Don’t study in a Vacuum

(Current step of Core2000 Step 3 )


I have to post this because I’ve figured out a major error in how I was operating with using  Anki and another key factor in lowering my “study-based stress” that I feel is a good thing I figured out.

The Vacuum Conundrum

It all starts with self-study, and the methods that exist. For every person trying to learn Japanese the way I am presently learning it, it is an exercise in learning technical, sometimes accelerated methods  that require a lot of personal time and effort. Initially for me I found no structured outlines for approaches to self-study that didn’t involved trolling through a million forum posts (mostly filled with people flaming each other for which method is better). The best site I found for motivation and a “somewhat clear” path was the AJATT website, which gave a rough outline on how to go from A to Z of Japanese speaking. Following this, I had a “sort of idea” of what I needed to do.

After more trolling through forums and so on, I saw that people that posted questions on the Kanji Koohi’s “Reviewing the Kanji” forums about “how do I go from the Heisig method to reading Kanji?” there I saw people post about Kanji Odyssey, Core2000, using specific Anki decks, making their own sentences and so on. What happened to me, that i’m sure happened to a ton of people, is that the information was very overwhelming. The same thing happened when I initially visited the AJATT site, there was so much information on methods, SRSing, motivation, and stuff i’d never heard it made me come to a screeching halt for a while before I was able to slowly go through bits and pieces of the site I found relevant.

But the people who were trying to study Japanese like me are pretty much scattered across the globe, each person using their own methods, tweaking here and there, in a continuum of online learning. For me, starting the basics while living in Japan, I followed the essentials by myself, not really contacting anyone doing anything similar to what I was attempting. This is when I entered the vacuum.

This was a problem over time as well because studying anything by yourself can become boring and its good to have people to share your successes with, see what methods are out there and so on. I’d say I’ve only recently gotten serious about “actually studying” Japanese since April this year, and that was the first time I started reading blogs of other people studying Japanese! As silly as that sounds, I had never even thought of reading blogs with other people’s experiences because I didn’t know where to look. I didn’t even look for anything on youtube for a long time, because I didn’t know there were videobloggers that chatted constantly about how ペラペラ they were. I didn’t start :

reading blogs of other learners, watching youtube vids with other learners and contacting other learnings until only three months ago. 

I didn’t even realize I was in a self-created vacuum. I believe that my extreme frustration was normal, and part of my 日本語旅。(Japanese journey). So something recently happened that made me realize that I CANNOT stay in a vacuum with learning, because I am only hurting myself.

What was awesome about seeing other people’s blogs and youtube videos was that I saw the methods people were using to study, handle personal stress and frustration, keep motivated and even accelerate their own learning. This made me feel much better about what I was doing, the fact that my passion for blogging isn’t anything new, and that i’m part of this active community of people with the same goal.

The beauty of other people’s mistakes

The wonderful thing about the information age is that we can significantly increase our chances of success in a given area of study or research because we possess a plethora of information on what NOT to do. So instead of me going to the top of a Japanese mountain and taking 10 years to speak Japanese by learning from the daily habits of uber-cool monks, I can use Anki and drastically reduce my learning curve. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe I was doing terribly with my self-study, because the loose system I was using was based on a loose outlook on Japanese in general. As I always say, the genesis of this blog was the fact that I learned a good bit of Japanese through immersion with no study. In fact, after realizing this I still didn’t study any grammar or whatever, I just started doing an approach to grammar maybe a few weeks ago. What grammar I did know was from just my occassional Japanese conversations i’d have when I was living in Japan.

So now that I’ve reshifted gears and have a specific, systematic approach, I want to go “hardcore”. I like moving as fast as possible, even to my own detriment. So three months ago I eased back into Japanese by just listening to a lot of Japanese, and blogging about some of my observations. I still hadn’t finished Heisig yet, and I didn’t really have a system, I just knew that I really, really wanted to learn Japanese. So looking at what other people used to make stuff happen, I felt that was ready to hop on the “sentence method” bandwagon and start beasting it out right?

Sort of right.

After I completed Remembering the Kanji, I didn’t realize that people use different decks when studying Kanji. For some reason (I don’t know why) I kept thinking there was an “ultimate deck” that one must assemble, configure and use that ONE deck to learn vocabulary, sentences and so on. This lead me on an odyssey of frustration because there are so many decks out there, a man can easily go crazy trying to process all the information. So my huge mistake (which thankfully I have already rectified somewhat) was not getting more specific information on the “exact how” on the STANDARD approach to reading Japanese sentences using Anki. Though I posted videos on the subject (which are valid as a general approach), I didn’t know that I didn’t possess the proper knowledge on using decks efficiently.

I was using only one deck, which was slow as hell and I found I was occasionally not remembering some vocabulary, which led me to basically do a two thousand word rant on Anki decks. But this is why I say studying in a vacuum is bad. If I knew that most people had

a. A vocabulary deck

b. A sentence deck

c. A production deck (i.e reading from Kana to Kanji, or just reading Kanji)

then i would have done this initially and moved more smoothly. Instead, I had started out with one deck (which now I am realizing is probably a production deck). After a few hundred words, I felt there was something off about  listening to a Japanese word, then seeing the Kanji and then trying to reproduce it. All that was happening, was that I was remembering the Japanese word perfectly when I heard it, but unable to write it in many instances, which showed me that fundamentally, I was doing something wrong. I’m glad I had this observation and the stress that came with it, else i’d be gleefully using a less efficient system for a good while.

That is when I started blog-hopping, youtubing and so on and noticed a guy talking about his different decks. Then it hit me.

A vocab deck will introduce the vocabulary which will be my ONLY focus.

I will then see this vocab in sentences and learn the meanings in context.

After this I can do my listening comprehension deck to “reproduced” what I have learned in context.

Now this follows the standard issue method of how you retain information in programs like Rosetta stone,, etc, just tweaked. But I had NO idea that I was moving slower than I needed to. Now I have my three decks assembled and I had a very productive day today of actively learning which felt a lot less stressful. I remembered a lot more words (because I did a lot of vocab and sentence practice) and then when it came time to read the Kanji by themselves in another deck (production deck), I was pWning the definitions, which wasn’t happening properly a few days ago.

The problem with the deluge

But even though i talk about doing your research and what not, there is so much information out there that isn’t very clear, even contradictory. That’s why I started my video series of blogs to clear up a lot of what people chat about. I’ll be doing an anki video very soon (armed with my new information on how to do stuff properly, yay!) and a few more videos that deal with relatively technical questions that people can watch whenever they want. I got many headaches reading through dozens of forums where people kept asking the same questions and getting different answers.

But the cool thing with all of this, is that the information is out there if you really want it, and nerds like me are the kind of people crazy enough to try it out, write about it, and tweak it if it isn’t working. But now that I am in an active mode, and trying to actively read, write and speak Japanese each day, I can’t do that from a hole in the ground.

No more vacuums!


About marcusbird

Writer, Designer, Filmmaker
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