Learning Japanese Entry #6 Anime Success, Kanji Trouble and Heisig

Japanese Garden with Bridge


This is entry 6 of my Learning Japanese Diary via the AJATT method. As always, the entry I made during the time of writing is below and after the entry I will discuss things I did write and things I did wrong, after knowing what I know now. A lot of the stuff I did in the beginning stages was stupid so definitely read to the end! Feel free to comment with any questions.

This entry was written about 2 months after immersion. As of writing this blog post, I am 18 months into immersion.

Diary Entry

31st of August 2015 :

AJATT is going really well!

At this point I can’t say much, nor can I write much. I can read a small amount of basic sentences and understand anywhere from 40-80% of a native Japanese TV show (usually daily life anime/drama). That in itself is pretty awesome! 

I had heard from multiple sources that K-ON! was a good, laid back and funny anime that was great for beginner Japanese learners due to the fact that 80% of the language is really basic. In fact I realised this after about the second episode of watching (with JP subs). I could easily understand what was going on. I was only expecting to be able to understand basic phrases and sentences (although I guess most of the language in it is/are basic phrases and sentences) but I could understand about 60-80% of it quite clearly. There was still plenty I did not understand though.

I understand though that this is merely a matter of time now. If I keep going, I will eventually get there.

This was really good and boosted my confidence a tonne, BUT I discovered I had really badly messed up on my Kanji flash cards.

So before this mess, my Kanji deck had 650 mature and 650 being learnt. “That’s great!” you may think, but I realised my flaw when try to recall really basic Kanji during writing practice. So I’m trying to write the sentence そのまま右手を 上下に動かして…(As you are, move your right hand up and down…) and realised that although I know the word for “right hand” (右手) and I can say it and I would be able to recognise it if I saw it, for some reason I really couldn’t remember the stroke order. I decided to check AJATT to see if I was doing Kanji properly (for some reason I never bothered to check) and found out a few things.

  1. I should be doing Kanji before sentences (I know, I’m an idiot :p)
  2. That I should be writing the Kanji flashcards out by hand
  3. I really should be doing Heisig, not just a random pre-made Kanji deck

I will keep reviewing the cards I have learnt in my current deck but I have also downloaded the pre-made community Heisig deck. I never really gave the Heisig method a chance but after reading a book on memory systems (ironically, I can’t remember the books name), I found that story and obscure association really does help to stick items into long-term memory. After reading this I decided to definitely use Heisig.

Also based on this community Heisig deck https://ankiweb.net/shared/info/2077872612 it seems like you can get away without actually buying the books. It just takes a bit of common sense and a little bit more work to figure out what each part of the Kanji means. The process of making stories is simple and anyone can do. This deck also contains pre-made stories from other users. This does reduce the ability for the story to stick in one’s head, however, it is still a very powerful tool if you cannot be bothered to make your own (I use the community ones as much as I do my own).

I also mentioned earlier that I shouldn’t be doing sentences along side with Kanji however I find Kanji rather boring to learn so I think I will continue with the sentences, just a smaller amount per day.

I’m still in the process of making the switch from J-E to J-J. I am adding sentences which I find fun or interesting and that are relatively easy. Then I will look up any words I don’t know, go to the dictionaries explanation and example sentences, then learn any words in them that I don’t know (also adding these to Anki). With this method I will end up with a vocabulary that allows me to understand most dictionary definitions.

The only issue I’m having is with the amount of reviews for the J-E sentences. I’m getting about 100 a day and I can’t always finish them all so they end up building up and I have to re-learn some of them. I am trying not to add anymore to these now as I have over 500. 

I have less than 2 weeks until I move away from home and start University which means I’m going to have to drastically reduce the amount of Japanese I do once I get there. I’m not sure if this is a good thing or not.

It does means that the sentence transition is going to take longer and maybe be more tedious. While I’m there I may join a class. I will only take them up though If I can easily drop them in the future, as from what I have heard I really don’t need them. I’ve never really had language classes outside of school but it’ll probably be the same boring stuff so I might not stick with it, if it ain’t fun or easy I ain’t doing it!

I have done a lot more J-E cards over the past month as well hence the large amount of Young+Learn cards in comparison to the Mature cards.

Rough Anki Stats
All in one Kanji deck: 650 Mature Recognition cards about 200 of which I can probably write
All in one Kanji deck: 650 Young+Learn Recognition + Recollection
Heisig Kanji deck: 500 Young+Learn Recognition + Recollection
Kanji Radical deck: Finished 
J-E Sentence deck: Finished (sort of) Mature: 298 (37%) Young+Learn: 480 (60%) Suspended+Buried: 22 (3%)
J-J Sentence deck: Mature: 20 (0.5%) Young+Learn: 362 (5%) Suspended+Buried: 30 (0.5%)

Anime Success

Firstly, the breakthrough with being able to understand anime felt amazing at the time. Looking back on it, it wasn’t just being able to understand over half of that particular show but I think it was also the fact that my brain had finally gotten used to this new state of constantly being surrounded by a new obscure language. Of course there was loads I could not understand. Other TV shows where incredibly hard, books where still impossible however that feeling of getting used to this new language was pretty amazing. It was the first of many breakthroughs to come through this language learning journey.

Kanji Troubles

As you can probably tell however, today’s post will be mainly focused on Kanji. At the start of this process, I did not read the entirety of http://www.alljapaneseallthetime.com/blog/. The blog is large so you can see why. However, after reading his articles on Kanji and also looking up other people’s ways of going about it on various forums online, I soon found a way that suited me.

Use the Heisig Method to Learn Kanji in 2 Months

The first deck I had was very cumbersome and had a lot of Kanji (some real useless ones) and way to much information for SRS flashcards. After realising my mistakes as mention in the entry above, I switched to Heisig and it worked like a dream. Heisig was so powerful that I managed to learn all 2100 of the most common characters in around 2 months and the extra 900 in another month. I put a bit of a pause on my sentences during this time and focuses on listening and Kanji and my god, when it came to doing sentences it made a dramatic difference.

My listening was pretty good at this stage and I was able to recognise Kanji and their meaning. So doing sentences with audio (from anime and TV shows) was really quite powerful in helping me learn words, phrases and grammar structures. The process was quite amazing and very easy. Definitely do Heisig first.

Switching to Japanese only Flashcards

This is a topic I am sure I will discuss again in the future. At this stage I was only just getting in to this and it was incredibly difficult. The idea is that you use just a Japanese dictionary to explain the meanings of words. If you don’t understand words that come up in the dictionary then go and search those words as well. Later I implemented some software to create a Sentence Bank where I could get my own sentences from TV shows that I have already watched. This worked really well for me and was one of the main reasons I can understand and read Japanese today.

University and Classes

In the last part I mentioned about going to University and moving away from home. At first I was unsure as to how this would affect my input intake per day. I thought it would reduce it but in fact I actually managed to get more in. Lectures contained hundreds of people so listening with one headphone in did not matter. Most labs as well did not care if you listened to headphones while studying. I did live in student accommodation, but my flat mates where not the party type of students nor was I particularly close to them. Thus I easily managed to accumulate 24 hours of constant contact with Japanese, very often.

I did actually take some of the Universities Japanese classes. I will put it bluntly, they sucked. After 2-3 months of immersion I was already way ahead of the highest class they had. I didn’t get on too well with the teacher either and soon left about 1-2 months in. I will go into more about my experience with this class in another post. Overall though I recommend not bothering with them. If they are free then there is no harm trying but even then they will probably be the same. You can be so much more efficient with an SRS and Immersion.


Well that just about ties it up for this one. If you have any questions please post them below and I will be sure to answer them 🙂

See you in the next one! メリークリスマス!



By Matthew Hawkins

  • Sho


  • Streetsweeper12

    Nice. I can’t wait until I get to a 95% understanding. I just reached two years and I’m not at the level you said you were in your 1 yr update video on YT. I’m 2 years in and I still can’t follow an anime or Drama 95% of the time, even the ones I’ve watched over and over and over during the past year or so. I can read somewhat but often times I don’t understand the sentence fully until later on when I review it like for example I added this card recently:
    “被害者が望まない改心に意味はあるのだろうかと意見が割れてしまう” and I still can’t confidently say I understand it even though I know what every word in this sentence means.

    • Matt Hawkins

      You’ll get there. It just takes time. I’ll be honest, the past year and a half for me have not been that busy, and that has allowed me to put in some serious hours in to reading and flashcards (I reached 10,000 at about 14 months and have read a hell of a lot of books). Don’t worry about it though, just enjoy yourself and enjoy the ride 🙂

      • Streetsweeper12

        Yeah sounds like you put TIME into this. I mean even though I’m 2 years in(25 months), I only have 5371 cards in my deck as of right now. I recall you having 6000+ cards in your first year. I pretty much have time since I work in the day and at night I’m pretty much home. I just haven’t put much time into reading aside from some JRPG games I play and periodic Manga reading. I listen all day(headphones in ear during the day, PC playing videos/audio all day)

        I want to by the end of the year have close to 10,000 sentences(at least 7,000+ cards ) and I want to read a few books a month. I just get frustrated sometimes when I can’t understand what I’m reading. I enjoy it though. It’s motivational seeing others who followed the Ajatt “method” and document their progress.

        • Matt Hawkins

          Yeah, I’m still a student so I have plenty of time on my hands. What you are doing sounds great though, I do the exact same with my audio.

          Don’t worry too much about not being able to understand it, just read as much as you can. One thing I did which helped get me into reading a lot more was timeboxing 10 minute reading sessions between other tasks. 10 minutes reading –> 10 minutes programming –> 10 minutes flashcards –> 10 minutes reading etc. That way I focused on reading as much as I can as opposed to worrying about understanding it. Give it a try, it might help 🙂
          Awesome, I’m glad you enjoy the blog 🙂

  • jufabeck2202

    Hey Matt, i really enjoy your blog.
    Could you write about your experience/tipps in switching from j-e to j-j. Im planning to switch soon and im curious how you did it 🙂

    • Matt Hawkins

      Sure! I plan to write about this soon 🙂