New Beginnings – Why Starting Over Can Help

Greetings, it’s been quite awhile. Are you well? Studying like a good language learner? Well, I wasn’t. I have just come back from a 2-week hiatus from learning Japanese. Why? Because I burned myself out.

I had just finished up inputting 1,000 J-E sentences into Anki and I was feeling good. However, I knew I had to change gears soon and I wasn’t looking forward to it. And to top it all off, my University workload has just been exponentially increasing, leaving me little time to devote to, what is ultimately just a hobby. So here’s where I am, I deleted every single Anki deck that I’ve made and I’m starting over. You may ask, “Why? Why would you scrap all that hard work and start from square one?”

Lots of Reviews

I’m sure anyone who uses Anki has been in this situation. Reviews start building up and you think, “I’ll just sit down and power through these later”. When the time comes, you sit down and do two or three reviews and then quit. When I deleted my decks I had over 2,000 cards overdue. Some people may have enough willpower and motivation to go through a large amount of reviews like that, but I definitely do not. I’ve discovered (through trial and error) that for me reviews need to stay around 50 for each deck if I want to actually do them.

No Motivation

The excess of overdue cards just completely sapped my motivation to do anything productive. I felt like I couldn’t learn anything new until I took care of all this baggage. I would open Anki, do a couple of reviews, get stressed out, then close it and continue to browse Reddit for the next three hours. This is a serious problem.

Is this something I SHOULD learn, or something I WANT to learn?

This is an interesting concept that many J-bloggers talk about. You should be asking this question for every card you put into Anki. Sentences or vocabulary that you feel like you should know won’t stick with you as much as sentences and vocabulary that you want to learn. That means getting material from sources that you enjoy and aren’t tiring or boring. My old decks had a lot of material that I didn’t care too much about any more, or had material that I felt like I should know solely for the sake of knowing it. This made reviewing a chore, and anything that is a chore won’t stay a habit for long.

Broad Goals or Too Many Goals

However, my biggest mistake is not defining specific enough goals. I had lofty plans of “becoming fluent”, “working on listening/speaking skills”, and “reading manga”. If you’ll notice, these goals are excruciatingly broad. It’s fine to want to do these things, but it is an absolute must to sit down and truly think about specific and measurable goals that you would like to achieve.

I also have the bad habit of trying to work on too many things at once. I’ve read enough about how our brains can’t multitask to know that to be an effective and efficient learner, I need to focus on one thing at a time.

To illustrate, the one thing that I am working on right now is transitioning to monolingual definitions on my sentence cards. I am basically doing what JLUP recommends in terms of definition branching, one word of the sentence bolded/blue on the front with a Japanese definition on the back.

Sample J-J Anki Card

Simple and effective. I’ll know I succeeded in my goal when, on average, the amount of new words just through definition branching drops below 10. Right now it’s around 30 and rising exponentially, so I have a lot more work to do. That’s my one thing right now. After a few months, I will reassess my progress and see if I can move on to something else.

Good news though, I’ve been slowly re-immersing myself in a Japanese environment, completing my daily reviews, adding sentences/kanji daily, and just generally feeling productive. So does that mean my deep Anki cleanse worked? For me, it did. For other people, this may be too drastic. Instead, you could go on a massive deleting spree and clean out your deck of cards that you don’t enjoy anymore, you could reschedule everything as a new card and start working through your Anki deck again, and of course don’t forget you can power through the hundreds of reviews and pick up where you left off. The point is, for most of us learning a language is a hobby that has an insanely high learning curve. It takes a lot of time and effort before you start seeing noticeable improvements. Don’t let this slow-moving pace eat you up. Be the master. Own it and abuse it, just don’t let it take over.

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