finding the right serving size: a simple search

Anime is of course excellent immersion material, and part of the reason for that is the convenient 24-minute length of a typical episode. Sometimes it would be nice though to have something even shorter so that you could fit it in between the cracks of an ordinary busy day. Maybe you have a 15 minute coffee break, or a 10 minute bus ride, or similar, and it’s nice to fit in a complete episode instead of leaving something unfinished. To this end I’m planning a series of posts on anime with short episodes, ranging from 12 minutes down to 3 minutes, or maybe even less.

If you want to find your own, it’s surprisingly simple. ANN always lists the running time and always in the same format. So just search for “running time: 10 minutes”, substituting whatever time you want, like this.


turning reading comprehension into listening comprehension: three simple strategies

Once you have kanji at least somewhat tamed, reading is the easiest skill to develop to a high level. You can take all the time you need to get through a passage, no one is rushing you, you don’t need to depend on anyone else to talk to or correct your writing, and you can do it all day long if you like. And especially for those of us using extensive reading as the foundation for our studies (which, it hardly needs repeating, I strongly support), we will most likely arrive at a stage in our learning where reading is quite far advanced above the other three skills. Then when you try to listen to material that’s at the same level that you’re comfortably reading, it’s completely incomprehensible. This can be very frustrating! It’s like solving a Chinese puzzle with mittens on. The question then is, how can we use that reading skill to boost our listening skill?

Certainly massive immersion is foundational to listening skill. Listen as much as you can. Listening is something you can multitask, so take advantage of that. Going out for a run? Headphones in. Punching numbers in Excel at the office? Headphones in. Deep discussion with your significant other? Headphones in. (Kidding … maybe?)

But that’s a little random for our purposes here, and doesn’t really answer the question. How then can we focus our listening a little more closely? Here’s three simple things I’ve found to work well, in order of precision.

Firstly, you might remember I’ve previously mentioned incremental reading combined with audio. This SRS exercise will result in exceptionally complete comprehension and retention of short passages. A quick summary of the method: find a source for short passages where you have both audio and text. You can select passages that are quite difficult as long as you find them interesting, but don’t overdo it because the quantity of repetitions you’ll need for a passage that’s too far over your level will only result in you getting sick of it. Podcasts are perfect material. I like the audio blogs over at japanesepod101. Your card, then, will have the text on the front, the text with readings on the back, and the audio. Have Anki set to not play audio automatically. Reviews are done by reading the card and then listening. Feel free to look up as much as you need to while reading. Particularly unfamiliar words should probably be added to a simple vocabulary deck or an MCD deck. The reading should be fairly easy though, because the point is to bootstrap the difficult listening with the higher skill level of the reading. Grading can be done like any other SRS card.

That’s the most effective method in some ways, but the focus is quite narrow, and there’s a lot of setup required. It also has a fairly high burn-out risk.

Secondly, let’s consider a method for using Japanese subtitles. Now, just watching video with J-subs is something I have found to be not terribly effective. It does aid comprehension, and I’m sure if you could read at the same speed as normal speech it would be a lot more effective than it is for me. But as it is, it often ends up going by all too quickly to be much use. So what I do instead is put the text of the subtitles file in Learning With Texts. (You could just as easily use a plain text file – maybe put them in an e-reader program like iBunko – and make MCD cards for words or grammar points as needed.) The process then is to first watch the video without subtitles, then read through the text carefully taking all the time you need to understand everything, and then re-watch the video. This should be done without too much delay between, but a day or two is fine. You will notice a big difference in comprehension between first and second viewings!

For this method, the video must be reasonably within your grasp before reading the text, otherwise two viewings won’t be nearly enough. And if you’re anything like me, two viewings of anything is already very nearly one too many, no matter how good the material is. Also, it must not be too long, or it will take you all day to study the text, and you won’t be able to retain all of it. I find the 20 minutes of a typical anime episode to be pretty much perfect.

That might still be too much structure for your taste, so lastly let’s consider a method (that’s so loose it can hardly be called a method) that will let you take in the most volume of text and audio of any of these. For tadoku, it’s often recommended that you concentrate on the works of a particular author for periods of time, since you get used to their style and their selection of vocabulary. We can take advantage of this for listening as well. Most anime are based on manga, as are many dramas. So all you need to do is watch your favourite series, read through the manga (SRS as much or as little as you like), re-watch the series, reread, etc., until you’re tired of it, which is your sign to move on to something else. Very often the lines in the anime or drama are lifted directly from the manga, and even when they’re not, they’ll be in the same style and using the same set of vocabulary. Sometimes you can also find audio dramas (”Drama CD’s”) that are also based closely on the manga. ARIA in particular has a great many of these, so you can get a lot of listening immersion that’s all based on material you already know from reading. As well as ARIA, I like みなみけ and ひだまりスケッチ for this approach. Any simple slice-of-life anime or drama is a good bet for practical and realistic everyday vocabulary. But make sure to follow your interests! The brain is like a little kid faced with a plate of broccoli; very good at rejecting what it doesn’t enjoy. Luckily when it comes to language even the chocolate cake is nourishing!

I always remember something loafyi said in the #ajatt channel one day – something like “when I can recognize a word in listening, that’s when I feel like I really have it”. I’ve found this to be very true. I hope that these simple common-sense suggestions can help you to use your hard-earned reading comprehension to raise your listening to a similar level.

finding my feet

After doing nothing but hoovering up new kanji for months, it felt a little strange and confusing once I didn’t need to anymore.

I tend to get a little lost without a fairly strict routine so it was important to get my new habits formed early.  Anyway I still have RTK kanji reviews tapering off, and they will be for quite a while, so there was some continuity there.  Also the usual anime and japanesepod101 hasn’t changed.  I’m not sure if I want to carry on with japanesepod101 past the “beginner” lessons.  I suspect repeated comprehensible input of natural Japanese, in podcasts and other audio, will prove more efficient.  So I need to set up iTunes to grab a bunch of podcasts, get some more fluffy sugary j-pop (heh), rip the audio from my graded reader CDs, and perhaps get some stories from that classics at bedtime site.

The first thing I started was the core2000 on  I’ve nearly finished step 1, 3/4 done step 2.  Those were mainly review.  Step 3 is more difficult and at the moment I’m only 30% into it.  Apparently step 4 is easier again.  It’s hard to say when I can expect to finish these ten steps, but I’m guessing by end of summer probably.  With a 2000 word vocabulary I should easily be able to read a lot of manga, simple magazines, light novels, and the like.  So from there I can mine my own sentences.  I’ll probably start before then, but for the time being the sentences in core2000 are satisfactory.  It’s quite a good feeling though, comparing how I can go through it now compared with before doing RTK.  Before the kanji were an obstacle, but now they are a help.

Also, I bought AnkiSRS for my iPhone and put the Tae Kim grammar deck on there.  This isn’t high priority but I spend probably ten or maybe fifteen minutes a day on that.

Today’s RTK reviews were 83 in number, and those will continue to go down.  Those are easily dispatched during break time at work.  Doesn’t even use up nearly all of it.  So I can do during part of lunch hour.  Kanji recognition is still a bit of a problem though, so I want to put a reverse RTK deck in Anki and go through it that way.

I’ve started to read the graded readers a little, and need to increase the time doing that.  I breezed through the first reader without having to look up a thing, which was almost a little disappointing.  Also bought some simple manga (Lucky Star, Minami-ke, and Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (which is maybe not all that simple)) but found it very difficult, because there’s quite a bit of slang, exclamations, words trailing off or cut short, etc., and it’s often hard to sort out which the actual words are.  Kanji are helpful in such cases.

Also I played with the Read the Kanji site.  I really like this and intend to buy a membership.  It’s cheap enough.

I keep intending to rewatch some anime with subtitles off, but I have so much new stuff I want to watch.  Just finished Hand Maid May yesterday, which was a great deal better than I expected (granted I wasn’t expecting much), and today started Kino no Tabi which is really different and quite interesting.

So there it is.  Status reports after RTK are going to be a little fuzzier, apart from goal percentages.  That’s quite all right though.  How many people know how many English words they know?  I sure don’t.  It’s just a matter of continuing to get used to the language day by day.

fun beyond the alphabet

Currently I’m mainly watching the brain-scrambler of a show known as Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, which is the zany-ed up second season of the strangest comedy I’ve ever seen – certainly the most random.  It features quite possibly the most dysfunctional high school class ever thought of.

Now, this show is probably enjoyable for most people (granted that some of the gags drag on a fair length past their expiry date), but the more literate you are the more you get out of it.  Not just in Japanese either; there are quite a lot of references and allusions to Western literature, not to mention many many historical and cultural references.  I’m sure I’m missing out on a great deal of it, and will probably rewatch it (much) later.

One of the most interesting features to me, being an aspiring kanji otaku, was the names of the various characters and the visual and other wordplay incorporated into them, which are completely impossible in alphabetic writing.

The most visual of these, and one of only a few actually mentioned in the show itself, is the name of the main character, Itoshiki Nozomu.  His given name, Nozomu, means “hope”, and is written 望; “nozomu” is the kun-yomi.  His full name is written as follows: 糸色望.  But 糸 and 色 are the two components of 絶, which has the on-yomi of “zetsu”; and then if you combine that with the on-yomi of 望, “bou” – so, write 絶望 – you get “zetsubou”, which means “despair”.  This is why Itoshiki is frequently exclaiming “don’t write it too close together!”.

Since most of the Itoshiki family is featured at some point or other, the writers got a fair bit of mileage out of this.  Nozomu’s brother Mikoto, for example, is written 糸色命 – which, when similarly compressed and using on-yomi for the given name, becomes 絶命 – “zetsumei” – which means “death”.  A bit of a problem considering that he’s a physician!

Then there’s the highly OCD student, Kitsu Chiri.  Her name is written 木津チ里.  The second character, 津, is pronounced “tsu” – つ.  But the small つ is used as an indication of a long consonant, so if you take the reading of the second character, replace it with the hiragana, and shrink it down on the page, you get きっちり – kicchiri – which means “exact”, fitting her personality, well, exactly.

Another example is the counselor, Arai Chie.  Her name is written 新井智恵, where the family name is read using on-yomi and the given name is read using kun-yomi.  But if you use the kun-yomi reading for the family name as well, it reads as にいちえ – niichie – so her name is actually an allusion to Nietzsche.

This all reminds me of the sort of thing that used to be popular in Victorian England, where the propertied classes used their abundant free time and lack of cable tv to come up with all manner of wordplay, such as poems that would become two different poems with different meanings if split down the middle of the page.  But with the multiple readings of kanji, and the visual elements of combining them as radicals of other kanji, there are many more possibilities than could ever be found in an alphabetic system.

Thanks to the excellent fansubbing group a.f.k. for including these explanations at the end of the episodes.