I Understand the Words, but not the Sentence — 21 Comments

  1. Thank you so much for this encouragement for me to go with the flow and be patient. I was feeling lost in Jalup beginner and getting confused and frustrated over one sentence. After an email from you I decided to relax and move on, even though I didn’t have full understanding of what I’d just read.

    You were right. My understanding is increasing. The next time I feel stressed and confused I’ll remind myself to relax and keep going. You’ve reminded me that we always learn the most when we’re willing to wade through the chaos and have trust that the process will work for us eventually.

    And if I forget that wisdom, I’ll reread this post!

    • You just need to remember, it’s just one sentence. One sentence, or even multiple sentences, isn’t going to stop you.

  2. I loved this article, thank you!

    The “moving on” part is what I was having the hardest time with in the beginning. I thought that I couldn’t move on until I learned that one word or phrase that was giving me difficulty. It wasn’t until I just tried and failed but moved ahead anyway in the lesson that I was studying that I soon started understanding or remembering the word. It just took time and realizing that not knowing that one thing was not a learning block making me unable to continue.

  3. The hardest part for this with me is when there are a number of “don’t understand” cards, and they keep popping up regularly. I think one thing that has been useful for me, is to not press “again” so often. I usually keep them on a relatively short cycle until I can recall the reading and the kanji key word, then let the interval slide further away. This way there is at least some sense of achievement. Eventually things make sense. If not now then 10, 100, 1000+ cards down the track they will! (that, and exposure to them in the immersion world)

    • You and Jesper both touch on this, and I think it’s very important to reiterate- It’s OK to not use “Again” when you fail a card. Sometimes pushing it off for a bit longer (with the other answer buttons) will actually give you better results the next time you see it =)

      • Matt gave me this advice early on, and it made my studies way more enjoyable. Also became a lot more efficient as my immersion doubled or more.

        if you’re struggling with individuals sentences, spend less time in srs environment and up immersion !

    • Very good point. It’s okay to push off cards in the future even when you don’t understand them. Because sometimes seeing them a dozen times in the next few days isn’t going to change anything, and they need to be viewed later.

  4. Having finished Jalup 5000 about a year ago, I can attest to this being totally true. While learning the cards I often encountered sentences that made no sense to me at all, even though I felt that I knew all the bits. I now find that these sentences often feel obvious when I review them. Somehow my brain connected all the bits over time. This is actually very encouraging when it happens, because I obviously still encounter sentences that I don’t understand in my own studies. But this simply doesn’t worry me, because I know that if I just learn the new words and grammar, I will eventually connect the dots.

    I might also add that I don’t pick “again” if I don’t understand a sentence. I only measure myself on the specific word or grammar that is new on the card. I only find it necessary to have one card to establish each concept in my mind.

  5. It wasn’t until I hit the J-J cards that the beginner cards started to clear up for me. Just be sure you are using the J-J cards as they were designed (there are some good articles on here about how to properly use them).

    It’s a struggle at first and you won’t do as many cards per day, but that’s exactly what’s needed. If they were easy, we wouldn’t be expanding our circle of knowledge.

  6. This came just in time. I was feeling so guilty feeling like I didn’t understanding full sentences and still marking them as passing because I knew all the words.

    • Never feel guilty about this. Marking them as passed when they are presently causing you trouble can sometimes be the best possible thing for you.

  7. I will say from experience that this is 100% true. There are many cards where it took me a good dozen times to finally understand it. Usually, the main reason was I saw another example somewhere else – whether it was another card that used the grammar structure or vocab word that eluded me, or a manga or book did.

    Basically, do more immersion and keep pressing on. Things will fit together eventually. While Japanese isn’t some ~mysterious elusive language~, it does not have easy English equivalents for sentance structure or certian grammar forms, so learning it this way is actually really beneficial.

    There are so many times I almost emailed Adam, only to figure it out on my own a few hours to a few weeks later.

    • And those cards that take a dozen times, when they finally clear up, you sometimes wonder why they ever gave you trouble in the first place

  8. Oh man, this — THIS — is the wall I’m running into! Sure, there’s simple problems like temporarily forgetting whether I just read “what” or “which” (I’ll get them straightened out eventually!) that I can handle.

    But I’m starting to really struggle with some of the sentence structure even just in the second set of 50 Jalup Beginner cards. Makes me feel a bit stupid actually. I need to bookmark this article and read it every week to remind myself to just go with the struggle and let comprehension come naturally!

    • This will happen again and again… and again – and it’s totally normal and OK :)

      Sometimes the cards just don’t make any sense even though you’ve reread all the definitions. It feels like the explanation is just not there! Simply accept it and move on.

      My rule for passing a card is that I understand the definition and kanji reading of the word being explained. I don’t fail the card if I don’t understand other words (there are other cards to take care of those) and I don’t fail it if I don’t understand the sentence itself. The thing is, two months from now you’ll be reading this sentence without a second thought and wonder what it ever was that you didn’t understand.

      This happened to me in Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Expert and still does for my own cards. Eventually I just started to trust that it will all work out :)

      • Cool to hear; thanks for the encouraging words. What if there are cards from a half a year ago or more that you still cant figure out though? Lol, I have a number of those.

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