I had a problem. I was the best Japanese-studyer in the world. Every day I spent hours in front of the computer optimizing my Anki decks, adding and reviewing new words, scouring the archives of Japanese-learning blogs and gleaning the latest studying insights from Japanese-learning message boards.
My favorite daily duty was making new Anki cards. I made the best Anki cards in the world. I probably could have started a sleezy looking website and made a million dollars from selling them. Each one had a pretty picture from the manga or anime of the day, the right font sizes and colors for easy skimming, a carefully selected sentence that wasn’t too long and wasn’t too short with a carefully selected word that wasn’t too far down the Jouyou kanji list or had a convoluted J-J definition.
I pulled out all the stops and scanned manga pages, and drained my anime with Subs2SRS because if I didn’t make each card as clear as possible I would have never remembered the new word, right? Some days it took over an hour to make fifteen cards.
I read through the archives and subscribed to all my favorite Japanese-learning blogs. I read through my favorite discussion boards every day, not that I needed new insights or better study methods. I spent a few hours every week downloading more podcasts and music and shuffling files between here and my iPod.
I had gotten really good at studying Japanese, but I wasn’t getting good at Japanese.
After all that work, I usually only managed to scrape through my Anki deck by the end of the day and get a good night’s rest. I didn’t have time to spend more than ten minutes reading a manga or watching the latest One Piece or reading a Japanese book or a newspaper or even a Japanese-language blog post. I was too busy. I was spending a lot of time, but I wasn’t using it effectively. And spending a lot of time on unimportant things doesn’t make them important.
I was getting frustrated. After reading a good productivity book (In the English language. Yes I know I’m a bad person) for inspiration, I decided to look at how I was really spending my Japanese time.
How do you find what’s wasting your time?
I looked at it this way. If, I don’t know, some really mean Japanese-hating old man with a gun forced you to only spend an hour a day on Japanese, what would you spend it on? How about only an hour a week?
You might be skimming the article by now and nodding your head along with me and saying you’ll think about it later because everybody hates doing dumb exercises like this. I do too. But really take a minute or two right now to think about how you would spend your time. It’s important to find what’s important to you.
You could probably give up your message board scrounging if you had to. I did. What is slowing you down? What’s making you less effective? It doesn’t matter if it’s something everyone else is doing. If it doesn’t work for you, then don’t do it. Stop reading grammar textbooks. Stop watching anime. Stop using Anki. You can even stop reading Japanese Level Up if it’s not an effective use of your time! (Finish this article, first, though, it’s a good one!) If it is helping you, keep it and get rid of the ineffective parts of it.
Obviously I’m not saying adding detailed Anki cards is evil.
Reading Japanese blogs can be extremely helpful. (If they weren’t, why would I be writing this?) I love language-learning message boards; without them, I would probably be poking around with Rosetta Stone right now! But if it’s not helping you in an effective manner any longer, give it up. I hope you won’t still be reading JALUP when you’re old, have a grey beard and call yourself “わし”. By then, you’ll hopefully be to the point where it’s just not effective any more. You’ll already know all there is to know about Japanese. That’s great!
I cut back on my Anki card obsession. Now I make sure that the word is fairly well stuck in my brain before I add an Anki card, if I even need to add one at all. I don’t care if it doesn’t look perfect any longer. It’s still a great way to remember new words, but now I’ve cut out the ineffective parts of it. I stopped visiting discussion forums and only check my favorite Japanese-learning blogs once a week. I spend less time on Japanese study now. But now I spend it effectively. How about you?
Written by: Eric
A writer for Japanese Level Up, a part-time graphic designer, and purveyor of fine Japanese art (which consists mostly of anime, manga and weird music). When he’s not wasting time in Japanese, you can usually find him making pretty pictures or studying something that sounds interesting.