Why Transition from Japanese-English to Japanese-Japanese — 32 Comments

  1. Switching to J-J is good and all, but doing it at level 20-ish is cruel and unusual punishment. I added 400 J-J sentences, of which 390 were boring dictionary sentences. I started to avoid a lot of words because I knew that their definition was more like a short essay. I also struggled to understand defintions even though I knew all the words.

    I was at the verge of giving up, but then I returned to adding J-E sentences again, and only 1 out of 20 or so sentences are dictionary sentences now.

    I know that J-E won’t help me to understand the words fully, but going J-J at something that is not even intermediate level seems to much to me.

    Furthermore, English is my second language, thus I know that langauges have different ways of expressing things. There are several Norwegian words without proper English counterparts, and vice versa.

    You fail to explain why someone has to switch after only 1000? Instead of giving me a deeper understanding of the words, it left me not understanding half of those I added. I don’t want to spend 80% of the time I can afford to spend with Japanese stuck on

    I didn’t use a monolingual English dictionary before I reached C1-level (60-ish). I finally began using a monodic when the Norwegian translations stopped making sense (words like pinnacle, and a bunch of latin-based words, have “obscure” translations…)

    Now I use a mix of J-J and J-E and I haven’t regretted this decision. I will, however, return to pure J-J one day, but that day is not today.

    What level were you at (approximately) when you started adding anki sentences with J-J?

    • I made the switch at around level 20.

      Just because you need to continue looking up words to continue a J-J branch, doesn’t mean you have to use the dictionary definition (especially if you find it boring). Take that word and get your sample sentence from any other online source (twitter, google, chiebukuro) etc.

      The switch at 1000 J-E I feel to be best because you have developed a
      good base for the language and know all the kanji. It’s as good a time as ever, usually you are motivated and up for the challenge, and aren’t too stuck in your current study habits. The longer people wait, the less they are likely to make the switch and the more time it takes for their level to rise with the same effort. There also becomes a constant mindset of “I’ll eventually switch over once I feel comfortable.”

      True, you won’t understand every sentence you input as much with J-E. It takes you longer to input cards, and longer to do reviews (especially when you are reading the definition with unknown words you just added). And yes, it is much more frustrating for a while doing J-J. But eventually you reach that beautiful turning point, somewhere near 700-1000 J-J sentences. Everything just starts fitting so perfectly into place, your level jumps up, you smile and never look back in regret.

      I still like this reader’s analogy best:

      In the end though, of course do whatever works for you. If you need to adjust the timing go ahead, do a mix, or use the J-E dictionary but add them as J-J cards. Adjust the method to what you feel will benefit you most.

      Good luck!

    • Just as an added tip, it may help you to simplify your J-J definitions in your anki deck to Japanese sentences you understand that are still grammatically correct, or adding the definitions of the words in the definition you don’t understand to it. This helped me a lot, so that every time I reviewed a flash card, I didn’t have to go looking up the definitions of the words in the definition to understand. And as a double lesson, keeping the complex words and just adding their definitions helps you learn new words along the way without being a barrier to understanding the target word on the spot.

    • “I don’t want to spend 80% of the time I can afford to spend with Japanese stuck on”

      Here’s the simple solution I used back when I started going to J-J: search english definitions only after you have extended the branching for a bit, and only to confirm that your understanding is along the right lines (and do so only for the “leaves” of the branches). Do not however put the english definition on the card, just the japanese one, even if you don’t understand it fully.
      In other words, allow for some ambiguity in your mind and just make sure you are not completely off track.

      “I added 400 J-J sentences, of which 390 were boring dictionary sentences.”
      This is pretty much your fundamental problem. You need to have some sort of material you care about from which to get words, if not sentences themselves. This is important both for motivation and because having previous context for the words functions as a “pre-definition” which you can then try to match to the J-J definition, instead of trying to understand it outright from scratch.

      • Does it matter what material you get the words from when you have to add 30 extra definitions? Also, lest adding 100 dictionary sentences, I often avoided adding n+2 and n+3 sentences.

        It made a hobby into a chore, and I started dreading adding anything because it would mean hours on…

        I realised that it would be either J-J or Japanese altogether that had to go.

        • “Does it matter what material you get the words from when you have to add 30 extra definitions?”
          I think I explained why I think material matters: both for motivation (I’m much more fond of the cards I got from manga or blogs than the ones I got from the dictionary) and because the source is an extra hint for the definitions.

          Now, the experience you mention isn’t that different from what I felt when I started going J-J, and like I explained the way I tried to combat the never ending branching was to allow myself to confirm my guesses by checking J-E once the branches got sizeable enough (I would personally certainly do so before it even got to 10). I feel that this way one gets to experience the valuable part of the J-J experience without risking a derailing.
          It’s also important, I think, to allow yourself to feel comfortable with having sentences you don’t understand completely. By no means should they be the bulk of the deck, but having a few cards which you can read, but aren’t really sure what they mean is fine, as eventually you are bound to find something that makes it clearer (or sometimes, grammar doesn’t quite click the first time around, but just feels obvious some days after).

          Now, I think what you are doing, having a mix of J-J and J-E is perfectly fine, and should eventually get you to the point where you can do pure J-J (and probably sooner than you expect). Just be “careful” not to have your J-J cards fully explained by J-E cards, as part of the point of J-J is, it seems to me, to get you comfortable with trying to figure out Jap in Jap.

  2. I switched to J-J at the beginning of this year. At that point, I was in the upper level 20s. It was more of a “I know I have to do this, even though I don’t understand why” kind of thing. I knew it would be good for my Japanese, but the difficulty of it didn’t prove anything to me at the moment. Because of my lack of understanding definitions, I couldn’t see the deeper meaning in the definitions helping me to understand a word better than I would’ve with a J-E definition. But I trusted the learning philosophy and went a long with it.

    Now, almost a year later, I can see the deeper meaning behind the words. And not just in definitions, but when I come across them in my listening. I start understanding the specific applications of words, rather than just the straightforward J-E definition.

    When I first started with the immersion method (I had very little knowledge of Japanese, perhaps just a couple words and phrases), I read a blog entry that gave the advice to start off right away in J-J. However, it was just impossible for me. It’s probably what turned me off from using tools like Anki and the reason why I can’t rely on a sentence count because I haven’t been collecting sentences. It was exactly as スティアン said, whatever definition I had to look up, I had to look up every single word within that definition, and the words didn’t stick with me. That’s why I agree one must have a proper foundation before switching to J-J.

    Occasionally, I still have to look up a word in a J-E dictionary after I’ve used up all my resources (multiple dictionaries, google searches, etc.) But after I’ve looked up the J-E translation, then the J-J translation makes sense and I can learn even more about the nuances of the word. Sometimes though, instead of looking up the J-E, I stop trying to understand the word and just let it be. With enough repetition, I know I’ll understand it eventually, and perhaps this is not the moment to. And other times, I really feel it’s important to understand the word, so I’ll look it up in the J-E dictionary. So I can’t say I’m at the point where I’m using 100% J-J, but perhaps somewhere in the 90 percentile range. But I’m still getting the benefits from J-J, and would definitely recommend anyone making the switch between level 20 and 30.

    As for translating in one’s mind, I don’t think this is just an aspect of switching from J-E to J-J. I think the whole immersion method encourages thinking in Japanese, rather than in English to Japanese. If one learns how to do this, it is applicable to learning any language and can happen at any level. For the short time I learned Mandarin (a couple of years), I could produce the language without translating in my mind with what little I knew. However, when learning French in high school, I couldn’t do this. This is because my environment was one in which we learned entirely by mode of translation, rather than immersion. For the other language I’m learning, right now, my Japanese sign language is limited to translation from Japanese to Sign Language, because the majority of what I’ve seen is direct translations. But as I get more into native produced sign language, I hope that I will pull away from translating in my mind and seeing it as a separate language. I don’t want to think in Japanese while signing, I want to think in signing. When I watch native signing, I don’t translate into Japanese in my head. I feel this is the first step, because I’m finally immersing myself.

    • To add to this: “That’s why I agree one must have a proper foundation before switching to J-J.”

      I use the term “proper foundation” lightly, because I feel that proper foundation can be different from person to person. Adshap mentioned having 1000 sentences because that’s the point where you should know the majority of the kanji, but I can’t measure myself that way, because I learned kanji a different way, rather than through RTK. In fact, kanji is probably my biggest barrier (which is why online dictionaries are fine, because I can just look up the furigana). Putting kanji aside, I knew I was ready for the switch because I felt ready to take on reading a novel. When you’re a beginner, you’re not even thinking about reading a novel. You have other goals to focus on. However, to read a novel, it’s good to understand the nuances of the word in order to understand the heart of the novel. So, knowing I was ready to take on a novel, I felt it was just natural to switch to J-J. That sort of comes with transitioning from level 20 to 30. So perhaps for lower level 20, it is a little early to make the switch. I didn’t collect sentences and use RTK, so I don’t know about for someone who has a better grasp on kanji than I do. However, from the perspective of just grammar in general, I would target the time you are ready to develop your literacy in terms of how native speakers your age read to be the time you switch to J-J. After all, when we read books when we were younger, and even sometimes now, we look up words we don’t know in E-E dictionaries (or whatever your native language is). I feel it’s the natural development of language acquisition, native language or not.

  3. I really agree with your last paragraph. I mean, I didn’t really use a monolingual dictionary before reaching C1-level in English, and yet, I write this without thinking about the Norwegian counterparts to every single word.

    Adshap has as far as I know not learned any other langauge besides Japanese, which means he might have thought that J-J was the reason for the fact that he can think in Japanese effortlessly without translating everything.

    I think that the “language input->though->language output” deal is based on exposure, just as you do.

    And it is easier to deal with n+2 and n+3 sentences with J-E. I might use next summer (4 months of nothing to do) to convert myself to 100% J-J. I have a long term goal of reaching B2 (40-50-ish) in Japanese (currently in 20’s) and German (currently in late 30’s) by the end of 2013.

    I’m not planning to work to reach native level though, because I have been learning English since I was 6, and I’m still at level ~60… (C1)

    I also got a 計算機工学 course to keep up with.

  4. I’ve just dipped my toes into the JJ waters, and already, I’m seeing something worrying: the desire to translate. JJ is supposed to get me to move away from this, so it doesn’t inspire confidence that I’m relying on it as much as I am in my early experiences. I imagine you could say that, over time, this will fade out into understanding, but the article says that won’t happen; I’ll just get better at translating, which is a no-no in Japanese. How am I supposed to approach understanding these sentences without translating them? It’s a question I’ve had for a while, yet I haven’t found a satisfactory answer to it thus far.

    • Personally what helped me a lot was to just focus on understanding the Japanese in the way that felt most natural (which can include translating into English). It might be discouraging to still be translating in your head, but it takes a really high level of familiarity with the words to have immediate understanding of them. And to get to that point it takes a lot of reading Japanese (and in the case of monolingual definitions, which are actually pretty high level, knowing a lot of words). Over time you will have read a word so many times that you won’t need to translate. It will slowly start to not happen because it becomes easier and more natural not to translate than to translate. The nice thing with monolingual definitions is that they encourage reading for meaning instead of for the English translation because there’s no English to be found to reinforce the translation.

      I tend to side with the conversation above though that it’s fine not to go monolingual if you don’t feel like it is helping you. Plenty of people have reached a high level without it and when you’re putting this much work into something it’s really tough to stick with it unless you personally feel it is having a net positive effect.

      • But isn’t this article arguing against this notion? I mean, it says in no uncertain terms that you can’t just hope to minimize your translating into nothingness. Besides, if I stick to translating all the time, I’m just gonna get really good at translating instead of understanding (whatever understanding is). Hell, the few times I’ve encountered monolingual definitions, I’ve still tried to translate them into English, forcing it where it doesn’t belong. Again: there’s apparently some other way of looking at Japanese that’s better than translating, but I don’t know what that is or what it might look like.

        • My feeling is that translating is understanding. When you see a word in English how do you understand it? Aren’t you just translating the meaning from the rich collection of experiences you have with the word and the thousands of times you have seen it in context? That translation might happen instantaneously over time, but even with learning new words in English, they start with translating that word to the definition in English.

          One thing I really do think is true is that your mind will find a way to figure this out over time. The goal isn’t to use everyone’s experience to force the mind into some sort of superior pattern. It’s just to assist in making the journey smoother. If when you read something you find that translation comes naturally, I really don’t think that’s something you need to fight.

          In response to your comment from below:

          My guess is you have probably experienced what it’s like with some of the first words you learned in Japanese. Are there some words that when you look at them you immediately have the English word come to mind without hesitation? Have some of these gotten to the point where it’s so instantaneous that you don’t even notice? It’s similar with monolingual definitions except instead of having the English word come to mind immediately you have pieces of the Japanese definition come to mind (like “a place where people gather”). Over time, the thing that comes to mind when you look at a word is that initial understanding of the word coupled with your experience seeing it in context many times.

          This does eventually turn into an immediate understanding of the word without translation, but whether the initial meaning of the word is planted with English or with Japanese, the end result can still be the same. Keep in mind that even for people who go monolingual, there are 1000+ words that they first learned through English. That doesn’t mean that these words will have a lower level of understanding for that person just because they started with English.

          Whether it be J-E or J-J, reviewing in Anki is just what helps you associate an initial meaning to a word (and then keep from forgetting it). Until you come across that word many times in context it’s going to continue requiring some sort of translation (whether it be into English or into the Japanese definition).

          But it really is fine either way and just a matter of what you feel is helping you more. If monolingual is frustrating then kick it to the curb. There’s no magic to be found in any of this. The most important thing is finding something you can stick with everyday (in my humble opinion).

  5. Hi all,

    First off, thanks for this site! I’ve been reading it for quite a while, though this is my first time responding.

    I’ve tried going J-J a few times in the past, but quickly ran into problems and gave up. In the parlance of the site, I figured I’d go collect more J-E vocabulary scrolls before heading back. This post inspired me to have another go at it, and I got lucky with my first try. The random encounter I ended up with was 賑わう, defined as:


    The first problem is I don’t know what to do with などして. There’s a dictionary entry for など, though it doesn’t seem relevant. I could be wrong of course, but more generally does anyone have any suggestions for dealing with unfamiliar bits of grammar in definitions?

    In this case though I knew all the other words and could get a sense of the meaning of the original word. However, like Anonymous just posted, it felt like I wouldn’t really understand until I could find a map back to an English word. But what this post made me realize is that that sensation isn’t a problem, it’s the goal! It’s kind of like… seeing a new color and appreciating it for what it is rather than trying to pigeon-hole it as “a sort of greenish-purple” or something.

    • I think you nailed it with your analogy about colors. When moving into monolingual there are going to be things you don’t get an immediate understanding with like you would with J-E. But this is awesome because it forces you to read the Japanese more actively and search for meaning in context. To me this is more the point than the actual definition you get from the J-J dictionary (until later when the Japanese definition really is more helpful in most cases).

      My recommendation would be to add some cards for the definition of など as well. At the same time, just look out for it in other definitions and keep looking at the definition of など as you progress to see if it starts to make more sense. I think this is actually a perfect example because although looking up the definition of など in a J-E dictionary might give a more immediate understanding of that word, it’s probably just as much the construction of the sentence that takes some getting used as the actual word.

      • Although I don’t understand how that works. I can understand that the words will have meanings divorced of English, but I have no idea what that would even look like. How would I know that I understood something if I’m not allowed to translate? If I want to pursue this, wouldn’t it make sense for me to know just what the hell I’m pursuing? And since people have reached this level, wouldn’t it make sense that someone out there can explain this?

        • I clearly haven’t reached that level, nor am I a neurolinguist so this might well be a huge load of crap. But the sense I’m starting to get is this: when we first learned a language we didn’t do any translating, we just learned to associate sounds (and, later, characters) with particular patterns of sensory data. I don’t get how that works for abstract concepts, but clearly it does. The point is we have this sort of pre-linguistic conceptualization of the world that we slap language on top of, and I’m starting to think that the point of J-J (or, well, maybe all immersive second-language approaches) is to tap back into that and build up a second set of linguistic structures, rather than building up the second set on top of the existing structures. As for how we know if we’ve understood something without translating — I guess we don’t. We walk away from a sentence with some level of understanding of the individual words and we just have to be prepared to adjust or outright correct this understanding based on future input. Or so I’m guessing!

      • Hey Jeff,

        thanks for the tips! I had another look at the definition of など, and I think I see the problem — I was looking at the first match (何ど) which doesn’t seem relevant, and missed the second definition, which also might not be relevant, but it’s sufficiently long that it might be :) . So that’s cool, this just becomes another another branch, and I think you’re absolutely right that seeing it in more places will help. In any case, that still leaves me with して, which looks like it might be a conjugation of する, but not one I’m familiar with. So I guess what I’m asking is; when using a J-J dictionary there will be new vocabulary and new grammar. The vocabulary leads to new branches, how do you deal with the grammar? (Maybe this has been addressed in the comments of one of the other J-J posts, I’ll take a look).

        • I’d input that grammar into a search engine, and then read as many possible results that have large surrounding contextual data — especially forum posts, where you can also use someone’s reply to help infer the meaning of said grammar. Of course, this is only useful if one’s at a level where they can generally understand those posts/results.

          This is, after all, how we’ve come to know the grammar in our native language. I’m certain I’ve not read dictionaries, grammar books, and used dictionary sample sentences to really understand a novel piece of grammar or word… whilst I’ve obviously looked in dictionaries, real understanding came from repeated exposure to a particular pattern, or from deriving said understanding from a large context.

          • あぁ、なるほど! Unfortunately I’m not likely to be able to understand much of a random forum post, but I can treat this as just another branch point: unknown words lead to lookups lead to more words, unknown grammar leads to web searches leads to new sentences leads to new words. “In theory” this shouldn’t add much additional complexity to the process especially if, as in this case, I don’t actually need the grammar to get the sense of a definition. But I’ll see how it goes once I get further into the process. Cheers!

  6. My take on it is that whenever you’re learning new vocabulary you have this kind of sliding scale of understanding like so (Note: I don’t know a thing about HTML and I am notoriously poor at formatting comments so this may not work out the way I planned) :

    (No Understanding)=========================(True Meaning)

    When you look something up in a bilingual dictionary you will tend to land yourself around here on the scale:

    (No Understanding)======●==================(True Meaning)

    However, when you look it up with a monolingual dictionary you might end up more around here:

    (No Understanding)=====================●===(True Meaning)

    Whether you look a word up with a monolingual or bilingual dictionary, you can advance your understanding of a word across the scale by seeing it used in context many times. However, it will take much longer to reach the same level of understanding if you use a monolingual dictionary. I also think there’s a compound effect where if you have a poor understanding of not only the word you are trying to learn but all the other words in the sentence as well because you’ve been using monolingual dictionaries, you will advance even slower across the scale, and conversely an advanced understanding of many words allows you to gain a greater understanding of new vocabulary even quicker. This makes going monolingual an important step to vastly accelerate your ability with the language, although at first everything will obviously slow down as you struggle with the jump.

    Personally, when I made the switch I quite literally had 50+ tabs open in my browser at once as I looked up word upon word upon word which I didn’t know in the definitions (and that was while I was making it a point to ignore anything obviously technical/scientific). I think Adshap recommends that you don’t add new cards until you’ve finished an entire branch when you’re going J-J, but I just went as far through as I could manage and added them whether I understood them at the time or not. I found that over time as I did reviews and continued diving through the dictionary day by day (as well as some normal reading, but when I switched to J-J the dictionary took up most of my time I think) my understanding of those words grew naturally on it’s own. There have been many times where I’ve added a card without a very solid understanding of some of the vocab/grammar used, and then one day, weeks or even months later, I’m reviewing it and the meaning suddenly hits me out of nowhere in a huge eureka moment, and suddenly it becomes so obvious that “Duh, of COURSE that’s what it means!”. I should also note that this means that I would often pass cards I didn’t understand as “hard” as long as I remembered all the readings.

    • Or you might end up just where you started, or perhaps even in the wrong direction – which is what I did, lots of times.

  7. It would be great if Adshap could help me on my problem.

    I’ve been studying japanese for a while now and now is the time for me (I think) to make the plunge in japanese. The problem, however, is that I’ve only been using pre-made decks thus far. Here are the decks I’ve been using.

    Hiragana/Katakana Deck – Yep still in my Anki.

    RTK Deck – The modified version found here. No problems with it. I haven’t covered the RTK3 kanji yet so will do that soon.

    Tae Kim’s Clozed Deletion Deck – While it was great to learn some basic grammar from Tae Kim’s site, I’ve been a little sceptic on this deck lately. Sometimes you need to fill in some random noun that you’ve forgotten in time or something else which isn’t completely clear. I still have 10-20 cards that I see daily in this deck.

    Core2k6k – Essentially my main deck. I have 4260 active cards now. The problem I have with this deck is that it’s E-J and vocabulary only. I add 100 new cards a week and still have 200-300 reviews daily. It takes me 3-4 hours to bring this down to 0 every day. I think it’s because there are a lot of words that look like each other. For example when the question is the japanese word for rest, then I come up with the words 休養 休憩 休息 休み 一休み. If I have forgotten one word from that list then it means that I’ve failed the card.

    To clear things up here’s how one card looks like:

    miracle, wonder Noun
    かれのマジックはまるで( )です。

    His magic is like a miracle.



    The answer also has furigana on top of the kanji. The word and the sentence has audio on it.

    My question is what should I do with this deck? edit it to a J-E sentence deck? complete the 6k vocab? I think the deck isn’t good as it is now because I realized that I don’t have the need to write words (and I practice writing kanji with the RTK deck anyway).

    As an added note: I haven’t made any cards thus far. I don’t know how to make them and was too lazy to make them. I’ve realized that if I truly want to get better in japanese then I need to learn this :p.


    Thanks for anyone helping me out and taking their time for reading this post.

    • Sorry for the whine post I made. I’ve made the decision to do core6k completely. I’ll edit the deck so that my reading skills can get some boost. It’ll look like this:

      miracle, wonder Noun
      彼のマジックはまるで( )です。



      His magic is like a miracle.

      Only the sentence has furigana.

      I’ll try to understand each sentence that I see (JALUP style) when studying. This makes me more active in the language I think.

      I’ll start J-J after having completed core6k.

      Of course no one cares what I do but posting this prevents people for trying to help me with my earlier dilemma.

      • All those resources are helpful and work in their own ways. However, on this site I recommend doing J-E sentences (which it looks like you are doing a version of with Cloze deletions), as I believe they have a much greater benefit than just learning vocabulary. So I think your plan looks fine.

  8. Hello Adhsap. I have a quick question for you!

    So, I finished this pretty massive E-J deck (about 2050) cards a while back and have been reviewing them pretty religiously. Recently however, I have bought a J-J dictionary and have begun the process of using only Japanese definitions. Should I just stop reviewing the E-J deck and start looking up those words in my J-J dictionary? Or should I simultaneously review each deck?

    • No, don’t change your J-E deck. Just keep reviewing it as you progress with J-J reviews. Eventually your J-E reviews will fade down to a very small number.

      You might even want to merge the two decks together. Many people (including myself) do this to make things simpler.

  9. I can use the sentences from right? Instead of yahoo dict? Alot of the ones on jisho are plain form sentences and not dictionary sentences.

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