Total Pageviews

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

4 Great Resources for Learning Japanese from My 14-Year-Old

My 14-year-old son spends hours every day meticulously composing Japanese phrases in his notebook for fun.

He scans Twitter's short pithy messages in Japanese for reading practice, views his Facebook profile entirely in Japanese, pesters me to go to oriental food markets to buy junk food, and has appropriated our discount bin DVD of Ramen Girl to capture glimpses of Japan and listen to the dialogue.

In the words of an 80's hit by The Vapors, I fear he is turning Japanese - I really think so. This is on the heels of his successful self-initiated push to learn Spanish, last year, and his assiduous following of language hacker Irish Polyglot (@irishpolyglot) and his blog.

So, I asked him about the resources he uses most often. This is what he recommends for beginners like him.

1) - Denshi Jisho is an awesome English-Japanese/Kanji dictionary. Kanji characters can be searched by radicals.

2) - Solid site for vocabulary, Kanji and grammar practice. Also has a library of useful grammar tips.

3) - Great blog written by Khatz (or Khatzumoto) an American who learned Japanese with digital flashcards, and by watching Japanese TV shows and listening to conversation.

4) Japanese My Way - An iPad app with flashcards, dictionary and tutorial videos.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Meaghan Smith Hits the 'Peg - Junos' Best New Artist in Town June 9

Ok, you're in for a treat as Meaghan Smith, Halifax's young, retro-styled crooner comes to crush it at at the West End Cultural Centre in Winnipeg, June 9.

The London, Ontario native snagged "best new artist" at the Junos in March and "pop album of the year" at the East Coast Music Awards back in April.

Smith has launched a North-American tour to showcase what the National Post called her "swingy, nostalgia-tinged, soft-pop," and promote her album The Crickets Orchestra. She will hit the 'Peg a week after her Provo, Utah gig and before a string of Canadian and U.S. dates.

Career as animator
But, and here's the cool part of Smith's journey to rising star status, no one in North America would have ever heard her great pipes had it not been for a change of direction a few years ago. You see, Smith was set for a career in animation - and a promising one at that. She credits her family's modest budget for her love of illustration and music.

"We couldn’t afford cable, so to avoid doing homework, I occupied myself with other activities, like drawing and singing. And with three (mostly fuzzy) TV channels to choose from, I ended up watching a lot of animated movies and old musicals. Some of my favorites were Calamity Jane, My Fair Lady, and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers."

You'll notice Smith's animation handiwork in some of her early videos, in her video biography, and by mousing over the banner on her website to conjure up what looks remarkably like a fluttering Twitter bird.

Eventually, Smith worked up the courage to put on "secret concerts for a few of my friends in the stairwell" of the animation building where she was studying. A sound engineer encouraged her to use the building's studios to record a demo and she began booking local gigs to gain confidence performing.

After graduating, Smith moved to Halifax, and worked for four years to raise $30,000 to cut a CD. She then spent two months on the streets of Toronto living on home-made vegetable soup and sleeping at Tim Horton's.

Finally, recognition
Smith's Omnichord-based remake of the Pixie's Here Comes Your Man for the soundtrack of the movie 500 Days of Summer got her the first big accolades and gave her some solid momentum.

She's still nowhere near a household name, but her recent awards are the foot in the door to North American consciousness. And with her clever writing, throwback rhythms, some stronger branding, and a few good tours, let's hope the Mormon girl with the velvet vocals can establish a big career for herself.