Everything I Learned on my Continuing Japanese Journey

I’m James, 24 years old and from Sydney Australia. Currently studying and working a casual bar job. Recently I’ve been using my free time, nearly all of it, to power level as fast I can to fluency by my end of year Japan holiday.

3 More Stories Of Japanese Masters In The Making 2

Your reason for learning

I spent as much time as any other person indulging in various English dubbed anime and Japanese role playing games. As I grew into an older, not much taller man, this love for Japanese media continued to grow. A belated 21st birthday present to Japan later and the rest was history.

How you got started

By coincidence I discovered JALUP and AJATT off a post in Crunchyroll’s forum, which spoke briefly about the immersion method. I didn’t like the look of AJATT so went with JALUP instead. I started with RTK after reading the majority of the walkthrough. From there I moved onto the JALUP beginner that just so happened to be released at my conclusion of RTK.

Brief notes on your method

From the start I used the popular SRS program Anki to learn the Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji premade deck on JALUP. At the conclusion of my Kanji, I moved onto the JALUP beginner (a premade series, made by Adam himself). I have completed JALUP Beginner all the way through to JALUP Expert. I have also completed another 1700 cards from The One Deck (Adam’s personal deck) which I started somewhere around the end of advanced, but really upped my pace during expert. That increase in pace from The One Deck was thanks to an extremely important Anki add-on, which I’ll touch on later.

Content milestones and timing

I successfully completed the RTK deck within 3 months between November 2013 and February 2014, after which I began my sentences immediately. As of today I have completed 5500 cards. I have completed all of the JALUP series of decks thus far, with the exception of 80 left on the expert stage 4 (4000 cards in total). The remainder of my cards learnt have been from The One Deck.

Stuff that confused you but you figured out

3 More Stories Of Japanese Masters In The Making 4

I want to leave a lot of my solutions for the advice column, but here are some issues I sorted out along the way:

– The best way for me to review and add cards

– How to think about monolingual (J-J) material, especially when studying Anki

– How to enjoy content at a low level

– Does passive immersion work?

– What’s the best way to immerse your self passively in Japanese?

– Why doesn’t active or passive immersion work for me?

– How to speed up my Anki reviews without sacrificing gains

– What pace to introduce new cards in Anki

– How to start speaking

– How often and what should I be reading

Worst moments in the journey

I started with the JALUP RTK KANJI deck in July 2013, right before my trip to Japan. I managed to keep up my studies while abroad, surprisingly to myself. But within a little over a month, I felt myself becoming frustrated and demotivated. I felt myself thinking about how it was so stupid that I spent so many hours, given up so much of my time, and all I could do was translate lone kanji to English. Which was kind of helpful in Japan, but once I returned home to Sydney, its usefulness completely vanished.

So I did what every frustrated learner does and quit. 3 months passed by fairly quickly, my Japanese failure had all but subsided to an inkling of guilt I felt every once and a while spontaneously. But I had a problem, I couldn’t play my favourite games anymore. I couldn’t watch my favourite shows. They were all tarnished by my failure; they all brought back the memories of never going the distance.

It’s then that I realised that every piece of media I held dear to my heart was in fact, Japanese. From then I vowed to never give up on my dream again, and that I would one day fluent. 1901 kanji, 1000 J-E and 4700 J-J sentences later, I can’t imagine ever letting that happen again.

Best moments

– The adulation I have received recently from my ‘teachers’ (or paid friends, as I like to call them) and the genuine disbelief due to the speed my spoken Japanese has jumped since I began a little under a month ago is amazing.

– Understanding my first Anime

– Getting the plot of my first novel, although more vaguely compared to anime

– Thinking in Japanese, in brief stints

– Making J-J cards feel like routine, like my J-E cards used to. The dictionary is slowly becoming my servant, and it’s delivering me delicious vocabulary fruit daily.

– Hitting Level 40 and hitting the oft-mentioned ‘turning point’


My advice section will be what I believe are the best things to get you from beginner to fluency as fast and effectively as possible. It is written for the highest denominator. However, every piece of advice I will give here can be scaled to your needs, from power levelers to the casual players.

Remember, there are exceptions to every piece of advice I will give. Use my advice in the way that best fits your needs; it is just my opinion after all. The most important advice I will give is that you never stop the battle; never give up your desires and dreams to learn Japanese. There is a right way for you to learn, you just have to tailor existing methods and routines in a way that works for you. Japanese needs to be somewhat enjoyable, and you need to be able to go the distance. Don’t follow any of my other advice at the expense of that.

Unfortunately, the advice below must be condensed into the ‘what’, without any reasoning to back it up. This is in order to fit within the word constraints of the article. I will clarify anything you need in the comments section, please don’t hesitate to ask:

Immersion Advice

– Immersion with Japanese subtitles on first watch, repeat as desired and then move material to passive immersion device.

– Passive Immersion MP3 player: Regardless of device, if you aren’t passive immersing from early on, you are missing out. Listen as much as you possibly can. Passive listening -material should come from anything with text e.g. subtitles, scripts, in-game text etc. Once you have actively engaged with it at least once, it can become passive material

– Use immersion material that you would watch in English. Make sure that material is at your level or below your level.

– Watch as much active material as you can/want, but make sure you at least do your Anki reviews every day. Leave some time for reading when you hit the appropriate level.

Anki Study Advice

– Switching to J-J is one the most important things you will do in your Japanese Journey, second only to immersion. Please make the switch, very doable with the JALUP Intermediate-expert series. Use Anki and purchase the JALUP maxed out package (much better value than buying items individually)

– Don’t introduce new cards if you can’t keep up with the review pace. Always always complete your reviews first and never miss them if you can.

– Complete RTK with Anki, and continue reviews indefinitely. Don’t ever stop reviewing.

– Buy an osX and iOS device a.s.a.p., the baked in support for Japanese is unrivalled on competing platforms.

– If you review, add cards, or make cards, your hands should rarely if ever leave the keyboard. You can do nearly everything faster with shortcuts.

– Don’t use the browse function in Anki once you are past the beginner phase, it will slow you down. Anki will fill in your gaps in knowledge automatically over time.

– Try to spend approximately 3-10 seconds on cards whilst reviewing, and double that when you fail cards

– Don’t be upset by failing lots of cards, Anki shows you more of the material that you are bad at, this can give you a harsh view of your Japanese.

– Don’t think about cards in English. Don’t think about cards at all, unless you are able to paraphrase to Japanese. Keep the pace up and don’t let your mind dwindle. This stops translation.

– Only used definitions as references, if you are confident about a card, you don’t need to look at the definition at all. If you think you might know, scan it. If you don’t think you know, read the definition and fail the card. Try and not spend too much time on failed cards and move on quickly.

– Make sure to always have passive material playing even while you use Anki, you’ll get used to it very quickly.

– Make sure you use the Morphman plugin to organize information in an i+1 format when you finish the JALUP4000 and move onto The One deck. This is will make the transition an absolute breeze in comparison.

– Make sure you have the Japanese plugin installed so that you can get furigana readings when making, or editing cards for the One deck. You can do all this with keyboard shortcuts.

– Suspend Cards in The One Deck if you find any duplicates, too many unknowns, too difficult, or for names/counters/places.

– Make sure you look up the RTK keyword for words that you don’t recognise them in. for example 単=simple

– When doing Kanji reviews, you can add stroke diagrams or get the strokes from jisho.org

– Try alternative sentence sources if there are too many sentence unknowns. You can do the same for definitions too. My favourite alternative souce is the Apple built in J-J dictionary.

– Try a review threshold and lower your new cards per day if you go over it.

– Try short periods of time where you have higher goals than normal.

– Read all your Anki sentences aloud, and read definitions when you first introduce a card. You might want to write the sentence out too the first time you see a card, I don’t.

– MCDs are great but are too time consuming as far as I’m concerned. Your spending enough time in Anki already. In my experience your output is better off being formed in immersion and conversations.

Reading Advice

– Around 3000-4000 sentences is a great time to start reading novels.

– When doing intensive reading, make sure that you are using ebooks. Being able to have a popup j-j dictionary at your disposal is amazing. Apple products have one of the best built in dictionaries I have ever used.

– When doing extensive reading, you can use paper back if you like. Basically, it doesn’t matter what you use.

– Make sure you are listening to passive material while you read. Make sure you are passive immersing no matter what you do, actually. Listen whenever and wherever possible.

– Try and read for an hour a day, 30 minutes is good too.

Speaking Advice

– At around 4000-5000 words is a great time to begin

– If speaking is a prioritiy, try and speak every day for an hour, there are many services on the Internet where you can talk for free or pay to speak to someone.

– Speaking 1-3 times a week is more realistic if speaking isn’t a major goal.

– You will be nervous, and compared to what you know you will suck badly.

– Keep the lessons up and you’ll see ridiculous improvements over the weeks/months. After your first month you’ll notice a massive jump from when you first started.

– Consider keeping a script (no English) or saving some of your favourite sentences to use from your Anki decks and keep them on hand.

– Don’t forget to tell your teacher/conversation partner at the start of the lesson or earlier to only speak in Japanese and to explain and define in Japanese also. Tell them English is absolutely prohibited.

– Also don’t forget to ask them to correct all your mistakes. I get my big mistakes corrected at the time, and the smaller ones written up for me at the end. This might not be possible if you aren’t paying them.

– Speaking is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in Japanese, try it out for you write it off !

The difference Japanese has made to your life

Japanese has made a huge change in my life. But not only Japanese, but the values imprinted by learning Japanese in such an intensive, structured, and disciplined way. It was completely out of character for me and has finally given me some order and belief in my ability to achieve.

I don’t need to explain the enjoyment you’ll get as you gradually peel away the barriers that prevent you from understanding your dream material or activity. But I think the true benefits are the character building elements that learning a language makes you undergo. Those unexpected and intrinsic gains are the massive boon that you’ll receive amongst the expected elation as you increase your understanding and ability at an exponential rate.

Have your own story to tell?

Submit it using the “Join” button and include your: start, reason for learning, methods, milestones/timing, confusion/discovery, worst/best moments, advice, and how Japanese changed your life.

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James K.


Everything I Learned on my Continuing Japanese Journey — 21 Comments

  1. Hey everyone! For anyone that made it to the end of my section, you definitely have the willpower to make it to fluency. :P
    Thanks for taking the time to read, I really appreciate it and hope you can take something from it.

    In regards to my advice column, I put a lot of binary information in there with little to no reasoning behind it. Due to the constraints of the article (which I mostly ignored) I had to omit a lot of the how and why for my advice column. For anyone curious or sceptical (Aussie/British spelling) about any claim, method or statement that I made. I really want to offer you the opportunity to place any further queries in the comments section for further clarification, answered by yours truly.

    Lastly, as of today I am around the 6300 card mark with a lot more experience in the One Deck specifically. The reason I’m mentioning this is that I’ve now implemented a much more flexible review scoring system for myself (inspired heavily by Matt. V).

    Originally I was somewhat masochistic, adding 30 cards a day and then using the 1(again) and 3 (good) button exclusively. Retention was amazing, but the study hours were brutal. Today I’m working in a way that’s in some ways more effective short term, and what I believe results in the same outcome long term. I am now reviewing using 2(hard) as my default fail, and before my cards become mature (1-3 month area) I am failing them if necessary. This helps space out the daily workload immensely, and gives you a lot more free time for immersion.

    Please everyone, don’t do Anki at the expense of all your active immersion. You’ll end up getting frustrated and bored, immersion really is the most satisfying part of your Japanese study.
    If you’re serious about Japanese and have the opportunity, please passively immerse. It will have a stronger influence on your Japanese than you can imagine, but it needs to be done frequently and daily.

    Good luck anyone! Please throw any and all questions my way, even if they aren’t things I included in my story. I think I can answer most of your questions, there’s a lot more information in this noggin than I could spontaneously output for this story (kinda link an input based Japanese learners output :p).

    • Glad to see your story finally make it up. Thanks for sharing! (And thanks to everyone else as well. These are great to read =D)

      I’m really happy the adjustments to your review style have helped you have more time for fun. Also, you should check your Skype messages at some point =P

  2. Thanks all of you posting your stories. You all have came a long way!!!.

    BTW James can you explain Morph Man a little bit more? I’m not sure I understand what it is.

    • OK basically morphman is a program that organises your cards on an i+1 basis. What this means is that every new card you introduce will have 1 new thing, kinda like the Jalup series.

      You can get it to scan your premade J-J deck (the one deck) for both the expression and definition field and it tries to introduce one new word per deck. It pretty much eliminates the need for branching and I would call it an essential tool in going monolingual. It can be a little difficult to set up so I’ll try and find the link to one of the users here ‘Jacob H’s instructions, they are fantastic and really helped me.

      I think people might have a bit of trouble setting it up, for that reason I might offer up my config files so people don’t have edit a python script. It’s designed to scan The one deck and make it i+1. I might even send adam my version of the one deck, which uses the Jalup 4250 and a 1000 cards from the one deck that I did prior with morphman to organise it i+1.

      It will make your transition into j-j without the jalup decks a lot more convenient.

      • Could one of you guys send me your zip file of morphman (Jordan3311@yahoo.com) I am getting some strange errors

        • Before that, did you see my comment below the “guide” comment about the model overrides section? It should be the note type name and not the deck name.
          If that doesn’t work, then I can just send you some of the files.

          • I fixed that. When every I get to the part where I save file to all.db file I get this error
            An error occurred in an add-on.
            Please post on the add-on forum:

            Traceback (most recent call last):
            File “C:\Users\Jman\Documents\Anki\addons\morph\util.py”, line 87, in
            b.connect( a, SIGNAL(‘triggered()’), lambda b=b: doOnSelection( b, preF, perF, postF, progLabel ) )
            File “C:\Users\Jman\Documents\Anki\addons\morph\util.py”, line 74, in doOnSelection
            st = perF( st, n )
            File “C:\Users\Jman\Documents\Anki\addons\morph\extractMorphemes.py”, line 16, in per
            ms = getMorphemes( n[ f ], None, cfg1(‘morph_blacklist’) )
            File “C:\cygwin\home\dae\win\build\pyi.win32\anki\outPYZ1.pyz/anki.notes”, line 98, in __getitem__
            File “C:\cygwin\home\dae\win\build\pyi.win32\anki\outPYZ1.pyz/anki.notes”, line 95, in _fieldOrd
            KeyError: u’Definition’

            • I emailed my config file to the email address you gave. Let me know if there are any issues.

      • I can’t download the morph man plug in anymore. Is there anything I can do? Any help is greatly appreciated.

  3. Questions for James: What kind of sentences would you keep on hand for your speaking practice? Also, what structure for those lessons have you found proves most helpful?

    • You can make a bit of a script just going through your anki deck and keep that on hand as a kind of cheat sheet. Alternatively there are lots of cheat sheets with general phrases already made up on places like omniglot.

      Personally I just kept anki opened and searched via kanji, keywords and anything I could remember to help me find the word I was looking for. For example: if you wanted to say ‘even though’ you could just search the english in Jalup beginner. Or if you wanted to look a particular word and remembered one of its kanji you could search the keyword in RTK and find it, and then search the sentence in your Jalup 4000. You can also just search part of the target word you are looking for, for example: i want to know how to use ために properly so I search that or anything I can remember that relates to it.

      As you get more comfortable you’ll rarely need to do this, and just accept your limited vocabulary. As you get your little base of usable vocabulary set, you begin to work around those things you don’t know to say, and then you can frame it as question. Your native speaker will be able to figure out what you’re saying and correct you on the spot.
      怖いの反対語ですか?  ’怖いません’正しい話し方。 things like that and your teacher will get what your intended word is. Sometimes I even just copy and paste a kanji of the word and the pronunciation I think it is and they’ll give the word I was looking for.

      I tell my teachers strictly no English in my lessons, and make sure every single thing is Japanese. There is a work around in everyone situation, even from your first lesson. Sometimes you’ll have to think outside the box. There are so many little things I do and things I come up with all time to convey my true meaning, and then my teacher will correct me on how to say it.

      Get creative and you can communicate anything you want. Want to say lazy but don’t know the word:
      There are so many ways to get around things you want to say there’s no way to list them all. You’ll find it much more enjoyable than looking up words every two seconds. Reserve those times for when you are absolutely desperate for that word, which in my recent experience, is rarely. Use your strengths, your ability to read, your knowledge of kanji, your listening to your advantage.

      There’s a way to explain what you want to say, it won’t always be the way you would in English. Get used to roundabout tarzan ways of explaining things when necessary. As long as your sensei gets your intended meaning they can tell you the right way to say it and stop any bad habits forming.

      In terms of lesson structure, just talk to them to like you would any other regular person. And tell them to correct your mistakes when necessary, just make sure they don’t get overpedantic and keep correcting the same mistake over and over. You want to enjoy your conversations, they are so much more rewarding and motivating that way. I actually look forward to chatting in Japanese. Just free talk and let the natural japanese flow as well as it will for that point in time. Don’t worry if you suck, you will. You’ll rapidly improve over the months and your teachers will be blown away at how fast you’re improving.

      • Thanks for that response. I like the way you’re working around what you don’t know yet, or don’t remember right away, and doing it all in Japanese.

  4. These are awesome stories to read! I have been struggling with pushing to level 40 and beyond and reading these really helps with understanding and cultivating my relationship with Japanese. I really need to get more active in the JALUP community.

  5. Fantastic stories, wonderful advice.

    James, I do have one question about the following recommendation:

    – Use immersion material that you would watch in English. Make sure that material is at your level or below your level.

    I use all sorts of immersion material, but at my current level (somewhere 8-10 maybe a bit lower), there’s no real confluence of the “would watch in English” and “at your level or below your level”. There’s virtually nothing but the equivalent of “see spot run” (ok a small exaggeration but not by much) out there as far as audio content that is at or below my level. So, I tend to listen to immersion material that follows the first part of your advice: “Would watch in English”. I use Audacity to record many YouTube vids (those of JPSikaHunter aka Virtuovice and Comical Reina), and to extract movie audio files (eg: The movie タンポポ and インデペンデンス・デイ…a Khatzumoto fave, as well as my favorite anime ブリーチ). As my level increases, I’m sure I’ll be able to find more “at my level or below”, but for now, I listen to these things (after watching them with both Japanese and English Subs) obsessively. Each listening I get a BIT more out of. I know the plots so well that I do know what they are going to say (in English) and therefore know what to listen for in Japanese. I’m hoping this will be effective as my level increases. As an aside, I’d recommend the Jaybird BlueBuds (bluetooth) with third-party Conform T-500 sound isolating eartips if you want a really flexible in-ear experience. A bit pricey, but with the amount of passive/active immersion I do, really convenient and worth it.

    Thanks again for taking the time to help us all with your posts, all of you “Masters in the Making”. Much appreciated!

    • Of course at lower levels the amount of content available is limited, at this point you’d want to find content as close to your level as possible, without sacrificing enjoyment. The idea is to find content as close to your level as possible, but never at the sacrifice of your enjoyment. If you seriously cannot find any material at level 10, or all the stuff you want to watch is a bit higher. You’re always better watching your interests, even with the lesser understanding your engagement would be higher. On top of this, your active becomes your passive material, you don’t want to be using shows you’re not interested in on your passive mp3 player, you’ll probably go insane. I’ve probably listened to full metal alchemist 1-64 a stupid amount of times, but because I love the soundtrack, voice acting, and story in that show so much I can listen to it non-stop every day. That’s the kind of immersion material you want.

      You’re better off tackling material a bit out of your league than watching stuff exactly at your level that you can’t stand. There are so many positive factors in material you enjoy that make up for the slightly less amount of comprehension. Obviously as your level rises in the 20-30s the amount of material available will skyrocket so this is a problem that will disappear completely over time. In the meanwhile, I’d say you are doing the best thing right now for your Japanese. Keep watching that Japanese that’s just a bit out of reach, but don’t take on the big boys yet otherwise you’ll just be lost and your interest will dwindle (4-5 stars especially).

  6. “Read all your Anki sentences aloud”

    Do you really recommend this? wonder what Adam thinks of this? Seems like it would take too much energy.

    • There’s actually on older article about it on the site-

      I generally get all my reviews done inside of 30-45 minutes, so it works out well for me. If you have a larger review load, maybe read out only some of it (or find other places to do so, like book/game dialogue or shadowing lines in anime/movies).

      The idea is that it helps get you used to speaking, especially if you wouldn’t get much practice otherwise. It’s been very useful for me so far, at least =)

      • More for when you’re starting out in my experience. You can replace it with reading your novels out loud, manga, when you get confident enough. I still do it out of habit. If you really hate anki and just want to fly through your reviews then you can always practice elsewhere. Like handwriting your mistakes, it can help with retention. But it’s not necessary, like most things :). Do what works for you.

    • As the others have said, it depends a bit on what you are trying to accomplish. In your earlier stages it can be a great tool to both aid in memory and speaking. However, as you said, it can drain your energy fast. So setting a short period to do it works. You can even save it for only when you get a sentence wrong.

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