What I learnt at Polyglot Conference 2019

The annual Polyglot Conference was held at Kyushu Sangyo University in Fukuoka, Japan this year! I stayed in Fukuoka for 6 days and 3 full days were spent at the conference. It was the first Polyglot Conference I was able to attend and what an experience it was! One that I will treasure for my life.

Some of the speakers this year included:
Steve Kaufmann
Elisa Polese
Alex Rawlings
Rebecca Howie
Prof Alexander Arguelles
Dr Emmanuel Ternon
Sara Maria Hasbun
Judith Meyer
And myself:

All of the talks from this year will be uploaded to the Polyglot Conference YouTube channel in a few weeks or months, and I’ll be sure to post a link to them when they’re up.

For now, you can take a look at my vlogs; and here’s my summary of stuff I learnt this conference.

1. Take charge of your language learning process

By far, my favorite talk from the conference was Professor Alexander Arguelles’ presentation called From Start to Finnish. He spoke about how he took an immersive Finnish course at a Concordia Language Village camp for two weeks and what methods he used to learn the level as fast as he could.

While other students at the camp were adapting to the language slowly, Prof Arguelles sped up his language process not only by studying diligently but by speaking to the camp guides as much as he could. It was an exclusively Finnish environment and he made sure to listen and absorb as much as he could. Every day, he’d get up at dawn and prepare conversation topics for the day, looking up vocabulary related to philosophy and religion. He had a grammar guide which he studied and was able to have a decent conversation within days of starting to learn the language.

I was impressed with by how he made use of the native Finnish speakers around him to have them teach him correct pronunciation, intonation and vocabulary. He would drive the topics and steer the conversation in directions that would be beneficial to his learning.

Some concluding remarks by Prof Arguelles

[Taken from Prof Arguelles’ presentation slides]
Just from his third day in the immersive Finnish camp, he knew he needed:
– to take charge of the learning process, not just follow the way the camp was going
– prepare conversations each day at dawn
– scope out staff with sympathetic personalities from whom he could elicit knowledge and therefore control the learning process
– not use his own methods but use the rhythm of the camp as much as possible in a continuous cycle of grammatical study, reading aloud, comprehensible listening input (lectures), one on one conversation and targeted practice (eg phonetics).

It was so inspirational to see how seriously he takes his learning and how fast he was able to reach a conversational level in Finnish. He mentioned how he can study for 12 to 13 hours on end each day and not feel tired. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that. I take my hat off for him!

You can see his Finnish journey in a series of episodes on his YouTube channel.

Speaking at the Closing Panel with Prof Arguelles in the middle

2. Passion drives progress

One of the key things that will get you to fluency in a language is passion for learning. Wherever you are, make an effort to learn something new and use the language. I met so many language learners who can barely speak English but came all the way to the conference for the sole purpose of learning and practicing what they know. If you have passion, you’ll make progress. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t shy away from situations where you can learn something.

I was touched so see how some of my Korean friends at the conference were not afraid to speak up using broken English to ask a question after a talk. Even if it took them a long time to search for words and form a question, they tried and that’s what matters. Stepping out of your comfort zone and taking the plunge to speak a foreign language: that’s what will build your confidence, build your vocabulary and drive you to fluency!

Someone who particularly inspired me is my new friend Dean, also knowns as Pinoy Polyglot in the Making. Dean saved up for months to make it to the conference and he truly made the most of each situation! I saw him carrying around papers with Tagalog printed on it to teach people how to say things, I saw him interviewing other polyglots, and I saw him in the front row of many presentations, taking notes an actively listening! Dean is going places, and I know that because I can see his passion.

With Dean after he taught me some Tagalog

3. Personalities in polyglottery might not be what you think

Alex Rawlings gave a thought-provoking talk on the idea of different personalities with each language you speak. He mentioned how he feels freer speaking Greek and more organized and straightforward when speaking German — but then concluded that this doesn’t mean it’s the language that makes it so, but rather your own experiences with it. For example, he would generally speak Greek when on holiday at the beach, in a relaxed environment with family. German was a school subject for him, and therefore he needed to be organized and structured.

Alex gave an interesting example — he first learnt to call a waitress as “girl!” in Russian when he was in a small provincial village. At first he thought it was rude, but realised that’s how Russians do it. He started adopting what he referred to as this ‘rude’ personality when he spoke Russian, but only realized when he was in Moscow that educated city people don’t actually talk like that. So, Russian isn’t a rude-sounding language per se, but his first experience with it was in a context that helped shape such an incorrect mindset.

This made me think – I always thought each language had an innate ‘personality’ to it – but then again, it really is the people and experiences that change your perception of a language.

4. You can create immersive language experiences without traveling to a country

I was so excited to meet Rebecca Howie this year! I’ve been following her from Irregular Endings, her online design store for language goods, for a while. I attended her presentation where she ran us through how she creates an immersive language outing day for herself.

Participants of her workshop were asked to give ideas on what you can do have a successful immersive language day: like setting up a plan of where you’ll go, what words you want to use, how you will track your progress or record yourself, how to debrief after your day and review what to learn and so forth. She has a lovely stage personality and the workshop was highly informative – one of my favorites from the conference.

With Rebecca from Irregular Endings

5. CJKV Dict is an awesome tool

Dr Emmanuel Ternon, my new friend and computer programmer-turned polyglot, is the creator of CJKV Dict, an online dictionary. It’s excellent for polyglots who are learning Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese.

As taken from his website, “Besides the ability to return search results for a specific word written in Chinese characters in all four CJKV languages, CJKV Dict automatically converts simplified Chinese characters and Japanese Shinjitai to traditional Chinese characters. This makes it possible to check whether or not the same Chinese characters are used in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and/or Vietnamese to write the same word.” You can use it online or in an app form.

CJKV Dict also has a Twitter account with a word of the week in all 4 languages.

Emmanuel and I with his book on Traditional Chinese Characters (available on Amazon)

6. Strength in numbers: mobilising the language community

Finally, something I’ll take away from the event is that there are so many of us polyglots and language learners out there and we need to use what we know to improve life around us. During the closing panel, someone asked something like “how can we use our skills to improve the world around us?”. I immediately thought that we all have wonderful talents to share but we don’t always bridge connections between people.

One of the speakers, Grigory Kazakov, talked about developing language learning materials for smaller languages. Someone asked him if he has actually made any materials, but he answered and said he’s merely a strategist and comes up with concepts and methods for teaching languages, but wouldn’t design a book, per se. I thought someone like me might be the opposite: I’m a trained designer but I might not have all the knowledge on how to create language learning materials. If a designer or educational material creator could partner with someone like Grigory, we might be seeing resources for smaller languages entering the mainstream market. One way we can do this is to bridge connections between people. If you know someone who does something and know of someone else who needs help, put them in touch!

My friend Becki, who speaks Japanese fluently, is learning Ainu now. She has a big collection of resources in Japanese, but such resources are only accessible to people who are literate in Japanese. If there is someone who wants to learn Ainu but can’t speak Japanese, that would pose a problem. How can we, as the polyglot community, connect people to make Ainu resources accessible to non-Japanese speakers? I was happy to see that two Ainu speakers approached Becki after the conference, but I’d be happier to see if something exciting comes of it!

See you in Mexico in 2020!

At the end of the event, it was announced that Polyglot Conference 2019 will happen in Cholula, Mexico! How exciting! I hope to see all of you there.

Thank you to Richard Simcott and Tim Keeley for arranging a successful event, and I can’t wait to see where we will go as a polyglot community in the future. You are all so special to me!


My JLPT N3 Results

So, turns out I forgot my password to access my JLPT results, and I had to email the Japanese embassy, to my embarrassment, to ask for my password. After a few excruciating hours of waiting, I was finally able to access my results.

I passed! 

However, I was expecting better results than I got, because the test felt easier than I expected at the time, but seems like I got quite a few questions wrong! I received an A for Grammar and a B for Vocabulary. Sounds about right, as Kanji was a tough one! I did expect a better mark in listening though, since it felt super easy! My 29/60 for Language Knowledge is laughable but super accurate. I really need to improve my vocabulary!

For a few weeks of cramming, I think this is a decent result. I could have done better if I worked harder from the start of the year, though. Whoops!

I won’t redo the N3, as apparently a score of 121/180 is pretty good according to international averages. According to Lindie’s average, that’s not fabulous though. Nevertheless, I am happy I passed, and I will aim for the N2 in about 2 years’ time. I’m going to see if I can do the HSK (Chinese exam) this year instead of the JLPT.

How did you guys do?

Here are my results:

Screenshot 2019-01-23 at 10.54.05.png

How I take notes (cram) for JLPT N3

So it’s only a few days before the big test, everyone! I made a video yesterday about how I take notes and pretty much cram for the test. I’m not focusing on listening as in all my practice tests, listening is the best aspect, but I really do need to work on vocabulary and Kanji. As I’ve mentioned many times before, just making lists of words won’t help, but learning the vocabulary word or Kanji in context of its meaning is very useful.

For that reason, I’ve made a color coding system for my notebook and it helps me easily distinguish between the words, their meanings, and example sentences.

1. Kakao Friends Neo Garden ring bound notebook (vocabulary)
2. Thin Muji A5 brown notebook (from a pack of 5 with different colored spines)

The Nihongo 500-mon book, and my Kakao Friends notebook for vocab

Stationery & Color coding system
Black pens (Muji 0.35, 0.5 and Daiso pens) = Kanji and kana
Blue pens (Muji 0.35 and 0.5) = Word meanings
Pink pen (Muji Sarasara click pen) = Example sentences
Yellow marker = Highlighting words I still need to memorize after reviewing once

Screenshot 2018-11-29 at 09.44.57

1. Do the example test in the 日本語500問 book
2. Turn the page and see if I did it right
3. Check if there are any new words, especially if I got the question wrong
4. Highlight or underline the word in the book
5. If there are grammar explanations, write the grammar in a separate notebook
6. If there are new vocab words, write them using the system above into a larger vocabulary notebook
7. Review regularly and highlight using yellow if I still need to get the word in my long-term memory

Other notes
I mark the pages in my test practice book with sticky notes. One note is for where I need to summarize from (meaning put new words or grammar explanations into my notebooks), and the other note means I still need to highlight words to be put into the book later.

Screenshot 2018-11-29 at 09.46.35

That’s about it for now, because I should probably get back to studying.
Good luck to all of you taking the exam this Sunday! 🙂

How I’m studying for JLPT N3

I’m taking the JLPT N3 this December. I’ve never taken a JLPT test before, and I’m not sure if my level is near N3, but I have enough time until then to formulate and stick to a good study plan.

☆ Reading practice

The Japanese novels I have are limited, but I’m going to make use of the few I have in conjunction with online sources.

The first book I’m using is Read Real Japanese (Essays). There is also a version with stories, but I prefer nonfiction. The Japanese page is on one side and the English translation of that page is on the other side. At the back of the book is a dictionary with the words that appear in the book. This book isn’t specifically aimed at any JLPT level, but I appreciate the detail that the notes go into and I love learning words from a variety of sources.

I am also using official JLPT N3 practice books and do the reading tests from them. Reading is challenging to me just because of how much content there is to get through in a limited amount of time. Here’s an example of what an official reading test looks like. I’m a very hands-on learner and like to write, so after I’ve read the piece, I like to write it down.

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reading before bed
I like to read for an hour or so before I sleep. Usually I read books in English. I have quite a few novels and nonfiction books from Japan, so I think now is the perfect time to push myself to read them. I’ll read with a highlighter and highlight the words I don’t know, and look them up in the morning. Currently, I’m reading 考え方のコツ

JapaneseTest4You has lots of JLPT activities catered for different levels. I’ll be making use of their N3 Reading practice tests to make sure my level is on par with the standard. I’ve noticed I read rather slowly out loud (much faster in my head), but I’m concerned about my reading speed for the test. It’s important to read fast but retain information so that you’re able to answer the comprehension questions about the section. I need to learn to read faster and more accurately!

☆ Kanji and vocabulary

online & offline
Every time I encounter a word I don’t know, I’ll write it down and make sure I know the correct stroke order. I’ll transfer it into my N3 vocabulary book and review it often. I don’t like flashcards, so I’ll stick to vocab lists on paper. It’s key to remember not to memorize single words. The best way to get Kanji in your memory is to learn it in the context of a sentence. For that reason, I prefer writing longer sentences down than single words when I’m learning new Kanji.

For me, the best way to learn Kanji is to learn it in the context of words and sentences rather than single characters. For this, I like to use jisho.org to look up a character and then see the example words for it. You can see how I use Jisho to practice Kanji in this video:

Then since I love example sentences, after learning the Kanji I will go on either tangorin or weblio and look for sentences that are at my level and one or two above my level. While doing that I’ll often encounter a new vocab word or kanji and then kind of do the same process for that word.

One of the best websites I’ve found for Kanji is renshuu.org. I need to make a conscious effort to use it more, though! Renshuu has quizzes, games and goals you can set for your Kanji learning. You can select which level (JLPT or Kanji Kentei) you want to review.

I am using the textbook called Kanji Isn’t That Hard! which I checked out at the library at my local Japanese Embassy. I can see the book is for beginners as it uses pictures to illustrate how the Kanji is built up, but what I like about it is that it explains the build of the Kanji in both Japanese and English. So just by reading the explanation of the character, I also learn new words. In my Kanji notebook, I write down the character, it’s stroke order, and the kun/on-yomi. I practice writing the character over and over until I don’t have to think about which stroke comes first or last. It should be a natural hand movement without too much thinking. Sometimes this means writing it 5 times, sometimes 50. I make sure to say the pronunciation of the Kanji while I’m writing it.

For other vocabulary acquisition, and since I like to learn through conversations and context, I’m using Japanese For Busy People III. It’s not specifically catered to JLPT N3, and it’s actually a bit easier than N3 would be, I think, but it’s great for a holistic approach to Japanese learning. Each chapter has a main conversation, and then it goes over grammar points with lots of practice exercises. At the end of each chapter is a Kanji section.

☆ Practice and immersion

1. I’ll be using the app Goodnight to practice Japanese, although it’s mainly used by Taiwanese people. Some Taiwanese people on the app speak Japanese too. I found a good friend who lives in Japan and though he’s Taiwanese, he’s on N1 level. We speak Japanese together. Talking to someone on N1 level is great because they’ll use different vocabulary than someone on my own level would.

2. I might also use the app Saito-san to broadcast in Japanese. You can have a little broadcast room and viewers can join while you speak about various topics. I did this a few years ago and you can see my video of it here.

4. Changing my phone, apps and laptop settings
I changed Spotify, Facebook and Instagram to be in Japanese, and I also set my phone language to Japanese. I have a separate Twitter account for tweeting in Japanese and following Japanese accounts too. Finally, I’ve gone as far as labelling all the folders on my laptop in Japanese. This won’t guarantee me passing JLPT N3 of course, but just seeing Japanese and seeing Kanji every day helps remind me what my goals are.

I’ve labelled my laptop folders in Japanese!

5. My daily planner and shopping lists
My planner notes are all in Japanese, and I often write my shopping lists in Japanese too. This helps me use Kanji I wouldn’t normally write out, and also helps me learn new words when I need to explain something in Japanese.

☆ I don’t have a daily plan

Because I have a fulltime job, and I tutor languages after work, I don’t have enough energy or time to dedicate a specific amount of time to JLPT study each day. In fact, if I tell myself to learn 10 words a day and finish one lesson from a book a week, I’m going to stress myself out a lot more. I prefer a more haphazard approach, studying when I feel up for it, and then giving it my all. Of course, consistency is key, so it’s important that I do something in Japanese each day (like listening to a podcast at work) instead of ignoring the language until I feel like it.


How to study Japanese grammar

Grammar is either your favorite part of a language, or the most frustrating part of a language. Here’s my guide on how to study Japanese grammar:

1. Take a grammar structure and practice writing it in your own way. Then, get it checked by a native speaker. 
For example, if you have the structure ~てみる which is to “try”, then and your example is 「この本を読んでみてください」 (please try reading this book), then you can take the sentence and replace words to make it your own. e.g.:
このパンを食べてみてください Please try eating this bread
その車を運転してみてください Please try driving that car

2. Don’t just rely on one textbook.
There are great grammar forums that you can use for reference to read more about grammar structures. I suggest the following:
Jgram (so good, even has JLPT level indicators and study lists)
Take Kim’s guide to Japanese
Maggie Sensei

You can also use an app that focuses heavily on grammar. Remember, grammar is not just something to learn in isolation – you learn it faster when it’s in the context of a sentence, a situation or something you are interested in. Lingodeer is an app that does this excellently. Lingodeer doesn’t only teach Japanese but also has Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish and more. Duolingo, as good as it is for learning vocabulary and having a laugh at silly phrases, doesn’t come close to Lingodeer’s in-depth grammar lessons.

Lingodeer is a paid app after the first lesson (though reviews and flashcards are free). If you’re keen to subscribe, you can use my code LINDIE15 to get 15% discount on a Lingodeer subscription (whether you choose annual or monthly or lifetime is up to you). Just click on I have a Code upon purchase and you’re good to go.

3. Use the structure as soon as, and as much as you can

As soon as you learn something new, don’t just write it down in your notebook and forget about it. You can make an Instagram post using it, write a blog in Japanese using it, or even just talk to yourself or make a video where you use it. The more you say it, even if you just speak to yourself, the more it will become cemented in your memory.

4. Keep listening and reading Japanese
If you constantly listen to Japanese music, TV or radio, you might hear the grammar structure being used and then you’ll say “Oh! I remember that. Now I see how it’s being used in daily conversation”. You’ll feel good about yourself and you’ll be reminded of what you’ve learnt.

If you need some new music recommendations, here’s my Japanese playlist on Spotify. What you can do is take a song you like, look up the lyrics, and write down some sentences. Take a highlighter and highlight verbs in one color, particles in another, nouns in another and adjectives in another color. This will help you visually see the structure of Japanese grammar.

5. Get a grammar reference dictionary
My FAVORITE grammar dictionary is A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar by Seiichi Makino and Michio Tsutsui. It’s full of examples <3 There are 3 dictionaries: One for basic, then intermediate, and finally advanced. I use the intermediate one. I kind of use it like a reading book and just look at it for fun, which is super geeky, I know. It’s so beautiful.

6. Don’t focus exclusively on grammar. Learn from daily conversation and remember not to neglect reading, writing, and listening. Think of it as a workout. You can’t go to the gym and just do leg day every day. Your arms won’t be toned and your legs will be insane. You might be excellent at grammar and vocabulary but you may not have confidence to speak because you’ve never practiced speaking. Everything is connected, so by practicing Japanese daily, you’ll be ingraining grammar into your memory too. Just remember, practice makes permanent, not perfect… so make sure you check things with native speakers if you’re unsure.

Header Photo by Jezael Melgoza on Unsplash