The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

SO ABOUT THAT JLPT THING… OR: The End of Another Chapter

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Right, so long story short, things didn’t work out between JLPT and I. As it turns out, I’m going to be quite (unavoidably) busy on the day of the test, so it’s just well. [Ed. FROM THE FUTURE: turns out, I would have also had one of the worst colds I’ve caught in years, and in no physical or mental form for a very long test!] No biggie – at this point, I don’t feel confident that I’d pass anyway, and I think the motivational kick in the brain stem from planting the seed of IMPENDING TEST did its work quite nicely. Perhaps I’ll be ready for the summer test, but at this point, it’s difficult to say.

Secondly, I’ve decided that it’s time to take this little ol’ blog out back and… um, gently… tuck it into bed? As I’m sure you’ve noticed (yes, both of my loyal readers!), there just isn’t much for me to talk about anymore on the subject of language learning. My process involves: lots of reading, lots of watching, a little Anki (mainly grammar sentences – I gave up on MCDs, and why fix what isn’t broke?) and a little Read the Kanji. That’s honestly it! The thought of experimenting or otherwise changing up the process much at all just isn’t appealing to me. As long as I’m experiencing the language as it was intended for native speakers with just enough studying to get me through, that’s enough.

But apart from the subject of language learning, it’s not like I have nothing to talk about. As my Japanese improves, and as I get into translation more, I’m increasingly finding new and interesting things to discuss – the differences between a game’s English and Japanese localizations, as a recent example. Not to mention all the various cool things I’m reading/watching/playing/listening to and feel the need to gush about (something I did on my first blog, but oddly never felt compelled to do here).

So rather than awkwardly convert this blog, I’m gonna do the most sensible thing (in my mind – this coming from someone who reformats twice a year) and blow it sky high with ダイナマイト. I’m good at what I do.

But before that, let’s clear up a few loose ends!

If you were able to go back in time and give your horrible, ignorant, nooblord language learning self advice, what would you say?

Answer: 1) Don’t worry too much about RTK/Heisig – kanji is going to be a pain in the ass no matter what approach, and RTK, like all methods, has its pros and cons. Ultimately, it’s gonna be down to exposure (and, in the case of writing by hand, largely muscle memory), and there is simply no magic bullet. Shortcuts, sure, but years later, I still question just how much of a shortcut RTK was for me.

2) For the love of the omniscient Funkopotamus, don’t worry about the method. Like, at all. Cut it out, stop that. Experimentation is fine and good – discovering just how one learns is an important step. But the goal, in my eyes, should be to build a stable foundation of vocabulary (and grammar, to a slightly lesser extent) and, as soon as possible, dive into native content of interest, and communication. Don’t make things more complicated than they need to be.

3) Don’t buy into anti-output propaganda. I’ve ranted and raved on this subject before, but it’s still a topic of frustration to me. Speaking, writing, whatever – these things will (in my experience) absolutely help cement the language, highlight areas of weakness and make a little more sense of passive, not-quite-yet-internalized bits and pieces. Mistakes are to be expected and are perfectly okay! Your Japanese (or whatever) won’t be permanently impaired because of a few dumb mistakes. Don’t worry, you won’t go blind.

4) Find the good stuff. Originally, this tip was going to be “avoid the garbage” but quite honestly, I think this is better advice. In my case, I have giant stacks of manga, literature, games, dozens of unwatched anime series… you name it. Stuff I know for a fact that I’ll enjoy, and a hoard I won’t exhaust any time soon, shielding me from the harmful rays of utter crappola. Straying outside of one’s comfort zone is certainly a healthy thing from time to time, don’t get me wrong – I’ve discovered all kinds of incredible things that I wouldn’t have originally thought I’d enjoy. Regardless, it’s because of The Good Stuff that most of us stick with a language in the first place, right? So figure out what The Good Stuff is to you, amass huge amounts of said Stuff, and then go nuts.

5) Stick with it. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not always easy, or possible, to make the language a part of your daily life. Things happen; stuff comes up. A particularly life-shaking incident may occur and throw said language on the back burner for months, during which time, hard work and progress will likely spill out like a sieve. You’ll pick up something one day and realize that what was relatively easy to read before is now practically incomprehensible, and it’s the most frustrating thing. But unless you’re a super lucky person with absolutely no boundaries and distractions, these “forced breaks” are inevitable. Just know that the de-rust process is only temporary, and probably a lot shorter than you think.


Answer: Look, just… don’t do this to yourself. Okay? This isn’t healthy or constructive for anybody. Just… just stop it. Please.


Thus ends the Language Learner chapter of the ブリート Saga. Got some pretty exciting stuff coming up in the near future, but I’ll leave that for the new blog. For now, this is Rito signing off!


Written by ritobito

December 2, 2012 at 3:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized


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Well, it’s certainly been a while, hasn’t it? I can hardly remember what I spewed in my last post, but I’m fairly sure most of my plans came to a fizzle, anyway. Since then, I haven’t done a lot of reading, certainly very little studying, and next to no output, so I’ve managed to accumulate a pretty hefty layer of rust. On the other hand, I have been keeping up with my watching (thanks in no small part to an especially strong Spring animu season), so my listening has definitely improved and I don’t feel entirely lost.

Buuut, yeah – I’ve been slacking pretty hard since October, more or less, and it’s taken its toll. The past several months haven’t been especially kind to me, and despite what some may preach (and believe me, I wish it were so), it’s not always possible to keep up the immersion or study of a foreign language amidst real life crisis. I’ve done my best to maintain what I’ve built up, but frustratingly, I need to do a heck of a lot in all aspects of the language (reading, listening, output), regularly, or I will see setbacks. It’s never easy to come to grips with the fact that you’ve lost the ability to read a significant chunk of words and kanji you had little problem with only half a year ago, but I always take comfort in knowing that these things are many, many times easier to “relearn” the second time around; typically, a few weeks of intensive study and immersion will get me damn near back to the level I was at before, and I’m just about in the middle of that intensive period now.

A few weeks ago, I made a decision which I knew would force me to get back on track, and stay there. I’d been toying with the idea of taking the JLPT for some time now, but the closest test site was all the way in Atlanta, Georgia, which isn’t exactly a trivial distance from where I am in the murky bayou of Louisiana. Maybe one day, when I was ready, I’d make a road trip of sorts for it? Just for laughs, I decided to poke through the dates and locations of this year’s test sites, and something caught my eye: Houston, Texas? Now we’re talkin’ – roughly a four hour drive from here, compared to the nine and a half to reach Atlanta.

And so, the gears in my head began working… What if I were to apply for, and take, JLPT N1 in December? Certainly I’d have my work cut out for me; I’d felt quite comfortable with N2 practice tests the last time I tried, but N1 was another story entirely, mostly due to its huge variety of vocabulary and kanji (not to mention the dreaded listening section, still far from my strong point). But I’m the kind of person who tends to work best with a deadline on the horizon, just enough pressure to keep pushing me forward. By December, I’d have just crossed my fifth year of studying Japanese – wouldn’t it be cool to earn my JLPT wings* then? *(Putting aside the  question of whether the JLPT is worth taking – I understand many of the criticisms, but for me as an aspiring translator and guy-without-college-credentials, I believe it is well worth it)

So I’ma do it.

This means I’ll have to spend a huge amount of time with the language again, like I did back in my glory days, but barring apocalyptic events, I have every intention of doing just that and ultimately, passing this mutha. My techniques won’t be anything terribly revolutionary, since I know what works for me – mostly drilling grammar sentences in Anki, the daily grinding of words and kanji in Read The Kanji (an excellent service which I highly recommend, by the way), perhaps the creation of another sentences deck in Anki made up of content from various literature (more on that later) and (most of all) as much reading and listening as I can possibly squeeze into a single day, every day. Shit is gonna go down, son.

Just a note on study methods and so forth: I’ve tried a lot of radically different things, and quite frankly, didn’t think much of them. MCDs are a good example – I liked how simple and straightforward creating these cards generally was, but I just never saw the appeal over regular ol’ sentences. Another thing was “ignoring grammar” which is a fairly loaded and largely misunderstood argument in itself, since no one truly “ignores” grammar, and “studying grammar” can mean about a thousand different things. But without taking the time to review grammar sentences, I can guarantee that I’d be much worse off. Take, also, the subject of output – many input-based approaches discourage speaking and writing until some magical point in time when you’re suddenly “ready” to do so, free of errors which will inevitably haunt you for life and so on and so forth. Taking a line from Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek, “My God. Pure ideology! My God.” Quite honestly, I’m not interested in the “method” anymore – it’s either do, or don’t, and the endless spew of language learning dogma is something I’m glad to be free of. Amen.

Oh, hey, one last thing. I recently dropped a few bucks (okay, maybe a little more) on a study device which I believe has been instrumental in nudging me back on track, and has pretty much transformed the way I study (and I just got done talking about how I’m going about things in a straightforward, not-so-radical manner – but bear with me!). As I believe I mentioned before, I got my first smartphone not long ago – not the fanciest of models, but more than enough to get the job done, and Anki on the go has been tremendously cool. Still, it’s not the ideal tool for reading, or typing, or pretty much anything that requires a screen larger than… well, that of a phone. That pointed me in the direction of tablets, one thing led to another, and now my iPad is basically my new favorite thing, and here’s why.

With a tablet, I find it so much easier to focus on one, single task at a time. I have the freedom to move where I want to, free of distractions and to my comfort (I can sit, lay down, stand – whatever I feel like), and the nature of a tablet means that multitasking isn’t as simple as simply seeing a long row of buttons on my task bar, each of them a siren’s call for my mouse cursor. Heck, I don’t even have Twitter enabled on this thing – my focus is simply on the one browser page in which I’m cramming my way through Read the Kanji (where typing usually doesn’t result in a train wreck!), or on that Anki deck, or that 青空文庫 book, or visual novel (many of which have been ported to iOS; much fewer to Android, but things are beginning to pick up on that front) or manga, or video or audio I’m streaming from my PC – without the temptation to check Twitter, or IRC and IMs, or my RSS feeds. And there’s something wonderfully immersive about holding a screen that’s a literal goddamn computer just a foot from your face, I ain’t gonna lie. And in the case of iPad (and presumably, other iOS 5 compatible devices), it also includes a godly popup dictionary which can be set to E→J or J→J depending on your language settings, complete with example sentences. I could go on, but I’ll save that for another post one of these days.

With Google launching their $200 Nexus imminently, I think now is a fantastic time to score a tablet for the sake of studying. I’ll never forgive myself for that sales pitch. But I’m sincere in professing my love for this little (and admittedly expensive) badboy, and it truly has helped me retain my focus and momentum, and often times, makes studying fun again. I’ll also admit that, had I not been toying with the idea of travel in the near future, I probably would not have made the plunge, but make of that what thou whilst.

So, yes, I’ve had a hard time these past several months, but that’s all becoming a distant memory now. I have goals in mind, and when that happens, few things can stand in my way. Perhaps 2012 will be my brightest year yet, and I see no reason why actual fluency can’t follow soon after. What is this strange feeling – optimism? It’s been a while, old friend of mine.

Written by ritobito

July 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm

Posted in status report

Back on Track

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It’s probably no secret by now that my progress over the past some months has been… a slow trickle. A drizzle, even.

My performance in the last tadoku was dismal, a scant few pieces of media or literature appealed to me in the slightest, nor the prospect of sitting down and cramming’ kanji, vocabulary and grammar, et al. I’d go so far to say that this period was probably the darkest of my entire 3+ years of studying, and trust me when I say it wasn’t a whole lot of fun.

I’m not one to discuss private issues in a public space such as this, but suffice to say, it’s incredibly difficult for me to dedicate much time or effort to something like learning another language when I’m sick (I’ve lost track of how many colds I’ve caught), super stressed out and/or depressed, and otherwise have many other things to worry about. To all the language Übermensch out there who can transcend these distractions of life and carry on with studying as usual: I envy the heck out of you, and I have quite a ways to go.

The good news? That wall is comin’ down, baby. With each day, for a few weeks now, I’ve been consistent with my Anki reviews (grammar – still a weak point, unsurprisingly), and my drive to read, watch and play has returned something fierce. I’d almost completely lost sight of the reasons why I began studying in the first place, and they’re all coming back to me like a flash flood. I have animu to marathon, books to read, music to listen to, visual novels and RPGs to play, things to translate and people to communicate with, dammit.

Still, I have some issues to work out. I have a serious “three-day monk” problem where I’m totally pumped and ready to undertake any number of tasks – a new, shiny SRS deck; a book or visual novel or game; even something as “simple” as an anime series to watch – only to fizzle out a day or two later and never get back to it. This has been a problem from the very beginning, but clearly remains as one of my most troublesome. I’ve had success in the past with cutting down my number of tasks and focusing only on one or two (albeit risking burnout), but ideally, I’d like to work on multiple tasks at once; perhaps sticking to a more strict schedule and logging my progress would be a good place to start.

I’d also like to tweak my study (as in study-study) habits a little bit, though I’m not sure how, quite yet. I kinda suck at reading (as in reading-readings) kanji lately, my grammar always needs work and I can never get enough vocabulary. I’ve had moderate success with MCD cards and may experiment further in the near future, but would rather stick to what I’m comfortable with (mostly sentences) for the time being. For now, I’m going heavily at a grammar deck made up of the many, many example sentences of the Dictionary of Japanese Grammar books, because that mutha is hella thorough and I need roughly half a billion examples before anything makes sense to my ‘tard organ (brain). So far, so good.

Also, Ankidroid is pretty much the best addition to my study tools, ever, and I can’t believe I didn’t get a smartphone sooner for stuff just like this. (I only wish Android had half as many quality Japanese games as iOS, but they’re comin’… slowly)

Written by ritobito

February 28, 2012 at 4:27 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

A Brief, Cremated Tadoku Postmortem

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So yeah, I ended up with something like 130 pages. January was a month of much busy, stress and stupid, which tends not to fare well for my study motivation.

Oh well.

Back on my feet now, so I’m sure next time won’t be as lame.

Written by ritobito

February 7, 2012 at 2:43 pm

Posted in tadoku

January 多読: Wingin’ it

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Typically, I have a long list of stuff to read several days before the start of 多読 – not so, this time. I figure I have enough half-read visual novels to at least carry me well into February, not to mention a handful of books and manga I’ve barely scratched, so I don’t really feel the need to compile a big ol’ list. We’ll see what my whims gravitate toward.

I do know that this 多読 will be much lighter than usual, however. I’d like to spread my focus (something I’m absolutely terrible at and vow to fix), keep up grammar SRSing and translating and, most importantly, not burn myself out for the next some months. ( ´∀`) So I’m aiming for more like 2,000 pages rather than my “usual” 3,000.

So yeah, here’s to a fun and successful 多読 and 2012!

Written by ritobito

December 31, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Posted in tadoku

The sleepy, lazy month of November

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Nearing the end of October, it was pretty clear that I was due for some good ol’ fashioned lazy-time. Worn out from Tadoku and with a number of anticipated games on the horizon, a period of kickin’ back and gettin’ lazy widdit was all but inevitable.

I just didn’t expect it to last an entire month.

That’s not to say I ignored my studies completely; if October was an 8 in terms of Japanese exposure on a scale of 1 to 10, November was probably a 3. Certainly not a regressive month, but fairly stagnant, and I know I can do better.

So, it’s time to get back on track for the merry month of December. I’ll save the all-out Nippongoes blitz for January (the next Tadoku, of course!), but there are a few things I’m planning for the coming month which I hope to follow through on consistently and get some good study habits goin’ on again. Following my whims works well enough… until I’m lured down the dark alley where only scraps and crumbs of Japanese exist (see: a little ol ‘game called Skyrim, much of my political activism of late, as well as subject matter which is either far over my head in Japanese, or simply doesn’t exist). Therefore, the following:

  • A dedicated day of anime. I’ve fallen behind for no good reason, or than the fact that I’m too lazy to actually sit down, choose a show and watch it. The bottomless abyss known as my laziness is a thing to behold. Thus, a dedicated day where I spend a good few hours watchin’ stuff! I’m gonna give Saturday a shot and see how it works out.
  • Me, grammar deck, 50-100 new cards a day. There’s no way around it, y’all – either I’m gonna have to actively study grammar, or forever be grammatically retarded. The more I get into translation, the more this becomes apparent. The good news is that I have a solid grammar deck which is effective, thorough, and generally isn’t that torturous to review, so really, I have no excuse. This must be done if I truly want to make progress.
  • Translate at least 100 lines a day. What’s a “line”? Translate what? Ahh, the mysteries of life. Nevertheless, it shall be so. (And it shall be awesome.)

These are realistic goals, and honestly shouldn’t bog me down. Let’s roll.

Also, have another mashup! http://ritobito.tumblr.com/post/13555498340

Written by ritobito

November 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm

Posted in status report

Tadoku 4 Report

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So, Tadoku 4 went off without a hitch… that is, for the first 17 days or so. After which, the hyperactive monkey pulling the switches in my head would collapse face-first into a mountain of beer cans, empty porkrind bags and debauchery – a coma he’d wake from only long enough to periodically stagger a few steps and collapse upon a different set of switches. Even now, the hyperactive monkey in my head still hasn’t recovered completely.

But you know what? That little fucker earned his keep all the same. Let’s go over my reading list and see what I got around to. I’m gonna color code it a little something like this:

  • Green: Read to completion!
  • Yellow green: Read partially, but a satisfactory enough chunk
  • Orange: Barely chipped
  • Red: Didn’t touch at all


  • サクラダリセット
  • 1Q84
  • ダンガンロンパ/ゼロ


  • Berserk (think I read three volumes, the last of which was WORDS WORDS WORDS)
  • 賭博黙示録カイジ
  • 聖☆おにいさん
  • Vinland Saga (roughly a volume worth)
  • ヒストリエ (most of volume 1, but kinda lost interest)
  • スレイヤーズ

Visual Novel

  • Ever17 (finished – oh, was it ever finished.)
  • 428 〜封鎖された渋谷で〜 (scratched the surface, but got tired of counting screens ♪~(´ε` ))
  • Chaos;Head
  • 彼岸花の咲く夜に
  • うみねこのなく頃に (episode 4 completed!)
  • Remember11 (left off exactly 25% of the way through)
  • うみねこのなく頃に散 (barely scratched the surface, and will likely wait for the PSP remake)
  • ひぐらしのなく頃に (PS2 version – again, counting screens was getting tiring)

And there you have it. A small portion also came from various web pages and articles, J-subbed stuff and a few misc games.

So as I mentioned, all went well from the start of Tadoku, up to around the 17th or 18th… when I blazed my way through the latter half of Umineko 4 (which was excellent), and then picking up where I left off in Ever17 (about a third of the way through) and eventually coming to the final arc, which had me in a stunned stupor for three straight days (where I must have logged 700 pages or more).

I feel like it’s necessary for me to talk a little about this visual novel here, since it so dominated my brain matter in ways few things ever have.

Simply put, Ever17 was: the best visual novel I’ve ever read; the best science fiction I’ve ever read; and quite frankly, some of the best fiction, period, I’ve ever read. This visual novel manages to make use of plot twists I’d normally hate to mind boggling effect, and plot mechanics I never would have even dreamed of. Holy shit.

I was instantly drawn to this game thanks to its precipitous situation involving a small group becoming trapped inside an underwater amusement park with only a limited amount of time before the whole thing implodes under massive water pressure. I tend to enjoy survival situations such as this either way, but the deep sea setting somehow does wondrous things with my imagination.

I’m not sure how to explain the brilliance of this VN without giving away elements key to its mindblowing-factor, so I’ll try to keep it short. It’s a visual novel that makes use of its platform to the fullest, taking advantage of the perspectives of the game’s two characters, the choices of the player and subtle details sprinkled throughout practically every scene which constantly hint at something juuust beyond reach and comprehension… Elements which all come together by the (very, very long) end to blow the reader’s mind into the stratosphere. It really is that good, and worth every minute spent reading through its various routes (yes, even Sora’s somewhat lame route!).

So yeah, do yourself a favor and read this mutha. Required reading for every fan of science fiction and visual novels as a platform, absolutely.

Now, the problem came after finishing Ever17, for you see, I’ve come to realize that there exists such a thing as Post-Mindblown Disorder (let’s abbreviate that as PMBD). PMBD is a phenomenon I’d experienced multiple times in the past, most notably with having finished Danganronpa and Steins;Gate; two incredibly mindblowing experiences, to be sure. It’s best described as a euphoria, a powerful high where I’m unable to do much but rave about how fucking awesome that just was, and everything else just seems bland by comparison. Perhaps there’s a mental fatigue element to take into account, as well, since invariably said mindblowing experiences will have me hooked for hours upon hours until completion, leading to a period of time where I’m simply unable to focus on heavy reading again for some time.

At any rate, I finished Ever17 on the 18th, and I never fully recovered. Such was my PMBD that I jumped straight into the game’s “sequel” (completely unrelated world, but same ‘Infinity’ series and author), Remember11, ignoring my existing stack of planned reading material. Whereas I had several days straight of 200-page days with Ever17, I’d only have a small handful of 100-page days with Remember11, ending up just under 2,900 pages – far less than I’d hoped, but pretty damn decent all the same.

It was good times. I still feel a little burned out from reading, so I’ll likely focus on Actual Studying Stuff for a while, including my foray into MCDs, something I’d been stubbornly resisting beginning for a very long while. Early impressions is that this is really enjoyable and effective, and super comfortable now that I’m getting good at reading. I’d also like to get back to the grammar deck, because that’s something I could always improve.

But for today, I plan to kick back and chill out. Good game, y’all.

Written by ritobito

November 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Tadoku: The Next One (The Sequel): The Stuff [updated]

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Time flies, suckas!

You know the drill. Materials subject to change, as usual:



Visual Novel

Though this list was originally a little on the light side, I’ve decided to go a little more nuts and flesh it out proper. Obviously, it’s not very likely I’ll get around to all of them, but I’m feeling especially enthusiastic on the manga side of things lately; better to have a nice stack of material ready to rock. In fact, it was just about one year ago that I began my very own extensive reading spree with Berserk, so perhaps this sudden surge of enthusiasm isn’t coincidental after all.

Looking back now, it’s mind boggling to me how far a year’s worth of extensive reading (albeit, in a rather on-again-off-again fashion) has taken me. Where once I struggled, now is largely natural and fluid. Material I’d thought permanently outside of my grasp is now accessible, comprehensible and enjoyable. Traditional study methods are mostly obsolete to me now; Japan is my overworld, native materials are my dungeons, words are my monsters and I am the adventurer. It’s sorta like 世界樹の迷宮 on scale 100, 1,000 times larger, and with less F.O.E waiting around every corner to crush my spirits (though those could be viewed metaphorically as rare kanji; R07 fricking loves tormenting me with those).

But enough about that – are you ready for the SPACE JAM? (´・ω・`) うぷぷぷ・・・

Written by ritobito

September 19, 2011 at 6:21 pm

Posted in tadoku

Tagged with ,

Three Years Later

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Has it really been that long?

I can’t remember the exact date, but I’m fairly certain I officially began my studies with RTK sometime in (late?) August or early September of 2008. So, 2009, 2010, 2011… yup, that definitely makes three years. I can still hardly believe it. I’ve been studying this damn language for three full years now.

I’ve come a long, long way, and yet I have a long, long way to go.

I’m no guru, nor do I ever care to be a guru, and I’m certainly not the most qualified person in the world to give my expert opinion on the subject of language learning or the Japanese language in general; thus, my humble, jumbled mess of a blog chronicling my progress. So rather than write a behemoth of a post telling fellow learners what to do lest they fail forever like so many before them as a newly minted Language Guru On The Internet™, here’s a little ol’ collection of things I’d tell to my past-self, were I able to send a D-mail three years into the past (and inevitably end up breaking time-space as we know it).

And by “little”, I mean I had intended for this post to be around 500 words long, not over 2,400. I guess I had a little more to say to my past-self than I thought. Welp, here goes.

  • The concept of fluency

The concept should be the last thing on your mind. Strike the word from your vocabulary immediately. Fluency isn’t memorizing a few dozen phrases, nor is it the native-like perfection many seem to believe it is. It’ll come in time, but until then, so much as contemplating it (or its ever-changing definition) is just a waste of time, energy and motivation.

  • Progress and comparisons

This was actually gonna be one of the major points of this post, until I stalled and Khatz summed it up far more elegantly. I could go into further detail, but lemme simply say that I’ve found few better ways to kill my motivation and momentum than comparing my own progress with that of someone else.

Trust me when I say that it’s always apples and oranges, and that putting in the time and effort will always result in progress.

  • Language learning forums

While a great place for resources and information, it’s incredibly easy to fall into the trap of spending more time talking about a language than actually learning a language. Take it from me, who felt the need to try every bleeding edge study method I came across on these forums, not to mention spending far too much time reading and discussing about said methods and theories and so forth.

Plus, there’s always a vocal minority (often quite small, but somehow appearing in every single thread) that will stop at nothing to spread their vitriol and discouragement, which is often subtle enough not to be immediately apparent. They’re not pleasant to associate with, and they’re not gonna help you with much of anything.

Sooner or later, those forums have gotta go. You won’t miss out on anything revolutionary, trust me.

  • Focusing on too many things at once

There’s an expression that goes along the lines of, Keep It Simple, Ya Dipshit! I call it KISYD for short. It exists for a good reason.

With few exceptions, I’ve found it far more difficult to spread my time around several different things, than to simply focus on one thing to completion. It’s not even that I’d be spreading an equal amount of time between those several things, and the one thing; consistently, that one thing would end up getting two, three times more time invested. When attempting to focus on those several things, I get overwhelmed and end up doing a whole lotta not much, instead. I don’t know why this is. I guess I just wasn’t made for multitasking.

  • SRS is not the be-all-end-all

Longtime followers are likely well aware of my love/hate relationship with SRS. We’ve had good times and bad, that fickle mistress and I.

I’ve yet to stick with a single deck for longer than a few months (with the exception of my original RTK deck) until ultimately tiring of it, rarely actually restoring an abandoned deck. I believe this is sort of related to my inability to focus on much more than one damn thing at a time; it just becomes bothersome for me, or feels like it’s outlived its usefulness. As I type this, I’m working on a beefy grammar deck which has been pretty successful, but I’m sure that it, too, will go the way of many decks before it, and ultimately meet its fate in SRS Valhalla, where SRS decks do… whatever it is they do in SRS Valhalla.

SRS has been undeniably useful, and even my on-again-off-again habits have gotten me some great results. But for me, lots of reading has had just as great an impact on learning, if not greater, and doesn’t punish me with dozens of expired cards if I dare to miss a day or two.

  • Ignoring grammar

If there’s one particular thing that hardly ever fails to bore me to tears, it’s studying grammar.

To this day, I couldn’t tell you exactly what function を takes and how it interacts with and modifies nouns and verbs and humdingers and what have you; that stuff is pretty meaningless to me. I generally have a good feeling for how it and other grammar points work, but I couldn’t explain the finer details. The same goes for English grammar, quite frankly.

And you know what? That is awesome, and mostly the result of not worrying about reading through grammar books and the like, and simply sitting back and letting the language sort itself out for me.

But just as ditching SRS entirely hasn’t worked very well for me, so has ditching grammar study entirely. I’ve attained a good, natural feel for a sizable chunk of Japanese grammar, but there remains an even larger chunk that I feel will require a bit more deliberate study in order to really get down. Especially in my recent translation escapades (more on that in a week or two) where precise grammar knowledge is vital, my weak points have become all the more apparent.

This doesn’t mean I plan to bust open those books explaining all the raw and dirty technical details and functions of this and that, oh heavens no! Simply reviewing grammar-oriented sentences and taking note of the various bits and pieces that cause a sentence to mean such and such is more than good enough. I’ll gladly leave the technical nuts and bolts to the linguists and more grammar-minded learners among us; I’m certainly not one of them. However, I do feel that the occasional review of grammar is necessary to get a really solid handle on some bits I’d completely miss through pure reading.

  • A little English don’t hurt

Touching on a previous post briefly, it’s been my experience that complete and total Japanese immersion isn’t necessary for rapid, efficient language learning; not to mention is a bit impractical. In fact, I’d go so far to say that deliberately introducing some English into my diet has been beneficial. I remember how much I’d stress and beat myself up over bits and pieces of English language stuff, such as movies and news articles, thinking I’d never make true progress without shutting out English completely.

The real problem arises when one gets too comfortable and lazy with their native language stuff, which is so accessible compared to the foreign stuff; that’s how it always worked for me, anyway. In that regard, sticking to as much Japanese as possible while limiting English to a minimum is certainly a good idea.

However, just as keeping one’s foreign language sharp with a steady flow of foreign language material, it’s also super important for someone like me, who writes a lot and aspires to translate professionally, to keep my native language sharp with a trickle of English language material. It’s a difficult balance at times, and something I’m always careful with; I find that, if I get in a certain amount of Japanese reading/watching/etc., it’s fine to reward myself with some English language news articles, or a podcast, or whatever else I’ve been itching at. Balance is key.

  • You don’t need 99.999% comprehension to enjoy stuff

I remember reading, multiple times, on one of aforementioned language forums that one shouldn’t read something unless they understand something like 95% of the vocabulary. That’s knowledge of 19 out of 20 words. If I’d taken their advice rather than diving headfirst into comparatively difficult stuff like Berserk and Umineko (the latter of which I probably had 70~% comprehension on for a good while, now well above 90%), I honestly wonder where the hell I’d be right now.

I’m consistently amazed just how thoroughly I end up enjoying something which has a relatively high amount of unknown vocabulary. Occasionally, I get a feeling of, “man, I really should be reading something easier… I’m gonna miss out on all kinds of stuff and be hella confused!” Yet of all the things I’ve read to completion so far, I’ve yet to run into that situation, and in fact have gotten my mind blown into orbit regularly by the incredible plot twists and turns of masterpieces such as Danganronpa and Steins;Gate.

Of course I miss out on details here and there, but those hardly matter in the grand scheme of things. Enjoyment trumps all, and one should never let an arbitrary number stand in the way of one’s enjoyment.

  • Put down the dictionary

Ditching the dictionary has been one of the most successful changes to my routine. There was a time when I’d use AGTH to look up damn near every unknown word in Umineko, and I began to notice a pattern: I’d be looking up the same word a dozen, two dozen times, sometimes even more, without the damn thing committing to the confines of my brain. As soon as I let up and just focused on reading, not worrying too much about readings and skipping over bits I couldn’t decipher, those words actually began sticking. Furthermore, many words I’d normally have looked up just started making sense. And best of all, no having to interrupt my reading to look stuff up!

There are times when looking up a word or two may be necessary, sure. I’m a fan of looking up anything that jumps out as “interesting” to me, be it a combination of unusual kanji or just something out of the ordinary that piques my curiosity. Perhaps a word comes up that I’m sure is vital to the story. In those cases, I’m perfectly fine taking a minute to look up and jot down a word. But in most cases, it’s just not necessary.

Tying in with “you don’t need 99.999% comprehension,” obviously if you’re not missing out on too many words, that may be a problem. In that case, I’d recommend reading something easier unless you seriously have the will to trudge through difficult material (with or without the use of a dictionary).

  • Keep a decent attitude

I used to be one pessimistic mutha in regards to learning this language. It just doesn’t help; not me, not anyone else.

  • If it sucks, ditch it

That means you, Liar Game TV drama. Dear god, that was terrible. It would be almost a year later that I’d actually watch another live action drama.

Forcing yourself through something you don’t like is NOT a good idea. These are the things that cause people to quit learning a language, completely.

  • Don’t neglect your listening

Now that I really sit down and think hard about it, it doesn’t really make much sense to focus on reading comprehension before listening. Of course, who better to flip the proverbial bird to conventional wisdom (practical as they may be) than me?

On the other hand, reading brings tons of benefits, and is probably the best way to build vocabulary, without which one can only go so far. But even years later, my listening is still pretty damn lousy and I feel like it shouldn’t be that way. Even passive listening, be it from podcasts, audio books or random TV channels going in the background is much, much better than nothing.

  • Don’t let fear mongering scare you away from speaking and writing

Gotta admit, me and Antimoon disagree pretty strongly on some things, and this is one of them.

The theory is that speaking too early will reinforce incorrect language to the point that said mistakes become incredibly difficult to get rid of. There may be some truth to this, but this hasn’t been the case in my experience.

“Avoid mistakes,” they say. “Mistakes are bad,” they emphasize. Okay, but speaking is a skill very much independent of comprehension and requires practice and use to strengthen; and, yes, mistakes are inevitable, especially for a native English speaker learning such a fundamentally different language as Japanese. However: those mistakes are not a big deal, and I guarantee that a learner with an input-based approach to language learning will overcome those mistakes.

Plus, not only will writing and speaking will shine a bright spotlight on pretty much every weak point in your language (that you can then focus more time on), but in my experience, output is one of the major things that cements the language and truly moves it toward the realm of fluent and natural. Speak when you want to, and don’t let any fear mongering prevent you from it.

I think that’s just about it for that.

But ah, I had much to tell my past-self, but what of my future-self? Actually, not a whole lot; I’d rather focus on the present and work with what I got right now.

I would like to be in a position to pass the JLPT N1 by around this time next year (having made a similar vague goal last year to be near N2 by this time now, I believe, which I’m damn near, if not at, or beyond), but whether I’ll actually take said test with the closest test center being a good 8-hour drive away in Atlanta (seriously, nothing in that big ol’ mass of land called Texas?)… well, we’ll see. N1 is something I’m set on passing eventually, and I can honestly foresee a day in the not-all-that-distant future where such a reality will be a thing.

As for words to my present-self? Keep reading, keep listening, keep writing tweets in questionable otaku-flavored Japanese, stick to a bit of SRSing regularly because it will pay off, and ditto with translation even if it’s difficult now. That’s really about it.

Written by ritobito

August 27, 2011 at 5:39 pm

Posted in opinion, status report, tips


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A new month, a new focus!

Obviously, July was dedicated almost entirely to reading. But what of August?

Coming into the new month, I still wasn’t sure. I only had a vague outline in my head made up of something along the lines of:

  • make sure to output Japanese a whole lot more,
  • keep up my listening one way or another and
  • seriously get my hands dirty with some translation practice.

So I’ve decided to run with it and see how it goes. Likely, I’ll veer off into one of those more heavily than the rest, because that’s just how I roll. This is on top of my usual daily tasks such as reading visual novels and books, playing games and so forth, and my notorious on-again-off-again SRSing habits (which seems to work great for me, believe it or not).

The above makes up what I currently perceive as my weakest points in Japanese, or ways to potentially strengthen my weaker points (in the case of translation, which is a different beast entirely, but absolutely helps me gain a greater understanding of things I’d normally skip over).

If I could get my output up to a level close to my reading comprehension, I think I’ll have finally arrived at a place I can call functionally fluent. As it is currently, I struggle. I can get my point across, but it takes a while to piece together an acceptable sentence, and even then, I often go back and notice errors that seem silly in retrospect. Massive amounts of input has done wonders in building up my vocabulary and grammar knowledge, and has granted me a great deal of insight into what “feels” right and wrong, but putting it all together in a way that fits is still a bit of a problem. Sometimes, even on a relatively basic level – using は where が would be more appropriate and vice versa; using conditionals incorrectly; conjugation. I could read through hundreds of books, listen to several thousand more hours of Japanese, and still have these problems, so I’m pretty sure the only prescription is more cowput. I’ma get my O face on, y’all. Apologies to my Twitter followers in advance for the tangled mess of Nippongoes to come, but oh, it’s comin’.

On the listening front, things have actually improved massively since the last time I bitched about my poor listening comprehension. It’s really all about the time you put in with listening comprehension, more than anything else, something I’ve been sorely neglecting since I began my focus on reading. Visual novels seem to be the best of both worlds, with a great deal of text and, quite often, voice acting as well (with text accompanying, of course). I have a huge backlog of animays to dig through (which I’ve made a decent dent in since the end of Tadoku) and at least one visual novel to continue, so this goal should be taken care of with a minimal amount of effort – just the way I likes it!

As for translation, well, this is one of the big reasons why I’m studying the language in the first place. I’ll get more into that in a future post, but in the meantime, there are many, many amazing gems that deserve to be– nay, need to be unearthed and introduced to foreign shores, and I’m going to help make this happen. Trust me when I say that good things are bound to come from this.

Basically, I’m pushing forward full steam ahead.

Written by ritobito

August 4, 2011 at 1:13 pm

Posted in status report