The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

The current battle plan

with 4 comments

Another season, another batch of experiments in my ongoing battle to conquer this language.

J-keyword Kanji

First, I’d like to talk about my kanji deck, which I explain in detail in a previous post. I’m now roughly 500 kanji in, continuing a leisurely (yet consistent!) pace of 10 new cards a day; although I blazed through RTK1 in under two months, I find this slower pace far more efficient and enjoyable. I’m still reviewing from a pool of roughly 1,200 kanji rather than the entirety of the jouyou list, which currently includes all of the JLPT4, 3 and 2 characters as well as a handful of JLPT1 kanji I had already felt comfortable with.

It’s really going smoothly. If I can’t work out the kanji by its kana reading, I try and work it out by on/kun reading. If I can’t figure it out by reading, I can usually work it out through context by referencing the cloze deletion sentence – thereby also getting a better grasp on the reading. Ambiguous RTK keywords slowly become obsolete in place of real usage, I get a better feel for a kanji’s usage “out in the wild”, vocabulary and kanji readings become cemented – I’m experiencing practically all of the results Wrightak mentions in the introduction to his excellent J-keywords guide. It’s a tough transition at first (which can be made tougher or easier depending on your approach), but a logical and potentially very powerful step up from RTK – I highly recommend giving it a shot.

Recall Grammar cards

I’ve begun a new experiment as of last night, this time involving grammar – still one of my very weakest points in Japanese. This particular experiment arose from an observation I’d made. I noticed that grammar points which I made a point of outputting in sentences – on Lang8, or Twitter – were cemented in my head far better than ones I’d studied passively. I recall looking up the pattern だらけ(darake) and jokingly using it in a sentence, referring to Elfen Lied or something as 糞だらけ (which, by the way, is scientifically proven true!) – and despite having rarely seen this pattern since then, I still remember its meaning and its usage. I’ve observed similar results with other grammar points, patterns and particles. While my Tae Kim SRS deck had served me pretty well in the past, the passive knowledge of all of this grammar only seemed to benefit me to a certain extent.

Thus, this new experiment was born! I began mining A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar (an excellent series of books, by the way), with both recognition and recall cards. That is, every sentence I mine creates two cards – one with the sentence on the front along with the grammar bit below in kana, as well as a card with the phrase in English with the grammar bit below in kana. The former works just how you’d expect it to – I read the sentence, comprehend its meaning and rate it accordingly. With the latter recall card, on the other hand, my goal is to reconstruct the English sentence into Japanese, using the required grammar bit, and scoring accordingly. Obviously, there are multiple ways of translating any given sentence, so my rating is based only on correct grammatical structure and getting the sentence across loosely in Japanese, rather than echoing the given Japanese sentence. It may sound a little tricky, but so far it’s pretty straightforward. A brief example:

Simple enough sentence, huh? So now, my goal is to output that sucker in Japanese. I’m confident about this one, so I recite in my head:


Flip over the card, and…

Notice the slight differences in my given sentence, and the card’s “official” translation. Slightly different nuances, but same basic meaning, so I’d rate it as “Easy”. I could have dropped the 「私は」part entirely and still ranked it well, as long as the meaning gets across, my grammatical structure is correct and I use the given pattern.

As this is still a newborn baby of an SRS deck, it remains to be seen just how effective this strategy will be, but I’m optimistic. As I get into more complex patterns and sentences, it may become harder to output comfortably, but following my gut feeling (which may or may not be that curry, 神様 have mercy), I think I’ll see some significant results as time goes on. We’ll see!

Decremental Timeboxing

I should also mention my current timeboxing strategies, which may or may not actually be considered timeboxing, depending on how you look at it. I’m basically using a simple system called “decremental timeboxing”, a brainchild of whom I’m not entirely certain (please enlighten me!), but nonetheless heavily endorsed by this ballin’ fellow here and whoever this guy is here. And it goes a little something like this:

  • Begin your timer – let’s say, at 10 minutes. Go through your SRS reviews like normal.
  • When the timer runs out, decrease the timer amount! This can be by 1 minute, 2 – whatever. Can take a short (couple minutes) break or go back to reviewing.
  • Again, when the timer runs out, decrease the timer and repeat the process.
  • Suddenly, you just did 30+ minutes of reviewing while hardly realizing it, with each segment of timeboxing going faster and faster.

On top of the usual benefits of timeboxing, the increasingly shorter segments present something of a psychological carrot-on-a-stick – since each session is shorter than the last, it’s like a downhill ride. Eventually you reach a point where you’re doing 5, 4, 3 minutes of work which hardly feels like anything – yet those short sessions combined will make short work of your daily reviews. For my (relatively light) kanji deck, I find beginning at 10 minutes with 1 minute decrements between sessions works well; I’ll typically have done a session of 10, 9, 8, 7 and 6 minutes on a heavier day of reviewing. 2 minute decrements seems to work nicely as well. In the event that I get to 1 minute sessions, I’ll usually hop back up to 3 minutes because hey, what’s 3 minutes, right? I recommend giving it a try and experimenting to find your sweet spot. As usual, Anki’s built in timer makes putting this technique to use incredibly simple.

On top of my adventures in Ankiland, I’ve ramped up my amount of daily reading in Japanese significantly – which happened quite naturally, actually. Having become hooked to a handful of kickass manga and various RPGs, it’s difficult for me not to get a healthy dose of daily reading. Similarly, thanks to a few great anime series, my listening has been getting a workout too. With my extended periods of reading, especially, I’m noticing significant leaps and bounds in my comprehension, which really should come as no surprise. Three hours of reading daily has been my goal, and while a little steep at times to meet this quota, it’s entirely worthwhile, incredibly enjoyable and easily the most beneficial part of my daily “studies”. This subject deserves its own 1000+ word long ramble in the near future.

And thus, the never-ending cycle of personal guineapigdom continues! I have a few more ideas in mind which I may put into motion in the coming weeks, but we’ll see if I can survive these current experiments first.


Written by ritobito

June 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm

4 Responses

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  1. This is great, keep up the good work. I hope I can get to this point in a couple months. I like that grammar deck too, I’ll have to do mine similarly once I’m done Tae Kim’s.


    June 25, 2010 at 7:34 am

    • So far so good! I’m still in the process of mining the heck out of this grammar book so I’ve only done a dozen or so actual reviews, but since grammar has proven to be my single most difficult issue in Japanese, I figure something like this couldn’t really hurt.


      June 25, 2010 at 3:04 pm

  2. Lots of good ideas! I think that’s definitely a method of learning grammar that could really work. And I applaud you for the amount of reading you’re attempting every day! Although, like you said, if the material’s good, it should be fun :D


    July 14, 2010 at 11:24 pm

    • As far as the grammar strategy goes, I’ve met both success and failure so far. I’ll explain in detail soon, I just need to figure out how to fix those “failure” parts first…

      Regardless, lots of reading = failproof, this much I can guarantee!


      July 14, 2010 at 11:43 pm

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