I’m kreebilicus, or kreeb for short. I’ve lived in Japan for almost six years, and I translate video games, working in-house at a Tokyo-based company. I had never studied a language since high school, and my degree is in something completely unrelated to either languages or video games.
My reason for learning
I came to Japan with no long-term goals to speak of and my Japanese language skills amounted to being able to awkwardly read the kana; nothing out of the ordinary for an English teacher fresh off the boat. I started learning simply to improve my conversation skills to try and make daily life run a little more smoothly. I soon found this to be an unsatisfactory goal, and have been constantly reassessing my targets as I’ve progressed and achieved what I set out to do.
My methods will be no surprise to those familiar with the advice and techniques laid out at Jalup, so I’ll keep it brief – RTK concurrently with some J-E (6 months, around 1,000 sentences that I eventually deleted), 400 J-E from novels and online resources, straight to J-J sentences immediately after. I’ve been J-J for close to 4 years and have about 12,000 sentences, all made by myself using sentences found from every book, manga, game, and article I’ve enjoyed or thought useful, and branch from new words in the definitions.
I did use a textbook, not a major one, but I binned it midway through RTK because it was all in romaji and dull as dishwater. I’ve never use Genki or any other structured, unit-based textbook. I do take sentences from JLPT grammar prep books, typing out the all-Japanese explanations. If I come across a tricky pattern or expression in a sentence, I can then search Anki for a grammar definition and use that in my new card. I find the Kanzen Master series is very useful because, at least for the N1 and N2 level books, it’s written 100% in Japanese.
My progress timeline would look something like this:
- RTK – 6 months to finish, with J-E sentences
- J-J – from 6 months up to now, and counting (including some J-E)
- JLPT N2 – after 2 years 9 months
- JLPT N1 – after 3 years 3 months
- Translation job – after 4 years exactly
Implementing cloze deletions in Anki in a way that worked for me was something that took me a while to figure out. After a year of experimentation, adjustments, and no shortage of frustration, I developed a system I liked. My criteria for adding a sentence to Anki is only that it must contain at least one new word, two max, or a grammar structure or expression that isn’t new, but that I want to understand better.
I then cloze delete the grammar or new word, or two new words to make two new cards, add the readings for every word (familiar and new), and definitions for the new ones. I very occasionally add definitions for words I already “know”, but only if I feel I need the reminder.
Using cloze deletions pushes my memory and contextual understanding to the absolute limit – I have to recall kanji writings, readings, vocabulary and context, all for one small cloze deletion. I sometimes fail a lot of cards, perhaps not as many as some of you might think, but I’m fairly strict on vocab recall and readings. I try to be more lenient when it comes to using synonyms or forgetting kanji.
Something I learned was that you don’t need a partner to practice speaking. When I’m at home, I like to read my Anki cards out loud, but I don’t stop there. I also speak to myself and try to define target words or explain grammar rules, basically paraphrasing definitions, which has an impact on how I rate myself. Essentially I’m trying to define words in Japanese, give synonyms, or rephrase the sentence entirely. This takes some time and it’s not easy, but it’s also fantastic practice of linguistic gymnastics.
My worst moment was probably during the early stages of my studies, before RTK, when absolutely nothing was sinking in. I was only studying a couple of hours of a week, copying out of a text book like I did in school because it was the only way I knew how. I also got pretty down during my teaching days because I was so desperate not to be an English teacher any more, but was extremely worried that that was all I would ever get to do in Japan. No offense to English teachers, but it wasn’t a career path I was prepared to follow.
Passing JLPT N1 through self-study and using non-standard methods is justification of the efficacy of Anki and the Jalup method, and for that reason is one of my proudest moments. Achieving my major goal by securing my current job, however, blows that out of the water, as does translating for AAA titles and working with world-renowned Japanese franchises.
Maintain your momentum – you should do everything in you power to not let reps build up. If you can finish all your reps every day, even if it’s just 10 reps, you must do something at the very least.
Match your new cards to the time you have available – It’s very easy to get overexcited and start studying lots of new cards, especially when you’re just starting out, or have come back to Anki after a break. This is the quick route to getting in over your head and quitting, perhaps not for the first time. Depending on how strict you are, Experiment with the time you have available and find the right balance.
When I had 6 weeks summer holiday as a teacher, I would do 30 new cards per day and up to 150 reviews, and spend a couple of hours making new cards for the coming days. Now I do 5 new cards a day, have about 80 or so reviews which I do during my commute, and spend 30 minutes every day making cards because I don’t have the time to do any more – I want to read, play games, and watch TV! Managing my time in this way has meant I’ve not missed a day of Anki in well over 2 years, and I finish my reps 95% of the time.
Have a purpose – For me, the desperation not to be an English teacher was the pack of baying wolves behind me that ensured I never slacked off. That and getting good at Japanese was my chance to fulfill a lifelong dream of working in the games industry. When I came to Japan, I soon decided that before I reached a certain age, I had to be doing something here other than teaching English. I just failed, but only by 4 months. I hope you can let me off there.
The difference Japanese has made to my life
I think it’s fairly clear from all I’ve written here what a difference Japanese has made to my life. To summarize, Japanese has allowed me to achieve a dream and my job is a combination of two things I used to do in my free time. So much of what I’ve done can be attributed to Adam, his amazing website, and the example he sets for all of us. Thanks!
Have your own story to tell?
If you are level 40+ (advanced and up), please check out the information post and submit your story. New entries are always welcome and highly appreciated, as they provide a major source of motivation and inspiration for all Japanese learners on this site.