Learning Japanese Entry #7 Being a Noob, How to RTK and Time-Boxing

Introduction

This is entry 7 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.

Hi peeps, sorry for the delay on this series and with new posts in general. Exams and other stuff were taking up a lot of my time but now that my exams are over I thought I would update the blog.

This is an old entry to my personal diary from the beginning stages of the immersion process.

Diary Entry

28th of September 2015:

I’m going to try and keep this one short as the last one was massive. 

In the last entry I wrote about Kanji and the use of RTK to learn them. Using this method, I was getting through a steady amount of Kanji and doing relatively okay, especially with the simple ones and the ones I already knew but it got really bad later on. I could manage remembering a lot of Kanji and it went relatively well, but when you have to get through 200 sometimes 250 review cards a day and spending 1-2 minutes writing each one really begins to add up. I simply don’t have that kind of time.

I decided to read through AJATT for advice as well as looking at other methods, such as the one posted by NihongoShark, which both actually said to have the Kanji on the first side and the meaning on the back. After reading through some articles it became rather obvious as to why you have the kanji on the front. To begin with all you need to do is to be able to recognise the kanji and its meaning. From that you can help develop vocabulary words based on the meanings of kanji and will pick up their readings as you go along. I switched the cards layout and have been having a much more smooth kanji learning experience.

I also gradually got bored of writing each character out. I have put writing off for now as I don’t see the benefits of writing each character out by hand for every review.

I have began to implement time-boxing in my flashcard sessions which has brought my review time down from 2 hours to about 75-80 minutes which is great! I can get most of my kanji done by midday and then review the sentence cards that have been building up.

The amount of reviews for my sentence cards did get out of hand as well but I managed to bring the reviews down by doing a number of things.

First, I realised that most of the sentences from the pre-made anki deck I’m using actually had two sides to them. At this stage I’m only interested in recognition and reading so naturally I deleted the listening and production cards. This literally reduced my reviews in half 神様、ありがとう!

I have also began to push forward a number of cards that I don’t know just to reduce the review load each day (I can relearn those cards at a later date) this has proved rather useful in reducing the review load. Procrastination wins again!

I started classes at University and so far have only had one lesson which was super easy. We learnt the difference between ある and いる and how to form sentences such as 箱の上に猫がいます etc. Really basic stuff, I only assume the lessons will get harder but if not I’m fine with still doing it, even if I have to buy a textbook which costs 40 quid! -_-

If I go to the lessons then I should be able to take Grade 3 or 4 in my next year which will then go towards my Degree and should give me some credentials to allow me to work in Japan during my 3rd Year (I will need to get Grade 4 to do this I expect, which at my rate I believe is very doable).

I’ve almost finished my Kanji deck, I will have learnt all the Kanji in 3 days then it’s just reviews! I can then get back into sentences and then finally make the JJ leap.

I’m waiting for my Japanese only dictionary to come and I have also ordered a tonne of manga (Yotsuba!, Dragonball, and Death Note). I’ve done this for motivation + reading practice. I’m going to lie them around my flat, have them in my bag when I go to Uni etc so that If I ever have a free moment I can pick them up and start skim reading.

Obviously I won’t be able to read much yet but it will give me motivation and will give me a sense of actual writing structure.

I also met some Japanese people at the Japanese society! I’m already language exchanging with someone. We mainly talk in English, I have been speaking Japanese more with my other language exchanges on LINE which is good.

Anyway now for stats! WOO STATS!!

You will notice that the All in one Kanji deck has less cards, this is because the Kanji cards also had two sides to them. I deleted the none recognition sides as it was causing too many reviews and too much stress. Even though the stats are smaller I actually know MORE kanji! Also the Heisig Kanji deck is smaller than normal! This is because I deleted a lot of useless Kanji. A list of which can be found at JALUP. There are a surprisingly large number of Kanji you don’t need to know in Heisig, so why bother?

All in one Kanji deck: 460 Mature 189 Young+Learn 0 Suspended 2458 Unseen (Haven’t been learning new ones)
Heisig Kanji deck: 451 Mature 1347 Young+Learn 0 Suspended 149 Unseen
Kanji Radical deck: Deleted as I found them pretty useless plus the useful ones are in the other decks
J-E Sentence deck: NO LONGER FINISHED! I ADDED MORE!? :0 Mature: 617 Young+Learn: 193 Suspended: 39 Unseen: 645
J-J Sentence deck: Mature: 186 Young+Learn: 101 Suspended: 13 Unseen: 4086 (The unseen amount is not accurate, a lot are vocab cards)

Just to clarify, I was such a noob back then…

I did a lot of stuff wrong so here is a summary list of does and don’ts:

  • Don’t learn Kanji the quick and easy way if you want to be able to write by hand.
  • Don’t attempt sentences (even Japanese-English) without first learning Kanji.
  • If you want to learn Kanji by hand, then DO buy the RTK series found here.
  • Don’t waste time with classes when there are much richer and more efficient resources out there. Unless your teacher is a massive fan of this book: Language Acquisition and Language Education. By the way, I found out later on in the year that Grade 2 was the highest at our University for Japanese study. This meant that if I completed the unit that year, I wouldn’t be able to do it in my 2nd year for credit. I swiftly dropped out of the class. It was around this time as well that I started taking AJATT WAY more seriously. I actually sent the video of Khatz speaking Japanese to my Japanese teacher, asking how good he was. She said he was amazing which was the last piece of confirmation I needed before I left. How ironic (笑). Also another side note, I took this class again this year to get credit. I ended up getting a first class without turning up much nor doing any homework. It was hilariously easy.
  • Think before buying an expensive textbook. Seriously, I never used Minna No Nihongo and now I’m trying to sell it on eBay for a lot less than what I bought it for. It was not worth it. Phrase books are cheaper and more useful BUT make sure they are written by or at least checked by natives for mistakes. I got given the Berlitz Japanese Phrase Book and they actually had a typo in one of their sentences, “いホテルを教えてください。” Seriously?!
  • Don’t have multiple versions of the same Anki card that just “switch” the front and back. This is pointless and inefficient.
  • Buy reading material really early on, in fact screw that, buy it NOW. This post should get you started. The closer you are to Japanese text, the more likely you are to pick it up and read it.
  • Don’t bother talking to “language partners” until you actually have a good grasp on the language. According to research done by Krashen (and discussed in The Natural Approach), speaking does not help language acquisition. Unless you are lucky to find someone that is happy with just listening to each other speak their native tongues, don’t bother wasting your time. Everything about this “We mainly talk in English, I have been speaking Japanese more with my other language exchanges on LINE which is good.” is really bad by the way. I quickly learned later that I was just hurting myself and I needed to shut up before I made it worse. I put some of the mistakes I make now down to my stupidity during the early stages where I thought that outputting was a good thing. Don’t do it.
  • Do keep stats! It’s really useful to keep track of your progress. I recommend you do it and set yourself goals too. Both can be really useful for motivation and results.
  • Don’t use pre-made decks! I used the Core 10,000 for around 750 Japanese-English sentences then I moved on to entirely native sources, but I only did this in the next couple of months after this diary entry was written. The reason you shouldn’t use other people’s decks is that they are not meant for native use, they may not contain “natural” Japanese, they may not be “correct” Japanese and they will quite probably not be “contextual”, making them much harder to use and more likely to hurt you in the long run. There are too many downsides to pre-made decks so just try and stay clear. If you do use one then try to stop using it ASAP. Do not attempt something stupid like doing the entire 10,000 sentences with 1 pre-made deck, like my friend did.

How to RTK

Okay so most of what I talked about to do with Kanji in this entry is pretty good. Come the end of the month this post was written, I had pretty much learnt all of RTK and was able to “read” basic stuff (very, very slowly with lots of looking up).

I will, however, mention a few things about how I learnt Kanji.

Front or Back?

The whole putting Kanji on the front of your cards is great if you want to “speed run” RTK. It works, you will learn the kanji and you will become able to read Japanese in record time. However, this method is somewhat lazy and comes with a huge drawback.

You will never learn to write by hand.

This isn’t too bad really. Provided you can write hiragana, katakana and any personal information, then you could possibly get by. However, if you plan on living in Japan for more than a year then I would expect that you will need to be able to write by hand.

I still can’t write by hand.

I currently don’t live in Japan and won’t be living there anytime soon due to my degree, so writing by hand is not something that is preventing me from “surviving” if you will. I can type via an IME on a computer perfectly fine due to being able to just type the spelling of a word, and then finding the correct option in a list.

Of course I can write SOME stuff by hand. I’ve got a deck going to fix this whole issue and my writing has gotten better compared to a year ago, but I don’t think I will get really good until I inevitably end up in the country where I will rely on it more.

So my conclusion here is to do 1 of either 2 things.

  1. Suck it up and do RTK the proper way, like it says in the books. (This way will save you time in the long run).
  2. Do RTK the way I did, having each character on the front with the meaning and a story on the back and don’t do writing practice. Then create a new “writing” deck later down the road, when you feel ready, using a combination of images and kana words on the front of the cards and then the word in kanji form on the back. Your task will then be to write the word in Kanji form from memory.

Time-Boxing

I only mentioned it briefly here but I will discuss it as I feel like it is an incredibly powerful tool for success. I had only just began to use it during this time. Within the next 2 months I setup my Sentence Bank idea and got more reading material. I then implemented time-boxing on my daily routine and I became so efficient it was unreal. If you have never heard of time-boxing then the easiest way I can explain it is by comparing it to an exam:

Why is it that we can write so much so quickly during a 1 hour exam? It’s because we are under pressure. You have limited time, therefore you perform faster.

All you have to do is time yourself and see “how much of X” you can do in “time Y“. You will see massive results with this so give it a go. I recommend 10 minutes but its down to your personal preference, so experiment. Note: if you do this for sentence flashcards it will increase your reading speed a lot. Try and make it a game and see how many you can do.

I will discuss time-boxing in more detail at some point in the future. If you need more information on it then check out AJATT’s posts on it here.

Damn, this was a longer post than I was expecting. Hopefully it contains some useful points for you though. If you have any questions about this entry or if I haven’t explained something well enough, please hit me up with a comment down below. I don’t use other social media anymore (I will discuss this in the future) so if you want to contact me, do it through the comments.

マット

2017/06/13

By Matthew Hawkins

  • Streetsweeper12

    I agree 1000% on the lazy kanji method not a good idea in the long run. I did it at first and yeah it makes repping much faster and easier but I noticed I couldn’t write out Kanji by hand. I’m actually relearning Kanji the heisig way and I can write Kanji out that I learned much better because not only am I creating the stories myself, I have to actively recall it when reviewing.

    Reading for me right now is “sort of” okay. I can read but i often have to sort of “think” a bit while reading and often I stop reading after a few minutes because I cannot comprehend what I’m reading even though I know the words. It’s often that I don’t quite get the way the sentence is structured even though I know all the words.

    A quick example is this sentence which I got from a game I played(Persona 5.)
    In the JP version, it says this for this one character

    東郷一二三 
    [祐介の同級生でプロを目指す女流棋士」

    For the longest I couldn’t quite get why the で was here and I’d think it meant “A shogi player aiming for pro/classmate of Yusuke. It was sort of fuzzy.

    I then saw the english version and it said

    Yusuke’s classmate who strives to be a pro shogi player.

    I usually associate で with “by, with, at,” or for listing traits or w/e about something.

    • Matt Hawkins

      Yeah, I kinda wished I looked into things a bit more at the start because that could have saved me a tonne of time. I probably won’t get good at writing by hand for a while now :/

      That sounds like you don’t have a full understanding of every component of the sentence, so add it to your anki deck and keep reading. Try and read more and worry less about what you are understanding. You will “get it” with enough exposure.

      I’m no expert nor a grammar geek so I can’t explain why it works but it sounds fine to me. I guess you could take the first half, 祐介の同級生で were で is kind of saying “and” so something like “Yusuke’s classmate and who strives to be a professional female shogi player.” might be better. I could be wrong though. This might help, http://www.coelang.tufs.ac.jp/mt/ja/gmod/contents/explanation/053.html it lists uses of で but try not to associate it with English, you will just be asking for more trouble.

      I do remember not being able to fully comprehend some stuff until around the 10,000 hours peek were it all finally began to “solidify” and come together. I vividly remember not “getting” かもしれない until I was well into the 8000-9000 hours range even thought it’s soooo easy! Some stuff just won’t come to you for a long time, so don’t worry about it, skip over it and keep going. 🙂

      • Streetsweeper12

        I haven’t logged my hours so I can’t say for sure how many hours I’ve listened but I’d say it’s probably over 5,000 hours if I had to guess.

        かもしれない that was one of the first things I understood when I started learning.

        I def have to read more as there’s too many times where I just put off reading a book for a while and just fall off and instead do reps daily and passive listening.

        I want to read something like [というのも新聞のマンガ家はみんなこんな命令に従っているようにしか見えなかったからだ。] and understand it. I can’t really get it.

        • Matt Hawkins

          Ah fair enough, and yeah it is so easy and yet it never quite “clicked” for me until really late on, after hearing it loads of times. Just remember that the entire process is like this so don’t worry too much about not understanding more complex parts of the language 🙂

          Yeah try to read more, reps and listening are okay but you really want to be reading at least an hour a day if you can manage it. If you struggle then break it up into smaller sections throughout the day. Even watching stuff with japanese subs counts, just do whatever you can to get you reading and your comprehension will improve. That 多読 reading challenge is really good as well. Doing a month of that improved my reading quite a bit.

          If it’s a real book then do what you do or type it out (but be careful and triple check). Most of what I read was digital so I used to use the method that MattVsJapan used which was using evernote and the 青空文庫 reader app on ipad. You can highlight sentences, send them to evernote and then open evernote on your PC to copy across. You could also use calibre to read on your PC and just copy and paste across OR if you have a book in .txt format (or can convert it to one) then you can just put the entire book into Anki as a deck and then read one sentence at a time, saving sentences you want to learn by suspending them. I’m doing this for German at the moment and it’s really useful 🙂

  • Sarah Fasure

    Great post. I agree with everything except not having language exchange partners until much later on. I never understand why exactly AJATT didn’t approve of outputting until you understand everything. Honestly one of the ways I was able to quickly progress in French was because I had a regular language exchange- it motivated me to learn/have greater input so I can understand what the person is saying more as well as being able to get their references. I have friends that can read, write and understand x language well but struggle to put a sentence together when they have to speak because they are afraid of making a mistake. I understand that maybe they needs to be a silent period but some people get stuck in that silent period and never progress. Even babies/toddlers with complete exposure to the target language make mistakes all the time and are corrected and they get better.

    Is it okay to use the lazy kanji method if I have no desire to hand write Japanese characters and I just want to be able to read and understand what it being written.

    I’m looking forward to more posts. I love this blog. How is your German going? How do you manage to find time to maintain both your German and Japanese? I am in the same boat with French and Japanese.

    I am sort of agree with you on the pre-made decks. But I am glad I used pre-made that contained most common 2,000 words because it made it much easier for me to be able to consume native materials e.g. Japanese novels and manga because I actually was able to read some of it . Can’t someone use pre-made decks as a training wheel before then jumping to the real thing.

    • Most of the people that do AJATT usually want to sound like they are a native speaker so therefore want to minimize mistakes. Although this advice is kind of counter-intuitive (languages are obviously meant to be spoken) it does work. It’s just the whole “you are what you eat” concept. If you speak bad language then your brain will absorb that as more of the language without realising that it is a mistake, therefore making way for incorrect output. I do admit that some people do take it to the extreme both ways and as you say, some people never build up the courage to speak. However, on the other hand you have people like Benny Lewis who will never sound anywhere near a real native. In my opinion, mistakes are inevitable and as you point out, kids (and even adults) make mistakes all the time. The reason I talk about the silent period is because I feel that once you have built a core understanding of the language, you are more likely to notice when you make a mistake, which would make it less likely to occur again. In fact this is similar to how kids make mistakes and then improve (but it might be different for us adults). It’s all kind of guess work and just hypothesised but it’s a safe bet to wait to speak if you want to output perfectly like an adult native. A lot of the most native sounding speakers are those who have used a silent period of some sort, just take Matt here for example.
      There are some people in the Japanese speaking community that speak pretty darn good Japanese from getting most of their input via talking. These people have usually spent a good 10 years in Japan though so this might also contribute to their level.

      Yeah go for it. I did the method suggested by NihongoShark’s free newsletter which was really good and I think very similar to lazy kanji. It works and you can easily learn them all in 2 months if you are dedicated. Once you are finished it will give you a massive head start in your reading.

      I will talk about this in a full post soon but here’s a quick summary.
      As my Japanese is at a quite high level now, I don’t need much to maintain it. However I have noticed my level has dropped a bit, which kind of sucks. Reading speed has decreased and I often find myself forgetting words in speech which was never an issue before. I am maintaining it each day with 1-2 ours of input/talking with friends. The rest of the time I’ve been either doing things in German or studying for exams. The exams at Uni were important this year meaning less time focused on reading, SRSing and active listening of German. Thus my level hasn’t improved much beyond the beginner stage, which is not great, but I now have the summer holiday to bring my level up. I’m hoping for B1 level by the time I arrive in Germany but we will see what happens.

      You can and people do do that (I did it too), it’s just that native material is better. Obviously it might seem scary jumping straight into the deep end, especially for those who have never learnt a language before. My view is, you are going to have to go into native content anyway so why not just start with it? Yes, it’s slightly slower but as mentioned in the post it’s less likely to be incorrect and going to be easier to learn (you get context which is an incredibly valuable tool in language acquisition). I would suggest picking sentences from an easy medium e.g. a kids manga, and putting English definitions for words and grammar on the back. Only do this for the first 500-1000 though, then switch to Japanese definitions to improve your reading ability. If you are really brave then dive straight into Japanese definitions, which a few people have done and it is very much possible.

    • Matt Hawkins

      Yeah, this advice is kind of counter-intuitive (languages are obviously meant to be spoken) but it does work. A lot of people that do AJATT usually want to sound like they are a native speaker so therefore want to minimize mistakes. It’s just the whole “you are what you eat” concept. If you speak bad language then your brain will absorb that as more of the language without realising there are mistakes, therefore making way for incorrect output.
      Some people do take it to the extreme both ways and as you say, some people never build up the courage to speak. However, on the other hand you have people like Benny Lewis who will never sound anywhere near a real native. In my opinion, mistakes are inevitable and as you point out, kids (and even adults) make mistakes all the time.
      The reason I talk about the silent period (besides the idea that most of your output will be natural and correct) is because I feel that once you have built a core understanding of the language, you are more likely to notice when you make a mistake, which would make it less likely to occur again. In fact this is similar to how kids make mistakes and then improve (but it might be different for us adults). It’s all kind of guess work and just hypothesised but it’s a safe bet to wait to speak if you want to output perfectly like an adult native. A lot of the most native sounding speakers are those who have used a silent period of some sort, just take Matt here for example: https://youtu.be/vrAyDf7jzdw
      There are some people in the Japanese speaking community that speak pretty darn good Japanese from getting most of their input via talking. These people have usually spent a good 10 years in Japan though so this might also contribute to their level.

      Yeah go for it. I did the method suggested by NihongoShark’s free newsletter which was really good and I think very similar to lazy kanji. It works and you can easily learn them all in 2 months if you are dedicated. Once you are finished it will give you a massive head start in your reading.

      I will talk about this in a full post soon but here’s a quick summary.
      As my Japanese is at a quite high level now, I don’t need much to maintain it. However I have noticed my level has dropped a bit, which kind of sucks. Reading speed has decreased and I often find myself forgetting words in speech which was never an issue before. I am maintaining it each day with 1-2 hours of input. The rest of the time I’ve been either doing things in German or studying for exams. The exams at Uni were important this year meaning less time focused on reading, SRSing and active listening of German. Thus my level hasn’t improved much beyond the beginner stage, which is not great, but I now have the summer holiday to bring my level up. I’m hoping for B1 level by the time I arrive in Germany but we will see what happens.

      You can and people do do that (I did it too), it’s just that native material is better. Obviously it might seem scary jumping straight into the deep end, especially for those who have never learnt a language before but it’s not as bad as it sounds. My view is, you are going to have to go into native content anyway so why not just start with it? Yes, it’s slightly slower but as mentioned in the post it’s less likely to be incorrect and going to be easier to learn (you get context which is an incredibly valuable tool in language acquisition). I would suggest picking sentences from an easy medium e.g. a kids manga, and putting English definitions for words and grammar on the back. Only do this for the first 500-1000 though, then switch to Japanese definitions to improve your reading ability. If you are really brave then dive straight into Japanese definitions, which a few people have done and it is very much possible.

  • Nikita Grebennikov

    Hello, mate. I know that your listening is in the high level. I wanted to ask you how do you actually practice your listening skills? Do you listen to an random audio for 24/7? A movie while watching it? A movie with subs and then listen to a pure movie? I always struggle with something I never heard of, but when I read about it, I don’t have to force myself to understand the content. Please it’s really important for me…

    • During the hardcore stage I spent most of my day listening to something in Japanese. Usually having at least 1 earphone in at all times. If I was reading or studying flashcards I might have had music on at a low volume instead. At a lower level of listening go for easier content that is more understandable. I didn’t fully realise that this is were the real progress is made and spent a lot of my beginner hours listening to content that was way too hard for me. So stick with content either at your level or slightly above and go from there. Active listening will always be more efficient than passive listening, but listening all day will make some difference too so I recommend both. Do as much active listening as you can though.

    • Matt Hawkins

      During the hardcore stage I spent most of my day listening to something in Japanese. Usually having at least 1 earphone in at all times. If I was reading or studying flashcards I might have had music on at a low volume instead. At a lower level of listening go for easier content that is more understandable. I didn’t fully realise that this is were the real progress is made and spent a lot of my beginner hours listening to content that was way too hard for me. So stick with content either at your level or slightly above and go from there. Active listening will always be more efficient than passive listening, but listening all day will make some difference too so I recommend both. Do as much active listening as you can though.