How I Restarted my Japanese Quest

Remember when you bought that new video game you had been wanting. You ripped open the shiny packaging, popped that puppy* into the game console, and set out on a brand-new magical journey. You logged hours upon hours within the first few weeks of play, building your character’s power levels up to impressive standings. Then suddenly something in life gets in the way and forces your focus back to the ‘real’ world.

The game sits idle for some time.

A few months later, you try to pick it back up from where you left off, but you kind of forgot what was happening and no longer have a connection with your hero. So, what do you do when you still want to play the game, but can’t bring yourself to continue from where you left it?


Like the scenario above, sometimes things in life grow between our Japanese studies and us. Sometimes we get stuck with where we are in our Japanese quest and don’t know how to continue. Sometimes we just let ourselves get bored. Whatever the reason, we stop (or seriously slow down) making contact with Japanese. This leads to マジ [serious] backtracking in progress and a long string of blue numbers across all our Anki decks, which leads to even more apprehension of hoppin’ back on the pony**.

It’s time to fall in love all over again with the Japanese hero in you. That means kill, release, and retreat from whatever is keeping the two of you from reuniting. In my experience, the key attribute to wall me from getting back into the game of study was Anki reviews. I was forced to step away from my computer for a few days, which led to a few months of Anki neglect, and there she stood. If coarse amounts of Anki reviews happen to be keeping you from moving forward, there are a couple ways of dealing with those monsters lickity split.

1. DELETE the decks that scare you and START new ones.

I know you logged a lot of time into making and/or reviewing those decks, but if you let those massive blues stare you in the face every time you open Anki, you are going to do a few reviews, close Anki and not reopen it again for another few weeks/months. Part ways with the old. They are holding you back. They served you well, but it’s time to say good-bye. There is an infinite amount of new and exciting fish in the seas of Japanese to cast your eyes upon. Ones that you will form new bonds with. You will find it is quite rejuvenating when you release those heavy loads off your mind.

2. DELETE all but one deck.

The ‘one’ should probably be your kanji deck since that is where you start off anyway. It rekindles some nostalgic excitement from the early days of your Japanese adventure. Relight the fire of your first battle with Japanese: the kanji beast. Luckily, this will go a lot faster since you already have your stories and will still recognize the majority of the cards.

To get your reviews back down to ‘manageable’ set your review session time to small increments (I do 5 minutes). A few minutes here and there feels like nothing and helps fight burnout. BUT make sure to review for an X amount of time each day, for example, at least one-hour minimum.

Do a session every time there is a lull in your day. During commercials. Before you shower. After you shower. Between episodes of J-drama or youtube videos. On the hour. Whenever. Create cues for yourself that signal the time for a quick session. I am reminded of a scene in Toy Story when Andy’s mom announces to him they are leaving in five minutes. “5 minutes, eh?” Andy fits a whole play session in before they depart. Acquire that mindset!

If you can’t bring yourself to delete, then keep the decks, but remove them from your Anki menu. Later on, if you want them back, you can reopen them and apply the same strategy above.

Another great tip is to change the appearance and colors of your decks. This can make the deck seem new and refreshing.

Same content + Different look = A fresh experience = New mental approach

Just like a video game, when you start over, you know what lies ahead and are better prepared because you have done it before. There is not as much guess work or walking blindly into dungeons. Unfortunately, a.k.a. fortunately, you will not be able to return to level 1. It will almost feel like you are using a cheat code to breeze through the early phases!

Have your own strategies or experiences with getting back into Japanese after a slowdown? Feel free to share in the comments.

*Shoving real puppies into any game console is not recommended for healthy puppy growth. Please refrain from applying puppies to digital media players. (With the exception of Nintendogs)
**Again, just a turn of phrase. There is no actual riding of farm animals involved in the study of Japanese. (Exception: 流鏑馬)

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Pursuing an entertainment career in Japan. Maybe one day you'll see me doing something silly on a variety show.

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How I Restarted my Japanese Quest — 17 Comments

  1. When I get seriously behind on an anki deck, what I like to do is reschedule every card I fail as new (there are a couple ways to do this easily.) This way I get to keep my progress but the backlog quickly turns into new cards (to be reviewed at a reasonable new cards per day rate) that meet my standards but that I don’t have to create.

    There are so many right ways to study and while I don’t think I’d do what you’re suggesting, I think it is a good option to have out there. Fresh starts are powerful. They’re also a good opportunity to experiment with methods.

    • You’re right, there are many different options out there.
      Your suggestion is a great one and I hope you will show people how to take that route as well!
      I want people to know that there is no shame in a fresh start if that’s what it takes to accomplish your goal.
      Personally, I had to delete decks to get back on track. The decks that loomed in ANKI possessed two traits that kept my tail between my legs.
      1. There were A LOT of reviews due.
      2. Most of the cards no longer interested me.
      The best option was to toss them. And since much time was spent using Anki previously, round 2 of deck-making is a lot easier because I’ve gained more insight on how to make better, more interesting decks.

      But, Anki is not that the only thing that can keep people from getting back into the game. So, it’s best to deal with whatever monster stands in your way in whatever way you can.

  2. The Anki backlog can be a nasty mental obstacle no doubt.

    I haven’t had to do this myself, but a friend of mine said that what he had done once or twice when a backlog appeared was “review” (flip through) the deck and mark everything as “hard”. This rescheduled the whole deck into a manageable state.

    • That’s an interesting way of tackling the problem. Could work well for those who aren’t interested in separating from there decks.

      • This method actually does work fairly well, especially if you’re in the “can I just get this mess resolved so I can get back into it at a manageable level?” mindset. It’s been two weeks since I had time to do Anki, and I had 1,011 cards due. Put on some Sonic music for pacing (Aquarium Park and Rooftop Run worked great), and just go through all of it. 25-card timeboxes, switch decks after each one so my mind doesn’t get stuck in a kanji (or vocab, or grammar) rut, look at each card, hit the “Easy” button if I recognize it and “Hard” if I didn’t.

        And look where it got me:

  3. I recently had some nasty Anki backlog almost 4000. What I ended up having to do was timebox 2 hours time once a day, then alternate 5 minutes on task, 8 minutes off(with more Japanese). I ended up chunking through about 350-550 every 2 hour timebox.

    • Yes, time-boxing is a powerful tool. It really makes a difference cutting large tasks into small bite-size servings.

      (Thanks for the quip. The ole’ “idol/idle” mishap is prone to happen when one studies Japanese for a length of time.)

  4. I did exactly what this article suggests with my Kanji deck…the third time was the charm for the Kanji.

    Recently I had an epic anki backlog myself and what worked for me was to divorce my feeling of success from my rep count. I just did 50 cards a day until I was below 200 reps, then started only doing 10 rep sets of sentences at transitions in my daily routine. I will say that the first day I got to a zero count I bought myself a congratulatory manga series.

    • I’m a man of perfection, too. I always want my deck-dues zero’d out.
      I think it is very helpful to let down those walls of perfection when studying a new language.
      I also believe rewards are a seriously good way to go. I’m working on an experimental reward program for Anki which I think has potential to persuade people into having fun in review time. I may be making a post about it in the future if it goes well.

  5. This makes me feel a lot better. I haven’t been able to do any Japanese the past two weeks because my job at Adanac Entertainment (“EvilMinecraft” developer) is getting busier, and when I do have time to open Anki, my brain sees the huge amount of due cards and just says “screw it”. On top of that, I’m taking a Korean class this upcoming school year (I kinda promised the teacher I would), and I want to do it right, with full-on immersion and stuff, but I know my 日本語 is going to suffer for that…

    Now that I know restarting the game is just fine, I’ll go ahead and go through that year focusing just on 한극어 (and a few programming classes), and when summer comes around I’m going back to Kanji Hill Zone and Super Sonic-ing my way through it to get back where I was. (I should at least try to finish the kanji this summer, even though that means thousands of Anki badniks to Homing Attack once I get back from Korean Quest…)

    • I recommend you still do any small amount of Japanese you can up until you ‘restart’. Don’t lose complete touch or it could make it that much harder to start over again. You can’t sonic your way through anything you haven’t done yet or things you barely know now.
      Of course, ultimately the quest is yours, and yours alone. Do what you gotta do.
      Good luck with the Korean project!

      • Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. My Japanese isn’t high enough level yet to use the laddering method AJATT recommends for learning a third language, but I should at least do some Japanese in between the Korean stuff…

      • Update: Last week, I officially “restarted” studying Japanese at full strength, thanks to the really useful tips in one of Tofugu’s guides and their “Ultimate Vocab” deck series. And so far, it’s going fairly well. When I took the level-check test yesterday, I was already back up to Lv14 :D

        Also, I have an idea for what I can do to maintain a Japanese “baseline” during Korean. About a week or so before the class starts, I’m going to put my Japanese decks into “review only” mode – no new cards, and do the reviews each day for a small amount of time in the morning, while Korean will be “reviews plus new stuff” and spread throughout the day. (I don’t know what that’s going to do to Anki though, because it’s already freaking out with seven active decks (four vocab in various areas, two different kanji methods, and Tae Kim sentences), and if Korean adds at least two new decks…)

    • Wow! That’s great!!
      Are you speaking of the 30 day ebook from Tofugu? If so, I (and I’m sure many others) would be interested in reading a review. Consider joining the JALUP alliance to give the ‘Level Up’ world some insight on your experiences with Tofugu’s new ebook.

      I’m sure someone else could give you some more detailed advice on how, but I know you can combine decks in Anki and later separate them as long as you attach tags to each deck. Maybe consider combining a few of your Japanese decks while you’re in ‘review only’ mode.
      To me, and others I’ve heard from, having too many decks makes Anki that much more intimidating. AND, it definitely cuts down on time waiting for several decks to load.
      Less time waiting in Anki equals more active learning and time for fun things, like Japanese TV!

      Thanks for keeping us updated!

  6. I had to do this recently, it’s been 6 years since I haven’t touched anything related to japanese. So I decided to start over RTK 1, I had made it around the 1200 mark before I stopped completely. I am taking my time now, because the first time around I rather “rushed” some kanji images instead of allowing them to form something concrete, so I’m studying with a pen, pad and a timer, timing at least 3 minutes per kanji. Just like any New Game, I know what to expect, so I prepare in advance something to counter a future problem – I know what my party’s weakness is, how wild the enemy becomes, so I can tackle it better this time :)

    • It’s very common to want to blaze through Kanji when you start out. Later on down the road you realize exactly what you mentioned, ‘Maybe I shoulda taken it slower..’, and you go back to solidify the basics.
      It’s kind of like drumming. (I am a drummer.) When someone first gets their hands on a pair of sticks, all they want to do is play fast and loud. Once you really get serious, you start slowing down to work on timing and technique, the basics.
      Fight on solaru!

  7. I have just started a new deck after a few months of no japanese studies. I saw a video about making connections between different parts of the language (kanji, grammar, vocabulary, reading) by putting it all into one deck. By doing all kinds of studies simultaneously you start making connections in your brain between the different nodes of information and by doing that you are able to keep it in there in a natural way with less effort.

    My new deck combines kanji, grammarpoints, sentences and vocabulary. I fill the deck with different stuff like this: I read a sentence somewhere that contains mostly words that I know but some word that I need to look up. I look up the word, put the word in to the deck and also put the sentence into the deck on a different card. By doing this I can remember the word better and the word helps me remember the sentence. If there are Kanji that I don’t know I put them on their own cards too so that I have it all in the same deck, the words helps me remember the kanji by putting them in context and the kanji reminds me of words that uses it. I use sentences from songs to be able to also remember the melody, which also helps me remember the words and sentences. I also put in grammarpoints that I come across and try to put in example sentences so that this also connects to the network of knowledge that I try to learn.

    A new approach in the structure of my deck helped me get back into studying. I don’t know if I’ll keep this structure up but for now I really like it.

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