Saturday, January 31, 2009

HOLY DICKS, I'm all caught up on this bitch!

Well, that only took all week - from 1200+ reps down to 0. But the outcome is well worth it, and I can finally focus my energy back on actually reading and mining sentences.

Unfortunately, I'm coming down with one nasty illness so I may not be able to get back to things at a pace as steady as I'd like to. At the moment, I don't even want to think about mining no dang ol' sentences. It was actually a little amusing finishing off the last hundred cards or so - I'd get to a sentence with a phrase meaning like, "school entrance exam" or "rewrite the document" and would quite literally exclaim profanities, wondering how the hell such boring material ever made its way into my deck in the first place. My increasing grumpiness honed in on these dull, lifeless sentences, many of which were suspended or deleted before the night was through. It was glorious.

From now on, no more school or office related terms if I can avoid them. For the love of god, no more.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Almost caught up on a severely neglected deck

Neglecting an SRS deck is a crime punishable by death, yes. But over the past few days, it's also had an interesting, positive side effect on me.
I'm really getting an itch to return to inputting new material. I have dozens of words from various sources that I plan to find sentences of shortly, I'm eager to understand more of the material I'm reading, watching, playing, etc. However, I've also vowed to temporarily freeze adding new cards until I'm all caught up with my kanji (many of which I've begun forgetting).

The result of this urge is that I'm extremely motivated to plow through these suckers as much as I can possibly stand, and I've made incredible progress over the last couple of days. It's a great feeling being able to claw through 300+ cards a day for three or four days in a row, constantly motivated to get back to it whenever possible. This is not only working wonders on my catchup progress, but also for my SRS self-discipline. No longer have I been dreading my Anki reviews, wondering if I'll meet my quota for the day, because I know I'll meet or exceed it. I have every reason to believe that this will carry over to my "regular" reviewing in a few days.

In conclusion, being a lazy-ass sometimes has its benefits.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Miscellaneous updates

I'd been considering moving this blog over to Wordpress. That blogging platform has sort of spoiled me over the past few years as far as features and flexibility goes, and I've really gotten a lot out of it. Blogger certainly gets the job done, but Wordpress has a ridiculous amount of customization and plugins available, whereas you're limited to the small amount of widgets and so forth that Blogger offers, on here.

So, all ready to make the transfer officially, I poke around in the Wordpress settings and discover that... hosted blogs offer only a step or two more customization than Blogger, and as far as I can see, don't even have a Twitter widget option or access to their expansive plugin library to speak of. Well, I guess that makes sense, as I've been using fully hosted Wordpress blogs rather than Wordpress hosted - kind of a shame. Maybe if this blog gets a heck of a lot bigger I'll transfer it over to a proper domain, but for now I've decided that Blogger suits my needs on this blog just fine.

Progress has been steady on my poor ol' Anki deck. It's been a busy week but I've been able to keep at roughly 150 reviews a day and sure enough, the number of expired cards is no longer in the quadruple digits. I really feel the urge to insert more material, but that will come soon enough.

After a period of downtime, KeyholeTV came back up with a handful of new channels, including NHK and... what appears to be a channel dedicated entirely to Yatterman
Now, I'll admit that I'm really not the biggest fan of anime in the world. Perhaps it's a side effect of getting older, as I used to watch plenty in the past, but very few anime really appeal to me, most irritate the hell out of me and it's become rare that I find a series I can seriously enjoy. Yatterman is one of those exceptions that catches my attention and just won't let go, a series that's been around since the 70s and has recently been remade with all the silliness of the original and then some (plus many of the original actors!). Awesome. Do give KeyholeTV a shot if you haven't already.

Also on the topic of anime, I was recommended 空の境界 recently, which actually does look appealing to me. I'm a fan of Kinoko Nasu's writing and previous works (Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night), so this looks to be just up my alley.
I've also discovered one of the best study resources yet, in the most unlikely (yet obvious) of places - Yotsuba&!, the lighthearted slice of life manga about the adorable, curious little girl named Yotsuba, by Kiyohiko Azuma of Azumanga Daioh fame. Not only is the manga a joy to read (it's scientifically proven impossible not to smile while reading よつばと!), but its writing is at a level just above what I'm comfortable reading, making it the perfect material for me currently. Plus, loads and loads of glorious furigana! A necessary crutch, and an incredibly helpful one while I'm building my vocabulary.

And finally, I decided to take the plunge and join the rest of the ballers over at RevTK in Twitter. I'm not too keen on the concept of microblogging, but it's still been reasonably inspiring reading other people's study-related updates and so forth. You can find mine over to the right on the sidebar.

Now, I believe I had several hundred Anki reviews to get back to... masochism at its finest.

Friday, January 23, 2009

日本の音楽 Week 1: Boris

Beginning with not only one of my very favorite bands, but also a very internationally popular independent Japanese band, Boris has been at the forefront of the Japanese underground for the past several years, and for good friggin' reason

Quite possibly the hardest working band I know of, the amount of material (not to mention frequent international touring) this trio has output since their 1996 debut is staggering (just check out their discography listing on Metal Archives). One album often sounds completely different from the next, shifting from monolithic walls of droning guitars, to more garage punk oriented styles, to acidic flavors of Melvins-inspired stoner rock, to fierce, noise-laden bombardments, and even the occasional delicate piece of chill-out for good measure.

BUT DON'T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT! Here's a slew of Boris videos. The first two are from their latest album, "Smile", which is entirely awesome.

Boris - Statement

Boris - My Neighbor Satan

Boris - Furi

Boris - Ibitsu

Boris with Michio Kurihara - Rainbow

Recommended albums:
  • Smile [note: the Japanese and American versions sound quite different from one another; both are awesome, however]
  • Pink
  • Rainbow (with Michio Kurihara, psychedelic guitarist extraordinaire) 
  • Heavy Rocks [a good introduction to Boris]
  • Akuma no Uta
  • Amplifier Worship [very experimental drone]
  • Flood [again, very experimental drone]
  • Altar (with Sunn O))), American subsonic soundsmiths)

ファッキング日本語 weekly feature: 日本の音楽

Noticed something a little bizarre about my post titles? If you're curious enough to exercise your Googlefu, you'll quickly discover that they all share something in common.

Simply put, I'm a music freak. I enjoy music of almost all varieties, from all corners of the Earth. More often than not, I'm listening to something while I'm working, studying, reading or otherwise at my computer or able to go about my business with my MP3 player. As I've stated earlier, I'm not using a truly full immersion environment, so not all of my music is in Japanese... but a good chunk of it is, and those bands and musicians, my friends, are the ones I plan to tell you all about.

Every week - tentatively Friday, more likely to shift over to Saturday or Sunday - I'm going to blog about one of my favorite Japanese bands. Not only will this help many great bands gain a little bit of exposure, but it also sorta forces me to explore more Japanese bands, in the event that I ever run out of bands to blog about. We'll see how it goes.
I certainly don't expect my music tastes to be everyone's cup of tea, but if you have an appreciation for the unusual, the extreme, the melodic, the sentimental or the melancholic, you'll probably find at least a few enjoyable bands here in the coming months.

Without further ado, let's rock.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Cloud Chamber

Wouldn't you know it, today I'm plowing through RTK reps with ease, while I can barely get myself to review 30 sentences. Just as well, though - as I said in my last post, I'm making a huge effort to get back on track with all the kanji I put so much effort into learning, part of my studies that is absolutely critical to my continued learning and cannot be neglected. Eeeeever. I wonder why I'm having such a rough time remembering onyomi, and then I realize that my RTK deck has over a thousand expired cards waiting for me!

I've already cleared through 100 RTK cards today, but damn it all, I'm doing another 100 after this blog post. I can feel the rust of a neglected deck slowly being dissolved away, and I feel like I'm really beginning to solidify these poor ol' kanji and mnemonics back into my brain. I can recall most of them, but a good chunk are vague blurs teetering between the edge of my mind and the black, bottomless abyss of forgetfulness. I'll be able to recall half of the elements, perhaps all but one... or part of the mnemonic, for example. Once I press the button and reveal the answer side, my mind almost always goes, "Ohhh, duh, I knew that!" So, the situation could be a lot worse... and I'm confident that I'll be able to "re-learn" everything comfortably in the coming days and weeks.

During my RTK Revisited period (I figure I'll give it until next Mon- erm, 月曜日), I'll be adding very few new cards to my sentence deck, focusing almost entirely on reviewing what I already know (or should know). What few I've been adding are mostly sentences reinforcing words I have trouble remembering, which certainly helps and is something I recommend doing for any trouble word.

At any rate... I've said it before, and I'll likely say it a thousand more times, but:


Seriously. Don't do it. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

And the Stars Bled

I've been thinking a lot about how far I've come since I began, how dramatically my study methods have changed over time, and how they continue to change and evolve. This eventually led to this rather lengthy post, in an attempt to sort the ups and downs of my journey and discover what I've been doing both right and wrong, and how to go about continuing my studies in the most productive and enjoyable ways possible.
Things I've been doing right:
  • iKnow sentences and resources.
Easily one of the most invaluable assets I've come across in my studies, iKnow is packed to the brim with practically everything one needs to attain an excellent grasp on the Japanese language (and, in time, many other languages as well). With a generous Creative Commons license and free access, their fantastic collection of audio dictation, sentences and pictures are open to all.
One flaw I did realize early on is that their example sentences can be a little on the long side for a sentence mining beginner. This can easily lead to stressful SRS reviews when a sentence contains several elements you're unfamiliar with - I know it did for me. My solution was to concurrently use iKnow's solid web application to reinforce my vocabulary, as well as focusing on one key word per sentence, and the result has been very effective.

Having completed the first 400 words (out of a current 6,000, with more to come), I feel like I've obtained a very solid base in which to branch off from.

  • Keeping up sentence reviews
One of the most crucial parts of using an SRS is completing reviews regularly, ideally on a daily basis. This allows the program to maximize your learning and retention efficiency, demanding only a small portion of your time in exchange. Luckily, I personally find sentence reviews challenging and interesting, so falling behind on reviews hasn't been a problem at all. On a typical day, I'll have 50-60 or so expired cards to review, along with 20 or so new cards. Completing them all typically takes less than an hour, which is a minuscule amount of time for what I get in return.

I believe I've missed a day or two, but I've become self-disciplined enough to prevent these situations whenever possible, and to catch back up quickly when not. ... Usually.

  • Input from everyday-Japanese sources
Since I'm not utilizing a true AJATT environment, it's particularly important that I expose myself to the language as much as is practical. I can't, for example, rely on my limited Japanese knowledge to read through a technical document yet; that's impractical when I need to get something done, and done correctly. It's for the same reason that I must communicate in and read English regularly enough to prevent a full immersion Japanese environment. However, I don't think this is a major hindrance either, as there's so much material in Japanese to "study" that I can easily switch in and out of either language. 

So, on top of my daily sentence reviews, I think I've been doing a pretty decent job of absorbing Japanese from various sources outside of iKnow and Kanji.Odessey and so forth, such as import games, music, literature, websites and television.  Not only does this help with my learning the language, but it's also fun, allowing me to experience a lot of the content that pushed me to learn this language in the first place.

Things I've been doing wrong:
  • RTK reps + lazyass = BAD
The one thing I've neglected the most all throughout this period has been the serious slackage of reviewing kanji. It significantly delayed my starting of the sentence phase, and it continues to trip me up on kanji recognition due to my continued slacking and neglect. Argh!
I really wish there were an easy solution to this problem, as it's a major one - indeed, probably my most major problem. I fear that further neglect will cause me to forget a lot of what I worked so hard to learn in the first place, so I'm making a very conscious effort to review at least 100 kanji a day. That shouldn't be so bad, right?

But no matter how hard I try to force myself into reviewing these suckers, no matter how much time I allocate for a timeboxing session, the sheer monotony, frustration and mindnumbing boredom of it all causes me to lose interest very quickly. How can I make RTK reviewing fun? This is a question I've been struggling to answer since the beginning. Perhaps I should just brace and accept that it's a necessary evil, because it's certainly necessary.

  • Overreliance on learning material
So I sort of had it plotted out in my head that, between iKnow, Kanji.Odessey and various other collections of example sentences, I'd be good to go up to fluency or something. Perhaps so, but the problem is that these resources get boring eventually. Bored learning tends not to be very beneficial, so again, this turned out to be a problem. Lately, the amount of new sentences I've inputted has fallen sharply, simply because I can hardly stand to plod through another one of iKnow's lessons, much less thirty of iKnow's sentences. Most of my new sentences are coming directly from dictionaries and reading material (Soseki literature, games - whatever) that genuinely interests me, rather than cold, mechanical phrases about school commutes and corporate offices. Dear god.

Don't get me wrong, though - I think that iKnow is incredibly helpful, and I still recommend it to beginning learners. It's served as a very solid foundation for my Japanese vocabulary, but I feel that it's about time to move upward and use my current knowledge to build the rest of this structure without the aid of a learner's resource. (Though, there will definitely be exceptions)
For the past couple of days, I've been spending my "study" time quite differently, with good results. I certainly have a ways to go before I'm able to fully understand most material, but as long as I'm exposed to things I really enjoy and want to experience, I'm positive that I'll get a lot more out of it.

  • Distractions
Yeah, I'm far too easily distracted. It's for this reason that I'm not able to passively listen to KeyholeTV or most music while studying. It's actually gotten to the point that I'm having to actively block out distractions or my progress slows to a crawl.
Obviously, timeboxing aids in blocking out distractions quite well - if you're on a time limit, you're not as likely to shift your focus to something else. But sometimes, timeboxing isn't quite enough to keep my attention.

Another nifty tool I've come across is SimplyNoise, which... well, generates white/pink/brown noise from a Flash interface, really. Now, why would you want to blast literal noise at yourself willingly, you might ask? I'm not a big fan of white noise, but give pink and brown a shot and maybe you'll see why I recommend this site as a tool for blocking distractions. Not only can the noise effectively muffle out outside sound, but it's oddly relaxing as well. I've actually used more than one noise tool in the past, with varying degrees of success - read up on binaural beats if you're interested.

Perhaps the most difficult thing has been limiting my time on instant messengers, but alas - when I'm this serious about acquiring a language, I can't risk losing focus, especially at the phase I'm currently in (having just transitioned to monolingual dictionary). Sorry, guys.

This has obviously been a learning experience, and one of intense trial and error. What works wonderfully one day may become useless the next, as I've witnessed many times over since I began in September of 2008. 
The important part has been continuing what does work, identifying what doesn't work and why, and then refining the process over and over and over again, picking up bits and pieces of the language all the while.

Since I began in September, I feel as though my self-discipline has grown greatly, and my brain works in ways that I've seldom experienced before my discovery of RTK mnemonics and real language study. It's a wonderful feeling, and I encourage everyone to learn at least one foreign language if they haven't.

Clearly, this has been far from an easy task, but as I've said before... I like a challenge in everything. Japanese gives me this challenge and then some. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blast Tyrant

Yeah, so, uh... I lied. Again. 

Thanks to the advice of Alyks's comment, I've decided to officially take the plunge sooner rather than later. That's right - monolingual dictionary up in hur, bitches!

Considering I've spent about 30 minutes on these last four iKnow sentences, I can already tell that it's going to take quite some time getting used to. I expected that I'd have to look up definitions of definitions ad infinity; I expected that I'd barely be able to read these definitions. And I was right.
But even so, the value of being able to use my current Japanese knowledge to build upon itself is so incredibly profound. Yes, it may take me considerably more time to create a sentence card, but consider all the additional vocabulary I pick up along the way... not to mention, a more concise definition of the words I'm looking up, and working my reading muscles all the while.

I'm getting used to the various dictionaries at the moment - actually just realized that I've been using 大辞泉 (Yahoo's default, apparently) rather than 大辞林, the latter of which I'm finding is much more easy to use - not to mention, Daijirin has helpful example sentences and phrases, which I can definitely benefit from. Sweet.

All in all, I'm glad I took the plunge. It'll be a heck of a lot more work, yes... It'll most likely slow down my iKnow sentence progress considerably (at least for a while), sure... But the end result will be a greatly expanded vocabulary and the valuable skill of being able to use a J-J dictionary.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Orphan Projection

Nothing much new to report, here - progress has been steady and plentiful. Took yesterday off of adding more cards to Anki, with the exception of a few based on new words (from 我輩は猫である), focusing more on reviewing, listening, reading, watching instead. Khatzumoto actually recommended taking an occasional "SRS holiday" in his latest post, which was an interesting read coinciding with my laid back day.

Anyhow, my SRS habits revolve around something like this, currently.

On adding material:
  • On average, I'll add 30 new sentences from iKnow per day, with maybe one day a week off.
  • Miscellaneous other unknown words I come across will also be added to Anki if I can find decent example sentences or phrases in Yahoo's dictionary - usually four or five per day, sometimes more, sometimes less, sometimes none.
On formatting added material
  • I'll often highlight a new word in bold font that I don't know to emphasize the need to learn it over other words in the sentence or phrase. I'll often do the same while reviewing old sentences.
  • On the answer side, I have a very literal word for word "translation", only including the English translation if the sentence is especially ambiguous or complicated. I feel that this helps me to keep my mind on a sentence in a Japanese grammar context.
  • The answer side also contains the iKnow dictation, which serves mostly as an additional associative tool, as well as a means to train my listening (and speaking if I feel like repeating it).
  • And finally, in the "reading" section of the answer side, a hiragana transcript.
An example card would be something like this:

Expression: 弟は野球が好きです。

Meaning: [sound:a91ef5b04bfc9aed1ab894254ebe238b.mp3]
Younger-brother [as-for] baseball [subj] likes is

Reading: おとうと・は・やきゅう・が・すき・です。

So far, so good. However, I do plan to include iKnow pictures when I begin step 3 in a day or two, which should contribute another level of association to words and sentences. Whether I do this by hand or let Anki's iKnow importing plugin do all the work, I'm not sure yet - I don't mind adding everything by hand, but the process of adding 30 sentences can already take a while, even without the inclusion of images (though it should be noted that adding an image to Anki is literally as easy as dragging it from the webpage to the field of choice in Anki!). On the other hand, letting Anki import everything would mean more sloppy hiragana transcripts and a bit more time reviewing on my part (as I'll have slightly less exposure to the sentences). We'll see.

And finally, I'd really like to transition into J-J dictionaries in the near future (the benefits of which have been discussed at length by Khatzumoto and RevTK folks). Perhaps when my deck is closer to 1000 entries, I'll be ready. Shouldn't be long, now!

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Only Shallow

I've said it before, and I'll say it a hundred more times over the lifetime of this blog but... what a difference a day (or three) makes.

Sticking to the guidelines I laid out the other day, I'm firmly back on track and having a great time again. I just plowed through my small backlog of sentence reps without a hitch, enjoying the ride all the while, taking my mistakes in stride (while remaining strict on grading) and witnessing my progress in action since really beginning sentences late December.

iKnow, an actual fun way to build one's vocabulary
I'm honestly pretty surprised by how excellent iKnow's application is. I don't know how their devs did it, but it's so intuitively designed, especially for a (pardon me for the PR buzzword) "Web 2.0" tool. It's far from perfect, but my vocabulary has probably doubled thanks to it, and words really seem to stick after going through them only once each - it's really just the thing I need to build up my vocabulary, and it takes very little time to do so. A typical lesson of 10 words takes me between 6-10 minutes, so I can easily study 50 words in one sitting without breaking a sweat.
And that's another thing - when I'm in an iKnow lesson, I'm seriously glued to the damn thing. Before I know it, an hour has passed, and I've soaked up so much vocab. Again, how the developers have done it, I really can't say - maybe it's the flashy interface and sounds, or the pretty pictures or the way it eases you into each word. All I know is that, up to this point at least, it's really been a joy to use and has benefitted me significantly.

I'm beginning to sound like a really bad testimonial.

1997, revisited
Just for laughs, I started up a new game of Final Fantasy VII... EN JAPONES! I love Chrono Trigger like an only child, but I have trouble reading (and especially looking up) its squished, simplied, compacted kanji, so I figured I'd give a game with a higher pixel resolution a shot. 
I give the game a lot of crap (thanks in no small part to its rabid, highly irritating fanboys/girls), but there's a heck of a lot of nostalgia attached to it, and even almost 12 years (!) later, despite having not aged as well as, say, Final Fantasy 6 or Chrono Trigger, it still holds up as an incredible experience which Square hasn't quite been able to replicate ever since.

At any rate, I recalled how the English language version wasn't exactly the most well written thing in the world, and wondered how much the Japanese one differed in comparison, so here I am playing through it again for the billionth time... this time in Japanese, and being able to understand a surprising amount. I found it especially fascinating how Shinra and makou are native Japanese words, which is kind of obvious now that I think about it, but never really considered it previously. Now that I know the meaning of their respective kanji, it makes a heck of a lot more sense and adds a great deal of meaning to both words.

I'm not able to understand most of the game's dialogue, but picking out tidbits like that and tendencies in character's manners of speaking (Barret in particular!) sure is fun. I'll be sure to get back to it soon.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

A Sun That Never Sets

I ain't gonna lie - the past week has been quite a struggle. Trying to settle into a groove has proven to be a challenge, and my progress has stagnated over the past couple days because of it. I've given myself some time to look back and reflect on what I've been doing that's made this week the struggle it is, and I've come to a few very simple conclusions.

First and foremost, I'm just not really enjoying my studies lately, and that's a problem. I haven't watched a drama in that period of time, I haven't played any import games, and the bit of Japanese music I've listened to has mostly been filtered out through my passive listening. Meanwhile...

Secondly, I really like iKnow, but their sentences tend to be way bigger than my originally proposed 10-character limit. Furthermore, they tend to break from the principle of i+1 frequently, introducing sometimes three or more new words in one sentence. Eventually, these bigger, beefier sentences built up to the point where I wasn't satisfied passing them with a "hard" when I could barely recall their meanings and readings, but became too frustrated failing them over and over and over again. Not fun, not productive.
[What is i+1? It's the principle that a new sentence should contain ONE new item, on top of what you already know. i = your current knowledge, 1 = the new word, or whatever. Obviously, this makes for much easier sentence cards, which is a good thing - easy, obtainable goals is key!]

I could further dissect things, but I think we all know that I'm guilty of overanalyzing as it is, so I'll simply leave it at those two main points. So the question is, what can I do to solve these problems and get back into a groove? And, if at all possible, stay there?

I'm not sure if I want to drop iKnow's sentences completely... in fact, I'd really rather not. 
What I've begun to do is mine unknown words from iKnow's sentences (mining within mining!), run them through Yahoo Japan's dictionary and then add example sentences based on those, in effect reinforcing my understanding of said sentences while also following an i+1 model. I'm of the school of thought that one really can't develop too many connection between a word, so every little bit helps, even if it feels redundant.
On the subject, I'm also experimenting with not only audio dictations, but images. Of course, iKnow uses images extensively to add more context and connections, and I think that's a big part of why their application works as well as it does. Besides, as long as it doesn't take that much more effort to embed an image, it can't really hurt, can it?
Also, while reviewing iKnow's sentences, I'm going to put an emphasis on learning one key word in a sentence. This way, for more complex sentences that introduce multiple new words, as long as I know the meaning of a sentence and the reading of my key word, I can pass the sentence without guilt. (All the while, adding new example sentences for the unknown word or words, of course)

And of course, I'll give myself more time to do the real fun things, such as watch dramas, play games, listen to music. That should be a given, but (perhaps due to the busy week) is something I've somehow forgotten lately. [Though, I do find it difficult to read some kanji on a DS screen... How does one look up a kanji that's been squished and simplified beyond recognition?]

Phew. Now to put these new practices to work and see how it goes. If worse comes to worse, I'm firing up a marathon of Densha Otoko, SO HELP ME GOD.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Clarity With Distance

Whoa. I got a late start today on my Anki routine, and was surprised to see that an update was available - and what an update! Apart from some slick aesthetic changes, Anki now offers some tidbits of review information when you start it up, as well as the options to set a time limit, and question limit! Timeboxing straight outta the box, folks. I don't mind using an external timer, but this is just too sweet. Not to mention a question limit, which will seriously help me to stop being lazy and do 100 Heisig reps every day. Heck, I could even set a time limit and question limit. The best SRS application just got better, somehow.

I really haven't had a lot of time to study over the past few days, but business willing, I'll be back in full swing tomorrow. Rather than adding new material to my sentence deck, I've been exploring iKnow's application, which is surprisingly well developed and effective (at least as far as vocabulary-building goes). It doesn't really function like an SRS, but it does seem to reintroduce older words regularly, so at least it has the right idea. Sort of reminds me of the DS My Language Coach line of "games", but without the annoying crap and a lot more straight to the point.

I think I'm gonna stick with iKnow while concurrently reviewing sentences in Anki, at least until my vocabulary is a little better. As I mentioned previously, I'm just having a tough time right now, especially with getting vocab to stick. This could be for any number of reasons, including iKnow's somewhat longer sentence length (often breaking 10 characters, sometimes going well over that) or impatience on my part. And it's not like my brain is completely rejecting any and all vocab, as I've been able to learn and retain a few hundred words up to now, and I continue to do so! Just... at a much slower rate, lately. If spending a little extra time with iKnow can help all of this stuff stick, then it's time well spent.

Yeesh, let's hope I can stick to a concrete plan by this time next week.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

21st Century Man

Been a busy, long past couple days, which has unfortunately taken its toll on my motivation to study. I've not fallen behind on my reps (well, unless you take my neglected RTK deck into account, but mumblemumble), but The Process© has been executed a little hurriedly lately - much less writing, for example. I also feel like my brain just hasn't been absorbing the material very well, which is obviously a bit of a problem... but I trust that Anki will take care of that problem in time, so I'm not worrying too much.

I've been considering stopping my vocabulary reps, however. The brute force rote memorization is something my subconscious mind simply dreads, and it's just not very effective... at least, not at this stage. I think I'll keep the deck around, and enter iKnow's lists of words on occasion when I have the time (read: someday), but I believe it's far more important to simply stick to sentences.

In that case, I'll be a little more strict on my sentence ratings. In a previous entry, I discussed how I currently rate cards, which is admittedly quite liberal and arguably a little ineffective. I've given this practice a lot of thought, and in light of my previous difficulties, I think I'll try something like the following instead:

Again if:
  • there is one or more words I don't know the meanings of
  • there are two or more words I don't know how to pronounce
  • if I just generally can't read the thing
Hard if:
  • I know the general meaning of a sentence, and the meanings of every word, but cannot recall the pronunciation of one word
  • I can recall the sentence's meaning and pronunciation of everything, but only with considerable effort or doubt
Good if:
  • I can recall the sentence's meaning and read it aloud (or in my head, whatever) with little effort
Easy if:
  • it all comes effortlessly and naturally
Knowing me, I'll be scrapping refining everything again next week, but whatever makes it easier for me to learn the language and enjoy the ride.

Speaking of which, I've been watching and enjoying the heck out of Team Batista no Eiko, but I may be biased as I have a weakness for doctor dramas, and Atsushi Itoh is ridiculously awesome in any role he plays. Shame I have trouble understanding a good chunk of it thanks to all the medical terminology, but this is a good thing! You never know when you'll need to request an emergency large intestinal bypass. Or something.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Destroy All Dreamers

Enter: the vocabulary deck
Today, I loaded up my sentence deck, prepared to add today's 30 new entries when I was greeted with over one hundred review cards - yikes. So much for those new entries for now.
It then occurred to me that the majority of these obviously weren't sentences, but the slew of vocabulary I've been adding over the past few days. At that very moment, I made the decision to make another deck, dedicated to vocabulary only. Yeah, I'm creating even more work for myself, but hey - it would also be a good opportunity to organize things, and give my Anki decks a bit of a tune-up, if you will.

It took a little over an hour to mine all 200 words (plus dictation on the answer side, because why not?) from step 1 of iKnow's core 2000. In fact, I employed time boxing for most of that time, which helped me keep the pace and ignited my desire to break my last record at all costs! The first 30 minute timeboxing segment resulted in exactly 75 words mined, and the following 30 minute segment resulted in exactly 80 - not too shabby. I plan to mine step 2's 200 words next, after a little break, and then I should be good to go until next 金曜日 when I'll repeat the mining process with step 3, and so on. Theoretically, mining all of a step's vocabulary in advance should fare better than doing so as I'm reviewing, but we'll see how it goes.

Anki ratings
One thing I've been considering is how I rate sentences in Anki. For those not in the know, Anki's current build has four rating buttons for reviews: Again (fail the card and it'll show it to you again about 10 minutes later), Hard (12~ hours later or so for a new card), Good (3~ days for a new card) and Easy (9~ days). What I've been doing for sentences is something like this:

Again if:
  • there are one or more words that I don't understand
  • and/or if I can't comprehend the sentence's meaning
Hard if:
  • I can comprehend the sentence's full meaning accurately, but can't recall the reading of one or more words
Good if:
  • I can both comprehend and read the complete sentence, knowing the full meaning and pronunciations
Easy if:
  • Same as Good, but I can do so very quickly and naturally
Some may argue that a card shouldn't be passed at all unless you can do what I outlined in Good, but I found very early on that it simply takes too much rote to do so through sentences alone. Of course, the same could be said for separate vocabulary, but ahh well - this is how I'd like to try things for now. Less frustration = more goodness.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Clear Light, White Cloud

And goodbye to 2008, a year of historically profound events and personal growth. I never would have dreamed that I could make so much progress in only four months since I started RTK, but here I am, and the future of my Japanese is looking pretty bright. Here's to fluency in 2009... or damn close, anyway.

I spent quite some time today on my sentence deck - probably close to three hours. I didn't have much time yesterday to sentence mine for today's sentences, so that ended up cutting into my review time as well. No matter, the mining process doesn't take very long, so it wasn't a big deal.
The big deal was that, while riding on a high of remembering so many words perfectly, I decided to add dozens of new vocabulary entries as I went through my reviews. On top of a more hefty review pile today, this resulted in a pretty massive amount of vocab, bringing the amount of cards in this deck up to 417. Ouch! I still have 27 vocab cards to review, in fact, and I've already gone through 207 reps.
Presently, though, I still don't think that adding individual words can really hurt things. Vocabulary is easily my weakest area of Japanese yet, so spending some extra time burning these words into my brain will surely (and indeed, already has) pay off. But boy, does it add a lot more work.

I did reach a little landmark today, having completed step 1 of iKnow's core 2000, therefore having covered 200 of the most common Japanese words - sweet. I'm still very much enjoying iKnow's example sentences. I'm considering putting the dictation clip on the answer side, though, as it feels a little cheap to have it on the question side... sometimes giving me a false sense of knowing a word's reading, when in fact I'm a bit clueless without the dictation. 
I've also begun looking away or closing my eyes once I review a card, letting the audio play and seeing whether I can understand the sentence from listening alone, which is certainly a good test of progress.

I have plenty of other ideas regarding how to make the entire progress more efficient, interesting and fun, but for now I'm quite comfortable with what I'm doing currently. In the future I'll move to a fully Japanese answer side and perhaps even a fully hiragana question side as well (forcing me to recall and write the correct kanji), among other things... but that's all still a ways off. One step at a time.