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 http://www.iknow.co.jp/ (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.

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