Are You Spending Your Japanese Time Effectively?

I had a problem. I was the best Japanese-studyer in the world. Every day I spent hours in front of the computer optimizing my Anki decks, adding and reviewing new words, scouring the archives of Japanese-learning blogs and gleaning the latest studying insights from Japanese-learning message boards.

My favorite daily duty was making new Anki cards. I made the best Anki cards in the world. I probably could have started a sleezy looking website and made a million dollars from selling them. Each one had a pretty picture from the manga or anime of the day, the right font sizes and colors for easy skimming, a carefully selected sentence that wasn’t too long and wasn’t too short with a carefully selected word that wasn’t too far down the Jouyou kanji list or had a convoluted J-J definition.

I pulled out all the stops and scanned manga pages, and drained my anime with Subs2SRS because if I didn’t make each card as clear as possible I would have never remembered the new word, right? Some days it took over an hour to make fifteen cards.

I read through the archives and subscribed to all my favorite Japanese-learning blogs. I read through my favorite discussion boards every day, not that I needed new insights or better study methods. I spent a few hours every week downloading more podcasts and music and shuffling files between here and my iPod.

I had gotten really good at studying Japanese, but I wasn’t getting good at Japanese.

After all that work, I usually only managed to scrape through my Anki deck by the end of the day and get a good night’s rest. I didn’t have time to spend more than ten minutes reading a manga or watching the latest One Piece or reading a Japanese book or a newspaper or even a Japanese-language blog post. I was too busy. I was spending a lot of time, but I wasn’t using it effectively. And spending a lot of time on unimportant things doesn’t make them important.

I was getting frustrated. After reading a good productivity book (In the English language. Yes I know I’m a bad person) for inspiration, I decided to look at how I was really spending my Japanese time.

How do you find what’s wasting your time?

I looked at it this way. If, I don’t know, some really mean Japanese-hating old man with a gun forced you to only spend an hour a day on Japanese, what would you spend it on? How about only an hour a week?

You might be skimming the article by now and nodding your head along with me and saying you’ll think about it later because everybody hates doing dumb exercises like this. I do too. But really take a minute or two right now to think about how you would spend your time. It’s important to find what’s important to you.

You could probably give up your message board scrounging if you had to. I did. What is slowing you down? What’s making you less effective? It doesn’t matter if it’s something everyone else is doing. If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it. Stop reading grammar textbooks. Stop watching animeStop using Anki. You can even stop reading Japanese Level Up if it’s not an effective use of your time! (Finish this article, first, though, it’s a good one!) If it is helping you, keep it and get rid of the ineffective parts of it.

Obviously I’m not saying adding detailed Anki cards is evil.

Reading Japanese blogs can be extremely helpful. (If they weren’t, why would I be writing this?) I love language-learning message boards; without them, I would probably be poking around with Rosetta Stone right now! But if it’s not helping you in an effective manner any longer, give it up. I hope you won’t still be reading JALUP when you’re old, have a grey beard and call yourself “わし”. By then, you’ll hopefully be to the point where it’s just not effective any more. You’ll already know all there is to know about Japanese. That’s great!

I cut back on my Anki card obsession. Now I make sure that the word is fairly well stuck in my brain before I add an Anki card, if I even need to add one at all. I don’t care if it doesn’t look perfect any longer. It’s still a great way to remember new words, but now I’ve cut out the ineffective parts of it. I stopped visiting discussion forums and only check my favorite Japanese-learning blogs once a week. I spend less time on Japanese study now. But now I spend it effectively. How about you?

Written by: Eric

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A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he's not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.


Are You Spending Your Japanese Time Effectively? — 9 Comments

  1. Interesting post! I sort of did the reverse (but in a lame way) for 1,6 years lasting until April this year. Only Anki & audio, with NONE whatsoever input about techniques and so on…just drudging away day after day.
    Now that I’m back the in-about-ratio has become a foe I’m constantly aware of(thought about it today), but for now it’s in balance.

    “Miyagi: You remember lesson about balance?
    Daniel: Yeah.
    Miyagi: Lesson not just karate only. Lesson for whole life. Whole life have a balance. Everything be better. Understand?”

    And my answer to the one hour dilemma: Read some 楳図 かずお horror-manga and watch クレイモア! :D

  2. I spend most of my time doing just Japanese stuff.
    Even though I am pretty much an Anki主義者 who follows the Anki religion, I wouldn’t say I spend more than 30 minutes a day with it. I do my Kanji reps in the morning, and I’ve finished RTK so long ago I only get like 2-10 cards due a day. I love doing Kanji reps though, so I sort of miss it :P

    I get between 100-200 sentence cards due a day, which I can knock out in less than 10 minutes usually. Lately I’ve been adding 25-35 cards a day, sort of as a last minute sprint to the finish line of the arbitrary level 65 fluency. If I were to gauge myself I probably will be there by the end of the year. I currently have 7251 cards in my sentences deck, so at my current rate I should be around 9000 cards.

    That’s beside the point though. Adding 25-35 cards takes me around 25-30 minutes. My cards are pretty simple though. Just Sentence on front, with manually input readings on the back and a definition for the word. No fancy colors or pictures or anything, and it’s as Pokemon would say 「効果は抜群だ!」

    So adding cards is 30 minutes a day and reviewing everything is at max 15 minutes, so even on my worst day, doing all my stuff with Anki wouldn’t take more than an hour, at max.

    Therefore, I have a whole bunch of time to just immerse in Japanese. I usually listen to Japanese as close to 24/7 as I can afford (well that’s stretching it a little), I always have books in hands reach (except in the bathroom) and I have tons of movies and games, so I guess my Japanese effectiveness is pretty good.

    • Sounds pretty effective to me! You must be a Japanese-learning machine. One question, though – why no Japanese in the bathroom?

      • I was going to ask the same thing, ha. Though, I used to leave anything in the bathroom, my husband told me the humidity ruins the materials. So now I just put materials that don’t have much value in there, like free papers or travel magazines.

      • Well, my problem with putting stuff in the bathroom is that I’ll probably end up taking forever. I can imagine myself sitting down on the toilet, opening a manga and sitting with my pants down for the next 30 minutes as I blaze through the entire Manga lol.

        It’s sort of like the Angry birds effect with toilets. You spend too much time, lol.

  3. Hmm… One hour to study. I think I’d prefer to grab a really good manga and really good novel and shuffle between the two (using both intensive and extensive reading), while leaving Japanese TV on in the background.

    Edit: Actually, since it’s one hour every day, I’d probably alternate days, a day for reading and a day for watching/listening. So that I can focus more on the materials.

  4. Woah.. Seriously it is as if I have leaped through time, made an alias called Eric and wrote this article to warn my self in the past.

    Everything you say that you used to do, is pretty much exactly what I am finding my self doing now. I am awesome at studying Japanese. But my Japanese isn’t that crash hot… Great article, it has given me a lot to think about.

  5. Although it takes me a while to create cards I think I’ve got the process pretty well streamlined. And it’s not like that time is unpleasant or wasted, I’m usually listening to some podcasts or streaming radio while I make them, and probably most of the actual minutes are spent reading definitions and and trying to understand them.

    Reviewing, on the other hand…

    Reviews don’t take all that much of my day, but increasingly it doesn’t feel like effective or efficient use of time. I’ve got the leech limit on my J-J deck set at 50, which should be impossibly large, but a significant fraction of my cards are leeching out. Khatzumoto would say these cards should have been deleted long before they reached that point, but I’ve been reluctant at this stage to delete monolingual cards, since one dropped word could mean no longer understanding a definition, leading to another lost word, and so on until the entire tree had rotted away. Of course I’m losing those cards anyway, so maybe that’s a moot point. In any case, it hit me the other day that of the 450 words in my deck I’ve encountered, maybe, 10 in any other context. Which means I’ve put a lot of time and effort and repeated reviews into words that just aren’t that immediately useful. Which is sort of the antithesis of effectiveness.

    I’d been planning to go through the end of the year and 1000 cards before experimenting with lookup-as-needed alternatives to Anki, but now I’m thinking maybe I’ll push through the end of this week, just on principle, and start the experiment on the holiday weekend.

    For what it’s worth though, for a while I had a method that felt very efficient, at least for vocabulary. I’d browse sites with Rikaichan and hit ‘S’ on any word that grabbed my fancy, saving into a file on Dropbox so I could easily move between computers. Then in the evening I’d just import the file into deck with one click. I set my leech count to 5, which meant I lost a lot of words, but I was adding so many so easily that it didn’t matter. I stopped doing this because (1) there’s more to learning Japanese than learning vocabulary and (2) I’ve found the arguments in favor of going monolingual to be compelling.

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