Want To Read Novels in Japanese? – Here’s How



I’m currently reading through 真夜中は別の顔 The Other Side of Midnight, by Sidney Sheldon, translated into Japanese. Several months ago I wrote a post about reading through my first short novella.

The God level goal for most Japanese super studiers is to be able to read through novels effortlessly right? Of course this is possible, with a major caveat. I’m at about 54 pages into this new novel and the progress was very slow in the beginning, and its starting to pick up. Lets’ break it down.

With Novels VOCABULARY is King.

You need around 6,000-10,000 words (or more) to comfortably read novels. There is no way around this. Just like English, there are a bazillion ways to say things, and writers like to say things their own way. As a test, after learning how to read the Kanji, I tried reading a page or two of a novel. Unsurprisingly, I was slapped ten times silly and sent careening backwards in my bedroom. You see, novels, are next level for a reason. It combines pretty much everything you will learn in Japanese. That is; nouns, verbs, adjectives, onomatopeia, esoteric terms, colloquial eexpression, collocations, etc. You need to have battled and lost a lot at trying to understand Japanese before jumping into a novel. They are big, dense, sometimes very literary and filled with so many words you might actually cry by how daunting it is. I already knew i’d need a ton of words to tackle a novel, but I didn’t understand the true cost. 

The True Cost

You need to know the true cost going in. If I were you, I wouldn’t even try to read novels until I hit 6-7K words and know my grammar up to an N2 level. The reason for this is that, with these two bases covered you have no issues learning new things in context. If you run into an expression, a new word or verb, you just learn it and move on. Nothing is “super frightening” if you can read it.  I might see a word like 無垢(むく)innocence, 執拗(しつよう)feverishly, diligently, or 薄紫(うすむらさき)light purple. These are not words you will see commonly anywhere. But in novels, you see them all the time. Visual descriptions require words for common situations and these words (hundreds of them) allow for what we call “depth” in expression and tone. Novels give you depth, at a massive cost… you need to drastically grow your vocabulary to even slowly read a novel.

To give you an example, so far in this book for each chapter I’ve learned about 50-75 new words. The book has maybe 20 chapters, so it is possible I will learn an extra 1500+ words from this book alone! But many of the words aren’t exotic, just regular things. Like 船乗り(ふなのり)sailor, or 店主(てんしゅ)storekeeper. But alas, 水兵(すいへい)also means sailor! Many of them are places and areas;

like 磯(いそ)rocky beach, 崖(がけ)cliff, 地中(ちちゅう)underground. They maybe be body parts you haven’t heard of, or ways to describe degrees of temperature like

生温い(なまぬるい)lukewarm.  Someone’s face might get 渋い(しぶい)grim, or a person can ‘dote’ on their child 溺愛(できあい)。You may know common words like 腕(うで)arm, or 胸(むね)chest/breast. But you may not know 腕前(うでまえ)prowess, or a word like 乳房(ちぶさ)breast. This is how novels, start. With these types of words and expressions, not to mention all kinds of creative uses of grammar.

In short stories they usually start with 昔あるところに、(むかしあるところに)”in some place a long time ago”. Or “an old man lived in a village” etc. Novels, are written like novels. 

The Strategy

There are two ways i’ve dealt with learning high numbers of words to balance my efforts and also not feel like a robot adding words mindlessly to anki. Adding 100 words a day to Anki will get you to thousands of words fast, but unless you have a hardore revision strategy, the words will get forgotten by the hundreds because they have no real connection to anything in your life, or anything you are directly absorbing. I’ve found there are two ways to learn words:


  1. You can learn words through raw Strategy (e.g a list of 5000 high frequency words


2.You can learn words by encountering them (in anime, reading, games etc)

I suggest going hardcore in LANE 1 as your starting point. Work through this as quickly as possible, with as much determination and focus you can muster up. Lane 2 (which tons of people like to suggest as a ‘fun’ way to learn) is extremely problematic if you are trying to gauge your progress in learning based on using data to see where you land relative to your overall goals.  Learning words by randomly encountering them is a problem for a few reasons. Firstly, you will have no idea if the words you are learning are useful (meaning to your current level) and secondly, you will have no way of tracking where you are relative to the larger subset of useful and then necessary words. What i mean by this is:

A list of 10,000 required words organized by frequency WILL get you to the promised land. However, learning this many words takes a good bit of time and strategy. If you live on Mountain Dew, have no friends, tons of disposable income, unfailing health and a brain that doesn’t tire, you can learn 10,000 words in perhaps 7-9 months, Maaaaaayyybe. I’m not even being negative here. In addition to learning words, we have well over 800+ grammar patterns to learn, plus we must log in thousands of listening and watching hours. Knocking out 50 words a day (1500 words per month) for 10 months straight is no laughing matter. You can easily hit 10K in a year and a half with little issues, but to absorb these words PLUS everything else requires a long forgotten ingredient.


I knew based on my research that after trying to read my first novel, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable attempting to read it again for another 6-8 months (depending on my consistency, health and motivation). LANE 1 can be stressful, even painful, but pays of greatly later down. Once you are able to read and understand context and then just “look up what you don’t understand” the game changes. There is a vast, vaaaaast difference between opening a page of something written in Japanese, having a complete brain freeze and weep uncontrollably, versus, being able to read through, get a sense of what is going on and look up other things. Once you reach this point, LANE2 is your destination.


If i’m reading through my book and I see “妻のぶらぶら体” (つまのぶらぶらからだ)。妻 is wife, and 体 is body. So this is some kind of body description. What the hell is “bura bura” I don’t know! So I look it up. (this expression means bloated body).

Consequently, if I see: 彼の顔が渋いした。(かれのかおがしぶいした。) If I dont’ know 渋い(しぶい)grim, I will read it as “his face turned into “something”. Then I look it up, and i move on.

Basically this is the process… it is very slow in the beginning, because initially (probably for your first book or two) a lot of the words you’ll have to look up. However the value here is immense. By encountering these words in context, having the ability to read in context, you vastly increase your likelihood of remembering them. When reading a novel, just like your native language you will “see” the images in your mind. So if the writer describes a woman with a ”まん丸お尻” (まんまるおしり)– perfectly round buttocks, not only do you learn the word, but you create a visual based on the character.

As you go through bit by bit, you collect words.  A lot of them. I find this process (at this stage) to be more interesting than learning raw lists of words. Here we are experiencing the language and as such building stronger memory roots.


Don’t worry about flawlessly reading Murakami and sending him petulant critiques via twitter. There is a giant canyon between you and high numbers of words and you can only access them through either  (raw lists —- which get VERY boring after you cross your first few thousand) and encounters (far more interesting and you still can get to 50-100 words per day depending on how much you read with the benefit of context and visual memory aides).

I am treating this novel as a game. I look up every word I dont’ know and add it to my daily list. I revise these words with anki each day. Then more often than not, these words repeat throughout the chapter, further cementing them. After a while, I’ve found myself reading through entire pages rather quickly, because I know all the word. Then i’ll get hit with a barrage of words I don’t know and have to slow down.

What’s great is that, at some point down the road, you will know so many words that you will be able to read most of what you encounter, anywhere. But I’ve found there isn’t really a “super fast” way to get here. “Fast” is relative to time, meaning, I can learn 100 words a day and blaze a trail, but i’ve found going that hardcore lessens the impact of internalization (meaning these words just get forgotten very quickly). Reading a chapter about a 船乗りの娘 sailor’s daughter who remembers being in a ship that is 生臭い(なまくさい)stinky fish smell gives me far more ammunition to remember it, than just a sentence on a white background.

Again this requires INCREDIBLE patience. You just can’t “speed” up this part of the process. Even if I’m learning 50 words per day I wont’ hear them immediately in speech. My mind has to get used to them. If feels slow, but the compound effect is blazingly fast, and quite incredible to behold. After going through just 54 pages, I find myself reading twice as fast through the novel, because i’ve covered a lot of high level words (that repeat) and i’m getting better and figuring out things in context.

So the first novel, the very first one, learn EVERYTHING you can from it. All the expressions, weird descriptions, funky words, and ways to express things. Trust me, when you hit 100 pages you will feel like you are in a different world.

Now… what kind of novel should you read?

This is a bit subjective, but i will try my hand at it. I will be honest, I hated reading short Japanese stories. They were all about Samurai and ghosts and the themes were very repetitive and boring to me. They also weren’t very visual. Lots of repeated names, simple grammar with a one difficult word here and there. They weren’t always “easy” to read, but I didn’t find them interesting. You must read something that you will have no issue spending 15-20 hours on.

I like Sidney Sheldon novels and also the feel of a physical book, so I’m good to go with that. I have LOTR on my iPad which i’ll tackle at another time. Each writer has their style. Some use lots of dialogue, heavy literary tricks or loads of description. I figured a Sidney Sheldon novel would be a nice mix. Not too high literary (which wont’ help me since its a first novel, and I wouldn’t be able to appreciate such writing anywyas) and then not too basic (boring, no visuals). I tried reading Harry Potter and stopped after the first page. In fact, I tried a few books and the Sidney Sheldon one just felt like me. Sure I can read other novels, but this novel is the one I want to sit with and break apart. This novel is the one I want to read from cover to cover, knowing that I looked up almost everything I read and that I gained a massive understanding of the language from the endeavor.

The goal is to just grab any novel and start reading it, but that won’t be possible in the beginning. It may take 3-5 novels to start getting the ease of reading (maybe just 2 I dunno) but whatever the case, you need to have that first one you really bite into, tear it apart, learn everything and then massively level up. When you get to be able to discern these levels of description, the language massively changes.

Someone can be waiting 待てる(まてる)or they can be lurking 潜む(ひそむ).

A person can be a man 男 or look manly 男っぽい。A person can be おおき(big) or 巨漢(きょかん)a giant man. A lady can be feminine 女らしいor cynical  皮肉. Only by knowing these types of words can you enjoy the stories and the situations and characters. on a deeper level.

So quick recap:

  1. To learn words in context, handle the grammar and vocab load you’ll be encountering, I think you need to know at least 4-5000 words and learned grammar up to N2. If you haven’t, there will be just “too much you don’t know” and the book as you see it will all  be noise. Put it this way, for me, having already learned several thousand words, all of N2 and a bit of N1 I am still crawling through certain pages of the novel. I am reading the novel and following the story relatively well, but this wouldn’t be possible if I wasn’t able to handle what is before me. Remember, this has a massive compound effect. The more words you learn the faster and faster you go until most of what you read self-reinforces. Working intensely through you first novel or two will most certainly guarantee quantum leap in your Japanese.
  2. Pick a novel that you gameify. Something you pick up everyday and work through a few pages at a time. You aren’t trying to read for speed, but for absorption and overall comprehension. You are treating that first novel like the holy grail of your future language ability. Try your best to understand the sentences, look up anything that you don’t 100% understand. Trust me, in the beginning it feels like a serious grind, but then when the grammar patterns begin to repeat over and over in different contexts, your brain does the rest of the work for you. Learning is best done after a while “in the wild”. You want to tackle something a Japanese person reads effortlessly. You want to experience a wide variety of language data, so much that you brain forms its own reference matrix and then you’ve hit the mountain: being able to read Japanese novels.
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How To Learn 20+ Grammar Patterns a Day #Japanese

My revision of new cards and only cards for today, which after 10 days or so, hits the 50 minute mark.

In your strategy to do things super quick, you need to make certain compromises. There are a few main compromises I make in the beginning when pushing through studying a lot of grammar, to ensure I don’t get (too) stressed out.

Firstly, I tell myself the following:

  1. I won’t remember everything right away. – this might seem obvious, but some grammar patterns just don’t ‘stick’ and need a lot of attention. I always highlight these.
  2. Ignore things that sound/feel similar and memorize them anyways. Context will reveal itself in time.
  3. Speed (upfront) is better than nitpicking. its just too much data to nitpick. Learn all of it then nitpick afterwards.
  4. Treat a lot of grammar like words.
  5. Have an ENDPOINT – (Important!)

Secondly, grammar, unsurprisingly, is a lot like vocabulary. In fact, a lot of grammar is vocabulary, meaning it is just a word that conveys a grammatical point.

Thirdly, a lot of grammar are just versions of other things you learned with slight changes (which gives you an advantage). Mostly, what you’ll find is that there are four general ways to say things:

formal, casual, informal and (sometimes) rude.

99% of everything fits into the first 3. This is very important to know because it saves you a lot of headache down the road. In Japanese a ton of things sound very similar (and some are), but I found a lot of them are just either formal versions, casual versions, or informal versions of the same thing. This happens a lot. I repeat a lot. So sometimes a “new” pattern, is one you already know, that is probably either a formal, casual, or informal version of what you learned. I put this as a note in my anki card. Quick example below:



Both sentences read: “This apartment is not only small, but dark.”The only difference is the use of “denaku” versus “ka” in the same position in the sentence. Such nuances for grammar are usually explained, and my go to resource is JLPTsensei.com


Most grammar patterns are very straight forward. All I have to do is read a few example sentences, then add them to my anki deck and then start revising. Generally one pattern doesn’t take more than 3-5 minutes. this means at 20, its about 60-100 minutes per day on the high end. Then revision is probably another 35-50 minutes. So with focus, its about 2-2.5 hours per day. I didn’t really measure my time this time around, I just made a rough estimate. I think a dedicated learner can keep this pace up for about a week or so before you brain starts to crash. Of course you don’t need to do 20 per day, you can do 10 and learn at a more leisurely pace over 2 weeks.

In my experience, revision is always better than memorization. The “brain heavy” component of memorization never goes away, whether you are learning 20 in a day or 10. It’s a lot of work, it drains you, which I why I try and get through it faster. I call this “sprinting”, I sprint to the end of a goal, marinate for a bit and then sprint again. 

Going through 186 grammar patterns in 10 days is Herculean and I feel it in both my brain and body, however, I don’t have to worry about learning N3 patterns anymore, all i need to do is focus on revising them. I dont’ need to ‘add new data’, just keep the data there. That make sense?

What’s cool here is that moving forward its all about training the patterns with mixed listening, reading and a few other techniques to try and get them solidified. In 10 days you will NOT 100% memorize them. You will be “familiar” with them. These will ‘self-internalize’ if you focus on high revision, within 30 days or so.

Okay, on to 5 rules I came up with.


This might sound very counterintuitive, but hear me out. We are obviously, memorizing grammar, but really you are memorizing a situational context more so that just a word. It is the situation that triggers a grammar point’s usage. You must remember the context (and construction of the grammar) or you will either use the point wrong, say it wrong, not fully understand it and get very frustrated.

Grammar learning is a very active process. Doing what i’ve done requires ENERGY, TIME and FOCUS. You need energy to really work through the grammar and get a feel for it.  You need to really vibe with what you are learning.

For example, if I was to say:

“With just a cellphone, he walked into the desert.”

VS   “With just a cellphone, he hacked into the school database.”

A native English speaker immediately knows both sentences are completely different. One emphasizes that he went into the desert with “nothing but” a cellphone. The other says, with “nothing but” a phone he was able to do X thing. We also know we could also express these statements with the words: just, only, or nothing but interchangeably.

Imagine now that these are 3 different grammar patterns for these specific situations. When I learn a new pattern, I try my best to emphasize the context as specifically as possible.  In these examples, two grammar points that could be used here are: て済む、and だけで。Saying “just” is quite relative and what we are really memorizing here are contexts, not just the patterns.

If I was to say: 携帯電話だけでそれを作ったの? keitai denwa dake de sore of tsukutta no?

“You made that just with a cellphone?” or “You made that only using your phone?”

But literally, we could be saying “just”, “only” or “nothing but”.

This means a huge part of working through loads of grammar, is ENGLISH not Japanese! So you have to be sure you get what is being said.

However, not everything is that close in meaning. My emphasis here is to show that grammar is very contextual at high or low levels. The higher we go in grammar, more we tend to add nuance. For example if you say:

“I would never go to Europe.” vs “I would never go to Europe, let alone France.”

One sentence expresses your dislike for Europe, the second emphasizes that in particular it is France you have a dislike for. These are the things we must remember in addition to our pattern. Again, remembering these things take energy and focus. 

I ensure that with each pattern I get this ‘feeling’ right. 99% of patterns are pretty straightforward. If a pattern is unclear, I hop on Youtube and make sure I find a few tutorials and then try my best to get a sense of what it is saying so I can memorize the context. In these cases, I spend as much time necessary to learn the pattern. So if I’m in the middle of learning 20 and I find a “tricky” pattern. I usually mark it, and move on to easier ones and learn it later when I have complete focus.


In memorization, when the mind is learning things that are brand new that sound similar, it will map them together and this can cause great confusion. For example the patterns, wazuka ni(narrowly), wazato(on purpose) and  wazwaza(with great effort) mean completely different things. Learning them at the same time could cause confusion. In a rapid learning strategy, I find that mixing things up helps. I try and make each new pattern I learn be from a completely different sounding group.

aete あえて (dare to), yara yara やらやら (things like A & B), kagiri 限り(as long as) ,ni sotte  に沿って(in accordance)

This allows my brain to be a lot less likely to mix things up. This is a hardcore rule because you don’t want to be doing hundreds of reps and getting super frustrated because you keep mixing up words that sound similar. The thing is you will inevitably mix some things up, but you wanna make sure you do it after you have an understanding of the differences not when you are initially learning them.


Your brain can adapt to learning a lot quite quickly, as long as you don’t stop. Assume you will memorize everything eventually and keep learning. What gets us to a point of what I call ‘production’, is what comes after we stabilize our memory of new words and grammar. In the beginning, there is lag time between memorization and usage that can take anywhere from a day to a month depending on the pattern. So I don’t give myself too much stress about perfection, but focus on completion. I can have a bad day and be tired and still plough through my patterns, and get the benefit the next day of having learned them regardless.

Why Plough Through 

Here’s why:  People take FOREVER to learn Kanji, because it seems impossible. But Kanji is the key to all words, grammar and reading. This means that Kanji is the key to pretty much all forms of training of Japanese. Not knowing Kanji, is a massive disadvantage. I learned at 2,136 Kanji in around 90 days knowing it would set up everything i’m doing now.

In the same way, I want to “get through” all my grammar. I’d rather be “aware” of all grammar points up to N1 than have a God level mastery of just  n4 and n5 (which is useless basically).

The only way to get to high levels quickly is with speed. The only way to get results from speed is proper revision. But the great thing is, once we get through all these patterns, there are many ways to reinforce them (reading, listening, etc). 20 patterns a day sets up a challenge for me that requires focus and dedication. I know i’m gonna have to learn them, revise revise and make sure my work counts. I make more priorities based on the level of my investment. If i’m moving slowly I don’t need to do that with such intensity. This forces me to want the benefit of my goal. 


As technical as my approaches are, the main thing i’ve learned is that is makes no sense to nitpick on things in the beginning. I could have saved myself months of research (and life time ) by simply executing, versus theorizing then executing. This means a few things:

  1. General awareness. – in the beginning the mission is to be generally aware of everything i’ve learned, and not focus on complete mastery immediately. I’ll go through say, N3, and keep revising, will going through N2. The mission is the reach the top, and the only way to the top is by finishing. Finish, then cycle back.
  2.  I define a pattern as “complete” in a simple way. I read it in a sentence, I train several of them, and then each day I see how I do reading the sentence, if I understand it, i’m good to go. if I don’t, I just read it again. But I keep moving.

Here is how I do it exactly:

a) I read the sentences and type a few up them up into Anki. I type them to add a kinetic association to the pattern.

b) I read the sentences aloud and skim through new sentences to see what they say without reading the translation.

c) When I’m revising (doing Anki reps in the evening), I read the entire sentence aloud and try to recall the part i learned. I find doing this takes more energy, but is giving me practice saying the grammar out loud in context. After 10 days you will easily get in well over a thousand repetitions of saying these grammar points. 186 sentences at around 5-20 repetitions = 930 reps on the low and and 3,720 reps on the high end. So not only am I revising but i’m also saying the patterns thousands of times. 

Now I emphasize, this is not full memorization, because a “full production” of the pattern is done, raw, from the brain. But this is like a version of “extreme training wheels”. After thousands of reps and then reading and translations, you will be shocked how quickly you can internalize a lot of these.

The point is, I don’t expect to be blabbering rapidly in no time flat. What I do expect is to have a much more enhanced understanding while reading, eventually while listening, and far more command constructing certain kinds of statements.

What you put in is what you get, so for me at the moment, the mission is to lock down N2 as quickly as possible, hopefully in another month. It is then i’ll assess where I am and see how to incorporate more speaking at length to really tighten everything up. And I still have thousands of words to learn! Ain’t Japanese fun? lol


Your endpoint is the finish line for your sprint. In my case, the end point was around 10 days to do all of N3 no excuses. I’ve been delaying for months (not on purpose) but didn’t want to lose the benefit of all my immersion and strategies thus far. For the month of September, my focus will be mainly on the n3 i’ve done, and working on my revision. I might give it 2 weeks and then sprint through N2 and see how that works. My mission really is to see if “rapid grammar acquisition” is just like vocabulary, because so far, they aren’t much different. Slight more complicated, but not impossible. But knowing that your effort has an endpoint allow you to relax a bit at the end. Today I’m done, so I’m not learning any new grammar, but I still wrote about 100 verbs by hand and also did my Anki. That’s my “rest”.

I’m going to try my best to really lock in these patterns and see how quickly things internalize and then work quickly through N2 with the same strategy to see how best to level up rapidly.



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Learning 183 N3 Grammar Points in 10 days

My checklist of the last 88 grammar patterns which i went through in 5 days.

Hey guys! This is another report to track more testing i’m doing. Okay so one of the most difficult things for anyone to do is look at a list of Japanese grammar, knowing them must learn dozens and dozens and dozens of patterns. Not only must they know these patterns, but they must be able to (a) say it (b) read and translate it and (c) recognize these in speech.

That’s a lot.

However, all of my progress thus far (while struggling with intermittent health stuff) has shown me that “impossible is nothing”. In fact the “hardest” part of this journey, is mentally wrapping my head around what I need to learn, versus actually doing it. It is easy to spend weeks, or even months avoiding tasks because it seems like “too much”, when in actuality, even doing small numbers daily would help you to cross those barriers without too many problems. So how did I do this? Let’s get into it.

In my personal research I’ve come up with 3 core phases of memorization. These are : EXPOSURE, STABILIZATION, PRODUCTION.


This is simply learning what a pattern is. For example “goto ni” means “at intervals (of)”. So if you want to say, “the bus comes every 30 mins”, or “a plane leaves every 2 hours”, you use goto ni. So here, I ‘understand and know’ what the pattern is. I ensure to read about 5-10 examples and then drop at least 3-5 sentences in my Anki deck.


Ebbinghaus, the memory scientist, said that after 24 hours something you memorize (learn that day) begins to fade and needs up to a 7 days to “stabilize” as a memory. By this I believe you have what you’ve learned in short-term memory. This means for each new pattern you learn, its about 3-7 days for your brain to “get it”. Once the memory ‘stabilizes’, you are able to retrieve it (even if it is slow at the beginning). This means the sentences I’ve added to my deck (which I will see many times over the next few days) ‘force’ this stabilization.


Stabilization as i have defined it does not equal memorization. Memorization is a late stage effect of stabilzaiton + production.

You see, when we put new information into the brain in large amounts. what happens is that the brain says “okay. This is stressful and intense, so it must be important.” the brain parks this knowledge near the top so you can retrieve it, but you haven’t stored it into long term memory yet. Production (using things like differentiation, which i think i’ve explained) is what gets in into long term memory.

Your end goal is RETRIEVAL without too much delay, which is your true “training”. Yes there are people who can read a grammar pattern once and never forget it, but they are probably less than 1% or people on earth. Now that I covered that, let me explain the process.



Firstly, this is intense. This is not for the faint of heart and I have several advantages going in.

  1. I can read 2,200+ Kanji already.
  2. I have listened to well over 1,000 hours of Japanese
  3. I’ve read thousands and thousands of sentences and have a reasonable understanding of Japanese sentence structure.
  4. I know about 3,500 words

Now you might say to yourself, “Oh?  He has it easy!” This is absolutely not true. 

When i was working on my theories for these processes, I knew I’d need to build a mental framework to get through all the data. Let’s call it “building a suit of armor”. I would first need kanji to be able to read and study words, verbs and adjectives. Then i’d need a lot of listening, to get familiar, then build vocab etc etc. Grammar is generally NOT a ‘stage 1’ part of the game at all. In my experience with both German and Japanese, I see no need to study grammar at all until you have a pretty sizeable vocabulary and tons of listening in.

Fortunately, this process only takes a few months. With serious dedication, you don’t need more than 4.5 in my opinion, to learn 2,136 Kanji, around 3,000 words and rack up about 500 hours of listening time to get things started.

You see, grammar is something you need to be “able to train” and it becomes a nightmare if you cannot: (a) easily read the sentences you see (b) understand the structure of what you are reading or (c) train yourself to get nuance. The idea with learning grammar is NOT to be looking up words, verbs or adjectives if possible. You just want to be sure you can read the sentence and memorize the meaning. So because I was extremely prepared, I was able to push this hard. But it was still incredibly challenging.


I found that the upper limit for me, was 20 patterns studied a day. It was just enough to be stressful (got really tough like day 6) but also not low enough to feel like what i was gonna do would take forever. My concern here was not raw memorization. I already know that the science says that whatever I put in my brain will start to stabilize after a few days, at which point i’ll have to do certain things to train it further. My goal was to just get it over with.

There is no real”shortcut” to learning 186 grammar patterns. The “shortcut” is mind numbing effort (upfront) and a system of elite revision (to stabilize and produce). Fortunately, as i’ve said, if you cover the basics I’ve listed (know Kanji, have a lot of listening and a good vocab, this is pretty doable in a very short space of time).

In the same way I knew I could learn 2,136 Kanji in 8-10 weeks, it is no different with the grammar, once you are able to handle it. I knew this would be a kind of “stage 4” plan.

The faster you go, the more you revise, the more you revise the faster you internalize (and store in long term memory).

As I’ve said many times in my notes, we can get lost in the data because it feels like so much. BUT, tackling head on is better than staying in limbo. I knew long ago it isn’t impossible to learn up to N1 grammar in less than a year. But it is work, and serious work. 

Know Your Goal  in Your Soul

N3 186 patterns –  lower intermediate level.

N2 224 patterns – upper intermediate/advanced

N1 253 patterns – God level knowledge

My original goal was to reach N2 but I realize N1 isn’t a stretch based on what i’ve done just the last 10 days. I’ll elaborate more on that in another post.

The lsat language I committed this intensely to was German, and I must say with Japanese I’ve definitely committed at least 300% more in certain ways. I see no point in doing all of what i’ve done and then not trying to reach “the top”. I mean, is there a downside to learning everything up to N1? I should have no issues clearing N1 by december, but I think I can do it by November.

A lot of grammar is like memorizing vocab, which i’ll focus on in my next post.



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How To Start Thinking in Japanese With Reading

Greetings. I’ll go through the three phases i’m observing relative to this topic.

Set The Environment

Trigger the Mind

Train Recall Normally

NOTE: The research i’m speaking about here requires intermediate ability. To implement what i’m doing You should know at least 2,163 Kanji and have at least N3 level of grammar locked. To be honest, I think to “comfortably” read novels one needs to hit N2 but I haven’t had that many problems reading (so far) at around an N3 level, but I’m gunning for N2 while I wrap up a Verb memorization strategy i’ve developed and was testing. Still read this article and enjoy it, I just don’t want you to worry if you aren’t at this level yet. Reading research like this might be the trigger that gets you to the next level, so go for it! Okay, on to the article.

Normally the expression  “think in your target language” is a term I avoid at all costs (initially), because if people really knew what is required to think in another language, they would most likely run for the hills. The ability to do this comes after probably thousands of hours of specific activies that reinforce patterns in your mind to the point of being able to then ‘think in the target langauge’. Now, what is an interesting observation that i’ve noticed is that, once you cross certain thresholds , this ‘thinking’ happens by itself. Meaning the brain begins to think in the target language.

Set The Environment

The easiest way to force thinking in Japanese is to attempt reading it. Watching Japanese actively does not always ‘force’ thinking in Japanese, it forces observation of what is said, and then attempting to see what you are able to process. If you are lost, nothing happens. Speaking in Japanese, generally tests your recall of what you know and allows you to try and piece together what you have mastered, though the demonstration of this does not necessarily reflect significant comprehensive ability. if I can say ‘yesterday my friend told me he went to the bank’ in Japanese, that does not mean that I have godlike skills in thinking in the language necessarily. So far, nothing forces your brain ‘to think’ more than reading. Reading cannot be done without attempting to think in the language. You must read a sentence, and gain a sense of what it is communicating in Japanese. Of course your mind is translating (in a sense), but many sentences you just ‘know’ what they are saying because sometimes there are no direct translations, or you figure it out in Japanese. 

These two books:











This entire process is still quite intensive, and I’ve been slowly phasing into different territories. I was fortunate to get a few books form the Japanese Embassy for my research, and these are two of them:

The first is 真夜中は別の顔 mayonaka ha betsu no kao  it translates to ‘Another Face of Midnight’, and the English title is ‘The Other Side of Midnight’.

The second, is  笑いの研究 warai no kenkyuu which literally means ‘Laughter Research’. I picked this one up because the text was easy to read. Many Japanese novels have very tiny fonts and I find my eyes hurting within seconds of trying to read and I try to pick books with bolder prints.

Okay I’m going to use the first book as an example: Let’s look at page 1:

We see:

プロローグ  ー Prologue

一九四七年  ー year 1947

ギリシャのアテネ ー Athens, Greece


A good thing to note here is that I didn’t even look these up the first time. I just saw “Prologue” and the year. but I didn’t know if “ギリシャのアテネ” (Athens, Greece) was the name of a person. This may seem weird to be able to read Kanji and not know this, but there are TONS of words written in Katakana that have to be learned upon encountering them, as they have no real resemblance to words in English. Generally anything foreign, names, places, or onomatopoeia. I’ve personally decided to just encounter them, as sitting down learning “jiggly”, “wiggly”, “squiggly” and those types of thing pretty useless at this stage lol. However, just by opening the book, i’m setting the stage  for ‘thinking in Japanese’.


By reading (or attempting to read) you are stepping into raw Japanese territory. There is no one to save you. Its just you, the words and what they might mean. Your brain will immediately be ‘triggered’ to try and process what you are feeding it, granted that you are sufficiently prepared for this task.

[NOTE: When I’m reading these things I break it down quite quickly my reading speed isn’t bad, so don’t feel intimidated if you think this type breakdown takes forever, it doesn’t. The mind works quickly.]

I haven’t read much of these books yet, just a page or two, since this will be a very intense process and I’m working towards it as I try to wrap up some other research. In the Sidney Sheldon book, I lightly skimmed the first page.

Looking at the first line, I immediately see a word I don’t know.


However, this isn’t an issue since I can read the Kanji. Here i’m seeing either “SHIN KA” or “MA NATSU”. Makes more sense that it is “MA NATSU”, since in the title of the book, the word 真夜中 mayonaka  means “mid night”, then I assume this means “midsummer”. So:


In midsummer in Athens, a baking sun shines. 

The important thing to know here, is that I know 照る which means to shine, and 点ける means ‘to turn on’. Since novels are filled with “flowery language”, this is an elaborate way of saying the sun is shining.

The second sentence is a bit more complicated, but perfectly demonstrates what i’m talking about.



So here I have a sentence that I can read, but I will have to really think in Japanese to get a sense of it. Looking it roughly,

行く手に見える繁華街  ikute ni mieru hankagai 

This feels like “going somewhere, able to see downtown/shopping center” then I looked up “ヨレヨレ” to see that is means, ‘swaying’ so:


“On the way, the shopping district’s buildings are swaying/wobbling and crumbling”

Second part of the sentence:


“Athens Police section chief, Gergiosu Sucri gazes at boats from the car window.”







So here i’m getting an intro to a character, a sense of the environment and I’ve learned some cool new words like ヨレヨレ and 繁華街 。As I’ve said, I’m not 100% at the point yet where I can casually read a novel like this. I’m a few steps behind, but almost there. For now i’m reading lighter, shorter stories and will tackle a novel directly in short order. But by setting the stage here, your mind is forced to ‘think in Japanese’ and create images in your mind and ideas based on what you think is happening. The process is quite fascinating. When I was reading some short stories, I was surprised to be making images of characters in my mind, clearly seeing environments and even getting a joke or two. I could not do this if I was not primarily thinking in Japanese. Of course I look things up and look up words I don’t know etc, but the idea when reading (especially extensive reading which I will write about) is to read at length without looking things up. This forces you to read things as they are, in Japanese and the brain does its thing that you start to just ‘get it’ after a while. Now the last step.

Train Recall Normally

I’ve said before that Japanese people do not walk around with dictionaries in their daily lives and my goal is to also not need one (at some point). I don’t say this as an extreme, but merely as an observation. Reading A LOT ensure this will happen, as you will encounter the various patterns in writing so often, you brain will ‘default to Japanese’ when you start reading. So what’s cool about light reading is that…

you can do it over and over and over and over. I can read page one of this book 50 times if I want to. Or read 10 pages and cycle back, read them again and move forward. The point is, to ‘think in Japanese’ I must (a) Set The Environment — most easily done with reading (b) Trigger the Mind — try and see whats’ going on and don’t look things up right away. Try and say the words, try and feel what a sentence might be saying, even if you are wrong. This starts the process of thinking in the language. (c) Train Recall Naturally — re-read interesting stuff or articles, get used to the patterns and expressions and your mind will naturally do the same.

Now, a major point to note is that resistance in this area is very very strong. Even though I was able to read Kanji for some time, I avoided reading for a while because just looking on pages of Kanji was intimidating, even for me! But there is probably no faster way to start this process. For an absolute beginner I would not recommend this as you wouldn’t be able to budge. You wouldn’t be able to read anything, understand the basic flow of sentences and so on. I found the more comfortable I got incrementally, the less intimidated I was by reading in general and then had little issue reading certain types of stories and short novels. Big novels have far more nuanced words, descriptions and grammar at times, but are still quite readable depending on the subject matter. The more you read, the more you think in Japanese. The more you think in Japanese the less bumps and hiccups while reading and it eventually starts to flow. You will just ‘know’ what a sentence is saying and not need to really look it up.

So that’s my article for today. Hopefully more to come cheers



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Read My First Novel in Japanese [Thoughts]


In this article I’m going to talk about

The Story

Where I am (level wise)

How I Learned 400 verbs in 3.5 weeks

Future Goals



美智子の星空 Michiko no hoshi sora  or “Michko’s Starry Sky”, is a short novel about a young woman who goes to a class reunion and meets the dazzling high school star, Hiroshi, who was the captain of the soccer team, a handsome guy who becomes fascinated with Michiko and how she’s grown into a beautiful woman. As she gets closer to Hiroshi (who works for a sports training company, a job he loves) Michiko questions her own choices and starts to wonder what would excite her. Michiko goes to a book store in Shibuya  one day and finds a book on 砂糖引きび (sugar cane) farming and begins to wonder if that’s a career for her. She sees pictures of a place called 西表島(いりおもてしま) iri omote jima where the cane is harvested. Hiroshi, the affable and outgoing guy, predictably has another love interest, who shows up in the form of Satori, a young woman he still has feelings for. During this mix up, she dumps him and immediately leaves Tokyo and goes to the island. There, working in the sun she’s super happy, meets a guy named Sousuke who loves farming and is very adventurous. Even though Hiroshi comes to the island to try and get her back, she stays with Sousuke, who falls in love with her and tells he he wants to open a cafe on the island, where they make exquisite coffee and a special curry meal.

— end of summary —

Now the majority of this I am recalling from memory (I had to look up Sousuke’s name), but I think it’s pretty cool that I was able to summarize all these details after reading the book. The next level is being able to do this summary in Japanese, but that’s another goal (lo). Ok, so how did I get here and what are my observations? Let’s get into it.


If you’ve been following my research over the past year, you will know that not everything I am doing has been Japanese study. I built a system to memorize all the JLPT 日本語能力 Kanji (2,136) in 8-10 weeks. Building and testing this system took me about 90 days. First 30 days I memorized 1,009 Kanji, then a health crisis struck me (which caused significant pain) but I was able to work through the remaining Kanji at a reduced rate to test the system. I did revision for another 30-40 days and realized that I didn’t need to revise so heavily and needed to transition into learning compound words, verbs, adjectives etc. So these 90 days all I did beyond learning Kanji was listening immersion. In the first month, I  used an Anki deck to refresh my memory of about 1500 words (which I realized was a complete waste of energy), but at the end of those 90 days I had 2,136 Kanji and around 1000+ words without what I call ‘active study’. After that, (still going through major health stuff) I started learning vocabulary words at a pace of 50-100 per day to start training myself to become familiar with the Kanji. This exposed me to reading thousands of sentences, as part of my method uses 3 sentences as examples per Kanji. I was also doing Kanji revisions (written) at this time, and stuff started to add up. During this period, even though I had memorized about 2,200 Kanji, I was still quite intimidated by the idea of reading. This intimidation was triggered by the sheer effort my learning efforts had taken up to that point. Learning 2,200 Kanji and then thousands of words can feel quite maddening. However, I pressed the brakes on word acquisition (and Japanese on a whole )for about 2 months as life stress and other things became overwhelming.

I am giving this summary for  a reason, bear with me. At this point, I tried to figure out what the next best move was. By the time I resumed my research (2 months ago or so), I was probably at around 1000 hours of listening, the same 2,200 Kanji and about 3,000 words. From day one, before learning anything, I had plotted a very clear course of action, but theory and action are not the best bedfellows. My mind was messing with me. Could I ‘really do it?’. Even though I had written extensively on the concept of ‘lag time’ which means that there is a delay between acquiring newly learned information and being able to use it in real time, the vast numbers started to really pressure me mentally. Language learning can feel “endless” and I was doing my best to avoid that sensory trap. However, it is pretty impossible to do all the work I’ve done and not make progress. As I’ve noted on this blog, I can watch Japanese shows without subtitles, write Kanji, transcribe sentences and my listening comprehension was okay for the most part. But as I said, my health issues had cause me to have unusual bouts of fatigue and my brain just didn’t want to tackle reading. So it was not that I couldn’t read but life put me in a position where I had to slowly regain my physicality. That now brings me to where I am presently.

In raw math, I think it took me around 5 months to get my present ability. But since i’m doing both research, observation, system creation and implementation, this is why I emphasize I have not been doing ‘raw study’.

All of my training, learning Kanji, listening and word acquisition were always done with the explicit goal of being able to train the language itself. Learning the Kanji, listening and knowing a few thousand words does not ‘give you’ Japanese, rather it now allows you to really spend time and effort in the language focusing on language versus vocabulary, grammar etc. 

The real skill to learn here is balance and patience, because i knew from the start that the true journey would begin after I learned 2,136 Kanji, about 3000 words and clocked in hundreds of hours of listening. There is no ‘magic’ here. I know exactly why I  was able to do what I did, and could predict it. But there was ONE thing I did specifically that accelerated my progress so quickly it was almost shocking.


I’ve heard of Tadoku before, which literally means ‘extensive reading’ which as an exercise pretty much guarantees you are going to level up your Japanese because the goal is to set a time period (say 30 days) where you read like mad, non stop as much as possible. Now, I did not commit to Tadoku (not yet) but I had an epiphany. I remembered, maybe 10 years ago when I was hearing about Tadoku and immediatley got angry with those promoting it because I said “How the hell can I ‘read extensively’ if I don’t know the Kanji!’ Oh, fun times. Now this “Tadoku” thing popped up during my current project.

My focus has not been reading primarily, as my last month or so has been spend testing and building my new memorization system for Japanese verbs. Note: This system works pretty well. I was able to memorize about 400 verbs in 3 weeks without any issues. The first thing I noticed after hitting 250-300 verbs is that almost everything became “readable”. Verbs are the meat of most sentences, and carry quite a bit of meaning. I surmised that a high verb heavy vocabulary focus is a game changer for Japanese comprehension for one reason:

Reading can be a bit scary when looking at a page of Japanese, but after you really get the hang of it, it starts to feel like regular reading (with the same types of visuals coming to your brain etc). What I liked about this is that I chose to read a novel at my level meaning, at the time around maybe N3, so even though it was 50+ pages, it didn’t have anything too difficult to stop me dead in my tracks every other sentence.


Just doing this is pretty amazing, and this didn’t take very long in terms of time, just a few months.



I’ll post about reading through my first long novel.





















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How To Learn 2,000 Kanji in Record Time

Everything you need to know to memorize 2,163 Kanji (based on the JLPT 日本語能力試験リスト.

These may look like Kanji (a handful are) but these are the bits and pieces that make up all Kanji. Know these, and you can both write and recognize all the Kanji. About 40 years ago, a brilliant man named James Heisig came up with a method of breaking Kanji into its component parts, learning them individually and then using this to teach himself how to read Kanji at a time when native speakers thought he had a photographic memory, as a non-Japanese person couldn’t “possibly” learn to write Kanji at the level he did.

This method has some pretty severe limitations (at scale) which i’ve overcome and it allowed me to learn all the Kanji incredibly fast (you can learn all of them in 8-10 weeks if you are motivated) and you can also read the Kanji’s Onyomi (which you cannot do after completing Hesig’s Method). But this is not a critique of Heisig. Without his method I wouldn’t have been able to build what I did today. New research is always built on the research of others and I like, the rest of the world, thank him for his contribution. Heisig has proved an ‘index’ for us to traverse the vast hallways of Japanese Kanji and it is this index that allowed me to hypothesize and then execute my research to great success.

This image here, this one page, has the 350+ pieces you need to learn to read and recognize over 2,000 Kanji and by proxy thousands of words. Yes on this page, are the ‘keys to the kingdom’ so to speak.

Now for a brand new person this might look like “noise”, and rightly so. For you, it would be ‘noise’ as you have no reference for these types of characters, except maybe seeing them on Chinese restaurant signs or the once in a blue moon occasion you might go to a Japanese restaurant and see some characters. But breathe easy, this feeling is quite normal (and expected). I felt the same way. But when you take a step back, the noise becomes a dull hum. Look at the following chart:








Whatever your goal is (reading, writing and speaking) they are all linked to the Kanji, because to learn words and grammar and to read example sentences you need Kanji. Obviously there are ways around this, but even if you developed advanced speaking ability, not knowing the Kanji eventually sucks for most people.

Our alphabet has 26 letters, which form every single word that we see. Without knowing these letters, we cannot read. Children must learn the alphabet to be able to eventually read words. Since Japanese has different character sets, you might say this is not the same, but let’s think of the first block in the diagram (Kanji Radicals/Primitives) as an ‘advanced alphabet’. Instead of thinking of “thousands of Kanji”, think to yourself that all Kanji you will ever encounter are built by a limited set of characters. A native english speaker may know up to 100,000 words, but no word is ever written without using a combination of 26 letters from its alphabet. Once I knew this, it set up a rule:

Once I know the radicals/primitives , it is a factual impossibility that I can encounter a Kanji from this list that I cannot read. Kanji I am unable to read, are simply Kanji whose radicals or primitives I have no learned yet. 

It is why children love the Mary Poppins song, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious because this is completely made up word that children are fascinated to know they can read and learn. It is an extreme example of using the english alphabet. A child can read and learn this word because once they know their letters, any child can read this. 

Thinking of the radicals like an ‘advanced alphabet’ sets you up mentally to shatter your preconceived notions of ‘what i can’ versus ‘what i can’t’.Learning anything in record time means getting rid of all previous conceptual limitations. In this regard there are two major limitations that people face when trying to think of learning the Kanji.

Time and Ability.

Time — People think that because the average Japanese school child literally ‘grows up’ around Kanji, it will take them several years to even being to understand what is going on. This is simply not true, as I have demonstrated learning over 1,000 Kanji in one month with full recall. Time is not your limitation.

Ability — Like most people, I also thought it was ‘impossible’ to learn this, but the more I learned about memory and the capacity of the human mind (especially with visual memory) these opinions changed. After I had memorized for the first time over 4,500 German words and seeing how that drastically transformed my German learning experiment at the time, I realized that I was not even close to using my full potential. Ability, I learned, is a factor influenced heavily by strategy. 

Think about it. As a native English speaker you may have an active vocabulary of 75,000 up to 100,000 words that you can use effortlessly. Even words you ‘never use’, you never forget. Thinking along these lines is what lead me down this path.

Native Speakers Don’t Walk With Dictionaries

To ‘truly’ be competent (at some eventual time) I would need to be able to operate ‘without reference’, or the ‘crutch of flashcards and books’ that keep so many learners in structural limbo. I though to myself that a Japanese person doesn’t use a dictionary when they read day to day stuff, so that should be my goal. If I didn’t have to look up every other Kanji I learned, I’d be able to focus far more attention on other tasks. Now is this an unreasonable thing to ask myself? Of course not! It was my base goal. Everything that came after was based on this desire.

So three new words I recently encountered will illustrate this.

削除、 sakujo  this is on my phone that I recently switched to Japanese. it reads ‘saku jo’ which means delete. So in your 写真 shashin (picture) icon, when you delete this pops up. 写真を削除?

任務、- ninmu I heard this word a lot in Star Trek episodes and purposely didn’t look it up until I heard it in another movie. I figured it meant ‘objective’, or ‘mission’ but it wasn’t ‘always clear, until I learned it means ‘mission’.

美貌の公爵 – bibou no  koushaku I was testing out some novel reading (I say testing because I haven’t dedicated the raw energy to really dive into this actively) and encountered these two words. bibou means handsome and koushaku means ‘prince’ or ‘duke’

Now you might say to yourself, ‘but Marcus, you had to  look these words up right?’ The answer is yes. But just like English, if you saw a word you didn’t know, you’d read it, maybe make a mental note and then learn it later. I’m not looking at the screen and cursing like a sailor because I don’t know what’s going on.

Why This is Important

Look at the chart above again. Reading, Writing and Speaking are linked to these Kanji. 美貌の公爵 would be considered by many to be ‘advanced vocabulary’ because it is more obscure. But I can read it. Training sentences by reading them over and over will only make this ability stronger. Now this has nothing to do with ‘figuring’ out words in context. That ability comes after having a pretty massive vocabulary(more on that another time). But the thing is, do I want to spent months and months and MONTHS learning the Kanji before i’m able to do any of this? No! Remember, if you don’t know the Kanji, you can’t read much of anything. There is no way around it.

So once I realized that this goal was not a  matter of time ( I know how to learn all the Kanji and read them in 8-10 weeks, 12 max) and this goal was also not a matter of ability (I already have memorized potentially millions of memories in my life thus far) then it was just a matter of execution.

The Game Changer TPK (Time Per Kanji)

I broke things down to a constant I call TPK, or Time Per Kanji. Once you know this, you’ll be able to see the actual time it takes per day to memorize a set and then extrapolate from there. With my memorization method, it took me about 2-3 minutes per Kanji to memorize them. — memorization means, the full memory of how to write the Kanji relative to the keyword, without looking at it —

Being conservative at 25 Kanji per day.

25 per day = 750 per month , 2 months 1,500 , 3 months 2,250.

35 per day = 1,050 per month, 2 months 2,100, (2 more days last 63)

So even if you don’t stick to this formula exactly, you can pretty much gauge your end point. For month one I was at around a 35 per day phase (while testing a bunch of other stuff) in fact, I realized I could have easily done 50+ per day if I wasn’t trying to test other ‘overlap mechanisms’, but that’s what research is eh?

The point is, with this I was able to predict an endpoint for this monstrous goal, which would then set me up for the third pillar which has Reading, Writing and Speaking.

Why Speed is Important

From what I have learned you don’t need more than 4-6 months to get really good at a new romance language. A large part of this is due to the fact that with an advanced strategy, you can progress quickly because you can already read most romance languages, or master the new alphabets quickly. French pronunciation is tricky, but I can technically already read it, since I know the alphabet. It will not take me months of training to be able to read French. I won’t be able to speak rapidly from the get go obviously, but I don’t need more than a few days to learn the proper pronunciation. I realized this when I did a Russian experiment and learned the Russian alphabet in about 3 days. Now with Romance languages, once you get the pronunciation you can then dive into massive vocabulary acquisition and accelerate your learning. So in around 4 months (I’ve done this) you can hit a B1 or B2 level of understanding and even speaking.

With Japanese your delay with such strategies are relative to your ability to read. This is what makes speed very important. With Japanese, because people do not ‘believe’ they can learn how to read anytime soon, they hop all over the place, from speaking to writing to reading and it just becomes chaos and most people give up. The majority of this drama and worry would vanish if they had one core ability: the ability to read. Language learning is extremely stressful and a thrilling challenge, that we must be equipped to train for. Once I master French phonetics, I am now better equipped to listen to, read and learn French words. It sets up all my activities down the road. One we master Japanese Kanji and are able to read it, it sets up the “real work” which starts for most other learners after only one week. With Kanji, we are staggered by about 3 months because that is the general time frame it can take to fully  learn the readings. So add 4 months to that, and we get a range of 6-7 months where you’d be able to get some of the romance language abilities that you can learn in about 4.5 months with significant effort. So it isn’t far behind! and it is made possible by the ability to learn the Kanji rapidly, so that you can focus your complete attention on vocabulary acquisition, grammar and so on. 

My upcoming course will take this to a next level, which I will be announcing soon. But I assure you, you CAN learn Kanji in record time.

Here is my one month video below: More to come soon! cheers


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NO SUBS: The Ultimate Context Builder

my setup

Greetings. I haven’t posted in quite some time because of … life. If you’ve been following this blog over the past few months there have been a lot of challenges I’ve had, but I’ve kept my research going. I took about 2.5 months break to test a few theories and things are starting to pay off.

Okay, what is ‘NO SUBS’? Simply put, watching your native content without subtitles. It is the holy grail of self-demonstrative ability.

There are a few reason to aim for this point:

No subtitles shows you were you actually are. If you can’t follow anything, you aren’t ready.

No subtitles exposes the scientific overlap of word saturation (i.e the number of words you’ve learned and internalized) and also grammar saturation (grammar you have internalized and are able to follow at native speed). 

No subtitles also forces your brain to adapt in the manner it did when you were a baby, through context cues emotions and so forth. 

No subs, is the ultimate goal, because in real life, we don’t talk with subtitles, hence, getting rid of the ‘subtitle handicap’ allows us to really start processing the language as it is, versus being stuck in a mode of ‘semi-translation’.

Does a Japanese person turn on the TV then turn on subtitles? No. They turn on the TV and watch it without subs, because that’s what they have always done. It is natural for them ( and you in your native language). So you need to have this skill and develop it quickly once you reach a certain threshold of listening time to other work, to ensure your brain says to you ‘hey this is normal’. Once you can watch things in context without the need for reference, this will extend to speaking as well by proxy.

Reaching this stage requires a specific overlap of time and ability. As I’ve stated numerous time, looking at data as “sets of data” and not randomly allows us to predict this ability within a certain window of certain. The follow data is relative to ‘ability’.

5,000 words in your target language gives you 98% recognition of spoken and written words(Nation, 1993).

2,163 words are the base need to read all Japanese printed text (based on the 日本語能力試験 list

450 grammar patterns is equivalent to N2 (Lower Advanced Japanese) based on list from JLPTsensei.com

1000 listening hours translates to an ability to process the language at a high listening level. (Based on my observation and correlation with research by Bern Kamps)

As these points intersect organically, ability increases over time. Think of it this way, it is very hard to know 5,000 words, 2,163 Kanji, have 1000 listening hours, several hundred grammar patterns and NOT have any ability in the language.

Some dub this as ‘progressive overlap’. I also call it ‘progressive predictable overlap’, as when you hit certain thresholds, they directly equate to jump a in both ability and comprehension.

When To Go NO SUBS (in theory)

Watching things without subtitles means you must be at the very least, comfortable in following what you are watching. This does not mean 100% comprehension. Remember, we must trust the brain to do what it does. The brain gets data from context, does its thing and is helping us more than we think. When the brain needs to ‘flex its muscles’ (work harder) it gets more efficient. Your ear has to get much sharper, your brain has to piece together grammar, it has to try and figure out what is going on and it has to to do this tens of thousands of times. There is no ‘safe space’ of dictionaries, reference books or apps to help here. You understand, or you don’t.

I don’t think there is much value in watching anything you don’t like or cannot understand. When I was learning German, I didn’t have Netflix at the time and had to use a bootleg site to stream all my immersive content. Because these were streams, there were no subtitles. So from day one everything I watched was with no subtitles. But i watched films I knew, so even though I didn’t understand everything yet, I could follow everything and knew all the contexts and most of the storylines. 

Now this was due to circumstance (no Netflix) but not some kind of ‘stress test’. I was just determined to get my immersion in. Plus in the beginning I couldn’t follow everything that well. I was just so excited that I could hear words and follow along it kept me going for some time. So when to go No Subs?

Based on what i’ve seen, a good time is when you start to approach intermediate grammatical knowledge, have crossed maybe 500 hours of immersion and you have around 3,000 words or so. Watching things without subs very early will be stressful not because of a limit of ability, but just data. Let’s consider this:

If i know: 500 words, have 50 hours of listening/watching and know say 50 basic grammar patterns. This means (from our numbers) that I will not know 90% of everything I encounter. 

Conversely, if i know 3,500 words , have 850 hours of listening, know 2,163 Kanji and I’m halfway through N3 grammar, I should have a more robust processing ability. I will not know 30% of words I encounter, and may know about 70% of standard and most common grammar. However, high frequency words show up more often than ‘expensive words’ lol, and most conversational grammar is repetitive.

Using this data as a benchmark, I don’t think there is  any massive benefit  from watching with No Subs super early. So your brain will be overworking trying to figure things out, but without enough deeply embedded reference points. It won’t have enough data to organically be effective. Now some people may argue against this, but as i’ve explained (particularly with Japanese) if you can’t read Japanese you can’t even really train the language at an advanced level without inhuman effort. If my brain has tens of thousands of reference points in place (from hundreds of hours of listening, lots of reading etc) then the brain can ‘do the math’ and process things in real time. I get the benefit of my activity, versus just raw stress and having to ‘plough through’.

For example, after watching a BUNCH of stuff in German with no subs I ended up getting Netflix and then watching the series “Dark” with German subs. It was a fantastic experience. So i’d watch some stuff with some stuff without, and eventually I found myself watching speeches and interviews (without subs obviously) online. In fact, because I’d started from ‘No Subs’, it felt weird to use subs! But this was around the 4.5 month mark. The ‘breakthrough’ came down the line, not immediately. it was when the number of words I knew, listening time and number of grammar patterns learn (B2) all overlapped and then the brain organized it and extrapolated to make rapidly spoken regular speech able to be processed in realtime.

You see, in the beginning the usefulness of immersion is mostly passive. You haven’t mastered the phonetics of the language by ear yet, you don’t know any words, phrases or much grammar. You really just want a lot of listening to help your to  brain to start piecing things together. You won’t initially be able to follow everything obviously, which is why you need time and lots of hours of listening. After about say, 250-400 hours, you’ll notice much more ease with regular sentence patterns and the language itself. It won’t feel ‘as stressful’ to sit and watch Japanese for extended periods of time and therefore you can watch more of it (developing a compound effect). Having subtitles on in the beginning makes things ‘doable’ since you won’t know anything and you still want to enjoy watching your favorite shows and series. After learning 2,163 Kanji and getting the ‘gist’ of the language, you can switch to Kanji subs. Test how comfortable you are. Once you switch, don’t switch back. When you feel that stress ‘i didn’t get that word’ or ‘i’m not sure what he meant there’, this is really good. This ‘stress’ is what makes your mind make notes and fix things later down. You cannot have this ‘stress’ if you have English subs or you try and read the Japanese subs (which are most of the time not even exact word for word transcriptions). See how comfortable you feel (or uncomfortable) and then don’t switch back.

A large part of what i’ve been doing is ‘measuring predictability’ and developing the ability to gauge when certain breakthroughs happen. This was the basis of my theory with German and I figured the same could work with Japanese, the only caveat being that i’d first need to learn all the Kanji to develop the ability to train the language at a high level. Once that was accomplished, doing the same steps int the same order should give the same results. So here we are. I’m presently watching Gilmore Girls (season one) in Japanese (No Subs) with no issues following the narrative thus far. I’ve also watched a few episodes of Star Trek with No Subs (following it OK, but Star trek is chock full of obscure scientific vocabulary) but I am not ‘lost’, because i’ve had Japanese subs on all my movies (and I never read them lol), so i’ve sort of been ‘No Subs’ for some time now.

No Subs is the direct demonstration (to yourself) that you are now able to process Japanese, at native speed in realtime and also understand different types of things in various contexts. Movies obviously allow for literally hundreds of thousands of situation to train your brain and it only gets stronger with more exposure. Since my German journey had me watching hundreds of films with no subtitles, as I learned more German consciously (grammar study) the natural overlap reached a point where all basic and intermediate words, phrases and contexts were very understandable and I was able to watch many films with no subtitles, which funnily enough, is the ‘normal’ way to watch films. Training of this nature is progressive, but i’m not trying to be completely stressed out during this process, hence my last notes.

IMPORTANT THINGS I’VE NOTED (with German and now Japanese)

  1. Don’t Stress this. At all.  – as i’ve said, based on raw data your ability becomes more and more predictable as you get closer to hitting those data based numbers. For most languages, once you cross the barrier for intermediate grammar, you will notice a natural leap in comprehension. Getting to intermediate grammar study (after learning a few thousand words is maybe 90-120 days) so at this point you’ll have may 4 or 5 months with of a lot of listening. Somewhere during this time you can go No Subs if you are comfortable.
  2. You must be comfortable. If you are doing this, trying to look up every word, trying to figure out every statement and make flashcards, this won’t be fun at all. Let your brain use its superpowers. ‘Comfort’ in this context, is defined as the ability to follow what is going on let’s say, between a range. You decide. let’s say 70-90%. So if people are yammering on about the environment and how to save it like in the series 日本沈没希望の人 (ninon no chinbotsu: kibou no hito) ~ ‘Sinking Japan: The Person of Hope’, I know they are talking about the sea, plate tectonics, the environment etc. But I can’t study everything in realtime. There has to be study time and then processing time. We have to let go.
  3. The comprehension effect is rapidly progressive. The more you listen, without subs (when you cross the threshold) the better you start to understand like…. everything. 
  4. This can be challenging, especially with content that feels ‘beyond  you’. You will feed the urge to turn on English sometimes to figure things out, but this won’t help you. This is training and you have to think of it that way. This is why watching things you already know to extreme levels are quite helpful. But also switching it up is also helpful. I’ll dive a bit deeper into these observations in another post. But 頑張ってね!(ganbatte!) ~ try your best. I know this contradicts point 1 a bit, but really, at some point you need to see where you are. Can you watch a talk show without subs and follow? Can you watch movies? Listen to podcasts? It’s good to know. The only way to go is just to jump in. Sometimes I watched multi-speaker shows on Youtube were people talk bullet fast, use a lot of words phrases and references I don’t know, but sometimes I’m not lost. Sometimes I can follow almost 90% of what’s happening, sometimes its 30%. But each time i get a word, a bit of context (without reference) my brain has done some more pushups.
  5. RAW input is time based, but within your control. You can literally try and watch as much content as you want, since the more you watch the sharper you get. Which leads to point 6.
  6. Your consistency with NO SUBS will be  directly relative to how interesting the content you consume is. I started watching Gilmore Girls because I wanted a kind of comedy drama to follow that was ‘light’ but useful with lots of contexts and situations that program my brain . Star Trek is fun, but ‘heavy’ in terms of themes, words and contexts so I want things I can mixup. Remember, you are going to be watching things you don’t fully understand, so it can’t be slog. It can’t be a drag. You have to feel like you are gaining something from the activity. Rewatch the classics: Matrix, Fast and the Furious, Batman, whatever you have access to. Dive into No Subs in a fun way. If something is way above you (even if you can hear everything) switch to something else.
  7. When you are at this stage you are the CLOSEST to a monstrous breakthrough than you realize. You just need more data. Keep piling on words, keep learning more and more grammar and the brain will do the math. I remember when I was learning German I tried watching an episode of ‘The Big Bang theory and I literally felt the stress boiling in my blood. This is IMPOSSIBLE I said to myself. They were talking so fast. But maybe 60-90 days later I was watching it without any issues (and understanding it), which blew my mind.

So the reason I can navigate this stress now is because I know this stuff works and i’ve mapped the breakthrough points. It is SOOOOOOO much to work though, and this is why I have incredible respect for all language learners. They are some of the toughest mental people you will ever meet (perhaps without knowing it).

One of the biggest skills to learn in this journey has nothing to do with language. It is managing stress, gauging where you are and training yourself to be mentally strong. A lot of your progress ‘activates’ after months of work. Meaning, a lot of your actions won’t start showing benefits till month 3, 4 or even 5. The brutal work loads, the frustrations it all starts to pay off after a certain period of time. Your ‘shortcut’ is work ethic. Someone who outworks you will make more progress in less time, but it is relative. We all get to the finish line the same way. Someone can do it in 4 months, who cares if you do it in 6 or 7? Consistency is the king.

I’m presently in a sort of ‘active listening’ and ‘grammar building’ phase which i’ll get more into in another post another time. I’m able to transcribe sentences (active listening training) and i’m comfortable with production (grammar building) so let’s see how the overlap works.










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How To Learn Hundreds of Grammar Patterns Without Overwhelm

Hey guys!

One of the biggest hurdles to learning a new language obviously is grammar. Grammar in the way I describe it, isn’t just memorizing the grammar pattern, but really the situational context of its usage. This means grammar is essentially a production-based structure when thinking of how to memorize it. That is to say, it isn’t until you try to say something that triggers a pattern, will you work your brain to try and say the correct thing or figure it out. I’ll talk about the theory behind grammar and memorization in more detail later but this is just a quick post, as I’m going slowly through some grammar stuff right now.

The internet has THOUSANDS of lessons, videos and the general internet has TENS OF THOUSANDS of examples, articles and so on. You can spend years reading about one pattern if you like.

In my post on what I call Advanced Bias’    what many folks don’t realize is that ‘examples’ that people give you and explanations can vary wildly. You can get super dense examples that are hard to read, or long winded explanations that aren’t helpful.

When learning a new pattern, I have one mission:

To internalize the meaning as quickly as possible and farm examples that are super easy to understand that allow for dozens (or hundreds of quick repetitions).

So what I’ll do is look for a video to learn about the pattern (if the meaning is not super obvious). In this case, I’m talking about the n4 pattern, ‘GARU’, which describes something emotionally someone is doing.

The first thing I look for is a SHORT video. If I can’t understand the pattern in 2 minutes, 30 minutes is a waste of my time. So I find something very short, as these tend to (1) clearly cover the grammar point (2) provide 2-5 simple examples.

So I found this video nice and short.

Then after I get a sense of the pattern, I list a few sentences for practice. So my time for doing this entire thing is about 3 minutes. (I don’t have to watch the entire video most of the time).

Once I get that, I try and find another (short) video where someone explains it again. This gives me multiple contexts with which to give my brain reference and allow it to extrapolate more meaning. So I went to this video.



Here its short (again) and I get more example sentences which I can train at this level. The first website I found was loaded with ‘Advanced Bias’, meaning the sentences were pretty advanced usages of this grammar pattern. Eventually i’ll have to learn those, but it completely defeats the purpose if this pattern is heavily embedded in other complex grammar forms.

Once this is done, then i’ll try and have a list of 10-20 sentences and some that I make and then i’ll look at them often and try to say it every now and then.

Since we learn grammar one pattern at a time, it is important to be efficient when trying to cover the ground with hundreds of patterns. Doing things this way allows me to easily go through say 3-5 partners at a time and not feel like my brain is exploding, once I internalize the meaning of the pattern. If a pattern is giving me trouble, I spend more time watching videos on it until I ‘catch it’. Meaning my brain goes ‘aha! that’s what they are saying’. So i’m not saying do not watch longer videos about grammar, i’m saying in my experience, grammar is production-based and highly situational so what you really are memorizing is the pattern, PLUS the situation, so only by internalizing when this should be used does it really lock into your brain. Most patterns don’t require much thought to memorize, just practice. Some are very nuanced, and are expressed with other complex forms which is why as you get to higher levels like n2 and n1 it is important you have mastered the lower concepts that allow for advanced understanding.

Use ‘Anchoring’ To give Color To New Pattern

That said, many of these are not ‘difficult’ and are memorized easily, but at a glance can feel like a giant mountain to climb when you try to think of “when will I ever need to say this?” Grammar is triggered by situations, and we can get creative in these initial moments by using strong connections to start the process.

For example the following two sentences explain the pattern がる(garu) very clearly:

He is always afraid of speaking to girls.


She is always buying expensive things.


But ‘he’ and ‘she’ are very vague. What I try to do is make the situation something obvious that we already use with this exact pattern in our native language. So:

Superman is always afraid of Kryptonite. (has a tendency to be)


Batman always needs more weapons. (has a tendency to need)


Batman is always angry. (has a tendency to be)


This is what I call ‘anchoring’ and can be used with any of the hundreds of thousands of situations in your life and are useful for practice. However I always keep these SUPER simple, because  grammar can always get more and more nuanced and there are so many ways to say certain things. This pattern explain what others are doing mainly in the 3rd person. So off the top of my head:

My sister was always afraid of cold water, He always want new games, John always want a pretty girlfriend, Connor McGregor always wants to win.

妹は冷たい水を怖がる, いつも新しいゲームを欲しがっている。ジョンさんはいつむ綺麗な彼女をほしがっている。

These examples do a few things: They create powerful visuals that connect to the new pattern. I can see my little sister standing at a pool in shivering with fear, afraid to jump in. I can remember a friend talking about the games he always wants and then I can see hundred of images of fighter Connor McGregor talking about wanting to win and be number one. I can see superman on the ground in pain from seeing Kryptonite, Batman in his cave tinkering and making weapons. The point here is that the end goal of all language learning is memorization.

When I was studying German, I did nothing more than use mainly one channel (German with Jenny) because it never took her more than a minute to explain a grammar pattern and the rest of the video was loaded with example sentences. I went through dozens and dozens of patterns like this. So with Japanese which isn’t as close to English as German, sometimes the ‘training’ has to be a little different.

So I make a list of these sentences I practice until I get the ‘feeling’ of the pattern and then train listening to the sentences to get a sense of the overall statement. You brain needs enough data to get the ball rolling and once you feed it often enough, it will figure out the rest. The idea I’ve found is not to spend too much time on a pattern as that is waste. Spend more time (initially) on patterns that are more abstract, but only real world exposure is going to show you how well you understand what is presented to you.

How You Know Its Working

Usually, you know you are in a good place when a new grammar pattern you’ve learn pops up in your immersion. You’ll hear it and maybe not even understand the full sentence (which is fine). It means your RAS (Recticular Activating System) got turned on and the brain is doing its thing.

Trust The Brain

Lastly what I learned is that you must trust the brain. Once you spend a little time with a pattern, move on. Put it in your revision schedule and use it until it sticks. The only important thing is to internalize the situational context. Then keep triggering it until the brain triggers it when you are watching TV, reading anime etc.

The reality is that you didn’t grow up speaking and using hundreds of grammar partners per day. You won’t have the experience of say “Man! He always want to drive slow! (tends to)”, “Yeah, that girl is always afraid of meeting new guys (tends to)”, and so on.

But this isn’t something to worry about, because once you get enough data, you brain allows you to process new information through extrapolation. That’s why a kid when it learns colors and has a question to ask what colors are, can learn new words and make new sentences. “What is that red thing?” — “It’s a fire hydrant”. Now the kid can talk about ‘fire hydrants’ all day? See where I’m going.

This process works at scale, as you go through your partners step by step. I advise going through each level n5, n4, n3 in sequence, because pattenrs build on each other. You’ll encounter more advanced patterns all the time, but the benefit in learning the basic patterns very well is that the essence of how they are used contextually becomes quite repetitive (and predictable) as you encounter new forms that say slightly different things. This kicks your brian into gear and you memorize new patterns even faster (weird I know).

Either way I’m trying my best! Life has been busy but i’m still plodding through. Not as fast as I want but i’m enjoying the journey thus far.




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This is probably THE biggest Hurdle in Learning a New Language


Hey guys!  Today I’m going to dive into what I call “Advanced Bias” which is probably the most annoying and (potentially) frustrating hurdle in learning things in a new language. But once you are aware of it, you can adjust accordingly and save yourself a TON of stress and psychological drama.

Let me give you a scenario that I just encountered:

In Japanese grammar, the labels from lowest to highest are N5 to N1. I’m currently going through the list of N4 grammar patterns. So what I do, is I obviously see what the reading means and look at a bunch of examples sentences. So i’m using JLPTSensei.com for my reference. So this n4 grammar expression is:

振れる (ゆれる)yureru  to shake

and an example sentence in the list is:


every time a truck passes the house, it shakes. 

Simple right? Wrong! Let me show you why:

When I read this sentence, I understood everything except たびに tabi ni, which I looked up.

たびに  whenever, every time.

Now tabi ni, is an N3 grammar pattern ( a level higher that what i’m learning). 

So I say, “okay, let me look at some examples with tabi ni” just to get a sense of it. So i’m looking through the sentences and see this one:


I’m sick of adds popping up every time I watch videos on YouTube.

Because I can read the Kanji and Katakana and have an awareness of basic structure, I said… “what’s that at the end?”

うんざりだ (unzari da)

Turns out うんざりだ is an N1 grammar pattern! (highest level of Japanese)

So in reading a ‘basic’ n4 grammar pattern, I’ve already run into an n3 grammar pattern, (one level higher) and also an N1 pattern (the highest level to learn). Many of these sentences also overlap with advanced grammatical patterns jumbled together to teach you “the basics”.

Let’s say I knew VERY LITTLE. Meaning, let’s say I know 1,000 Kanji and maybe 1,000 words and I can’t read that well yet. Trying to ‘study grammar’ like this would send me immediately down a rabbit hole of stress. Everything I encounter, would send me looking at higher and more complex and difficult forms of grammar, the sentences would look chaotic (since I’m learning the basics) and I’d be pulling my hair out and asking myself why I ever decided to do this.

This is an example of what I call Advanced Bias. 

Advanced Bias happens when you explain something very clearly from the standpoint of someone who has : (a) mastered the basics of structure, reading and probably writing (b) overcome the pyschological hurdles involved in grinding out language learning (c) have achieved an advanced command of the language.

For the Advanced learner, these types of sentences are ‘good’ (because they can read them). They explain concepts and say thing are “easy” or “not that difficult” because they are saying it from their advanced standpoint, which is filled with the bias of their achievement. 

By “bias” I do not mean negatively. A bias is something we tend to possess without knowing it. In this context, I say “advanced bias” to mean that most of the study materials people utilize are made by people who are advanced or fluent speakers and are therefore filled with advanced bias.

These represent themselves as highly complex sentences, very bloated examples to explain simple context, and what I call “dramatic overlap” where these “basic sentences” often have very complex grammar, advanced nuances and must require a keen understanding of context to even begin to understand the “example” sentence. This makes a “basic” sentence become quite stressful, which for the Advanced Learner through his or her bias, does not see.

In all my approaches, I look at them from the perspective of an absolute beginner, and try to find all the means necessary to prevent the unusual creation of unnecessary psychological stress. 

Advanced Bias is a very real problem, as it is normalized across almost all language learning, where to give explanations of simple concepts, people must used advanced techniques and examples, not realizing this confuses the absolute beginner even more.

The problem with this bias is that if falls into what i’m going to label the ‘Rabbit Hole Problem’ of language learning, where when learning one thing you often have to learn four or five things just to understand one thing, which is (a) terribly inefficient (b) stressful and (c) adds to the perception that what you are doing is ‘impossible’ as it ‘appears’ to be so much data.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t study sentences and learn new patterns, especially if they are easy to grasp. But for me, I’ve found that often the “baby  steps” become “adult steps” and cause a lot of psychological frustration. It isn’t easy to learn say, the present progressive, the causative forms and the various forms of honorific and casual speech all at once. If your “basic” sentence has all these forms, plus advanced words and grammar patterns, you are doing the new learner a massive disservice. You need to meet them at their level and guide them towards that mastery through a better, incremental form of initial exposure.

This word initial is very important. We must all learn how to process natural language and speech eventually, but what allows us to absorb basic concepts that then allow the brain to extrapolate and assess these patterns in normal speech without it being too intially complex? 

Why This is a Problem

This is a problem because for most learners, they believe that it is their aptitude that will predict their success in language learning. That is to say, they believe it is there inherent mental ability, brain power or skills with ‘language’ as they perceive it. This is obviously, incorrect, as every native speaker (of varying levels of intelligence) all speak their native language fluently, and possess vocabularies with tens of thousands of words. This means that for most learning, the largest hurdle (in my opinion) is perceptual. If you do not believe you can do something, you tend not to do it. Or if you are inspired to do something and then it is presented to you from the perspective of Advanced Bias, your mind will get scared because what you are seeing feels ‘beyond’ you.

This is bad, because Advanced Bias, is everywhere. 

You see, I used to immediately get physically tense and feel very stressed when I looked on a new language. My mind would say ‘I can’t do that’, ‘that’s too difficult’, ‘i’m not like these genius YouTube people’ etc. These are all perceptual statements to myself. They would make me free.

I’ll give you a perfect example. A great resource i’ve found is a channel called Game Gengo, that gives pretty nice explanations for Japanese words and phrases. This is a screen shot where he is explaining the usage for the particle の which is a VERY basic particle that represents possession.








Or this for ので








The second example is just an incredible example of what i’m saying. This an N5 grammar particle, which is super basic, but look at that monstrous sentence! Now to be fair, this channel uses text from games to illustrate their examples, but i’m telling you no beginner can read this sentence. 

Let me break it down:

只今 (tadaima) is a sort of colloquial expression, like “I’m home!” 

只今より here, より yori is an N2 grammar pattern (second highest level) meaning, “from a specific time”.

緊急職員会議 kinkyuushokuinkaigi is literally three words smashed into one but let’s see what level these words are for this “basic grammar pattern”

緊急 N1  (きんきゅう)kinkyuu  – emergency, urgent

職員 N1(しょくいん)office staff

会議 N4(かいぎ)meeting

行い N1 (おこない)deed, action, conduct

To read this sentence, you literally would need to already know thousands of Japanese words and be able to read 2,136 Kanji and know very high level grammar, far beyond the one you are learning. 

When you look at example sentences with this kind of “bloat” you immediately want to run for the hills. This is not the way to proceed as you’ll always be gasping for air. 

This is the kind of thing that people see that sounds cool in theory, but really acts as entertainment. That person has had success, that person must be really smart, that person has the chops to learn all this. These videos are made from a guy who has spent the better part of a decade (probably a decade) living and working in Japan. I’m not saying his videos have no value, quite the opposite. When I went on this new journey and found his channel, I was quite inspired by it. However, after seeing the “bloat” I said I’d revisit it after I learn all the Jouyou Kanji, and also after I’d familiarized myself with several thousand words. 

The Value of Implicit Understanding

Because of Advanced Bias, a learner who is fluent, will explain things from the perspective of victory. They can elaborate on theories and ideas, but really, the meat and nitty gritty of their breakthroughs could have happened years and years ago and were not specifically documented.

For example, の is sort of like the apostrophe. So “Tom’s car” would be Tom no kuruma. トムさんの車。

There is more to it than this, but if I want to say, red car, blue car

I just say: 青いの車、赤いの車。

The car’s color is red:  車の色は赤いでそ。

We need to get these strong before jumping into such raging water. For example, to use ので、off the top of my head I could say something like:

“Because the car’s color is red, John didn’t buy it.”


That’s a more complex sentence, but built on much smaller digestible parts that you can train individually until they become automatic.

Advanced Bias and the True Cost of Learning

To learn anything to an advanced degree requires far more commitment than one thinks (even beyond what seems like ‘real’ commitment). You need a way to do tens of thousands of repetitions and memorize thousands and thousands of words, situations and expressions until you brain figures it all out.

Working with material that comes from a point of advanced bias can be dangerous and too time consuming (initially). As I said, I found the Game Gengo channel to be very cool and exciting, I just knew that it would be a complete waste of time to try and learn anything he was showing until I could read all the Kanji I was seeing, and had a working familiarity with several thousand words. 

I was not trying to plunk through “feeling it out” for years and years. But my real point of this essay is just to build some awareness, because in the beginning, you want to ensure that you are able to drastically expose yourself to your target words and grammar. 

This means the TPG (Time Per Grammar point) must be low to increase the likelihood of you memorizing if fully. In other words. Do you want to spent an hour ‘learning’ a bloated sentence filled with words you can’t read. Or just hammer the basics until they become easy.

Like “Because I was tired, I didn’t go”. Versus “Because the age of mankind was coming to an end, the violent King met his demise at the hands of his formerly faithful servants”

This is why I talk about data sets that cover the minimums based on research. 5,000 words gives you 98% recognition of all spoken and written text (Nation 1993), 1,000+ hours of listening immersion gets your ear sharp for listening to native speech and you only need about 100 hours to learn all the grammar you need once you have a strong familiarity with hundreds or thousands of words. You want to make sure you effort leads to what you want, versus just being effort. 

I still have quite a ways to go, but am able to navigate this process psychologically very well because I know the minimums I need to hit to get what I want. There is no “hack” that gets you there, or a “hack” to speed up those listening hours. You have to learn one grammar pattern at a time and internalize it through repetition. Many of these are easy to master since most grammar isn’t “complex” really, its just a way to say something like “since”, “due to”, “reasonably”, “things like”, “maybe”, “sometimes”,”apparently”, etc.

So once you have basic structure and words understood, you can put a lot of pressure on grammar and get better results. But looking at people teaching you from a point of advanced bias will hurt you psychologically, because you will also find yourself sometimes thinking that you cannot do with these guys have done (that is something I try my best to avoid). Our minds want to play tricks and tell us we are not good enough, when all we need is time, patience and implementation.

Nothing beats theory except massive practical use of a good idea. Building a monstrously strong  implicit understanding of what you need to learn  helps to avoid the pitfalls of this phenomenon of Advanced Bias.

Basics come before nuance, and nuance comes after a certain amount of exposure and ability to understand what is being spoken. It’s a lot of training and repetitive exposure. I’d say most of the time it isn’t a whole lot of fun (though it isn’t necessarily boring) but its a relatively medium-paced, intestine activity with a predictable ending for those who stick it out.

(To me) there is more value in using の one hundred times versus watching a video explaining it for 20 minutes. After one hundred reps you say it automatically. You also understand it in other context after a while pretty easily. In fact, all grammar tends to be like this, which is why you must psychologically look at what you are doing a certain way so the large data doesn’t overwhelm you.

So presently for me, I don’t have much trouble reading sentences because I can read all 2,136 Kanji. This doesn’t ‘mean I read each one really fast (because I don’t have that super high level of word familiarity yet) BUT what’s great is that I don’t feel the way I felt years ago where I’d see a sentence, see some Kanji I didn’t know then my mind would tell me oh this is impossible and I’d start to get stressed just thinking of the ‘impossibility’ of what i was doing. Now if I’m learning a grammar pattern, I’m far less concerned about the vocabulary (since i’m pushing 2500 words and encounter them often in reading). It’s not about being “super fast” or “super quick” its just about being able to keep going without getting psychologically blocked. I actually started grammar because the vocabulary grind was getting repetitive and I had to switch things up. I wanted to hit 3,000 word then do grammar, but i’ve had delays and realized that I could easily learn a few grammar partners each day without much issue. I personally try to keep my sample sentences as simple as possible in the beginning so I really understand the pattern. Remember, after you hit 5,000 words you will know almost all the ‘hard’ words and verbs anyways, so when I learn them down the road, it’s like Mario eating the mushroom. I just get stronger.

Most of what you see and read will NOT be expository, that is long winded speech. Most of what you encounter in media is quite the same. Conversational patterns tend to stay the same (unless you are watching a Samurai drama) and after a while you will realize you can level up with reading, watching different kinds of films etc. But you need your base.

Don’t let Advanced Bias stop you too early.cheers

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Word Intimacy: The Missing Link?

Going through my “comprehension loop” of sentences with the exact words i’m studying

How do we become a walking dictionary?

Think about yourself presently. As a native speaker of your first language, you maybe know anywhere from 75,000 to 100,000 words which you can recall at will. You don’t need to revise these words each day, you don’t need to use apps and yet, you never forget them. Why?

Word intimacy.

Just like being intimate with a person, you’ve experienced these words in so many scenarios and situations with a range of emotions, smells, sounds and other factors that they are deeply embedded into your mind.

Word intimacy is a concept i’ve often thought about, because to really make gains in language acquisition you need to do so much work the ‘sweet spot’ lies somewhere between madness and genius. Since learning 5,000 words in most languages gives us 98% comprehension of written and spoken text (Nation, 1993), we must find a way for this process to be very efficient, useful and ultimately predictable in what it will provide for us, i.e a robust vocabulary.

In learning a language quickly you are attempting to shortcut the 10-12 years a child normally takes to learn their language to a relatively advanced level. This means far more data to absorb in less time, far more pressure and more types of oxidative stress. Ten years allows for a lot of room to build word intimacy and allow you to be a “walking dictionary”. Doing that in three to six months? Not so simple.

I remember many experiences while reading comics as a child which taught me new words in context. I remember this G.I Joe villain who spoke in very hifalutin speech. That was the first time I saw the word “countenance” (If I can remember correctly, or perhaps it was in literature class). The point is, reading hundreds of books and comics and playing games and what not, builds massive word intimacy. This turns us into a walking dictionary. We do not consciously think about this, it just happens. We encounter our word everywhere. Some places, more than others. If we are reading about fantasy, we’ll read and see very descriptive words about the environment. If we are reading an X-men comic book, depending on the them, we’ll see dialogues on emotion, civil rights, battles and more. We don’t “worry” about “how long this will take” as a child, because… we are a child. This is normal. Only as an adult, do we worry about the perceptual load of what we are trying to learn since there is a truth with intrinsically know:

We cannot shortcut the word acquisition process beyond a certain point due to limitations of time and energy.

If it takes us 8 weeks to get through 5,000 words, which is a herculean task, how do we ensure that we can recall these words from memory?  It cannot just be from seeing them on flash cards, but also hearing them, using them and really seeing them in situations that create strong neural connections in your brain. This is tricky to design, because over 10 years, a child’s natural life forces these things to pop up, whether from school, in movies etc. For a non-native speaker, these interactions must be manufactured to ensure we encounter these words. 

We must create word intimacy consciously.

An app alone does not create this type of intimate context. In fact, an app if used improperly, is quite illusory. You may “feel” that you are memorizing a large amount of data, when in reality, you maybe be in murky territory.

In a previous post I said that true memorization is the recall of what you have studied without reference, not recognition. This is why you are a “walking dictionary” of your native language as you have already memorized tens of thousands of words.

My whole deal with “word intimacy” comes from my success with rapidly memorizing the 2,136 Jouyou Kanji (90 days). I learned it all through writing, using my imagination and sticking to a very specific and consistent revision schedule. The internet is rife with people who are adamantly against learning to write Kanji or learn them individually, when in reality, all Japanese people learn Kanji initially by writing them.  It doesn’t matter if later down they never write them, or just use apps to communicate, the inception of their Kanji ability, is physical, tactile and intimate. 

By “intimate” I mean, we must develop an extreme familiarity with what we are learning. Not just “high exposures” (which are necessary), but “familiarity”, where you see it over and over in a certain type of context. A child will play with letter blocks for months until it masters them all. Then it will work very diligently at small words, then longer ones, until by around age four the child can speak and express itself fluently. You can set your watch to this.

But we as adults do not have the luxury of time these children possess. We can massively shortcut those years. However, in this age of apps and hacks and what have you, I think we forget the power of just sitting down and getting “intimate” with our language.

Remember, there was a time of no computers, where expats would go to foreign countries and Lo and Behold, learn those languages to fluency! This means that there is a basic construct to acquisition, that is not localized to certain kinds of technology. I cannot confirm the data on this, but I don’t think that as technology and access improved around language learning, we suddenly saw a vast bump in language acquisition ability. Those who make gains in language tend to do the same thing, whether it was in the 1970s, 1980s or 2000’s. They put in A LOT OF WORK.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not “anti-app”. I’m just “pro-usefulness”. As I’m doing my vocabulary phase now, i’m using Anki for memorization purposes. Why? Anki provides the clearest route to tracking what i’m doing. It allows me to train “retrievals” by building cards that would take a lot of time to write by hand and I can do hundreds of reps per day, and work with the algorithm. It provides usefulness along certain parameters.

However, Anki does not provide what I call “intimacy”. Anki is robotic, repetitive and endless. You don’t want to get stuck in a situation where you are revising words for the rest of your life. When I used to read my Conan comics over and over and over, relishing the stories images and the language, seeing expressions like “Crom’s blood!” or “By the flames of Arallu!” (terms which i’ve never used personally), these come back to me immediately because of that physical and intimate association with the material.

It was the feel of the comic book pages on my fingers and the smell of the book, it’s the story, the writing and how it all overlaps. This is how we build word intimacy. 

Now, you are obviously saying, “Well we don’t have access too all those tools and materials to do the same thing, etc, etc”.

Yes this is true. My point here is not to say that to replicate that success we need all the same things, far from it. We just need to be more intimate in the process than just playing with an app or mindlessly looking at flashcards. “Intimacy” in this context is not limited to merely analog things like books and comics. You must be doing things that are very “day to day” or “normal” within the context of your learning.

For example, if I walk down the street and see some newspapers. I don’t have any issues understanding the names like “Wall Street Journal”, “Associated Press”, “Jamaica Observer” or “Asahi Shinbun”. We see newspapers all the time. They aren’t frightening or scary. We have an intimate association with them. But this is because they appear in our lives by proxy. We see newspapers everywhere because they are in lots of stores, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, airports, you name it. What we cannot recreate, is that experience because that is relative to living somewhere else. 

So, our intimacy building must be VERY STRATEGIC.

I must emphasize that we are trying to absorb INCREDIBLE amounts of data in a short period of time (4-6 months). Being “intimate” with words, may not mean pouring over Manga (if you cannot read it), or trying to read a Japanese novel (if you can barely read Kanji).

The Rules of Intimacy

One: Create Proximity

Recently in a talk on relationships, it says one of the most important thing about trying to have a relationship is relative to proximity. You cannot be with anyone if you aren’t around anyone (obviously). Likewise, we must be around our words to really get used to them. Proximity with words comes from reading, flash cards, games and what not. However, when we are studying our first 5,000 words. What guarantees do you have that you will often encounter a word like 水道管 suidoukan (water pipe) or a word like 現像 genzou (phenomenon)? The answer is, zero. So even if we are learning our words in a flashcard program, they fall to the wayside if you don’t use them, or hear them (in context preferably). What this means is that we must  create the proximity to these words beyond our flashcards. This is the ‘real work’ that most of us are not told to do.


Two: Be Active With The Proximity

Situations in life tend to ‘seal’ the meaning of words in our mind. When my father once called me “recalcitrant”, which means (stubborn under authority) I never forgot it once I looked it up. Proximity and the situation burned that meaning forever into my mind. Our situations don’t need to be that extreme, but we need versions of these activities to make words more sticky, than just seeing them on a flashcard.

So for example, I just made up this sentence:


boku no kinjo de, suidoukan no sag you ga hajimarimasu. 

In my neighbourhood, pipe building operations have started.

Or maybe:


suidoukan kara okashi na soon ga nagareru.

Strange noises are coming from the water pipes.

Note: These are VERY basic sentences. I’m studying vocabulary now, so I’m able

to pull words from memory, but in doing so i’m creating contexts for “active proximity”, but below is the easiest method:


It’s one thing to make up some sentences like I did ( as examples) but how do we do this at scale? Remember, if you’ve been reading through my posts, the true test of ANY strategy is to see how it works at scale if you are using it to assist with large volumes of data. What i’ve long learned is that we cannot do everything at once. Most people have a focus of 3-4 hour max, and everything else gives diminishing returns. Like I’ve also said, you have a lot of unusual people that have no issues doing 7-8 hours of study per day without fatigue. We are not referring to those outliers.

It is hard to study words, try to remember them, then try to “make up sentences” for thousands of words and so on. The easiest way to get word proximity is to read  because reading can be done a various speeds and it can be done for very long stretches without fatigue. Speaking is a different type of “proximity” based activity, because you need to have certain skills to be able to handle conversation.

That sentence there says: 会社は赤字営業倒産した。

kasha ha aka eigyou tousan shita. 

Basically: “The company went into the red.”

What I’m doing is reading sentences with the word i’m studying every day. Thi means, I must interact with my words each day. I develop a bit of “intimacy” with them. Many are much easier to read because I know the shape relative to the sentence. I don’t say kai…. sha (company). I say kaisha immediately since I know the word. Everyword in this sentence i’m pretty familiar with (except akaji 赤字)but because I’ve read the sentence a few times, when I saw it I just said it.

Three Be Strategic With Proximity based on WHERE YOU ARE

Now I must make a note here. I’m still testing this out because here’s the truth guys and gals. This is very labor intensive so you must be excited by what you are doing. Some people might see this and say “I’d rather read manga”, which is fine, but there is no guarantee you’ll encounter the words you are studying each day. You see, when you don’t have the ability to read well, you need to narrow your proximity to what you know. You must reinforce it to the point where you store it, and then move on.

Remember: the beautiful thing about memorization is that once you memorize a word you move one. So if I memorized 2,500 words, even if I can’t read them super fast, I know them. So I don’t need to “worry” about them. To read most manga and do things you want you will need 3,500 to 5,00 words anyways. But here are some ideas for proximity once you hit certain benchmarks.

1,500 words you should be able to comfortably read children’s stories if that’s your thing.

3,000 words  — a lot of manga should be a breeze, and playing a lot of games shouldn’t trip you up

5,000 words — everything should be easy to handle, including light novels.

So this builds “proximity” relative to reading. but nothing will build measurable proximity to your word list immediately. 

So me reading these sentences might look “boring”, but where the hell am I going to find these words otherwise?  I’m not at an N2 grammar level yet, so I can’t just dive into reading N2 material (which is counter productive), but I CAN read all the Kanji and I do understand about 250+ grammar patterns, so I’m good with thousands of basic sentences (which lead to advanced sentences pretty quickly).

Why I’m Doing This (IMPORTANT)

This process is always initially quite slow. Speed in reading only comes with the frequency of exposure and use. You can’t read words or Kanji quickly without reading them. So even when you know the Kanji readings, it doesn’t automatically mean you’ll be able to see a sentence like this super quick and rattle it off.


watashi wa sakuya fushigi na yume wo mimashita.

Last night I had a strange dream. 

The issue here with speed is based not on ability, but  process of differentiation, so at a glance in the beginning if we don’t know a word shape, you won’t be able to “split up” the words quickly. This makes you pause, because you need thousands of exposures to naturally fall into these reading or speaking rhythms. Looking at the sentence from a perspective of knowing each component well it will look more like this in your mind.


昨夜  – last night    思議   – strange, wonder      夢 – dream

Eventually, this is what your brain will do. It will take each word and “color it” and then you’ll be able to read much faster.

These “colors” are not created without….

Word intimacy. 

The more intimate we are, the more obvious the different words are the faster we fall into a natural rhythm. In reality, there is also no way around this. We want to learn thousands of words in record time but it is hard to hold onto them if we aren’t reading a lot or doing at the very least a lot of word intimacy reinforcement.

The problem for most learners (including me) was that doing this sort of reading was incredibly boring (at the time). But as I got deeper into research and understanding proper exposure I realized that sometimes necessity trumps interest. I had learning hundreds or thousands of words I wasn’t really using (or seeing). I used to assume that by using Anki I had “memorized” a word, when in reality, hundreds of these words I didn’t even use, and therefore had trouble recalling when I needed to (which to me, does not fit my current definition of true memorization). The extra work seemed ‘daunting’ but at the time I did not understand word intimacy, which fits into what i’ve labeled the ‘true cost’ of language learning.

The Cool Thing (last part, I promise)

The cool thing about all this is that you don’t need to really ‘force’ this to make gains. After using Anki to train retrieval, reading a few sentences every now and then anchors your word into your brain relative to the meaning of the sentence, making it stay in your memory much longer, in a different context. I had grand plans to read 1,000 sentences a day and blah blah, but that is impossible at my present reading speed without burning out since i’m learning new words each day. I can comfortably do 100-200 without feeling strained, and I’m also learning new grammar and expressions in these sentence as a sort of “proxy training”.

All this stuff leads to the eventual ability to read at length with no issues. I think the danger is trying to swim in the deep end of the pool too early and facing the possibility of drowning. Many advanced learners are notorious for working to master the small components of a skill, then moving on. By spending time reading these words each day while studying them, we create a “comprehension loop” and anchor.

Everything I discuss, I emphasize in so much detail because I am focusing on activities at scale. I’ve been down this road many times, where trying to do certain kinds of activities breaks down when you realize the reinforcement necessary to get true results. Some parts of the journey can be done very quickly (e.g learning 2,136 Kanji in 90 days) and others can also be “relatively quick” (6-12 weeks) but requires a VERY strategic and FOCUSD approach.

I am purposely doing words and not much grammar at this point because as I’ve said (many times) training grammar without knowing vocabulary is generally wasted effort, as you spend too much time breaking down the components of a sentences versus just trying to figure out the meaning (grammar) which is the point of learning Grammar. When learning German, my grammar learning was lightning quick because I never had to worry about vocabulary and I’d only focus 100% on the meaning of the sentence. If I misunderstood sometimes, it was because I didn’t master the absorption of the grammar pattern, but had no issues with the individual words. That means at any given time, my focus was 100% on the pattern, not the component words of the sentence.

Grammar is its own beast, and takes a completely different form of memorization that I call context memorization. So unlike raw words, where you can read and build intimacy through listening and even ‘skimming’ sentence, grammar really requires a sense of situations and proper usage at all times.  Saying ” I like books” versus ” I like things like books” are two completely different things.

本が好きだ。I like books

など買うのが好き。I like things like buying books

This is a different kind of mental practice. Words are solid and visual, grammar is moving and organizational. In the same way we look at words and eventually get a “feel for” the shape of the word and identity it quickly, we will also get a “feel for” the grammar shapes and identify them. But again, this cannot be done all at once.

For vocabulary training, I can read complete sentences and not need to know the exact grammar to get the benefit of the reading. In grammar study I need to know the exact meaning of the sentence relative to the grammar. This means training the grammar patterns several dozen times until it sticks. And remember, to get to an N2 or N2 level requires knowing anywhere from 450-600 grammar patterns! Even multiplying those by say, 20 revisions each equals 9,000 to 12,000 exposures just to learn them properly!

Doing thousands of word exposures and also thousands of grammar exposures is possible but I’ve found, not very efficient when you have a weak vocabulary. It takes too much time to sit and figure out a sentence that you cannot initially read. Once word intimacy is established, the rate of understanding increases exponentially.

Grammar requires active and focused training. You really have to sit and try and produce what you are reading or it won’t stick. These grammar patterns also need to be obviously separate from words you already know. This means if someone is speaking bullet fast Japanese, you can’t mix things up. Which again, goes back to word intimacy.

Grammar are situational chunks of data where you MUST memorize the context. The best way to do this is to hear it a lot or read it a lot, but you gotta make sure you aren’t mixing it up with words you’ve already learned. Now do you see why people get into so much trouble? Imagine trying to learn grammar when you can barely tell the difference between 健康    kenkou (health) and    検討  kentou(consideration).

Practically speaking, it makes life MUCH harder.

I am not saying this is ‘easy’ if you have a massive vocabulary. But the ability to differentiate monstrously improves once you have absorbed certain kinds of information to a high degree (i.e thousands of words). By learning thousands of words (first) while doing hundreds of hours of immersion, your ears become very sharp (and familiar) with the phonetic of the words you are learning and their usage in common situational patterns (even if you don’t know the proper grammar yet). But this upfront work gives you the ability to differentiate between rapidly spoken words. Having this ability saves you a lot of future grief when studying grammar. When you start training your ear to figure out grammar, you can’t really spend a lot of time trying to figure out which words are which. You are listening for grammar, not words. If you can’t differentiate at all, you are lost and you’ll stop. If you have the ability to listen to a sentence and hear everything clearly. That’s step one. If you can hear everything clearly and you know all the words spoken, that’s step two. Then you are ready to analyze what was said to see if you understand it all.

The word intimacy leads to phonetic and situational awareness of thousands of words. By proxy you are also learning phonetic and situational awareness of grammar, which will start to trigger when you train.

If someone blurts out in a TV show i’m watching at bullet speed:


(I’m going on a business trip on behalf of my manager)

I don’t wanna be saying Huh? Who did what now?

I need to know immediately that the expression in red 代わりに kawari ni (subsitute)is not 変わり  kawari (alter, change). From a grammar standpoint, this requires using and reading this pattern many, many, many times. It is a different sort of exercise mentally than just raw vocabulary learning. You have to be able to tell between words you know and grammar and that can only be done by memorizing the contexts, which has its own demands of time and great effort, which I think is best done after a certain level of vocabulary acquisition (say, 3000 words).

Okay! That’s it for now… more on all this madness later. I’m continuing the journey.

Updates on stuff soon



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