The chronicles of Burrito's bizarre adventure into Japanese.

And the Dam Begins to Crack

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Ready for more bullet lists and language learning pseudo-intellectualism?! I know I am. Let’s go.

May was a big success in a number of ways. My previous post explained my latest approach to studying in detail, and I’m happy to say that it went just about as well as I expected it would; my vocabulary is now more expansive than it was before, covering subjects as diverse as computer science, physics, foreign affairs and the obligatory dark fantasy term or two, among others.

The biggest question mark was whether I’d be able to sustain a pace of new cards that would allow me to hit my goal of 1,000 words by the end of the month. I did fall a little short in this regard, with “only” 844 cards by the end of today’s reviewing session. It was pretty clear in the last week that I wouldn’t quite reach the 1k goal, as I hit quite a mental speed bump and eased back into a comfortable zone again. Part of that speed bump was due to my mining of a few dozen particularly difficult words that, in retrospect, I shouldn’t have mined in the first place – primarily uncommon verbs and adjectives that seemed to consist of one kanji made up of 4 or 5 syllables along with an okurigana of 1 or 2 kana. Those suckers (the ones I couldn’t painfully rote, anyway) eventually got suspended indefinitely, and my deck is a better thing because of it.

So yeah, I was 156 words short of my goal (not to mention the dozen or two that I suspended), but I’m not disappointed in the slightest, and I’ll explain why in a moment. First of all, I’d like to discuss some of the pros and cons of this deck as I’ve come to realize them.


  • Super quick! Takes very little time to copy down new words, throw those words into my deck and review them.
  • Solidifies words that would have taken dozens of encounters during reading to memorize otherwise. A little obvious, since that’s the idea behind an SRS, but hey.
  • Helps weed out the lame words from the important ones. With few exceptions, I have an easier time remember words I’ve seen multiple times over ones I’ve only seen once.
  • Writing by hand strengthens muscle memory, helps me to form a mental and physical bridge for a word, as well as learning its visual layout in detail.


  • Verbs and adjectives are tricky, I’ve found. Not quite sure why this is, but I believe it has something to do with unique kun’yomi readings which are often surprisingly long.
  • Lack of context can be confusing at times. While I usually don’t have much problem with these words in isolation (as detailed in my previous post), occasionally the problem does arise. I have added example sentences for those confusing ones, which certainly helps, at the cost of a little bit of time.
  • Writing by hand gets tiresome, not to mention time consuming! Generally these days, I only write out new words as I first encounter them in my deck, or words I particularly feel like writing out.

As with any study method, there are upsides and downsides, but given the light amount of administration and effort required to upkeep it, I’m quite pleased with this deck and intend on sticking with it.

The difference now is that I don’t feel the need to cram an insane amount of words every month. In fact, I feel surprisingly comfortable with my vocabulary presently – comfortable enough to shift my focus elsewhere now. I’ll continue to add interesting and practical words as I come across them and review this badboy daily, but I believe it’s time to begin seriously chipping down this wall once and for all.

I’ve always had a vague hypothesis in the back of my head that it was only inevitable that all this reading and listening I’ve been doing would eventually manifest in the form of real knowledge. This isn’t anything I can explain empirically, as it was more of a hunch. (As I said at the beginning of this post, I hope you’re ready for some serious pseudo-intellectualism!) But my reasoning went something like this: 1) I can’t possibly be reading all this crap and not learning some serious shit. 2) The brain never truly forgets, so although I’m having to look up hundreds of words repeatedly, the massive input and exposure will surely result in success eventually. 3) LEARNING!!!

If I were a linguist, my dissertation would be set. Fortunately for me, I’m not, so I’m actually learning a second language. But digression aside…

I like to refer to this simple hypothesis as the “breaking dam” since that’s exactly what has been taking place in my grey matter for the past month – the accumulation of months and months worth of heavy input (intensive reading, extensive reading, listening) finally beginning to break down the walls that have impeded me. It was absolutely inevitable that, given enough time, study and input, that wall would begin to crack under pressure. It was only a hunch that it would begin crumbling so rapidly, but ohh, I do believe it is.

Flowery titles aside, I feel like I’ve made leaps and bounds in the last year – even in the last few months, when I had considerably more trouble reading many of the things I have few problems with now, and I believe I have the massive influx of input (primarily reading) to thank for it. Also consider that the more I understand, the more I tend to read. All in all, it’s a snowball effect that’s accumulating at great speed and mass.

Certainly, I still have some glaring weaknesses: my listening comprehension is still weak, and my output isn’t all that much better. The solution is to listen and write/speak more, of course. Overall, however, I feel like I’m seriously getting somewhere. If I were to take the JLPT N2 tomorrow, I’m pretty confident I’d do well. Even this golden goose we call “fluency” isn’t looking all that golden any longer; I believe I have pretty much everything I need already to get there, it’s only a matter of practice and exposure. Everything else along the way is just bonus.

And that’s exactly why I intend to shift away from my focus on vocabulary, and instead focus on true extensive reading (多読), extensive listening (多聴), grammar study and writing. I figured this would be the direction I’d move toward, even when I was set on kicking some vocabulary ass, and sure enough, here we are! The deal was sealed yesterday when I decided there were tons of games (mostly RPGs) I needed to play, including a handful that never came out overseas, such as the three-part Shining Force III for Saturn I used to drool over many years ago. Most RPGs are comfortably near my level (or below, in many cases), making them prime candidates for some serious tadoku. I have succumb to the warm clutch of nostalgia, and dadgummit, I’m gonna make good use of it.

So my tentative plans for the month of June, in a nutshell:

  • Focus SRS time on grammar study. I already have a few good sources, so I’ll hopefully have one settled on by tomorrow’s reviewing session.
  • Sink some serious time into some games! RPGs, especially, were what got me interested in reading and writing at a very early age (I must have had Final Fantasy 1 and 2[4] both beaten by age 10). It’s a special thing, indeed, to be using those same games many years later to learn another language.
  • More tweeting in questionable Japanese! When writing, I feel like my command on vocabulary is strong, but my grammar still sucks. Conjugation can take me far too long for comfort. Hopefully, more output will help.
  • Keep up my vocabulary deck with a steady trickle of new goodies. It may not be my focus any longer, but it’s here to stay.

June will bring only good things (my broken rants in Japanese on politics aside), and July’s Tadoku should be super interesting. The future is bright.


Written by ritobito

May 31, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Posted in status report

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