The J-J Anki definition branching process can be difficult. No, it is difficult. It is by far one of the biggest challenges you will face in your Japanese studies. You were so used to leveling at your usual hunting grounds, you change spots, and you get killed repeatedly in violent fashion. Going back to your previous hunting area isn’t helpful because you won’t gain enough experience points to level anymore, so your only option is to push forward.
A big adversity you will face, in addition to making the leap from the J-E to J-J dictionary, is actually reviewing all those J-J cards that were created with the branching process. The cards you entered were complex. To understand the definitions of many of these cards, you sometimes had to branch dozens of cards.
The ideal outcome is that you finally understand the original card and all those additional cards added, so that you should be able to review them all effortlessly.
The occasional unpleasant outcome is that when you review the cards later, it may be hard for you to understand them all. This is compounded with the problem that if you get the card wrong, merely looking at the answer may not be enough to help you remember the meaning of that card, because it took you X number of branching cards to do that originally. Many of those branched cards may have already escaped from your memory.
To solve this issue, there are nine tactics to help you break through rotten branches:
1. Keep the faith
A proper mind set is a solution to so many of your Japanese study setbacks, with branching being no exception. Branching problems will fade away soon, often in a few months. The more branches you do, the more you expand your J-J only knowledge, and the easier the process becomes. Everyone faces this and you are not alone. Passing through this will earn you bragging rights.
2. Knock your reviews down to 0 every day.
Branching requires multiple memories simultaneously being stimulated. In order to remember the original card you produced, you have to remember all the cards that branched off of it. You were able to accomplish this when you first created the branch. Anki and its incredible algorithm sets up the proper review time for you based on scientific studies on memory. Normally, if you sometimes let your Anki reviews buildup because you get a little busy, there is no real harm. A few days to weeks of backlog can be dealt with without too much pressure.
However, your entry into branching makes backlog the worst thing you could possibly do. Adding 40 connected cards requires you to absolutely keep up to date on your reviews, making you unable to indulge in this previous liberty. For the first few months of branching, keep yourself strictly getting the cards down to 0 every day.
3. Learn to play the dictionary
Make sure you gain a good understanding of the major players of the J-J dictionary that will come up repeatedly. If you can master these, you will help ease the load on many of your branches.
4. Stay within your comfort zone
As a branching novice, a habit you want to avoid is adding any and all sentences to your deck that you come across. Branching is already confusing enough. There is no reason why you should make it worse. You may want to add the new word you just came across “糖尿病, diabetes” but if you do you will be bombarded with advanced technical words in the definition. Then probably in each of those branched definitions, they will contain their own confusing foreign technical words. This will lead to utter branching insanity.
If you don’t want to end up in a bad situation, you need to maintain proper restraint. Keep things simple whenever you can. And not to worry, your comfort zone will constantly expand, which will eventually allow you to add whatever you want. Only then should you start going wild.
5. Pick easier sentences to learn the same word
When you want to enter a new sentence to learn a specific new word, briefly scan out how much work the sentence will require. Is there more than one word in the sentence you don’t understand? Can you gain no context understanding from the sentence at all? If this is the case, try to choose a different sentence that uses the same word you want to learn. The type of sentence you use makes all the difference, and if you can learn the same new word with an easier sentence, you always should.
6. Give up mid-branch
Sometimes you choose the wrong word at the wrong time in your studies. You start it, think you can handle it, add a few cards, and watch as it gets wildly out of control. Give up, delete the branch, and cut your losses. You weren’t ready for it. You will be one day. You will start getting a grasp of what you are ready for and what you aren’t.
7. Make full use of your RTK Anki deck
Your RTK deck should be merged with your sentences deck (both J-E and J-J) by now. The reason for this is for both ease of review, and for easy access to your self-contained Anki universe. Those Anki keywords can help you solve many of your problems. Can’t remember what the specific keywords were for the word you are looking up? Look up the kanji in your own deck to refresh yourself. Anki has a wonderful search feature which you should be fully utilizing.
8. Make full use of your J-E and J-J sentences
Go back through the branches to refresh your memory. In an Anki search you can arrange the cards by date added. This means you can briefly scan all the branches you added for the card you are looking at hopefully jump starting your memory.
9. Wait and slowly take control. . .
The above eight steps should cover most problems. But let’s say you’ve already added a full branch a short while ago, are up to the review part, and still can’t remember/figure it out no matter how hard you try. You have 2 options:
A: Delete the card(s), which some people like doing. I am usually hesitant to do this unless I find the cards to be worthless.
B: If you understand some portion of the card, but not the whole, mark it as correct anyway, pushing the review time to a further date. Right now you are struggling with the word, but by the next review time in 2-4 weeks you may have learned a lot of new vocabulary/grammar giving you the ability to understand the original card better. I prefer this method because I feel it creates mini-goals in your Anki deck. It makes you feel like you are gaining control over your deck as your understanding widens, and it feels empowering to finally understand the cards that you were having so much trouble with for so long.
Follow these techniques, and no matter what, keep moving forward. You will eventually get through this difficult time and look back on this phase and realize how far you have come. Before you know it, adding new J-J cards will easily take you less than a minute per card.