Friday, July 31, 2009

Slow and steady wins the race

Progress hasn't been stellar the past few months, but I no longer worry about nor really think about my progress at all, honestly. In nearly one full year of study, not one day has gone by that I haven't done something substantial in Japanese, even if I've neglected things such as my SRS a little too frequently for comfort. The result is that I've very rarely gotten burned out in my 日本語 studies, pacing myself as I run this long, long marathon, having trekked through the winding, confusing roads of this journey and covered a significant amount of ground. Of course, this marathon ain't anywhere near over yet, but I'm showing no signs of tiring any time soon...

It's always interesting to pick up something I had struggled on previously, only to discover a few months later that - lo and behold - I can now understand and enjoy this thing! There was a time when I had some naive notion that, by the time I could read and enjoy Berserk, I'd probably be at a pretty damn decent level of Japanese and all would be swell and I'd never need to study Japanese another day in my life again. Imagine my surprise the other day when I flipped through several pages of Berserk with a surprisingly decent level of comprehension...
Whereas in the past I had to rely on katakana words in order to vaguely navigate my way through RPGs while ignoring most of the story, I can now understand the vast majority of plotlines and very rarely get lost since I can follow the directions of the NPCs with few problems.
And the list goes on and continues to go on - it's a really nice feeling, and sure beats worrying about where I should be or could be with my Japanese level.

I still find listening to be difficult, though, and generally find reading pure kana quite tricky as well. Perhaps I've grown a little too acquianted with the contextual power of kanji (and o, how powerful it is), and no thanks to the massive amount of homophones in Japanese (indeed, 日本語 puts the "homo" in "homophone"...), but I often find myself returning a blank stare to these tricky things. I think this is also due to having not yet "internalized" a lot of the vocabulary I've learned. Exposure is really the only solution, and exposure I'm getting - I try to average 2 hours of watching unsubbed (or Japanese subbed in the rare situations when these are actually available) drama/anime/movies/TV a day, and as much passive listening via podcasts (again, I love TBS Life) as I can cram in.

Another thing that keeps me motivated is the concept that, while there may be a heck of a lot of kanji, there is a finite amount of them. I'm constantly learning the readings of more and more kanji, and eventually there just won't be many left to learn, save for the obscure ones (which I particularly enjoy learning). When you think about it in that way, fluency doesn't seem too far fetched at all, does it?

Slow and steady wins the race, this much I'm sure of.

At any rate, I hope to be bloggin' a little more frequently in the near future. I have plenty of interesting music, drama, anime and movies to discuss and share, and really, aren't these things part of the reason why we're learning the language in the first place? Exactly.

Friday, July 3, 2009


It's certainly been a while, hasn't it? I've been neglecting my lil ol' blog here for quite some time, but not because I'm necessarily slacking in my 日本語 studies. I have been quite busy the past month or two (and am in the long, excruciating process of moving), but I've made significant progress since my last post. Most of my miscellaneous updates have been confined to the endlessly banal, barren wasteland known as Twitter (a banal wasteland I've come to enjoy, thank you very much), but one can only cram so much information into a 140 character message. It's now come time for me to report on my progress in a proper manner.

Well, where am I currently, in my journey... It's difficult to say, exactly. I estimate that I'm probably somewhere around 3,000 cards in my SRS, not counting either of my kanji decks (oldskool keyword-to-kanji Heisig, and new Japanese word-to-kanji deck).

My old deck of 900~ cards was deleted with prejudice, never to be missed again, and mostly consisted of various tidbits from, 2001KO and dictionaries. I simply couldn't bear going through that thing again - the boredom and drudgery drove me nuts, so I did the most sensible thing that came to mind. DELETED!
My newer, vocabulary and onyomi-centered deck (with sentences almost exclusively from topped out at exactly 1,000. While I can generally force myself to plow through its reviews, it's getting more and more monotonous as time goes on, and I can't really foresee myself adding very many new cards to it (for reasons I'll get into later). This will probably mark its demise in the near future, though I'll keep it around for the time being as it's served me quite well.
The rest of my decks are miscellaneous bits and pieces such as grammar points and so forth.

For the most part, I feel like I've been pretty lazy when it comes to actually adding material. Well, strike that - I know I've been lazy. On my hot streaks, I can add 50 or more cards per day for a week straight. But more typically, I hover between 20-30 and take a heck of a lot of days off.
Actually, I haven't added one new card in at least three weeks, and my reviewing has taken a sharp decline as well. This is thanks in no small part to a very busy June, but I also hit a massive wall of SRS burnout somewhere around my 1,000th card in the aforementioned vocabulary deck. Life happened, I had suddenly come to a screeching halt, and it took me over a week to get back to my studies... which didn't include very much SRSing. Try as I might, I just couldn't justify the frustration and tedium when I had hours upon hours of drama, anime, games, books and various listening material to indulge in. Of course, this wasn't necessarily a problem inherent in SRS itself and more to do with my dull sentence material, but I'll get to that part yet...

At this point, my hard drive was pretty much full with anime and drama. I have a 500GB drive, which isn't enormous by today's standards, but considering how conservative I tend to be with space, for me to fill the poor thing takes some serious downloadage. Before I knew it, I was up to my neck in roughly a dozen anime series and a handful of dramas, as well as about a half dozen movies and a few good gigabytes of audiobooks, podcasts and radiocasts. よしっ!I was ready to rock.

A main character so remarkably badass, he can make pointed ears, makeup and nail polish look cool. (モノノ怪 (eng))

Of course, all of these things have one thing in common as far as studying goes - they're all listening material. At this point (roughly one month ago), I felt like my reading comprehension and vocabulary had "leveled up" significantly, but my listening really left something to be desired. Even if I knew all the words in a spoken sentence, it'd still take my brain a few extra seconds to actually process it all into something I understood, unless said sentence was a phrase very familiar to me. Clearly, this was a problem stemming from my lack of input on the listening side - something I knew I've been neglecting, but... well, you know me and neglect, don't you?

For about a week straight, my studying involved little else but watching drama and anime, and listening to podcasts - very little SRS review, and just enough reading to keep me sharp. Though I'd have periods of several seconds where I didn't understand diddlysquat, I began to notice my listening comprehension improve steadily with each hour I invested in my active listening. After some time, I was able to follow the story pretty reliably, at least getting "the gist" of things, even if I missed a lot of the details otherwise.
I've been trying to get in at least an hour of active listening material each day, ideally two if time permits. Gradually, my listening is definitely improving.

Meanwhile, I've kicked up my reading, as well. I've found a goldmine in 16-bit RPG classics, which are packed with text and generally pretty easy on vocabulary while still introducing plenty of interesting new words. I can quite easily play through and understand the majority of dialogue, understanding the details of storyline and rarely getting into a "wait, where am I supposed to go, again?" situation.

Sadly, the chocobo kinda got screwed when it comes to screen time.

I sorta got bored with FF6 (knowing the game inside and out kinda does that eventually...) so I picked up FF5, a game I've actually never beaten and had a massive craving to play through. Though lighter on story than FF6 (and arguably, FF4), FF5's dialogue is also surprisingly easier. Whereas FF6 is packed with dialect and (comparatively) complicated vocabulary, FF5 is really a piece of cake. I stop and look up words frequently, but mostly for completion's sake; if there's one word in a sentence I don't understand and I haven't looked one up in a while, well hey, why not? Otherwise, I tend to either work things out through context, ignore unknown words for the time being or look up only the repeating vocabulary I come across (I figured it was probably important to look up 流砂 after having been warned by several NPCs...).
I figure I probably understand about 70% of the game, which is more than enough to understand what's going on at any given time, though I miss out on nuances and quite a few of the hiragana words (kanji has seriously spoiled me - never thought I'd see the day).
As with my listening, all of this reading via RPGs has done a heck of a lot in the past month to improve my comprehension, speed and (to a lesser extent) vocabulary and grammar. I absolutely intend on playing through more of these puppies once I complete 5!

Ahh, and tonight I had planned to start a fresh, brand new SRS deck - the next step in my SRSing cycle of life. I keep a list of all of the words I look up while playing RPGs, and nearly all of them are awesome words I'd like to memorize, so SRSing them in sentences seems like a logical step.
Then more SRS rage kicked in. This time, because Anki decided it was a great time to tard out on me, bugging up whenever I tried to modify the deck properties of a new deck. This is sort of a show stopper, since I really need to customize fields to get a deck to my liking - not to mention, I won't trust any SRS deck with my data if I suspect it's gonna toss its cookies at any moment.

Arrrrgh. We'll see if I can't get this bug sorted out soon, but my "screw it all" side might just opt to keep up the reading and listening, SRS be damned. SRS is absolutely the most efficient way of retaining knowledge, but boy, can it be a headache.

When I seriously get back into the swing of things, I'll be adding things at a much slower, more limited pace of only the little goodies I really want to remember. I finally feel as though I'm now at the point where I can cherry pick, without stumbling around barefoot in a dark room full of mousetraps, now that my language abilities are at a far more sustainable level. Now I can really watch and listen to and play things and understand enough to actually enjoy them, something I struggled with in the past. キリスト神神様、it's taken me long enough.