I’ve been going through some changes recently in my Japanese study. I finished the Manga-based grammar I’d been reading sporadically, and finished going through the characters in Read Japanese Today. Which I recommend (both of them, but I’m thinking particularly of the latter here): in my experience, you need as many methods as possible to get kanji characters to really stick, and learning about the origin of the characters is a good one. (I also recommend preferring to learn easy easy characters and focused memorization.)
Of course, now that I’ve finished those, the question is: what next? To follow up the latter book, I’m trying to spend more time imagining ways to link radicals to characters when memorizing characters. And Amazon commenters recommended the book Chinese for Begninners, which is apparently really about the characters rather than other aspects of that language; I’ve ordered a copy, we’ll see if I like it or not.
To follow up the former book, I’d been tentatively thinking that I’d start going through Hikaru no Go: I have the first volume in both English and Japanese, so it seems like a good place to start testing myself against the language more. The problem with that, though, is that I’m not sure exactly where in my schedule I’d find time to read it in Japanese! Fortunately, the problem doesn’t seem very urgent right now: I’ve found other ways to expose myself to Japanese (watching episodes of Hikaru and Twelve Kingdoms in Japanese with English subtitles; playing through Eternal Sonata in Japanese with English subtitles), and I’m learning a fair amount from them. I get the feeling that I’ve gotten over some sort of hump: most of the time, I very much rely on the subtitles, but more and more often I can figure out individual words after the fact or even decode whole sentences after the fact, and there are even some very simple sentences that I can figure out without the translation.
Another cause for optimism: for whatever reason, I’m going through the textbook faster than I had been. The last three chapters have taken me two weeks each to finish, instead of the three weeks pace that I’d been going at before, and the pace feels sustainable. My guess is that I’d run into a patch of unfamiliar grammar before (while the recent grammar has been stuff that I’d been at least somewhat familiar with from other sources), and I’m also getting better now at learning new vocabulary, and those have combined to speed up my progress. I wouldn’t be surprised if I occasionally go back to three week chapters (or longer, if illness/vacation get in the way), but I’m now a good deal more optimistic than I was that I’ll manage to finish the last twenty chapters in about a year.
I’m also getting more out of my use of JapanesePod101. I’d been annoyed by two flaws with their RSS feed: they only list the last seven episodes, which makes me worried if I ever go on vacation or need to send my computer in for repairs (previously, when I’d checked, they listed all episodes since their inception in the feed), and they started to throw in “premium lessons”, which I had to download by hand. (I do have a subscription, but I did that because I wanted to support them rather than because I wanted to have special access to stuff; I wished they’d just make the premium lessons available for free and stick them in the main feed!)
So I poked around a bit, and realized that there was a feed available for paid subscribers. And it not only remedied both of those issues, it also contained more material that I was aware of but hadn’t been using. The occasional “bonus audio” tracks are amusing but nothing special; having the lesson-specific PDFs available in iTunes, though, means that I actually look at them (since I see them in iTunes when deleting episodes that I’ve listened to), and they’re a good tool for helping reinforce my learning. I don’t actually generally use them to follow up on the grammatical points in the lesson: their main benefit for me is that they write out each dialogue in four forms: one including kanji, one kana-only, one in romaji, and an English translation. Which gives me a lot more reading practice, and in particular is a good way to test my kanji recognition skills in a safe environment. So now I’ll recommend a basic subscription to other people learning Japanese: it’s not just good for giving yourself warm fuzzies, the extra material in the RSS feed really is useful. (I don’t yet have an opinion about the premium subscription; the price difference is such that I didn’t seriously give it a thought, given that I’m learning enough via other means.)
So: I still have a long way to go, but I’m happy with the recent concrete signs of progress.
One other tweak that I’m considering: I write up lots of vocabulary flash cards (which is clearly useful!); when I’ve decided I know the word in question, I put it in the box in alphabetical order. This takes a noticeable amount of time (not a huge amount of time, but time I’d be happy to eliminate), and is largely drudgery; is it actually useful?
In some circumstances, the answer is yes: if a kanji has lots and lots of readings, I’ll only memorize a few on my first attempt, and take the card out later to add more. But for other words (kana-only ones, compounds), I almost never take out the card once it’s gone in the box. So I’m tentatively thinking that almost all of the time I spend alphabetizing those cards is waste; and, if I decide that I’ve forgotten a word that I once thought I knew and want to take out the card again, I could always just rewrite the card from scratch.
So now I’m thinking I might just throw away cards that don’t correspond to a single kanji. I’m going to think about it for a few weeks, since that’s not a step that’s easily reversible, but it might be a good opportunity to reduce inventory.
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