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Posts tagged ‘tips’


10 reasons to visit… Tokyo

To finish up our Japanese week, Safia’s written today’s blog post on her top ten reasons to visit Tokyo.

Do you live in Tokyo, or have you visited? Please share your own top tips in the comments!

1. The old and the new

Before I even start talking about specific points of interest, all you need to do is to walk down the street to see how traditional and modern Japanese culture both collide and sit beautifully side by side. Temples of all shapes and sizes pop up everywhere in between buildings and houses (many of which are open to the public), kimonos and yukatas are still worn as everyday wear and not just for special occasions, and I will never stop being excited about literally being able to buy anything under the sun from a vending machine.

2. Harajuku/Meiji Temple

For the weird, the wonderful and the fandom, Harajuku is the place to be to find the centre of Japanese youth and fashion culture. If you like to people-watch, there are usually a handful of cosplayers or colourfully dressed youths hanging around the station area and the backstreets are packed with little independent boutiques. In stark contrast, Meiji Jingu is also located here with the entrance round the corner from the station, and is an Imperial Shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji and his wife Empress Shoken. If you’re lucky enough you may even get to see a wedding, as it is a popular venue for forthcoming nuptials. 

Harajuku/Meiji Temple, Tokyo

3. Tsukiji Market

There are very few places in the world where I would consider waking up at 5am just to get some fish, but Tsukiji Market is definitely one of them. If the idea of raw fish (sashimi) sends you heaving, I urge you to give it another go for the love of tuna that just melts on your tongue. I promise when it’s this fresh and prepared this delicately there is nothing else like it, and there will be plenty of other sushi options as well. Personally as a foodie, I skipped straight to the food, but if you want to see the tuna auction you really have to get there early as there are limited spaces for viewers. Some of the queues for the restaurants can get quite long as well, but surely that’s just testament to how good it’s going to be inside?

4. Boat ride on the Sumida River

Take a journey down the river and under its many bridges to see Tokyo from a different point of view. Jump on at Asakusa where most of the water buses start from and you’re guaranteed to see at least twelve different bridges along this route. If architecture and design spark your interest then this is definitely a trip for you. And if sipping a cool beer on a boat on a sunny day sparks your interest then I’d say this is a trip for you too! There are various routes including a round trip, but I can recommend getting off at the Hama-rikyu gardens for an added sightseeing bonus.

5. Food

When it comes to food, where do I even start? I wouldn’t blame you if the first thing that came to mind was sushi followed swiftly by ramen, but there is so much more to Japanese cuisine. This section deserves its own blog post, but before I get too tempted let me recommend three things that I think you should definitely try on your trip (that doesn’t include sushi or ramen!):

Takoyaki (Octopus balls)

Bearing in mind that’s a literal translation, takoyaki is a batter cooked in a special pan filled with diced octopus, pickled ginger and various other ingredients, all brought together in a handy bite-sized ball.

Okonomoyaki (Grilled savoury pancake)

Quite often this pancake-like dish is cooked on a hot grill right in front of you with the main ingredient being cabbage. Be sure to check if it’s a grill-it-yourself establishment so you’re not sitting there twiddling your thumbs while everyone else is already tucking in!

Yakitori (Skewered food)

Basically, meat on a stick (and sometimes vegetables) but with some amazing local flavouring. If you can find it, there’s a brilliant little alleyway in Shinjuku where local eateries are crammed in next to and top of one another.

Japanese cuisine

6. Izakaya

I can only describe an Izakaya as a cross between a pub and a tapas restaurant in a laid back and cosy setting. Although they can at first seem intimidating to a foreigner, they’re great for unwinding after a long day of sightseeing (or work) and getting acquainted with the locals. If you’re having a tough time looking for one, many still sport a traditional red lantern outside the premises. Food comes as and when ordered and ready rather than in courses and is usually shared between the group if you’re with other people.

7. Karaoke

Surely it’s not possible to go to the motherland of karaoke without actually going to a karaoke bar at least once? Even if you don’t like karaoke, you’re in another country and no one will ever know, unless you accidently post a picture on Facebook. So lose your inhibitions, grab that mic and belt out some tunes in a foreign language! Japanese karaoke is an altogether individual experience and there are such a variety of bars and boxes to choose from, whether you’d like to be surrounded by Hello Kitty memorabilia or even sing from a hot tub. Check out the Shibuya and Roppongi areas as a starting point.

8. Tokyo Tower

At a whopping 634m tall, Tokyo Tower is hands down one of the best ways to survey the city. If you need a break from the bustling streets below, I highly recommend popping up and having a little gander. The night time view is spectacular with Tokyo’s array of high rise buildings and bright lights. During the day if you’re lucky enough to have a clear sky, then you may even get to see some distant points of interest which are very handily marked around the tower for you, such as ‘Mt. Fuji, 97km, that way’.

9. Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season

Around April something magical happens in Japan and it’s called Sakura or Cherry Blossom season. As it’s seasonal the exact time of the year can vary, but if you manage to catch it the flurry of pink and white blossoms can be breathtaking. Sakura hot spots in Tokyo include Shinjuku Gyoen and Ueno Park, both boasting over 1,000 Sakura trees. Be prepared for crowds during peak season as popular areas can get amazingly crowded with Sakura enthusiasts.

Sakura (Cherry Blossom) season, Tokyo

10. Asakusa/Sensou-ji Temple

Asakusa definitely has a bit more of an older feel to it compared to some of Tokyo’s other more shiny districts like Ginza. Many of the buildings were built around the 1950s/60s since prior to this most were lost to bombs in war. This included one of Tokyo’s most popular temples Sensou-ji, which was originally built in the 7th century. It was rebuilt after WWII to symbolise peace and rebirth to the Japanese people. To get to the temple you’ll need to navigate your way through the Nakamise shopping street, which is lined with various street food stalls and tourist shops.

One final piece of advice – don’t assume that everyone in Tokyo will speak English, because they don’t! You’ll need to learn at least a few basic phrases before you get there.

Fortunately, there’s an app for that 😉


All photos property of Safia Griffin



I Can Read Chinese, So Can You

Today’s guest blogger, Peter Gokey, is learning Chinese in China at Keats School. In this article, he shares his own learning experience in Chinese, with a particular focus on learning to read the language. If you’re a student or speaker of Mandarin and have any suggestions to add, please do so in the comments below.

There are two aspects of Chinese that people from western countries find intimidating. The first aspect is the system of tones where the pitch of your voice can be the only difference between two or more words. The second is the writing system, called Hanzi. In order to speak, learners of Chinese must tackle the tones; however, since the barrier to reading and writing seems so high, many language learners delay studying Hanzi or never study it. This is often a reaction to one teaching method that emphasizes reading and writing at the cost of speaking. I think that either extreme is a mistake. Reading reinforces oral vocabulary and grammatical structures. Keats School finds a good balance by focusing on speaking and listening but also encouraging students to recognize the Hanzi for their new vocabulary words.

Peter learning Chinese

Finding materials suitable for a beginner-level Chinese language learner, can be a difficult and discouraging task. Early on, my wife and I purchased a book of very short stories designed for Chinese children who are learning to read Hanzi. One year later this book is still beyond our level, but Hanzi is only the secondary reason this book is too difficult. The primary reason is that Chinese children learning Hanzi and those foreigners who learn Chinese in China have different needs. By the time Chinese children begin learning to read Hanzi they are already fluent in spoken Chinese. So a book aimed at children can use thousands of words as long as the pinyin (the phonetic system for writing Chinese using the Roman alphabet) is included above each character. Second language learners, on the other hand, are not yet fluent. They are learning both how Chinese words are pronounced and how they are written at the same time. Therefore, second language learners like us need materials specifically designed for second language learners.

And the good news is that there are such materials. After learning to recognize about 300 Hanzi, I began reading the beginner-level books in a series called Chinese Breeze (15元 each). Each book is a short but interesting fictional story. In this series there is a love story, a murder mystery, and even a couple of traditional Chinese tales. So far this series consists of 16 books in three reading levels (300, 500, and 750 word levels). When complete, the Chinese Breeze series will include 80 titles divided between eight reading levels.

Chinese Breeze books

There are a few features about these books that I really like. First, pinyin only appears in footnotes defining select new words. I find it very distracting to practice reading Hanzi with the Pinyin right above it. Second, at the back of the book there are comprehension questions for each chapter and an activity that tests your understanding of the whole story. Finally, each book includes a CD with MP3 recordings of the entire story read by a native speaker at two different speeds.

Learning Chinese through books

Having read all the books at the 750 word level, I am now trying books from two other series. The first is a collection of short stories titled Graded Chinese Reader (three books in this series) and the second is a collection of very short essays called Read It Now (there are many books in this series at several reading levels). Both of these books also include CDs.

All of these books are available at Mandarin Books 漫林书苑 on Wenhua Xiang 文化巷 in Kunming.

Thanks Peter! If you’re learning Mandarin, we hope these suggestions are helpful for getting started on reading. Alongside these, you can use EuroTalk’s programs to begin speaking and listening. Good luck!



How to learn a language on a budget

Why do people give up on learning a language?

There are many answers to this question, of course. Recently, we’ve been running a survey (which you can still complete, if you have two minutes), about language learning, reasons for learning and things that might get in the way. According to the results so far, two of the top answers given to the above question are: lack of time, and lack of money.

Learning a language on a budgetAs I know only too well, language classes, private tutors and language CDs or books can quickly become very expensive. Having recently decided to try and upgrade my schoolgirl French, I had a look round at languge tuition and was pretty depressed to see that I would struggle to afford even a few weeks of classes. But never fear, there are plenty of ways to learn even if you can’t afford to go back to school or buy expensive subscriptions.

So here’s my short guide to how you can learn a language on a budget. Happy learning!

1. Online

There are a tonne of great resources to be found online without even paying a penny. Depending on your language, there are loads of websites for learning grammar, vocab and more. And you can often find really good sites for more advanced learners – I really love RFI for practising French (they have news reports in ‘easy’ French, with text transcriptions). For beginner to intermediate learners, has a great programme for 12 languages, including grammar, reading, writing and vocab, and even allows you to chat with native speakers.

2. Media

This probably only applies to intermediate to advanced learners, but it’s my favourite way to practise the languages I already speak. Try watching movies in your language, with English subtitles, or subtitles in the language.  Or Google the online version of a newspaper in that language (if I’m feeling very motivated, I read, or The radio is also a great tool for language absorption. You can listen to radio in almost any language at (and they have a great app for on-the-go listening). Even just listening to some music in another language gets you used to the sound.

3. Flashcards

I used to be obsessed with these when I was at school and uni. In my opinion, this is a great way to cram vocabulary. Either make your own with paper (write the foreign word on one side and the English word or a picture on the other) and test yourself or get a friend to test you. Or, even better, there are some free programs to do just that, which even remember which words you’re weaker on and bring them up more often until you get them right. I used to use this on the computer, but you can get flashcards in app form now too.

4. Find other people to speak to

Ok, I’ve got it easy here because we have a very international office and I’m never short of someone to annoy with my dodgy Spanish… But even if you’re not surrounded by native speakers, you might be able to track down a language partner using a website like that matches you up with an exchange partner. If no one lives in your area, you can always arrange a Skype chat instead of meeting face to face.uTalk - the free language learning app from EuroTalk

5. Apps

There are some amazing free or cheap apps to download on iPhone or Android. I’m using a combination of DuoLingo and uTalk to learn basic Italian. DuoLingo is free and gives you a good grounding in grammar and basic vocab, whilst uTalk features native speakers for all (70 and counting) languages, and has real audio for all the phrases and vocabulary, so I can pick up on the accent and pronounciation as well. I normally play a couple of the games on the bus to work, although I save the recording quizzes for the privacy of my room!

6. Books

If you’re more of a paper and pencil type, then there are plenty of language-learning books on the market, and they’re mostly cheap to buy, or you can track some down second hand. I think there’s something to be said for having a paper dictionary if you’re a serious language learner (what if is down!?) – even if you just decorate your shelves with them to look intellectual (or is that just me?).

Have you got any more tips for people learning a language on a budget?


Next week: our guide to learning a language when you’re short of time. If you’ve got any particularly useful tips you’d like to see included, please let us know below!



5 tips for beginners in Japanese

Adam, 15, recently spent two weeks at EuroTalk for work experience. He’s passionate about languages and is currently learning Japanese. Here are his top tips for other beginners.

In November 2012, I decided to start taking Japanese lessons once per fortnight. As a younger learner, I thought it might be interesting for you to see some challenges that I have already faced while learning. If this post was about a language like French, quite a lot of the tips would be generic and applicable to other European languages, such as Spanish or German. Therefore, I hope that most of my tips will remain unique, just like the Japanese language.

Here are 5 tips for starting Japanese, from the viewpoint of a beginner!

1) Consolidate your kana before tackling Kanji

When I started to learn, I was pretty frightened at the prospect of learning kanji. In fact, I only started to learn kanji about nine months after starting, because my teacher advised me to gain a basic knowledge of the sound system, grammar, vocabulary and kana alphabets before learning. She was absolutely right – I couldn’t have imagined being able to pick up any of the theory behind kanji without the basic grounding first. Often, the On’Yomi reading is written in katakana. Considering I had been learning for 9 months at the time, my katakana knowledge was pretty poor, which inhibited some of my kanji learning. Getting a basic knowledge of Japanese is definitely a must before learning kanji!

2) Choose your learning materials wisely

There are a variety of Japanese learning materials out there, ranging from internet courses to books. It is important to choose learning resources that can cover every aspect of the language, without leaving any gaps in your required knowledge. This is why I would recommend the ‘Japanese for Busy People vol. 1’ book. It covers grammar, various verb forms, vocabulary, information on the culture, particles, conjuctions, sentence structure and counters. Another important feature is that it features no kanji, allowing you to consolidate your knowledge of kana and general understanding of the language. One negative aspect could be the fact that the book is quite business-orientated. In terms of grammar, this is fine, and means that politeness is emphasised throughout. However, some of the vocabulary might not be useful to some learners. For me, it’s quite funny to be able to tell a taxi driver how to get to the main branch office! Otherwise, you could use online vocabulary resources and of course don’t forget the uTalk app!

Studying Japanese

3) Don’t overload yourself with kanji readings!

When I learn languages, I want to know everything when I first come across it, even if it is really complex. For example, when I started to learn German, I was really eager to learn the perfect tense within the first few lessons. It was exactly the same as in French – just use ‘haben’ and add the past participle, right? Of course I failed, because I put the past participle straight after the auxiliary verb, rather than at the end of the sentence. In Japanese, I wanted to learn all the readings of a kanji as soon as I had learnt it. Eventually, I would have probably ended up using it incorrectly because I had just memorised the words associated with that kanji, without ever encountering them in a sentence!

Instead, you might want to try and learn a new kanji of a word that you have encountered frequently, rather than learning multiple new words from a kanji. In my Japanese book, I have a section for all the vocabulary that I need to learn for homework. I started to look up the kanji for each of those words. If I came across a kanji that I already knew, I would right the corresponding word down, with its kanji written next to it. Furthermore, if an unknown kanji came up a lot, I would write it down with the familiar readings next to it. This method ensures that I learn the readings of words that I am already familiar with.

4) Be organised

When learning Japanese in particular, I like to keep a routine to ensure that I learn kanji, vocabulary and do homework well. Some learners might not like repetition, but I think it’s one of the best ways to learn. By revising for 10 minutes every evening and recalling the information in a mini-test the next day, I can make sure that I remember vocabulary, grammar and kanji well. I like to take advantage of the brain’s ability to work better after waking up. This means that I only learn new words in the morning, during weekends, and revise words in the evening. Furthermore, I think it’s also important to test yourself after a longer period of time following the learning of a word, to ensure that you have maintained the word in your mind! However, it’s also important to state that our brain works even better passively, so doing some occasional Japanese writing, reading and listening is good when learning. You might pick up some new vocabulary without even trying! Try and be organised by placing short revision sessions, mini-tests and activities consistently over an allotted period of time.

5) Make your own learning resources

Lots of people have different methods when learning. I am quite old-fashioned, and approach language with the ‘no pain, no gain’ approach, using repetition and regular tests. This means that I need to locate places to find materials, suitable for my way of learning. Owing to the surprisingly low amount of Japanese kanji resources online, I recently made my own kanji grid on MS Word with 19 rows, and 15 columns. I could then put the kanji and their Japanese readings on the top row, with room for 15 kanji on one grid. I then had the perfect number of rows to have 10 boxes to practise each kanji, 7 boxes to test myself on one kanji everyday, each day of the week, and then had one box left over to test myself 7 days later. This is an example of using a self-made material, suited to my way of learning. I find that everyone has their own way of learning kanji, whether it be using flashcards, writing it repetitively or doing online exercises. Find the best way for you to learn Japanese!

I really enjoyed writing this post, so I hope you enjoyed reading about this. Even though I’m very passionate about language, I still make mistakes, so please forgive any potential inaccuracies in this post!




Bye – or Auf Wiedersehen!

Our intern, Lorena, leaves us today to go home to Germany, and she’s been thinking back over her experiences in London and how she’s made the most of her time here to practise her English.

The time is running too fast. But I can’t say goodbye, because I think it means something sad is happening. But I am not dead, I am alive and I can come back to London. It takes me only one and a half hours on the airplane. So, I want to say ‘Auf Wiedersehen’. This means: see you again.

I want to say thank you to EuroTalk. This brilliant team work very well together and gave me a good feeling to work here. They showed me a good insight into the working life.

Now, I have been for six months in London. I enjoyed the time in this very big and exciting city, and I’ll go back to Germany with a smile. For everyone, who is thinking about going to another country: Do it! Don’t think too much about it. Nobody can take this experience from you. And you will see, you will leave the country with new impressions and you will be happy.

Bett Show London 2014

With Symeon at the Bett show last month

I came to London to improve my English skills. I did it, because I started sometimes to dream in English. If you are doing this, than it is a good sign. At first, if I listen to people in a shop, it takes some time to understand, what they are talking about. But you listen every day, than you understand more and more. Also I started to read a book: Eat Pray Love. I watched the movie in Germany, so I knew a little bit what the story is about. By reading the book, I expanded my vocabulary.  Three weeks ago, I went to a cinema to watch the Disney movie Frozen. After I left the cinema, I was astonished how much I understood. And I really enjoyed this movie.

Moreover, if I am in the train, I read the newspaper. As time has gone on, I have understood more articles. It gave me a good feeling, because then I know what’s going on in London (news, politics…) And what I did also always, when I listen to music, I try to translate, what the singer wants to say. With fast songs, I found it sometimes hard to understand. But now I understand more. The important thing is to speak with the English people. Around the corner, there is a lovely pub. I love this pub. And I went there during the week to talk with the publican. It was always funny to talk with him and so I improved my English too.

I worked in a charity shop too, and before I went there each day, I drank a hot chocolate in a café. And I tell you, every time I sat there, I came to talk with people. I don’t know why. Someone told me I have a friendly face. Anyway, in the end I talk with the people and they asked me why I was in London. Talking is the best way to learn a language.

Auf Wiedersehen!