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Procrastinate on your Studying by Studying

Inspired by a recent AJATT blog post, I have been trying to think of a good way of keeping myself from the inevitable decline into sweet, sweet, procrastination. I think I may have a decent solution, but it goes beyond simply studying Japanese—instead, let’s treat it as an ADD-approach to studying in general.

Keep yourself busy: multi-task like a mother fucker.

I know a lot of people who like to be busy. They’re the kind of people who don’t like sleeping, who need to constantly be on the go, who have full schedules filled with appointments, and who feel guilty whenever they aren’t being productive. I am not one of those people. I like to take things one task at a time, giving myself as much time as necessary for each task. Thinking about tackling multiple assignments at once is not my style. Simply put, I’m not a multitasker.

But I should be. And so should you.

You can cram for tests, but you can’t cram languages.

The reason multitasking is important in language learning is because languages—especially when it comes to speaking and listening—take a long time to learn and acquire. You can’t cram speaking fluency in Japanese, or the ability to quickly reading through a Japanese document the night before a Japanese test the same way you can cram a hundred or so vocabulary words into your head before a PSY 101 test. Being able to actually use a language requires time; even if you try to cram vocab words or kanji into your head quickly, it won’t mean much if you can’t actually do anything that information.

That’s why you should multitask.

How to multi-task: You now have ADD

Studying with ADD means you jump from one task to the next without too much regard for whether you’ve actually finished the specific task you were just working on. The perfectionist in my is always calling out, telling me I need to be done with my English essay before I can move on to my Japanese studying. However, this only leads to inefficiency. I need to simply force myself to stop if I simply am not making progress, or have made sufficient progress in the last few minutes. That way, I never stop being productive.

Step 1: Make a specific list of things you have to do.

This isn’t groundbreaking advice, but it’s extremely important. It keeps you organized, so make the list. Not only that, make the list specific. That means that if you plan on studying Japanese, don’t just write down “study Japanese.” Instead write down exactly what you plan on doing. Your list might look like this:

Japanese: Study 10 vocab words, listen to and repeat 5 shadowing sentences for speaking fluency, write paragraph in Japanese for Lang-8.

English: Find 3 sources for essay, summarize each source’s main points in document, outline introduction of essay

History: Read first 40 pages of the week’s reading, summarize in 3 sentences what you read in notebook

Misc: lift weights for 30 minutes, jog for 30 minutes, sort dirty clothes for laundry, do laundry

And so on. The point is to have specific goals that are not unreasonably difficult or time consuming. If something on your list looks like it may take hours and hours, break it down into smaller chunks.

Heck, you may even list leisure activities on your list—like watching a single episode of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. You keep the tasks on your list short—so you don’t end up watching 10 episodes—and it’s something easy to jump to if you need a break from being efficient, while still being efficient. Win-win.

Step 2: Do the tasks in any order, and jump around as much as necessary

I might be working on my English essay, but I know I’ll get bored rather quickly. Thus, as soon as I finish one of my small tasks that I’ve outlined on my list, I’ll jump to something else less likely to give me a headache, like sorting clothes or laundry.

The point is to stay actively involved in completing goals. When I try to do one painstaking task at a time without stopping I lose interest and end up falling asleep. The next time I crack open that 200-page history reading, I won’t try to do all of it before moving to the next assignment; I’ll stop after 20 pages and study a kanji or two. And then maybe go jogging. And then read another 20 pages. But in the end, I’ll have still gotten everything done.

Why this works for language learning

As I’ve said before, it’s much too difficult to cram using a language into your head—that requires consistant and long-term practice. By returning to Japanese throughout the day—instead of doing it in one multi-hour burst— it’s actually better for retention and studying efficiency.


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Language Learning Tip: Finding Japanese in Odd Places

I haven’t been updating daily because of a certain absolutely awesome distraction, but today while wandering my home I came across a certain nostalgic item:

Ah, the playstation. So many childhood hours spent on classics like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. And despite all the days spent collecting gems in Spyro—which seemed like months and months to me when I was younger—I fired up the game again about two summers ago, only to find myself easily completing it 100% in no more than two days. Man did I suck at video games.

But putting aside my Spyro skills, on the inside of the lid of the playstation I found the following warning:

Ah ha, Japanese! It reads:


Despite being barely a sentence, it’s the perfect way to practice Japanese without input overload. That is, because the sentence is short, contains no more than three kanji, and has been found in a relatively odd place, remembering comes much more easily.

Breaking down the sentence, I could study:

  • レンズ — The beginner just learning Katakana will be happy to have a common word to practice with, in this case, lens.
  • レンズ [には] — the use of the double particle「には」gives beginners practice with this trickier grammar construction.
  • 絶対(に) — the rather common zettai (not at all) is one of those words I picked up from anime watching, but knowing how to write it never hurts!
  • 触る — the sentence contains the conjugated form of 「触る」(to touch) into its negative command form; practice reading the sentence a few times to practice telling others not to touch things—always a useful thing to know!

Sure, I could pick up an entire in novel in Japanese and start looking up characters one-by-one to get through it, but that’s incredibly time consuming. I like to think I have a lot of self-disciple, but that’s just too much. Rather, single sentences like the one found on my Playstation are sure to be more easily memorized. Blogging about it doesn’t hurt either.

This is the same idea that is used when one does shadowing—find real, but manageable Japanese sentences, understand them completely, and practice the heck out of them. When it comes to language learning, I find being a master-of-one rather than jack-of-all trades is much more useful. That is, instead of trying to study too much at once, really get down and study small chunks of language one-by-one.

One need not be in Japan to come across nuggets of Japanese in their daily interactions; you may just need to dig a little deeper, or look under the lid.

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Filed under Japanese, Language, Self-studying, video games

Language Learning Tip: Keep a Notebook

I’ve seen it repeated over and over that keeping a language journal is helpful to language learners. You’ll obviously get practice, and you’ll be able to track your progress as you get better by looking through your older entries. Plus, you can do it for just a few minutes a night before you sleep, so it’s not a huge commitment either.

That’s all well and good. I’m pro-journal, and if you can stick to it, more power to you. But I’ve never been one to keep a journal, not even in English. So I’d like to suggest something even easier, but just as useful: a notebook. So don’t keep a journal; keep a notebook.

Why keep a notebook at all? I remember the things I look-up and hear, so this is pointless.

No it isn’t.

Marketing Japan writes about how successful people often use notebooks to never forget things—and as a language learner, that is your goal. In order to learn a language effectively, you need to actually remember what you encounter, which is easier said than done.

When I watch anime there are lots of words I don’t know, and grammar constructions that I can understand, but have yet to have really practiced myself. I might make a mental note of a specific word I want to remember for later, but unless I write it down, I’m going to forget. There’s too much in a single episode of an anime for anyone to remember, and trying to make mental notes of everything while passively watching isn’t going to translate into efficient language learning.

Keeping a notebook makes your language learning active.

So the next time you hear an interesting word, or see something in Japanese you don’t understand, don’t just look up the word and then expect that you’ll remember it for next time—you’ll probably forget within a minute if you don’t focus on actually remembering it.

So how is this language notebook thing supposed to work anyway?

First, you need a notebook. A smartphone might also work, but I think the physicality of writing a notebook may work better—but to each his own. If you’re feeling especially pretentious, head down to your local Barnes & Noble and pick up one of those Moleskine numbers. But anything small and portable should do.

It’s then a matter of finding things to write inside of it. From an interview with David Ury (AKA: Ken Tanaka):

Where/how/from whom did you learn Japanese and what drove you to do it?

I went to Japan as a college student because I wanted to get the hell out of the U.S. While there, I became absolutely obsessed with becoming the most fluent white guy in Tokyo. I learned Japanese from everyone and everything around me. I used to walk home from the train station to my home stay house looking up every kanji on every sign I passed. It took me 11 hours just to walk 3 blocks.

Not all of us have the opportunity to be in Japan, but the importance of writing down and looking up any Japanese you encounter cannot be understated. Jumping into reading a high-level novel may be too much, but finding tid-bits of Japanese to note and review is what will make the difference.

The next time you’re watching an anime, wait for an unknown, but interesting, word and look it up. Then, write down that word in your notebook. Or if you come across a Japanese website, you might look up the meaning of a sentence or two on one of its pages. Again, note down these sentences in your notebook.

At the end of the day, perhaps half an hour before you plan to go to sleep (since material looked at right before sleeping is generally not easily memorized, but material half an hour before is), review what you’ve jotted down. Whenever I do this, I usually end up noticing said word or sentence in other materials whereas I wouldn’t have noticed it before (since I wouldn’t have understood it!)

Today, for example, I came across and looked up the word 身長, reviewed it a few times, and low and behold, while watching Legend of the Galactic Heroes today—an awesome, if occasionally slow-paced space drama that I recommend everyone to watch—it showed up. I plan to review the word again before I go to sleep.

Setting aside time to formally study—such as doing shadowing as I’ve recommended—is important, but keeping a notebook will help you remember the little things you often think you will remember, but then conveniently forget. It’s the same reason you (should) take notes in lectures: you may understand everything that is being said, but not writing it down or reviewing means you’ll simply forget later. As language learners, forgetting is not an option.

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Filed under Japan, Japanese, Language