How my 6-Year Old Son Learns Japanese through JALUP

As you may have read in an earlier post, my son finished the Kana Conqueror deck not too long after turning five. He did it at an agreeable pace. He then saw first-hand the benefits of being able to read Japanese. And he was up for another challenge. So, naturally, I uploaded JALUP’s beginner deck into Anki.

Working Through the JALUP Decks at a Turtle’s Pace 2

Why I Chose the Beginner Deck

The beginner deck by JALUP has a number of features, but the three most important for me were that it contains 1000 sentences spoken by a native speaker, introduces only one new item at a time, and is part of a larger series that my son can continue with until he’s fluent.

The last is particularly important—for kids as well as for adults. For my son, however, it means he doesn’t have to jump from one resource to another, becoming bored with the repetition. And for me it means I don’t have to spend energy looking for those resources, let alone trying to motivate him to work through them.

With this series of decks, however, the path to fluency is there. Each step to it is easy. All that is required is to show up each day and take a couple of ‘em.

How He Uses the Beginner Deck

Working Through the JALUP Decks at a Turtle’s Pace 3

A couple steps—or two new cards per day—is the perfect pace for my son right now. He completed the first 500 cards of the deck at that speed just before turning six, and it’s a pace that is challenging without being demanding.

What that means is that he spends less than 10 minutes studying with Anki each day, becoming overwhelmed with new cards is never a problem, and the pleasure of learning something new is always there.

That pace also means Anki is not “a thing.” At worst, it is like a commercial break that he sits through once a day. But most of the time it is a little challenge providing a little pleasure. He simply reads each card aloud—often with help from me for the kanji he hasn’t learned yet—and then moves on, having accomplished something for the day that he can already see is starting to pay off.

What He Can Do (and What He Can’t Do)

Working Through the JALUP Decks at a Turtle’s Pace 1

My son can now read in Japanese—and not just within the sentences he knows from the JALUP deck. He can read parts of よつばと!for example, as well as some of the フィニアストファブ books that he (serendipitously) discovered on my bookshelf.

He doesn’t understand everything, of course. Nor does he speak much Japanese, although he was slow to speak both English and Vietnamese too—until he jumped from single words to the equivalent of very long paragraphs in one fell swoop.

He has learned enough vocabulary to enjoy some shows, however—his favorite being Dragon Ball. He also enjoys YouTube channels—his favorite being kougeisha. And he can even ask tough questions. For example, right after reading the sentence テーブルの上にテレビゲームがたくさんある, my son turned to me and asked, “Is English backwards or is Japanese backwards?”

What Does This Matter To You?

The progression of a young boy toward fluency is not exactly riveting. But it’s worth paying attention to, and perhaps caring enough about to get motivated by. If a child can show up each day and take two steps toward fluency, what can you do each day and how far will that take you over the next year?

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I love reading books in Japanese and plan to start translating them into English in 2015.


How my 6-Year Old Son Learns Japanese through JALUP — 15 Comments

  1. That’s inspiring. And your son is beautiful and bright. You’re giving each other a great gift!

    • It’s definitely been a fun adventure together and I’m glad to hear you found the above part of it inspiring.

  2. > For example, right after reading the sentence テーブルの上にテレビゲームがたくさんある, my son turned to me and asked, “Is English backwards or is Japanese backwards?”

    Ha, that’s so awesome! You’ve got a real bright kid on your hands :D

    > The progression of a young boy toward fluency is not exactly riveting.

    I’m gonna have to disagree there. This was an excellent post, and definitely inspiring. I look forward to hearing more!

    • Yeah I’m with ジャック on this. The occasional stories we see about your little guy tackling Japanese are fascinating. Keep ’em coming! =)

      • Thanks for the encouragement, guys. I’m excited to make the next post in this series in…six or seven months!

    • Last year we read 漢字なりたちブック, which is kind of like a native version of RTK for Japanese kids, and also played kanji bingo a lot, which I made myself using the 80 kanji covered in the book.

      Then, while working through the JALUP beginner deck, or reading a couple of the 10分で読める books, he’d variously hear how each kanji is read or read it himself (thanks to the furigana).

      This year, he is going through JALUP’s Kanji Kingdom, and will start working with a cool book a friend of mine from Japan got him called はじめてのかん字. It’s from Kumon, better known outside of Japan for the math worksheets, and it’s both part of a larger series and very well done.

    • Try to action “I Eat Candy”. If you are like 99% people you’d have first pointed the finger at yourself, then the candy, and then finally gestured “eat” (by ,say, pointing at your mouth). (Now that you consciously know about this fact, your brain might resist). Subject-Object-Verb.This was a small experiment that was conducted with people across different cultures, where they were asked to perform various gestures. The results? Human brain works like Japanese particles. Our natural instinct is always Subject-Object-Verb. So it might seem as English is backwards.
      However, it is easier on our brains if we move in a Subject Verb Object manner, because most of the meaning of any sentence is concentrated around Verb, and saying it earlier means (just a little bit more) efficient communication.


      • Manan, I have never thought of it like that before with the gestured actions. I agree with you, it does seem that English is the one a little backwards lol.

        • Like I said, it’s a tough question! I was happy that he was enough at home in both languages to not conclude that one was “backwards” immediately, and also surprised that he could name what was behind the feeling he had in reading that sentence as contrasted with reading an English (or Vietnamese) sentence. It’s actually a big conceptual step to name that explicictly; for a five-year-old it’s practically unheard of.

          Anyway, we ended up talking about this question for a while, seeing how one language or the other could be considered “backwards.” We saw, for example, how it changes relative to your standard of reference, because words like “backwards” or “forwards,” “up” or “down,” “left” or “right” are relative.

          It was the kind of intellectual conversation I love, one that’s challenging, where you even have to think of what a solution to the problem might look like. And then, because it was after all with a five-year-old, we probably went on to talk about something completely random (like how he would definitely beat a baby in a martial arts tournament).

      • Strangely enough I’d have gone with candy-I-eat as the what is being eaten seems more important than saying who is eating in this example. (coming from someone with French/English/Spanish background) But the Japanese word order seems just as natural to me.

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