Top 5 JLPT Study Apps – Android

The JLPT is not just a test that measures Japanese – it is a test that measures how well you are at taking tests that measure Japanese……


Wait…. what?


Okay anyway – if you are on this page it means you are looking for the best apps to learn how to pass the JLPT – here they are.


    A great app that allows you to study vocabulary and grammar points in a sentence format.  All words in this app are broken down by jlpt level and its highly customizable.  I recommend it as the best.
  2. Learn Japanese NHK
    Mostly good for JLPT n5 Listening practice – this is a versatile app with high quality materials for a beginner that are engaging.
  3. JLPT Prepare
    Divided by level and segmented into vocabulary – grammar – kanji ; this app is very well organized and tests you with questions that are from sample exams.
    A simple interface that allows the user to harness the power of spaced repetition flash cards to expedite their japanese learning.
  5. NHK EASY Japanese News
    Learn through hiragana and the ability to add your familiar words into a word bank.

    Do you have a suggestion for a good japanese learning app? Feel free to leave a comment below.


Sleep Hacking and Language Learning

People want to know how to improve memory retention and how to shave off the amount of time it takes to learn new words.

This can happen quite easily – but here are some general guidelines for getting a good nights rest.

  1. Artificial Light should be banned an hour before bedtime.  – Artificial light robs your mind of sleep hormones and disrupts circadian rhytmn.
  2. Put your phone in a different room – Put your phone in a different room it will force you out of bed when the alarm goes off and it will get radio / electric activity away from your brain.
  3. Go to sleep before 11PM – again – circadian rhythm gets disrupted and your brain shoots off hormones to keep you awake if you stay up past 11pm.
  4. Dont eat anything at least 3 hours before bed.   Eating before bedtime is just stupid – it also makes you fat.

If you do these four things – your quality of sleep and vicariously your quality of language learning will improve.

I have read several articles that show that quality sleep can provide you with a significant performance boost when it comes to retaining new vocabulary and processing information within your brains language center.

Duolingo Japanese Review

So…. the time has finally come…. sort of!

Duolingo has launched on the mobile application and they’re saying that its 65% done for the desktop version.

I have been using duolingo on and off very spurradically to pick up vietnamese as a hobbyist – but the audio and learning methodology are quite nice and linear.

I don’t have much to report now other than the fact that the audio for the program is quite authentic and I am looking forward to use the program more and more in the future!

Please stay tuned for an in-depth review of this Japanese language learning application.



The Best Online Course for Learning Japanese Vocabulary – How long does it take to learn Japanese vocabulary with a flashcard application?

Disclaimer: We have not updated this in forever!  I am doing an MBA in Japan so its been hard to find time for an update – but I am currently cramming for a Japanese exam and I am inspiring myself by returning to blogging.  Look forward to – infrequent – updates!  😀


6,000 Words – A good base knowledge of Japanese vocabulary.

How much time does it take to learn 6000 words in Japanese?  Well to “learn” the word in memrise – it takes about 1 minute per word – which would be 600 hours if you completed the course – excluding review.

The tricky part is finding out how often you need to review.

Sebastien Leitner – who developed the leitner flashcard system in the 1970s says that you need about 5 repetitions to “learn” a word – from my personal experiences i would say that it takes me about 20-30 repetitions before i can quickly recall a word.  This also can change depending on what you consider a repetition (is listening to it during a tv program counted?) so be careful!

But I would say the math could work out like this –

6,000 Words  X 2.5 Minutes = 15000 Minutes

15000 / 60 Minutes = 250 Hours

If you spent an hour a day it would take you 250 days or around 8 1/3 months.

If you did 2 hours per day – it would take you around 4 months.

3 hours per day and you can do it in 2 months.

Sounds simple right?  Wellllll…. not so much.

Have you ever tried to learn something for 3 hours a day on a consistent schedule?  For most people – the time cost is impossible.

I am currently on 500 / 6000 words in the following course – Core Vocabulary 6000 Japanese Word Learning Coursescreen-shot-2017-02-04-at-11-37-08-am

I have been at it about 2 months and am woefully behind.  But its a battle of attrition!

Keep on Pushing!!!!

If you have a comment please feel free to leave one!

5 Ways to Break your Chinese Learning Slump


Are you de-motivated? Are you too tired, too busy or just generally uninterested in spending the time it takes to learn Chinese?

Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Demotivation is a common problem that everyone will experience throughout the course of their Chinese learning journey at one point or another.

What matters is how you deal with it when it does.

When you’re at the point of non-study but you still daydream about one day speaking Chinese, you a have a “one day attitude”.

A “one day attitude” is when you continue to put things off by telling yourself that “one day” i’ll finish my textbook, or “one day” I will pass HSK.

But you need to remember…. “One day” is not a day of the week. If you want to get and stay motivated, you need to act now.

So how do we re-motivate ourselves when the going gets tough?

Try the following 5 tips…

motivate to learn Chinese

1. Start a new course

Starting a new course from scratch will allow you to get over the feeling that you have given up on your previous Chinese learning goal and it will allow you to build momentum and consistency. Depending on what self study system you use for vocabulary, there are many online flash card tools that will help you by providing you with free courses. You can also take formal textbook courses at places like coursera and udemy.

2. Watch TV in Chinese

Watching Chinese TV Series’ will make you want to better understand what characters are saying. It will also immerse you culturally. Doing this will lead to an increased desire to study. I recommend sitcoms because they are goofy and repeatable with dialogue that is very deliberate. I Apartment is a good starting point.

3. Listen to Chinese Music

Same as watching TV, this will help you to get back into the groove. I recommend popping onto youtube and searching for something like c-pop playlist. You could combine the two and watch the voice of China which has a nice mix of banter and singing to get your Chinese listening engine revved up.

4. Set daily goals that are way too easy

Creating small goals that you know you will reach on a daily basis will create a habit of achievement and it will also boost your confidence in your learning. Set yourself a small obtainable daily goal. I.E.Study 10 new vocabulary words. Memorize 1 new sentence. Talk in Chinese for 10 minutes with a language exchange partner. etc.

5. Schedule lessons

Having lessons with your teacher will allow them to coach you through your slump and it also gives you extra motivation of a pending deadline. Teachers are a wonderful slump breaker because they know your learning style after taking lessons with you and they know how to engage you in a way where you will retain the information. Every time you learn a new phrase or grammar point and you understand it well, it is a magical moment that you cannot help but get motivation from.

If you try these and set a low expectation on yourself you will be surprised at how easily you start to get into a routine schedule for your studies.

We would like to hear from you… what do you do when you don’t feel like studying and how do you cure your study slumps?

Leave a comment below!

JLPT – N4 After Report

We have finished the JLPT N4 and I believe that we passed.

Initial takeaways – the JLPT’s grammar and reading section were brutal.  I was able to pass vocabulary.  I hope that I got the minimum points on the listening.

We will register for the N3 to be taken in the summer.  I think that we will fail.

Taking the JLPT has given us a goal to shoot for and something to keep us motivated to learn.  For the next test I will definitely need to complete grammar books and practice tests more strenuously.  If I did pass the N4 it was due to the vocabulary section.

I will post our results as soon as we get them.  Look out in the coming weeks for Japanese Business Vocabulary articles.

Hanbridge Mandarin Review

The nice folks over at Hanbridge Mandarin reached out to me in order to provide me with a free-trial of their online Skype school.  In the following review I will give an honest run-down of my first impressions and my experience.

Initial Impressions:

Hanbridge is a mandarin school based out of Shenzhen, I first learned about them when I was approached by one of their staff through facebook about receiving a free trial lesson in exchange for reviewing their service.  Their staff are very prompt and focused and gave me a good overall first impression of their services.

Having previously worked for a Skype teacher portal where I had to handle freelance Skype teachers, my impressions of online Skype schools were that they were a cost offering and that in order to preserve margins, they would skimp on service and customer satisfaction.

This was not the case.  Hanbridge staff were very intent on making sure that my experience was a good one and took great care to arrange appropriate material prior to my trial lesson.

So without further adieu, I will dig into the nuts and bolts of Hanbridge and their Mandarin classes.

I will segment this review into three sections –

  • Before the lesson
  • During the lesson
  • After the lesson

Before the Lesson

Before I had my lesson, I took an assessment which helped the teachers assess my levels of Grammar, Vocabulary, and Listening.  I was impressed at the depth of technology, as I have seen similar online Skype schools provide online assessment that was not as thorough, and did not include listening.  I was able to complete this assessment by using my phone which was great because I was able to do it while sitting on the couch.  I was not expecting it to be mobile accessible, that was a nice surprise.

After I finished taking the self-assessment, the course consultant connected with me on Skype to chat briefly in Mandarin and to ask what I would like to cover in my trial lesson.  I requested business mandarin as I often speak with Clients in Mandarin and I wanted to learn some more useful phrases for doing business.  She arranged my lesson time and provided me with a link to the lesson session via email.

During the Lesson

Hanbridge Mandarin uses a customized version of Cisco Webex.  I was highly impressed with the usability of the software as well as the stability of the video and audio connection.  As I speak with many clients in China via Skype, I have had almost nothing but connection issues with VOIP.  Thankfully, this was not the case.

The lesson software itself is very easy to communicate with.  You are connected to your teacher via Video and you can communicate through chat as well as by drawing on the lesson powerpoints.  Here is an example of a class session:

The classroom contains a virtual whiteboard and a full set of communication features that make communication between the teacher and the student very easy.

At this point in the review you may be thinking… “the technology seems nice…but what about the teacher”.

Like any school, Hanbridge succeeds on the fact that its teachers are great.  The teacher that I had, Xia Xia (Forgive me if I’m forgetting your name!) was very pleasant and friendly, she was fully fluent in English and had a very versatile teaching method.

When I would make a mistake in grammar or pronunciation, she would make sure that she would correct me after I was finished with my sentence.  This encouraged me to speak more. She was also very helpful by giving me alternative examples and separate use cases so that I understood how to use the word or phrase that I was learning in many contexts.  I was very pleased with her level of proficiency as a teacher and her ability to manage the lesson, switching from friendly communication to instructive.

The course material was well laid out and custom created by the teachers.  It was functional and practical and it was not overly produced which I liked.

After the lesson:

After the lesson I was given the option to save all of my lessons notes, video, and presentation, which would be very useful for students who are taking regular lessons.  The staff were also careful to follow up with me to make sure that I had a good experience.

All in All, I can highly recommend Hanbridge Mandarin as an online school. The quality of their instruction and their focus on providing a good experience shows through at every step of the process.  You can tell that they are serious about expanding their business through a quality offering.

Score 9.5/10


  •  Very easy to enroll, pay, and schedule lessons through their online system.
  • Software is easy to use, stable and helpful.
  • Teacher was fantastic.


At $25 per lesson, it can be a bit pricey for the budget conscious language learner.  But in light of the quality, this is not unreasonable.  The market average is in this range.

Last Minute JLPT Study Resources

It’s too late to register for the December JLPT, so if you haven’t registered… tough luck!

But for those of you that are taking the test, I have found that there are several great resources that will help those of us that are prepping.

1st Recommendation – Nihongo Challenge

(I have linked to the n4 versions, because that is where most beginners are going to look) The series covers every level and is widely regarded as the best printed written resource available.  Some people claim that is is unforgiving in the sense that it does not have easily accessible english explanations for Grammar…..kind of like the actual exam.  They don’t call it challenge for nothing!

The other series I would recommend would be the 500 problems series.  I do not know if this series is available on Amazon, if you can find it on Amazon, please refer.

All 500 of the practice test questions have antonyms, synonyms and a very convenient method of tracking your results, as well as a linear guide that will allow you to review all 500 practice problems over the course of a month.

Aside from this there are several free apps on the app store that you can use to drill practice questions.

I would recommend the following:

Do you have a resource that you are particular to?  Please add it below!!!!

Mandarin Chinese Coffee Vocabulary List

In addition to having the one of the strongest tea cultures in the world, coffee culture is also exploding in China. As of July 2015, Coffee Consumption is in a growth cycle of 7x the global average, about 25% to 30% year on year.① With Coffee Cafe’s popping up everywhere, themes and gimmicks to set them apart from the rest are popping up too! You can hang out with docile, pettable cats in a cat cafe while drinking coffee, or you can drink coffee made from beans that cats have pooped out!  (猫屎咖啡 – Māo shǐ kāfēi  is also known as Kopi Luwak, or civet Coffee – lit. Cat Feces Coffee.) You can even visit the re-created set of FRIENDS in Shanghai and have a cup of Joe(y) at Central Perk.② Regardless of your preference of location or fake TV coffee shop, there is something for every stripe of coffee lover in China.

coffee in Chinese

When you visit, you will need to know what to say, so without further adieu, here are some useful vocabulary and phrases for ordering Coffee in China.


Coffee: 咖啡 (kāfēi)

  • I want coffee. 我要咖啡  (wǒ yào kāfēi.)
  • I want a medium coffee. 我要中杯咖啡 (Wǒ yào zhōng bēi kāfēi)
  • I want a large coffee.  我要大杯咖啡  (Wǒ yào dà bēi kāfē)
  • I want another cup of coffee. 我要再来一杯咖啡 (Wǒ yào zàilái yìbēi kāfēi)

Espresso: 浓缩咖啡 (nóngsuō kāfēi)

Cappuccino: 卡布奇诺 (kǎbùqínuò)

Refill: 续杯 (xùbēi)

  • Do you give free refills? 你们这免费续杯吗? (Nǐmen zhè miǎnfèi xù bēi ma?)

Sugar: 糖 (tang)

Milk: 牛奶 (niúnǎi)

Iced Coffee: 冰咖啡 (Bīng kāfēi)

Hot Coffee: 热咖啡 (Rè kāfēi)

Depending on where you are ordering in China, coffee can cost anywhere from 7RMB to 30RMB per cup. Typically, larger chains such as Costa or Starbucks will command a higher price, with luxury boutiques being even higher. Upscale imported Italian coffee bars, or at the infamous aforementioned 猫屎咖啡, being upwards of 100RMB per cup. With the upward trend of Chinese becoming cash rich and time poor, Chinese consumers are willing to pay more for convenience as opposed to taking the time to wash a tea set, and with Starbucks projecting a growth of over 1500 stores up to 3000 by 2019, it seems that coffee is set to dominate as the drink of choice for up and coming Chinese youth. With the shift from coffee being a lifestyle product for Tier 1 cities, to a functional drink for mass consumption, Coffee is really catching on in China!

What are your thoughts?  Do you like coffee?  What words would you add to this list?

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts on China’s coffee scene!

Reference: Food_Drink/21844/Spotlight-The-Friends-Cafe.html

Cool Chinese Character Memorization Methods

It seems like every day a new app comes out that promises to help you learn characters easily. With a growing pool of research in memory and memory competitions on the rise, this article will be a quick round-up of some of these learning methodologies and some of my thoughts on how you can use them to learn characters quickly.


A mnemonic (RpE: /nəˈmɒnɨk/, AmE: /nɛˈmɑːnɪk/ the first “m” is silent), mnemonic device, or memory device is any learning technique that aids information retention in the human memory. Mnemonics aim to translate information into a form that the brain can retain better than its original form.

Mnemonics that can be used for character memorization can come in the form of Acronyms, and mental imagery.

Here is an example of each:


To remember the names of the American “Great Lakes”, we can use HOMES as an acronym. I.E. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, Superior

This method is very beneficial because it allows our brain to narrow down possibilities in passive knowledge by giving us prompts in the form of letters. For example if I said, think of a cartoon character with the initials M.M. it would be pretty easy for you to guess Mickey mouse. Over time using this technique will help us transfer those possibilities to our active knowledge center, improving recall.

I like to employ Acronyms while trying to learn Chengyu or 2/4 character couplings. One of my favorite 成语(chéngyǔ),  破釜沉舟 – (pò fǔ chén zhōu) (Eliminate all options for retreat, No turning back. Loosely translated.) could be called PFCZ for example.

Visual Imagery / Word Pictures

The most popular mnemonic for learning Characters is creating a visual image out of the character. The character for Large/Big 大(dà) can be taken as an example. Imagine a man holding his arms out and telling you “It was this big!!!” while using his arms as a way to demonstrate size.

Or how about 日(rì),the character for Sun. Imagine it as a window, with a blue sky in the background and a Sun on the upper pane. 口(kǒu), the character for Mouth can be imagined as someone yawning. You can put teeth inside the square and a tongue and it will be easily remembered as mouth. These characters are quite simple.  But one way to do this is use a building block approach by assigning radicals mental imagery and then coding your characters into these mental images. For example, to return, 回(huí) Could be a mouth within a mouth.

The more vivid the mental imagery the better. Some memory researchers have also found that adding mental imagery that is dangerous or sexual in nature can evoke a heightened response and create a more lasting imprint. Other ways to do this would be to make something non-congruent. All that means is that it wouldn’t make sense in reality. So for example a man floating defies the laws of gravity so it would be memorable as a story because your brain would closely examine it logically on a subconscious level.

Memory Palace

From Wikipedia: The method of loci (loci being Latin for “places”), also called the memory palace or mind palace technique, is a mnemonic device adopted in ancient Roman and Greek rhetorical treatises. In basic terms, it is a method of memory enhancement which uses visualization to organize and recall information. A lot of memory contest champions claim to use this technique to recall faces, digits, and lists of words. These champions’ successes have little to do with brain structure or intelligence, but more to do with their technique of using regions of their brain that have to do with spatial learning.

Have you ever moved to a new apartment? How quickly were you able to remember how to find your way home from work? Human beings are excellent locational memorizers. Our brains are built in a way that remembers things effortlessly based on location. A memory palace is a way to exploit this. When used in combination with a visual image, it can be an extremely powerful technique that can cut down hours of learning time.

Creating a memory palace is easy… pick a place that you know very well, such as your childhood home, or your office. Then, create a visual story in each room of the well-known location, walking through the location in your mind. For example if I wanted to learn the character for “Large” from earlier, I would put a man on my front porch with his arms out holding two oversized pencils, and it would be very easy for me to remember the character meaning. Then after I entered the front door of the house, I would create a visual image for the second character I wanted to learn. After I had filled all of the rooms of the house with word stories, I would walk back through the house and look at all of the character stories that I created.

All of these methods are fun to try and can be applied in different areas. Do you have a tactic or technique that you particularly enjoy? Leave a comment and let me know how you memorize characters.