Jul 272009

After seeing this post by Vosmiura on the RtK forums, I’m going to try Iversen’s method of learning lists of vocabulary before entering them into Anki.

I’m not usually obsessed with getting particularly high pass rates or having high long-term retention percentages (mine is already around 96%), but I have been noticing lately that there are certain words that just don’t seem to stick, no matter how often I see them, and it’s bugging the crap out of me.

If you jump down a few posts later on, Vosmiura provides graphical evidence of how his retention rates improved in Anki over a 47-day period. It improved for short, medium, and long-term retention, so that’s not too shabby.

The basic gist of Iversen’s method is simple. I’m paraphrasing from his post here. (Scroll down about halfway down to the big post.)

How to Make Word Lists Work

Take a list of 5-7 words in foreign language X you want to learn, which have corresponding meanings in your native language Y.

Write the words in foreign language X in a column on a piece of paper in one color of ink. Then learn all of the meanings in your native language Y, and only write them down in the next column when you know all of them and can write them without hesitation.

So if you go down your list of 5-7 words, and you keep missing one, don’t write down the translations for any of them yet. If you have to struggle to remember one word in your native language Y, don’t write anything down yet. Keep going at it until you can. If you have to look stuff up, then look stuff up.

Once you can remember everything, then write down all of the translations in your Y language in a different color ink.

Now go and cover up the original words in the foreign language X column. Based only on the words you see in your Y language column, use the 3rd column to reconstruct the X column the same way you had to construct the Y column. That is, you can’t write anything down until you can write everything down correctly.

So when you’re done, your sheet looks something like this:

X language --> Y language --> X language

With one column for each.

Now comes the tricky bit: applying it to Japanese, which has kana and kanji for a lot of words. If a word has no kanji, you’re fine. It’s just English and kana. Not a problem. But kanji will complicate matters, as they always do.

Vosmiura’s approach is to break it down like this:

Kanji --- Kana --- English

He covers the kana and English columns while looking at the kanji. That way he makes sure he has the meaning and the reading correct.

He also varies the way he tests the list. If the list has words in the order a-b-c-d-e-f-g, he doesn’t always test in the order abcdefg. He often tests gfedcba, or acfedgb, or any other random order.

I think it’s a good idea to avoid getting the cde words lost in the middle.

Remember, we’re good at remembering firsts and lasts, but horrible at remembering stuff in the middle.

I’m going to try messing with the order a little to fit my models better, and see how it works. It may work, it may fail spectacularly.

So I’m going to try setting it up like this for now:

Kana --- Kanji --- English --- Kana --- Kanji

That way, I get Iversen’s X-Y-X pattern, and I get my production needs met. Although in this case I guess it’s more of a X-X’-Y-X-X’ method.

Monolingual types will probably froth at the mouth a bit, but I’m not a monolingual zealot. Whatever gets my error rate down is cool with me.

I am becoming more and more “theory agnostic” and am just using whatever works best for me.

Oh, and the mountains are still gorgeous.


Mar 032009

In a previous post I talked about James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji, Volume 1. (RTK1 from here on out.) It’s a really cool book, and I have drunk the Kool-Aid to become a believer in his approach to studying kanji.

Sort of.

First, I must dispel a myth.

Learning kanji is NOT HARD. It’s very do-able. It requires a little forethought, the right materials, and work. Seriously, 150 million people use kanji daily and have no problems with it at all. You have to put in the hours, and you have to be SMART about it.

The division of labor will set you free.

Juggling 3 balls is easier than juggling 7. RTK1 is all about getting you to reduce the number of balls you’re trying to juggle when you learn kanji. By getting one big chunk of learning out of the way, you’re making it easier for your brain to learn kanji.

RTK1 does something really cool. It puts you on the level of all of those Chinese kids who are trying to learn Japanese. When they learn Japanese, they only have 3 balls to juggle, compared to your 7 when tackling kanji.

They see those kanji characters, and in their language, they have a meaning in Chinese.

So for example, they’ll see 川 and think, “Oh hey, that’s the character for ‘stream.'” Then they’ll find out that the Japanese pronounce it entirely differently. (In fact, in Japanese, you can take one character and pronounce it 3-4 different ways, depending on how it’s used. ) But  they already have a mental hook, and that hook is “stream.”

They can recognize it, they can write it, and they already have a slot in their brain for it and attach a rough meaning to it in their native language.

So really, all they’re stuck doing is learning how to pronounce it.

That’s what RTK1 does for you, you non-native Chinese language speaker! And that is pretty impressive, once you grasp that concept, because it does it for you for about 2,042 characters, if you keep your study habits up. And really, all you’re doing is just juggling the characters in your brain until you can assign Japanese readings to them full-time.

So when you approach kanji in the wild, all you have to learn are the readings.

That’s the huge deal. You’ve already got the other stuff down from RTK1. That’s why I drank the Kool-Aid.

Those English words you’re using to learn them will fade over time. Don’t get hung up on them, or their meanings. The meanings are meaningless, really. They’re just labels.

I finished RTK1 about 11 months ago. Finishing RTK1 takes a lot of effort, and a lot of people feel great when they’ve done it. Congratulations. You’ve achieved something.

Kind of.

I Know Kung-fu!

You’ve prepared your brain to start learning Japanese kanji. BUT you haven’t actually learned any Japanese yet.

At this point, some people sit back and say, “Wow, I know a lot of kanji!” Well, yeah, kind of, but you don’t know any Japanese.

Then they freak out when they realize that.

The rest of us realize that the easy part is over, and now we have to figure out how to learn all of those readings.

You may think, “Crap, what do I do now? I memorized all of these stupid keywords, now how should I learn the actual readings?”

You can get a bad case of paralysis by overanalysis. Why? Well, because you have so many options available to you now, simply because you’re done preparing yourself to learn.

First, you need to know something. Kanji have two readings, the onyomi, or the Chinese reading, and the kunyomi, or Japanese reading. Sounds confusing? It is at first.

Here’s the quick and dirty: you usually use Chinese readings when two or more kanji are hanging together to form a word, and you usually use the Japanese readings when a kanji stands alone, usually as a verb, sometimes as a noun or adjective. Usually. Not always. There are plenty of exceptions.

I’m bringing this up because it’s important.

Now, I’m assuming you’ve finished RTK1 by now, and you’re wondering what to do next.  So here are some of your options. (Or at least some of the ones I considered.)

Option 1. Continue with RTK volume 2

It’s a valid option. You could order Remembering the Kanji, Volume 2, and just proceed on your merry way. Heisig did something pretty smart for RTK2: he took kanji with similar readings and grouped them together when they had similar radicals.

It’s very handy, but… well… see, the thing is, it only works for some kanji, it only works for some readings, some of those readings are obscure (like 1% of the readings of a kanji), and it only works for the onyomi (those Chinese readings where two or more kanji are hanging out).

So its usefulness is limited. Also, the vocab he uses as examples are presented in isolation. There are no example sentences, so you don’t know how to use the words without having to look them up yourself.

Some of the vocab is obscure. We’re talking, stuff I can’t find in my dictionary obscure, because it’s ancient Buddhist stuff obscure.

His approach to kunyomi isn’t very helpful. He devotes one chapter to it, and after reading it 3-4 times, I still don’t get it. It’s way too complicated, in my opinion. It’s taking something simple and making it harder than it needs to be.

In the end, you’ll know a bunch of readings, but I’m not really sure how it’ll help you know any Japanese.

NOTE: If you get RTK2, make sure you download the errata.

Option 2. Jump ahead to RTK volume 3

Some people choose to do this. I see this as delaying the inevitable. If you jump ahead to RTK3, you can pick up the rest of the kanji, so you’ll have English meanings for 3,007 kanji. Great, but you still don’t know any Japanese. I would do this when you have those 2,042 kanji nailed in Japanese, but that’s me.

The other problem is that these kanji are mostly very obscure.

NOTE: If you get RTK3, make sure you download the errata.

Option 3. Kanji in Context

Some people like this series. I’m not too keen on it, because I like lots of example sentences. I like to take those example sentences and dump them in my SRS, because then I have context. I thought Kanji in Context would give me context. Turns out I was only half-right. It gave me context for some, but not all of my kanji, and it was completely random about which kanji got context. Some did, others didn’t, and I never found out why. I felt a little ripped-off, given the price.

So maybe the title should be Some Kanji in Context, But Not All of Them, which is disappointing.

Option 4. 2001 Kanji Odyssey

What CosCom did was take 2,001 kanji, put them in order of frequency, divide them up into 3 volumes, printed 2 of them, only made the third one available on CD-ROM, and then gave you 2 great volumes, with an awesome free workbook for the first two volumes available online to people who own the books or the CD.

A printed version of volume 3 is in the works. (Note: as of 8/2011, still no printed version of volume 3… so who knows if it’s ever coming out?)

I think it’s pretty nifty. Volume 1 covers 555 kanji, volume 2 covers another 555, for 1,110 total. Volume 3 comes on a CD with volumes 1 and 2, and picks up the rest, but it lacks example sentences for the last bunch, so you’ll have to find those somewhere else.

The CD version has some benefits: extra vocabulary for each kanji that you won’t get in the books; spoken versions of every sentence for volumes 1 and 2; and you can copy/paste the vocabulary lists into a text file in tabbed format, which is extremely handy for importing into a spreadsheet.

Downside of the CD version: you can’t copy/paste the sentences into your SRS as text. Well, you can copy the images. Perhaps you could copy the images into an OCR and process them there… that would be tedious, maybe faster than messing with scanning the whole book?

Also, still no sentences for the 891 volume 3 kanji. Just lots of vocab. You’ll have to find sentences online. (More on that below.)

But wait, I was just bashing KiC above for not having all of its 2,000 kanji in sentences! Yes, but when Kanji Odyssey (KO) lists a kanji in volumes 1 and 2, it shows the kanji with a whopping three example sentences. KiC didn’t even come close to that number.

The other thing KO does is that it builds on its vocabulary, sentence after sentence. It’s not obvious at first, but over time, you start to see it kick in, and it’s pretty good. The vocabulary is all common stuff you’ll see in newspapers and magazines. It’s not “Bob and Gina are exchange students,” it’s “Our company exports auto parts overseas.” You know, stuff you might actually use if you work in Japan.

Now, after all of that talk about sentences, I don’t use the sentences in KO anymore. I love the vocab lists, but I have come to prefer the sentences in the Yahoo.co.jp online dictionaries, and on ALC’s EIJIRO dictionary, because they’re shorter and easier to put in my SRS. Also, I usually put 2-3 sentences in my SRS for each vocab word.

Downsides? Sure, here’s a list for the TL;DR crowd:

  • You only get sentences for 1,110 kanji in the first 2 volumes. You’ll need to figure out what to do with the rest later.
  • The sentences are weird sometimes, and dull most of the rest of the time. Par for the course.
  • The sentences are on the big side, which can make your cards long and unwieldy. You will need to break them up or look online.
  • The grammar will be too hard for newbies, and too dull for advanced students. It’s a vocab book, not a grammar book.
  • Not every single vocab word listed gets into the sentences. Every reading gets covered… usually… but not every vocab word that is listed on the side. What you do about it is up to you.
  • The vocab learning curve is steep for a while. You’re going to get a LOT of vocab crammed down your throat. It tapers off eventually, but for the first 300-400 kanji, you’re going to be grumbling a lot. Also, the extra vocab in the sentences probably won’t be familiar to you, either. You might want to sort it.
  • The sentences don’t fit nicely into the concept of i+1, which I interpret as meaning, “Don’t  put a bunch of new crap on your SRS card. One new fact per card, if you can. Two is pushing it.” To get around it, I had to add extra cards with extra sentences from dictionaries to cover the extra vocab. I found that that reinforced the extra vocab, too, because I saw it more often.
  • The English translations are a little… odd.
  • The sentences can be… weird.

In spite of the downsides, I think it’s the best compromise I’ve found. I don’t have to build any memory palaces or stuff like that. I just plug and chug into my SRS.

And if you don’t like the sentences, you can just follow the word order and find better sentences somewhere else, like in dictionaries or just doing blog searches.

Also, if you sort the sentences or the vocab lists so that you don’t have to learn kanji out of order, you can get some improvements on efficiency.

Option 5. Basic Kanji Book

This is an interesting series I’ve seen some people rave about. It’s a series of 4 books that will get you to the ~1,000 kanji mark. The books focus on lots of drills and exercises to get your kanji ability up to snuff. The work gets increasingly difficult.

What I didn’t like about it: the “copy the kanji 20 times to memorize it” bit in the early volumes. That has been proven to just not work.

What I like about it: the exercises are pretty good. It will make you use kanji, which is useful.

It runs in the $30-$40 range per book. Each book goes over 250 kanji. I would check out the pages at thejapanshop.com’s website, or amazon.com, and click on the book’s image to see a preview of what each volume looks like.

Option 6. Useless Kanji Books

There are a ton of these out there. A lot of them are in English, and will have great titles, like Essential Kanji, and will look incredibly useful, when in reality, they are not anything remotely useful at all. They’re simply books that contain a list of kanji with their onyomi and kunyomi, a vocab word or two if you’re lucky, maybe a stroke order diagram, aaaand… that’s it. A waste of money and trees. You can get that info for free online. (No links provided for useless books!)

Other books similar to Essential Kanji are Kanji and Kana: A Handbook of the Japanese Writing System, and Henshall’s A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters. Both of which are published by Tuttle.

To be fair, Henshall’s book isn’t without merit. He does provide some tangential etymological info about the kanji, and his own mnemonics. But if you’ve already done RTK1, it’s useless for you. Otherwise, it’s just another book listing kanji.

Well, I suppose if you’re going to study the etymology, Henshall is useful. But really? You’re going to study a word’s etymology when you’re just trying to learn the language? If I was going to teach it or study it as a scholar, then I can see it. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

A lot of these books are notorious for something else– they have high ratings on Amazon.com. This should tell you something– most people who review books on Amazon don’t know squat.

Don’t ever buy a book simply based on its Amazon rating. It’s asking for a kick in the head.

Option 7. iKnow

It’s a pretty neat little site…well, it was. It used to be free, but not anymore.

It has a pretty decent flash-based Japanese language learning setup based loosely on spaced repetition. You learn with its own modified version of an SRS, with audio and sentences and such. It’s very engaging and entertaining. The use of audio, pictures, and such try to engage as many senses as possible.

It lets you set the amount of kanji you want to tolerate in your sentences from none to full, which is really handy. It even tests against tip-of-the-tongue moments, by measuring the speed of your response. I’d say it’s a good option for building vocab if you don’t want to mess with building your own decks in Anki. The sentences come from a very good source, and the voices are all native speakers.

But it’s no longer free. 1000 yen ($12.50) per month, 800 yen if you go 6 months at a time (4800 yen), 700 yen if you go yearly (8400 yen per year.) Kind of expensive with the yen so high against the dollar.

In Anki, if you search for Core 2k+6k, you can find decks that have all of the first 6,000 vocab words and sentences in iKnow. If you look for Kore in Anki, you can even find a version that’s sorted so you can learn them in an order that’s optimized.

Downsides? Sure.

It’s not free.

I don’t like the site’s multiple-guess approach. A good SRS should be fill-in-the-blank. Multiple-choice is bad, because it makes your brain lazy. Even if there are 10 answers to choose from (which there are), I don’t like it.

I don’t like its SRS spacing, either. It doesn’t feel very robust. It’s hard to explain, but it’s good for those first few short intervals, then it just kind of fades.

It’s not very customizable, either. I much prefer Anki in this regard. Anki lets me get away with a lot. (Especially when I bug the author.)

Anyway, now that it’s pay to play, you don’t have to worry about losing your stuff as long as pay for it.

Option 8. 例文で学ぶ漢字と言葉

I figured I would add this option to the list, since some folks like this book as well. It covers about 1,023 kanji which show up on the JLPT level 2 exam. It won’t get you all 2,042, but it is a good start. There aren’t any English translations, and you’re going to need to look up some of the words, simply because you don’t always get readings. It’s a bit odd in that respect.

Again, it’s not perfect, but it is good. You can buy it at BK1 here.

Option 9. Kore/Core 2k/6k/10k

This is one of the most popular options for people learning Japanese now. You can find the decks here and there, and they go by either Kore or Core, and they either have 2,000, 6,000 or 10,000 sentences in them. A lot of those sentences came from iKnow.

As a pre-chewed deck, it’s pretty effective. A lot of people have used it, and report success on the RTK forums. It’s just like learning kanji readings through any other sentence method, though. Some of these decks use pictures/sounds/etc. as well to try to engage more of your brain and help you remember. Sounds like it should work.

Option 10. JLPT Vocabulary List Books +OCR + “Stuff” = Magic!

I’ve been using these lately in a unique fashion. I copied the indexes, scanned and OCR-ed them, and created word lists of all the words the books think will be on N2 and N1. Then I took the word lists, and ran a program to scan through my Anki deck to see which words I already “knew,” and which ones I didn’t. (I’m not going to go over a list of 12,000 words for giggles. That’s what computers are for!)

I took the resulting list of words, and used CB’s excellent EPWING 2Anki program to process my list of words, pluck out 7 or so sample sentences from a few different EPWING dictionaries, and outputted it all into a whopper of a spreadsheet.

Then it’s just a matter of copy/paste into a file I can import into Anki.

Getting the automation bits down is tricky at first, but once I figured it out, it was stupid easy.

Since the programs are always changing, you should consult the RTK forums for these kinds of techniques.

Option 11. Make up your own option 11

I’ve just thought of some of the general options off of the top of my head, and a few of the pitfalls. The reality is that everyone has to figure out what to do next on their own.

The cool thing is that finishing RTK1 will give you the ability to do whatever you want kanji-wise, because as long as you keep juggling those kanji-balls in your brain, you’ll be able to learn new kanji readings with ease.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which option you pick. Just pick one, and stick with it. If you don’t like it, try something else.

I find I like studying sentences, because I like context. It makes it easier.

I also find I like studying both ways– from kana reading to produce kanji, and from reading kanji out loud to know what the kana are. Some people get more elaborate, and use text-to-speech software and create MP3s of their sentences, but that’s too much work for me, and it doesn’t work over my cell phone web browser. (Okay, I stopped going from Kana -> Kanji. It eats WAY too much time.)

Some people do even crazier stuff, which I’ll post about later. There’s some wild stuff you can do with Anki.

I like Kanji Odyssey, because I like the frequency approach. Someone pointed out that frequency shouldn’t matter, because you’ll learn them all in the end.

Yes and no. In the end I will learn them all, but along the way, knowing the more frequently used ones will let me enjoy a wider range of Japanese language material with greater ease.

More fun = more staying power.

Do whatever works, and change your method if it stops working for you!

Aug 042008

EDIT: I put the links in at the bottom of the page, in a more coherent order.  I also added a couple I found recently.

This is something I’ve been wanting to talk about for a while, but I never really got around to doing it for various reasons. But now I want to try to explain my approach to language learning. It’s nothing that I discovered on my own. I just found some people with some ideas that seem to work pretty well for me, that are backed up by some pretty solid science.

I have chosen a few weapons for my language-learning arsenal. The first is the used of a good Spaced Repetition System to commit grammatically correct sentences in the target language to memory. The second is the use of immersion when I can. The third  is the practical application of Stephen Krashen’s comprehensible input theory which emphasizes input over output. Basically, you want to overwhelm your brain with good input in the target language before forcing output. (Output being you opening your mouth and trying to come up with something coherent.)

Fortunately for me, some people have already come across these ideas and fleshed them out. Khatzumoto at the AJATT blog has written extensively on his experiences, the guys at antimoon.com have also achieved some excellent results, as has this poster on kuro5hin.

Dunk My Brain in Some Japanese!

Immersion is pretty straightforward. If you immerse your brain in a surrounding composed of your target language, it will pick up on things much faster than if you don’t. It’s a pretty obvious thing. The more of X language you listen to, the better you’re going to get. That’s how you learned your first language, anyway. Your parents did NOT sit you down with a stack of textbooks and start giving you exams on grammar. You just picked it up. That’s what your brain does.

I’ve been slowly trying to build a more immersive environment around me, but it’s hard to do. I try to watch as much un-subtitled Japanese TV as I can stand, I read books, manga, etc. It helps a lot, but I need to work a little harder at weeding out extraneous English.  But English is my money-maker. That can’t be helped, because I love it, too.

I had my own good example of this when I was in Japan. My Japanese would get better whenever I stayed at a hotel that DIDN’T have English-language programming, and it got worse when it did. (Because I would watch it.)

Without memory, all of this immersion effort is really inefficient. The basic technique I use is called spaced repetition, and by using that method, you can slowly push data deep into your long-term memory by pushing your “forgetting curve” farther and farther back. There’s also a good writeup of how the author of Supermemo gets his SRS on in a quest to fill his brain in this Wired article.

I use an SRS program  to cram as much Japanese into my noggin as I can. My SRS of choice is Anki, which is an excellent SRS program to use for learning Japanese. It works well on PC, Mac, Linux, and over the web. It dovetails nicely with my iPhone, in that I can go over my flashcards over the web using the Anki server.

Anyway, that’s the rationale behind how I approach it. Now the actual nuts and bolts of it.

For starters, I already had some college-level Japanese under my belt, but I had stopped taking classes about 3-4 years ago, then I stopped studying Japanese almost entirely for about 18 months. I had burned out, to be honest. Part of my frustration was centered around learning kanji. Ok, most of it. The other bits involved me being unable to do “output” properly. I couldn’t hold a conversation to save my life, and whenever I did, I felt very uncomfortable. I would always feel like I was unable to say what I wanted to say.

Remembering the Kanji

I had decided to start studying seriously again after 3-4 failed attempts to jump-start my Japanese. When I was looking for info on the web last summer, I came across James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji. (125-page sample here.) Heisig came up with the system 30 years ago when he had to learn to be literate in Japanese fast. So he created one of the great quick-and-dirty methods to get a grasp on kanji.

His approach is simple. Break the process of learning to read and write kanji into discrete parts. He had noticed that native Chinese speakers had much less trouble dealing with kanji, because they already knew their own version from their language. They knew how to read and write them, and they knew what they meant in their own language.

So merely substituting Japanese readings/meanings was a lot easier.

It’s sort of like recognizing the letters of the alphabet for Latin alphabet-based languages. Even if there are a few squiggles or dots added, I can still see the ‘a’ in ‘ä.’ But alphabet characters don’t have individual meanings, so we don’t need to ‘name’ them, just memorize them. Also, 26 letters vs. 3,000+ kanji– you need a method of some sort!

Volume 1 teaches only the writing and one meaning in English for each character. It doesn’t teach you any Japanese at all. I’ll admit I was skeptical at first.

What good would it do to just know a vague meaning and how to write the characters?

I decided to bite the bullet anyway and try the sample chapters, and read his explanations for how his system worked. And you know what? I tore through the first 125 pages in a few days, and ordered the book from Amazon.

As I was doing it, I got it. I finally found something to help me tame the kanji dragon.

It’s actually a brilliant approach for Western language types, because it gives Western students a similar advantage that Chinese language speakers have in learning Japanese.

The ‘meaning’ you get it really just a label. Don’t think you’re learning the real meaning of the kanji! You’re not. You’re just slapping a convenient label on it so you can remember it later on. Remember, these are “English kanji,” therefore they have different meanings than the Japanese kanji you’re going to learn later on.

Don’t get hung up over whether you’re learning the real meaning. It doesn’t matter. The English keyword is made to be forgotten when you’re fluent.

You’re Ready to Move On!

So when you move on to either RTK volume 2 or some other method of learning kanji readings, you’ll have the hard part down. If I can peg a single English word with a basic concept to a kanji character, then I have a place in my brain to put it until I can successfully attach a Japanese meaning/concept/pronunciation to it.

As you learn real Japanese, the keywords fade over time.

RTK also banks on the power of the Division of Labor. Trying to memorize how to write, read, conceptualize, and pronounce (with sometimes up to 4-5 different ways to sound out a kanji depending on how it’s used) all at once is just begging to fail, because our brains aren’t that good at doing that sort of learning all at once.

It’s much easier to just learn a few things about a bunch of characters, get that down cold, then learn another thing, then another. It’s not impossible to do it the Hard Way, but I call it the Hard Way because that’s what it is.

While RTK volume 1 is a great book, and it takes a lot of work to finish, when you get there, you’re just going to be standing in the doorway. RTK volume 1 is merely the first preparatory step to learning one of the hardest parts of the language.

Sorry about that. But it’s true.

It sounds frustrating, but in the long run, it will make getting to the top floor a lot easier. Think of it as an elevator to the top of kanji mastery in comparison to grinding up the stairs.

The book isn’t easy to get through. It takes focus, patience, and time. When I first started using the book, I made a few tactical errors:

  1. I made paper flashcards. Time-consuming and inefficient. They took away from time I could have used to create vivid stories.
  2. When I finished making all of my flashcards, I took a break and stopped reviewing. Well, to be honest, I finished all of the flashcards, but I hadn’t even bothered to review the last 900 or so, because I had fallen behind on my reviews of the previous 1100. And so the downward spiral began, and then I started missing days, and that was that.
  3. I didn’t use a computer-based SRS to time my reviews out for me. I had the shoe boxes. Ugh.

So what’s a better way to do it? Easy. Spaced Repetition Software. I like to use the Reviewing the Kanji website to do my RTK reviews, but you could use any SRS program out there, like the above-mentioned Anki. (It comes with an RTK deck.)

The Reviewing the Kanji website is great because it has a shared database of stories its users have used to memorize individual kanji. The stories alone are a great reason, but there’s also a lively community on the message boards there too. You can find a lot of people to bounce ideas off of, not just for finishing RTK1, but for Japanese language learning in general. The site also has a solid SRS system you can use efficiently. I still use it for my daily reviews of RTK1.

On my second try in January, I plowed through the book in two and a half months.

Just one thing to keep in mind– it’s all about momentum. You create momentum, so you must maintain it. You don’t have to learn new things every day, you just have to keep up with your reviews. Don’t miss days. The more you miss, the deeper the hole you dig for yourself. And eventually, it will get so deep that you quit and wind up back at square one. Not a good place to be.


On theories of Language Acquisition:

Practical Applications in the real world:

Remembering the Kanji:

Remembering Stuff:

Interesting Places to Argue About this stuff:

To be continued in Part Two…

Touring Around Okazaki

 Japan, Travel  Comments Off on Touring Around Okazaki
Oct 252007

Fun day today. I got back on the ol’ Buttbuster 9000 and did some touring around Okazaki. I’m going to miss that bike… okay, no, not really.

I managed to send about 20 lbs. worth of stuff home for only about $60. Fortunately, it’s all stuff I won’t need for the next 8-10 weeks, because that’s how long surface mail takes.

Sending stuff from Japan is so much easier than the US. The customs form is built into the giant address label you fill out.

I stopped by a book store. I’ve been trying to find the Doraemon Kanji Dictionary, but with no luck in Okazaki. I guess I’ll have to try again in Kyoto or Tokyo.

To explain briefly, Doraemon is a cartoon robot space cat from the future with no ears, and kind of reminds me of Stimpy from “Ren n’ Stimpy,” except Doraemon is actually sort of smart. He gets involved in wacky scenarios trying to save a useless boy from his own stupidity and sloth.

I want the dictionary for various reasons, but there is an actual educational purpose in it… well, okay, the real reason is that it seems that everyone at Yamasa has this dictionary, and everyone says that it’s useful. My curiosity has been piqued.

If I can find it cheap somewhere, I’ll grab a copy.

I managed to get a room in Hiroshima for the 30th and the 31st. I want to visit the Peace Museum and then visit the islands outside of Hiroshima. I haven’t been able to get a room in Nara yet, but I’m not too worried.

I keep forgetting to take pictures of the restaurant that serves suppon, or snapping turtle. I think it’s around 5,000 yen for one snapping turtle meal. I guess it’s one of those “It’s a delicacy” things? I think I heard somewhere that certain bits are an aphrodisiac (why else would anyone eat a turtle?)

Those Aren’t Churches

After class, I did some more bike touring, and I saw this row of these huge churches… that aren’t churches at all. They’re wedding halls. Apparently they love church-like buildings for weddings here. It was too dark to get a picture off, and I was kind of distracted. Trying to stay on that bike is hard enough with two hands.

I also went and bought some underwear. They even have foreigner sizes now. I guess the Japanese are starting to get a little chunky like the rest of us, huh? The people at the store were very nice, they even offered me a point card, but I don’t think I’ll need it.

I almost forgot the best part of underwear shopping: Sissy underwear for men. Yes, that’s the brand name. Sissy. Yeah, wear those to school in the States, I dare you. Yikes.

Then I went to the local Book-off.  (A used book store chain.) It took me a while, but I think I finally figured out how to find books in bookstores… sort of? It’s hard, because my kanji is still too weak to find some of the trickier names. I probably don’t need to be buying books yet anyway. I’d just load up and then have to lug them all over the country.

All I Do Is Sleep and Eat…

Nearby was Kappa Sushi, which has 105 yen/plate sushi. There are these rows and rows of conveyor belts, with a bar on one side, and booths on the other, and there are 4-5 rows like that. Then there’s a little call box at the table, and you press the button and order stuff if you need beer or tea or something not on the conveyor belt. I got out of there for 840 yen. Not bad. I had a juice box of “Hello Kitty Apple Juice.” Not by choice. I just didn’t feel like tea or beer.

I went back to the dorm and napped for a bit, then went to Zig Zag later in the evening for my last trip there. I’m going to miss this place. I know I had some difficulties at first, but it has really started to grow on me. Maybe I can come back again sometime and work on my Japanese some more. I think I’d like that.

Tomorrow is going to be nuts. I have to check out, return the bike, pack, and get to Kyoto. Oh, and I still have classes, too.

I should have Internet in Kyoto, so if I get some downtime, I’ll try to upload more pictures.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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