I’m James, 24 years old and from Sydney Australia. Currently studying and working a casual bar job. Recently I’ve been using my free time, nearly all of it, to power level as fast I can to fluency by my end of year Japan holiday.
Your reason for learning
I spent as much time as any other person indulging in various English dubbed anime and Japanese role playing games. As I grew into an older, not much taller man, this love for Japanese media continued to grow. A belated 21st birthday present to Japan later and the rest was history.
How you got started
By coincidence I discovered JALUP and AJATT off a post in Crunchyroll’s forum, which spoke briefly about the immersion method. I didn’t like the look of AJATT so went with JALUP instead. I started with RTK after reading the majority of the walkthrough. From there I moved onto the JALUP beginner that just so happened to be released at my conclusion of RTK.
Brief notes on your method
From the start I used the popular SRS program Anki to learn the Heisig’s Remembering the Kanji premade deck on JALUP. At the conclusion of my Kanji, I moved onto the JALUP beginner (a premade series, made by Adam himself). I have completed JALUP Beginner all the way through to JALUP Expert. I have also completed another 1700 cards from The One Deck (Adam’s personal deck) which I started somewhere around the end of advanced, but really upped my pace during expert. That increase in pace from The One Deck was thanks to an extremely important Anki add-on, which I’ll touch on later.
Content milestones and timing
I successfully completed the RTK deck within 3 months between November 2013 and February 2014, after which I began my sentences immediately. As of today I have completed 5500 cards. I have completed all of the JALUP series of decks thus far, with the exception of 80 left on the expert stage 4 (4000 cards in total). The remainder of my cards learnt have been from The One Deck.
Stuff that confused you but you figured out
I want to leave a lot of my solutions for the advice column, but here are some issues I sorted out along the way:
– The best way for me to review and add cards
– How to think about monolingual (J-J) material, especially when studying Anki
– How to enjoy content at a low level
– Does passive immersion work?
– What’s the best way to immerse your self passively in Japanese?
– Why doesn’t active or passive immersion work for me?
– How to speed up my Anki reviews without sacrificing gains
– What pace to introduce new cards in Anki
– How to start speaking
– How often and what should I be reading
Worst moments in the journey
I started with the JALUP RTK KANJI deck in July 2013, right before my trip to Japan. I managed to keep up my studies while abroad, surprisingly to myself. But within a little over a month, I felt myself becoming frustrated and demotivated. I felt myself thinking about how it was so stupid that I spent so many hours, given up so much of my time, and all I could do was translate lone kanji to English. Which was kind of helpful in Japan, but once I returned home to Sydney, its usefulness completely vanished.
So I did what every frustrated learner does and quit. 3 months passed by fairly quickly, my Japanese failure had all but subsided to an inkling of guilt I felt every once and a while spontaneously. But I had a problem, I couldn’t play my favourite games anymore. I couldn’t watch my favourite shows. They were all tarnished by my failure; they all brought back the memories of never going the distance.
It’s then that I realised that every piece of media I held dear to my heart was in fact, Japanese. From then I vowed to never give up on my dream again, and that I would one day fluent. 1901 kanji, 1000 J-E and 4700 J-J sentences later, I can’t imagine ever letting that happen again.
– The adulation I have received recently from my ‘teachers’ (or paid friends, as I like to call them) and the genuine disbelief due to the speed my spoken Japanese has jumped since I began a little under a month ago is amazing.
– Understanding my first Anime
– Getting the plot of my first novel, although more vaguely compared to anime
– Thinking in Japanese, in brief stints
– Making J-J cards feel like routine, like my J-E cards used to. The dictionary is slowly becoming my servant, and it’s delivering me delicious vocabulary fruit daily.
– Hitting Level 40 and hitting the oft-mentioned ‘turning point’
My advice section will be what I believe are the best things to get you from beginner to fluency as fast and effectively as possible. It is written for the highest denominator. However, every piece of advice I will give here can be scaled to your needs, from power levelers to the casual players.
Remember, there are exceptions to every piece of advice I will give. Use my advice in the way that best fits your needs; it is just my opinion after all. The most important advice I will give is that you never stop the battle; never give up your desires and dreams to learn Japanese. There is a right way for you to learn, you just have to tailor existing methods and routines in a way that works for you. Japanese needs to be somewhat enjoyable, and you need to be able to go the distance. Don’t follow any of my other advice at the expense of that.
Unfortunately, the advice below must be condensed into the ‘what’, without any reasoning to back it up. This is in order to fit within the word constraints of the article. I will clarify anything you need in the comments section, please don’t hesitate to ask:
– Immersion with Japanese subtitles on first watch, repeat as desired and then move material to passive immersion device.
– Passive Immersion MP3 player: Regardless of device, if you aren’t passive immersing from early on, you are missing out. Listen as much as you possibly can. Passive listening -material should come from anything with text e.g. subtitles, scripts, in-game text etc. Once you have actively engaged with it at least once, it can become passive material
– Use immersion material that you would watch in English. Make sure that material is at your level or below your level.
– Watch as much active material as you can/want, but make sure you at least do your Anki reviews every day. Leave some time for reading when you hit the appropriate level.
Anki Study Advice
– Switching to J-J is one the most important things you will do in your Japanese Journey, second only to immersion. Please make the switch, very doable with the JALUP Intermediate-expert series. Use Anki and purchase the JALUP maxed out package (much better value than buying items individually)
– Don’t introduce new cards if you can’t keep up with the review pace. Always always complete your reviews first and never miss them if you can.
– Complete RTK with Anki, and continue reviews indefinitely. Don’t ever stop reviewing.
– Buy an osX and iOS device a.s.a.p., the baked in support for Japanese is unrivalled on competing platforms.
– If you review, add cards, or make cards, your hands should rarely if ever leave the keyboard. You can do nearly everything faster with shortcuts.
– Don’t use the browse function in Anki once you are past the beginner phase, it will slow you down. Anki will fill in your gaps in knowledge automatically over time.
– Try to spend approximately 3-10 seconds on cards whilst reviewing, and double that when you fail cards
– Don’t be upset by failing lots of cards, Anki shows you more of the material that you are bad at, this can give you a harsh view of your Japanese.
– Don’t think about cards in English. Don’t think about cards at all, unless you are able to paraphrase to Japanese. Keep the pace up and don’t let your mind dwindle. This stops translation.
– Only used definitions as references, if you are confident about a card, you don’t need to look at the definition at all. If you think you might know, scan it. If you don’t think you know, read the definition and fail the card. Try and not spend too much time on failed cards and move on quickly.
– Make sure to always have passive material playing even while you use Anki, you’ll get used to it very quickly.
– Make sure you use the Morphman plugin to organize information in an i+1 format when you finish the JALUP4000 and move onto The One deck. This is will make the transition an absolute breeze in comparison.
– Make sure you have the Japanese plugin installed so that you can get furigana readings when making, or editing cards for the One deck. You can do all this with keyboard shortcuts.
– Suspend Cards in The One Deck if you find any duplicates, too many unknowns, too difficult, or for names/counters/places.
– Make sure you look up the RTK keyword for words that you don’t recognise them in. for example 単=simple
– When doing Kanji reviews, you can add stroke diagrams or get the strokes from jisho.org
– Try alternative sentence sources if there are too many sentence unknowns. You can do the same for definitions too. My favourite alternative souce is the Apple built in J-J dictionary.
– Try a review threshold and lower your new cards per day if you go over it.
– Try short periods of time where you have higher goals than normal.
– Read all your Anki sentences aloud, and read definitions when you first introduce a card. You might want to write the sentence out too the first time you see a card, I don’t.
– MCDs are great but are too time consuming as far as I’m concerned. Your spending enough time in Anki already. In my experience your output is better off being formed in immersion and conversations.
– Around 3000-4000 sentences is a great time to start reading novels.
– When doing intensive reading, make sure that you are using ebooks. Being able to have a popup j-j dictionary at your disposal is amazing. Apple products have one of the best built in dictionaries I have ever used.
– When doing extensive reading, you can use paper back if you like. Basically, it doesn’t matter what you use.
– Make sure you are listening to passive material while you read. Make sure you are passive immersing no matter what you do, actually. Listen whenever and wherever possible.
– Try and read for an hour a day, 30 minutes is good too.
– At around 4000-5000 words is a great time to begin
– If speaking is a prioritiy, try and speak every day for an hour, there are many services on the Internet where you can talk for free or pay to speak to someone.
– Speaking 1-3 times a week is more realistic if speaking isn’t a major goal.
– You will be nervous, and compared to what you know you will suck badly.
– Keep the lessons up and you’ll see ridiculous improvements over the weeks/months. After your first month you’ll notice a massive jump from when you first started.
– Consider keeping a script (no English) or saving some of your favourite sentences to use from your Anki decks and keep them on hand.
– Don’t forget to tell your teacher/conversation partner at the start of the lesson or earlier to only speak in Japanese and to explain and define in Japanese also. Tell them English is absolutely prohibited.
– Also don’t forget to ask them to correct all your mistakes. I get my big mistakes corrected at the time, and the smaller ones written up for me at the end. This might not be possible if you aren’t paying them.
– Speaking is one of the most enjoyable things you can do in Japanese, try it out for you write it off !
The difference Japanese has made to your life
Japanese has made a huge change in my life. But not only Japanese, but the values imprinted by learning Japanese in such an intensive, structured, and disciplined way. It was completely out of character for me and has finally given me some order and belief in my ability to achieve.
I don’t need to explain the enjoyment you’ll get as you gradually peel away the barriers that prevent you from understanding your dream material or activity. But I think the true benefits are the character building elements that learning a language makes you undergo. Those unexpected and intrinsic gains are the massive boon that you’ll receive amongst the expected elation as you increase your understanding and ability at an exponential rate.
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