Choosing an amount of new flash cards to learn daily looks like a simple task. You start off with the total number you want to complete from a deck or decks. You decide when you want to finish it by. You divide one by the other, and you get your daily goal count. In the Jalup app, I even provide you an automated tool to set this up for you.
All ready to go? Maybe. How high does your daily number look? It may not seem significant, but this number can predict whether you will burn out or successfully continue in the long run.
A deceptive beginning
Assume you are starting fresh or from a somewhat low/manageable daily reviews count. Take Jalup Beginner with its 1,000 cards. Here are some possible outcomes you consider:
33 cards/day = finished in ~1 month
11 cards/day = finished in ~3 months
5 cards/day = finished in ~6.75 months
Then you also have Intermediate, Advanced, Expert, Hero, and Master. 6,000 total cards ahead of you (more if you plan on doing Kana Conqueror or Kanji Kingdom). 33 is looking quite appealing. With that, it will take you only half a year to finish everything. How amazing would that be?
Your first several days to weeks go fine. Then the reviews come in hard. Hundreds of reviews due a day that just won’t go away. This is a hard pace to keep up for a beginner, and you struggle immensely even though you just started Jalup Beginner. Before the reviews pile in, a pace of 33/day seems doable (and maybe even easy). But everyone soon realizes this is definitely not the case.
Slow and steady is a cliche used to death, but for good reason
On the Jalup app tutorial, I recommend between 5-15 new cards a day. This pace will take you between 2~6 months to finish 1,000 cards. Your first reaction may be “that’s too long!” Your second reaction is what to do with the rest of your time after doing those 5 cards.
1. Review your due cards (don’t be tempted to learn more new cards after this)
2. Spend time enjoying native Japanese material
#2 is what cements everything that you are learning. This is what keeps you motivated. #1 gives you access to immersion. #2 gets you fluent. A lot of people think adding new cards and reviewing is the “study” time and “immersion” is the bonus play time. But immersion is just as important as the studying.
Other people are studying, 30, 50 or even 100 new cards a day!
You know looking at what other people are doing is bad. Especially when it comes to people studying Japanese on the internet and bragging about it on forums and YouTube videos. Who knows what their situation is like. Who knows how long they were able to keep up that pace. For every story of a successful power-leveler pulling off this pace, there are many more who burned out along the way.
Highly risky, highly prone to failure, and not necessary. The Jalup decks weren’t intended to be a race to finish 6,000 cards. Too much information too fast is not your path to victory.
You might be thinking, “but Adam, didn’t you once say you learned like 30-50 cards a day?” Yes, and no. Over very short bursts of time (a few weeks or a month here and there), I was intense. But if you average it out over the years, not so much. More importantly, I was in a very specific situation that allowed me to do this. And as someone pointed out to me, you have to be crazy to do what I did. This is not a “I did it so you can/should as well.” That is often unrealistic and can be harmful.
I am not discouraging fast paces or power-leveling. It can be an amazing study speed for the right person. But I want you to remember something truly important.
5 Cards a day is powerful
To finish Jalup Beginner through Master (6,000 cards), at 5 cards a day, it would take you 1,200 days or around 3.25 years.
Take that in for a second. At this realistic pace that you are likely to continue, in 3.25 years your Japanese is going to be pretty damn good. You will not stress yourself out, will decrease your chance of failure, and can avoid the lows that a fast pace produces.
It gets even better though. Your speed at learning new cards will absolutely increase. Choosing 5 cards/day as a beginner is misleading. Most people get through Advanced, Expert, Hero, and Master at a much faster pace than Beginner and Intermediate. This isn’t because they are putting in more time. It’s because in the time it takes you to learn 5 daily cards now, you can turn up to 10 in a year. On top of things getting easier, your motivation rises as you get better and you enjoy real native media.
Slow down to speed up
Give it a try. You may find yourself fluent before you know it.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.