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!