A few weeks ago I sent an email to Adam:
“For my own accountability (and perhaps maybe to break a record as well), I’m doing all 1000 of Jalup Hero this week.”– Me
Thematically speaking, a declaration of war perhaps. But this was less about the insanity and more about pushing through what I hear others call “language block” or “mid level blues.”
I’m not really sure if my enemy has a simple shape or color, but I’m pretty sure if it did it would be the GEICO gecko, constantly reminding me 15 minutes of Anki will save me 15% or more on frustration tomorrow. But why buy car insurance if you never crash? Why do Anki if you never progress? I’ve been there.
You sit through classes, scribble pages of homework, navigate infinite flashcards, and you still can’t understand the first sentence of ノーゲーム・ノーライフ, standing behind a behemoth of a structure that’s more like a dome than a wall. From the other side, I’ll tell you one thing is for sure: the sun feels great over here.
You want it? Then shatter your comprehension barrier. Only you can. Today, next week, next month — I don’t know how long it will take, but it won’t shatter without you pounding on it. And GEICO insurance isn’t going to be enough. It’s a commitment — something you need to decide right now.
Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.-Tim S. Grover (trained Michael Jordan, Dwyane Wade and other greats)
Words of Provocation
Being relentless means demanding more of yourself than anyone else could ever demand of you, knowing that every time you stop, you can still do more. You must do more.– Tim S. Grover, Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable
It was 3 years ago when the sliding doors behind me shut out the pre-spring break buzz and opened up 3 weeks of no Japanese classes. Amidst the after-school Yakiniku planning ceremony my friends deliberated, I interrupted and said something preposterous. Dumbstruck, my friend responded:
“No, not possible. You can’t do 1000 new words in 20 days.”
Only the receipts of konbini sushi and gyudon bowls littered about my room accurately described the next two weeks. But second best would be to say 15 days later, I had blown through Jalup Intermediate 1-750 with over 93% Anki retention. Unfortunately, binging 400 episodes of One Piece took priority after that, and the last 250 Intermediate sentences waited another 2 years, so I’ll let you decide whether my friend was right or not.
And yet, I entered the J-J world in record time, escaping the shackles of the previous 6 months. 3 years later. Sunday afternoon. I approached my roommate and said something preposterous. That night I sent Adam that very same declaration.
You are attempting all 1,000 cards in one week (or did I misinterpret that)?– Adam’s actual e-mail response
Japanese is not a battle; it’s a war. That said, there are some battles you must win.
If you follow these 9 steps, you will arrive at a new level of studying Japanese that will push your results beyond ‘preposterous’ that shatter your current comprehension barrier. This is how I did it.
- Dedicate an Environment
- Learn 1st, SRS Second
- Get into a Good Relationship with the Forgetting Curve
- Be Prolific, Not Perfection
- Isolate Difficult Concepts
- Schedule Realistic Review Time
- Build in Breaks
- Enjoy Dopamine Spikes
- Trust the Process
1. Dedicate an Environment
Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.– Cal Newport, Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World
Distraction is the hyperactive second-in-command that pesters you with non-priorities you when you least want them. This sabotages your progress in the most basic way possible.
If you can’t study effectively, you will likely study less. If you study less, you won’t make noticeable progress. If you don’t make noticeable progress, you may get discouraged and quit. And if you quit, you lose.
Plain and simple: clean up the distractions that prevent you from entering the zone. I’ll let you take a look at your own distractions, but the biggest culprits for me tend to be related to my phone, social media and food. This is why airplane mode is magical. Better yet, put your phone in another room if you can.
But setting up the environment goes beyond just the disruptions that our thumbs twitch to swipe. I’m not your fitness coach, but to set up a successful environment, consider tasks that sharpen your mental focus. As Abraham Lincoln remarked, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the ax.”
For my Japanese sprints, it has been imperative that I’m at my best mental capacity. But this also applies to any marathon. These are my recommendations for achieving a peak state and entering ‘the zone’. Pay attention to the following:
- Increases oxygen flow to the brain
- Relieves stress
- More resources to be allocated to our attention
- Increases memory
- Reduces stress
- Increases attention control
- Avoid Sugar
- Often messes with energy stability. Consider how you feel after eating a bowl of ice cream.
- You’d be surprised how much clarity there is when you’re not dehydrated.
- For a free training on effective and safe hyperhydration, I recommend the Natural-Thirst Challenge.
Lastly, you need to schedule time to study and protect that time. Eugeo’s voice audio from his Puzzles and Dragon’s character said it best:
(Warning: turn down your volume)
Look at it this way: if you promised your girlfriend you’d play Super Smash Bros with her tonight, would you stand her up? Would you Netflix and Binge instead of going to the work that pays for your Japan trip next month? Girlfriend is an investment. That trip to Japan is an investment.
If your Japanese is an investment, then treat it like one. Make plans and keep them — hopefully better than Eugeo did.
Let me reiterate how important this is: I set aside the afternoon hours of 1-5 and 9-11 for Japanese the week after I sent that email to Adam. I gave into laziness once on Tuesday’s 9-11. Next morning I got a phone call from Anki requesting 2 extra hours of alone time. It likely won’t be 7 hours daily, but even 15 minutes of dedicated study time with no distractions will put pressure on the barriers holding you back.
Your girlfriend/boyfriend doesn’t want a cranky, dehydrated, exhausted no-show who is always absorbed into Instagram around you anyway. Neither does your Japanese.
You can start setting up now.
Plan this week’s study time, whether it’s 10 minutes or 2 hours. And while you’re at it, drink some water and sharpen that ax. At minimum, sharper than Eugeo’s edge.
2. Learn first, SRS second
Your eyes can only see and your ears can only hear what your brain is looking for.– Dan Sullivan
I’m pretty sure that one of the highlight treasures Gold D. Roger left as One Piece is the perfect guide to using Anki.
enslaved using Anki consistently for 5 years now and I’m still finding new applications. I’m not just talking about card building, but ways to make Anki a tool and not a crutch. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned I’m going to share with you right now:
Learn and review the material before iterating on it with Anki
Obvious? Perhaps. But as a born and raised Jalup adventurer, Jalup Anki cards become so convenient that no other textbook materials seem necessary. And that’s not right, though perhaps it’s not wrong either.
If you want to take your learning efficiency to the next level, use the excel sheet that comes with the Anki decks you receive from Jalup. If you’re using other material, export it into a file where you can read and digest every word and meaning before you start Spaced-Repetition Madness.
This simple step will allow you to connect definitions of words more easily, especially within the context of other sentences, and get through the material more quickly. As an added bonus, the SRS aspect moves more rapidly with higher retention. This process of previewing is also noted in Richard Schmidt’s Noticing Hypothesis, arguing that we must first recognize grammatical features before we can learn them.
In other words, you must preview the material, understand the material, and make connections to the material surrounding it before brute forcing your way through SRS. Before your next study session, set up a workplace where you have access to all of the material at your fingertips. Consider it like giving flowers to the forgetting curve.
3. Get in a Good Relationship with the Forgetting Curve
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.– Marie Curie
The forgetting curve is the reason you forget the vast majority of the material you cram. It is the culprit behind last minute red bull-induced apocalyptic exam-cramming extravaganzas. But it’s not evil, and it doesn’t want your lunch money. It just wants to be understood and loved — like a tsundere.
Here’s a video regarding the basic principles of the forgetting curve that will help us utilize it more fully.
To summarize, by understanding the process that our memories undergo, we can utilize that process. This is the basic science behind SRS — Anki and JALUP App included.
As a side note, one example of manipulating the forgetting curve is with mnemonics — association-based memory devices which stretch the time between reviews by creating stronger connections to other episodic memories.
Don’t fear the forgetting curve. Embrace it. Own it. A relationship that dies with you or lives with you. See? Tsundere.
4. Be Prolific, Not Perfection
It’s better to be prolific than perfect.– Joe Polish
6 days. 1000 Anki cards. 93% retention. I emerged from my self-imposed challenge – victorious. And so will you, especially if you understand the Pareto Principle — AKA the 80/20 rule.
Essentially, 20% of the effort yields 80% of the results.
My week long sprint through 1000 new words did not involve shaping any single word to perfection. In other words, I did not spend any extra time looking up individual words, and once in Anki, I kept a strict but consistent quality cutoff. I used the 4 buttons of Anki as follows:
- Easy: Thoroughly understood and fluently read.
- Hard: Slow to pronounce yet correct. Decent comprehension but not comfortable. Wanted to see it sooner (not comfortable). Incorrect pronunciation or meaning that I always get correct (going too quickly/silly mistakes). Reading the sentence was really choppy
- Bad: Wrong meaning. Wrong pronunciation. Forgot completely. Hard, but want to see it sooner.
- Good: Everything else.
I want you to move through content quickly and get more of it. Even through this process, 93% isn’t too bad. It’s been 3 weeks since, and this is where I’m at:
Don’t get caught up in perfection. Getting the gist of the card is often enough, and it will solidify itself in your mind as you go along. Your challenge here is to add more words/concepts than usual to your next study session and push yourself. Don’t practice to be perfect. Do it to be Prolific.
5. Isolate Difficult Concepts
Moving quickly doesn’t mean skipping the difficult ones. Some words will take more time. Isolate them and do it quickly.
Here is the process I used to achieve 1000 in so little time:
- Read through the excel of all of them (250) for the day.
- Any particularly difficult ones (usually 30%), isolate and memorize.
- Do Anki until the light has left my eyes.
- Do more Anki.
For an example on what to isolate, take the two words that you (hypothetically) understand
To understand 冷静, do you really need to isolate this? See it in context and it becomes quite easy to remember. Now take 揶揄. Friends don’t let friends not isolate 揶揄.
Next time you’re studying, make a concurrent list of all the concepts and words you deem particularly difficult, and slay them all at the end. Because remember, 揶揄 should be one of them.
6. Schedule Realistic Review Time
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.– Benjamin Franklin
We are bringing the forgetting curve back into this. To ultimately retain what you learn today, that material should also be reviewed tomorrow. Similarly, what is reviewed tomorrow must be reviewed in 3-4 days. That’s in addition to what is learned in 3-4 days.
The following data and graphs show the estimated growth of 10 cards/day for 2 weeks:
This is granted you get every card correct on the first try and only select “good. ” It looks totally fine until you add 125 daily.
But I mean, who would do 125 a day anyway? By the 2nd week, there are 3x more cards to review than the first day. I’ll just leave this here:
Build review into your schedule. It doesn’t have to be a full day, but it could be. Be realistic about your study consistency and study amount. I’m looking at you, overzealous overachievers who want to do more cards in a day than Saitama does push-ups. Build. In. Review.
7. Build in Breaks
When he worked, he really worked. But when he played, he really PLAYED.– Dr. Seuss
High quality work is almost always a result of high quality rest and recovery. Dedicated relaxation time is an absolute MUST if you’re going to make leaps in your Japanese progress.
Rest comes in 3 forms:
Small Breaks (Minutes)
The timetable is protracted, fatigue increases, productivity drops, and the timetable again is protracted.– Francesco Cirillo (creator of the famous time-management Pomodoro)
Put simply, we often work until we are spent, and then work more. Because we aren’t at our peak, we work slower, and get more exhausted. Repeat, without the rinse. Back to Lincoln and his ax: if we take a break before we are fully spent, we can recover and come back in time for the sequel.
During my 1000 word journey, 20 minutes were in Naruto 9 tails Kyuubi mode and then I spent 5 minutes resting.
These are small breaks that allow your attention and memory to function at their top for extended periods of time.
Medium breaks (Hours)
Specifically related to the days I did 250, I put a break between learning the material on Excel and going through their Anki. This prevents burn-out, and is also a chance to complement the forgetting curve. If your study time is less than a few hours, this may not apply, but you can apply this to any combination of 2 mentally taxing tasks.
Large breaks (Days)
I made the mistake of not taking my 3rd day completely off, and nearly burned out because of it. As a result, I extended the journey from 5 days to 6 days. Take complete days off, even from review. Your energy levels will be higher when you come back and you’ll progress more rapidly.
These breaks become crucial after longer sprints, especially from Anki that is repetitious and seemingly never ending.
8. Enjoy Dopamine Spikes
Excitement must lead to immediate action or you will lose the power of momentum. More dreams die because we fail to seize the moment. Do it now!– Tony Robbins
Actively validate the progress you make.
Pick up your favorite immersion material after 250 new words, and you will absolutely experience a rush of excitement when you verify the existence of those words in raw, native material. These small wins spike your dopamine, the “feel good” chemical that will build momentum. It’s where you harvest the motivation to study daily. Never skip out on enjoying the fruits of your labor.
Eat the marshmallow. Don’t wait.
Yes, eat it, and then get back to studying to generate another full plate of them. After finishing Jalup Hero, I picked up Death Note for the first time and devoured the first 7 volumes. It was also during this time I was unusually excited to do the usual Anki and add more mass to my vocabulary.
Don’t be misled — 1000 cards in one week while surviving college classes and daily obligations depletes the very humanity from your soul. It was one of those “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” kind of things.
And yet after Death Note Volume 3, I was salivating for more soul-sucking insanity. You need to treat yourself. It will encourage you to keep moving. Even if it’s a chapter of manga or a short podcast, as you move at a more rapid pace, you will notice clarity shining through the cracks of that comprehension barrier.
If you aren’t enjoying the fruits of your study efforts, you will likely stop. Enjoy the flowers as you go, and you will travel much further. Before you study, after you study, on breaks from study. Just do it.
Even if it means sacrificing everything.
9. Trust the Process
Hesitation of any kind is a sign of mental decay in the young, of physical weakness in the old.– Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
I don’t know how long you’ve been unable to see the sun through that big wall, but I spent most of the last 3 years throwing rocks at mine. I think it laughed at me. I had all the equipment to bust it. I can still see the puny green arms of my GEICO friend waving around Jalup Javelins and TNT.
Jalup on my computer, Anki on my phone, and manga on my nightstand. Don’t think I wasn’t trying — I spent a full year in Japan with perfect marks and a college semester afterwards trying to chip the wall, but I left Jalup Intermediate and came home Jalup Intermediate.
I wasn’t wielding the right weapons to break my barrier, nor was I trusting the process of my own Japanese progress. Stress will dull your blade, doubt will trip you up, and hesitation will cause you to forget the reason you fight. Trust it, and move forward. The barrier will shatter, this stuff works, and the forgetting curve is a tsundere.
There are success stories left and right, and soon you will be one of them.
Eat the marshmallows, trust the process, and push forward.
It’s your time
Ask yourself where you are now, and where you want to be instead. Ask yourself what you’re willing to do to get there. Then make a plan to get there. Act on it.– Tim S. Grover, Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable
If you want to shatter the comprehension barrier, you need to ATTACK. Try implementing my 9 actions into your routine, and watch the difference it’ll make.
If you’re fine with slogging through your Japanese adventure lethargic and sub-optimal, then don’t worry about improved study and optimizing your effort. Continue to rely on someone else to pick up the pace for you. Unless you attack, you will never truly progress. You’ll be forgotten by the light that awaits beyond the barrier ahead.
Decide. Commit. Act. Succeed. Repeat.
Leave any questions you have for me in the comments section, and I will answer them. If you prefer some personal advice through e-mail, use the following form (not affiliated with Jalup) and I’ll send you my personal cheat sheet guide for rapid Japanese acquisition.