The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

How I Study (version 274.05193β)

with 4 comments

Hey, boys and girls! It’s that time again! That time where yours truly has once again devised the most brutally badass and elegant method of language study mankind will ever know. I’ll invariably have it dismantled into a smoldering heap by the end of the week, but we both already knew that. Regardless, I haven’t been this “on” since my most energetic days of yore and naïveté, and largely credit this change in study to my most recent wall-breaking progress, so something must be working here.

First, I feel the need to state (as I’m sure I have in the past) that any method of study is only as good as the passion and effort of its user. Always remember that things such as SRS, MP3 players, easily accessible audio and video and a wealth of searchable text via the Internet simply did not exist in any capacity only a few decades ago, and mankind has been learning languages effectively for thousands of years. Indeed, with the aforementioned tools and goodies at our disposal, it’s never been easier to learn a language, but by no means are any of these things 100% necessary. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Second, and let’s be honest here, learning a language takes a whole lot of time – whether that amount of time be one year or ten, we can all expect to spend a significant portion of our lives dedicated to the acquisition of a foreign language. And that’s fine! But I find it unrealistic to believe that any single method will carry us from start to finish, and I think that it’s in the best interest of the learner to adapt and change whenever and wherever necessary to keep things enjoyable and effective, because this is gonna be a long ride.

Sentence mining, MCDs, Japanese keyword kanji, word lists – these are all proven effective methods of learning, make no mistake, but I personally wouldn’t want to be confined to any one (or more) of them. We’re all different, after all, and we’re the ones who will ultimately carry ourselves over the finish line – not any so-called method. Adapt, adjust, advance.

With that having been said, I could hardly be happier with my rate of progress and ratio of “Study” (pretty much solely SRSing in this case) to “Play” (reading, watching, playing games – which is, perhaps, my true studying – living and enjoying my second language) lately. I’ve decided that, ideally, I’d like to keep my amount of study below 2 hours a day, with at least as much play to match. So far so good.

It goes a little something a-like so:

Vocabulary Mining

  • Copy down words of interest from my Play as I come across them

These can be anything that catch my eye, but ideally frequently used unknown words and anything that strikes me as “important”. (Admittedly, I love those obscure words that you’ll only ever see with furigana – as long as they don’t make up half my deck, why not?) Theoretically, given enough Play and vocabulary mining, you’ll come across less and less unknown words until you’re ultimately learning those few unknown ones by context or can safely skip them. In my experience, this is exactly how it works. Not exactly rocket science with this methodology, but hey, it works! Next…

SRS Those Mothers

  • Quick and dirty, slap those suckers into my vocabulary deck, like so

“BUT RITO-KUN! Doesn’t this qualify as the dreaded ‘reviewing vocabulary out of context’ my dear old mother always warned me about?” I hear you ask.

And it’s a very good question! I agree that learning vocabulary out of context generally isn’t a very good idea, but in this case, I’m drawing on my memories of when and where I came across these word, and in what context it was used – and vague as that may sound, it’s usually enough to work splendidly. I find that verbs are the only words I have trouble with, in which case I’ll also copy the sentence it was used in, or find a suitable one from Twitter. And sometimes, a word just screams to have its sentence copied alongside, regardless…

Note that AGTH hates this game, and pardon the extraneous た (;´Д`)

“BUT RITA REPULSA! I thought you were above a beginner level in this language. I TRUSTED YOU. How do you expect to make your monsters grow by clinging stubbornly to that filthy, devil’s tongue known as English?”

Because using English counterparts is quick, easy and (in 99% of cases) effective. Certainly, using monolingual definitions would be beneficial to my comprehension – there are no better definitions than one given in the source language, after all – but at the cost of significantly more time. Time I could be spending doing much better things, in my opinion. Besides, I’m quite lax when reviewing words; if I can picture the concept in my head, that’s all that really matters.

But wait, there’s more!

Get Your Scribble On

  • Write those badboys down by hand

Hey, I never said it would be pretty.

The tactile feedback of writing a kanji or word down by hand really seems to help solidify these suckers. Whether this is due to the fabled muscle memory or something else, I couldn’t say, but it works. When I write out a word, I feel like I’m learning it more intimately than I would have otherwise – for obvious reasons and otherwise. Personally, I’m a very visual learner, especially when it comes to language learning.

It’s difficult to describe the “mental typewriter” in my head which I often draw upon when I write or speak, but it’s a similar phenomenon here, I think. Besides that, I think that anything which can be associated to a word to give it more power – be it a mental or physical image, sound or video, some kind of emotional attachment or in this case, physically writing – is ultimately beneficial to internalizing and truly acquiring it.

At the very least, I like to write down a word once, when I first review its card. I find it helps to write trouble words down each time I fail them as well, though that sometimes gets a little tiring. Sure, writing everything out by hand will make the Study session a heck of a lot longer than it would have been, but I think the payoff is worth it.

And really, that’s just about it. As I hit upon in my previous post, I’m going to try and add 1,000 new words a month (an average of roughly 35 words a day, which is working out great) for an indefinite period of time – but hopefully at least until September, aka my Third Year Nippongo Studying Anniversary! The more words I learn, the closer I’ll come to true fluency (let’s also include literacy, for the sake of brevity).

If I can keep this up consistently, I’ll reach a point where I’m actually having trouble finding new words to copy down – a quandary I’d love to have, trust me – and can learn those occasional unknown words by context or safely skip over them. In fact, with the relatively easier stuff I’m reading, I’m already near that point. At worst, I’ll become the “walking dictionary” spoken of by the God-Elder Sage of Internet Drama and Anti-Flashcards, but in my experience, all signals are pointing far, far away from that possibility.

We’ll just have to wait and see how it all pans out, but with only a few weeks and a little over 600 cards under my belt, I’m already seeing walls that have impeded my progress for months crumbling before my eyes.

But again, above all else, I have my own passion, effort and determination to thank – with which, practically any method is effective; without which, no method is effective. And lately, I have all of the above in massive abundance.


Written by ritobito

May 19, 2011 at 10:15 am

Posted in SRS, tips

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. […] competition, but again, here we are. Time flies when you’re playing Monster Hunter– er, cramming huge amounts of vocabulary and perusing the near-infinite amount of text and video available at your […]

  2. I would hate it if I was using Anki that way.

    I don’t really like to put in single word entries anymore, because they’re usually not as fun to read, and I find they don’t stick as well in terms of usefulness. I’m always left wondering, how do I use this again? Not good.

    I’m not going to say there’s anything wrong with including the definition in English. But I think it kind of makes reviewing a chore in the end. It creates something specific to memorise, which is fine for learning facts, but my goals in learning a language are to feel where words belong and how to use them, and this way makes it feel more like deciphering.

    I would find a card with 萌え擬人化 on the front, もえ・ぎじんか on the back, and the Japanese definition of 擬人化, (which I can easily find, copy and paste on the interwebs) much more fun to put together, and more relevant. In reviewing, it would take me about 2 seconds to read the front of such a card, a couple more to skim the back, and if the back fits with what I generally expected (no memorising definitions!), I rate it and move on to the next one.

    This way, my Anki deck is just a collection of stuff I mostly know how to read (about 90% of the time), refreshed in my mind. I go through all of the day’s cards in about a half hour total per day. It seems to work, in terms of overall retention, too.


    August 28, 2011 at 12:17 am

    • Thanks for the comment!

      Well, it’s worth noting that said deck has more or less outlived its usefulness, for better or worse. ( ´∀`) It served me well for what I had intended it for: a quick and dirty way of cramming a large amount of vocabulary in a short amount of time, all the while reading material relevant to those words. Kind of became less of a proper SRS deck, and more of an oldskool flash card ordeal. But for the most part, it was quite successful!

      That said, I definitely hear ya on those points. Were I to focus on another vocabulary blitz, I probably wouldn’t do so with words in isolation. I also think the way you described it as feeling more like deciphering is an incredibly important one, as I felt the same way while reviewing a sizable chunk of these words, and it really isn’t a pleasant feeling.


      August 28, 2011 at 2:45 pm

  3. “The tactile feedback of writing a kanji or word down by hand really seems to help solidify these suckers. Whether this is due to the fabled muscle memory or something else, I couldn’t say, but it works. When I write out a word, I feel like I’m learning it more intimately than I would have otherwise – for obvious reasons and otherwise. Personally, I’m a very visual learner, especially when it comes to language learning.”

    I’m sure there is a motor memory involved – not necessarily related to the muscles, but the visuospatial planning of where the strokes go. One problem with SRS based on recognition alone is that large parts of the brain can stay dormant during the revision. Add a motor component, and suddenly the revision episode is an *experience*, which creates many more hooks into the brain’s memory systems.

    If you agree, check out the FREE program I’m writing, the Kanji Sketch Pad.

    ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aROA4KqQSM4 )


    September 20, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: