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. 

No comments: