You have a lot to learn. You have a lot of Japanese decks to conquer. Early on, you are confronted with a simple question: Should I work on one deck at a time, until I finish, and then move onto the next? Or should I do multiple decks at the same time, moving forward simultaneously through them all?
Tough choice to make as a beginner, right?
Always do a kana deck first, by itself, before you touch anything else.
Kana will take you around 1-3 weeks to complete depending on your speed/time. There’s no question when you need it. You need it now for everything else. You could start another deck while doing kana, but you still need kana as soon as possible for everything, so you should focus on it.
Now you’ve finished kana. I’m going to use the Jalup decks as a major example of what people do next. You have a choice of 2 decks:
Jalup Beginner: grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure
Kanji Kingdom: kanji meanings
Both are going to take you a long time. Months. Which should you do first?
My original recommendation on Jalup was to do one deck by itself until completion. Then do the next one, dedicating yourself to it. While not wrong, this is not the recommendation I give now.
Jalup Beginner 1000 cards + Kanji Kingdom 1000 cards at the same time.
Jalup Intermediate 1000 cards + Kanji Kingdom next ~1000 cards at the same time.
Why the change of heart?
Because you are more likely to be successful and reach Japanese fluency. Is that strong enough a reason?
Here are 2 scenarios:
Scenario 1: you do Kanji Kingdom first by itself.
Kanji Kingdom (or any other kanji-focused learning like RTK), is teaching you the core meaning of the kanji, separately from its readings.You aren’t actually learning Japanese you can use immediately. If you see a kanji, you understand what it means. If you are given an English word, you can write out the corresponding kanji (if there is one).
But you can’t read or create words or sentences. It feels different from learning actual Japanese. Being in this kanji isolated zone for an extended period of time can be lonely. You wonder when you are ever going to actually start learning real Japanese. You start to hate kanji. You just want to get done with it so you can move forward to something that actually has relevance. Rushing through kanji is a bad place to be, because learning Japanese is a slow process.
Scenario 2: you do Jalup Beginner first by itself.
Jalup Beginner is teaching you all the basics of Japanese. You like it (hopefully). You make amazing progress through the 1,000 cards. You feel good about the skills you’ve acquired. You can speak and read Japanese. You are excited (and a little worried) to move onto Jalup Intermediate, where you know the next challenge is waiting.
Now assume you made the decision that you want to introduce a separate kanji learning tool like Kanji Kingdom, before moving to Jalup intermediate. What do you do next?
Take all that you learned with Jalup Beginner, and stop the continuing progression. You are going to learn 2,300 kanji, without learning anything else. This feeling is often just as bad as if you just started with Kanji Kingdom by itself. You liked Jalup Beginner and the pace you were learning. You developed habits and progress. But all of a sudden, your pace completely changes, and you want to hurry up to move onto Jalup Intermediate. But Kanji Kingdom stands in your way.
Which scenario is better of the two?
If I had to choose between the two, I’d say you would be better off with scenario 2 (solo Jalup Beginner, then solo Kanji Kingdom). The risk of failure with scenario 1 is just too high.
Scenario 1 sounds good. Learn all the kanji first, then go to building vocabulary and grammar. You’ll be in a great position. Ideally yes. Realistically no. It’s just so hard to do all the kanji first before you ever get to the actual learning. A lot of hardcore RTK learners try this. Some are successful, which is great. Others are not, which is not so great. In my personal experience, I didn’t learn kanji before everything else. There’s no way I would have stuck with it.
However, scenario 2 is only slightly better than scenario 1. Because this high risk of failure is present any time you try to take on Kanji Kingdom by stopping whatever you were previously doing.
Why you should do them together
You get the best of both worlds. You are learning Japanese that is instantly gratifying. And you are building up your kanji. As you learn the kanji meanings, you start to see how they work in Jalup Beginner. The two compliment each other. You can choose whatever pace you want to go back and forth between the 2.
Learn 10 cards in Jalup Beginner
Learn 10 card in Kanji Kingdom
Or if you want to focus on one over the other, change it to:
Learn 20 cards in Jalup Beginner
Learn 5 cards in Kanji Kingdom
As long as you are doing both, you keep the momentum.
You can even decide midway if you don’t want to do Kanji Kingdom at all. While doing both, it is easier to realize that you’d prefer to stick with Jalup Beginner, and you don’t want to learn kanji separately. If you had just been doing Kanji Kingdom by itself, it is harder to make that decision and know that you’ll be okay.
Definitely do them both at the same time?
There is no definite here. However, I’ve seen too many people fail the solo kanji route. I’ve had too many people asking me if it was okay to do both (or even drop separate kanji learning altogether) because doing kanji alone was too stressful. Even if doing kanji first followed by Jalup Beginner was technically more efficient, and you’d achieve your goals in a shorter time frame, if you fail, you lose. If you lose your motivation and you quit, you lose.
If you still have doubt lingering, try testing it out for yourself. See what happens if you work on Kanji Kingdom by itself for several days to a few weeks. If you find yourself constantly rushing, wanting to get through with it, switch to both. If you feel you can handle it and you like this separation, then keep going with it until you feel otherwise. No one says that you can’t be 1,000 cards into solo studying Kanji Kingdom and then start introducing a little Jalup Beginner. Or the opposite.
How do you deal with multiple decks?
Do you do them at the same time? How have you managed both successfully? Or do/did you focus on one at a time?