I decided, after stressing a bit over my final exam for the last two weeks, that this month is my “no heroic efforts” month. WTF do I mean by that? Well, I study a lot every day. Not as much as I should, or could, but nevertheless, a lot.

I try to do at least 30 minutes of iKnow each day. For those not in the know, iKnow is a site that teaches vocabulary, specifically the 6,000 most common Japanese words. I’ve “mastered” 2,211 words as I write this. I think I try and learn too many new words at once honestly, but iKnow isn’t really cheap and I’d like to get through all 6,000 by the time my subscription runs out… So, for “no heroic efforts” I’m trying not to add as many new cards until I complete a course. I have two courses at 99% with 2 words each before I master them. It’s driving me nuts!

After I tackle iKnow I start on my kanji cards which I painstakingly scribble each morning. As I recently noted, I just finished all the new cards in the Basic Kanji Book Vol. 2. I usually have about 175 cards to go through each day. The last few were really hard for me. I always think I need to be doing more, more, more! So it’s weird not to have new cards each day. And I’m resisting the urge to either begin adding cards from my Nihongo So-matome JLPT N3: Kanji book or my Intermediate Kanji Book. And I’m torn about which book I should focus on when I do start adding material again. It’s never too early to start studying for the next JLPT IMO, so that’s probably where I’ll start.

Of course, that’s not the only deck whose kanji I write out. I have several writing decks, each of which serve different purposes. I have my Genki II deck, based on all of the vocabulary from…you guessed it…Genki II! That one also has no new cards and is in permanent maintenance mode.

Then there’s my original kanji study deck based on the Kanji Look and Learn Workbook. I made it through that one a while ago. I like it because it uses sentences from the book instead of just words. So I get context when I’m trying to remember the words. I thought it would be in maintenance mode for a while, but then I found some graded drill books for Japanese Children that are formatted similarly so I started adding those cards. Well, until I started stressing about my final. Then I stopped adding new cards and just did reviews. For the first time since its creation I have that deck down to 0 at the end of a session (about 25 cards per day). It’s kind of nice.

Oh, then there’s my Heisig deck. It’s been on maintenance mode for over a year. I do between 10 and 20 cards a day for it. Half the time I have completely forgotten what the hell the English key words mean, so I just write out the kanji to write out the kanji and remember its shape. I figure I’ll worry about what it means when I can actually read it.

And that is all of my writing decks. I know. I’m insane. It often takes me two hours or more just to get through those. And some days it saps my will to live. Not adding anything and watching the stacks slowly decrease by 4 or 5 cards a day is nice.

…But I have reading decks too. I make one specifically for each Japanese class for our “oral production” test. We have to translate sentences on the fly from English to Japanese using the grammatical structures we’ve learned during the class, and judge our fellow classmates on their translations. It helps tremendously, but the day after my test I hid the deck so I wouldn’t have to feel guilty about not reviewing.

The deck that makes me smirk is my original deck. It’s made up of sentences. Some of them are in there to reinforce grammar, some have new words. I only do that deck for 4 minutes a day, but I constantly add new content to it (especially from iKnow. I don’t want to forget what I’ve learned once I don’t have access to the site anymore). It’s never been at 0 cards. It usually hovers around 200 due, has 2286 total cards, and has 1281 new cards that god knows when I get to. Half the time, by the time I get to my new cards I’ve already learned what’s on them. It used to bother me that I study this deck so little, but I’ll get to it when I get to it.

I also have (of course) a JLPT N4 deck. That one is just words, not sentences. And (unless I come across new words in my N4 studies) it’s in maintenance mode. And yes, I have an N3 book that I want to add cards from. I think I’ll hold out until after December (and the N4 test) to do that.

The last deck that I study is the one I want to focus my (non-heroic) efforts on, my N4 grammar constructs. I still have over 100 new cards in it and I still have issues with a few of the constructs. I’d like to get through all those new cards by the end of September so I have time to get comfortable with all the rules before December.

Not adding new cards is about as close to a “break” with Anki as I can get. I can’t stop studying and take a real break because I’d never start again. There would be too many cards. And I can’t just give up because I’ve put in way too much time and effort to learning this language (god knows why). So, I have 14 more days of leisure study. No heroic efforts. Then who knows? I’ll probably go crazy and start adding more kanji until I have a nervous breakdown. We’ll see. For now I’m on “vacation”.

Catch Up

I didn’t get enough sleep the night before last and my ability to remember foreign words was severely impacted so yesterday I didn’t do all my cards. I did what I consider my main decks, and the ones were I don’t write anything (because just hitting a button when you don’t feel good is much easier than laboriously scribbling kanji after kanji). Today I caught up on my sleep—and my cards. 633 cards in 2.39 hours. I also started a new deck (to add insult to injury) because my intermediate 2 class started this Wednesday.

In all honesty I’m not really caught up. My one mish-mash deck has never been at zero due. I look at cards for four minutes and call it good. That’s an improvement. I used to do it for three minutes a day. My Kanji Look and Learn deck I write out kanji for 21 cards (up from 10) per day and consider it done.

Sometimes certain decks suck my will to live, either because of the difficulty of the words or the time it takes to write and review them. Instead of abandoning them entirely I cut down how many I do per day either in terms of time (the four minute a day deck) or number reviewed. At first I thought this was cheating, but sometimes it’s necessary to adjust your decks in order to keep them alive. They snowball. You’ll be moving right along adding ten or twenty new words a day and all of the sudden you’ll come to the deck and have a ton to review. It’s ok not to get to all of them. Do some of them. Do one of them. Cut down the amount of new words. As long as you keep steadily looking at a few cards your backlog will go down. And you can slowly increase how many you do per day until you dominate your deck again. Sure you might not finish it as quickly, but remember the story of the tortoise and the hare and remember who always wins.

Some is better than none


“At the end of the day it’s better to have tried to do one or two flashcards when life intervenes with your regularly scheduled studying than to do none at all” she says sitting sunburnt and sleepy at the end of the day leaving two decks untouched. The horror!

恒心: Cultivating steadiness and constancy

It would seem for me that learning Japanese is all about fun and video games. Though I wish this were the case, in actuality video games are a pleasurable aside in my daily struggle to understand the language.

I credit most of my learning and retention to the flashcard program Anki which I began using as an aid for James Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji—which I did start because of a video game.

I’ve never been very disciplined. I can’t maintain a steady yoga practice. I have trouble sticking to routines of any sort unless they involve morning coffee and the threat of a caffeine headache. And yet I began reading RTK every day, visiting the Reviewing the Kanji site to help with stories for the Kanji, and writing out the kanji every day. That was a year and a half ago. I still review the Kanji every day.

I think I was able to stick with the flashcards initially out of fear. There are a mountain of flashcards just waiting for you to turn your back on them so they can all be due at once and crush your studying spirit. The RTK deck alone holds over 3,000 (though there are 2042 in the first book. The rest are from book 3 which I have not yet started.) Some days even though I had been studying faithfully, there were over 200 slippery characters waiting to be tested. Some days it took me hours to complete.

Offering up a truth, I should probably mention that I am a housewife (主婦) without children so I have more time to study than most. Offering up another: that doesn’t mean I want to spend my entire day embroiled in a battle with flashcards.

Initially fear can be a great motivator. Each day you run screaming from the threat of your flash cards overtaking you and devouring you whole. After a little while you get kinda tired of running and screaming. You begin to maybe dislike the flash cards. You begin to maybe resent the flash cards and question their efficacy. I mean seriously how many times does one have to write out the kanji for apologize 謝 before remembering it?

This is a dangerous crossroads to reach. You risk either giving up after having invested so much time and effort into learning, or continuing forth as an embittered curmudgeon soullessly doing your cards just to do them.

That last one is me on most days. But I came to a revelation recently. And it sounds kinda hokey, and shockingly easy. But for me it’s not. Maybe you’re one of those sunshine and rainbows people. I’m not. So, the revelation: change your motivation. Don’t show up to your cards every day because you’re afraid of them. Show up to your cards every day because you love them. You love the language and they are your lifeline to understanding it—oh wait there’s that desperation theme creeping in again…

I’ve branched out from just doing flashcards from RTK. I have a myriad of decks that I do each and every day. Some days I review over 500 cards. That can either be a whole lot of fear, or a whole lot of fuzzy kittens. My point is that you choose how you view your flash cards, and whether to resent them, embrace them, or give up on them entirely. It’s all in your hands. And all you have to ask yourself is: “What’s my motivation?”