If you advance beyond the beginner stage in your language learning, the question will arise soon enough: “How do I switch over to monolingual study?” Thinking about Japanese in English is of course how we start, and even at advanced levels an English explanation of some abstruse point can quickly get you unstuck, but there’s no denying the multiplicative power of thinking about Japanese in Japanese. Usually the suggestion will be made, “Do recursive lookups”; with the idea of looking up every word in a Japanese definition that you don’t understand, again in a Japanese dictionary; looking up any unknown words in those second level definitions; and so on, until you’ve branched out enough that no more unknown words remain. Depending on the case, you could get five new words, or twenty, or fifty out of this. But that sounds like a lot of work, and then once you’ve done that, what do you do with them?
In case you’ve somehow been missing it till now, there’s a brilliant Japanese learning resource in a location you might not immediately think of; the IRC channel #ajatt on Rizon. It’s a sort of blender for ideas and pretty often some excellent stuff comes out. Today, the subject was nesting definitions and massive context cloze deletion (MCD) SRS cards.
It got a little long, so the rest is behind the jump, posted as written. There’s examples too.
[22:37:30] <@e_dub> really getting the hang of these recursive monodic cards. can stay almost completely in japanese now. it’s extremely rare for me to have to resort to an english definition for anything now, even if it takes 30 lookups to get one sentence, i get like 30 new words out of the deal anyways
[22:47:37] <kalek> e_dub: i just recently got the hang of them too
[22:48:00] <@e_dub> i can see how this could be far more powerful
[22:48:21] <@e_dub> i feel like i’m eating whole chunks of the language at a time now, rather than taking bites
[22:48:25] <kalek> before i just avoided definitions i didn’t understand and now i welcome them as long as they aren’t too bad
[22:49:06] <kalek> every once in a while i will run into a word where i recognize very few if any of the words, and it’s a long definition, and those i avoid
[22:49:23] <kalek> but, barring those, i definitely feel like i am understanding japanese way better now
[22:49:33] <@e_dub> do u try additional dictionaries?
[22:49:37] <kalek> i don’t
[22:49:46] <@e_dub> u should when u hit one that stumps u like that
[22:49:54] <kalek> might be a good idea to reintroduce sanseido into the mix
[22:50:12] <kalek> i’ve just been using the dictionary that comes on macs (which is the same one goo and yahoo use)
[22:50:21] <@e_dub> sometimes meikyou will have a long ridiculous definition that i wont want to fuck with, then i will check sanseido and it will be like three simple words
[22:56:11] <Landorien> so those are mcds you make out of those then?
[22:57:03] <kalek> yeah i’ve been making mcds/ddcs out of them
[22:57:12] <Landorien> also i wish the kid’s dictionary i have were available electronically
[22:57:29] <Landorien> so often a yahoo definition stumps me and this one makes perfect sense
[22:57:30] <kalek> i delete pretty heavily though because dictionary definitions can be a little dry
[22:57:36] <@e_dub> Lan yeah
[22:57:44] <kalek> i find them fun a lot of the time too; they’re not all bad
[22:58:03] <@e_dub> i would definitely recommend looking to sanseido often
[22:58:19] <@e_dub> sometimes japanese wiktionary can be good too
[23:02:33] <@e_dub> ok, so basically what i do is this: First, I’ll hit upon a sentence or short paragraph I will want to make MCD’s from. I copy it into a text file in Notepad++
[23:03:17] <@e_dub> Then I start with the first unknown word, look it up, and copy and paste it’s definition into notepad++ beneath the original sentence
[23:05:07] <@e_dub> now, I will take the first unknown word in that, indent beneath the definition, creating nested lists of definitions, When I get to a definition where I know everything, I go back up a level, either to a definition or to the source material, wherever there is a next unknown word and start again.
[23:05:46] <@e_dub> Then, when everything is looked up, I start at the bottom and begin making MCD’s from all the definitions, including any definitions in the nests beneath in the notes on the cards
[23:06:15] <@e_dub> using that new anki plug-in
[23:06:32] <Landorien> so what sorts of things do you cloze out then
[23:07:07] <@e_dub> i will include nested definitions, but only a level or two deep, so the notes on the cards dont get toooooo confusing
[23:07:12] <@e_dub> umm kanji
[23:07:25] <@e_dub> and some all hiragana words if its a content word
[23:07:28] <@e_dub> not a function word
[23:07:31] <Landorien> ok
[23:07:47] <Landorien> i guess particles wouldn’t make a lot of sense to cloze out in this application
[23:08:17] <@e_dub> no, i am doing an MCD deck based on basic connections, and the focus there is all on function words and word endings
[23:08:29] <Landorien> so you have that covered
[23:08:29] <@e_dub> but this is about vocab and word pairings and whatnot
[23:08:33] <Landorien> yeah
[23:08:35] <@e_dub> collocations
[23:09:04] <@e_dub> yeah, MCD’s pwn, and they seem especially suited to doing this monolingual thing
[23:09:27] <@e_dub> cuz u get so much repetition that its not so overwhelming if a definition has more than one new word in it
[23:09:33] <kalek> just clarified 聖なる and 神聖 using sanseido (these were what i was talking about when i said “definitions in which i don’t understand a single word”)
[23:10:08] <@e_dub> and sanseido made them understandable?
[23:10:11] <kalek> yeah
[23:10:15] <@e_dub> awesome
[23:10:29] <kalek> still need the srs to flesh them out but i understood them as i put them in
[23:11:03] <kalek> my process has been a little different than e_dub’s but it still involves making mcds of dictionary definitions
e_dub and kalek were also both kind enough to provide examples of the process. Here’s one of e_dub’s cards:
And here’s the text file it’s based on:
Here’s the example kalek provided:
(Note: Sometimes I will add words to this list if I want clarification on a word that I already know, such as 何故 or 必要)
イネ科タケ亜科の多年生植物の総称。長く横にはう地下茎から地上茎がまっすぐに伸びる。茎には節があり、節と節の間は中空。地下茎から出た若芽を竹の子といい、食用にする。花はふつう数年から数十年の周期で開き、地上茎はその後枯れる。小形のものを一般に笹（ささ）ともいう。マダケ•モウソウチク•ハチク•アズマザサ•クマザサなど種類は多い。竹細工•団扇（うちわ）•簾（すだれ）•茶せんなどのほか、建築材料•観賞用など用途は広い。《季 花＝夏 実＝秋》
Also, a very useful resource for getting started with Japanese dictionaries has been posted by Adshap over at Japanese Level Up, the “Achieving Dictionary Zen” series.
Half the trouble with recursive monolingual lookups, I’ve found, is just getting past that initial point where you’re looking at the whole mountain and getting intimidated; I hope this discussion and examples has provided, at least, a good suggestion for a path up the mountain, and all that’s required is to take that first step, then the next, and the next.