Monday, December 29, 2008

Time Has Told Me

Timeboxing, revisited
Experimented with some timeboxing today while trudging through the mindless sea of RTK reps. For those who may not be in the know, "timeboxing" is the practice of introducing arbitrary time limits for tasks - any regular task you can think of, really - which, in theory, improves one's efficiency and speed in said task. It's a very interesting psychological experiment. Something in our brain just seems to wake up when we put ourselves on a time limit, as I'm sure anyone who's ever taken a timed test in school can tell you.

This is a technique I've applied to SRS reps on occasions, but really felt the need to do so today. I set my timer for 30 minutes and went at it, with pleasant results.
By the end of the timeboxing session, I had completed 101 cards, or roughly one card per 20 seconds - not bad, especially keeping in mind that I write out each kanji (the most time consuming part). The important part wasn't necessarily the speed at which I tackled these cards, but the consistency, and the fact that my focus was nigh unshakable. No longer did the process feel so mechanical and chore-like - I had to get in another dozen cards before the time ran out! Just a few more, go go go!
I plan to timebox a few more 30 minute sessions later for this neglected, but crucial deck.

Luckily, reviewing sentences is far from feeling like a chore, actually being quite enjoyable with a much greater sense of reward and satisfaction. After all, this is real Japanese I'm reading and comprehending. This is what I set out to accomplish in the first place!
Almost 300 entries in that deck so far, and making steady progress. Keeping a pace of 30 new sentences daily has proven very easy, and I'm tempted to kick it up to 50-60... but I remind myself that any SRS deck is easy and manageable early on. Once I began adding more cards per day to my RTK deck, things quickly became out of hand when the reviews (lo and behold) came back with an unapologetic vengeance, and suddenly I was up to my neck in cards.

So, I'll see how the sentence deck goes. If I can keep things contained as well as I have so far, I'll kick things up a notch. Even at my current pace of 30 new cards per day, that's over 900 sentences, on average, every month! Within one year, I'll have broken my target goal of 10,000 (not that I plan to stop there, mind you)... and that's A-OK by me.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Mental Acupuncture

Some days later, and I've managed to make a good deal of progress. Audio dictation is proving quite useful, especially considering the fast-paced, natural delivery of iKnow's actors - don't you hold back on me, I want the real deal! For pronunciation and accent's sake, this is superb.

The only real "problem" I've encountered is that I'm having a heck of a time memorizing vocabulary. I mean, I can zip through most sentences and comprehend the full meaning most of the time, and that's great, but constantly forgetting the readings of various words kinda gets in the way of things. In order to combat this problem, I've been adding every word (or expression) that I've had trouble with to its own Anki entry... and to an extent, this has been helping.
On the other hand, it sure isn't much fun to go the path of rote memorization on these suckers, constantly failing each before I finally manage to remember their pronunciation, often forgetting them again the nexy day.
To that extent, I can see just how effective learning the pronunciation in association with its accompanying sentence truly is. I definitely seem to have an easier time recalling a word's reading within a sentence, rather than on its own (most of the time). Still, brain numbing as it may currently be, I don't think it can really hurt to add a bit of separate vocabulary words to my deck.

I uh, may have gone a little overboard yesterday, however; from the 30-odd sentences I mined, I added about 35 words to my deck. Ouch. I spent today simply reviewing cards rather than mining new ones, as I knew these new vocabulary cards would require some extra attention.

A little bit of trial and error presently, but it's interesting to find what does and does not work (as well, anyway). It's just a matter of refining the process and maximizing efficiency at this point - the rest is all laid out for me. It's a pretty nice feeling.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Red Ripper Blues

Much of my time today has been spent pouring over a wealth of invaluable resources, namely - if you'll look toward the links on the right - Reviewing the Kanji's forums, which is quite possibly the greatest goldmine -- NAY, diamond mine of knowledge regarding not only kanji and the Japanese language, but language learning in general. Of course, I say this having barely ventured inside the walls of any other general or otherwise non-Japanese language forum, but hey, I'll stick to my praise.

After some three or four-odd hours of soaking up myriad advice and exploring dozens of fantastic language tools and resources, I've decided to change up my sentence approach a bit. Ultimately, I don't plan to change it much until further down the road - for example, switching to entirely Japanese on both sides of the card, perhaps eventually even transitioning into a production format, with the question side entirely in hiragana. As I'm becoming comfortable with my current method, I'll simply make minor alterations here and there.
However, these alterations and additions, I believe, will make an incredible difference.

It's a Christmas freakin' miracle!
First of all, check out (I was a few months late in "discovering" this site, but better late than never!)

iKnow is an incredibly ambitious project primarily focused on language acquisition (at least for the time being), currently operating under a Creative Commons license entirely free of charge. They'll likely introduce premium membership benefits further down the line, but during the site's beta phase, it'll almost certainly remain free to all. 
Its methods aren't anything particularly groundbreaking - they employ an SRS system along with a flashy, fun interface, which I assume works quite well (I'll stick to good ol', trusty Anki). The beginner course for Japanese introduces something like 2,000 words, so that alone would contribute heavily to a learner's progress, assuming their methods of teaching were effective. I believe, in total, they currently offer around 8000 words and sentences!
The incredible thing about iKnow is that each word and example sentence is accompanied by a dictation recited by a professional, native speaker. The obvious benefit of this is the listening comprehension, but taking that one step further, I've decided to kick things up a notch and add the example sentences along with the corresponding audio dictation into Anki! 
I've always figured this would be far too much trouble - where would I even find such audio material? Listening to an electronic voice reading back a sentence doesn't sound very appealing, nor does recording my own, complete with my thick, gaijin American accent. And if I mined example sentences directly from spoken, source audio, it would almost certainly end in disaster and headaches when I transcribed it to text. Thanks to iKnow's expansive, excellent collection of sentences and dictation, this process just became trivial. From the dozen or so I've inserted into Anki so far, I dare say that these example sentences are a far better beginning point than those in Kanji Odyssey, as well.

How do I love thee, Anki?
I did run into a snag, though. Anki hasn't exactly had the most stable audio libraries (for Windows, anyway), and I was having major trouble getting clips to play correctly - or even at all - and for a moment I was afraid that I'd be kinda screwed until Anki was updated and the bugs were ironed out.
The wonderful thing about Anki is that its developer is one of the most dedicated, progressive, perhaps even perfectionist (in a positive sense) people I could ever hope to have supporting one of my favorite pieces of software. I really gotta hand it to the guy - as updates are often as frequent as once a week or more, bugs are stamped, performance is tweaked, features are added and the interface is polished to a shine... and this baby remains free and open source. Anki has some donations in its future, methinks...
So I hop over to Anki's forums and do a little digging... lo and behold, a new beta release with an overhauled audio library. Moments later, my audio cards are playing back ab-so-lute-ly flaw-less-ly. Sweet victory.

Currently, my cards look a little something like this (using one of iKnow's very first, very simple example sentences):


That [as-for] very good story is
That's a really nice story.

Obviously, the [sound:xxx.mp3] part indicates an accompanying dictation. Simple, but from what I've tinkered with so far, incredibly effective!

My only worry is that iKnow's sentences might be a little too basic, but hey, I'd much rather have that worry than repeatedly stumble over the same difficult card with three unknown words. Basic or not, I'll learn plenty.

Yukari Telepath

Sentences, revisited
Another pretty darn productive day, albeit slower paced. I'm now concurrently reviewing an RTK deck, as well as maintaining and reviewing my sentence deck, and plan to stick with both for the foreseeable future. So far so good.

I'm definitely getting used to the sentence method, something which felt entirely alien and awkward to me at first. I'm following a few guidelines currently in order to make the process as painless, efficient and fun as possible:

  • A hard limit of up to 10 characters (not including numbers; I'm also lax with katakana names and loanwords)
  • Whenever possible, I try to avoid adding sentences that contain more than one or two words I'm not familiar with. In my brief experience, the most troublesome cards have been those containing multiple words I don't know.
  • Until I'm feeling more comfortable with vocabulary, I'm also adding individual words, something I've been trying to avoid doing but ultimately should be a necessary crutch.
So I'm still getting the hang of things, but I can definitely see myself keeping a pace of 30-50 new sentences a day, pretty soon. Rock on.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Paegan Love Song

Ever had one of those days where you're just on fire? Everything you do seems to go so well - you're flying through work, your creativity is filled to the brim, you're in tha ZIZONE ZONE and nothing can stop you? Man, I wish I had those kinds of days.

Luckily, a rare occurrence was today (technically, yesterday, but who's keeping track?) as I had an incredibly productive day of 日本語 and barely broke a sweat doing so. Normally, my mind begins to go numb about 30 minutes into my kanji reps, but this time it took closer to an hour to reach that point, and my pace was incredible. I got a heck of a lot of cards done.

The Curse of Over Analyzing and Perfectionism
You know, one thing I'm guilty of is over analyzing... in almost all things I do. It's part of how my mind works, and it certainly has its strengths, but almost as often it'll get in the way and slow me down. In this case, in particular, I'll sit there staring at a failed card for way too long, attempting to memorize it; I'll double check the mnemonic story, sometimes altering or even changing it completely - just generally bad habits for the sake of perfection, when in fact, not worrying about the little details and letting the SRS do its work would be worlds more productive.

I'd later notice my over analyzing perfectionist habits when I was going through sentences in my "other" deck. I'd just sit there staring at the card, going through the sentence repeatedly, telling myself that the next time, I'd totally have that shite! Of course, 9 times out of 10, I'd still fail it, usually forgetting a kanji reading or two. Failing the card, sitting back and letting the SRS do its dirty work, rather than picking through every last possible detail, resulted in much faster progress every time, of course. Not to mention, far less room for frustration in the process.

But that's another thing, I guess, and something I can't say I'm particularly proud of... I'm talking about failure, and accepting failure. Sometimes, I just can't bear to press that "Again" button, effectively failing the card, especially if it's an "old" car which I "know" I should have completely memorized by now... so I mark it as "hard" instead. It's silly, isn't it? So why do I sometimes submit to this silly habit?

The High Score - Competition in All Things
Because I want the high score and I'm unwilling to accept anything less, because dagnabbit, I've invested a lot of quarters into this game! Wait, what the hell am I on about?
Another side product of perfectionism, as well as the fact that I'm fiercely competitive, and topped off by a good 21 years of playing video games and suddenly, my "sore-loser" habit begins to make sense, doesn't it? Like I said, I ain't exactly proud of this characteristic, but hey, it's part of who I am, and I'm happy to possess it.
Anyway - the high score. The oldskool concept of video games of olde, whereby he who holds the high score rules all. This example has evolved over time, to include things such as win/loss ratios, race time records, overall kills and the like, but the basic concept holds true today with modern games - just look at any online leader board. Since Pong, competition has been a significant focal point of video games, and having played games almost all my life, it's simple for me to see where my competitive spirit comes from.

Applying this sense of competition to language acquisition brings the benefit of constantly wanting to improve. I'm a firm believer that there's always room at the top, and through hard work and determination, fueled by a competitive drive, I have come out on top many times... in a broad range of aspects of life, not simply limited to games. But while learning a language... where exactly does competition come in? You can't exactly rate and score one's general linguistic skills, at least not in a meaningful sense. And even if you could, who would honestly give a damn? I know I wouldn't!
But again, how does one apply a competitive drive to learning a language? Well, in little ways, really, some of which may sound trivial, or silly.
  • Whenever somebody claims that it's ridiculously difficult or impossible for an English speaker to learn Japanese, my competitive spirit sparks.
  • Whenever a friend asks me a question I can't answer regarding Japanese, I'm encouraged to learn more. When said friend demonstrates that he or she is further along in an aspect of the language than I am, you better believe my competitive spirit is lit aflame!
  • Whenever I'm poking around on the 'net and see someone vomiting up their choice Japanese word (see: 可愛い、馬鹿、皆) out of their expansive lexicon of a dozen, not only does a vein in my forehead pulsate, but so does my competitive spirit - for the love of god, I don't want to be like that! I can be better than that!
Silly, yes. But you know, it's a means to an end, and a very effective one for me. I'm by no means perfect or the best in everything I do, or perhaps anything I do, but I truly believe that through hard work, being the best is entirely possible. Even if you don't quite make it to the top, you're certain to come damn close.

Unfortunately, as with all personality and character traits, it comes with its fair share of drawbacks, as well. Going back to the example of failing cards in Anki, it may be a bit more clear now on why I'm tempted to do so. Losing, after all, isn't a particularly good feeling. Winning on the other hand - hey, now we're talkin'! So what if I forgot half of the elements for this kanji, I'll just mark it as hard and chalk it up as a victory and... yeah, it's a bad habit, and I've recently put a stop to it as much as possible. 
There's also the whole overachiever thing which comes with my quest for being the best at what I set out to do, but honestly, that's a whole other blog post for another day.

On one last note, I added about 30 sentences to my sentence deck today, and the process is really getting a lot faster and more comfortable. I'll have more to discuss on that very shortly, but needless to say, spirits are high and I'm optimistic as ever. 

Then again, that could be the egg nog talking.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Imaginary Sonicscape

Words cannot possibly begin to describe how much I despise this kanji.

Yeah, I'm looking at you. It's neither a particularly difficult kanji to produce or recognize - in fact, despite its relative complexity, it's probably one of the most distinct, unmistakable kanji I know of (right up there with 愛). But no, that doesn't change the fact that I hate, loathe, detest this kanji's existance.

Why? Because every time I write this sucker out, it turns out looking like something a 1st grader would scribble, thanks to its ridiculously tightly jammed-together strokes. That's why. Now, maybe this kanji won't give me so much trouble when writing on regular lined paper where I'm not confined to itty-bitty squares on graphing paper, but until then, 憂 can go and take a few tightly-packed strokes, if ya know what I mean.

I may be the first and only person on Earth to have ever made a vaguely sexual insult toward a kanji.

Friday, December 12, 2008

King of Those Who Know

What a difference a day or three makes. Previously down on my luck (and studies), I'm now feeling rejuvenated and revitalized (and beginning to sound like a shampoo advertisement) and ready to kick some 日本語 ass.

Slumps are often unavoidable (at least in my own experience), but you just gotta roll with it and keep your head up in order to stave off the frustration and doubt that comes with it. In my case, my studies slowed down a bit over the past week, which is likely what triggered my slump - I only had to realize that, despite having slowed down, I'm still doing my fair share of anything in Japanese, every-single-day, whether it be watching a drama (sans subs!), etching out a couple dozen kanji from my SRS, reading a Japanese header from or listening to one of many Japanese bands - it's uncommon that a day goes by that I haven't done all of the above, it's all become part of a natural habit. Even if I slow down, I'm still making progress.

However, now that I'm back to my "regular" pace, I hope to make some serious headway in the coming weeks. My tentative, rough goal is to have every RTK kanji reviewed by the new year (easy), so that I can truly begin the sentence phase. I'm stoked.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Spiral Manipulation

I've come to a somewhat depressing realization today - that while I may be pretty good at the reproduction part of kanji (that is, writing the kanji when presented with the keyword), my recognition ability really, really sucks. When fumbling around in Windows, I'll often stare for several seconds at a kanji compound, my mind going completely blank, unable to remember the meaning of any of them - sometimes relatively simple ones that I'm amazed to have missed.

Now, in a way, this isn't all that surprising... After all, I've put a couple hundred hours into this reproduction process, while having dedicated how much time to recognition...? Exactly. I've been telling myself this all day in an attempt to prevent myself from becoming frustrated, but today's revelation has also led me to question my 日本語 priorities. I'll certainly continue to hammer out kanji until my Anki deck dwindles down to minuscule numbers, but beyond that, I'm a bit uncertain.

Do I simply dive headfirst into the awfully confusing world of Japanese sentences? Quite frankly, I'm more than a little frustrated with this method already, as my grammar, vocabulary, kanji recognition and practically everything else seems to suck just enough to slow the process down to a crawl. Of course, as Khatzumoto-sensei has said many times, we all suck at first. But presently, I find the thought of going through 50 Japanese sentences a day (or even half of that) just staggering.
On the other hand, I've memorized a few dozen words and compounds already, using this method, so I can certainly see its merit and power.

Another part of me is tempted to do things a more "old fashioned" way and learn vocabulary word by word, rather than via sentences. I've surely had some luck this way in the past, but sentences promise to make this specific method redundant, right? Perhaps, then, I'll make an additional deck for selective vocabulary - things like words in my operating system, or games, or whatever that I feel I'd benefit instantly from memorizing, while resisting the temptation of throwing every new word I find into it. Actually, the more I think about it, the more this sounds entirely practical.

But you know, in the end, it probably doesn't even matter what method I use, as long as I'm learning and progressing every day. Although it may not feel to me like I'm making much progress, especially lately, I know that every kanji I learn to produce cleanly and immediately, every word, every kanji reading, brings me another step closer to my end goal - whichever method I'm using.

On a lighter note, I've taken the big ol' step of watching raw (unsubbed) dramas. My listening comprehension isn't exactly fantastic either, but I'm generally able to pick out pretty much any words I don't understand (read: most of them) and punch them into a dictionary, so that's probably not a bad sign.
I'm four episodes into Bloody Monday and really enjoying it. Pretty easy to keep up with, given its plot, and what little Japanese I know already has been helping tremendously. Lucky for me, there are loads of interesting dramas out there, so I'll likely never run out of "study material", ahem.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Hills Have Eyes

I'd just like to share, real quickly, one of the finest gems I've stumbled across in some time:

The blog's title says it all, for the most part. Coincidentally, I was looking specifically for Japanese literature to put onto my MP3 player, especially during my bouts of insomnia, so this is quite a nice find. I was surprised to discover (after listening to a few clips) that the blog's administrator actually does her own readings, and her silky soft voice is just beautiful to listen to! I'll be sleeping soundly tonight, I believe.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Site Specific Carnivorous Occurrence

I love Anki, really I do. At the same time, it can drive me up the wall like no other, especially when it insists on throwing me simple kanji such as 工 on a weekly basis, which I've memorized months ago, while withholding "new", difficult kanji which I desperately need to learn and memorize. Now, I know that this is simply the nature of SRS - Anki only wants the best for me, after all - but it's just not gonna work... not while I'm working through this stack of cards with a rough timeline in my head, anyway.

What I decided to do, then, was crank up Anki's "number of new cards per day" from 50... to 500. This way, while I have 400ish "old" cards to review, I'll get a more consistent amount of new cards concurrently; rather than drizzling past 10-15 new cards a day while working through a backlog, I'm actually carving through 40-50 this way.

OF COURSE, ideally, I wouldn't even have to resort to this. It's something I've been pondering for a while now, in fact, but hey... when push comes to shove. Besides, my current retention rate for cards one month old or older is 99.2%, so I think I'm doing pretty well on the older cards.
Read: For the love of GOD, Anki, show me something new!

We'll see how this works out in the long run. For now, it's a nice feeling to have the "challenge" back in my Anki reps - less of a mindless process and more of a mentally stimulating exercise. Maybe it's the ol' "gamer" in me, but I love a good challenge. But that much should be obvious, given the language I've chosen to study, eh?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Puppy Dog Mail

Don't slack on your SRS reps.

I ain't kiddin'.

I've managed to fail to take my own advice, and now I have quite the stack to work through this week. Humbug.
This has partially been a result of my spreading of focus as of late - some sentences here, some picking-through-Japanese-websites there, some studying of grammar and miscellaneous vocabulary here... which has, consequently, largely distracted me from what I really should be focusing on right now. The result is that, while I've picked up some valuable knowledge over the past week, I've also really diluted my focus to a dangerous point - this is something I've been guilty of in the past, as well. I want it all at once! Clearly not the best way to go about things.

Anyway, back to kanji reps as my top priority, even if it's borderline mechanical and brain numbing. It's not so bad, though; I could certainly think of more boring things to do, at least! Like etching each kanji into paper 100 times. [On a related note, I've concluded that KeyHole TV seriously distracts me from my reps... which is a shame, but considering that reps only take an hour or two of dedicated time, that still leaves plenty of listening time afterward]

Thursday, November 27, 2008

To Here Knows When

I'm willing to make a heck of a lot of sacrifices for the good of my studies. Since beginning my (serious) Japanese work, I've had to cut back significantly on leisure such as video games, but I really don't mind so much - then again, I could go on for pages about how unhappy I am with the current state of games and the game industry in general, but that's a topic for another blog.

Back to my point - I'm willing to make sacrifices. One thing I'm not willing to sacrifice, however, is my music. Nope, sorry. My music stays. There's absolutely no way I'm willing to sell, destroy, give away, hide, quarantine or otherwise remove any of my favorite, non-Japanese music that I listen to on a daily basis. Not happening.
Honestly, I think it's extremely impractical and illogical to go to such extremes as replacing your music for the sake of total immersion (don't even get me started on replacing friends), but there's certainly no rule etched into stone by the hand of Deus that commands one to do so, either. What works well for one may very well work for another, but I've learned what works for me and I'm adamant in my decision. If this means slightly slower learning of the language, then so be it, but quite frankly, I don't think my listening to a few songs in English are going to screw up anything.

But then, I'm a huge music nut, so perhaps others may not care as much. ಠ_ಠ

At any rate, progress has picked up a little, although things are still on the busy side. Kanji reps really aren't becoming any less mind numbing, but I'm really trying to push through since I still have about 400 untested cards in there... ugh. I don't think kanji reps will ever be fun, but they're quite necessary, so I just gotta get down to it.

Luckily, sentences are infinitely more fun, interesting and rewarding to review; thank the gods for that. I think that, generally, you really get a hell of a lot more out of reviewing sentences than the kanji, anyhow - but again, it's quite necessary to keep up on kanji, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon, have mercy on my soul.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Starship Narrator

Busy, busy week, thanks in no small part to Thanksgiving and so forth. Coincidentally, my Anki reps have been piling up, but I'm not particularly worried about it. I think the most important part is just to make sure I do at least some every single day, even if it's only a handful. My "quota" is still between 100-150, but a couple dozen will keep my mind fresh enough.
Not to mention, not a day goes by that I don't read or listen to or watch something in Japanese. Heck, I have Windows in Japanese, I have Steam and most of my commonly used programs and instant messengers in Japanese - I usually watch one drama episode every day as well (Nodame Cantabile currently, I love it), not to mention I almost always have music going, much of which has been in Japanese lately (been listening to a band called Nanocycle - excellent stuff). So, I don't think I'm in any danger of stagnating or regressing in my studies.

On the other hand, I can't help but feel like I could be doing a heck of a lot more. I'm really beginning to get a good grasp on kanji, I'm picking up the compounds and onyomi a lot easier than I figured I would, and generally surprising myself at my progress regularly (at risk of sounding like my head is swollen like a balloon), but there's so much I still really, really suck at... not the least of which being vocabulary and grammar. A good handful of particles such as が, に, で and so forth still manage to trip up and confuse me, and it often takes several reps before I even begin to remember a specific word. But again, I'm not worried, nor frustrated... This will all come naturally throughout the process, as it has from the start. Month by month, I'm able to understand and read more; as I said previously, it's a very transparent process. Never does a lightbulb appear over my head, never do I suddenly realize any profound revelation that suddenly makes my studies easier. Rather, everything is a smooth, gradual stream of knowledge and understanding.

If there was any real point to this latenight musing, I've long since forgotten it in my sleepy haze. Oh well! Suffice it to say, even during my more busy weeks, I'm still able to benefit significantly from my studies, and that's ballin'.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Colds suck

Let's just say, it doesn't make for the most engaging study session when your nose is dripping like a water faucet as you lean over to jot down your kanji. Truth be told, I've not been at my prime for the past few days, barely managing to review 100 kanji a day (about 25 per day of "new", unreviewed kanji) - certainly not bad, but still beneath the 150ish I've been aiming for. Point being, this cold really didn't come at a great time, as I hate falling behind - see this previous post for more information.

In order to "cut corners" and keep up a decent pace through my (hopefully brief) illness, I've decided to skip the writing part for today and simply work out all the radicals and elements in my head as I go along. Handwriting and "muscle memory" are things I feel strongly about reinforcing, thus my insistence to write kanji as frequently as possible, but I do feel as though I've learned to write the vast majority of difficult strokes and elements already, so I'm not all that concerned. I'm actually curious to see how this session works out - if all goes well, perhaps I may ease up on the writing a bit after all, ill or not.

I should also mention that I've been employing "time boxing" more frequently lately, especially when I've been really tempted to stop the boring reps and fire up some more entertaining Fallout 3 (yes, yes - a game that is not yet in Japanese). 30 minute sessions via a software stopwatch really helps kick up momentum and keep my attention on my studies, rather than drifting to my RSS reader, or Japanese cat videos, or so forth.

Now to begin that 30 minute session.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Off with the training wheels

Well, after a few days of having the mnemonic story on the question side of the Anki card, I decided last night to remove it... partially. I actually made the story's font color white, so that it was "invisible" on the white background of Anki. This way, all I have to do is highlight the text with my mouse to make it visible; a bit crude, and I'm sure I could code a more functional method, but for the time being this works nicely. I was considering simply moving the mnemonic to the answer side, black text, but I had a tendancy to focus on the mnemonic story and give it priority over the kanji keyword, or the kanji itself... which is why I ultimately decided that this method wasn't for me.

So, off goes the training wheels, and I feel like I'm really back on the right track. Perhaps it's a bit more work, but I can feel the cogs in my head getting a much better workout, and I'm quite certain that this will prove to me more efficient in the longrun.

On a sidenote, today I'm taking a break from listening to Japanese TV while conducting my reps; it's actually become quite distracting to me as of late. Incidentally, as I understand it, this is a great sign, as while I'm beginning to learn more and more of the language, certain words or phrases will pop out at me and attract my attention! At the same time, this has seriously been impeding my SRS progress, so... for today, it's music. Tomorrow I'll return to Japanese TV and radio, but I'll try my best to remain focused on Anki. But good lord, I thought American TV shows were loud...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

C.G. Jung would be proud

What a strange day it's been. Well, to be honest, it's hardly been a different day from my normal routine. What's strange is the amount of synchronic events that have occurred related to my Japanese studies!

Earlier, as I was writing 赤 (aka, red) into my notepad while conducting my kanji reps, the narrator on the Japanese program I was "watching" said the word, "akai" - red. In what context, I don't even remember, but these little events are always a little eerie, aren't they? They're similar to deja vu in that they're utterly baffling, unexplainable and yet so incredibly random; perhaps synchronicity having more of a profound effect on the individual.

At any rate... synchronicity never, ever occurs in just one random bout, for me. If I experience one instance, I'll always experience at least one other similar event the same day, or shortly thereafter. Today was no exception!
I've neglected to blog about this little fact, but I've begun my (decidedly light - "lite" if you'll excuse the term) sentence studies - nothing major yet, as I still feel like I have my hands mostly full with my kanji reviews; I've added a little under 30 sentences since the other day when I began - and I've recently memorized the word (and kanji compound) 結婚 (kekkon, marriage). No less that twice today did I hear that word! In two entirely different instances, no less.
Perhaps this is more coincidental and likely (and not technically synchronic, now that I think about it) - after all, as my Japanese vocabulary increases, I'll certainly recognize more words such as this; that much is obvious. Perhaps it's not even all that strange at all that I've recognized this word! 新 (atarashi, new) is another word I've picked up somewhat recently that I recognize all the goddamn time now. Despite my currently dismal Japanese vocabulary, it's really a great feeling to immediately recognize words I've just recently learned, and it certainly whets my appetite to learn more.

And with that long-winded post devoid of any point, I'm back to my studies!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


So uhh... speaking of slacking... again.

I've been looking for some solid listening resources lately.
I love a good number of Japanese bands (Boris, Envy, Luminous Orange, Heaven in Her Arms, 夢中夢, Church of Misery...), but I honestly don't pay that much attention to lyrics in most of the music I listen to, as I'm more drawn to melody; it's not uncommon that I'll completely ignore lyrics in a song for a dozen or more listens, even if it's in English. Besides, I have a comparatively limited amount of Japanese music to the rest of my collection, and I hate overplaying music I enjoy.

I've stumbled upon a few nice troves of Japanese podcasts here and there as well, and while these are certainly useful, I found it irritating having to download files piece by piece, with file names that often weren't descriptive, therefore leading to a disorganized mess in my download folders (yeah, probably my own fault) - generally, just overly time consuming to get a good collection of listening material.

Then I came across this little gem.

The link speaks for itself, although video and audio quality are questionable, at best, and there isn't a huge selection of channels to choose from. I've also affirmed the fact that daytime Japanese television is only marginally better than it is here in America. Regardless, this is exactly the kind of thing I was looking for - something I can stream more or less constantly in the background while I'm working on my computer (which is frequently, to say the least). This eliminates the need to search for new, fresh material and the need to click through media players to restart content, and so forth. Actually, I've come across some surprisingly interesting programs already, though I've only been able to understand most of the bits and pieces through context.

Still, I doubt there's a better way to funnel a diverse assortment of spoken (everyday) Japanese through your head while studying, and this, to me, is an incredibly valuable tool.

Words of wisdom from the not-so-wise

Don't slack on your SRS reps.

I really can't emphasize this enough, especially having fallen into the rather nasty pitfall of having seriously slacked during the last week (or perhaps two weeks?) of my RTK studies. I was left with a considerably hefty backlog of cards (almost up to the 500 mark), which was bad enough - but I quickly realized that the bigger problem here was that Anki was seriously behind on new cards.
To be fair, even if I had kept up with my reps, the new cards would have piled up anyway due to the pace I was learning new kanji and the rate at which Anki introduces new cards (I believe it is 30 by default, which I've since bumped up to 50), but regardless, Anki spreads these new cards throughout your total backlog... if that makes sense. Say you have 100 cards to review, 30 of which are new cards... you'd have to get through all 100 of those review cards to complete the 30 new ones. This may not sound so bad until you've worked your way up to a 500 card stack, and you're seeing new cards at a rate of one every 20 cards; unless you seriously sit down and plow through that backlog, you'll be reviewing new cards at a dismal rate = not good.

So I certainly made a mistake there, but really, it could be far worse. This is a learning process through and through, and I'm still discovering what works and what doesn't work. The good news is that I've made some serious progress in my backlog, and if all goes well I should be all caught up by tomorrow - phew.

Still, I have a good chunk of kanji to go before I'll feel comfortable and ready with the sentence phase. Part of me wants to jump in and start as soon as possible, but then I comb through a typical Japanese sentence and struggle to recall the meaning of half of the kanji and... well, it's the humbling kind of whack in the head I need to drag me back to Earth. Oh, I'll be there soon, that I'm sure of! But for the time being, I know that my time is better spent with the kanji.

Oh, and I just learned the other day that Heisig himself recommends having the mnemonic story on the question side of the card. Well, crap! It sort of feels like cheating in a way, but at the same time, I can see how this could be every bit as effective as "hiding" the story and working by memory - which is exhausting. Indeed, I've found that I can go through about 100 at a time now, having the story on the question side, rather than the 50 maximum that I was able to manage without it. And best of all, I find this far more fun. Time will tell how effective this will ultimately be, but I can say with confidence that in the short term, this is juuuust fine.

Friday, November 7, 2008

キタ━━━━━━(゚∀゚)━━━━━━ !!!!!

2042 down, baby.

Ahh, it feels great to be done with RTK1, but at the same time, I feel the weight of several hundred kanji in Anki just begging to be reviewed; certainly not a bad thing, as this will ensure that my momentum doesn't slow down, or at least that's the plan.

On a side note, my horrific Japanese handwriting is slowly, but surely improving! No longer does it look like something a 1st grader would scribble down, but now more akin to... oh, perhaps that of a 4th grader. Nothing to be proud of yet, but practice makes perfect, and anyone who says that writing regularly isn't an important part of learning Japanese isn't someone whom I'd care to take advice from.

I'm in no rush to begin the "sentence phase" of my studies, but I'm happy to say that I'm really looking forward to it, albeit with a little bit of intimidation in the back of my head. First things first, though - getting a good, solid grasp on the kanji I've already "learned".

The real journey has only just begun.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The home stretch

Managed to plow through a sizable chunk of kanji today, now just a stone's throw away from 1800; from there, it's just a hop, skip and a jump to the end. I'm pumped.
Of course, I suppose I'll have a few weeks of SRS repetitions before I really have a good handle on all of these suckers, but that's just the way it goes. As long as I never have to deal with Heisig's ridiculous primitive keywords and errors again, I'm happy.

Speaking of SRS reps, I have a small backlog building up that I really, really need to take care of. Back to work!

Friday, October 31, 2008


Again, I have nothing but respect for Heisig, and I love his system for learning and remembering the kanji. But how this many errors managed to make it into a fourth edition book is far beyond my comprehension. Perhaps newer editions are more refined, but I can count about a dozen glaring errors from the beginning of the book to where I'm now up to.

Case in point: the book clearly shows 干 written with a hook at the end of the final stroke, and several kanji later introduces a new primitive which, lo and behold, is identical to the aforementioned kanji, but - get this - contains a hook at the end of the final stroke! Time to go back and try and unlearn these seven kanji before that hook comes back to poke me in the future.


Honestly, it may sound as though I'm going through another frustration phase, but I'm actually having a pretty smooth and enjoyable time with my studies lately. Unfortunately, progress has been slow, so I'm still a few hundred kanji behind my goal of a November 1st finish, but ahh well. I'll be breaking 1700 tonight, and from there it's only going to be a matter of days, assuming momentum holds up -- and it will. Oh, how it will.

On an unrelated (yet related to Japanese) note, I'm dying to play through some of my old favorite RPGs in Japanese once I'm a bit more accustomed to the language. I started a game of Chrono Trigger the other day (a game I always get cravings to play around this time of the year) and was able to understand a surprising bit more than I expected; part of the beauty of an immersion system such as this. I'm still at least a few months away from being able to really play and understand dialogue, but each passing day brings more and more knowledge of the language and it's really quite incredible how rapidly and transparently I'm learning.

But enough talk! Back to RTK, let's hope these silly errors stay at bay (no rhyme intended, sigh).

Friday, October 17, 2008

Looooong week

Indeed, this has been a long, tiring and all-around miserable week. As such, I've not been able to make quite as much progress as I had hoped (hanging around 1250 currently), nor blog posts, but such is life. On a brighter note, I'm quite motivated to pick up my lagging pace and get back on track to complete this thang by November 1st. It won't be an easy task, but it's well within my reach.

Wish I had more notes to jot down here, but alas, that will have to wait until next time.

But what the hell is a wisteria and why is it a daily use kanji? Jesus.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hobbling my way toward the halfway point

By tomorrow at this time, I should be halfway through with the jouyou kanji. Sweet.

However, I've been getting frustrated far more frequently lately, particularly at what I perceive as flaws in Heisig's system, some of which I've already written about.

Another problem I have with Heisig's method is that his keywords just don't always seem to cut it, especially for the more particularly ambiguous words he chooses to associate, often with no note as to the word's specific meaning. I've found myself consulting Japanese dictionaries quite frequently so that I could get a better handle on the actual specific meaning of a kanji; more than a few kanji with ambiguous meanings have already led to confusion, so if at all possible, I'm trying to eliminate or reduce further confusion.

One more peeve - did he really just keyword -sama as Esquire? I suppose it makes sense, but I'm willing to bet that 95% of kanji learners already have enough basic knowledge of Japanese to know the meaning of the sama honorific. Again, no note given to avoid future confusion; then again, maybe it's not such a big deal.

It ain't perfect, but for all the complaints I have about this method, I can't imagine another way to effectively memorize over 2,000 kanji in two months. As long as I keep up my pace of 50 kanji a day, my goal is well within my grasp.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Well, considering you're still alive and well, I guess I'll just have to mutter under my breath instead. Respectively.

But seriously now - I love your method, but some of your primitive keywords are just plain retarded. I've really tried to roll with most of these, but lately I've been finding my face between both palms every other primitive I come by.

Come on. Kazoo? Spool? Mandala? I've coped up until now, but mandala was the straw that flattened the camel into a bloody, steaming pulp. It's just not a keyword I can see myself remembering, even if it's a concept I'm familiar with (I consider myself lucky for knowing its meaning; think of how many others who had to look up the definition), nor is it one I can see myself effectively working into a mnemonic.

As an example, 慢 (ridicule) is made up of state of mind and mandala. Now, could you honestly think up a short, simple mnemonic for ridicule using those two primitives? I sure couldn't. I try and keep mine as painlessly short and simple as possible (two lines or less in Anki), and "mandala" was, quite frankly, giving me a brain cramp trying to work around.

Therefore, I replaced its meaning with one far more effective, in my mind: hipster.

I think you can see where I'm going with this one.

Anyhow, due to the nature of this type of mnemonic learning, Heisig's primitive keywords won't always be effective, in which case it couldn't hurt to make up your own - just make certain your keyword won't later interfere or otherwise confuse you with another kanji's keyword; if you think about it, Heisig's are all named in this manner, so that it's pretty much impossible to mistake a kanji keyword with, say, sunglasses or fiesta. Follow his example, but by all means, use keywords that make sense to you.

Monday, October 6, 2008

What is your problem, kanji.

Emotion 感
Beguile 惑

Just different enough to completely throw me off track. Luckily the differences shouldn't be all that difficult to memorize.

Trouble kanji

It's recently occurred to me how confusing all these body of water kanji are getting. Obviously, a few of them (such as 川) are quite simple to remember and differentiate from others, but then you get both sea and ocean, which also happen to have different kanji despite similar meanings.

In order to make memorizing these suckers a little easier, I've written each body of water kanji down on a cheat sheet of sorts, which I reference from time to time in order to test myself and make these confusing characters really sink in; mnemonics certainly make things easier, but in my experience thus far, one can only stretch a mnemonic so far before it becomes too convoluted and... well, stupid. In that event, good ol' fashioned memorization by other means seems to be more effective.

On top of bodies of water, I've also discovered that I've been having a bit of trouble with kanji using the "road" radical along with animal-based primitives -- again, mnemonics can only go so far, especially when meanings are dangerously similar to one another.

At any rate, writing simple cheat sheets like this has really helped me get over some difficult humps previously, and definitely helps sort these kanji out in your head. Here's what I've recently jotted down:

Bodies of water
Lake 湖
Ocean 洋
Creek 江
Stream 川
Sea 海
Open Sea 沖

Road + Animal
Escape 逃
Escort 送
Pursue 逐
Advance 進
Consummate 遂

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Repetition, repetition, repetition

Spent most of my 日本語 studies today plowing through a three-day backlog of flash cards in Anki -- pretty exhausting stuff. Take it from me, you really don't want to slack off and let your repetitions pile up; even one extra day's worth of cards can introduce undesirable headaches and frustration.

When I began using Anki, I was actually anxious to have it give me more cards per day, which would have been perfectly fine at the time, while the early kanji were relatively simple and made up of few strokes. I chose to have Anki introduce 50 new kanji a day, thinking I could easily handle it. And for a few days, I could!
Presently, on the other hand, with the complexity of the kanji I'm learning and at the pace I'm keeping (about 30-50 new kanji a day), it was quite apparent that I was going to need to ease up a bit -- at least temporarily. Frustration was setting in, even a mild taste of burnout (which is honestly something I'd really rather avoid), so I stepped back to 30 new kanji a day, in addition to whichever other cards were queued up for the day, which has averaged roughly 60-75 or so; certainly more managable.

Though, to be honest, I've been exhausted all day as it is, study or no study, and still managed to cut through about 150 cards, so perhaps if I were a little more energetic I'd have been able to do so with less aggrevation.

At any rate, I find that reviewing repetitions in batches of 15 minutes or 30 minutes works best, with a short break in between. Any longer than 30 minutes and I'll start to feel the frustration creeping up on me, which will often result in silly errors I'd not have made if my mind was more clear and willing to play along.
In fact, I use a similar method when I'm learning the kanji themselves, usually in spaces of 30 or 60 minutes... or whenever I start complaining verbally about how ridiculous it is to try and form a mnemonic for a word I don't even use in English like "promontory." Daily use kanji in action there, folks.

Which reminds me, I haven't had much of a chance to etch out any new kanji today, so I'll get right to that before bed; maybe I'll have another dream about studying Japanese (which I have more often than I'm comfortable to admit publically).

Friday, October 3, 2008

The journey thus far

All right, so a little background here.

I first began "studying" Japanese about 8 or 9 years ago. I say "studying" in quotes because all I really did was memorize the katakana for the sake of playing imports a little easier; if I recall, EGM (back when they didn't suck quite as much) had an article of sorts on import games, and how to play/understand them, along with a kana chart. And certainly, learning katakana was a huge step in the right direction, albeit a rather backwards one (I'd discover years later that hiragana is almost always taught first), but it would be at least a few years later before I'd learn much of anything about the language structure, grammar, vocabulary, etc.

One would think that, after almost 9 years of "studying" a language, one would be at least partially proficient, but alas, I have (or, perhaps, had) a tendancy to lose interest in projects at the proverbial drop of a hat (see also, Swedish and German; I'll get back to you guys later, trust me), therefore progress slowed and stagnated for a significant portion of that time.

Until recently, that is!
With the kana, basic grammatical knowledge and a couple handfuls of words under my belt, I felt it the right time to continue my studies, set goals and conquer this language once and for all.

First stop: 漢字. Bane to practically all students of this god forsaken language, kanji has been arguably the biggest roadblock in the path of learning Japanese for centuries, and for good reason.
Fortunately for us learners living in the present, breakthroughs of the past decades such as James Heisig's remarkably efficient method of learning kanji have allowed us to leap over these difficult hurdles with relative ease; within the past month, I've managed to learn 800 of the 常用漢字, with a goal of completing all 2042 by November 1st of this year, effectively learning the equivalent of eight years worth of kanji in a condensed period of (a little under) two months. Thanks to SRS applications such as Anki, memorizing all these characters and keeping them in long term memory is made relatively simple. And this time, I'm not planning on letting anything distract me from my ambitious goal.


At any rate, I have a big pile of kanji to plow through before the night is up. I'll keep notes regularly here, mostly for the sake of my own reference, but hey, if this blog can benefit or inspire anyone else, that's great too.

ONE MONOLINGUAL MAN'S JOURNEY... BILINGUALNESS. Unfortunately for him, he's a native English speaker of 24 years and chose to learn one of the most fundamentally different languages in existence as his second. Good going there, dude.

Within these pages is chronicled the epic journey down the long and difficult road of hardship and struggle, as our dear protagonist labors daily to strive toward Japanese fluency and literacy, and probably becomes less and less intelligible in English in the process.

God help us all.