Using Anki to Master Japanese – Diving Through Definitions — 88 Comments

  1. Hey!

    nice blog dude! I saw your ajatt translation video on youtube. Awesome japanese skills. Great to see another guy who got fluent in japanese with khatz methods… Am I right that you really like ajatt? I’d like to know if you were using the so-called “new” methode from ajatt: mcd’s. Habe you tried them out? I’d like to know your opinion.


    • Alexander > Thanks for checking out my blog. I didn’t come across the ajatt methods until a few years into my studies. I find some of his ideas work really well, but there are others I disagree with. I’ve incorporated and modified into my own method his best ideas. I do think he has a great site. I’m not exactly sure what “mcd’s” are though. What does that stand for?

      And a side note, I’m assuming you wrote お大事に as an equivalent of the English “take care”. In Japanese, the phrase is really used when someone has some kind of illness or you are telling someone to be careful of some illness and to literally take care of themselves.

      • Hey adshap thanks for your answer! Yeah I really like to agree with you. Some posts of the ajatt blog aren’t that useful, are they? massive close deletions (mcd’s) is khatz new way of entering sentences into his srs. Therefore I though you had a little interest into this. However, doesn’t matter at all :D I’ve just being curios. Anyway your blog is motivating me to continue my sentence mining process. I entered about 2500 sentences but still feel very low level. At university we now go through the genki series that may help. Keep up the good work with your blog !

    • I would have to disagree. Right from the beginning where he said he “noted down examples of mistakes and misunderstandings that have resulted from using one of the most well-known monolingual English dictionaries produced for foreign students,” I had my doubts.

      Why would students use a monolingual dictionary produced for foreign students? That defeats the whole purpose of a monolingual dictionary. It is produced for native speakers.

      I also disagree that he believes that it causes a “great reluctance of so many students to adopt new words.” A dictionary is only a tool. The dictionary does not effect the way you talk at all. Your immersion environment effects the way you talk.

      He does have an interesting opinion, and it is worth reading, but from my personal experience, my Japanese improved drastically when I made the switch to J-J.

      • I think the biggest reason for these students’ problems is simply lack of context. I confess, after figuring out the monolingual definition, I DO still use my bilingual dictionary, because it often has like 30 example sentences, whereas the monolingual one only has maybe 2 or 3. It’s the best way for me to see what context the word is actually used in. The definition only goes so far if you don’t know what situations the word is used in. (Lots of reading can eventually provide this too, but lots of examples to look at really helps.) So I guess it depends. I mean, if my monolingual dictionary had 30 example sentences, maybe I wouldn’t need the bilingual one… but it doesn’t. I feel those students’ problems were from not having a good feeling for the context of the word.

  2. I’m giving this a shot now, my first word 川原 has lead to 11 sentence with at least 3-5 words I don’t know..and counting.

    Of course I wouldn’t think of reviewing until I closed it off, so is that the right decision? Put off reviewing new stuff until you have a complete branch, even if it takes a few days (At my current rate it seems to be taking a while anyway)

    It’s a task in itself to get to end of a string of definitions, I must admit i’ve seen many things lapping over so I must get there eventually. The biggest issue so far is time and maybe, adding one word from a book, and the rest from a dictionary! I understand it’ll get easier as I know some of the more common words. I might end up going back to that book and reading it no problem, if i’m lucky.

    • @Neil

      Glad you made it to the final phase. Yes you are correct that you should try not to review the new cards until you finish one branch. What I used to do during the earlier parts of this phase was have the Anki setting “Review new cards last”, so that all the other cards wouldn’t suffer. Then I would switch it back to the “intersperse new cards throughout reviews” setting once I finished a branch.

      In the beginning, finishing a branch may take a very long time. I promise you that it will get shorter, and easier with time. And yes you end up with a lot of dictionary words from the dictionary, but these are some of the most helpful words you need to know.

      Keep pushing through!

      • I’m getting a feel for it, i’m carrying on (the actual process is making me realise a few things myself) but I wanted to clear up just in case i’ve missed the mark a little..

        So far i’ve got about 138 new cards, unreviewed. I figured monolingual reviewing is a bit different to the J-E thing, at least when I get round to it, is it better to think of the definition as a ‘hint’? As in read it, if you can understand what it is from some of the words, fine, if none at all it’s a fail.

        I may’ve used english for maybe 2 words, experimented with a picture for 2 of them (the sheer volume of words i’ve got to go), do you recommend cutting cards off early with either of these if it reaches ridiculous proportions?

        Other issues were perhaps words that didn’t have a dictionary definition, but turned out to be compounds, I just looked up their respective entries then. For some that I had trouble finding sentences for, I just turned it into a vocab card..

        I’m trying to do at least 10 a day, since my vocab was small to begin with I’ve yet to see the end! But still those cards are there waiting and will eventually have some use.

        • It sounds like you are progressing smoothly. Yes you can cut off cards early if it gets too crazy. This is especially useful if your branching gets you on a weird track. From a common word definition I once ended up reaching the definitions of trees/tree-related terms, and that was pretty worthless for me so I stopped the branch.

          And yes, the definition is just the hint. You shouldn’t need it to understand the sentence, so if you do, you mark it as a missed sentence.

  3. Hey!

    First, let me say that it’s a really nice blog you have here. Really helpful and motivating!

    I have a question though concerning this branching process. It’s my first attempt and I’m already stuck as to what to do!
    So, say if I’m at sentence number 2 (語学に優れる) and I don’t know what 語学 means. Should I make a card for that one too, thus kind of starting a new branching process, or should I stick to words I don’t know only inside the definitions?
    Because, I understand that the whole point behind making a new card for a word I don’t know in another word’s definition is that both words are somewhat related. So when sometimes you make a new card for a specific word and in the example sentence there are other words that are somewhat unrelated to it, what do you do of those? Like in your example with 語学に優れる, I don’t know 語学 but do I have to begin a new branching process from that word although it’s not related to the original word I wanted to learn (優れる)? If yes, I have the feeling it’s going to take forever (literally)! And if no, I have the feeling I’m missing a word and I can’t fully understand the sentence.

    Thanks for the advice! :)

    • Yes, you are correct, you make new cards for any words you don’t know, even those unrelated to the original card. So 語学 would get its own card. It sounds like the branch process would go on forever, but it is manageable. At first, it can be slightly overwhelming, but once you get used to it, the branches slowly become shorter and shorter.

  4. Hello, this is a nice read and is helping me push along the monolingual phase. One question though, for example let’s take the word 方向「ほうこう」 which has 2 different definitions…

    1. 物が向いたり、進んだりする方。 

    Now, what I’ve been doing is only focusing mainly on the 1st definition if there is more than one, but do you think it’s good to start looking up unknown words for both?


    • For the purposes of the branching, you only need the 1 definition. However, it is very beneficial to always include all the different definitions of one word, and provide new cards for each different definition.

      I probably wouldn’t recommend this when your branches are already too big, as this would probably just extend them even that much further. But once your branches start to shrink a bit, this would definitely be a good idea.

        • I think it’s better to stick with one definition indeed. You have to find the definition that fits the sentence the word is in. It can be tricky since sometimes definitions tend to be pretty similar. Always keep things in context. Since you have no way to know which definition is common and which is rare, I think it’s a bad idea to learn them all without a context sentence accompanying it. It’s exactly for the same reason that you don’t learn all Kanji readings (with Heisig) but rather learn full words.

          As a side note to adshap, when you said “it can be a bit overwhelming at first”… well you bet! I’m still working on my first “branch” (or tree rather) that started on 親切, and so far 219 cards have spawned from it! Is it going to end? I can’t say T.T
          Well, for now it’s mostly fun to do so I’ll keep going but since I have to be done to be able to begin reviewing, sometimes I feel impatient.
          Well, it’s time for some card adding! :)

    • I tried both approaches and decided to do all the definitions. With only one definition, I sometimes got stalled because I couldn’t figure out which definition was the relevant one, and the trees still weren’t showing any signs of ever ending. With multiple definitions, each one is easier to learn because the other definitions are almost always related and they reinforce each other so it doesn’t feel like a waste. By the time I started doing all the definitions I had switched to an elementary school dictionary though, and that does cut down on the number obscure meanings.

      So I think it is useful to try both ways.

      (I seem to be on a commenting binge…)

  5. Thanks for putting all of this information together. I really like your method and have been giving it a try. One question though: what do you do about words with no example sentence? I’d say something like 1 out of every 4 or 5 words I look up doesn’t have an example. I have just been using the definition of the previous word as the example, but they can be a bit more complicated. Is there somewhere else you go to find good examples if there are none on yahoo?

    • Also the Yahoo J-E dictionary has more example sentences than the J-J (and they’re often better ones for someone relatively early in the process) if you haven’t looked there and it doesn’t feel like cheating to you.

    • I just wanted to mention that since reading and commenting on this ages ago, I’ve actually decided that your idea of using definitions as example sentences is my favorite approach (though I don’t hit words without examples very often.)

  6. I have been taking Japanese classes for about half a year and I have already amassed a fairly large vocab deck that is J-E. I can’imagine myself converting every single card to J-J in a reasonable amount of time. What would you suggest?

    • And what I mean by that is, ought I to convert every card or should I just begin to start a sperate set that I slowly adopt as my primary vocab set?
      Also, I tag all of my cards with tir classifications (Copula, Noun, Ichidan, Godan, etc) I am wondering whether or not you’d suggest doing that in a J-J deck or do you think that example sentences would be good enough. Thanks for the blog, it has really got me thinking about how I should update my rather slow system of learning vocab/kanji.

      • You could just convert them as you come across them in reviews so that it isn’t too much work at once.

        • That seems like a good idea. I feel like I need to master more kanji and grammar before I get started though, so I am currently delving into it at the fastest pace I can.

      • I am kind of against vocabulary decks, and believe putting vocabulary to sentences is far superior. How big is your deck? Over 1000? If you you already put a lot of work and effort into creating it and reviewing it, it may be more effective to just leave it as it is. The only option I can think of is changing each vocabulary word to a sentence with that vocabulary word in it as you come across them (similar to what どうして said in his comment). It’s not the English that worries me (in the Japanese Level Up method you will always have 1000 J-E cards) so much as the solo vocabulary word cards.

        I definitely don’t think you need copula, noun, ichidan, godan, etc. I wouldn’t put them in new sentence cards you add.

  7. I’ve already been studying Japanese for a number of years, on and off, mostly on my own, although I did take university classes for four semesters as well. I’ve been working on my kanji using the RTK deck you graciously provided and working through a downloaded deck of the sentences from Tae Kim’s grammar guide over the past few days. From what I’ve seen so far, it looks like your method is going to be very fruitful! I do, however, have two questions regarding the process:

    1) When choosing sentences in the J->J stage, in your example you took the very short example sentences from the dictionary for the new words. It seems to me, though, that using such short sentences like 語学に優れる doesn’t provide enough context to really understand the word. Now, I’ve seen briefly the MCD method, and that seems excessive to me. But I’m wondering what you would consider an appropriate balance between brevity and contextual support.

    For example, I’ve been plucking away at a book called Read Real Japanese: Essays, which uses natural, unmodified, Japanese and explains the grammar and cultural references, and so forth. Now let’s say I come across the word 批評 and want to put it in. The sentence it appears in in the book is rather long: 僕は本を書く人間で、批評する人間じゃないから、書評ってできればやりたくないんだけど、そのときは事情があって、「まあいいや、やりましょう」と引き受けた。It doesn’t seem efficient to enter this entire sentence in my card, yet it helps me understand the meaning of the word far better than the example sentence given in the Yahoo dictionary, which is simply: 論文を批評する. Do you have any wisdom to offer on this matter?

    2) How well do you suppose this method will work with other languages? You mentioned you developed it in part while studying Chinese as well, but what about Indo-European or other languages which have different types of complexities?

    Specifically, I’m at an intermediate level in French, and I don’t see any reason why this concept shouldn’t transfer fairly well to a Romance language. Obviously the kanji stage would be omitted. But what about complicated inflectional patterns, like conjugating verbs, or declining nouns in many European languages, and so forth? Should inflection be studied separately from the sentence method, or can they be incorporated somehow?

    Sorry for being so long-winded!

    • 1) What I do for context or those really long sentences out of books is use just the phrase of interest but put the rest of it in the context and post-context fields I wrote about in my anki and graphics article. These are smaller and a different color, and I read them when I the context is useful but skip them when I’m reviewing and remember the context just from the phrase I’m studying.

      2) I have considered using this method for French as well, and I expect that it wouldn’t work quite as well as it does for Japanese, because reading and comprehension involve less active recall, but it would still be a good method and the one I would use. It seems important to make sure your example sentences for learning nouns are ones where the gender matters, and if there’s a verb you want to really know, think it would be a good idea to search out an example sentence with every conjugation. I don’t know how hard that is, as my French deck has about a dozen cards in it. By the way, is a wonderful site for F-F definitions.

    • 1) I’d say it depends on the word. Sometimes a short sentence is enough. Sometimes a longer sentence does a better job. However, I don’t really feel the need to include multiple sentences, and often this can have the opposite effect of getting in the way.

      Your example sentence seems kind of long. Often if I think a sentence is too long that I wanted to use, I’ll cut it off at a certain point before entering it into the deck.

      2) I see no reason why it wouldn’t work on other non-Asian languages. I don’t know much about European languages, but I could see any complexities adjusted to the sentence method. Similar to the way that there are verb conjugations in Japanese (although I’m sure simpler), you can make every card a different sample sentence with a different conjugation of that verb, until you get the patterns down. I think finding a way to study it together is more beneficial.

    • Thanks for your input, guys!

      I look forward to putting the sentence cards into practice. Cayenne, I really like your idea of pre- and post-context fields to give that extra context where it may help, but without it getting in the way. (Also, thanks for the link. I have a physical F-F dictionary, but it may be quicker and easier to use this online one.)

      Adshap, I was kind of thinking along the same lines regarding multiple sentences. It’s nice to hear an experienced voice tell me the same thing!

      I think I’ll try jumping into the J-J sentences, since I feel I’m safely at a language level where I could handle it. Once I get the hang of it, I’d like to start doing French sentences as well (F-F). It will probably be a little while before I get to that point, but I’ll try and remember to report back on my experience of using this method on French.

  8. I was checking out what J-J would be like – I’m not doing it yet, because I want to finish Tae Kim’s first. But I wonder how to keep track of all the stuff you add – for example, today I experimented by looking up the word 不思議. From the definition I didn’t understand the words 普通 and 想像, so I looked them up. Sure enough, the definitions had more words I didn’t know, but so did the example sentences. I added the sentences + definitions to Anki as I went through them, but eventually I got so lost I had no idea why exactly I was looking up the current word, and if I went back to the previous words I still wouldn’t understand the definitions. In short, I’m gonna need a way to keep this branching all under control, at least in the beginning…

    Also, do you think using the Rikaichan plugin is fine for getting through the definitions? Because without any English aid, it seems more like a guessing game – I might get the meaning of the word right or I might not.

      • Yeah, I read that. I’m actually making it work, sort of, all I’m worried about is completely missing the meaning of the words, because I understood the definition wrong, or because I forget the meaning of a vital part of the definition, heh.

        • I was worried about that at first too. What I’ve discovered is that I do occasionally misinterpret definitions, but it seems to be okay because as my understanding increases, I’ll notice the misinterpretation as I review the card. When that happens I mark it as a fail and have no trouble learning my new understanding.

        • Branches won’t be 100% perfect in the beginning. There will be occasional misunderstandings, and things you thought you understood. However, it’s not something to be worried about because as your Japanese gets better, you will start correcting any previous mistakes.

  9. This branching process wasn’t as scary after all. I managed two branches today, 去る made me only add three others, and 向かう made me add 11 new cards; in total, both resulted in 15 cards. The only one I wasn’t as picky about was 行う, which I think I understood without knowing it’s full definition.

    I also noticed that if you fail a branch, you can still add many of the cards. So, when the branching seems to get out of hand, I start tagging words with “safe” where I’m listing the words, definitions and sentences. If I have added 30 words to the branch, and there are still 10 waiting. I can often give up the branch and save 10-15 cards, which doesn’t make the effort completely futile.

    Also, sorry about my English — I think your Japanese is even at a higher level than my English. :p (I would guess that my English is about level 60 in your scale.)

  10. Also, today was the first day which I haven’t added a single J-E card. (Yesterday, I added a J-E card for something I couldn’t find in the J-J dictionary; it was a particle)

    Which actually brings me to a question. What should I do about unfamiliar particles? Is there a site with good J-J definitions of particles? Or should I just learn about them from context?

    • Dictionaries cover most things that are some number of characters with a specific meaning, not just the things that we think of as “words” in English. The particles are all there–as are a number of other things that would be covered in grammar rather than vocabulary sections of a textbook.

      When I first went J-J I bought どんなときどう使う日本語表現文型辞典 for its J-J explanations, but it turned out that the explanations I need are in the dictionary. (But I’m still happy to have the book because it’s crammed full of excellent example sentences for SRSing; they were designed to illustrate the usage with the explanation being the supplement, as opposed to the example sentences you find in most textbooks or dictionaries where it’s the other way around.)

  11. You said ‘input is similar to J-E sentences, except that the E is a J.’ I couldn’t read the example so I have one question.

    Does that mean that we use the exact method from E-J, i.e. learning 1-2 new words at a time and only having the definitions on the answer side (not a translation of the entire sentence)?

    I pretty sure this is what you meant, but you didn’t explicitly say it—-I don’t think. . .

    Sorry if I missed something and thanks.

      • Wow, thanks for the very quick response!

        I guess I use previous knowledge and the new word(s) to formulate the translation in my head. (seems sorta strange from someone taking an average, school-run language class.)

        Thanks for the help!

  12. How do you deal with loops??
    Assume that I have three similar words: A, B, C.
    A uses B in its definition.
    B uses C in its definition.
    C uses A in it’s definition.

    How would you tie this off?

    • Check out the 2 posts here if you haven’t. If none of these techniques work, you have two options:

      1) Delete the branch
      2) Leave the branch with only a somewhat understanding, and wait as further down the road you start to fill in the gaps that will help you understand it.

  13. Not so much a question, but thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    I reached this stage of studying last summer. It was wonderfully effective; from a page of a novel I was reading I probably had near 1000 new words to add to Anki through this method. However this created a backlog of sentences I had yet to study; this combined with the problems you mention in another post about reaching intermediate level and coming to a standstill and I effectively gave up (in a sense).

    I’ve started going through these new things and properly studying again, but I still have the problem of having a backlog and still coming across words I don’t know but not adding them to Anki because I’m worried of being put off. So at the moment I’m avoiding new Japanese material and just focusing on Anki which is becoming pretty boring.

    Any thoughts on how to avoid ending up here again? I find it amazing how many words you can get through branching off a single new one, but I suppose I’ve been getting overwhelmed and I don’t want to totally disengage with new Japanese material because that’s when my interest wavered.

    A bit of a long post, but thank you in advance for any input…

    • Depending on how big your stack is, maybe only designate once or twice a week to adding words and then spend the rest of the week working through them. Then repeat the process? I’m not a huge Anki user but this was my first idea after reading your question.

  14. Hey I am working on using Anki for learning French and was hoping you could break down the process a bit for me. I am new to Anki and I don’t read Japanese so the examples were a bit hard to follow. You have a sentence with the word you are trying to learn on the front, and then on the back you have the definition of the word. Correct? Is the goal to understand the sentence, to be able to recite the definition, or to understand all the definitions? Basically how do you judge that you have done well on a card?

    • “You have a sentence with the word you are trying to learn on the front, and then on the back you have the definition of the word.”

      – Correct

      “Is the goal to understand the sentence, to be able to recite the definition, or to understand all the definitions?”

      – To be able to mostly understand the sentence and the words in the sentence.

      “Basically how do you judge that you have done well on a card?”

      – Read the sentence. If you saw this sentence out there in the native wild, would you move on, or would you wonder what the meaning of what you just read was.

      • Thanks. I am pretty quick at picking up definitions once I look up a word, so I think this should really help expand my vocabulary. Do you do grammar cards in J-J also? If so how?

        Thanks for all the help.

          • I haven’t had much time to do branching lately. Do you think it is a bad idea to just take sentences from things I am studying, and making cards with them as long as I use a definition that I understand all the words in?

  15. Also if it helps I have an intermediate French level and take private lessons through skype. If I have a dictionary on hand (f-e) I can read most things in French. The problem is I have to use the dictionary a lot for harder texts. My writing and speaking also need some work but my lessons should help a lot with that.

  16. After I finish my RTK with anki, should I still be reviewing those cards while reviewing my J-E sentences?

    • Yes, you are. And you never really “finish RTK with Anki”, what you finish is “adding cards”, but reviewing is part of learning too. Just make sure you are using something like Adashap’s deck (with Japanese keywords), available in the first post of this series, as it makes a huge difference in the long run.

      • Thanks for the advice, I looked at Adshaps modded deck and it doesnt have the stories like Heisegs does? How am I suppose to remember it then?

        • Well, normally the stories would be stored in your mind, not in the cards.

          Are you saying you keep the stories in your cards? I guess you could that, but it’s not really necessary, and when you transition into the next stages (J-E and especially J-J) the stories will very gradually fade away in favor of “knowing the kanji from knowing words that use it”.

          • Yeah In this RTK anki deck from the shared decks place on the website there is the stories or the devices to help you remember. in adshaps there isnt that there is just a english word and a japanese word for each kanji and no story. So should I just switch from this shared deck to adshaps? I am almost at the 1000 mark in this shared deck and i have a recall rate of about 95%. I also understand when I dive into the J-E sentences I will learn the readings and meanings of each kanji in the context that it is being displayed to me. I don’t think there is any point in using adshaps deck because either way I am going to learn the kanji’s meaning and reading in context when I do the sentences

            • ブドウブドウ is spot on with all his answers (thanks!)

              The only thing I want to add is :

              1. If you click on the keyword, it brings you to the Reviewing the kanji website which provides user created stories for that keyword.
              2. This deck has always been created with the intent of it being used (in the beginning) side by side with the actual RTK book, which contains the stories.

  17. @Jake K
    “I also understand when I dive into the J-E sentences I will learn the readings and meanings of each kanji in the context that it is being displayed to me. I don’t think there is any point in using adshaps deck because either way I am going to learn the kanji’s meaning and reading in context when I do the sentences”

    You would think so, but in my experience it just doesn’t work like that. The thing here is that reading sentences only requires passive knowledge of the kanji: being able to recognize a word does not require you to know exactly what kanji go into it.
    But that wasn’t even the point I was making. The point was that in the long run you want to get rid of the stories altogether, and japanese keywords are a great way to do that.

    • Thanks for your advice! really appreciated. Right now probably I am noticing alot of the kanji i dont need the stories. They have already faded away. I look at the kanji and boom I know the keyword with out thinking. so I will give the japanese keyword a shot. thanks a million

  18. This is probably a pretty ignorant question, but when I go to the Yahoo dictionary, I can’t seem to find any example sentences provided. This is all I see: and I have tried clicking all the links to no avail. I can find some example sentences under the 和英辞書 tab, but since it has English, I want to avoid it. What am I missing? I can use the Goo dictionary, but the example sentences I find there are long and scary…

    • The word you’re looking up goes in the ー・ spot in the sentence.
      In your example you looked up 優れる すぐ・れる  — it only takes the part of the word before the dot, so すぐ(the example includes the れる after the dot itself. so「語学に優れる」is your example sentence.
      You can use one of the other examples if you prefer, they all follow this format in the dictionary.

  19. I finally decided to start J-J! I hope this will help me to overcome this really bad habit of mine to read stuff in English instead of Japanese whenever a translation is provided. Japanese still seems somewhat scary :)
    However, I’m a bit worried about this whole branching process. Even if I read a Japanese definition where I understand all the words, sometimes I just can’t understand the meaning of the whole sentence, and therefore also the meaning of the word. And most of the time I don’t even understand half of the words in a definition anyway, which doesn’t help of course.
    So, I was wondering, would it be okay – for let’s say the first two weeks or so – to look up the meaning of a word in English after “guessing” it’s meaning from J-J definitions, just to make sure I understood the meaning of the word. Obviously without putting the translation into Anki, or it wouldn’t be J-J. It seems sort of pointless to me to study sentences when I don’t even understand what they mean anyway …

  20. “So, I was wondering, would it be okay – for let’s say the first two weeks or so – to look up the meaning of a word in English after “guessing” it’s meaning from J-J definitions, just to make sure I understood the meaning of the word. ”

    From my experience I’d say that this is ok, since I did pretty much the same thing. The only difference is that I wouldn’t look up all the words in the branching process, but only “the leaves” (i.e. the words at the edges). This is sufficient since if you are understanding the “leaves” correctly you probably aren’t very off on the other words anyway.

    “It seems sort of pointless to me to study sentences when I don’t even understand what they mean anyway …”
    I dare say that you’ll be surprised. I generally follow the rule of having my new sentences include at least one new thing which I do understand fairly well, but on occasion they will also include stuff I’m not so sure about, but even that seems to usually sort itself out with time.

    • Looking up only the leaves sounds like a good plan. I’m glad to hear things will sort out themselves in time, thanks for your reply :)

      • No problem.

        And maybe another tip is that if you are going to be looking up the leaves in English, you actually get to “cut off your trees” significantly shorter than what Adshap suggests (in fact, you can just choose when to cut them, basically)

        The way I see it (or the way I though about it back when I started J-J) is that the process needs to involve at least a few words for which all you have to go on is the Japanese (so as to train the ability to figure out meanings from Japanese text and to avoid the erroneous connotations of many translations), but there’s no strict requirement for all the words to be treated like that.

  21. It turns out, J-J isn’t as scary as I expected. But there is one particular problem: What to do if a word group is defined by itself? For example, 微笑 means ほほえみ, which I don’t know either. But if I look it up, it’s defined as 微笑. In this case I might go for Google image search, but I came across this problem with other word groups as well, where a picture wouldn’t be that helpful. So I just gave up and switched to the J-E dictionary …

    • When I look up ほほえみ, I get 「にっこりと笑う。また、その笑い。微笑」

      And then if you look up にっこり:

      So I wouldn’t say it goes in circles necessarily. Sometimes using a different dictionary may help, as definitions vary.

      Switching to a J-E dictionary…. You know my thoughts on that

  22. It’s been ages since I’ve actually been to this website (as it turns out having classes to teach really cuts one’s time…), but I finally hit the 10000 J-J card mark just this Monday, and since this is the series of posts that started it all, it seems like the perfect place to mention it.

    Now onwards to a little 多読.

  23. So, having started branching, I had one question: How do you keep track of it all when you’re making cards? Like, do you copy it all to notepad while you’re going through the branches and then come back to make the cards?

    I find that I tend to…get lost before I can complete a branch.

    Like, let’s say I have three words I don’t know in a definition. So I look up the definition for one of those words, and that leads me to three words, I don’t know and so on and so on. How do I keep track of all those words I’m “skipping” as I finish out the branch?

    I was just curious how everyone organized things while delving. Thanks!

    • Some people will physically draw the branches out on paper. Others use an excel file to keep a list.

      In working on the Jalup intermediate/advanced decks, I’ve used Google Chrome tabs, keep them open, and rearrange them for the branch order. Close one out when it’s done, and work my way towards closing out every branch.

      • I tried using an Excel (well, Google Docs) file and found it unwieldy. The endless Google Chrome tabs idea sounds right up my alley though. I’m going to try that next time I go delving. Thanks!

  24. Even though I’ve been learning Japanese for years now this has proven helpful and is a great idea. I gave up on using anki for two years, instead I opted to just read and read and read, which I’m glad I did because I can read anything now – my only problem is a bad working memory and forgotten words.

    10/10, this is a fantastic article and a good idea. I only do five ‘new’ words a day on anki though, but it seems to me that the bulk of the learning would happen with actually making a card.

    • For people that like to do the process on their own, there is something to be had in working your way through all the branching. Hope it works out for you!

  25. Hey, I’ve been studying Japanese for about three years now and I’ve just discovered this method! This seems really interesting and I’ve already gotten started using sentences taken from a novel I’m reading in Japanese
    (容疑者Xの献身)and I’ve made about 150 cards in anki, but my difficulty comes not in making the cards or evening understanding the definition, but my difficulty comes more in remembering the definition in Japanese rather than trying to assume/guess what the definition is in English. Do you have any advice for avoiding this kind of pitfall? Thanks!

  26. Reading this and other J-J branching articles and the comments got me in the mindset and preparedness to conquer this beast once I finish Jalup beginner (mathematically, exactly feb 29) Does an online children japanese dictionary exist? I would like to get started with that then move on to a real one in order to rely less on the J-E-J crutch.

  27. Interesting method. I will start tomorrow applying it, especially since I read something similar on a forum recently: “I generally try to avoid using a dictionary at all until I am quite advanced in a language. As I’ve written before, I get to that point either by transferring skills from other languages in the family, or by spending requisite years reading “readers,” bilingual texts, children’s literature, and with a translated text at hand.

    One way or another, I eventually get to the point when I can understand at least 80% of the words in a text, and I mean that literally, i.e., if I take them out of the text, that is, out of their context, I can explain and actively use 4 out of 5 words. The difference between 75% and 80% doesn’t sound great when you write them as percentages, but when you do it this way, you will find that 75% means only 3 out of 4, which is not enough, so you have to cross this barrier first.

    If you know 4 words out of 5, the meaning of the fifth word is generally provided by the context. So, when you get to this point, the trick is to read as much as you can for a while, as swiftly as you can, tolerating the ambiguity of not understanding everything, fighting the impulse to look up every single word that you do not know. If you just read, read, read like this for several hours a day, every day for a few weeks or months depending on the difficulty of the language, you will find that your vocabulary has snowballed and that you have learned many new words from context without ever needing to look them up.

    It is only at this point in my enjoyment of a literature (i.e., when I probably already know something like 95% of the words on a page) that I allow myself to begin using a dictionary. As a rule, I only look up two kinds of words: those that truly impede my understanding of a passage, and those that I call “known unknowns,” i.e., words with whose form I have become familiar but whose meaning continues to elude me – I often find myself actively wondering whether they mean this, that, or the other thing, and perhaps musing on them in odd moments, as when I am in the shower, thinking “…now just what the hell could that damn word possibly mean? It’s not… maybe it’s…” When I do finally look up such words, I only need to do so once, for I remember them forever without needing to write them down.

    For the most part, though, I generally continue to absorb the meaning of words from their context. As a general principle of learning, I think that you know and understand better by figuring things out for yourself than by having them explained to you.

    I love dictionaries (especially etymological ones) and I even spent many years of my life compiling an extensive English-French-Spanish-German-Russian-Korean one that is now hopefully soon finally going to see publication, alas with only the first four. However, I truly feel that a dictionary used too early is not a help to a language learner, it is a hinderance.

    I found this after finally accepting the fact that learning vocab the old fashioned way just doesn’t work for me (anymore)as it gets tiring and I start forgetting, also it takes up much energy which I don’t really have since I also am pretty busy with other areas in my life. Your approach though sounds worthy of being invested in. Thank you.

  28. I’ve finally gotten myself to start doing this a few days ago, and I like it so far! When you’re around the bottom of a branch, it feels great to work your way up and see familiar faces.
    There’s one thing that bothers me a bit, though – I feel like I’ll end up with an anki deck filled to the brim with bland dictionary sentences. Since branches so far range from 20-40 long for me, 19-39 of them are going to be either directly from goo jisho or from another website’s example sentences, and I have this nagging doubt it’s different from what people actually use.
    This’ll probably be my main method of study for months to come at the least, so thanks for sharing!

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