Learning Japanese in your 50s



Welcome to my journey. This is a new series where I will fully use Adshap’s method until I reach “fluency” and will write here once a week, every Sunday, keeping you posted on my progress. I will do this for as long as it takes.

I am 53 years old, married, my wife is 28 years old and I have a 3 year old son. I am a freelance musician and photographer (all photos used here I personally took), travel a lot, work odd hours, take care of my son 50% of the time, suffer from a chronic lack of sleep, live in a rather small place with my family, work at home when I’m not traveling, don’t live in Japan, and am always short of money.

This makes me the worst candidate imaginable to learn a new language.

In other words – if I can do it, you can do it – and if I can do it, then the JALUP method really works.

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Japanese for years. My pattern was: study – frustration – stop – s-f-s-s-f-s in an endless loop. This lovely pattern has brought me to level 15 where I’ve been stuck ever since. How about that.

This is going to change as of today. I am sick and tired of not understanding and feeling low about my Japanese, so I decided to do something about it and follow Adshap’s walkthrough, adapting it to my lifestyle and style of learning, and using material that interests me.

The first step was preparing my gear for immersion. I’ve read most of JALUP, which I discovered 2 weeks ago, so I am fairly familiar with his concept. I’ve chosen the Japanese material to start my sentence input phase, and I am now well acquainted with Anki.


The gear I will be using for now:

1. Four ipod shuffles in different colors (red, yellow, green and blue)
2. Three pairs of different headphones (for different situations)
3. Adshap’s modified RTK deck in Anki, slightly modified by me
4. Graded sentence input material
5. A hooded sweatshirt
6. Great Teacher Onizuka (GTO) in Quicktime format, recommended in Adshap’s
drama guide, and a few Japanese DVDs
7. Different timeboxing gadgets, from cheap kitchen timers to apps for the iPhone
8. WorkLog, an app for the iPhone, that is for keeping track of my efforts so I can provide you with exact study times
9. Audacity for simple and straightforward audio editing

I feel something exciting is about to happen. It feels like moving to a new country, getting a new apartment, or starting a new relationship or a new job.

Immersion Calculations and the Quadruple Play


I’ve made it through my first week.

The first thing I’ve noticed is that immersion is not a given. Even if it’s “passive” you have to work for it. You have to put in the hours, develop a habit, making every single minute count, or you’ll never make it past 3 hours. I thought it would be easier – well it’s not. You have to really want it, or it just won’t happen.

There are 24 hours in a day. Subtract 8 hours of sleep (wishful thinking!) and 3 hours of social interaction for family, meetings, and friends. This leaves me with 13 potential hours of immersion, if I listen to Japanese while working and try to keep listening with one ear bud in while talking to people. Finally, subtract 2 hours of active studying – leaves a max of 11 hours of immersion a day, if I really go for it. That’s why I’m using the WorkLog app.

When you start a diet, first thing you have to do is write down everything you eat. It’s an anti-BS process. Find out where you really stand. In my case find out how long I really immerse, how much I really study. Not just wishful thinking. That way I can find out where my weak points are and adjust. Once the habit is solid I believe I can take it more easy, but for now I have to be strict.

I definitively have to get used to this and it’s not that simple. Sometimes my brain just wants silence, especially considering that both my 3 year old son and my wife have a tendency to be on the loud side – not mentioning my mother in law who lives in the same house . . . Should I follow my need for quiet or should I ignore it? Will I get used to the constant talk or will it annoy me after a while?

How about you? How’s your immersion going? Does it get on your nerves sometimes?

Let me talk about my 4 iPod shuffles: Red means short time memory. Green is for long time memory, Yellow is in the middle. Blue is uncategorized random material for fun – anything goes.

The playlists are dynamic and change almost every day. R contains no more than 15 minutes of material. These are the sentences or audio clips I just learned. When I listen to them continuously for an hour, they are played to me 4 to 8 times each. Once I know them well, they move up to Y which contains 30 to 60 minutes of material so I hear each phrase 1 to 2 times an hour. Once I know that material really well it moves to G, which is filled to it’s maximum capacity, enough for about 30 hours of speech.

Why do I use this method instead of a regular iPod? I have the iPods clipped to my jeans, I grab my headphones and hit play. That’s it. No scrolling, no fumbling, no searching for playlists, no wondering what I should listen to. I pick a color and immerse, end of story.

My immersion is one single click away. I like that.


I have three pairs of headphones:  AKG K 430Ultimate Ears and the regular iPod headphones from which I cut off one earbud. The AKG and UE both have great audio quality and they shield off outside noise, which enables me to listen to low sound levels. I don’t want to be deaf when I finally understand what people say . . . The “half headphone” is good for keeping a low profile. Wear a hoodie and you can listen to Japanese without anyone noticing.

It’s entertaining to being able to listen to Japanese whenever a real life conversation is less than exciting. I’m already able to go multitasking – I can listen to and interact with my wife, friends, sales clerk, and listen to Japanese at the same time – a very useful feature. And it sort of makes me feel special. I live in my own “secret world” while still interacting with the outside world: I hang out with Natsuko, Kiyoe and Ichiro while chatting with Thomas, Fred and Susan.

I had a very busy week. I managed to do 48h 54m of Japanese. Immersion: 31h 29m, Anki: 5h, active studying: 10h 25m, and drama: 2h.

Dramas definitively need more attention. And as you can tell from these numbers, I’m nowhere near the available 11 hrs a day.

Keeping Pace And The Power Of Fun

Time flies. When you do a project like this, you suddenly realize how short one week is. It’s scary. But let’s stay positive and enjoy the moment rather than worrying about time.

My first big change has already happened. I now realize that during my pre-JALUP phase my Japanese studies were indeed studies. It was work, worry, frustration, ego, ambition, and self-consciousness. It kind of reminded me of my school days many years ago.

Instead it should have been fun, laughter, enjoyment, fascination, love, interest, suspense, and playfulness. There is nothing wrong with ambition and studying, but fun and enjoyment should be at the very core of my studies. Nobody is forcing me to do anything. This is my free will. Why should I give myself a hard time? No wonder I quit so many times.

I feel it’s going in the right direction now. I trashed my old books, trashed the RTK Kanji that are not necessary, trashed the stuff I’m not interested in, and am going for the stuff that brings me enjoyment. I also trashed Core 2000 for the time being. Maybe I’ll get back to it, maybe not, but right now I’m not craving it. Let’s face it: I will never work in a Japanese company. I’m not that kind of guy. Why should I listen to office situations where a 部長 (section manager) tells a 会員 (employee) to make copies of some documents? What interests me in this situation? Nothing. And nobody will ever ask me to make copies. I’m my own boss.

For me the right thing now is Jpod 101. I find their lessons entertaining. The lengthy English explanations and discussions are rather boring at times, so I just import each lesson into Audacity and blast through it until I hear something that interests me.

I edit the dialog, deleting the noisy phone sounds, ambient intros and endings, and the constant spamming to visit their page. Sometimes I shorten the pauses between sentences (easily done with Audacity) and am left with hundreds of dialogs in polite and/or casual Japanese. They sound natural to me, and I enjoy listening to them. I drag and drop the audio recordings into my playlists and copy and paste the sentences I’m interested in from the lesson pdfs into Anki. It’s all become a routine, and I’m enjoying the process. There’s around 1000 lessons I can listen to, enough for the rest of the year.

I’ve been thinking about how to document my progress. I believe that listening to me speak on this series is important. I could tell you how much progress I was making (like the uber-ultra-super-learners from various J-forums), but without actual proof it would be boring and useless.

The best documentation is a video of me talking to a Japanese person, 1 on 1.

I will look for someone in my city and I will ask the person if she or he would be willing to chat with me on a video every two months. This would be the ultimate living proof of my capabilities and hopefully of my progress. I will tell the person to speak naturally as if she/he were talking to another Japanese person. I will try to understand and respond, and you will clearly see where I stand.

Let’s see what I did this week: Audio: 23h19m,  Movies: 3h15m,  Anki: 2h13m,  Studies: 6h23m for a total of 35h10m. I was traveling quite a bit and worked with groups of 80 youths, making it impossible to listen during work. However, when I traveled by car I listened to Japanese all the time.

I’ll try to do better next week. Not enough movies and not enough Anki just yet. The truth is, I’m hooked on the Sopranos and I have to finish it. I’m at season 5 of 6 and when this is finished, I will never watch a movie/drama in English again. The kind of passion I have had for the Sopranos is what I should have for Japanese movies. Unfortunately when you don’t understand it can be hard to get hooked. Sometimes I feel I will never understand . . .

First Results


After discussing it over with Adshap, we decided to less frequently update the JALUP Adventurers, Coco’s Journey series. With this change, I will be putting a lot more action, reflection, and punch into each post, rather than having it spread out every week. Please keep in mind though that my journey has not changed at all. I will still be going all out just like I have been from day 1 and fully utilizing the JALUP method to Japanese mastery. The only difference will be that it will now be chronicled anywhere from once every two to four weeks depending on how things develop.

But now on to the actual post!

I may be mistaken, but I have the impression that my immersion world is showing first results. It seems to me that I understand more than ever before. Interestingly, English – or rather German in my case, is slowly fading. I listen to the phrases and I understand what I hear. Remember, though, that I am using material that I have listened to, read and understood at least once, before it has entered my immersion realm. But still, it is a step forward: I am understanding material that I am not translating.

I didn’t mention it before, but Japanese is my fourth language. I am fluent in German, French and English, but my mother tongue is German. Well actually, no, it’s not because both my parents talked to me in French, but I grew up in a German speaking area. Interestingly, I am learning Japanese through English, since all the good learning material is in English.

Saori has suggested I add reading material to my studies. I have been following her advice by adding Level 3 of theGraded Readers by White Rabbit Press. The readers come with a CD and full ふりがな (which is kind of useless when you have the CD). I tip-ex the furigana and read along while listening to the audio. I enjoy it very much. Thank you, Saori. I didn’t do much of it this week, because I had to travel by car a lot, but I can see it will be an interesting addition to my studies.


Good news: I found a Japanese woman, Makiko, who’s willing to work with me on this project. She  very much liked my idea of recording my progress every two months. She’s in Japan right now, but in 2 weeks she will be back and we’ll start our recording project.

Also, I asked her if she could read books to me so I can record them and she liked that idea. First thing I’ll do is have her read “Kitchen” by Banana Yoshimoto (キッチン、 吉本ばなな) to me. I will then read along with the recording, maybe first reading it in German once, so I know what it’s all about, and then concentrate on the original text and the recording. Really looking forward to that.

My results of the week. Immersion: 24h9m, Anki: 6h22m, Studies: 10h9m, Reading: 0h39m for a total of 41h18m.

On The Road, Stick To Plan B


It’s been a while since I last updated my progress. I’ve finally decided that the best period to update on JALUP is once a month. When you’re on a long journey, change happens slowly, and once a month seems like a good frequency to keep my readers up to date, while still sticking to a regular schedule.

The weeks since my last post have been really, really mad. Adversity and distractions have hit me with full power, and sticking to a plan, any plan, has been very difficult.

Which is a good thing, because it has taught me a few things – when life gets rough, one has to adapt, and if there’s no plan B, then the journey may very well just end.

Which, in my case, is not an option.

I am sure that all of you have encountered situations when you were tempted to just “wait until things cool off”. Thoughts like “I’ll start again when I have the time” or “next week I will work on my Anki reviews, which are in the thousands by now, and slowly work my way back to zero”, or “after midterm I will restart my immersion, I just don’t have the brain capacity right now…”


Tomorrow? In a week? In a month? In 6 months???

Or maybe never????

Thing is, one day turns into three days, one week becomes a month, three months, six months and before you now it, your dream is gone before it even began. Have you been there before? I have – and it’s no laughing matter.

Back to my life. I was on the road, had two music projects as a composer and player (one of them was finished yesterday night and I drove back to my home town all night), my son was sick twice, then my wife, then me, and we had to find a new place into which we will move in September.

Keeping up with my Japanese studies was extremely difficult, and I almost gave up.


This blog and my plan B kept me on track, not every day, but most of the days. When me and my family were sick, things got really rough, and when I was in the final stages of my projects with rehearsals all day and lots of composing and programming, it just wasn’t possible. But I always got back into it, if only by sticking to my plan B.

Plan B is this: keep going under any circumstances, even if it’s just for five minutes a day. Never, never ever let the flame die. Do one single thing, but do it. Be it Anki reviews or immersion, anything that gives you any kind of positive feeling, just do it. Love watching movies? Watch 5 minutes of a Japanese movie. Feel good after Anki reviews? Do 10 minutes. You go to the gym, you have to commute? At least listen to your mp3 player while doing it. Invest 5 minutes to keep the flame burning. Then, when things cool off, slowly go back to normal.

Sounds really obvious, does it? If it is so obvious – how come people get fat, or give up playing the piano, karate-do, studying Japanese, going to the gym?

My advice is: Write down your goals for each week, if your week starts on Monday, then write down your goals on Sunday. Make a list of clear, achievable and realistic goals for your coming week. Carry your list with you at all times and read it at least three times a day. This will remind you to stay on track. Don’t beat yourself up by trying to achieve the impossible. Take the other route: feel good about yourself by achieving small goals.

If your week is rough, the list may look something like this:

1. 5 min sentence reviews a day

2. 5 min Kanji reviews a day

3. 20 minutes immersion a day

4. Read one page of the graded readers in one week

This looks like nothing, but if you stick to it while things are rough, you will feel good about yourself and you will keep the flame burning. And when the time is right you can get right back into it.

I am back home now. My family is well. I am exhausted, but happy, and I am ready to slowly expand my weekly goal list until I am back to normal.

My Mission Reaffirmed


Another month has passed and I must admit that it has not been easy. Still on the road, still struggling with everyday stuff.

Why does life not go from A to B in a straight line? Why does Japanese learning not go from A to B in a straight line? It would make things much, much easier. We wish things would evolve in a straight line, but they just never go where we expect them to go.

To put it plainly: I was feeling lonely. No one to talk to, no one to correct me, no close person around me speaking Japanese, only a huge mountain of things I should learn. Sort of like learning to ride a bike on an exercise bike in the basement. Riding and riding, working on good form and pushing your VO2max – but never feeling the wind, never smelling the pine trees of the forest you imagine you’re riding in.

Enter Maiko (麻衣子)

Finally, after weeks and weeks of trying to establish a date where we could meet, we finally got together. You could argue that I didn’t want it badly enough for it to happen sooner, and maybe you’re even right about that. Maybe I was scared of meeting her. I don’t know. The important thing, though, is that we met.

She was very nice but quite tough. She only spoke Japanese to me. There was not a single word of German (my native language) from the start of our encounter. She completely understood what I was looking for. In fact, she came well prepared.

Do you remember? I contacted her through Facebook (remembering her name from an old “Japanese Lessons” ad she put up two years ago), and asked her if she’d be willing to check my progress once a month or every two months while also reading some books to me.

Anyway, I had a copy of “Kitchen”, both in Japanese and in German, and to make things easier for me, I first asked her to read to me. Truth is, I asked her to read so I didn’t have to speak and wouldn’t feel embarrassed in front of her. She agreed and read half the book to me, before we took a break. I really enjoyed listening to her, I tried to read along and understand what was going on. I guess I got around 15% of it.

Here’s an excerpt for you to listen to.

Then, before I could safely end the “lesson” without losing face, she suddenly said: “now let’s see where you stand. I’ve prepared a few questions I’d like you to answer.”

I put the microphone in front of my mouth and started to fumble with the words and sentences, it was terrible. 恥ずかしかった。本当に。I really felt bad and down on myself, and was really depressed for the rest of the evening and the day after. I was ready to quit for good.

Have you been there before? Do you know that feeling? You’re supposed to be smart, witty and quick – instead you’re reduced to long pauses, lot’s of aahs and etou’s, sounding like an idiot while you try to find a few of the words you still remember as your brain goes into panic mode. Heck, she asked me where I’ve been in Japan and I even didn’t remember that. All I needed to do was name a couple of cool places like “Hagi” or “Kouyasan” to get the conversation somewhere but even this didn’t work. I couldn’t come up with the name Hagi. I was left with Tokyo, which is kind of pathetic.

The only good thing that I could think about at the time was that this will make me look even more like a hero if I ever make it to “fluency.” I will make sure to upload the recording then, but for now you’ll have to do without it.

Two days later I recovered from my shock. After all, I hadn’t spoken to a Japanese person since October 2009. The only person I spoke to was myself, and I didn’t understand what I was saying. So, instead of giving up, I started to get ambitious. I was ready to take some serious action.

I will follow the JALUP method and I will be the only student she ever met who will speak to her fluently after 2 years. I will impress her like she’s never been impressed before. I will enjoy speaking and chatting. I will enjoy watching movies. I will enjoy reading books. I will enjoy an entire new world that will open itself to me.

I started by mailing Maiko my exact goals for the month. They are: 1) go through Adshap’s RTK deck at a pace of 100 a day, 2) listen to 4 hours of Japanese every day, 3) watch 4 movies without subtitles per week, 4) work on my vocab for 20 min a day, and 5) listen to her キッチン recording once a day while reading along.

I am now a member of the Japanese iTunes store, have 12000 yen credit and have software to convert rented movies to movies I can keep forever. The rental is roughly 200-400 yen per movie, so I’m all set. Soon I will have a large movie collection without having to buy them at Amazon.co.jp and ship them here for a ridiculous amount of money!

I am ready to start impressing 麻衣子。Watch out!

The Dreaded Break


I haven’t posted in a while. The unfortunate truth is . . . I took a break.  A long break . . . The same type of break that led to 2-3-years of slacking in the past. The same type of break which results in letting everything go and which is to blame for me staying at the stubborn level 15 for so long.

They say that three things are the most stressful in life: death of a loved one, divorce, and moving. Luckily, I was spared #1 and #2 for now, but I did move on September 1st, and it required lengthy renovations by me. It is a beautiful place but was pretty run down, requiring a lot of work and dedication from me.

On top of that, someone offered me a new project which paid for an entire year’s rent, so I had to do that too: compose, produce and record the music for 45 short films. Deadline: September 27th. I am fast, but this is not something I  do overnight.

Somehow I couldn’t handle all the stress, so the Japanese had to go.

And in it’s place was this:


This is no excuse. Before moving, I was completely on track with my Japanese progress:

– I finished the RTK JALUP deck
– I watched an abundance of movies (25 since my last post), which is my favorite way to stay immersed. My favorites were: 天然コケッコー , ニライカナイからの手紙 and ツレがうつになりまして (which was very slow and sad, but somehow I could relate to it, me being depressed from time to time)

I discovered a flaw in my approach

I have the tendency to avoid something completely if I feel that I’m not doing it properly. If I don’t do my reviews for 5-6 days I start to avoid Anki. I even start to “forget” my cell phone at home. And then it gets worse and worse and I can’t motivate myself to go back to it. I think my tendency to be perfect is to blame for that behavior. I want to be perfect and when I’m not (in my eyes) I move away from what I’m trying to do completely. This is an area I desperately need to work on if I want to improve in Japanese.

When it comes to studying Japanese, I will never be perfect. I have to live with the fact that I suck and that I will suck for a while to come. I will suck when I speak, I will suck when I read, I will suck when I listen and I will suck when I watch movies. I will make a fool of myself when I speak to a  Japanese person and well – I’ll have to live with it and take it with humor.

Same with time management. I have to accept that there will be times, like last month, where I have to take it easy. Where not everything will be perfect, because my world can’t always revolve around Japanese. And it’s OK. I’ll do more next month. I’ll do as much as I can when I can. October, November and December are fine. I will make up the lost time. I will give my best for the rest of the year and into the next.

Thank you, dear readers, for being here, because you make a difference. Without you I may have stopped. I am back in the game now, and tomorrow morning I will open Anki for the first time in a month and I will look at the 1000+ (or more?!) reviews waiting for me and I will tackle them, one by one. I will kill the beast, be back to my daily reviews, and back into Japanese. I will not let a major setback stop me. You watch. I’ll return even more powerful than before.

Back In Action


Let me tell you: getting back in the game after taking a break is 10 times more demanding than playing the game all along. This was a tough lesson for me, but I am happy to say that I made it back. There were lots of psychological obstacles holding me back, and since I was missing the positive force of routines and habits, I had to stem the whole thing myself.

The power of positive habits can’t be underestimated. Without them you depend on willpower and momentary willingness to study / immerse. It’s too easy to leave the headphones in the backpack and just go on daydreaming. And when you don’t feel like studying,  you just do something else.

But – things are now going really, really well.

Sometimes a restart is a good thing. I reset my sentence and RTK Jalup deck. Bam! Back to zero. This was very liberating and had the immediate effect of me getting back into it.

The sentence deck is now set to “show new cards in reverse order started”, which means that the most recent cards show up first. This is good, because I lost connection to many of my older sentences, and by using the new ones first, I’m connected to the stuff I’m listening right now. If I add less sentences than I have in my “New Cards/Day” tab, the older cards get added until, eventually, I’ll have all the sentences back. Feels very fresh.

The RTK Jalup deck is now set to 50 new cards a day, and I’m done in a few minutes because I already know most of them. I feel like a hero, on top of things, which is exactly what I needed. I don’t care if it takes until the end of November, because I’m happily learning sentences and doing RTK on the side.

I am so happy I reset my decks. If you’re stalled, you should give it a try. Or start a whole new deck and get rid of the old one. It’s more radical, but moving forward is key here, not collecting stuff. Of course, you should take my advice with a grain of salt, as I am not an expert yet. All I can do is tell you how I feel and how things are going for me at the present stage in my journey. And I don’t have 5000 sentences in my deck. Things probably look very different with 5000 cards.

I got back into movies, too. I watched about 15 movies, my favorites were モテキ and 惑星のかけら. Really liked モテキ a lot. Romantic, funny, crazy, energetic. I watched it 5 times, a few scenes over and over again. Also listened to the extracted audio a lot and I ordered the Drama prequel and the whole manga series, which arrived with the mail today. Yes. Yes – I now am officially a fan. And I’ve go a crush on 長澤まさみ.

Can you ask for more motivation?

As for a lighter movie, I liked ロボジ, funny stuff. Especially the beginning is great and draws you right in.

I’m starting to love Japanese cinema. I’m dying to understand them better, I can see that watching movies fills me with desire to understand all of it, and I think this is what Adshap is talking about again and again. At the moment it ismy ticket to mastering the language. When watching movies you sort of start a relationship with the people in the movies, you’re taking part in their lives, and naturally, you want to understand what they’re saying. Adshap is totally right: this movie-audio-immersion-thing really works! and it’s so much more fun than listening to thousands of boring short sentences from iKnow or KO2001.

Some advice on movie sound extraction: I use Audacity, drag and drop the movie file into it, which automatically extracts the audio. Then I quickly go through the movie and delete all ambient noise and music with no speech. It’s a process that takes a few minutes, but it’s well worth the effort. You’ll be happy you did it once you start listening on your immersion player. Then I heavily compress the file: take the compressor plugin and set the threshold to -30 to -40 dB and klick “make up gain for 0dB” try “compress  based on Peaks” and see what it does for you, maybe it’s a bit extreme, but give it a try. Then export to mp3. What it does, is level the movie so it’s never too loud nor too soft. It can be really bothersome if you hear too much or too little of your movie. You’ll find you’re constantly fumbling with the volume, but the process I describe here really takes care of this once and for all.

I am still using the JPod101 lessons, but I find them sometimes too slow and too long: take this example (used with the kind permission of JPod101). It’s a typical example of a Jpod101 lesson, intermediate level. There’s a lot of English, ambient sounds, and often the speakers talk slowly so you can understand their explanations. It may well work for many learners, but I want as much natural, normally spoken Japanese as possible. Enter Audacity again.

I use Audacity’s two most helpful features: “Change Tempo” and “Truncate Silence”. While listening to the lesson,  I delete every English word which isn’t absolutely necessary and every noise that doesn’t add something meaningful. (nothing more annoying than a blasting phone ring while you have your headphones set to loud, the “もし、もし after the ring is enough for me to realize someone is on the phone) Then I speed up the tempo between +4% and +12%, depending on the speed of the speech. After that I truncate all the silent parts between the sentences. My settings are: min. silence duration: 200msec, max. silence duration: 1000msec, silence compression 4:1, threshold for silence: -25dB. Both these functions are used on the entire file in one go. At the end I have a nice edited file which suits my needs perfectly.

Check out the difference to the file you just listened to. Before it was 15m 07s and now it’s 4m 22s. I get the same level of information, but in one third of the time. It doesn’t take long to do that. For a 15m lesson I spend maybe 25 minutes, so it takes just 10 minutes more than just listening to it, and the benefits are obvious.

If you made it through the long post – thank you for staying with me, and I hope you can put some of my advice to work.

Random Thoughts


Passion. Fire. Thirst. Desire. Like raging waters.


I know those emotions well from the days I studied at Berklee College of Music. Passion for music. All fired up when playing and practicing. The unquenchable thirst to play well. The burning desire to get better.

It all came from listening to other people play. The stars out there, the good students, the brilliant teachers.

Practicing scales and such was OK, but I felt no passion. The fire was alight when I heard other people, when I listened to LP’s and tapes (CD’s and MP3’s didn’t exist back then). I had the first generation Sony Walkman and I had a Miles Davis tape on endless loop. For days and days. Always. Miles Davis “Four ‘n More” and “My Funny Valentine”. I could sing along every solo, every note.

And here I am again: the Walkman has become an iPod, the tape has become an MP3 file and the Jazz kept the J but the azz became apanese. Real people speaking real Japanese. Would I have listened to a tape with scales and arpeggios? I don’t think so. Would it have improved my playing? I doubt it. And would it have put me on fire? No.

Grammar compares well to music theory. It came after people talked and after music was being played and composed. It’s a quest for understanding the unexplainable. But it helps and I should not leave it unstudied. I definitively haven’t done enough grammar, reading and speaking. I have to start focusing on these issues starting in January. It’s easy to get obsessed with vocab and sentences and hide behind them.

Lately I’ve been using Skritter and I really like it a lot. It has helped me bridge Heisig to the real world. I’ve started doing Heisig in Skritter while going through the “Basic Kanji Book” 1 and 2 at the same time, and it has really helped me tremendously. I now don’t separate the two concepts, and since Skritter automatically adds the pronunciation to Heisig, everything falls nicely together. But – as I said, it’s easy to get obsessed with it and forget the other important fields: speaking, immersion, grammar, reading. I painfully experienced this when I had my last lesson with Maiko. First we watched a movie together and after that she asked me some questions about it, and, as last time, I went into panic mode and couldn’t say a single coherent sentence. It felt as if I hadn’t improved an ounce since starting with JALUP.

A lot has been talked and written about learning plateaus, stagnation, and progress. I won’t get into these subjects again. People far more proficient than me have done their share.

What I would like to talk about, though, is how one perceives or judges his  own progress. There are numbers on the JALUP site. Level up numbers. They help, but, as you all know you can fluctuate from 15 to 25 and back in a split second, depending on how much sleep you had, how self conscious you are at a certain moment, who you’re talking to and how long you’ve been hanging out with Japanese speakers  on a given night. (Have you experienced that feeling of exhaustion when your brain suddenly goes into overload and you just want to go to sleep and are thinking “What am I doing here???”)

I think my Japanese has improved a lot lately, but I don’t feel it just yet. And, as you can see from the lesson with Maiko, it still painfully shows. I still think that my learning of vocabulary is very slow, and I sometimes wonder if it’s my age which makes it hard for me to learn. But then I realize that I know lots of words I didn’t know 3 months ago and somehow it’s feels as if they came from nowhere. I guess there’s some progress somewhere.

My plan of action next month will be: speaking, shadowing, continue immersion and Kanji as much as possible and doing a little grammar every day. And I’ll try to meet Maiko more often so I can overcome my speaking inhibition.

The End

Coco’s final post of his series was on 01/05/2013. This doesn’t mean he finished learning Japanese or gave up. He just decided to continue the rest of his journey without chronicling it. He thanks everyone for reading and staying with him over the months and hopes that your journey will be as amazing as his has been.

Want to follow another adventurer? Try Ninjam’s Mission.

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Musician and Japanese lover. Will not give up until both dreams are fully reached.

Latest posts by Coco (see all)


Learning Japanese in your 50s — 108 Comments

  1. 頑張ってください。毎週読むつもりです。質問を持っています。

  2. イエムピさん、コメント、ありがとう。
    I’ll respond in English, if that’s OK with you.
    Glad to hear that you’ll be back and thanks for your wishes – 頑張ります。
    You’ll find out about the colors and the reason why I use four iPods next week, it will be subject of my next post – so please come back.

  3. Looking forward to following this! 頑張れココさん!

    “Four ipod shuffles in different colors” – that’s somehow amazing ^o^

  4. I am look forward to this all well. I feel that I am around this level and I don’t know what to do. I am glad I am not the only one. I would like to know where are you getting your sentences from? I KNOW that the both of us can get pass this level. I can’t wait to read your posts. 一緒に頑張ります


    • ジョーダン-san. Thanks. We’re all in this together.

      I think the source of your sentences doesn’t really matter, as long as you enjoy it. Right now I’m having fun with Jpod 101. I’m really tired of my textbooks, and I just don’t feel like starting all over again with the same material, which used to be Japanese for Busy People.

  5. I am really looking forward to your blog. I found this website not too long ago and I am really excited by what I have found. Heavens know that I have done tons of research into how to study Japanese. I am a recent convert and self assessed level 18、 頑張りましょう!

    • Hi Amy and thanks for dropping by. We’re more or less at the same level, so I’m looking forward to your comments – we can push each other to new levels!

      Good luck for your journey!

  6. >5. A hooded sweatshirt

    Glad to see you didn’t forget the most important thing!

    Jokes aside, I’m really excited to see how you do on your Japanese journey, especially with all of your lifestyle factors and challenges. Have lots of fun every step of the way!

    • Heather, thanks – the hoodie is extremely important, you’ll soon find out why! Thanks for your wishes and see you around – I wish you loads of fun, too.

  7. I’m so excited for this! 頑張ってくださいね!It inspired me to take things up a notch as well. I’m sure this will inspire a lot of people.

    The four colored ipod shuffles is sure to start a trend. Six months from now, we’ll easily be able to spot any immersion method learner, 笑.

    • Hi Saori, thanks for visiting – I’ve read many of your posts here as I was exploring this wonderful site, happy to see you here…

      Yeah – lets go wild with the shuffles, this is just the beginning 笑.

  8. お疲れ *________*v

    The iPod thing definitely makes a lot more sense now. I think I have too much material on my shuffle, so I should probably just try to update it more often.

    About your study regimen, I think the reason it’s hard to get a full 13 hours of studying in per day is that you’re still looking for what works for you. Once you get used to watching drama for relaxation, you’ll watch your way through an entire season in 1 day without problems.

    Other than that, I personally think that 13 hours a day is a lot. I think that like sleep, you need your quiet time every now and then to process things. My advice would be, don’t hesitate to take some quiet time every now and then. It shouldn’t be a problem as long as you don’t go and run back to English.

    Also, at some point you might get sick of some parts of your study regimen, much like I got sick of chicken when I was on a diet ;-) Be sure to switch it up in time to prevent a lifelong dislike of certain ways of studying ;-)

    • This is so true! One of the reasons why I disliked Pimsleur is because after a few weeks (this was before I started using the immersion method), listening to the same material, at the same pace of speaking and method of teaching, was so mind wretchedly boring I couldn’t take it anymore. Don’t let this happen to your immersion environment! Perhaps on that blue ipod, you can add daily podcasts so there is always something new to listen to. Also, maybe you could keep around some reading materials (Chi’s Sweet Home is a great manga for beginners, and there’s other manga that have all furigana so that you can read smoothly, even if you don’t understand at first) so that you don’t always have to be listening for immersion, but can read for it too. Then there’s some balance (^_^).

      • Reading material is a very good idea. I have those graded readers lying around somewhere, I might pick them up and get some change through them.

        BTW, my first language is not English, it’s German. English is my third language and Japanese my fourth, French being my second.

        • Oh hey, Japanese is my fifth language :D (native Dutch speaker, 2nd language is English, 3rd is French, 4th is German)

          • Fifth?? not bad, indeed.

            I forgot to mention Swiss German and Latin – but I guess they don’t count. I had Latin at school for 9 years and all I remember are a few “wise guy punch lines” such as “Principibus placuisse viris non ultima laus est.” What a waste of time…

    • Linniea, thanks a lot. Guess I just have to loosen up a bit. Better than burning out in no time – I have been there before…

  9. If you subtract the sleeping hours from the day, I’m pretty much aiming for the same rate of immersion you are this summer (13hrs/16hrs=~80% immersion). It’s more possible during the summer, because I don’t have school (with exception for one 2x/week summer class from May to June). I haven’t really had this intensity of immersion, so I’m excited.

    I like your ipod idea, and plan to use it myself, except it’ll be with a non-apple mp3 player (my husband’s). I’ll be watching two to three kids from around 8am to 7pm Mo through Fr, so I have to work my immersion around them. Along with using the mp3 player, I’ll be continuing to teach the kids Japanese and will show them Japanese movies, picture books and music, as well as bringing my own books to read while the kids play. I really don’t know if 80% immersion is possible for me yet (certainly not possible during the school year, since we can’t listen to an mp3 player during class), but you aiming for it encourages me.

    Immersion is certainly tiring. My mother-in-law from Japan says that the average foreign exchange student needs around a month to adjust to listening to Japanese all the time without feeling tired by the end of the day. Her exchange students would often ask to speak in English, because they were just so tired and needed some comfort. To force ourselves to do this in an environment where English is the majority is certainly a challenge. I haven’t started my 80% immersion yet because I’m finishing up my semester first. I hope my immersion efforts will prepare me before visiting Japan this summer for a couple of weeks, so that I can truly enjoy myself and not be tired by the end of the day.

    • Yeah, it can be tiring. I remember when I was on holiday in Japan, sometimes I just couldn’t stand it anymore. All that Japanese!!!

      Glad you feel the same. I think 80% immersion is very tough, indeed. I don’t know if I ever can do it: I am already listening to music all day, it’s my job. Right now I’m composing a new piece, and I just can’t get used to listening to Japanese at the same time. I don’t know if it’s possible. I’ll try…

  10. Great read. Its almost like your journey is a weekly episode and I am rooting for your to become fluent. I like the use of the iPods; there like Link’s outfits for different situations while your headphones are like weapons. Those Ultimate Ears run a pretty yen. Reading this has made me want to evolve my study habits. ガンバル

    • イエムピ, thanks for your support! The UE are very expensive, I had them already because I worked with them on stage for a few years, but then stopped using them. So mine where free :) But I’m sure there’s cheaper versions out there, I even heard that there’s a DIY version where you can mould your own in ear speakers.

  11. I’m anxious to see more posts of yours. I started my Japanese journey almost a year and a half ago, but admittedly, I’ve made little progress, and only after finding this site I decided to seriously start immersion… So, I’m on my own JALUP adventure right now and while I’m not blogging about it, reading about yours is a tremendous source of motivation ( ̄ー ̄)

    (I just gotta remember not to spend TOO much time reading JALUP, heh)

    • hi there, irmoony, thanks for reading! Looking forward to hearing about your progress, it’s good to know that others are heading for the same direction.

      OK, ’nuff said – back to immersion!

  12. I have a 3DS instead of an iPod (2GB SD card, enough room for a fair amount of material, I can still listen to it through the headphone jack even if it’s closed, and most importantly, I don’t have to use iTunes. And never will. Ever.), but I never thought about compartmentalizing my listening material. I’ll try that once I get more, since all I have right now is about 14 tracks I found via Japan-A-Radio (haven’t had time to get more since it’s a four-step process to get it from Youtube to the 3DS), so it seems like a good idea. Kind of like seperating different study areas into different Anki decks.

  13. 14 tracks is not much, indeed. I just counted my tracks and I was surprised to see that I have 23535, enough for not getting bored :) Separation is a good thing, I believe. On what equipment the stuff is stored is really irrelevant, though.

  14. 35h10m of Japanese over the whole week? Holy crap I’m slacking (relatively speaking). Let’s see, I haven’t explicitly been tracking anything, but I think what I did this week was: Anki: 1h45m (avg 15m/day), Audio (Japan-A-Radio, twitcasts, and listening to Japanese friends IRL): ~5h35m (aiming for at least 30m/day, usually a bit more), Video (so far, only a ペーパーマリオRPG実況プレイ): 30m, reading/writing practice (specifically, reading and responding to tweets in Japanese): 25m, total of 8h15m… wow, actually a bit more than I expected.

    Of course, I have a lot fewer opportunities each day to listen to or do Japanese. I can’t “leave the TV on a Japanese station all day” because I don’t have the $25/mo Comcast is demanding for TV Japan, so I have to substitute with Youtube. Listening practice while driving is right out because there’s no Japanese radio stations in the area, and it’s illegal in my state to drive with headphones on (nor do I have a CD player in my car). And my “actually doing stuff IRL” schedule is a mess this whole month… in fact, I have to go in about 15min to help with the local 子供の日祭り (at least I’ll get some listening practice :D) But I’m definitely doing better ever since I started reading Tofugu’s “30 Days of Becoming A Better Japanese Learner” ebook. Two weeks ago, I was averaging maybe only 2-3hrs a week.

    • Don’t beat yourself up – we all do what we can, we all have a challenging life, don’t we? Your immersion sounds fine to me!
      “30 Days of Becoming A Better Japanese Learner” ebook? I had to download it immediately :) I’ll read it in the coming days and let you know if and how it affects me. Thanks!

  15. ここさん、こんいちは
    My weekly source of entertainment has arrived! Well, OK, not the ONLY source of entertainment.
    I’d like to follow your example and log my progress, but I’m too much of a lazybum to bother (I’d like to get the same app you’re using, but unfortunately I don’t have even 5$ to spare right now, lol). But since I spend most of the time on the internet, I have some kind of Japanese audio playing in the background almost all the time. Currently my playlist consists of a rather… mismatched set of stuff – two eps of Steins;Gate (watched it with subs a few months ago), two eps of the new 未来日記 drama (randomly found it when browsing a drama site, got me hooked), two eps of とある魔術の禁書目録 (which I had only recently discovered) and a few Minecraft 実況プレイ episodes.
    It might not be the best idea to listen to Japanese when climbing a mountain in scorching heat – you might associate it with unpleasant experiences later on xD
    I’m also trying out a Japanese P2P program, which might be… not exactly legal, at times, but if those files are legit, then it’s going to be a real goldmine of Japanese media.
    Other than that, I decided to only watch raw anime and drama and it’s incredibly frustrating, but my stubbornness won’t let me turn the subs on.

    Well, I think we’re both going in the right direction. ここから頑張ってください!I’ll be looking forward to your next post.

    • Interesting – sounds like you’re doing just fine! It’s great to meet people who are in the same boat, even if it’s only over the internet. You folks give me great energy, glad I got the opportunity to start this blog.

      Funny thing is, everybody listens to different stuff and has different interests, yet our goal is the same and we’ll all meet at the same place somewhere in the future: “fluency”…

      BTW, the app is great – I noticed it’s really motivating me to put in more hours, maybe you can spare a few bucks when you have them.

  16. You know, it’s a bit pricy but you can order most any popular American TV series dubbed into Japanese…

    so you can watch The Sopranos over and over again, all you want, and because you’ve seen it before you’ll even have a good understanding of what’s going on.

    • I know – naturally, I thought the same thing, but the Sopranos are really, really expensive, I don’t think I want to put in that kind of money. And you’re sort of missing the cultural insight. I think I’d rather go for some native stuff. I have a whole list of dramas from adshap’s list in my amazon basket right now, and as soon as I’ve sold one of my cameras I will click the checkout button!

  17. Your speaking sounds really good man. You are being too humble. Did you record it without a script? By the way, I got the ebook 30 days Japanese … And I am on day 8. The biggest thing I got out of it so far has been the shadowing techniques and the introduction to Kanji damage <—- best way to learn Kanji!

    • thanks, you’re too kind. anyway, it’s just the start – we’ll all be awesome in no time :) yeah, shadowing is great, I’ll do that too.

  18. Don’t worry too much about your accent. Your pronunciation is pretty good. Shadowing helps a lot. Also if you are into singing along to Japanese music that also helps greatly. At least it did for me. Keep it up! またね!

  19. Hey,

    I like keeping with with your progress so far. I came across a website that follows along the genki books closely, but has new dialogues at both natural and slow pace along with quizes. It was made as part of a maters. check it out!



  20. Also, regarding Core2k, what I did was – at first I went through steps 1 and 2, which amounts to 400 words total, but I found step 3 hard and annoying, so I suspended all cards, but those that had words that used at least one kanji that I’d already known (so I left about 600 cards suspended). Now that I went through over 1000 Core words, I decided to unsuspend the remaining cards, but honestly, I think it wasn’t the best idea to do that. I would also suspends sentences that I found boring and tedious.

    But still, it’s fine to get the J-E sentences from another source, I guess. But since I couldn’t afford a good textbook, I went for the most often praised free source.

  21. Hi there.
    It’s kinda sad I won’t be able to look forward to your posts every Sunday now, but I also feel that it’s a good decision – in terms of language learning, not that much will change in just a week of study, I think.

    I hit a bit of a slowdown, myself. Damn Avengers, such a cool movie. And not going to be released in Japan until August (poor guys). I did manage to get the prequel, sort of, with Japanese dub, and I have a feeling I’m gonna watch the hell out of that movie now. I also started doing what I call “RTK-turbo” – using Adshap’s deck I learn as many kanji as I feel like every day and I only add stories to the ones I can’t quite recall (I actually do remember some!). Also started doing, or rather trying to do, J-J sentences. Fell back on my Core2k deck, since I didn’t feel like getting through it much. I guess I continue reviewing and maybe learning 5-10 words a day, but I’d rather focus on Tae Kim’s guide, RTK and sentences.

    I assume you’re playing Japanese audio in the background about any moment you get, correct? I too try to do that, but I find myself very tired of the background noise after a while. But I guess that’s a matter of getting used to it.

  22. irmoony, my suggestion is to continue listening to japanese podcasts and radio as much as you can. Try to find things you find interesting so it seems less like background noise, and I promise it will start to come into focus earlier than you imagine. Check out these links:

    Free japanese web radio. (If someone could throw this into an article on this site, I think a lot of people would appreciate it.) Lots of choices, if you can’t play in in your browser download VLC player and paste the link for the stream your interested in there.

    This is the link to the homepage of my absolute favorite podcast,

    Note that unlike Coco, I almost never listen to things I have read first. I just listen as much as possible, and at first it really was like background noise, but now it is much clearer. I would say on average I understand around 70% of it.
    It is an integral part of my studies.

  23. これは僕の初めて日本語でコメント・・・



  24. Good to hear from you :D

    I know what you mean, I’ve been really busy the past couple of weeks and I’m starting a (full-time) summer job on Monday. I wonder how much Japanese my brains will be able to process then XD

  25. “1) go through Adshap’s RTK deck at a pace of 100 a day, 2) listen to 4 hours of Japanese every day, 3) watch 4 movies without subtitles per week, 4) work on my vocab for 20 min a day, and 5) listen to her キッチン recording once a day while reading along.”
    To be perfectly honest I don’t find this realistic. If you can do it, great for you, of course, but I think you may be severely underestimating just how much work it is to do “1)”; I did hear of some people who managed it, but it’s pretty much a full time occupation… Personally, even in my last week when I made a final push to get RTK done with, I only ever got to 50 new cards a day, and even then the reviews were skyrocketing…

    • @grapegrape I don’t agree with you. In fact doing 50 a day is probably worse than doing 100 a day. I did 100 per day for 20 days, and made it before the reviews got crazy. If you do 50 per day, the reviews will get too high, and if it were me, i’d just stop adding cards until reviews calm down. In my opinion it’s a lot better to spend 3~4 horus+ everyday and finish RTK faster so you can then concentrate on reviewing. Either way doing a final push was a good decision imo.

      • “I don’t agree with you.”

        You don’t agree with what exactly? What statement did I make that you disagree with? Do you perhaps think that everyone (or even most people) has the 3-4 daily hours (which I think is a conservative estimate) of solid concentration that would be required to go through RTK at that pace?

        “If you do 50 per day, the reviews will get too high, and if it were me, i’d just stop adding cards until reviews calm down.”

        Mathematically speaking, the reviews with 50 will always be less than half of what they are with 100 (It’s less, and not precisely half since cards need less reviews the older they are).

        “In my opinion it’s a lot better to spend 3~4 horus+ everyday and finish RTK faster so you can then concentrate on reviewing.”

        It might be better IF you can give yourself such a luxury. I, between classes and writing my thesis, certainly couldn’t at the time, and I doubt Coco can either. Though personally I can’t say I see the point of “concentrating on reviewing”, I do see the point of getting the “learning of new ones” done with as fast as possible.

        • Hi here again, as I said, I’ve already been through RTK 1 – I originally did it at a pace of 20-25 a day. This time around I need about one hour to do 100 a day.

          I do it first thing in the morning and do bits and pieces of reviews throughout the day. It really isn’t bad, and I am sure I can do it at least until 1500 after which I probably will slow down a bit.

          My goal is to have finished the deck when I post my next monthly post. Today I’m already at 600.

          • It0s 8:11 AM right now and I just went through my 100 RTK kanji of the day and it took 32 minutes.

            Reviews will pop up throughout the day, but I’m not concerned about them, as I will just do them whenever I have a minute.

    • grapegrape, I’m at 1100 of 1901 Kanji now, and it took me 54 minutes today to go through my reviews. It’s still quite manageable. I’ll do 100 a day until I reach 1500 and then probably go down to 50 a day.

      • Good to know you are managing it.
        Though once I realized you were not going to also be learning 100 a day, it sounded a lot more feasible… Learning the Kanji takes (or it did to me) the majority of the time and energy.

        Out of curiosity: how many daily reviews are you doing a day, and would you say you press “easy” a lot?

        • Hi there. Since I am re-doing RTK, I changed the algorithm. When I remember a Kanji 100% I press “easy”, which I changed to 12-21 days. When I remember the story, but got one element wrong, such as the position, I press “good” which is 3-11 days, and when I don’t remember it I press hard, which makes it reappear the next day. If I have absolutely no clue I press “soon”.

          But the next time they appear I am much harder with myself. And once I am through I will change the algorithm back to where it originally was.

          So far I have between 50-90 daily reviews plus the 100 “new” ones.

          • I’ve reached 1500 (Heisig Kanji 1706, “abolish”) and it’s getting tougher. Reviews are now around 200 a day. The last 400 of RTK did not stick well last time, so I basically have to re-learn them completely. From tomorrow I will do 50 a day for 4 days, then 25 a day until the end.

  26. Hi grapegrape and thank you for your word of caution. I forgot to mention that I already finished RTK 1, but stopped reviewing for quite a while. I didn’t do RTK 3, but RTK 1 is pretty solid until somewhere in the 1500’s. Maybe I will have to slow down after 3/4 but up to 1500 I should be fine. I will be clicking “easy” quite often and almost never “again”.

    We’ll see. I’ll meet Maiko again at the beginning of September, and if I have Adshap’s deck down when I post my next monthly post, I’ll be happy with my work. I know I can do it.

  27. “I really felt bad and down on myself, and was really depressed for the rest of the evening and the day after.”

    I’ve definitely been there before. In fact, after my last trip to Japan last winter I felt like this for quite awhile, because I realized my speaking ability was so awful, and I felt homesick in Japan when I wanted to enjoy it. But instead of giving up, I used my disappointment to invigorate myself (like you are doing now). Although I was too nervous before my trip to skype with my mother-in-law who lives in Japan, I made a commitment to do it afterward to improve my speaking and relationship with her. Also, I made a lot more CDs of the audio from anime and drama to play in my car, and listened to them constantly. Now we speak every Friday, and I can’t wait to talk with her. Every time, she’s surprised by how much I’ve improved, and I’m sure Maiko will be surprised by you too. Keep working for your goal!

    • That’s very encouraging, Rachel, thanks! It’s great to see that you’ve overcome that feeling and are enjoying yourself so much now.

      I guess it comes down to ego, and ego is rarely helpful. I want to appear better than I am and that blocks me from using the language, preferring not to speak instead of using every opportunity to speak.

  28. “To put it plainly: I was feeling lonely. No one to talk to, no one to correct me, no close person around me speaking Japanese, only a huge mountain of things I should learn.”
    Honestly, I never felt like this. Maybe that’s because i didn’t learn so i can talk with others, but rather so i can enjoy media, i can’t in english. So everytime i felt like i don’t want to study anymore, i’d go read something that i couldn’t before, and feel a lot better, ready to study again.
    Don’t let “a huge mountain of things you should learn” discourage you! Look at it from another angle. When you’ve learned all those things, a whole new world will appear before you, and you’ll never get to it if you get discouraged from that “huge mountain”. Every time you feel like that, just do another step, step by step you’ll eventually get through that mountain! You will never make it through if you just stay in place.
    Also, you’ve already been studying for 4 months now, right? If you spend your time correctly you should be able to read easier books and most manga. Look around for something interesting! When you do find something interesting, all the time you’ve spend studying will feel worthwhile. If you keep studying and never have fun with what you learned you’ll feel overwhelmed by how much is left to study and feel lonely. So go have fun! Use what you learned. If you feel like you are having too much fun and studying too little, don’t mind it. Because in the end you are having fun WHILE learning japanese.
    So mix up some fun in your studying and you’ll feel a lot better about it. Stay motivated and good luck~

    • Totally agree with this. Why are you limiting yourself to just キッチン? On top of that, your involvement with キッチン is completely for the sake of studying. Find something that you enjoy in Japanese that you don’t necessarily have to study deeply, such as a manga with furigana, drama series with no subtitles or video game, and just enjoy what you can do so far. No pressure, just having fun.

    • Good reply, and a good shake up for me, thanks! I do enjoy the movies I’m watching now a lot. I think this is a good way to relax and enjoy myself. I think the Japanese have a great movie culture and I am really looking forward to open this huge world to me.

  29. I guess that’s another cause of my lack of motivation: I have no one around me to be accountable for my Japanese progress (or lack of it). There’s a few people on twitter that I sometimes respond to things they’re talking about (plus a few dozen others that I follow for the fun of it and so my timeline isn’t full of nothing but Twitterstuck (Homestuck RP accts)), as well as the people on #ajatt, but other than that I don’t really have anyone to talk with and help me stay on track.

    And I don’t know where to look for people that I can actually communicate with (anything requiring money is out because いつもお金がない, and anything involving video or voice chat is out for reasons I’m not allowed to talk about). Back when I was taking classes, I had both my 先生 and fellow classmates for support, but after I graduated we really don’t talk that much anymore, not even on FB. Now, all I really have is a few people I randomly meet on the internet and only see a few times before losing contact (kind of a negative version of 一期一会)…

    • http://twitcasting.tv/ is a great place to converse in Japanese while maintaining privacy on your behalf. The host uses a webcam, but you communicate to them through comments. Simply write, おはようございます (or こんにちは/こんばんは, I’m just usually on in the evening, which is morning in Japan) and you’ve started. Most of the time, they will acknowledge you and say おはようございます back. Depending on how much you understand, your comments can lead to a conversation. It’s great listening practice, without the pressure to output when you’re not ready.

      Maybe there needs to be a forum. I know there are tons out there, but one specifically for Japanese learners using the immersion method. One problem about a forum is that it can be a temptation to be on the forum, rather than do something in Japanese. And if the forum were in Japanese, the majority of its users wouldn’t have natural Japanese, therefore being bad examples for each other. But it was just something that was always on my mind.

      • Rachel, I checked that out before, someone here on JALUP talked about it, I don’t remember who it was (you?).

        It was interesting, but somehow it didn’t really klick with me. I kept hiding behind the anonymity of the net. But I am sure for others it might be perfect.

        For me Maiko is ideal right now because she really makes me want to impress her. It’s the kick I need right now. And I totally dig her voice.

      • That’s an interesting website but it feels a little creepy to me. Plus seeing the legions of girls commenting on one guy’s feed is a little weird. I’ll keep looking around to see if I can find something that looks good.

      • And Rachel, while I don’t necessarily see a forum for this site due to my huge dislike of forums, I am working on some form of Japanese conversation practice based for this site (with real native speakers as a guide and zero English allowed).

        I haven’t worked out the logistics of it just yet, so if you have any ideas on the topic, feel free to e-mail me them.

    • I hear you Kimura. It can be frustrating or at least not motivating.

      Before I found Maiko, I talked to a sushi chef in our town who just arrived from London, and I asked him if we could meet once a week and teach each other our languages. He was really into it, but unfortunately left before we could hook up.

      Maybe an idea for you?

      You may look for Sushi chefs or for music students from Japan if you have a conservatory in your town. I once put up an ad in our conservatory, but it never materialized.

  30. Hello,

    I’m interested in how much time your spend learning stories for the kanji. If learning a kanji is giving you too much trouble do you skip it?

    On most days I do about 20 – 25 per day, but I spend hours trying to create good stories. I went through RTK once before and got to around 1500, but the stories I made were awful and I would forget them often. I realize that I’m building up an alphabet, so I want to take my time, but sometimes I feel like I’m spending too much time creating stories that will fade away later anyway. What is your opinion on this issue and how are you handling it?

    • Not much time. Around a minute, I guess. Sometimes more.

      I take the best story from the RTK koohii site and tweak it, making it as personal as possible. If a primitive doesn’t work for me, I radically change it to something suitable. Also, I sometimes change the keyword after consulting with Jim Breen’s dictionary, starting at “Kanji Lookup” and checking the most common compounds.

      I believe that things get hairy after 1500. Don’t give up there, keep pushing, even if it’s just 5 a day.

      I don’t skip Kanji and I don’t use the Leech function. I rather write a hint next to the keyword, this helps. I have around 25 Kanji I keep forgetting. I changed the stories to some of them and they stuck. Others I just can’t remember, but I guess they’ll stick once I’ve learned some compounds in the real world.

      Don’t beat yourself up too much over this, just make it personal (ex girlfriends, foes, family, embarrassing situations, movies) and don’t have too much respect for what’s been written by Heisig, change it, pimp it, and you should be fine.

      Anki is your best friend. Good luck!

  31. ツレがうつになりまして is one of my favorite movies! I feel closely connected to it, because someone I care about in my life is depressed (he lives in Japan) and his story is actually very similar to ツレ, caused by stress at work. And he’s not the only depressed guy I know in Japan either, so it’s very common. I saw the movie on the plane to Japan. I love Aoi Miyazaki (^_^).

    I’m rooting for you! I understand life changes can bring about a lack of motivation to study Japanese. I’ve been there (and I get there often just because of little things like getting sick and having a dentist appointment). I get stressed easily, and my mood affects my motivation. Having accountability like your readers really helps! Another thing, even if it’s just listening to a song in the car, it’s better than nothing at all. Even if it’s just three anki cards in the morning with your coffee, it’s better than nothing. That’s what I have found. Then you can work your way up from there when you’re feeling less stressed.

  32. Hey Rachel, thanks for your comment. Glad you can relate to my temporary low. It feels really good to be back on the block. “Three Anki cards in the morning with your coffee”. You’re so right.

    I know it. I know it so well, but still, I start avoiding Japanese when I’m not doing it “perfectly” – a lot of work for me, as this behavior is deeply rooted in my personality.

    I didn’t start yet, as I planned to start when this post is published, but I start my attack plan right now – I open Anki – and I see: 529 due today, which is much less than I expected :)

    OK, I start my first three, with my morning coffee: 径 – correct, 繰 – correct, 繊 – wrong.

  33. Hey man!

    From what I’ve read before, you didn’t even start so long ago with Japanese but you already reached level 15! That’s freakin amazing.

    The “real world” (work, school, university, loved ones, resposnsibilities, you name it) is something you have to balance Japanese with. It sucks, but sacrificing everything for Japanese can’t be good! So good on you that you were able to fulfill that huge job. I also really like your dedication to push forward even after that setback!

    And don’t worry about sucking. Everyone sucks at the beginning (heck, I still suck, but I know that I need to study more) Try not to be too perfectionist about it! If you avoid doing it you won’t do anything at all, but if you do just a little, 10 reps on Anki is more than 0 reps, you see?

    Anyway, good luck for you and I look forward to your next post.

    • Thanks, Susan. I’m back and I’ll keep going. It’s good to get that kind of support here, I feel privileged.

  34. Congrats on the big project and good luck taking down that Anki monster! I have really enjoyed reading your story so far.

    Getting back into things will just serve as a reminder of how you really want this and that life can get in the way all it wants because you can pick yourself up and keep plugging along anyway. :P

    • Hi Jeff, nice of you to give me support and being so positive about it! There’s many more posts to come :)

  35. Sometimes things come up. I had to set back a bit this week knowing I had midterms and 2 100 point projects already. I halved my review limits and halved adding new cards and am keeping up, but barely.

    Look at the positives of the situation, perhaps the small break gave you more energy and motivation in the long run.

    • yeah, Ninjam, we’re all struggling with realities of our lives, aren’t we? midterms, projects, families, money – you name it. let’s just move forward together! thanks for your comment.

  36. I am exactly the same as you, I put off doing things unless I can do it perfect. I have 250 RTK to go and I was smashing along. Then I got influenza which put me in hospital and I was out for a week. I haven’t done RTK since.. And that was 3 weeks ago. Instead I started my j-e 1000 that I told myself I wouldn’t start until I finished RTK, but I’m just struggling getting back into it. I’ve told myself to just keep going j-e 1000 until ankimobile 2.0 comes out, but I know that’s just my mind making excuses.

    • Nayr, so why don’t you start attacking those last 250? we’re both in it together, so let’s do it!

      get back to me when you’ve started, knowing you’re doing it will help me, too.

      • In my case I think I just burned out and then couldn’t recover. I was doing 100 new RTK cards a day and just managing to hold on. Once I got sick and couldn’t study for a week the sheer amount of reviews was just too off-putting and disheartening.

        I didn’t stop studying japanese, I just started j-e 1000, which I have been steadily chugging along with quite nicely. considering I already knew 1650 of the RTK I guess it was time to mix it up anyhow as the monotony was starting to take its toll.

        However as of yesterday I decided to hit back at RTK and kill this beast once and for all. I was actually looking for a way I could implement a digital sketch pad into anki (so I can stop chewing through hundreds of pieces of paper each week) when I discovered a system called “skritter” which allows me to draw kanji with my finger on my iphone.

        It makes reviewing the RTK surprisingly entertaining and fast. It correct me on my stroke order, uses RTK mnemonics and other really cool features. Whilst I will be sticking with anki for all of my Japanese sentence needs, I will defiantly be using skritter for my RTK.

        I recommend checking it out.

        • (so I can stop chewing through hundreds of pieces of paper each week)

          I like to write on magazines I’m done reading. The combination of a black sharpie marker and glossy magazine paper makes the writing really smooth and more “kanji-like” if that makes sense (think calligraphy). Plus you’re recycling!

  37. If it’s any help, I usually start my studies after I get home from work with a few RTK reps, regardless, and it gives me a nice warm up before I start tackling the much more difficult content in my other decks. If I don’t feel like doing anything, then I’m going to find out straight away and I can switch to something else.

    At first it was hard going, and I would avoid all the interesting stuff I had accumulated because it was too difficult, but after a few weeks it became normal and the pain transformed into joy! Joy like 至近距離射撃、銀貨 and 猟友会!

    The point I’m trying to make is that if you tweak your tactics and buff your party correctly at the start, it sets you up nicely for the latter stages of the battle. And, say, your cat jumps on the power button and annihilates all your progress, you know exactly what to do when you load up your save game again and you realise that that boss wasn’t actually that hard at all.

    Good luck in picking it up again. I’m looking forward to your next post!

    • good read, kreeb – and you’re so right with this.

      it’s all about good habits, and sometimes the smallest ones at the very beginning of your day are the ones that put you in a good mood to get going for the rest of the day. not starting is actually the worst habit of them all.

      thanks for your comment!

  38. I was feeling slow and tired today, but after reading all your comments, I’m full of energy and ready to go.

    Thanks again.

  39. This is so great! So glad to see that you’re back in action! I took a Japanese cinema class and absolutely loved it. At first, I only liked current movies. But after the class, I really grew an appreciation for older Japanese cinema.

    This comment is kind of directed to any reader out there, does anyone know a book in Japanese that is similar to RTK in that I could use in in place of RTK? I never did RTK in the beginning, and now that I’m J-J, I really don’t want to go back to J-E to learn. Coco’s journey really inspires me, seeing how he progresses with RTK, his passion for cinema and so on. I’m pretty content with my learning method for kanji, but if anyone knows of a J-J tool that’s sort of like a Japanese version of RTK (like an anthology of kanji, similar to how there are J-J books on Japanese grammar), please comment!

    • Hi Rachel and thanks again for your comment.

      I haven’t heard of such a deck, I believe it’s contrary to Japanese learning methods, so I doubt it exists. There are other E-J systems that add the pronunciation, namely Kanji Damage. JALUP’s deck has a Japanese keyword for every Kanji, maybe you can live with that? Since you’re already advanced, you can do it in one or two months, so I don’t think it would be time wasted.

      • Yeah, it really seems contrary to the Japanese method of studying kanji. Though, I have seen some Japanese children’s book to explain things such as radicals in a way that makes the kanji into a story.

        Back when I was a beginner, I used a preview for the RTK book and didn’t find it very helpful at the time so decided not to buy it. But now, when studying kanji, I’ve come to recognize certain radicals and will create methods (similar to making a story) in my head to memorize the kanji. So I suppose my method of memorizing is not that different from RTK, I just use the kanji I’ve found from my native sources and collected them into a deck. Where I differ is that I use a set of kanji from a vocab word, rather than memorizing all the sounds and possible meanings for a kanji, sort of an extensive grasp at kanji.

        At this point, I’m not quite willing to use a J-E source. But if it ever came down it it, I might spend a summer on RTK just because of the results I’ve seen from other people.

        • It might help to look at things from more of a birds-eye perspective. You’ll be spending decades in the future with Japanese; one or two months to effectively “solve the kanji problem” won’t be so bad in the long run.

          You’ll probably find that the English stories fade into instant recognition/recall more quickly since you’d be starting the book at a higher level than the average user, who tend to be nearly total beginners.

        • I tend to add Japanese keywords on my RtK flashcards when I know any. It helps to distinguish keywords such as “secrecy” and “secret” (bout parts of 秘密; adding the word with the kanji in question replaced by hiragana helps a lot here).

          simplicity かん単


          I often forget my stories, so this helps a lot…

          Most ideal method is to add one keyword with the kanji replaced by kana for each reading you know, for instance 電わ、はな・す、etc

  40. I recently reset my kanji deck too, and it felt as though a huge weight was off my shoulders and it’s much easier to get reviews done and actually study now that I know I can do it. Since I’ve done it before hahah
    I don’t know of many books to learn kanji in Japanese, but I do know of a two part, I think, series for children:
    Not sure if this is what you’re looking for.
    And here’s a review I found for it by googling it:
    Haven’t read it, but it could be useful too.
    Hope this helps!

    • I just updated to Anki 2 and it’s now set to 100 reviews max by default. Not a bad concept. Damien says it’s better than resetting, because you just never get overwhelmed. It makes sense as regular reviews are the most important factor.

  41. I’m an glad to hear that you are getting back into the groove of things. I want to start reading Japanese material(manga, gaming articles,etc). I have gotten bored with just getting sentences from text books. To tell you the truth I am afraid to move on even though I have finished genki 1 and other various books. I want to try and read gaming,anime,music,drama articles those are my interests. Any advice on this?

  42. Good luck with the restart! I restarted my RTK deck a few weeks ago and I am definatly glad that I did. You are my number one rival at the moment Coco, so I wouldnt restart too many times or I’ll leave you behind! >:)

  43. @Rachel, I was in the same boat you were a few months ago – I’ve been studying Japanese for a total of 5 years now (only the past two were at all efficient – using native material/anki – but I was decently beyond the beginner level) and the first time I read the RTK sample I thought I didn’t need it because I already knew a lot of kanji, and I had my own anki kanji system down. Fast forward a few months later and I hit a major speed bump in my learning. It shook my confidence enough for me to give RTK a try, and it has been the best thing I’ve done for my Japanese after using Anki. I know how you feel – it does seem like backtracking in your Japanese with the J-E, but just continue with your immersion environment and keep adding J-J sentences as you do it and you’ll be fine; like others have said, it only takes a few months. Also you could play around with translating the keywords, and writing your hints/stories in Japanese. The thing that is so wonderful about Heisig is how he teaches you how to use imaginative memory, and how the kanji are arranged in a way that makes it very efficient for you to remember them. It is something I have not seen in kanji books written in Japaense, and I’ve browsed through/purchased several in my quest to avoid RTK before I caved and tried it.

    Certainly, do what you feel is best, I just wanted to share my experiences. I’ve been a long-time reader and I admire all of the members of this site so much. You have all been an inspiration to me even though I discovered this site so late in my Japanese journey. Keep at it everyone! ヽ(^О^)ノ

    • Wow! Since your experience was really similar to what I’m going through now, I’m definitely convinced and want to heed your advice.

      I can’t really afford the book right now, but I’ll find a way (perhaps… as a Christmas gift, instead of that manga I was going to ask for, which I can just get cheaper in Japan anyways). I’m on a tight budget right now to save up for a trip to Japan for my independent study next semester. It’s too expensive for my budget.

      Another option is asking my friend who also uses the immersion method if she owns it, or maybe she’d like to split the price and we can go through it together. Either way, I’m determined to find a way. I want to overcome this obstacle.

      • I decided to get an older, used edition for less than a 3rd of the price. Using the older edition and the 6th edition sample, errata and kanji supplement pdfs should be enough to benefit from the RTK method without breaking the budget.

        Thanks everyone for your helpful suggestions!

        • I think that’s a good idea. Jalup’s deck is also based on the old version. I changed many keywords, BTW. Like exchanging 96 village and 221 town. Since you know lots of Kanji already, you can edit the keywords – just make sure they don’t exist yet. Which is very easy with the ReviewingTK site, because you can enter your new keyword and see if it’s already used. The important thing about RTK is the consistency with which the “big picture” was used to label the radicals and/or primitive elements of the Kanji. In that respect it’s unique. And please use the RevTK site, it’s the best thing next to RTK as long as you don’t hang out at the forum.

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