Two years ago, I had my breakout race as a professional Track and Field athlete. After years of hard work, grinding out 100 mile weeks, 16 mile long-runs, and traveling around the country on a shoestring budget (let’s be clear: being a professional Track and Field athlete is far from a lucrative endeavor), I managed to get across the line faster than all but 4 other men in the Steeplechase at US Championships.
My Track and Field journey wasn’t always easy. I hadn’t been the best guy on my high school track team, and never even finished higher than fifth place in my high school state meet. Along the way, I didn’t always know where I was going. My original goal was just to make the final, and my career aspiration was just to qualify for the Olympic Trials in 2020. But on that day, I arrived as a true contender on the national level of Track and Field.
I was beyond excited. So much so, in fact, that I gave this interview that went viral in the running community, where I talked about the prize money I’d just won. When asked how I’d be spending it, I knew the answer: materials to learn Japanese. When they asked me why, I later realized, the correct answer was, “because I’m gonna make the Olympic team in 2020.”
That was the last answer on my mind, and I instead went on a monologue professing my love for anime and Japanese culture. While I’d always loved anime, my trip to Japan to run in the 2017 Izumo Ekiden, one of Japan’s major college road relays, inspired a greater interest in the culture and desire to communicate with Japanese friends I’d made through translators. Today, 667 days and 130143 card reviews later, I can proudly say that the path to fluency is finally visible.
Like my career as an athlete, my Japanese journey has not been without trials and tribulations, and as with my career as an athlete, I’ve still got a long way to go in my Japanese journey. I’m here to share some of those stories, as well what I see for my path going forward.
But before I do that, let me tell you, person in need of motivation for Japanese studies or person considering purchasing Jalup: you are in the right place. You are absolutely, unequivocally on the right website, doing the right thing. What Adam has created is the best, most accessible piece of beginner to relatively advanced language learning texts I’ve seen anywhere, and it will give you the foundation to accomplish your Japanese language learning goals. If you’re struggling, stay strong. If you’re deciding where to spend money, buy this product. You will not be disappointed. What follows is my Jalup story.
The Finish Line
In the track world, having ambitious goals is an important part of staying motivated and planning training. For example, I run the steeplechase, so I practice running over hurdles. If I ran the marathon, that would not be very useful.
Similarly, as numerous posts on this site will tell you, understanding your Japanese goals is an important part of determining the path of your journey. My goals, personally, are to be able to fluently understand and communicate my personality in Japanese. I’m not too bothered over grammatical errors, but I want to be able to read, listen, and communicate my personality fluently.
Like in athletic pursuits, having achievable intermediate goals is an important part of helping yourself recognize progress, as it’s easy to be crushed by the imposing nature of a massive goal like fluency.
If I’d decided 10 years ago that I wanted to be a top-5 athlete in America, I’d never have been able to enjoy the progress I made along the way, improving from a middling state level athlete to a decent NCAA athlete to a solid pro. These all would have been failures. Similarly, if you’re constantly measuring yourself by the yardstick of fluency, you’ll be failing forever. But if you set goals around the next landmark in Jalup, in taking on a new manga or novel in Japanese, in watching a full series in Japanese and actually enjoying it: if you set these goals along the way, your path will be so much sweeter.
Which brings us to:
The Race I’m Running
When you attain a certain level of advancement in studying a language, more and more people ask “how fluent are you?” Unfortunately, if you’re at my level, that question becomes remarkably hard to answer accurately.
For context, I’ve finished the 7000 Jalup cards, and just created another 1429 i+1 J:J cards of my own (that will be released at the end of this article). That puts me at about 8500 sentences. And while I’m not super into measuring myself by the levels many people on this site use, it’s not like that would help me explain to my mom (or whomever) how much Japanese I know.
At this point, it’s apparently clear to me that I’ve got a long way to go to achieve fluency (besides, what does that even mean?)—
I still frequently have trouble finding the right words, even if they’re in my lexicon. And while I can enjoy most anime without subtitles, there are plenty of holes in my understanding that are exacerbated when watching the news or listening to podcasts. For example. while watching 鬼滅の刃, or Demon Slayer, at about 5,000 sentences, I could understand the show and most of the plot, but I missed that the 12 strongest demons had tattoos on their eyes.
But I’m good enough in the language to have long conversations on a range of topics touching occasionally and lightly on more advanced topics like politics. Though I will, again, miss subtleties and need occasional explanations. If a non-Japanese speaking friend saw me interacting with someone in Japanese, I’d look pretty fluent to them. But I know I am definitely not fluent. So what do you call that? Working proficiency? Pretty good? Something else?
Remember what I said earlier about the imposing nature of massive goals? Part of the reason that’s intimidating is because the path to achieving them isn’t always visible. Lebron James basically was born ready to play in the NBA. For most of us, the path to greatness is murky and unclear. I may not know how to describe my Japanese level to random friends. But I do know that I can finally see the path to fluency, and I promise you, it’s there.
What Does the Future Hold?
If you’ve spent any significant amount of time on this site, you’ve probably checked out The One Deck at least a couple times to decide if it was right for you. Well remember, Adam has over 12,000 cards in that deck, not including the 1-2,000 J:E/grammar cards he omitted. That means his real Anki number is over or around 14,000. That’s literally twice as many as any of us have upon finishing Jalup or a 100% increase in vocabulary. Not to mention the fact that in Jalup, there are like 8 cards for different slang versions of うるさい.
If that sounds scary to you, make it sound awesome, instead.
In running, the better you get, the more difficult it becomes to improve. Even the smallest personal breakthroughs are few and far in between and take lengthy periods of incredibly hard work to achieve. Reminding myself how far I have to go is a reminder that, while I’ve got a great foundation in Japanese that allows me to engage in real conversation and consume media with confidence, I still have plenty of room to improve.
From 7,000 words to 8,500 words is a 20% increase in my vocabulary. And probably more, given the grammatical nature of Jalup beginner. Even from 8,500 to 10,000 is still a 17% increase, going strictly by the numbers. Think about how large that percentage increase in your English vocab would be: it’d be massive!
While some of the words you get in your expansions (and in my attached deck) are likely to be context-specific or niche, and none of them will be as useful as those early words you learned like 物, I still I find myself regularly hearing, reading, or using many of the words I learned from 7,000 to 8,500. Besides, think about English: words like, “niche” don’t seem massively useful, but understanding it is part of being fluent.
You reach that point as an athlete running where it’s difficult to set personal bests, the moments where you actually do break through your boundaries are so much sweeter, and appreciation of those moments is always important to keep with you on your language journey.
As I said earlier, I know I’m not fluent, but I can tell that the path to fluency is there.
Now, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering, what does that even mean? But remember those far off goals I mentioned earlier, and how hard it is to see them when you first begin? As you progress in anything, your immediate next steps get closer.
Humble brag: I recently ran 13:27 in the 5k, winning my race, at age 27. Now, running under 13:20, faster than I ever thought I’d run in my life, feels not only tangible, but reasonable if I can stay healthy and train well for the next few years. While it wasn’t always possible, I can see the steps I need to take to achieve that goal.
Similarly, in Japanese, it’s now about filling in the gaps. I can have conversation, but need to practice speaking to become more fluid and practice drawing from my lexicon (which Jalup even has some unique recommendations for that!) I can watch anime, but need to immerse with podcasts and Youtube videos to improve my understanding of real people speaking in non-dramatized formats; I can read manga, but need to challenge myself to read novels and materials that challenge myself with longer sentences.
I have to keep grinding out more and more vocab (though immersion will inevitably dominate my studies). But at this point, I’m good enough in the language to communicate myself, and to know that if I’ve come this far, continuing on this path will help me reach my eventual goal. Whether you’re at 1000 sentences and just deciding how to start, or lost at 7,000 deciding where to go, we Jalup warriors are on the right path. We’ve just gotta keep walking.
I wouldn’t give the same advice to runners of different levels (i.e. a college athlete and a 30 year-old who runs for fun have different goals). So I’ll split up the pieces I’ve learned based on who they would be most useful to.
For people deciding how to start:
- Buy Jalup maximum and stay dedicated to it.
- Get to 0. You may not have to add new words every day, but doing your reviews is an absolute must. I don’t skip runs in training, and I don’t skip reviews in Japanese learning. If you stay on top of your reviews, you’ll at least maintain the knowledge you have and you can build on it when you’re ready.
- Trust the process. You should be able to feel yourself improving day by day. Kanji will be a grind, and some days reaching 0 will be harder than others. Stay strong; you’ll improve faster than you think.
For intermediate learners:
- Figure out the right balance FOR YOU. My running is the most important thing to me, so “how much can I study while still maintaining enough mental/emotional stamina to train effectively?” was always the question of the day. What I found was that, on days I felt like I could learn 5 new words, I felt like I could learn 50. Otherwise, I struggled to add to my deck.
You can see here how some months, my study numbers were massive (that giant number is smashing through the Kanji over a winter break). In others, it was much smaller. So, my studying looks like periods of massive addition followed by periods in which my reviews were much more manageable. Figure out what works for you and do it. Just make sure you pace yourself enough to keep hitting 0.
- Figure out how immersion works best for you, and do it! As the proud owner of a 300+ volume manga collection, manga is my true love in Japanese culture. My studies reflect this as well: I frequently challenge myself with greater tasks in reading before dipping as thoroughly into the listening world.
My listening progress has probably not been as rapid as it otherwise could have been, but that’s okay. I’m still finding ways to practice, and enjoying the way I immerse myself in the language. Besides, reading puts your mind in the language, and that’s what’s most important. Just remember that however you’re immersing, challenge yourself.
- Find fun ways to practice speaking. I’d check meetup.com for language meetups near you, or find friends online who speak Japanese. Making friends in the language has been one of the most rewarding, and motivating structures for learning the language in general. It’s also an invaluable experience, as speaking is the hardest practice to get in America, whereas it’d just happen if you lived in Japan.
For Advanced learners:
- Besides echoing the “immerse, immerse, immerse” that posts on this site have recommended for years, don’t be afraid of branching. マイホームヒーロー Volume 3 gave me 230 new words, which branched into the 1400 I’m sharing today. Through the process of creating them, I was spending hours in Japanese dictionaries and on sites reading Japanese sentences.
Building your own cards is an immersion experience in itself, and I highly recommend taking the plunge. HOWEVER, it is a grind, and if you’re not feeling the capacity to do that, I know how valuable some pre-made i+1 cards can be. And in that case, I’ve got something to help you.
The Mann Deck
- 1429 J:J sentences built DIRECTLY from Jalup— that’s a 20% increase in your vocab!
- 98% of cards are i+1. 99.9% of the new words you see in definitions can be found elsewhere in the deck, though I may have missed one or two along the way. How do I know that? Because my entire Japanese knowledge came from the Jalup 7k!
- I DO NOT translate words that the dictionary showed in katakana. For example, Shakespeare showed up in a sentence. I didn’t use a card for that, but if you’re at Jalup 7k, you can probably figure it out. Every card in here is a real, new word.
- You can read My Home Hero Volume 3 to Completion… AND MORE!
- It’s free, but donations are highly appreciated :)
- I may have forgotten the meaning of a couple words and repeated them from Jalup 7k. It’s probably like 3 words though.
- I cannot confirm that these sentences sound natural or are grammatically correct. The overwhelming majority of these sentences come from Adam’s recommendation, the goo dictionary, or some come from other websites recommended elsewhere on Jalup (tangorin, Jisho, and Weblio come to mind). Some of them felt a bit fishy to me, but they do a good enough job putting the words in context that you’ll understand what they mean.
- There are a few cards that are out of order, but I recommend searching for any word you see in a definition. You can probably (no promises) find it.
That’s it! These cards absolutely made an impact in my Japanese knowledge, and I think they’ll be worth your time. The 1429 cards will technically be free, but I’m requesting a donation from those of you able to give something. Running track professionally is not a super lucrative endeavor, so a little bit of help would go a long way.
I wouldn’t ask for the same amount of money as Adam for the awesome quality of the decks he’s created, but I think a suggested donation of $25 would be fair. Otherwise, please feel free to give $10, $5, or whatever you can— anything at all is appreciated— to paypal.me/jordangershon.
You can download the deck here.
Either way, I hope my cards and/or this long and perhaps overindulgent post serve to move your Japanese journey forwards towards greatness. The path to fluency is there, guys. We just gotta walk it.