Being Genki In Japan With Richard Graham

SEASON 1 EPISODE 7

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  • Tokyo Podcast’s Japanese language series kicks off with Anthony talking to Richard Graham who runs the very popular Genki Japan website. The website helps people learn Japanese in fun and unique ways such as YouTube videos, songs, and games. They also compare different methods of learning Japanese and even include how to say the Star Wars phrase “May the Force be with You” in Japanese.
  • Anthony also gives a brief recap of his emergency trip to the dentist Dr. Naoko Freeman who has a keen eye and can also speak English. Her clinic is near Tokyo but Anthony had quite an adventure getting there.

A Quick Race to the Dentist

There are plenty of sweets in Japan, thus knowing dentists may come in handy. Anthony had to find one quickly when he popped his tooth out while chewing Bontan Ame, a popular soft candy.

Luckily, he found an English-speaking dentist fast through recommendations on the website GaijinPot. However, going to Dr. Naoko Freeman’s clinic was like joining an obstacle relay. Anthony got lost and an old guy accompanied him to his platform. The clinic’s precise location could not easily be located. He still managed to get to the clinic and the Australian-trained dentist was able to put back his tooth crown. Nowadays, Dr. Naoko no longer practicing dentistry in Japan as she has retired. She recommends her patients visit to Dr. Naito of Naito Dental Clinic instead.

Learning Japanese through Genki Japan

For this podcast’s Language series, special guest Richard Graham from Genki Japan shares about how he came to Japan and learned its language. Richard came to the country under the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme in 1997 and taught English and Science. Richard was a Physics graduate initially attracted to join Japan’s space program which was recruiting foreigners able to communicate in Japanese. To be able to study the language while getting paid, he joined the JET Programme and ended up teaching with them for 3 years. He later opened his own business in which he runs the website Genki Japan. The site offers easy, fun and quick ways to learn Japanese.

In studying the language, Richard recommends approaching it with a positive mindset and with the view that learning is easy. People are often told to avoid mistakes and thus they don’t force themselves to speak. But easing up can actually help people talk more and practice the language, thus enabling them to become fluent in it. In fact, the hosts share about amusing instances when people go out for drinks; it actually helps them talk more naturally in another language compared to when they are formally learning it at school.

Knowing exactly what one wants to learn helps narrow down the vocabulary one needs. Every day, people only use a small portion of the language. Richard suggests making a list of phrases that are needed in situations one may find himself in and figure out how to say it in Japanese.

Another good trick is finding one’s own style of learning. In history and in school, people traditionally use books and work their way into finishing it. Richard himself has written textbooks and acknowledged that it was difficult to write a standard that would fit everybody. Thus, on his website, he turned the lessons into songs, video and even video games to catch the interest of learners and help them retain useful Japanese words. Whatever one’s passion is, it helps to link it to the language by saying it in Japanese. Focusing on a specific set of vocabularies one wants to learn can build confidence in using the language.

Richard also did presentations and a TV show in which they discussed topics related to being a foreigner in Japan. Having only 30 minutes to prepare and learn words related to the topic, they were pushed to think at the quickest time possible. It also helps to immerse oneself completely in a Japanese environment. One can check out Japanese shows or go to language exchange sites like LiveMocha to find a native language speaker to converse with. Podcasts and language programs like Michel Thomas and Pimsleur can be purchased and listened to on the phone. Dedicating time for these courses can help learners become more comfortable hearing the language. Compared to tonal languages such as Thai, the Japanese accent is easy to get. Some people mix up the sentence order during conversations and put little phrases in the end like ‘to omou’ to indicate that this is what he or she thinks. With a foreign accent, people are also more understanding of mistakes.

Sometimes the books make learning sound more complicated than it is. Kanjis can be learned in time. Getting a job in restaurants or shops may require formal Japanese to be used, but there is training for it. The challenge may be entering a plateau in one’s studies in which there is nothing new to learn. Richard got through that plateau when he began to put up his business and study new sets of words relevant to his enterprise.

An interesting fact to stir interest in learning Japanese especially for geeky ones: Star Wars was based on Akira Kurosawa’s jidaigeki or period dramas. Many elements of the popular series were inspired by Japanese culture. These tidbits of information coupled with songs and games can make learning fun and faster. It also helps overcome tasks that may seem daunting when mastering aspects of the language at a time.

Readers and foreigners might wonder about the curriculum of Japan’s educational system which does not include English and have the impression of being rigid and dependent on memorization. While the educational system is good and the Minister of Education even sponsored new language programs to fit in its curriculum, old teaching methods and its old teachers persist. Thus, there is a need for teachers who can teach well and know new ways of instruction. As of 2011, the domestic economy can get by without English. However, Richard predicts that that 30 years forward, everyone would need to learn English to gain more professional prospects as companies expand their market overseas. In the meantime, companies are more focused on the local market. But despite Japan’s reserved culture which sometimes prevents it from shining in the international scene, it is still a cool place to be in. The country is safe, developed, and has a bustling economy that brims with opportunities.

The Genki website also features other languages such as Chinese and Korean. Genki is a word that means full of spirit and is often used to ask if someone is doing well or describe a person who is full of energy or ki. It’s a cool word to spread the force which is the Japanese genkiness.

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