I'm Learning Japanese

I really think so

Tools for building consistency

Posted by drivers99 on December 19, 2011

It’s been about 2.75 years since I ran into AJATT and this phase of learning Japanese. Unfortunately I don’t have that much to show for it, and I am nowhere close to where I thought I would be by now. (Fortunately, no one is forcing me to learn this language by a certain time, so I try not to feel too guilty about it.) My biggest problem has been a lack of consistency, until recently. Lately I’ve been consistently working on my goals, Japanese and otherwise. So, I thought I’d share a few tools that I’m using to help keep me consistent.

The first tool I started using is called a “control journal” which is a concept I ran into many years ago from a website for housewives called FlyLady.net. Another name for it is “daily checklist.” Here’s how I set it up:

  • Download OpenOffice.org if you don’t already have a spreadsheet program like Excel. OpenOffice is free software.
  • Create a new spreadsheet. I keep mine in a DropBox folder so that I don’t have to worry about losing it. I call mine “control.ods”. ODS is the file format for OpenOffice spreadsheets.
  • Go to cell B2 and then select Windows->Freeze. This makes is so that you can always see row 1 and column A.
  • Across the top you’re going to put the date. Use one column per day.
  • In column A, down the left side of the spreadsheet, you’re going to put whatever you want to do each day. Organize it however you like, and put down anything you want to make sure you do every day.
  • Each day, in the grid, check off each item as they get done.

Every morning, I boot up my computer and use the checklist as a way to organize my day and get the same things done. Right now, for example, I am re-doing Remember the Kanji by way of Kendo’s Lazy Kanji + Mod which makes doing RTK really easy and fun. (You can try it too by downloading the “Lazi Kanji Mod v2” deck from Anki shared decks. There are a few mistakes in it but if you’re paying attention you can edit the cards as you go.)

The second tool I use is a new website made by Tynan called TaskSmash. The way I use TaskSmash is as a supplement to the control journal. I list things here that are just a goal for today, not something that I’m already doing every day. (Although there is a lot of overlap. For my major goals like learning Japanese, finding a job, game programming, or exercise I still usually have something in both tools.) TaskSmash lets you make a to-do list at the beginning of the day or the previous night. You ask yourself, what 2-6 tasks should I do today (or tomorrow) to make it a good day (to be satisfied with what I got done towards reaching my goals). Secondly, it keeps track of how many days in a row you were able to complete your goals for the day. I find this very motivating because I don’t want to break my winning streak. Thirdly, it lets you link up with your friends so you can keep track of each others’ progress and keep each other accountable. If you sign up, you really should find a friend or two to do it with you.

I’m sure you could duplicate either of these tools with paper, and if that works better for you you should do that.

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Having More Fun in Japanese

Posted by drivers99 on December 30, 2010

I’m in the middle of reading Ramses Oudt’s short ebook “How I Learned Spanish” which just came out for free to his mailing list subscribers. He is talking a lot about the importance of having fun in Spanish (but I’m sure it applies to any language).

I will admit that lately I often think about quitting Japanese. I feel a lot of pressure in the form of real world responsibilities on which I am not doing as well as I could be. (However now that I think about it, those two don’t really have anything to do with each other.) At the same time, I know that I refuse to give up. Reading his ebook is really inspiring to me because he talks about some of his struggles until he started making it more fun.

So I started thinking about ways to make it more fun. I already loaded up my car with Japanese music, and that is working well. I’m actually liking it more and more. I should keep exploring different groups and finding more stuff that I like, so that I have more to listen to all the time.

I thought about what would be interesting to read. Then I had the idea to find out if there are Japanese pen-and-paper role playing games. That is a link to a wikipedia article (in English) about the topic. Here is a website (in Japanese) for a game called SwordWorld 2.0. I’m surprised that the rulebooks appear to be fairly inexpensive compared to the super-expensive (e.g. $40 per volume) RPGs you typically see in English. One interesting thing I found out is that there is a genre of fiction called replay. From what I can tell it is a kind of light novelization of campaigns (sessions) played in a given RPG. That seems potentially interesting as well.

Some other ideas are that I should try to look at more video media and try to find more stuff that I like (anime, manga, TV dramas, movies, youtube videos). Especially stuff that I will like even though I don’t understand it yet.

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Cult of the Dead Cow, and the reason to learn the language

Posted by drivers99 on October 14, 2010

Yesterday I was watching coverage of the rescue of the miners in Chile. Something was bugging me about how it was being covered though. Websites were referring to the rescue capsule as the “Phoenix” even though I could see on the capsule it was called “Fénix.” Another was that they were calling the encampment around the mine as “Camp Hope” instead of “Camp Esperanza.” When the final miner was rescued, there was still a group of rescuers in the mine, and they held up a banner that said “Misión Cumplida” but the newscaster reported that it said “Mission Complete.”  The final example, I think, is the most egregious: someone was reporting from the nearest city and said the word “plaza” but then he corrected himself and said “square” as if we didn’t know what a plaza was.  Perhaps fewer people would know what a plaza is, as compared to a town square, but how else would they ever learn that a plaza is like a town square, particularly in Spanish-influenced areas?

I felt like the news is artificially protecting people from exposure to the Spanish words for things. You even see it in the way that different editions of books are published in England and in the United States. The first Harry Potter book has a different title in the United States because “Sorcerer’s Stone” would be more marketable, even though “Philosopher’s Stone” is an actual concept from alchemy.  You also see it in the way that Japanese animation is remarketed in other countries by dubbing, even though foreign movies do not usually get dubbed (except maybe some martial arts movies) although they probably suffer commercially for it.

I was thinking about that while driving this morning, and I suddenly remembered a text file I read over a decade ago, by the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker group, called “What is cDc?” (It’s worth the read, and it’s not very long.) In the text file he makes an analogy to how the information that most people receive has been filtered and modified in order to make it easier to consume (the “dead cow” vs the seasoned steak), but the end result has very little resemblance to the original.

What do most people know about Japan when you ask them? Only the most distorted, stereotyped, filtered and mass produced pieces of information get through.  I’m not saying I know much more about Japan than anyone else, but the above made me think, the only way I will ever get past those filters is to learn the language and seek out the “dead cow” (so to speak) of reality: books that were never intended for me to read, people I would never have been able to talk to, sights I would never see without going there myself.

Every once in a while, I feel like I don’t have enough time to really accomplish learning Japanese, and then I wonder why I should do it, something beyond “if I don’t do it, I’ll be a failure.” I think this is a big part of the answer: the stuff that I don’t even know that I’m missing yet.

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Language Hacking Guide – My Goals

Posted by drivers99 on May 17, 2010

Irish Polyglot’s Language Hacking Guide came out today and I’m already having a great time reading it. It’s currently $39 and set to go up by $10 (once they translate it into other languages besides English). I’m on page 53 in which I’m supposed to post my goals on my language log. Fortunately I already have a language log which is this site so that saves me some time!

I’m taking some notes so I will also blog about the guide as a whole and what you can expect from it in another post, in case someone is wondering whether or not to get it. But for now, let me just post some goals:

  • Be able to sing and understand all the songs off of Bubblegum Crisis CD within 2 months (July 17, 2010).
  • Be able to carry on a conversation with people online by voice about a handful of selected topics within 3 months. (August 17, 2010).
  • Be able to understand half of what they are talking about on a podcast and explain it to someone else within 3 months. (August 17, 2010).
  • Be able to understand half of the speech and follow a story in anime within 3 months. (August 17, 2010).
  • Be able to understand half of written manga and follow the story within 3 months. (August 17, 2010).
  • “Fluency” (90% understanding of the above, making few mistakes) within 12 months (May 17, 2011).

The first one is just for fun, but I have some ideas of how to go about doing that.  AJATT has a blog post about learning songs and using overlapping short audio clips in an SRS deck in order to learn it.

The following ones are basically: speaking, listening, listening, and reading.  The last one is a long term goal.  It is “fluency” within 12 months (not the 3 months that Irish Polyglot talks about).  We shall see if I can do it in less time instead, which would be nice.

I don’t have one for writing so let me add one:

  • be able to hand-write 3 paragraphs about a topic of my choice, with kanji, within 3 months. (August 17, 2010).

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One Year Update

Posted by drivers99 on April 1, 2010

I’ve been at this Japanese language learning thing for about one year. I created my account on Reviewing the Kanji on March 31, 2009. I think I started reading AJATT a week or so before that, and then I really started learning the Kanji on that site shortly after I created my account, using the free sample PDF of the beginning of the book, and I ordered my copy of Remembering the Kanji on April 8th.

The first 9 months or so were spent on just doing RTK, getting to number 2042. After that, there was still a lot of reviewing to do. I have done 21367 reviews at RevTK. I am 2666 reviews away from having all the cards in pile 8. There are currently 675 cards in pile 8, 516 in 7, 489 in 6, 319 in 5, and just a few in the rest of the piles. Most of my effort has gone into keeping up with the reviews on that, although it is not very many (20-30 become due) per day. Sometimes I fall behind, like I have now. I have about 350 due now, which is not a huge amount but more than it should be. I was on vacation for about 3 and a half weeks and I actually had less spare time than I normally do. Maybe that is a lame excuse, but I mention it as an example of how I work on this. I don’t put a lot of time or effort into learning Japanese, which makes me wonder how long it will actually take.

I have not been as consistent on moving on to the sentence phase. I have not gotten very far at all in learning how to read kanji, nor in learning very much vocab. To fix this, just before vacation I created a deck based on something called “kore” which is the “core 2000” and “core 6000” lists from smart.fm with the sentences sorted in a way that introduces the kanji gradually, and in the order given by Kanji Odyssey (KO) 2001. I didn’t review it very much during the vacation. In fact, I didn’t really get anki working on the laptop and iPod I took until near the end of the trip. My kore6000 deck has 5919 new out of 5998 (there were 2 duplicate sentences in the 6000 sentences of kore.) So, I have a long way to go on that one. It’s showing me a lot of vocab which isn’t written using kanji, so it’s a little difficult too. (The kanji gives me clues about the meaning of the word, so it actually helps.) On the iPod, there isn’t enough space to show the dictionary entries, so that might be making it worse too. So, I think I will do reviews on the computer. That might help.

Which brings me to the topic I was thinking about today. It’s been a year and although I have a lot to show for it, it seems like it’s going pretty slowly if I compare myself to others. Khatzumoto (the AJATT guy) pretty much learned Japanese in 1.5 years, and the guy from spanish-only.com learned Spanish in a year. But I know they put a lot more effort into it. I need to shift my effort from RTK over to the vocab/reading, as well as do more input from other places such as audio and video. I do some, but it’s not that much. Not like spanish-only’s 10 hours, or AJATT’s 20 hours per day. Mine’s more like 0-1 hours.

I wonder what the correlation is between effort and success is on this. It seems like 1 hour per day consistently will get you there eventually, but how many years are we talking about? Or do you really have to be able to pour yourself into studying constantly? I was thinking about that last night after I came home from my vacation. I was feeling stressed because part of me was wanting to go do some studying, but at the same time I had to watch the kids, go through the pile of mail, and so on. So I thought of it as a “context.” A context is a time and place that you are able to do something. How much time was I going to be in a context where I could study? Sometimes I can listen to Japanese with the kids around and kind of watch a DVD or something. I can kind of multitask doing reviews on the iPod, although it’s not ideal. I have a job and other responsibilities. I think I can still do this still, but I wonder if we’re talking 2, 3, 4, 5 or 10 years to learn Japanese.

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March 1, 2010 Update

Posted by drivers99 on March 1, 2010

Completely caught up with RTK

For at least the last 3 weeks I’ve been caught up with RTK. I have a calculation I’ve been doing once a week where I determine how far away I am from “perfection” in RTK, which is having all of the cards in pile 8 on RevTK. 3 weeks ago I was 4081 reviews away from perfection. Today it is 3048 away. This is out of a theoretical 14294 reviews. This doesn’t count failed cards though. In fact, I have already done more than 20000 reviews at RevTK. Keeping up with reviews has been good though, because I’ve been getting close to 100% (sometimes actually 100%) correct. Although I think a lot of that has to do with the reverse RTK deck I did, which provided a lot of review in a short period of time. I know a lot of the cards probably had the benefit of extra, early reviews, which brings me to my next topic:

Kanji to Heisig Keyword (reverse RTK) deck done, and then deleted

The Kanji to Heisig Keyword was really useful. I could review kanji at close to 500 per hour and I feel like it really solidified them in my head. I was quickly able to get used to looking at kanji and recognizing them. But then one day I opened up Anki and I had 900 reviews due on that deck. I really wanted to study actual vocabulary and felt it was going to be a waste of time to spend two hours today doing reverse RTK, so I deleted the deck.

Sentence picking

I started some sentence picking. First of all, I have AJATT’s sentence pack, which I had copied the first 75 or so cards into Anki a long time ago, but I haven’t looked at it in a long time. The copy I had that I bought is on another hard drive, which I believe has been fried so I’ll have to see if I have a backup of it. (That reminds me, I need to download my restore file from Mozy. The restore I requested earlier already expired.) So, I have those 75 sentences in my Sentences deck. But I started adding some other ones. I started pulling them from dic.yahoo.co.jp starting with any Japanese word. Then I’d find one of the example sentences which exhibits “i+1” for me (i.e. it has one new thing in it that I didn’t already know, such as a vocabulary word). Then I’d use the word I didn’t know as the new dictionary entry to look in. This was pretty fun and I gathered some sentences that way. One thing that bothered me though is that I realized I was relying on Anki and/or Rikaichan to figure out some of the readings. This could be putting mistakes in my deck.

Smart.fm’s Core2000

Another problem is that I was learning words like “Labyrinth” which are cool but probably not the most useful right away. I could also be learning words that aren’t really used that much by native Japanese. I decided to get the basics down first. At first, I took a look at Smart.fm’s version of the Kanji Odyssey 2001 (KO2001) list, but then I realized that Core2000 is probably even better because KO2001 is optimized to cover all the different commonly used Kanji, while Core2000 is oriented towards the most common vocabulary. I used Anki’s Smart.fm importer, and downloaded both words and sentences, including audio. So now for each word there is: reading the word, reading the sentences, listening to the sentence, and listening to the word. So while I’m studying Core2000 in Anki I am also practicing listening, as well as trying to pronounce things the way the audio does. It’s a lot of fun! I’ve barely started on this so we’ll see how it goes.


As usual I’ve been listening to some Japanese media. I think the thing I’ve listened to the most is Dragonball Z even though it’s really cheesy. I’ve also listened to some Ranma 1/2 and Maison Ikkoku, just DVDs I happen to have in my collection already.

Internet reading

I tend to skip over a lot of the tweets I get on twitter that are in Japanese, but I will occasionally spend a little time on each one to see what they say. Some of them I actually understand completely, if they happen to use vocab I already know.

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Current status, and reviewing Kanji to English Keyword

Posted by drivers99 on February 5, 2010

Reviewing the Kanji

It’s been a few months since I “finished” Remembering the Kanji Volume I (RTK1), meaning I had started reviewing 2042 kanji. However, I let myself get sidetracked and fell behind on my reviews. I had about 800 expired “cards” at RevTK. The SRS (Spaced Repetition Software) at RevTK is a simple one called the Leitner system and “cards” are kept in “piles.” When you are tested on a card, if you know the answer, the card moves up to the next pile and is scheduled to expire and be shown to you again later. The time before it is shown to you depends on which pile it is in. If you don’t know the answer, the card goes back to Pile 1, previously called the “failed” pile, now called the “restudy” pile. (How nice.)

The problem is that by letting so many cards expire, I created a positive feedback loop (which is not actually a positive thing). In other words, the problem makes itself worse. Since I can’t review them all soon enough, my brain begins to forget things that should have been reviewed sooner. This also makes reviews take longer because I try to think longer before I get the right (or wrong) answer.

I managed to start digging myself out of the hole and breaking the feedback loop by focusing on the lower piles first. This way I can maintain a good memory of most of the cards, and the ones that are very difficult can be chipped away at over time. If I fail a bunch of them, I’ll just relearn them. This has been successful so far. Pile 6 had a lot of cards, and it’s probably the worst pile because the interval is probably about 1 month, but it’s been much longer for some of the cards. I am getting about 60% correct on those. I don’t mind failing the cards though because once they go back to pile 1, the memories are reinforced often and I usually get them 100% correct.

RevTK piles

My goal is to get most of the cards into pile 8. Either that, or once I catch up with the expired cards, I am planning on exporting the cards to Anki. Anki is great because I found out that with my iPod touch I can use the iAnki plugin to sync the cards and do reviews offline on the iPod touch. Speaking of Anki…

Kanji to English Keyword

Like I said, I’ve been bogged down in RevTK and a lack of focus. I have a few sentences in my Anki deck that I got from Khatz/AJATT’s sentence pack. I also did a little bit of looking at some manga and just looking up some of the vocabulary words that I find. One thing that has been bugging me a lot though, is that unlike what Heisig says in his Introduction to RTK1 (PDF):

Third, the kanji are best reviewed by beginning with the key word, progressing to the respective story, and then writing the character itself. Once one has been able to perform these steps, reversing the order follows as a matter of course.

I have not found this to be the case at all. For a great number of kanji that I see, all I see are the primitives. For example, I might see “shellfish” and “taskmaster” and be unable to recall what they are combined together. Or I might remember the gist of the story, with the shellfish being yelled at by the taskmaster for being a worthless little shellfish for some reason. The keyword is actually “failure” in this example.

failure kanji card

This makes it kind of frustrating when I go to learn vocabulary because I don’t have a comprehension of the kanji itself as a specific thing, just a collection of primitives. I have heard Heisig’s advice repeated in other places, or told that it will not matter once you start learning readings by studying actual vocab and sentences. It just doesn’t feel right to me though. I was told that I would be able to go from kanji to English key word, but I can’t.

So, I’ve decided to strike out on my own with an experiment. Last night I created a deck in Anki with all of the RTK1 kanji, putting the kanji on the front (question) side of the card, and the keyword on the back (answer) side of the card. In the last day I was able to review about 25% of them with very little effort. I suspect that in a number of days I will have completed the circuit in my brain to be able to go from kanji to keyword. If this is the case, then I also expect that it will improve my ability to go from kanji to keyword because I will be able to evaluate the answer I am thinking of because I will be versed in “seeing” the kanji for itself, and not as a collection of primitives. And if that is true, then it should make it easier to learn readings and vocab for the same reason.

The ultimate goal is to quickly move on to sentences. I’ll let you know how that goes.

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How I got started

Posted by drivers99 on February 4, 2010

I’m going to start by talking about how I originally got interested in Japanese language learning, and what I did to try to learn along the way.


The first アニメ (anime) I ever saw was when I went to visit a friend-of-a-friend named Andrew. I had never heard of anime before. It was in the first few years of the 1990’s, and I was finishing up High School. Andrew showed us a movie (on VHS) called Riding Bean. Here it is on Youtube:

So, within the first few minutes we have: blood, nudity, guns, an extremely high level of detail, police chases, a car that can drive sideways, and people speaking a funny cool-sounding language.

As I stayed over at Andrew’s to play role playing games (e.g. Shadowrun), we got to see more of his anime collection. He had Bubblegum Crisis and Bubblegum Crash on laser-disc, and he’d play Hurricane Live (the music from Bubblegum Crisis) on the TV. Bubblegum Crisis shamelessly steals a lot of material from Blade Runner. For instance, the band is called “Priss and the Replicants.” Here’s a song from that, which I still love. (I made a CD for myself of the music.)

Along with that, I was introduced to the works of the great Rumiko Takahashi. Andrew had an imported video game of Ranma 1/2. We also watched some Urusei Yatsura, specifically the first movie. Here’s a random segment from the movie. If you don’t have time to watch it (and who wants to watch from the middle of a movie anyway?) I can probably sum it up as “wackiness ensues.” It features Lum, a girl from outer space, who is an Oni (鬼 – a kind of Japanese demon, hence the horns) with horns, blue hair, and a tiger-striped bikini. She is in love with, and considers herself married to, Ataru, who is too lecherous to want to be with one girl because it would mean not being with *all* girls. When she gets angry or jealous she can zap Ataru with electricity from her body. And she can fly.

Soon, college started, and I chose to take Japanese as a language. I continued to watch various anime. It wasn’t too many. The first year, I rented Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 tapes from a comic book store, and several other ones I can’t remember. After that, I got to see tapes that my friend Dan had in the dorms. He would go to A-Kon with Andrew and so he had a lot of good stuff to watch, even some Hayao Miyazaki, such as Porco Rosso. In Japanese class one day instead of normal class we watched Tonari no Totoro (Disney calls it “My Neighbor Totoro”). There’s no need to include a clip here because if you haven’t seen it already you should go watch it today (in Japanese, if at all possible. Go into language setup and pick Japanese.)


So, anime was a big part of the reason I wanted to learn Japanese, and I watched some of it, but I didn’t keep up with it too much. I don’t really know about most of the stuff that has come out more recently than that time, except for a few: Everything that Miyazaki has released since then (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, Howl’s Movie Castle; I have not had a chance to see Ponyo yet), along with a few anime that I had to buy and watch because I heard they were the best: Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, Evangelion. I haven’t bought very many because anime is pretty expensive and I’m never sure what I would like to get.

Enough about anime. I will try to avoid talking about anime for the rest of this article.

College Classes

In college, I took as much Japanese as I could. There was only one teacher, a nice older Japanese lady, but there weren’t very many people taking the class after the first year. They used a series of books called “Japanese for Busy People.” I think that it could have been a lot better, but the book was made to be as easy as possible. It only had kana and English letters (ローマ字) (no Kanji). You could mostly ignore the kana if you wanted to. In fact, it used ローマ字 only, without kana, in the sections that explained the grammar. I now know this was a big failure of the book. Although there was no kanji in the book, although the teacher did show us a couple. By the third book, there was a lot more Kanji, but the teacher didn’t really expect us to know them, except maybe about 26 of them including the day of the week and the numbers. I’m glad I took the class though, because I still learned a decent amount of grammar, vocabulary, and how to read and write kana.

Japanese for Busy People

We also used “A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Grammar” which is a pretty heavy-duty grammar book.

We only ever learned the polite (です/-ます) form of speaking. Which means that the anime I was watching didn’t even really sound like anything I had learned, except for when they were speaking politely.

So, in the end, I couldn’t really speak Japanese, except to sound out kana. I also contemplated doing the JET program (going to Japan to teach English) for a little bit.

After College

Life continued, I graduated, worked, moved to Seattle, worked some more, got married, had some kids, moved back to New Mexico. In Seattle there was a bookstore called Kinokuniya which had tons of manga, books (the ones without pictures), magazines, and all kinds of stuff. Every once in a while I would buy a manga or a text, so I have a very small collection now. Now I kick myself because now I would love to access to that store, but I don’t live there any more. I will go there when I go to Seattle next month.

At one point, I found a book called “How to Learn Any Language” by Barry Farber. It was really interesting but some of the techniques pretty outdated now. Based on his ideas I tried to kick-start my Japanese language learning again. For one thing, I ordered a set of Pimsleur’s language CDs. It is completely audio-based course which teaches you to speak using a type of spaced repetition. It increases the interval of time that you repeat what you already know in order to make you remember. I’ve heard that Pimsleur’s can be good for improving your pronunciation. For some reason, I have never gotten past the first few lessons though.

Another thing I did was go to Kinokuniya and buy a Japanese newspaper. The idea is to start on the first article, and when you find a word you don’t know, look it up, make a flashcard for it, and keep going like that. Use the flashcards to learn the words, and proceed until you can read the whole article. Well, I still have that copy of Asahi Shimbun from 8/18/2004. I wasn’t able to make that method work because it was much too difficult to figure out what the words were and what the sentences meant. The problem is the words are in Kanji (without furigana) and it’s pretty hard to look them up, and even if you do, to figure out what the sentence means. I got nowhere and my language learning stalled out again.

Once, I bought a book called “A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters.” Looking back on it now, it has many of the classic problems that we now know about, which are:

  • Presented in traditional grade order, rather than using a logical order based on what parts you already know
  • Tries to teach readings (and vocab) at the same time as you’re trying to learn the character
  • Uses etymology of the character, rather than breaking it down into more memorable pieces
  • Although it tries to break it down into parts with a mnemonic to remember, it gives you a mnemonic, instead of letting you create your own mnemonic (story).

Here’s is a sample from the book:

A Guide to Remembering Japanese Characters example

I made some flashcards based on this book, but didn’t really keep up with it after a few days. Little did I know I was doing everything the hard way.


Then one day I found this article: Learning Kanji in Two Months by a really interesting guy named Tynan. He linked to some guy whose blog is gone now, and that lead me to the real gold-mine of Japanese learning: All Japanese All the Time or AJATT for short. I bookmarked every page on his table of contents and read it all in a day or two. This had a huge effect on my motivation. Khatzumoto (who wrote the AJATT blog) learned enough Japanese in a year and a half to go to a job interview in Japanese and get the job. I don’t care what anyone says, to me this is amazing. I took Japanese class for three years and can’t carry on a conversation.

AJATT method, to be brief, is to create an immersion environment (contact with Japanese as much as possible), learn Kanji, learn Kana, and then sentence mining. I made a few efforts at immersion. I got some Japanese podcasts, try to watch some Japanese TV online, watch some Anime (without subtitles… sometimes). I really have to do a lot more for the immersion part.

For Kanji, I used Reviewing the Kanji (RevTK for short) both to get good stories, and I use it as my Spaced Repetition Software to review the kanji. I’m getting ahead of myself, I haven’t explained James Heisig yet!


James W. Heisig created a book called Remembering the Kanji (RTK for short). Actually there are three volumes. Volume I contains 2042 kanji, which contains all of the commonly used ones, plus a few extra. Volume III contains another 1000 or so rarer kanji. (Volume II is about learning the readings, i.e. pronunciation.) He created a brilliant method of breaking down the kanji into smaller components and then using those components to remember each kanji by making up a “story” which combine together to make that kanji. He greatly simplified things by ignoring the order in which kanji are traditionally taught to kids, ignoring the real etymology of the characters, ignoring the readings of the characters (what they sound like in Japanese), and even ignoring all but one of the meanings of that character. By simplifying things down to just the writing of the characters, and presenting them in the order in which he could gradually introduce the “primitives” that make up the character, he made it possible to learn how to write them all, completely from memory, in a couple of months. This is something that most people learning Japanese who haven’t heard of it think it almost too hard to even both learning at all.

I started doing RTK volume I in March of last year (2009) and I finished nine months later. I went really slowly compared to a lot of people. However, I did it in one try, so I’m glad I finished it. Right now I am continuing to do reviews on RevTK and I am a little bit behind in my reviews, but I am catching up. A lot of cards I did not review within the time period I was supposed to and so I have forgotten them. However, once I see them, 99% of the time it all comes back; I don’t have to completely re-learn them.

Spaced Repetition Software

The brilliance of AJATT is that he uses both RTK and Spaced Repetition Software (SRS for short). SRS makes it possible to review what you have learned in gradually increasing time intervals so that you remember the most material in the least amount of time. Above, I mentioned that I let my kanji reviews fall behind, and so I did not refresh those memories soon enough, and so I have mostly forgotten about half of the characters that have gone stale. When you “fail” a card, the time interval goes back down. Of the cards I had to fail, my memory is close to 100%. SRS works well if you don’t fall behind, but it also corrects itself if you keep working on it.

I will write more about what I’m doing now, and what I plan to do next in future posts.

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