Class 4

For the fourth class, we once again had a first-timer. This person had practiced some with RaLAS, so the signs came easy to him. Still, it was amazing to see how he jumped right in and quickly came up to speed. When we got to the most complex part of the lesson, a compound sentence using janakute, he called full, but then after a couple of rounds of watching, came back to the game and successfully did some compound sentences.

For this lesson, I introduced numbers. I started by putting the date up on the board: 2012年2月27日. I broke 2012 down on the board as 2000 / 10 / 2 on separate lines and went through them with everyone repeating, and then we did the whole date. Also, partway through the lesson, we did 10 jumping jacks, running through the basic counting series to 10.

Third class


For the third class in a row, we had a new student. In this class, there were four students, two attending all three and one attending two classes. The grounding of those with fewer lessons clearly made a difference, but everyone was nevertheless able to participate at the same level. (The first-time student went last and was able to observe the others.) The new patterns introduced today made the content much more complex than in the first two lessons. The phonology and grammar presented considerable challenges. All of the new material will have to be revisited next week to provide a better foundation. Despite the challenges, everyone seemed to enjoy the lesson.


As always, we started with Zap-Zip-Zop, but started with zappu-zippu-zoppu and then changed zippu to jippu. This was considerably harder than just zap-zip-zop! I wrote the sa and ta series on the board and only wrote the Romanization for shi, chi and tsu (the irregular ones, from an English point of view). Those were also challenging and a fun way to start.

  • Review: Sore wa nani? Sore wa X da.
  • Review: Sore wa X? Hai, sore wa X da. Iie, sore wa X ja nai.
  • Review: X-san wa kekkon shiteru? Hai, boku/watashi wa kekkon shiteru.
  • New negative form: Iie, boku/watashi wa kekkon shite nai. Boku/watashi wa dokushin da.
  • Review: Sore wa dare no X? Sore wa Y-san no X da.

Introduction of X o motteru (have). I simply gave each person something and introduced the sentence and then the question.

Introduction of X o motte nai. Just as motteru follows the kekkon shiteru pattern, motte nai follows the kekkon shite nai form, but I think this was a bit too much. The geminate consonants, o particle and negative was a lot to take in. Still, everyone did well and nobody was full.

Introduction of hoshii (want). I sat still and said in a hopeful voice, “Boku wa X ga hoshii na~~,” indicating I wanted what the person I was talking to was holding. The person said, “Boku/watashi wa X o motteru.” I then asked for it (choudai) and after the person gave it to me, I said arigatou and acted very grateful. After merely one or two repeats, everyone got the meaning of hoshii, and so the introduction of hoshii after motteru worked out really nicely. We also practiced douzo and iie (as a response to arigatou, which confused people a little) as part of this exchange.

We then took a short break to write あ・い・し on the board, all from last week. I told them to take a piece of chalk, using the -te ne imperative (totte ne) and then kaite ne. The blackboard provided more space to write then the paper we used last week, and the あs in particular turned out really beautiful.

Class time was nearly up. We did a no-grief debrief, but there was little to discuss, so we did some more work on motteru.


We now have four verbs, with negative and positive forms of the copula and two stative verbs, establishing patterns. We also have a light imperative (-te ne). We added a fifth noun today, chouku, and the first adjective, hoshii. We also have four particles: wa, ga, o, mo (no practice of mo today).

Japanese lesson 2

NOTE: The links to vocabulary such as “no-grief debrief” are not working very well. I need to come up with a solution for that. Thank you for your patience.

Yesterday was the second session. Three people showed up, two from last time, and one new person.

No-grief debrief

Because we didn’t do a no-grief debrief session last time, we started with that. I noted that the rock used as a prop wasn’t very clear because one person had to ask what it was, and that I kaizenned by getting two better rocks. I also noted that as black and white rocks, they weren’t very good examples because they are more grayish and off-white, and needed to be further kaizenned.

I also noted that we would mainly switch over to American Sign Language to avoid potential future confusion. Also, I requested help from the new person with ASL—she is fluent—which relieved me of a lot of the need to worry about signs. (Even if I make them up, I still have to remember them.)

On writing

People had read this blog and mentioned that it helped them fix pronunciations in their heads that had been fuzzy. I did not discuss the issue further, but this has the advantage of helping people remember words, as well as the potential disadvantage of anchoring words in written text. I think this serves as a mnemonic of sorts: When I learned Japanese, I had trouble hearing the difference between long and short vowels, so I memorized how the words were written and recalled the spelling when speaking. Eventually the vowel problem disappeared and the memorized spellings faded from memory.

Class content

1. As in the first lesson, we started off with Zip-Zap-Zop, again reordered as “zap zip zop” to mirror the kana ordering. We also did zappu, jippu, zoppu (Japanese phonology) and then the sa and ta columns: sa-shi-su-se-so, and ta-chi-tsu-te-to. The ta column was a little difficult.

2. Review

The new person speaks ASL fluently, so she did not have the initial barrier of learning signs that the others had in the previous session.

Criticism: As people noted during the rest of the class, not enough time was dedicated in the review to the new signs. Everyone overcame the shift, but two more minutes of review at this point would have saved some confusion later on.

3. kore-sore-are-dore

Whether to add in “are,” (that over there) was a major concern I had. Although English has “that over there,” it isn’t a core part of the language, and speakers don’t expect a separate word. In Japanese, this set of four (k, s, a, d) is a pattern that repeats again and again and again. It’s kind of fun because there’s a satori in discovering that Japanese has this extra feature.

Criticism: This was introduced too early. Recommend introducing at least the -no (kono, sono, dono) and -ko (koko, soko, doko) series and then coming back and tossing the “a” member into the mix. There was no real harm done, really, but adding this broadened the focus unnecessarily.

Another feature of this was that with the question “dore?” the particle changes from “wa” to “ga.” When asked about it, I explained it was just part of the question and answer pattern.

4. Writing and number.

We took a very short amount of time to practice writing: い・し・あ・か (i, shi, a, ka).

I wrote them on the board and asked them to write them down on a piece of scratch paper. As I wrote each stroke, I counted in Japanese as a quick primer to the numbers 1, 2, 3.

As expected, あ was difficult. It has a unique balance to it that is difficult to capture. I wrote a model on each person’s paper. Then I collected the scratch paper and we moved on.

5. Who’s?

Second person pronouns (words meaning “you”) have social implications in Japanese, and many people use personal names instead. I wanted to take that approach, using -san after everyone’s name. However, we had a married couple, and it would be odd for them to refer to each other with -san.

  • By using the Japanese Sign Language sign for “married” and using wedding rings on fingers, I introduced the word “kekkon shiteru.”
  • That went really well, but then everyone was saying, “I’m married,” which is awkward, so I introduced the particle “mo,” (also), demonstrating its usage with pens and chalk as well.
  • Everyone got that really fast, too. More practice is needed, but that was a quick acquisition.

We then went around calling each person’s name, with the husband calling the wife with no suffix, and the wife calling the husband with the suffix -kun. An interesting twist was that one person’s name, when pronounced in Japanese, has a geminate (double) consonant followed by a voiceless vowel, which are difficult for English speakers. I introduced “bookkeeper” for the geminate, but AFAIK, English doesn’t have any clear voiceless vowels, so I left that for another day.

I then made a point of giving each person an object and saying it was their object.

We practiced “This is my X.” On the fly, I introduced “boku” for men and “watashi” for women. Someone asked if it would be odd if they got those mixed up, so I said no problem for men, but women can’t use “boku.”

Very quickly, we did “Who’s is that?”

No-grief debrief

Somewhere (in 5?), one person got full, which was fine. He noted in particular that the are-dore (3) was a lot to take in.

Otherwise, it seemed that the balance of review and new material was useful.

I think it was at this point that someone pointed out that the Japanese sign for “rock” was better than the ASL sign:

I think the issue is the fun of doing the sign. So it’s not just the iconicity of the signs but how fun they are to make. It may be useful to redesign signs so they are more dynamic. One example: We used finger spelling to represent the first letter of each person’s name, but for one person, we used the Japanese sign, which has movement. I think that was a better option. Next time, I will revamp the name signs.

First Japanese lesson

Here is a recap of the first Japanese lesson I held using Language Hunters/Where Are Your Keys? learning techniques.


A few months ago, a friend of mine asked if there was a way to learn Japanese while drinking beer. He is a serious linguaphobe, but his daughter is in immersion Japanese. He says that while a lot of the mothers are taking classes so they can share in their child’s world, most of the fathers are like, “No way am I going to class after work!” So I thought I would try LH/WAYK techniques in a class (without the beer).

I got a hold of Jay Bazuzi, and he sat down with me for three hours and pulled me through the process using ASL, and I got a copy of “The Language Hunter’s Kit” (and read much of it).

So I rented out a room and got a place on My friend, of course, told me he was too busy to attend. But then, the day of the lesson, as he was walking his daughter home, he couldn’t understand what she was saying, so he made time and showed up.

Class overview

We had 50 minutes for the class. Three people showed up (two are friends of mine), all completely new to Japanese, though one is a serious sushiphile and knows a smattering of sushi lingo.

I decided to use strictly informal language, so no desu/masu forms. We didn’t get to names, but I think I will use formal titles (i.e., -san). Informal language is generally acceptable from children and foreign learners, but with names, informal titles (-kun, -chan, nothing) have such a high potential to offend people that avoiding them, at least at first, is best.

For LH learning techniques, I used the standard signs, but otherwise, I used Japanese Sign Language, which I found on the Internet. (After the lesson, I finally realized why Jay had told me the actual sign isn’t so important. Good satori for me.)

A few times, we stopped when someone had a question on something. Those stops were naturally nicely timed so nobody got full (an LH keyword meaning your brain is reaching full capacity and needs less throttle for a short while). Indeed, when I mentioned my concern about people getting full, they were all three like, “No, give us more.”

Class content

1. We started with zip-zap-zop as an ice breaker.

  • In order to match the ordering of the kana, we resequenced the order as zap-zip-zop. Then we switched to Japanese phonology (zappu, jippu, zoppu), and then used the sa-column of kana: sa-shi-su-se-so. I wrote the kana and Romanization on the blackboard. (I erased it as soon as we were done with that.)
  • Criticism: Arguably, I could have started really basic with a-i-u-e-o, but the s/sh alternation didn’t bother anyone, and a-i-u-e-o is implicit in the sa-column.
  • Criticism: It didn’t have the effect of loosening people up. Probably part of that was my setup (not leading it in a more fun way), but part was the serious focus that the three had.

2. Introduction of a couple of techniques: rule of three, Craig’s list, fascinating

3. Started naming four objects: rock, notebook, black pen, red pen

(ishi, nooto, kuroi pen, akai pen)

  • I didn’t use a stick (a standard item) because it seems ambiguous to me, as to whether it’s a rod (棒) or a branch (枝).
  • Note: the adjectives kuroi and akai were a bit hard for people to remember. Everyone seemed to like the iconicity of the JSL signs for them (black hair, red lips).

4. That’s an X, What is that?

(Sore wa X da, Sore wa nani?)

Whether to include the copula “da” (“is”), ja nai (“is not”)

Although there’s nothing wrong with including it, normally the positive copula is omitted in informal speech, though it must be added for negative sentences.

Concerned that people would think “wa” is the copula and would be confused by the addition of the negative copula, I decided to use the copula. My thought is to later introduce an alternative sentence pattern without the copula.

For the question, however, I omitted the copula ((na) no), going with just a bare: sore wa X? When the students asked each other “What’s that?” there was no need to introduce the word or sign for “what.” They had that down!

For the particle “wa” (は) and “da,” I used Japanese finger spelling. The copula “da” is a thumbs-up sign moved to the right. For some reason, I thought that would throw people, but it didn’t at all. In fact, I think the movement was cathartic in that it was a way to successfully complete the sentence with a flourish. For “ja nai,” I used a sign.

  • Criticism: It turned out that everyone wasn’t clear whether “sore” was “this” or “that.” This was because the narrow table made it seem like either was possible. Also, there might be a tendency for people to think “this” is going to be introduced before “that.”
  • Criticism: People still thought that “wa” was the copula and asked me about it. Potential way to avoid that: Introduce “also” (も). But even so, I think there will be a strong tendency to get confused. A word of explanation in English might be the easiest route.
  • Criticism: Willem Larsen pointed out that I should have skipped the sign for “wa” altogether since signs shouldn’t be used to teach grammar.

5. That’s not an X

(sore was X ja nai)

  • With the introduction of the negative, it was clear from their reactions that their universe had been tilted. Their faces said, “Wow, man, that’s a trip!” Getting through the adjectives for the pens plus the negative was a serious accomplishment.

6. Get me to say yes/no

  • Is that an X? Yes, it is an X. No, it isn’t an X. It’s a Y.
  • I was really impressed when everyone got through this. A couple of stumbles with the adjectives and even nouns, but I think it was just hysteresis.

7. We still had time and they wanted more, and I hadn’t thought we would get to number 5! So I threw “this” (これ) into the mix. I was tempted to add “that over there” (あれ) but thought it might be too large of a mouthful.

  • Thought: Trying to keep a limit, it’s tempting to omit “that over there.” But there are so many common sets that combine k, s, a, d (this, that, that over there, interrogative), I think I will introduce the “that over there” member in the next lesson.


I think everyone had a good time. My friend the linguaphobe specifically said it was fun, which I considered to be the biggest sign of success. Didn’t do a no-grief debrief (constructive criticism) session. Will introduce next time.

Next Week

Introduce the “that over there” element.

Introduce I/my, you/your, s/he/her/his. Still thinking of how to handle “you.” Although there are many words available for “you” and some people do use them, typically, either “you” is omitted or replaced with the person’s name. I think I will omit the second-person pronoun, using names as per normal usage (i.e., “Is that Jack’s pen?” instead of “Is that your pen?”). Perhaps do the same with s/he.

Also, I’m expecting at least one new person next week. I’m a little concerned about the mix. I think people will just learn from one another, though.