Here’s a brief list of some of my goals and resolutions for 2013. Some of them Japanese-related, some of them not.

  • Learn to brew a better cup of coffee
  • Learn to read faster using this book (Breakthrough Rapid Reading)
  • As a result, read at least 20 books
  • Finish my GTO episode 1 Subs2SRS deck and get a start on harder material
  • Finish RTK again
  • Keep a log of all the time I spend “doing things” in Japanese (this blog doesn’t count)
  • Read 5 – 10 books of manga in Japanese
  • Find a Japanese speaking partner
  • Begin learning Spanish with a fellow language enthusiast/friend (we’re going to start around May)

And there you go. Quite a few goals I must say. Hopefully I’ll either be able to weed out the goals that aren’t as feasible or actually get quite a few things done this year! Good luck to everyone in keeping their resolutions. I know 2013 will be a tough and exciting year for me, hopefully everyone else is as excited as I am.

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I’m essentially finished with my second to last semester of College now. I have two more exams but I’m not worried about them. More importantly, I can start devoting more of my time to language learning! Woot woot!

I’m making considerable headway in my second run through RTK. Since I’m using Adshap’s modified RTK deck, I have 228 kanji inputted into my anki deck but I’m actually on Heisig no. 260. Like everyone says, it’s always easier the second time. Some of the stories that I came up with the first time around are coming back but for the most part I’m having to come up with all new stories. I’m using RevTK pretty liberally for story ideas, but that’s only if I don’t think of one first. I’m moving through at a comfortable pace, 20 kanji per day. It’s slower than the pace I went the first time, however I was focusing only on RTK at the time and now I have two more decks to worry about.

My J-J deck is coming along nicely. I added Google Text-to-Speech audio to all my cards. I’ve always wanted to have audio-based decks, but never really stuck with it. Hopefully this time I will. The TTS Japanese speech sounds pretty okay. You can definitely tell it’s a robot, but at least it gives me another way to interact with Japanese. Now I’m reading and listening for every card (minus rtk). Including more methods of interaction with the target language will give you more “hooks” during the learning process, ideally letting you learn things faster, more efficiently, etc. That’s the idea, at least. If I can stick with it for a couple of months, I’ll let you know if there is any noticeable progress with my listening comprehension.

Speaking of listening comprehension, Judith Meyer over at learnlangs.com has written a really good article describing how to convert your favorite TV show into learning material using Subs2SRS. While this isn’t a groundbreaking discovery, it is still a thorough step-by-step guide that has inspired me to finally take a legitimate stab at this whole Subs2SRS thing. I’ve tried to process a TV show in this way before, but haven’t really been able to stick with it. This time around, I picked a JDrama that I already had both Japanese and English subtitle tracks for: GTO. I have only watched the first episode, so I will be watching/processing the TV show a little differently than Judith recommends in her article. I’ll be going through the anki deck in order, basically watching the show as I learn the dialogue. The idea is loosely based off of Nukemarine’s post on the RTK forums. However, my cards will be listening-based, meaning the front of my card contains an image from the show and corresponding audio. The back of the card has the sentence in kanji/furigana and any definitions I need to understand the sentence. I’m going to try to keep the definitions mostly J-J, but when a word’s Japanese definition is just too complicated for me I’ll stick a J-E definition in there temporarily.

That’s mostly what’s going on here. Lot’s of optimism. The key is to maintain optimism by plugging away at Japanese a little each day. It’s not about the goal, but the journey to the goal!

Finals week is coming up at school so my Japanese studies will probably be lacking soon. But not today! I powered through the overdue cards I still had left over from this weekend and added 10 new J-J cards and 20 Kanji. I always forget how good it feels to have all my decks zero-d out. It’s kind of an addicting feeling.

My J-J branching word document – it holds all of the example sentences and definitions that I’ve been adding to anki – is starting to get a little ridiculous. I’m on my ninth full branching from the original sentence I started out with (毎日を楽しく過ごす) and I have 5 pages full of sentences and definitions. My most recent branch of definitions has 44 new vocabulary words, and the one before that had 32. Ugh. Some definitions that I use have many many new words included and it’s a little overwhelming sometimes. But I’m trying to push through and hopefully it will become less intense soon. I can’t decide whether I should continue down the branching path in currently in, or start a new one since it’s getting a little absurd. I think I’ll continue doing what I’m doing because I am actually seeing real progress. The definitions that I learned at the beginning are pretty much fully comprehensible so it would be silly to stop doing something that’s working.

The other concern I have this plan is whether the vocab I’m learning will actually be useful to me. There are lots of words that seem to be pretty obscure and I don’t know if it’s worth learning. My rationale is that these words are used in definitions and what I’m doing is specifically focused on learning how to use a monolingual dictionary. So these words are useful in that respect. Will they be used in everyday conversation? Probably not. But that’s not my current goal right now. Once I can get comfortable using J-J definitions and the words that are used in those definitions, then I can start focusing on conversational vocabulary (monolingual lookups for those too!)

The next couple of weeks are going to be difficult for me. I’m going to try to stay on top of my Japanese as much as possible, but with other obligations I may not have the time. Regardless! I will try my best to make sure my daily reviews are at zero by the time I go to bed every night.

With that, I’d like to write out exactly what I’ll be doing for Japanese.

  1. Stay on top of daily reviews (this one can be exceptionally hard sometimes)
  2. Add 20 new kanji to my RTK deck
  3. Add 10 new J-J sentences to my sentence deck
  4. Listen to Japanese podcasts/music throughout the day or whenever I want

It’s a pretty simple plan, and that’s the key for me right now. I want to make it so Japanese is considered my “break” from studying. It needs to be fairly easy and rewarding. Right now my J-J sentence deck is actually extremely rewarding, as difficult as it is. Because of the recursive nature of these monolingual cards (words on the answer side of some cards are the words on the question side of others), the general nuance of each word sticks with me a lot better. Something different that I do now is not worry too much about understanding the target word 100%. If I can get the general feeling right and then read and understand the definition (without any English help) that’s a pass. If I don’t know what the word means at all or have trouble with the definition I will either fail it or rate it hard (it’s all subjective after all).

Ultimately, what I want is to make my Japanese studying a habit again. It used to be I couldn’t go 30 minutes without some sort of Japanese-influenced book or movie or website. Now that there are a lot of other factors in my life, I’d like to condense that enjoyment down to something that won’t take very long and can be quantified.

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.

I recently finished reading through Detective Conan Vol. 1, and in doing so, I realized that manga is not as scary or intimidating as I thought. This could be a product of slow and steady incremental progress, but I think it’s more a matter of building mental barriers that need to be broken down.

Set Your Standards Low

Whenever I got my first volume of manga (Fullmetal Alchemist, by the way), I was so excited and ready to learn. Unfortunately my mind put all of these expectations on learning Japanese through manga. I’ve read all sorts of stuff online and in other blogs about the fantastic benefits of learning from stuff you enjoy, and I’ll be honest, that sort of set me up for failure. I had these grand visions of me rocketing up to the top of the “American guys who know Japanese” list because some people achieved fluency that way. I thought, maybe not consciously, that it’ll be as easy for me as it was for them. Boy was I wrong.

No matter how you cut it, Japanese is difficult. There’s SO MUCH I still don’t know. But that’s okay. I’ve learned to accept it now. Reading one volume of manga won’t put me at the level of Adshap or Khatz, so forget about them and set those standards nice and low. If you’re reading your first manga, expect to not understand much of anything. Because for the first 50 pages, you won’t. It will be a jumble of vaguely familiar words and grammar structures that you’ve only seen in Anki. And that’s okay. It’s less about the content and more about the process.

Skipping stuff REALLY IS okay

The very first page of Detective Conan? I still haven’t read it. It’s not because I don’t care about the story (I have actually seen the first episode of the anime at least 5 times). It’s because there’s text ALL over the page. The dialogue is long and verbose, there’s nothing happening in the art, and I’m just generally not interested in trying to fight through it all. So I skipped it.

The second page? So much better. It got me hooked into the story (”御主人、あなたです!”). After that, it was much easier to continue to the third page, then the fourth, then the fifth, etc etc etc. When you get to the point where you’re reading and reading and nothing makes sense, or you turn the page and there’s a giant block-of-text sitting there making fun of you for not understanding it’s subtle humor, just skip it.

DON’T use a dictionary

There’s two different ways that you can read something. Intensively, reading for quality, and extensively, reading for quantity. Both have their merits and are great for learning. But if you’re thinking about reading your first manga right now, go for the latter. Reading intensively at this stage will only mean headaches and frustration.

There’s a lot I don’t know, but I can look up the meaning. Vocabulary or simple grammar structures. Those are easy to look up because I know what keywords to use and what resources to look in. There are things that are much harder to look up, like colloquial phrases, complex grammar structures, slang terms. These are tough to define when you don’t have a large pool of knowledge to pick from. Reading intensively does have a lot of great benefits that I won’t get into here, but it does provide a lot of trouble in the early stages of learning a language. So if you actually want to finish that book you’ve had your eye on, shoot for extensive reading.

Since you’re not going to look anything up right now, how are you going to keep track of your progress? How will you learn these words and phrases if you just skim through them? My advice,

USE a highlighter

Yes a wonderful highlighter. They are fantastic. All bright and yellow (or red or blue or green), ready to point out how much you don’t know. It does this because you will be highlighting anything you want to look up later. Don’t know that kanji compound? BAM. Highlighted. What about that weird verb ending thing that you don’t really understand? BAM. Highlighted.

That’s the process. Read/skim/skip stuff you don’t care about, then “WHOA I understood that super basic sentence. That was cool. Except for that one word. I have no idea what it is. *highlighted*”. Then keep moving. Get through the whole book. When you look back, you’ll probably see that there’s going to be a lot less highlighting than you would’ve imagined (at least that’s how it was for me). There were large chunks of conversation that I actually understood and followed. Then there’s chunks of conversation where I highlighted a word in every sentence. And that’s perfect! That gives you,

1.) confidence that you aren’t wasting your time and you actually know some stuff, and
2.) a bunch of words to look up later, and accompanying sentences with context!

Just remember to do all that lookin’ up stuff later. Add em’ to Anki if that’s your thing.

Pick something that you like

This one is so obvious I don’t even want to write anything about it. It’s the same problem I faced when I was trying to force feed myself the Core6k vocabulary list. It tastes bad and I don’t like it. When you don’t give a shit about what you’re reading, you’re not going to like reading. And if you don’t like reading, you’re not going to stick with it. “Difficult” and “easy” are all subjective. Eating crawfish is too difficult for a lot of people, but that doesn’t mean I can’t love every minute of it. Struggling to fish out that tiny little piece of meat is SO worth it because it tastes damn good. Same with Japanese. Find your crawfish.

Haven’t really been on this blog recently. No big deal. I’ve been struggling to keep up with my Japanese studies due to school and other commitments, but I’m still hanging in there. While I don’t always finish all my reviews every day now, I do make sure they get everything done in a timely manner.

A few updates, I’m not working on Core 6k anymore. It was causing too much stress and was the reason I neglected studying Japanese for a couple of weeks so, naturally, I threw it out. I think it’s a fantastic resource and can really help if you have enough motivation to power through it, but I definitely did not have that motivation. It got to the point where I was failing and relearning just about every new word I added, and then getting mad at myself for not remembering these difficult (and out of context) words.

I’ve been slowly adding sentences to my sentence deck, and as you can see I split up my awesome progress bars over on the right to J-E and J-J sentence decks. And guess what? I reached my goal of 1000 J-E sentences! It’s kind of a strange victory because I didn’t even realize it until today (and I actually exceeded my goal by 50).

I’ve always subscribed to JLUP.com’s methods of learning. They have always just appealed to me on some basic level. However, I have never really followed his structure, always just picking and choosing ideas and concepts and applying them to whatever I’m doing. Now it’s time to go with my gut and follow his plans a little more closely to see if it works for me. I’ve already reached one major goal, 1000 J-E sentences. It’s time to start working on the next, 1000+ J-J sentences. Now this is going to be a lot harder. I’ve been experimenting with J-J cards and they are time consuming and require a lot of focus to create. Hopefully once I get into the groove of things, it will start making more sense.