I’m going through a low energy point in learning Japanese right now: I’m on the ninth chapter (out of thirty) in the textbook, I’m going at a rate that makes it pretty clear that I have at least a year to go before I’ll be done with the book (a year and a half looks more likely), and I’m past the stage where I’m reviewing old material (either grammar or vocabulary) but nowhere near getting a real payoff yet. No big crisis or anything – I knew this was going to take a while to pay off (I’m no longer seven years old, paired with an excellent teacher, or about to be living in a country that speaks the language), and this is a natural time to expect a down spot. Still, I might as well look at my workflow and see if there’s anything I can do to help improve my mood.

Actually, I started looking at the workflow a couple of weeks ago. One problem I was having was that it was taking me more and more time to review my vocabulary each night, and yet I still wasn’t sure I really really knew words when I claimed I did! Before I go further, I should explain my vocabulary flow: I have three bins of cards. One is a bin of words I know, one is a bin of words I don’t know. And there’s a third bin, of candidate words that I think I know, but need to prove it.

I go through the “words I don’t know” bin every day. But, on weekends, I also go through the cards in the “candidate words” bin, and every card either gets promoted to “known” or sent back to “unknown”. On the same day, I also go through the “unknown” bin and promote words that I’m comfortable with to the candidate bin.

The theory here is that having words spend a week in the candidate bin will give me time to forget them – it’s one thing to be able to remember a word night after night, and another thing to remember it after not seeing it for a week. I’ve been using variants of this system for decades, and it works pretty well. (I wish I could remember exactly how I used this system back when I was in college – was I using it just like this, or in a different way?)

The problems, though, were that I wasn’t sure spending a week in the candidate bin was long enough for me to forget words, and that also I would spend a noticeable amount of time going through words in the unknown bin that I actually knew pretty well. Fortunately, when you phrase it that way, the solution to at least the latter problem is pretty obvious: promote more frequently. (I was probably conflating the notions of transfer batch and processing batch.) The easiest way to do that is to introduce another bin, the “early candidate” bin; I can move words in there at any time, and then, on weekends, after clearing out the candidate bin, I promote everything from the early candidate bin to the candidate bin without looking at them.

Seems to be working well so far – it’s cut down the time I spend on vocabulary review each night, without any obvious cost. And it actually helps my first problem, too, since words are in one of the candidate bins for a week and a half on average instead of a week. If that’s not good enough, I guess I’ll introduce another candidate bin, to let words sit for (at least) two weeks before final approval instead of one.

That’s helping with the time I’m spending midweek. But, last week, I must have spent three or four hours studying, which is a pretty good-sized chunk of my weekend free time. And today, I really wasn’t excited about doing the exercises in the current chapter over again, as well as writing new vocabulary cards, going through the above candidate rigamarole, etc.

I’m not entirely sure about what to do with that, but at least part of the problem is that I’m trying to do too much at once on the weekends. (Especially on weekends when I’m starting a new chapter.) I think the lesson here is that I should just avoid doing everything in one sitting: I shouldn’t read through a chapter, do the exercises, sort through old vocabulary, and write down new vocabulary on a single day. There’s simply no need for me to do all of that at once: e.g. today I sorted through old vocabulary and wrote down new vocabulary, which was maybe an hour’s worth of work, so why not defer redoing the exercises until tomorrow? And, on weekends when I’m starting a chapter, maybe I can defer some of the work until midweek, or even the next weekend?

The down side of splitting that up is that it means that, on weekends when we have something planned to do, it will be hard to find time on both weekend days. Still, I don’t want to stay in a situation where I’m not looking forward to learning because of the quantity of work; if need be, it’s better to take three or four weeks for a single chapter than to push myself too hard, I’m fairly sure.

On a related note, Miranda and I looked at one German class today, and will probably look at another one next week; hopefully she’ll start lessons this month or next month.

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