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.
PHASE 1 – EXPOSURE
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.
PHASE 2 – STABILIZATION
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.
PHASE 3 – PRODUCTION
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.
- I can read 2,200+ Kanji already.
- I have listened to well over 1,000 hours of Japanese
- I’ve read thousands and thousands of sentences and have a reasonable understanding of Japanese sentence structure.
- 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.
STEP 1 – 20 PATTERNS A DAY
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.