As I’ve mentioned in the past, I started keeping track of exactly how much time I spend studying languages. This is mostly to keep me motivated, since seeing quantitative data really gets me going, but it’s also to hold myself accountable for the goals I’m setting. Each month I’ll compile all the data I’m tracking into an excel spreadsheet and compare it to the arbitrary goals I set at the beginning of the month. Since I’m still working out all the kinks on how I compile this together, the way the data is presented may change a bit from month to month. It’s all the same stuff though. So if you’re interested, I made a pdf of the essential information I extracted from the data, aka the interesting bits.

Study Stats - February

February Study Data – Click for PDF version

So technically I didn’t meet a couple of my goals. For Japanese, I missed my listening goal of 4 hours by 43 minutes. This is listening to anything that doesn’t involve reading subtitles/transcripts – music, non-subbed anime/dramas, podcasts, etc. Additionally, this is tracking active listening only. Most of the time I’m listening to some anime or dramas while doing Anki reps, surfing the Internet, or doing homework. Since I’m not actually focusing my attention on listening, I don’t count it towards this goal.

For Spanish, my 3 hours on the Goldlist method was a complete ballpark estimate. I had no idea how much time I would spend actively creating new entries and reviewing old ones, so I made up 3 hours. I actually spent about 2 hours on this task, so next month’s goal will be more feasible (and also based on reality). For Spanish listening, I was very close to my goal of 1 hour with an actual total of 43 minutes. This has the same requirements as my Japanese listening goal, and mostly consisted of Spanish music. For this I’m pretty much just trying to get used to the way Spanish sounds, as well as trying to find good immersion material that I enjoy so when my comprehension is better I will have something to listen to.

March Goals

With all that being said, here’s a quick run down of my goals for March:

Japanese:
Anki – 15 hours
Reading – 13 hours
Subtitles – 4 hours
Listening – 3 hours

Spanish:
Duolingo – 8 hours
Goldlist – 2 hours
Listening – 30 minutes

 

6 Week Challenge Update

Speaking of keeping track of numbers, the 6WC officially ends on the March 15th and I’m feeling really great about my progress. I’ve been hovering in between 16th and 20th for most of the competition (which is waaaaaayy better than I expected). Right now I’m holding 16th place, but that will probably change in the next 15 minutes since the actual positions are constantly shifting around.

6WC_Chart

6WC stats – Click to see all the fancy graphs

I hope I will be able to keep pushing forward for these next 10 days. I think I found a comfortable groove in how much I’m doing each day. Just as long as I keep reading and keep up with my Anki reviews, I will be satisfied. My short term goal for the next 10 days is to finish at least 2 volumes of manga. I just recently downloaded several easy slice-of-life manga which are actually really entertaining to read and at my current skill level. If I can finish Yotsubato volume 11 and something else (Kimi no Todoke or Nodame Cantabile), I will be a happy camper.

I recently changed around my nifty progress bars over to the right, so I thought I should explain them a little. They are only there to give me a little motivation as well as show everyone how I’m progressing through my Anki decks. They aren’t there as a end-all-be-all of my language study. I do other things in addition to adding Anki cards, but they aren’t as quantifiable (and you know I love quantifying stuff). So here’s a brief description of what each progress bar represents and what I’m measuring.

 

Re-doing RTK

In January 2012 I finished adding the last kanji to my RTK deck. I continued reviewing for awhile, but neglected the deck due to focusing on other things. When I went through the first time, I was in a hurry and didn’t really take my time. Additionally, about half way though I added the little mnemonic story to the front of the card which made reviewing HELLA easier. But as a result, I pretty much had zero recall if that story wasn’t present.

So I decided to scrap the entire deck and start fresh. I’m using JLUP’s RTK Mod Anki Deck which has trimmed down the 2,042 general use kanji (as set up by the Japanese Ministry of Education) to a still intimidating 1,901 kanji. Adshap has combined RTK 1 and 3 while removing any kanji he deemed unnecessary. I’ve been adding 10 per day for the past however long, which usually gives me around 50 per day to review. This makes it really easy and motivating, while not sucking up a huge portion of my time.

Reading Manga

This is the number of volumes of manga that I’ve read since the Beginning of January. This is mostly extensive reading (reading for basic understanding, not looking up unknown words), however I will include the manga that I’m intensively reading (looking up unknown words, reading for complete understanding).

Originally I set my goal as 100 volumes of manga. After thinking about it, I would rather have shorter term goals so I don’t loose motivation to continue. I adjusted my goal amount to 50 volumes which is much more realistic for the next ~6 months.

 

Vocabulary

I recently set up a vocabulary deck that take words from manga/internets or wherever. This is my favorite Anki deck right now because it’s super rewarding. The words all have example sentences (from the Anki plugin Japanese Example Sentences) and some of them also have the sentence where I originally found the word.

I arbitrarily picked 1,000 words as my goal. This doesn’t represent the number of words that I know in Japanese, just the number of words I choose to put in my Anki deck. Once I reach 1,000 I will very likely just extend the goal to 2,000 then 3,000 etc.

 

Duolingo

I am doing the bulk of my Spanish learning through Duolingo right now. This is because I don’t want to spend a lot of my time studying Spanish, rather I’d like to focus on Japanese right now. BUT, I will be putting a lot more effort/time into Spanish this summer so I would really like to have a basic understanding of the language and a good bit of vocabulary under my belt before then.

Until then, I’m just trucking along trying to finish a lesson every day/ every other day. If you’re not aware of how Duolingo is set up, there is a Skill Tree that contains 64 Skills. These are like Colors, Questions, Time, Prepositions, Family, Conjunctions, etc. Each Skill has anywhere from 2-10 lessons. You work on each lesson (translating sentences back and forth, listening and transcribing, multiple choice) until you unlock that Skill. You can keep working past the lessons, either reviewing or translating real-world sentences, until you master that skill. While I have some of the earlier skills mastered, I’m not worrying too much about mastering all of the skills. My main goal is to just reach the bottom of the Skill Tree.

 

Goldlist

The Goldlist method is a pen and paper way of learning vocabulary. You write out 25 words or sentences and wait 2 weeks before looking at them. After the 2 weeks, you test yourself and weed out about 30% of the words you know the best. So if you start with 25, after 2 weeks you’ll end up with about 18. You take those 18 words and write them on the other side of the notebook and wait another 2 weeks and go through the process again. You distill this list 3 times over and then add any remaining words you still have trouble remembering to the next list you create. I know, it’s a bit complicated. I’m still playing around with this, but I do think it is a very interesting idea. Here’s a better description of the process if you’re interested.

So essentially, I’m taking vocabulary that I’m learning through Duolingo (and sometimes other sources to complete the 25 word list) and adding a new entry every day or two. I use a to-do list on my phone to keep track of school work and other things, so what I did was just create a task called “Goldlist 5″ or whatever entry I’m on and set the due date 2 weeks from the day I create it. After 2 weeks I get a little notification on my phone, I trim down the list of words, write them on the other side of the notebook, and adjust the due date of the task ahead 2 weeks. It’s a pretty convenient system.

 

So that’s what I’m doing over there on the right. It’s kind of complicated, but it’s also kind of not. I just do my normal stuff each day, and then update the progress bars every few days.


I just wanted to talk about a few thoughts I had regarding a recent video interview with Stephen Krashen and Steve Kaufman. Steve Kaufman is the man behind LingQ and is a very accomplished polyglot. He mostly advocates extensive reading and the idea of collecting massive amounts of words (very similar to Krashen). If you don’t know Stephen Krashen, I highly suggest looking him up. He has put together some very interesting ideas on second language acquisition that have had some incredible impact on self-studyers like you and I. Krashen’s main theories require “meaningful interaction in the target language” through comprehensible input.

“The best methods are therefore those that supply ‘comprehensible input’ in low anxiety situations, containing messages that students really want to hear. These methods do not force early production in the second language, but allow students to produce when they are ‘ready’, recognizing that improvement comes from supplying communicative and comprehensible input, and not from forcing and correcting production.” -Stephen Krashen

If you’ve talked with me or read any of this blog, you’ll probably realize that this is the particular ‘method’ (if you want to call it that) of language learning that I subscribe to, and I’m not alone. Many of the self-study language learning blogs out there regard Krashen very highly and take inspiration from his ideas.

Stephen Krashen

Back to the subject of the interview. There was one particular point during the conversation that stuck out in my mind. It’s something that Kaufman says at 19:45 – 20:10. To give some context to their discussion, Kaufman and Krashen are talking about the level of comprehension when reading things in your target language. As long as what you are reading is compelling enough, you shouldn’t be worried about finding completely transparent material (ie material that you can understand 100%). Kaufman says that it’s perfectly okay to deal with things that are fuzzy, or things you don’t understand completely.

“I always resented in language classes these comprehension tests. Nevermind the comprehension! I’ve got my half-baked understanding of what was there. I’ll revisit it in three months and understand it better.” -Steve Kaufman

This is the interesting part. When you’re extensively reading native text, don’t aim for complete understanding because you’re never going to get there. Aim for staying interested in what you’re reading. Read, skim, look at the pictures (if you’re reading manga), and make assumptions! Concoct a patchwork of understandable dialogue and fill in the rest of the story. It’s more about finding little nuggets of information that you can understand and then moving on. Maybe you don’t understand a lot of the story, highlight some interesting words or phrases and then put the book away for a few months. When you come back to it, you’ll probably be surprised by what you know.

Small update on what I’ve been doing. Expect those nifty progress bars to change slightly:

  • Not going to add anymore J-J sentences right now, but I’ll keep reviewing that deck every day. It’s just time consuming and really frustrating for my current level. This is something I’ll have to continue later
  • My subs2srs deck is not fun anymore. Instead of trying to process an entire episode, I’m going to try to hand pick ~20-25 cards per drama and get a little more variety and less filler cards.
Example screenshot of my vocabulary deck. This is the backside of the card. The front side only has the targeted word.

Example screenshot of my vocabulary deck. This is the backside of the card. The front side only has the targeted word.

  • I started a vocab only deck to hold all the words I look up while reading. I’m having the most fun with this deck. It’s easy, quick, and they’re all words that I have run into while reading manga, news articles, websites, and whathaveyou so I already have a connection to the vocab. I also added the Japanese Example Sentences plugin to that deck which is super awesome. It will give you anywhere from 1 to 20 example sentences using the targeted vocab word. I like the way it looks too ^_^

If you read Japanese Level Up, you’ve probably seen a few posts that encourage discussions about what kind of fun study materials you’ve been reading/watching/listening to over the past month. Other language blogs that I read have also started to participate, giving me lots of great resources to find new and interesting content (anyone been to Nayugen yet? If you like Japanese media, you gotta check it out). Anyway, I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and share a couple things I’ve been using to learn Japanese.

Watching

Priceless

Priceless Priceless is about Kindaichi Fumio, an ordinary salary man whose life gets flipped upside down. His superiors craft a devious plot to frame him for a crime he has no memory of, and he is forced to leave his position. Eventually he meets two children in a park who teach him how to get by without depending on money. What I like most about this Jdrama is Kindaichi’s positive and carefree attitude. He doesn’t let anything knock him down as he continues to push forward.

I’ve been watching this with Japanese subtitles, focusing all my efforts at keeping up with the text and following the plot. So far it’s been pretty successful, which is a huge motivation boost for me. Being able to understand Japanese media without relying on translations was one of the biggest reasons I started learning Japanese. Now that I’m approaching that point, it’s only making me want to watch and read more!

Pokemon

pokemon-logo

But seriously, who doesn’t love pokemon? I managed to find the Japanese version of the original series without any subtitles, so I threw every episode in a playlist and set it to shuffle anytime I’m at home. Of course there’s the nostalgia factor that keeps me hooked, but Pokemon is also just a great children’s show. It will likely remain in my immersion environment set up for quite awhile.

Listening

100s – sekai no flower road

sekai_no_flower_road

This is probably my favorite Japanese band/album right now. 100s is a great pop/rock group formed around the singer/songwriter Nakamura Kazuyoshi. Great band. Great sound. I usually listen to 世界の私から about once a day. I would highly encourage everyone to check them out, even if you don’t like Japanese music.

Reading

Detective Conan

detective-conanDetective Conan is a insanely popular manga/anime series that has over 800 chapters of manga and over 600 episodes of anime. Don’t forget about the 16 movies that have been released, with a 17th coming out on April 20, 2013. Don’t get too excited though, because I’ve only read the very first volume of manga. I read through awhile back, highlighting vocabulary that I didn’t know. Now I’m going back through it again and looking up words that seem interesting and adding them to my ever-growing vocab anki deck.

I really like Detective Conan for a number of reasons. First, I’ve fallen in love with the characters almost instantly. The comedic timing is perfect, and the dynamic between all the different characters is hilarious. Second, there’s furigana over a lot of the kanji. This makes searching for vocab super easy. And third, it’s a detective book! They’re always solving mysterious cases, which keeps me engaged with the story because I always want to find out what happens next (even though I already know what happens).

Yotsubato

Of course everyone recommends this as a good introduction to manga if you’re learning Japanese, and I’m no different. I powered through 8 volumes during the Tadoku challenge and have read two more since then. Yotsubato is a fantastic slice-of-life manga that follows Yotsuba and her father through the everyday interactions they have with their neighbors, going shopping, going to the zoo, etc. Yotsuba is an amazingly adorable character who is always full of energy and asks lots of questions about what is going on around her. This is great for us language learners because we get easy to read explanations about everyday stuff. If you’re learning Japanese and have a basic grasp of grammar/vocab, I would dive right into Yotsubato and just suck up as much information as you can. I certainly wasn’t reading at 100% comprehension (nor should you expect that) but the more I read, the easier it was to keep reading.

The January edition of 多読 is finally over! This was my first time participating and I feel great about my progress. My final stats were 377.24 pages recorded with a rank of 67.

Stats taken from readmod.com - Click for larger view

Stats taken from readmod.com – Click for larger view

I went into this contest with no real goal or any plan of action. I just wanted to read a lot more than I had in the past. I probably did what most people probably do when it comes to challenges like these. I read a little bit at the beginning, completely forget about the contest, and then remember a week before the end of the month. However, I jumped into hyper-drive mode and powered through 8 out of the 10 volumes of よつばと with stunning success.

What would’ve been really interesting is if I had quantified my reading ability (either through WPM, pages per hour, or just gauging my general comprehension percentage) and then compared that to how well I am reading now. What I can say is as the month progressed, I definitely noticed an increase in comprehension and reading speed. At the beginning of the month I would say I was hovering around 20-30% comprehension, whereas now I would say I understand about 60-70% of what I’m reading. Exciting stuff!

This whole “seeing progress” thing has motivated the crap outta me to push through this frustrating upper beginner phase that I feel like I’ve been stuck at for months. So, being the geeky language guy that I am, I’ve made a spreadsheet document to keep track of all this new data that I’m tracking.

Keeping Track of Stats

My study stats for January - Click for a larger view

My study stats for January – Click for larger view

The android app that I use for time tracking (Gleeo Time Tracker) has an export function that I then imported into Excel (the data on the left side of the spreadsheet) to create a Pivot Table. That’s the table in the top right corner of the spreadsheet. A pivot table is a powerful tool that gives you the ability to easily manipulate, analyze, and present a set of data in a more meaningful way. As you can see, I started tracking my time on January 20th and I ended up spending 17 hours and 26 minutes interacting with Japanese. Just for fun I’m also tracking my time spent reading books in English and my time spent studying Spanish through Duolingo. The goals section isn’t really fleshed out yet since I didn’t have any specific goals for January. However this data will give me a good starting point for February’s goal section. Hopefully that will give a little more meaning to this spreadsheet. Tracking my time spent studying and interacting with Japanese is one of the biggest motivators for me right now, and to (hopefully) continue that momentum I’m pushing forward into the 6 Week Challenge with vigor!

6 Week Challenge

Like I mentioned earlier, the 6 Week Challenge is another online contest. The goal is to tweet the amount of time you spend studying, reading, listening, whatever; there’s a high score list to encourage a little friendly competition that also provides quite a bit of motivation. The reason I like these contests so much is that they provide a web interface that gives you meaningful information about where you spend your time. You can check out my stats to see what I mean. The real goal however is to make significant progress in your target language from beginner to something more worthwhile. The time frame is 6 weeks, so not too long and not too short. Just enough time to have some quantifiable progress. If your interested, read here’s an overview of the rules.

I’m not going to worry too much about coming up with a specific goals for the 6WC. I’ve never done this contest before, I don’t really have any previous data to look at, and I’m also not quite sure what to expect from this. Will I be able to keep it up? 6 weeks is probably longer than I realize. Will I still have the same intensity in 3 weeks? As long as I can continue to interact with Japanese on a daily basis I think I will see some pretty interesting results.

Great news! I finished reading the first volume of よつばと! It’s always mega boost to my confidence finishing a book. It also helps that I’m in the middle of the Tadoku reading contest (readMOD.com). It’s an online “contest” (and I use quotes because it’s really just a leaderboard) for reading extensively in your target language. Here’s a great blog post about extensive reading for anyone who’s curious. I didn’t set up a specific goal at the beginning just because I’ve never done it before and didn’t know what would be a realistic goal. Regardless, I am having a lot of fun and am definitely reading more Japanese than I used to. I encourage anyone to check it out.

More Contests

Speaking of contests, I also signed up for the February edition of the 6 Week Challenge. The 6WC “is a challenge to upgrade your language skills in one language from beginner to something more worthwhile, and to see if you can find more time to study languages when competing with other participants in a global highscore(6wc.learnlangs.com/howto) You record the amount of time you spend studying/anki/reading/listening/playing etc. You can compare yourself to others, or just see where you dedicate your time studying. It also has a cool web interface with numbers and graphs and such.

Registration Tweet

In order to gear up for the 6WC, this week I started keeping track of anything I do in Japanese. I just downloaded a time tracker app on my smartphone and I turn it on whenever I sit down to do Anki reps or when I’m reading manga. It’s actually a real eye opener in terms of where my time actually goes.

Time Distortions and How They Relate to How I Study Ineffectively

For me, Anki has given me a distorted sense of time and accomplishment. I do some reviews, go check my email, do some more reviews, browse facebook for a bit, then do a few more reviews. The same thing happens when I try to sit down and read. I think about all the things I need to do, how I need to start cooking dinner, how I don’t exercise enough, blah blah blah. The amount of time I actually spent actively studying was in minutes, not hours.

Now that I’m keeping track of the time, I consciously turn on my time tracker and set it down in front of me. This is a constant reminder that I’m in review mode. The way I have my time tracker set up is that it can not create a new entry unless I spend at least ONE MINUTE doing whatever it is that I’m tracking. One minute is not a long time at all, and I’m free to stop at any point after that and go dick around on the internet. However, the majority of the time I just keep studying, and for much longer than I used to. Forcing myself to dedicate at least a single minute of my time doing Anki reps, reading Japanese, finding good source material, or whatever has boosted my motivation to keep studying.

Obviously this doesn’t work for everyone. Most people would probably find it tedious or useless to keep track of exactly how much time you spend in your target language. However, I have found that a more structured method of learning works MUCH better for me than a go-with-the-flow type of method. Internal interest and motivation just isn’t enough for me to keep up with such a time-consuming habit. I need some external forces helping me out.

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