我輩はブリートである。

The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

Two years later

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And now for my rather belated status report, of sorts. It’s actually difficult to pinpoint exactly when I “began” my studies, and I’m not sure if I should factor in the two-month period of Remembering the Kanji boot camp I spent prior to my “real” foray into Japanese, but give or take a month, it’s been damn near two years as of present.

Right off the bat, I’d like to avoid cranking out a handful of numbers and data. Quite frankly, I haven’t been keeping track – this is actually contrary to my original plan of making notes of damn near everything, but I’ve found that ignoring things like number of kanji/vocabulary/etc. known just tends to keep things more simple. For myself, anyway. I “know” somewhere between 800 and 1500 kanji, perhaps; I “know” somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 words, maybe; I “know” an intermediate to lower-advanced level of grammar, possibly? Regardless of what I know, I’ll continue the cycle of “forget, relearn, refine” for years to come, so the numbers just don’t matter to me. Suffice to say that I’ve come a very long way over the past two years, yet still have a very long way to go – that’s the extent of my data report!

For now, just a few observations from the sometimes smooth, sometimes rocky, always invaluable experience of my past two (and ongoing) years of study.

Keeping things simple and straightforward and making a transition from study material to native material has been my biggest boon, I think. This is a difficult task in the early stages, as you have so many options, so many tools and so many things to learn, especially if you’ve never seriously studied a foreign language before (especially if you’re like me and can’t help but try damn near everything). Eventually, however, you’ll reach a point where you no longer need those boring learner’s resources, where you can actually pick up a comic, or a TV show, or a video game and understand just enough to get a rewarding sense of comprehension, but at the same time able to pick up new words and phrases as you go along. That point, I think, should be the biggest goal of any beginning language learner. It took me roughly 6 months to reach a point where I was able to read simplistic, low level manga (よつばと!) and RPGs (Final Fantasy V), and the boost to my language learning morale as a result was phenomenal.

As for more “traditional” study (if one can consider an algorithmic software-based technique as traditional), I’ve cut down on SRS usage considerably, usually limiting myself to one hour of SRSing a day, maximum. Any more than that and my burnout-o-meter climbs very, very quickly. I had toyed with the idea of ditching SRS completely (which I’ve probably ranted about at length in a previous post or several), but its benefits to long term memory are just too significant to ignore – especially for things such as kanji, which is the main focus of my SRSing presently. I’m still not a big fan of SRSing sentences, and don’t see this stance changing any time soon – it’s a great concept and I know from experience that it works incredibly well, but I already get plenty of sentence exposure from the material I chew through regularly. Better for me to focus my energies elsewhere.

Look at it this way: given the choice between, say, two hours of SRSing and one hour of manga reading a day, or two hours of manga and video games and only one hour of SRSing a day, which do you think would be more enjoyable? While the extra SRSing might make for a more efficient study session, I’ll take the sustained motivation granted by the native material (forever known hereafter as “the real deal”) I read, play, watch and listen to over the more mechanical, rigid and often frustrating tribulations that result from too much SRSing.

That leads me to another point: Even with the most time efficient, effortless brain-hacks and tools at your disposal, none of them will do you much good if your heart ain’t in it. I hate using terms like “motivation”, “enthusiasm” and other overused self-help-guru-favorites, trust me, but when you have these things in surplus, even the most crude, brutal and medieval methods and tools can allow you to carve castles from mountains. There’s no magical way to attain these things and results will vary dramatically from individual to individual – heck, look at me; results vary on a daily basis. But by keeping things simple and focusing the brunt of my time on the real deal, without worrying about such things as study techniques or how many kanji or words I know, focusing on what I can understand, I’ve found my sweet spot and it’s basically been cruise control.

Again, it’s difficult to give much advice on this aspect, as one person’s inspirational activities may be another’s sledgehammer to the beanbag. One must find (and continue to sustain) their own motivation, or I fear they won’t make it very far.

On a more personal note, 2010 has not exactly been the kindest year for me. Periods of major stress (my worst enemy, and almost always a study killer) have led to multiple weeks of forced breaks from Japanese, and those breaks always take their toll. It feels like a handful of days away from immersion and study can erase weeks of hard work – this has been one of the most difficult things for me to deal with. Luckily, it’s infinitely easier to relearn something lost in the void of forgetfulness than it is to learn something from scratch, so my advice in this situation is to stick with it and be patient; it’ll all come back to you in time, and stronger than ever. Even that mountain of SRS cards can be worked down again – be lenient with scoring if you’d like, you don’t need to fail a card that you’re confident you’d have passed prior to that layer of rust.

I suppose that’s about it, really. I almost feel like a jerk lately, as I’ve gravitated away from the forums I used to frequent, because I simply don’t need nor want the advice, debate, motivation or questions offered there anymore – but alas, this was a necessary trimming-of-the-fat and a natural part of my efforts to keep things as simple as possible. Hopefully my advice and experiences shared here can one day repay all the help I was given.

It only took me damn near two years to find my groove, but blast it all, I think I’ve finally found it, and that’s all I need.

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Written by ritobito

September 17, 2010 at 2:45 pm

Posted in status report, tips

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