Make Your Japanese Study More Challenging, Not Less

The typical Japanese textbook follows this pattern: Japanese sentences/vocab, explanation/break down of the sentences and vocab, and translation of those sentences. For anyone who has been through Jalup Beginner, you know that I completely threw this way of doing things out. Jalup Beginner doesn’t translate sentences. It gives you the definition/explanation of one new word introduced in a sentence.

You have to use your given word, your previous knowledge that has been built up, your agile use of the Anki search tool, and figure out the meaning of the sentence yourself. It follows the puzzle analogy.

Make Your Japanese Study More Challenging - Not Less

I want to explain the simple reasoning behind it, as people occasionally ask “where are the translations?” or “how am I supposed to know the sentence?”

Challenge builds motivation and a drive to move forward

Conquering challenges give great reward and furthers your desire for more challenge.

Think of it like an old school video game. Back in the original Nintendo days, games were hard. Despite being incredibly more simple than anything today, they had two big challenge boosters.

1. Save points were not as common or frequent (if they existed at all)

2. Often times you had to start the entire game over from level one when you died and lost your continues.

Make Your Japanese Study More Challenging, Not Less 2

For those who grew up in the late 90s and beyond, when you see this you might think that this was barbaric. The games tortured you. Restarting from level 1? Over and over and over again? Yet we loved many of these games. You could argue that it was because there was no alternative. However despite games with save systems existing, there were many games without saves that were still extraordinarily popular.

Sure, we would get very frustrated. I don’t deny that. But when we kept at this cycle repeatedly and finally made it to the end of the game, the feeling of reward was colossal. We grew up appreciating the challenge, and developed a more patient ability to not have everything straightforward.

The key point that separated a game like this from being across-the-room-controller-throwing-infuriating, and from being one that you were happy to play, was whether the challenges were fair. They had to be.  They had to reward you for your hard work and effort. There are plenty of old school games that were just unfair, too random, and discouraged more than gave you the desire to master it.

But then there were the many gems that made you stronger every attempt you made. If you could save at every point (which is what game emulators allow), you lose something.

Say yes to challenges

Right from the start. You’ll start to develop the thirst for more and more. Don’t rob yourself of that.

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Founder of Jalup. Spends most of his time absorbing and spreading thrilling information about learning Japanese.


Make Your Japanese Study More Challenging, Not Less — 11 Comments

  1. Cool how Beginner’s value comes from the parts it leaves out (direct translations). Donuts are good in the same way.

    A decent halfway point would be to give free-wheeling, idiomatic translations instead of word-for-word ones. For example:
    Q: Which of you guys finished the race first?
    A: 一緒ぐらい ≈ We finished at pretty much the same time.

    The challenge is then to puzzle out how the individual words interacted to make that overall sense. It’s like doing a maze from both ends at once, by tracing one finger from the start and one from the finish. Once that becomes a breeze, the next step would be to start with the words and guess the overall sense, like in Jalup Beginner.


  2. When I started with Jalup Beginner I did find it tough. Some of the sentences really baffled me and I had to work hard to figure them out.

    It’s been a couple of months since I finished it and I’m working on Intermediate.
    Now I can pretty much read the Jalup Beginner sentences as naturally as English. What I particularly value is that I read and understand them in Japanese. I don’t go through a mental English translation step first.

    I thought I would work through Tae Kim’s Grammar Guide, so I am copying out his sentences which do have translations. Paradoxically I find this in some ways less natural than Jalup Beginner. This is because I have this clunky gear change where I read in Japanese, understand, see the English answer, then have to translate my understanding into English, and then confirm I have it right.

    This is no criticism of Tae Kim. What I struggled with with Jalup Beginner was not so much what each word meant, but how all the words related to each other to produce an overall meaning. This is precisely what Tae Kim is trying to explain in detail, so it makes sense to have (sometimes rather laboured) English translations to make it all crystal clear.

    I value the struggle Jalup Beginner put me through looking back. The challenge exposes any weakness you have and forces you to genuinely understand what it going on. The style also helps develop direct understanding in Japanese.

    I just hope I can say the same thing about Intermediate in a few months time! It is tough right now, but I am beginning to get the hang of it I think.

    • Jalup Intermediate should hopefully have the same effect of coming back in a few months and things just becoming clearer. The challenge is much bigger, but you’ve passed through all the smaller challenges in Beginner.

  3. I definitely have to agree. It wasn’t until I hit the intermediate deck that my motivation skyrocketed. It’s kind of odd, because you’d think it would be ‘motivation goes up, study more’ but it didn’t work like that at all. It was ‘study more, then motivation went up’. It wasn’t until I manned up and stepped up to the plate of intermediate that I really became motivated.

    I also have a much easier time recognizing stuff I learned in the intermediate deck. I think it has to do with the amount of effort I have to put into learning from that deck. Just the other day I heard someone say 苦手 and I instantly picked it out and was able to figure out the rest of the sentence. I still sometimes have trouble hearing/recognizing stuff from the beginner deck, simply because I didn’t put in the same amount of effort learning it. I am now though, I’m being pretty rough on grading myself in anki these days.

    But yeah, increasing the difficulty really really worked for me ^^

    • You hit on a great observation that the more you struggle with something (as long as it’s within reason and fair like I talk about in this article), the greater control you gain over it.

      Keep up the good fight!

      • Yeah, the difficulty level definitely needs to be within reason. But I think it’s easily adjustable depending on tolerance levels ^^


  4. I think I’m really challenging myself in the way I add words and the amount of time I spend in Anki. And my immersion is better than ever (though anki does take up a lot of potential time for active materials).

    I’m a bit concerned at the moment with my J-J from the one deck. Since I’ve reordered my deck it’s doing exactly as advertised and giving me words with only one unknown. Once I’ve suspended a 20 or so counters/names/places I end up with words that, while brand new and not always synonyms, very easy to understand. Does it matter if I’m not introducing new words that challenge me?

    I’m not too worried at this moment because of a proportion of my new cards coming from Jalup expert.

    Long story short: Are easy j-j cards a threat to progress? Or should I add them to my heart’s content, seeing as I’ll eventually reach those hard cards in the distantish future. To be fair I am moving through these cards at a decent pace so it’s only a matter of time till the hard ones show up again one day. I really want to finish the One deck, in its entirety. This is why I always suspend cards and not delete them, that way I can one day get all the names/counters and places back. I think they are such useful resources (but not really that important for someone in my current position).

    I used to get annoyed at the idea of deleting cards. Then when I found suspending I managed to get all the benefits of being able to skip hard cards without missing the opportunity to come back to them. Assuming it’s from the dictionary, I don’t think there could be such a thing as a ‘bad word’. Just words that might be ‘bad’ for that moment. Whether it’s difficulty, relevance or something else.

    Sorry for the rambling!

    • Of course not. J-J cards that are introducing a new unknown word to you, that you understand easily, is great and is the reward for the challenges you have already completed. Add them to your heart’s content.

      Those easier challenges now, will be eventually linked to later more difficult challenges. So enjoy it.

      And yes I agree, names/places should be suspended and saved for later.

  5. Adam said:

    Think of it like an old school video game. Back in the original Nintendo days, games were hard.

    There’s even a term for this: Nintendo Hard.

    That aside, I want to thank Adam for this post. It clarified for me, for the first time, in a way both simple and profound, exactly the kind of learner I’m not. A long time back I played Sonic Adventure. I enjoyed exploring the 3d landscapes, the bits involving running around collecting rings were fun, the story was fairly engaging and the boss fights were pretty straightforward… up until the climactic confrontation with Dr. Robotnik. I found that insanely hard and not at all fun, I really wanted to just stop but my OCD wouldn’t let me, so over maybe a week I kept trying and trying until I eventually defeated him. There was no sense of triumph or accomplishment, just a huge relief that I would never, ever need to play another Sonic game.

    Very much like the sense of relief when I stopped using Anki, come to think of it.

    So I guess rather than the short, steep path up the mountain I’m looking for something more gradual and winding.

    • Interesting article about Nintendo Hard. Thanks!

      And I’m really happy you finally came to this realization. Finding the way you like to play and the way you enjoy the game the most is very freeing.

      Get rid of your Japanese Robotnik boss battle and enjoy all the other game elements.

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