Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Two Year Japanese Challenge

NoteVersion 1.1 of the Challenge can be found here.

I'm sure I've mentioned once or twice (or several times) that I'm learning Japanese.  I've restarted my studies multiple times in the past.  Lately, I have had much more success.  I've been using the WaniKani system to learn the kanji, and have reached level 7 or 50.  Those 50 levels get me through the first 1600+ kanji, along with several thousand vocab words.  Given that each level takes an average of 11 days (with my schedule) and half of those aren't spent making progress, I'm looking a different method (or group of methods) to get ahead.  WaniKani is a good system, so I'll keep using it, but I want a way to supplement it.

That brings us to the Two Year Japanese Challenge.

This is roughly based on NihongoShark's One Year Fluency Guide (free with email sign up), but incorporating a lot of resources that he doesn't list.  His guide also doesn't incorporate speaking or writing, either, until after the first year is up.  All four language skills (reading, writing, listening, speaking) are part my my challenge.

The Challenge is broken up into ten phases, mostly to act as milestones to give me something to celebrate.  Many of the later phases are similar; I could just as easily break them up further, but I want to focus on the Japanese rather than celebrating.  This post will describe the Challenge in much detail, allowing others to either use it or modify it to fit their circumstances.

Resources Used

I use a large variety of resources in my studies, but have not organized them until now.  Not all of them are free, either.  You can probably find (and in some cases create) your own resources, which will save you some case.

Before learning the many kanji (2000+), you need to know hiragana and katakana.  These are the two syllabaries of the Japanese language.  There is also romajii, a romanization of the language, but it is a very ill-advised crutch.  Use it to learn the kana, but drop it as quickly as possible.  I've learned both, but need to touch up on my katakana.

Earlier this year, I joined TextFugu, but Japanese learning system that only goes into the late beginner stage.  There is a planned update, but it is not expected until 2015.  From it, I got a very good hiragana deck early on.  I haven't gotten to the katakana lesson, yet, but went ahead and downloaded it, anyway.  More on what a deck is and how to use it later on.  I'm going to touch up on my katakana over the next week or two using this deck.  TextFugu is currently $20 a month or $99 for life (with a lifetime money back guarantee.  Once it's updated, it'll be closer to $150 for lifetime access.

If you don't know kana yet, either join TextFugu and get their decks, or choose one of the free ones (again, we'll touch on this later).

Once you know the kana, you can move onto kanji.  This is the part where most people turn away from learning Japanese, either for a time, or forever.  This has been my main stumbling block up until now.  Learning this, I'm taking NihongoShark's advice almost verbatim.  This is a free chapter from their guide.

Before moving on, let's talk about these decks.  Most of how we learn language in the classroom is based on rote memorization.  We would write out a single kanji dozens, maybe hundreds of times, repeating what it means (one of its meanings) and how to say it (there can be 20+ ways for this, too).  This is ineffective.

The solution is simple:  we use James W Heisig's Remembering the Kanji (RTK) and a Spaced Repetition System (SRS) .  RTK is a popular, though somewhat controversial, book about how to learn the main (2000+) kanji, a set you must know to be considered fluent.  It is actually a set of three books, of which the second is largely ignored.  The RTK system is based on learning the component parts of a kanji (the radicals) and use them to create a story that acts as a mnemonic to learn the meaning.

An SRS is basically an intelligent flashcard system that incorporates a lot of psychological research in the best way to learn concrete things.  You learn the information for the first time.  That same day, you review it as a card (a single bit of information) as part of a deck (the entire collection).  If you get it right, you see it again in a few days.  If you get it wrong, you see it again in a few minutes.  The more you get it right (like for easy cards), the less you see it when you review.  The more you get it wrong, the more often you see it.

The most popular SRS is known as Anki.  This is what I'll be using.  My methodology will match that listed in the NihongoShark article linked to a few paragraphs ago.  The only real difference is that I'll also do the remaining 1000 kanji (so I'll be learning 3000 total over 150 days) as soon as I get through the first 2000.  Later on in this stage, I can expect to see 300+ reviews as well as the 20 new cards for that day.  Various strategies for accomplishing this are in the article, or the full guide.

Learning the kanji is only a small and early step in learning the language.  Kanji is not vocab.  Kanji is not grammar.  The next step (which can be done while part way through kanji study) is to learn sentences.  Yes, sentences rather than vocab.  The reason for this is that vocab is not used in isolation.  Vocab is part of a sentence.  By learning sentences (starting simple and getting more complex), you can gradually learn vocab while getting a basic feel for the grammar.  Formal grammar studies come later.

For the Challenge, I'm using JALUP's strategy and J-E (Japanese sentence to English answer) deck.  Yes, it's another deck.  This deck has 1000 entries with full audio spoken by a native speaker.  Just as an FYI, the entire deck costs $100, or can be bought in 250 card increments for $25 each.  There are also other free decks out there.  However, I'm using this as it sets me up for the second part of the JALUP sentence strategy. 

1000 sentences is nice, but is not nearly enough.  Next comes a tough but powerful transition: moving to J-J (Japanese sentence to Japanese answer) sentences.  Once again, I'm using JALUP's deck.  In between is JALUP's branching technique, which I'll be using, but isn't officially part of the Challenge (yet!).  I'll probably rewrite this part of the challenge once I get up to that point. The cost for this is $40.

Grammar is another tough point.  Yes, that makes a lot of tough points already.  There are many resources, such as textbooks (the Genki series is highly recommended for self-study and is used in classrooms), reference books (not for solo use in learning, but an excellent resource to have; check out A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar and it's sequels, if you can find them), and websites.

While I have the grammar books mentioned, I'll be focusing on using the website IMABI, using the books as references to clarify points I don't get.  IMABI is a grammar goldmine, if you want to get a deeper understanding of Japanese.  Its greatest strength is also its greatest weakness, however.  It goes so deep into each lesson (250, plus more for classical Japanese) that it can be painful to read, especially for the beginner.  Between this and my other grammar resources, I'll be fine.

So far, everything has been about reading, and has been fairly dry.  The next resource is fairly well known within the Japanese learning community.  JapanesePod101 contains hundreds of videos about the Japanese language and culture.  Again, it's not free, but there's a way to get a discount early on.  By joining TextFugu (mentioned before), you get several discounts, including a 50% off coupon to use at JPod101.  With the shear number of resources on the sight, I would highly recommend joining it.  A seven day trial is available.

The podcasts (and plenty of videos) give you listening and speaking time.  They can be listened to while riding in the car (during a commute or just to the mall) or at home.  It's useful to repeat the Japanese words they use to get a better feel for the language.  It also teaches you grammar, and every lesson comes with a PDF transcript and list of relevant vocab words.

One resource I'm questioning is the use of the Pimsleur method.  It uses its own SRS.  I bought the first five lessons, but am going to wait until I get through at least some of the sentences.  They recommend that you use their system alone, but I think that's bad advice.  I'll talk about this more once I have a better feel for it.

A great site to practice applying what you learn is Lang-8.  L8 lets you write a post (however long) in the language you're trying to learn.  A native speaker will then go through and correct your mistakes.  most give a reason why they think it's a mistake.  In return, you correct the mistakes others make in your own language. 

There are a lot of other random resources that I'll be using, which I will cover some other time.  This post is long enough already, and I haven't even talked about how the Challenge is organized.

The Challenge


The Challenge is spaced out for 700 days (just under two years) and is broken up into ten phases.  Here is how they are organized:

Phase 0: (continuous):
WaniKani

Phase 1: 50 days
Anki – kanji (first 1000) – 20 cards a day

Phase 2: 50 days
Anki – kanji (second 1000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – J-E sentences (first 500) – 10 cards a day

Phase 3: 50 days
Anki – kanji (final 1000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – J-E sentences (final 500) – 10 cards a day
IMABI – first 25 lessons (read lesson over two days, or reread lesson second day)
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Pimsleur – 1 lesson each day

Phase 4: 100 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences (first 2000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
IMABI –lessons 26-75 (read lesson over two days, or reread lesson second day)
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week

Phase 5: 100 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences (second 2000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
IMABI –lessons 76-125 (read lesson over two days, or reread lesson second day)
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Lang-8 – write one post each week

Phase 6: 100 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences (third 2000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
IMABI –lessons 126-175 (read lesson over two days, or reread lesson second day)
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Lang-8 – write one post each week

Phase 7: 100 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences (fourth 2000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
IMABI –lessons 176-225 (read lesson over two days, or reread lesson second day)
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Lang-8 – write one post each week

Phase 8: 100 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences (final 2000) – 20 cards a day
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
IMABI –lessons 226-250 (read lesson over two days, or reread lesson second day) – only for first 50 days
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Lang-8 – write one post each week

Phase 9: 50 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences – continue reviews
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Lang-8 – write one post each week
Read one short story each week
Read one Wikipedia article (in Japanese) each day

Phase 10: 100 days
Anki – kanji – continue reviews
Anki – J-E sentences – continue reviews
Anki – J-J sentences – continue reviews
Anki – personal deck – add cards as needed as J-J card
JP101 – 10 podcasts each week
Lang-8 – write one post each week
Translate one technical Wikipedia article from Japanese to English each week

The Challenge starts off fairly simple, in that there is only the one Anki deck to work through.  Even that is difficult, though, once you've worked through several hundred cards and review hundreds each day.  Starting with a single deck is to make sure I get used to dong the reviews each and every day.  Once it's a habit, I can add a bit more.  The second and third phases are where I have more than one active deck.  After that, I will continue to review them to make sure they stick in my memory.  Eventually, the reviews will lighten up, letting me focus on other items on the list.

Rules


Yes, there are rules. 

1. Do all Anki reviews every day, no matter what.

Skipping a single day later one will give you 600+ reviews the next day. Skip more than one and you could end up so overwhelmed that you never recover. Do not skip reviews. Skipping new cards is fine for a day, but no more.

2. Add any unrecognized word to my personal deck. It will be learned after the first misunderstanding.

If you don't know a word, learn it. Add it to your personal Anki deck.

3. An activity must be complete in order to check it off. Work to get all check marks each and every day.

This is linked to the productivity method that I'll be using. Every day that I complete one of the steps, I will cross out that date on the calendar.

4. There are 15 vacation days per year (for weekends visiting family and such) and six sick days.

No one is perfect, myself least of all. I will take trips to visit family. I will get sick and sleep the day away. Thankfully Anki is available via the web and smartphone, but it's kinda hard to find the time to do 100 reviews when surrounded by family on Christmas day.

5. In WaniKani, keep Apprenticeship item number to 50 or less before adding reviews. This keeps the daily review count down. These reviews come secondary to Anki.

This is WaniKani specific, which means you need to know how the system works. It'll take too long to explain here, but they offer a free trial for the first two lessons. I highly recommend trying them out. It's worth it for the active community, if nothing else.

6.  Give a weekly update on this blog on my progress.

This is to keep myself accountable.  I hope that people will post a congratulations when I complete a phase and encouragement throughout.  I've been a solo learner for a while, and it's not the best thing.  Hard to find a fellow Japanese learner in central Michigan, though.

Conclusion

I know my system is not perfect.  It will likely go through many changes over time, as new books and resources become available.  I will also find things listed here that do not work.  If anyone out there tries something similar, either by using the Challenge directly or through modification, please post something in the comments; I would be happy to follow your own journey and offer encouragement.

2 comments:

  1. I think it's a great idea that you've divided your learning journey up into several different phases that start off small and keep growing and growing over time! Perhaps I should try something like that.Lately, I've been swamped with school work so I keep having to put my Japanese on hold, so I developed a summer plan that should continue into November (The only 日本語 I'm doing right now though is kanji). My goal is to take the N4 or N3 test in December. And I so agree, It IS hard being a solo learner and being accountable for your own progress :/ but it's also very thrilling at times, knowing you learned something so fast because you're in control of your own learning :)

    I wish you luck on your Japanese journey and hope you reach your dream of becoming a translator ^.^ がんばってください!

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  2. Hey, Kayla. Thanks for stopping by.

    I've been 'learning' Japanese for 'years' at this point. And by learning, I mean starting and stopping. Working toward fluency is epic in and of itself, but it's also tiring. I think the biggest thing I've learned so far is to not stop. Even if you learn one new kanji a day, that's 1,253,937 times better than doing nothing. Each time I stopped for a month or two, I would have to restart because I had forgotten everything, including many of the kana.

    Don't stop trying to be epic! Being epic takes time and effort, but is worth it in the end.

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