Instagram as a Japanese Language Learning Tool

Social media is a great tool for the budding learner of Japanese, and there are a number of excellent blogs and websites that laud the benefits of Twitter as a language learning tool (see JETAABC’s post about Twitter here).  There are fewer tips about using Instagram to learn Japanese.

An example of a photo/account found using the #ハイキング hashtag.

To be sure, Twitter and Instagram share a lot in common:  They are essentially media to share short bursts of information – the former in the form of 140 characters or less, and the latter in the form of photos and comments.  Though Twitter does feature photo sharing options, the fact that Instagram necessarily involves photos and allows over 140 characters per comment gives it that extra dimension.  A learner can not only read the comment and respond to it, she can also get more information about the post from the photo.

Using Instagram as learning tool is dead simple – much like using Twitter.

First, (after getting your own account set up) start looking for themes or topics you’re interested in.  This can be done by searching by hashtag, or by randomly using the screen in which Instagram suggests people/accounts you might like based on the sites that you are already following.  I personally enjoy mountain sports (hiking, skiing, camping…etc), and following people who live in some of my (old or current) stomping grounds (Fukuoka, the French Alps, Vancouver and the Pacific Northwest).  The ability to choose topics that interest you should give you that extra incentive to learn.

Once you’ve populated your account with people and things you’re interested, start surfing away.  Many accounts I follow post at least 1 photo per day, and some provide a comment/explanation of what the viewer is looking at.  Here is where the study/work comes in.

If you can read and understand the entry, you’re now able to maintain your Japanese level via the comments.  You can also comment on the photos, invite the people to come follow you, and actually develop a following of Instagram friends.  There are even some very active Instagram communities, i.e., groups of aspiring (and extremely talented) Japanese photographers who meet up every once in a while to take photos and get their Instagram on.  If you feel your Japanese is up to it, why not join in?

Even if you can’t read the comments right away, fear not.  A quick screen shot, followed by Google Translate (or a similar app) will translate the words you don’t know and allow you to grow your vocabulary in areas you are interested in.  Leave comments, ask questions, or just enjoy learning about people who share the same interests as you in Japan.

Though some may poo-poo social media like Instagram as shallow and a waste of time, I’ve found it an incredibly rich environment to learn about (and get to know) people living in Japan (or Japanese speakers living outside of Japan) who share my interests.  It’s also a great way to learn about amazing places you’d like to go, gear you’d like to get, or adventures you’d like to try.  So, with that said, make Instagram part of your New Year’s Japanese learning resolution!

Lang-8: Free Japanese Correction Community

This is a brief post to let you know about a website where its community of native language speakers correct your writing for free!  It’s called Lang-8.  I haven’t used it yet, but if anyone out there has please share your thoughts in the comments section below.  Here’s a short video that Lang-8 has put together explaining their site.

I’ve done a bit of due diligence, and the consensus is that it’s a great resource, though one that intermediate and advanced students may find more fruitful than beginners.

Twitter – Free and Digestible Reading Practice

Twitter and tweets have revolutionized social media, and you can harness this power to improve your Japanese.  In some ways, Japanese language tweets are perfect language learning tools – you can choose to read about topics you like at the Japanese level you like, and each tweet is limited to a mere 140 characters.  Here’s a helpful video offering hints and strategies to use Twitter to learn Japanese.

You can also use Twitter to get mini Japanese lessons sent directly to you.  Maggie-Sensei, for example, tweets often and even answers questions from her Twitter followers.  Bonus.  Learnjapanesepod also has a nice Twitter feed that offers vocab tweets and advertises new lessons on their website (they also have Japanese learning podcasts…more about that in a later post).  Finally, Tofugu also has interesting tweets, including Japanese language learning ones.

A good tip if reading on your cellphone is to take a screen shot of any tweet that you can’t quite read, have the Google Translate App (Android or Apple) scan the photo/page, and then use the App to read the words you couldn’t make out.

Japanese tweets can be a real confidence builder.  For example, for those of us who are a little intimidated by newspapers, I’ve found that a few focused weeks of serious reading efforts will reveal that (as with English) a number of tough kanji keep cropping up time and time again.  It’s rather satisfying to realize that we can tame even the most difficult issues (politics, economics…AKB48….) with a little time and tweet-reading software.

All this to say, the sky is the limit when you explore the world of tweets.  Got a great Twitter feed you like?  Let us know in the comments section below!

Quick Japanese Hacks – The Furiganizer and Google Translate

The adage “it’s only easy if you know the answer” is especially true when dealing with Japanese kanji.  Even the most diligent student gets struck on that weird kanji that she swears that she’s seen before but can’t quite recall how to read it.  Rather than dusting off your old-school kanji dictionary, reach for your computer or smart phone and try out “The Furiganizer” and “Google Translate”.

The Furiganizer is a handy website that will provide the furigana of the contents of any Japanese text that you copy into its text field.  It’s handy if you’re on a computer surfing the web or even perusing a documents that allows you to select its text content.  As helpful as it is, it has its limits, and sometimes you’ll get some weird readings, but its a handy tool in a pinch if you’ve got a computer handy.

Alternatively, if you’re on the go, give Google Translate a try.  You can actually take photos of Japanese texts (menus, signs, book titles…etc) and as long as the app can recognize the text, it can translate it.  There is also an option to write in the kanji on your touch screen, which the software will actually recognize!  Google Translate also has a webpage that allows you to copy and paste text in Japanese to get the English translation.  As with The Furiganizer, however, Google Translate is a work in progress, and sometimes the translations you get of full sentences are scrambled and drunk-sounding – especially if you are translating a dense newspaper headline.  Then, there are translation that are just plain wrong, as comically demonstrated by this advertisement for Berlitz:

That said, Google Translate is a great springboard for language comprehension, and if you’re like me any help is welcome…except in the case of the Berlitz example.  Yikes!