Thursday, March 19, 2009

Progress, frustration and a light at the end

Phew. So I'm back on track, finally - my SRS is all caught up and, in fact, the vast majority of my existing cards are quite ripe and mature so I'm only having a light trickle of about 25~ expired cards a day. Merging my RTK deck with my sentences was an excellent decision - although awkward at first, it was quite necessary as I'd neglect my poor ol' RTK cards otherwise, and my motivation to get to newer, fresher material under this mountain of RTK kept me plugging away. My kanji isn't suffering as a result, as it was during my period of SRS neglect, and my recognition is better than ever before... as well it should be!

Lately, though, I've really been having a difficult time finding motivation to add new material. I've had success with Tae Kim's grammar-rich sentences (many of which sound kinda unnatural to me, but hey, good practice nonetheless), and I've previously had a lot of success with iKnow (now known as And, of course, I have a pretty decent amount of content to dig through via manga, dramas, movies, games and blogs in Japanese. But lately, none of it has been really doing much for me, which has led to several days of frustration... and subsequently my questioning exactly what the heck I'm doing. Certainly my personal stress, busyness and other factors have taken their toll as of late - normally I'd be up for any and all of the above enjoyable activities, having fun doing them and soaking up some tender, juicy language. Lately, however, this hasn't been so.

I'll avoid getting into personal details, but I certainly do run into these phases once in a while, and they're tough. They take a conscious effort to get out of, as well as time, and as of yet, I've not been able to crawl out of this pit - not quite, anyway. If you've ever experienced this, you'll know exactly what I mean. I know I'll be back on my feet in the next few days, good as new, but trust me when I say it's been a long past couple of weeks!

At any rate, I figured that, in the meantime, I'd give my ol' buddy iKnow a ring and see what he's been up to. We spent a little bit of time together, and I remembered the good times we used to have, going through useful, practical vocabulary together for an hour each day, cementing these words into my head with the help of my bro Anki. Those were the days. It was a systematic approach to learning Japanese that I actually enjoyed, and within weeks, I had a heck of a lot to show for it, from iKnow's first 400 words alone.
And then, our relationship suddenly took a turn for the worst. And as I sat there going through words such as "office president" and "economics", I remembered exactly why we broke up in the first place. For the love of all that is good in this world, why does Step 3 and up have to be so ridiculously boring and stupid? It's quite a shame, since the previous steps are generally smooth sailing, with actual practical vocabulary that most people would want to learn. I suppose that if you wanted to learn Japanese with the intent of studying overseas or working in a professional office environment, you'd get a bit more out of this vocabulary than someone like me who simply just wants a useful foundation of words to build my knowledge off of, but it just ain't gonna work out. Not for me.
Halfway through Step 3 and a slew of unrelated Anki errors later (to add insult to injury), I hung it up and put on a movie. In English.

All right, so I've since cooled off. Actually, I'm feeling pretty damn good now, and I'm ready to jump back into action! Yotsuba never fails to make me smile, I have a slew of awesome games to play through in Japanese (The Last Remnant seems pretty baller so far), and I've decided to poke around at LingQ a little bit more once again.

I briefly mentioned LingQ in a recent post about Steve Kaufmann, a fascinating polygot whom I've come to respect greatly. It's a language learning website/service that emphasizes the importance of reading and listening over everything else. A typical LingQ lesson consists of a relatively short page of text (from any source, really) with an accompanying audio dictation. You read, you listen. If you come across a word you don't understand, you simply highlight it with your mouse, click the LingQ button and save it for later review or reference. When you're done with the lesson, it'll tally up the number of times you've read and listened, and how many words you know (any words you haven't highlighted are assumed known words).
And it doesn't really get much more complicated than that. You can go through flashcards of your unknown words, but 90% of the emphasis is on the reading and listening of this material rather than review. You're encouraged to download audio and listen passively whenever you can, and to frequently reread lessons until your understanding is maximized. (You may also option for the help of a tutor in your writing and speaking, but this is a premium service that I imagine most readers of this blog wouldn't want nor need, albeit quite fairly priced)
Nothing fancy, nothing spectacular... but a fundamentally simple system that has tons of merit and potential.
Japanese (as well as Chinese) is only in its beta stage, but there's an impressive amount of material present already - interesting material, I might add! My biggest complaint is that the website's interface is a little on the clunky side, and the dictionary is occasionally slow which can be a drag when adding a lot of unknown vocab. But the philosophy of the site touches on the fundamental principles of language learning that are easy to forget and ignore when there are dozens of systematic methods and grammar rules at every turn, and is definitely a site worth checking out.

So, armed to the tooth with everything I'd ever need from here on out, I think I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel that isn't, in fact, a train. I'm optimistic again.

... Although, I could use a few dozen more good Japanese movies. Any suggestions? I love the oldies (Kurosawa, Ichikawa...), but I'd prefer some more recent stuff. You know, because I gotta stay hip like all the cool kids.


Alyks said...

Lady snowblood

Top of my head. English for convenience.

Burritolingus said...

Sweet, thanks. I've seen the hell out of Yojimbo which is totally awesome, but the other two I've been meaning to see for ages. Consider me reminded.