Learning Japanese with Language Hunting

First Japanese lesson

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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 Meetup.com. 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.


Written by RaLAS

10 February 2013 at 22:57

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