How to use Quora to practice Japanese

Quora, for those of you who may not know, is a website where users can ask and answer all kinds of questions. It’s a community of shared knowledge, not much unlike Wikipedia, and there are lots of questions being asked and answered every day.

Recently, Quora introduced Japanese language support, which means there’s been a sudden, massive influx of Japanese users joining Quora to ask/answer their own flurry of questions.

Prior to Japanese officially being supported, people were obviously able to ask and answer questions about Japanese–the Japanese language “topic” has over 130k followers—but while that has its uses, the mere act of talking about a language will take you only so far in your actual learning. At some point, you have to sit down and get some actual work done using the language.

And that’s what makes this update so great. As a Japanese learner, you now have access to a treasure trove of questions and answers about topics that can be filtered based on your tastes and interests, most of which are asked and answered by native Japanese speakers. Better yet, you can ask your own questions and attempt to answer questions posed by other users, which provides a great opportunity to sit down and practice writing Japanese, and that’s important for a number of reasons.

The key here is that you can learn and think about subjects that are interesting to you, whether it’s video games, international politics, programming, starting up a YouTube channel–literally anything–in Japanese. The pedagogical term for this is called Content and Language Integrated Learning, which involves learning a subject (e.g. geography, science, or history) through a foreign language. While Quora isn’t technically a classroom, you can still learn a lot using this approach, and you can choose to focus on meaning (i.e., getting the gist of what’s being said), form (how specific grammar is used), or some combination of the two.

So, let’s get started!

First, head over to Quora and create an account if you don’t have one already. Upon creating your account, Quora will ask you to select some topics of interest. (Note: If you are accessing Quora from Japan, it will at this point detect your location automatically and ask if you wish to use the Japanese site; for the sake of being thorough, I will continue this guide under the assumption that most people reading it are accessing Quora from outside of Japan.)

Selecting the topics that you’re interested in may take a while–as you select broad subjects, more specific subtopics start to populate the list. For example, if you choose Psychology, Psychology of Everyday Life, Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Psychiatry, Mental Health, and Psychologists will appear as subtopics. If you choose one of those, a whole new slew of even more specific topics will appear, and so on. Take your time and try to create the most meaningful and relevant feed possible for yourself!

Once you’ve chosen at least 10 topics, Quora will ask you what you know about. These can be areas of study, your career, or hobbies–perhaps you’re an avid fantasy football player, or you’ve seen more than a few movies in your life and love to talk about them, or you’re a diehard Marvel fan who will jump at the chance to debate with a DC fan about which universe is better.

Quora will then ask you for any additional languages that you may know and attempt to get you to add your friends from Facebook (skippable). After that, Quora will create your feed.

At this point, you’ll want to navigate to your language settings page. Here are the various ways you might do this based on your device:

  • Desktop: Click on the generic, blue user icon at the top of the page, which should pop open a new menu. Click on Settings at the bottom. On the settings page, navigate to Languages via the menu on the left side of the page.
  • Mobile browser: If you can somehow manage to avoid the popup prompting you to download the Quora app, locate the “You” tab and click on it to get to your profile page. From there, in the main description box (where it says your name, blurb, and the number of followers you have), locate the three tiny dots on the right. Tap on that to open a new menu and click on Languages (you can also get here by tapping on Settings first, but you may as well skip a step and save time).
  • Mobile app: Tap on the “You” button at the bottom of the screen. From there, in the main description box (where it says your name, blurb, and the number of followers you have), locate the three tiny dots on the right. Tap on that to open a new menu and click on Languages (you can also get here by tapping on Settings first, but you may as well skip a step and save time).

Once you’ve made it to the language settings page, you should see a list of available languages.

You can add Japanese to Quora by selecting “Quora日本語版へ参加”. Click on the blue button on the next page that says the same thing, and voilà! Quora is now entirely in Japanese!

At this point, Quora will ask you all of the same account creation questions again. Once you’re back on your feed, you’ll be presented with a variety of questions and answers written in Japanese. It may be a bit overwhelming at first, but you’ll get used to it. And hey, if you know the answer to questions such as 「パスタを茹でる時にオイルを入れるのは何故ですか?」 and want to give answering it a shot in Japanese, go for it!

Make it a habit to jump on Quora regularly, even if it’s just for a few minutes a day. You should automatically receive email updates in Japanese containing questions that are currently trending, so keep an eye on your inbox (of course, you can turn this off if you don’t like it).

The last thing to note is that Quora makes it easy to freely switch between languages by clicking on the globe icon at the top of the page next to your user profile icon. (Mobile users can locate this button next to the “You” button.)

Happy Quora-ing!

SRS: The Lifeblood of Learning Languages

How can harnessing the power of spaced repetition make you a more efficient language learner?


I know you don’t want to hear this, but if you want to get good at Japanese, then you’ll need to invest some time in flashcards. Your knack for languages and the degree to which you want to excel in Japanese in a given amount of time will determine how hard you need to hit the SRS.

What’s SRS?

SRS stands for spaced-repetition system and it’s pretty much all the rage among language learners nowadays.

Here’s what it boils down to:

Using SRS, the more often you get a certain flashcard “right,” the less often you see it. This means that more difficult cards, the ones you keep constantly forgetting, will show up more often.

Thanks to this initial drill-like high frequency, you eventually start getting them right, and once you start getting them right, you won’t see them as often. This also means that a card you haven’t seen in days might pop up and catch you off guard, and if you get it wrong, the algorithm will (rightly) assume that you haven’t quite committed it to long-term memory yet and will shuffle it back into the deck for more short-term review.

Of course, the kicker with this whole system is that you have to be honest. If you didn’t totally nail an answer right off the bat, you probably shouldn’t say, “Oh, yeah, I knew that one, duh!” and then count it as being correct. While you should never doubt yourself, don’t overestimate your ability lest you waste the potential the program has to offer.

That sounds great! How do I get started?

Anki (暗記) is the Japanese word for memorization and happens to be probably the most well-known and widely used SRS application/software out there, with a sweet price tag to boot. (The desktop version is free!)

The iOS version is obscenely expensive, so if it’s your only mobile option, I would hold off until you know for sure you’re going to invest enough time to get your money’s worth. For dedicated learners, it’s worth it, considering it’s one of the most convenient ways to get some studying in during your commute or between classes (and it sure beats wasting time on your Facebook newsfeed). Android users, rejoice; your version is free.

Android version of Anki using night mode.


Alright, so how do I use SRS effectively?

Algorithms used in SRS have multiple degrees of accuracy. For the sake of example, I’ll use Anki’s design.

After an answer is shown using Anki, you can choose from “Again,” “Hard,” “Good,” and “Easy.” The first suggests that you had no idea or completely forgot the answer. You will likely see this card again in the next minute or so. “Hard” implies that it was, well, hard to come up with the answer, or maybe you got it mostly right but not quite 100% (although personally, I file anything I didn’t get 100% right in the “Again” category). “Good” means you got the right answer, and “Easy” means you knew the answer as soon as the flash card appeared. In other words, it took virtually none of your mental resources for the answer to pop into your head.

Now, linguists like to define fluency in a couple of ways (stay with me here).

  • Broadly as “overall speaking proficiency”
  • Narrowly as the “smoothness and ease of oral linguistic delivery”

Of course, you can spit out random strings of Japanese words like 花見, スカート, 牛乳, and 根性焼き all day with smoothness and ease, but you might get some pretty weird looks. Using the right words in the right contexts with the right constructs is important, as you can imagine (bonus points for anyone who can come up with a coherent sentence using the above).

But accuracy means nothing if it takes you 30 seconds to come up with the right answer.

Just as the key to unlocking the full potential of your Japanese is the marriage of fluency and accuracy, so does the formula for good studying and SRSing lie at the intersection of speed and correctness.

You can’t pause a conversation and make the other person wait for half a minute while you think of the exact word you’re trying to say, so why get into such habits during practice?

Imagine you’re a professional baseball player under the lights. If a baseball flies past you because you were distracted, or you simply weren’t prepared for its direction, pace, or spin, you can’t just ask the pitcher for a do-over. You have to learn and adapt and be ready for the next one. And the more balls you hit, the better you get at it. Here, though, you get the advantage of hitting the most difficult balls the most often. Eventually, the hard ones become easy, and before long, you’re knocking them out of the park.

I know you aren’t a robot and you probably think of language as a fluid, living thing that is probably the most amazing thing humanity has ever come up with.

It is. It totally is.

And it’s even more enjoyable if you get the chance to partake in that language’s culture and learn about the ways other people around the world live their lives. That kind of experience makes you more human, and we need more people like you.

But at the root of it all, language is basically a tool, and some people get way better at using that tool way faster than others depending on the frequency and method with which they hone their skills and train with it.

You can compare various SRS programs in the Resources section.

The Benefits of Writing for Japanese Learners

Explore the benefits of having a healthy dose of writing in your language of study.


There are four skills involved in language learning: Writing, speaking, listening, and reading.

The first two are considered output skills, while the latter two are based on input. For most people, generating output is much more taxing on the mind’s resources than simply taking in information and interpreting it, though speaking may come very naturally to a select, lucky few.

Of course, the reason for this is that when you are reading or listening, you have visual and aural cues. If something is rooted firmly enough in your long-term memory, such as the features and shape of a particular kanji, you will recognize it. Remembering how to write that kanji off the top of your head or coming up with an obscure word out of thin air, however, will prove to be a much harder task for your brain to process.

The answer? More practice.

Try keeping a diary in Japanese, even if you have to write about the most mundane things. Even better, head over to Lang-8 and make an account. For those unfamiliar, Lang-8 is an online language learning platform where native speakers correct what you write. Isn’t technology sweet?

But let’s say you’re a super busy person. Too busy to be keeping a journal, much less worrying about things like kanji stroke order. I get it.

For those of you who insist on skipping writing as a skill, I implore you: At least learn how to write Hiragana and Katakana so that you can spell words and write your name. If you can’t even do that, then you’re quite literally illiterate.

But you’re missing out on one major benefit unique to writing that can be enjoyed by those who take the time to practice:

Its pace and the permanence of its record will push you to demand more of yourself regarding form and the extended time gives you the opportunity to meet this demand.


In other words, writing gives you time to slow down and think about your Japanese. It gives you time to think about what you really want to say and a chance to put together all the pieces of the puzzle exactly the way you intend to. You will thank yourself in the long run for crafting yourself as a well-rounded learner and will likely gain a much greater appreciation for the language.

And who am I to say that you won’t become the next Haruki Murakami?