Lang-8 is a language-exchange social network I use for practicing my Japanese reading and writing although it is not limited to just the Japanese language. Lang-8 differs from conventional Japanese learning web sites that attempt to teach the language with text, audio or video because it does not provide any content but instead allows the user to learn by interacting with natives of the language they want to learn. This article reviews Lang-8, its features, and how to get the best out of Lang-8 as a supplementary Japanese learning tool.
Posting Japanese journal entries on Lang-8
Lang-8 lets you post journal entries in Japanese or the target language that you are learning. You can write anything in your journals, such as what you did today, why you love hamsters or why you hate your boss. Anything goes as long as it’s not too offensive although I doubt many learners are able to write offensive content in their target language. There is no minimum word count and you could even just put up a list of words you learnt today.
You can post journals in just Japanese or put up a translation in your native language. Posts can also be adorned with photographs and pictures or you could just have plain text.
If you are concerned about privacy, you can choose to make your journal private (but no one will be able to see it), share your journal with only your friends on Lang-8 or just users that have registered on Lang-8. Otherwise, the post is shared with everyone by default. An option is also available for you to tweet your journal.
Here’s an example of a journal entry with Japanese, my own translation in English, and an attached photo.
Other people can correct your journal entries on Lang-8
After posting your journal entries, it will be open to native Japanese speakers to edit if you have not set it to private. Journal entries are broken down into sentences for easy editing, and all the corrections by different users are conveniently listed under the original sentence at the bottom of the page.
You may find that a single sentence has multiple corrections each saying slightly different things. This is normal because there are many ways to express the same idea in a sentence and it is very helpful because you get to learn how to say the same things differently. Besides correcting the sentence, native Japanese speakers can also explanations and comments and I’ve found that many of them do.
However, be warned that natives can make mistakes especially if they are not very sure what you’re talking about and misunderstand your sentence. This happens sometimes when words have double meanings or your sentence is confusing. For this reason, I try not to post stuff that I’m not too sure about and I always include a translation in English so the Japanese natives who are learning English can understand it both ways and make a better correction.
A useful feature that helps counter this problem is the “Good” button located beside each correction. For every sentence that is corrected, natives can use the “Good” button to support a correction.
Reading other learners’ journal entries
Besides posting your own entries, you can also view entries that are written in Japanese or your target language. These are written by other users who are also learning the same language so there may be mistakes. However, you can read native Japanese users’ corrections of the posts and learn from others’ mistakes. If you are shy about posting your own journal entries or can’t stand being corrected, this might be a good way to use Lang-8 instead.
Unless you’re very good at the language you’re learning, I wouldn’t recommend correcting other Japanese entries.
Reading native Japanese users’ journal entries in English
Other than reading entries from other users, you can also read entries that are made in your native language (I assume it’s English since you’re reading this article). I find that most of the people learning English on Lang-8 are Japanese natives and they usually post their own translations of their journals in Japanese. From these, you can learn how to write Japanese more naturally like a native.
This is actually the feature I like best in Lang-8. To me, it’s harder to post my own entries than to read stuff that other people write. You can read Lang-8 Japanese journals with the help of a dictionary extension for your browser so you don’t have to keep referring to a physical dictionary if you don’t know a word.
It’s a good idea to help Japanese speakers correct their English as it will make it more likely for them to help you too. Plus it builds good karma. You are likely to get friend requests from people you’ve helped corrected and this comes with benefits which we will discuss below.
Finding and adding friends
Lang-8 has a friend system where you can look for and add other users as friends. An advantage to having friends on Lang-8 other than the obvious reasons are that your new journal entries will be shown on top of your friends’ pages. Having many friends will increase your chances of getting a correction.
Your friends’ journal entries will also be shown on the top of your feed. It’s a good idea to add people whom you’ve noticed include a translation in their journals so you can learn the language while helping someone else with English.
You can find friends using the member search feature. You can search for members by their native language, their nationalities, current locations, language of study, and even whether they have a profile picture (although I’m not sure how that’s relevant to language-learning).
How to get the best out of Lang-8 for learning Japanese
- Post many journals and don’t be afraid to make mistakes
- Read corrections carefully and learn from what you’ve written wrong
- Read other learners’ journals and learn from their mistakes
- Read journals of people who are learning English that have a translation in Japanese
- Correct Japanese natives’ English. You learn from their mistakes too especially if they have a translation
- Correct Japanese natives’ English anyway because they’ll be more likely to help you too
- Have friends on Lang-8 to make learning more fun and increase your chances of a correction