my interest in Japan at that time was obviously an obsession, but I do think it all contributed to my Japanese communicative competence. (A more detailed example of how to use this trick is provided below)

Trick 6 - Use What You Already Know - Don't wait for perfect mastery and try not to think of the subject matter; Japanese Language and Culture as something totally foreign. "Find pleasure in drawing parallels and making comparisons between the language(s) you already know and your new language." This would be easier for someone who is already bilingual or multi-lingual, but Japanese is still tricky because of all of the perceived cultural differences. Try not to focus on the differences, rather look a little harder for the similarities. Being Karate-ka there is already a lot that you know about Japan. Focus on building upon this base and deepening your understanding of the Karate-do related concepts.

Trick 7 - Variation is the Spice of Life - These tips can help you to frame your study plan, but remember to try new things as well. Your new language could open doors to finding out new things about yourself. A new language, a new culture can be an opportunity to develop a new you.

I have spent almost half of my life in Japan and I know that my experiences here have and continue to affect me deeply. There are somethings that I can only use Japanese to express my true intent. These experiences have made me think that if this is the case than communicating true intent is more important than the language we are bound to.

We need to free ourselves from the bounds of language and develop our communicative skills so that language becomes what it truly is; a tool that we use to express our intentions to others in an attempt to create a condition of shared understanding. So, use what you have learned together with your training partner(s) and beyond. Example of Trick 5: 
Go to the Asian market on Saturday morning and use the Japanese phrases you've learned to buy some produce to make a Japanese dish that you will prepare, maybe okonomiyaki or sushi, or something not as common that you have recently come across in your studies, with friends or other memebers from your dojo, who you will invite over to watch a Japanese movie and drink Japanese Beer or Sake or some kind of Japanese juice or tea if you are under age or don't drink alcohol. The movie can be old or new, I recommend all "Kurasawa films" and the original "Ring,” but I am sure that you could find more modern productions online, in the genera of your personal interest. In this case, karate related videos may be preferred. The point is use what you've learned in an everyday context to submerse yourself in the language and the culture and celebrate what you have learned by using it to do these things as naturally as you can. The people around you will recognise your enthusiasm and react positively to your passionate approach to learning the language!

Access is becoming less and less of a problem, but you still need to do the work. 頑張りましょう!
(Fuji San and Sakura image from

In the next post I will introduce some tips on how to approach the dreaded and confusing Japanese sentence structure. until then try applying the tricks mentioned in this post and build up your vocabulary and motivation to take the next step and bring your language learning to the next level!