every now and then i meet a goal

Today being the last day of this summer ReadMOD, I’m happy to report that I achieved both the goals I’d set midway; namely, to get over 600 pages (and beat my round 1 score), and to finish all twelve volumes of ARIA.

And by the way, if you haven’t read ARIA yet, drop what you’re doing and begin immediately; your life will be better for it.  It’s one of those rare works that manages to be sweet without being cloying, emotional without being manipulative, makes you think without making you depressed, very funny (when appropriate) without being ridiculous, and is generally inspiring.  On top of that, the artwork is gorgeous.  Character development is a bit spotty.  Akari, the main character, hardly seems to change at all, nor does her senpai Alicia, who was apparently perfect from the day of her birth.  Akari’s friends Aika and Alice do grow a great deal, and Aika was probably the most interesting character in the series.  There isn’t a great deal of plot.  The characters’ life is the plot, you could say.  I did notice that the later volumes seem to get considerably more literary perhaps, or at least certainly use a more sophisticated vocabulary, and a bit more formal grammar.  The last two volumes in particular, I have to admit I was below that 95% comprehension much of the time, and must confess to reaching for the dictionary quite often.

Now it’s time to carefully plan my learning for the next two months at least.  That doesn’t imply any complex strategy; rather, things will be taken away until only that which is necessary remains, without distractions.  The “analogue” incremental reading I’ve mentioned before will, I believe, be the main focus.  For this I’ll mainly take chapters of ARIA, and song lyrics which will also greatly aid listening comprehension.  Extensive reading will take place as and when I feel like it, as the recreation it was meant to be.  I still have rather a lot of material left unread, so there’s no shortage of opportunity – and if there were, there’s more books crossing the Pacific right now.  I’ll continue the vocabulary deck for the time being, although it’s on probation.  RTK with Japanese keywords will continue a little day by day, since daily kanji writing is good for the soul, in moderation.  readthekanji.com will get a lot of focus.  My goal for now is 600 reps per day, but we’ll see.  Anything one gets sick of is something one can’t learn from.  Of course, immersion will continue, as goes without saying.   And … that’s it.  That’s entirely enough and maybe a little too much.  If it is too much, the vocab deck will be the first thing to get dropped.

I think I’m going to start focusing a lot on drama CDs for immersion.  Music is all well and good but it’s not annoying enough to not understand it.  It’s still enjoyable even if you don’t understand a word, so when you don’t get something you just tend to tune it out and the voice becomes just another instrument.  Drama CDs require more involvement because things are happening, the plot is the thing, and this automatically draws the mind more into the mode of attempting to figure out the language.

I’d like to add in shadowing, writing lang-8 journals, maybe some language exchange, a bit of dedicated grammar study, and so forth.  But, you can say of so many things “well this will only take ten minutes a day” and before you know it you’re doing two hours of a dozen different things and if you’re anything like me you can’t learn much of anything from doing ten minutes of any given exercise.  By that time I’ve just started to get my focus on it.  A half hour is a good start and an hour is better.  Some of these things, however, could be a good fit for weekend days when more time is available.

readmod mid-way update

I didn’t post a pre-readmod post this time around because I really didn’t know what to expect.  Looking at my previous results, it’s clear something went very much off the rails somewhere.  I’m still not entirely sure what it was, but quite clearly, sometime around the one-year mark of  learning Japanese in earnest, I lost the plot rather badly.

However I think I might now be getting a little closer to the well-oiled assimilation machine that I want to be.  I’m not nearly there yet, but the fact that I hit 300 pages yesterday says something; it’s not impressive at all, no, but it’s over twice what I read in the previous contest all together.  And I’m enjoying it, too.  (Well until they get into the explainers – the history and science of Aqua (the ARIA world) are a little – strike that, a lot – heavy on the vocab.  Just drives home again how critical it is to stay within that 95%+ comprehension zone.  Those sections, even if I look up everything, I still often don’t quite get the sentence – it’s all just too much at once.)

It’s also become quite clear that for me, doing a lot of a few things works much better than spreading my studying around amongst too many different tools and approaches.  I guess I was the same way as a kid; play for hours with one toy more so than five minutes with a bunch of different ones.  So now I have to limit my toys in order to maximize their effectiveness.  Extensive reading (and its variant, incremental reading) has to be the cornerstone, and other techniques will be applied if and as they complement that.

incremental reading incremental update

A quite long while ago now I posted what was meant to be an introduction to this post; and this post was meant to take place two or three weeks after that one; and, moreover, this post was meant to be a definitive guide to incremental reading for language learning.

Some of that didn’t happen, and the rest won’t.  It’s become clear that developing this method will take considerable time, so instead of attempting to nail down something this fluid I’ll just dispense spoonfuls as I discover them. Herewith then, some of these, not really in any specific order.

Perspective first: I’m mostly talking here about the Alice in Wonderland deck.  These cards are anywhere from 400 to over 3000 characters long, and have a parallel English text along with the reading on the back of the card.  I’m also using a four-panel manga deck, of which more later.

One of the first things I noticed was that words that got skipped over the first or second or third time would eventually assert themselves and become clear.  This happened again and again with every card.  It felt quite remarkable really.  It was a bit like those shows where they take the terribly blurry surveillance camera pictures and hit a magical “enhance” button repeatedly.  Any photographer would kill for such a tool, but the language student has one available.

A problem I’ve encountered often whilst reviewing sentences is that the sentence gets memorized.  The first couple of words come into view and the brain rattles off the rest by itself, without really reading the sentence at all.  This does not happen with this deck – the cards are much too long.  There is no way to gloss over the text in this manner; no choice but to actively engage with it.

The text used for the Alice deck actually has very few kanji; so few in fact, that adding rather a lot more would make it easier to read.  Some parts are a little denser though.  The more kanji with unknown readings in a passage there are, the shorter the card must be.  Looking up words and readings is totally fine of course, that’s half the point, but once you have to look up as much as you know it just gets tiresome.  The tadoku principle of sticking to texts that you understand at least 95% of is still very much in force here.  You can get away with a little more, but it’s best not to push it.  Some words – 公爵夫人 was a good example – gave me a lot of trouble because there were too many unfamiliar kanji in a row.  This sort of deck is not well suited to learning such words.  (Eventually though it did stick.)  Sometimes a card will have a brief passage that is at a much higher level than the rest of the card.  The dodo’s speech was a good example (the Eaglet even interrupted him with “日本語をしゃべれ!”).  This can be frustrating because you keep having to come back to that card even though the large majority of it is perfectly clear.  I still haven’t confirmed a good solution for this but I think I do have one, more later.  Words that are reasonably clear from context stick like magic.  After the card interval is over a month or so I hardly even remember that there were ten or twenty words in it that I didn’t know at all.

The parallel text has proved completely unnecessary.  I never look at it.  I suspect this would be the case whenever a text is within the proper 95% to 99% comprehension range.

Perhaps it goes without saying (I’m saying it anyway), but you had better really, really love the work you decide to review in this way.  It’s pretty easy to get tired of it when you are rereading the same book piece by piece over and over.  Choose carefully.  It could be that a book of short stories, or a set of poems, or lyrics, would lend itself a little better to incremental reading.

Also about avoiding burnout – I found it best to limit myself to one review daily.  This usually amounts to anywhere from ten minutes to half an hour.  Because of this, cards often don’t get reviewed exactly on the day Anki decrees, so set the program to display cards from the shortest interval to the longest.  That way the fragile young cards don’t get put off too long.  Also, if there is a review due I don’t add a new card.  As you can imagine this has stretched out the process of getting through the book by quite a lot.

Grammar has started to feel natural, to the point that I very seldom think about it.  This should be the case with normal extensive reading, too, but I think there is a benefit to sticking to one author’s (translator’s, in this case) style.

Some of these cards I have made far too long.  Over 3000 characters – that’s too much at once.  To make them I took the line numbers in Notepad++ and took an approximately equal division of three for each chapter.  This did not work well.  Some passages with lots of conversation ended up being quite short, and others with more narrative were a great deal longer.  Better would have been to count characters and make cards of perhaps 400-800 characters.  Also, there’s no real reason to make the entire deck at once as long as you have the text file.  Just make the next cards as you need them.

My intention at first was to extract sentences as I went along, for my sentence deck.  My thinking was that once a card was over a certain interval, if there were still passages that were problematic, I’d isolate those.  I haven’t done this even once, though.  Instead, I’ve started a simple vocabulary deck.  As I begin each card, every new word gets put into a text file, and once I’m done the words get added to the vocab deck.  The idea is that by the next time I see the reading card, the new words will already have a review or two behind them.  This is something I’ve only started very recently, but it seems to be working well.  Usually when I see the word I instantly think of the context in which I found it.  This way, I am pretty sure the issue I mentioned of thorny passages in the middle of easy cards will be resolved.

About that manga deck: it’s a sort of hybrid of ordinary sentence decks and incremental reading decks.  Each card has a four-panel strip on it, but they’re short enough to treat them exactly like sentence cards.  They’re just a lot more entertaining! and of course images make things easier.  I highly recommend this, but it isn’t really incremental reading like I thought it would be.

That, it looks like, is the end of my notes for this time; I’ll post again once a few more have accumulated.  As you can see, the method is far from polished yet, but the current rough version is working well enough that I definitely intend to carry on.

tadoku notes

Today marks the beginning of another tadoku contest. This one will be a little different for me. Firstly, I’m adding German into the mix. It’s been a very long time since I studied German at all, but in the little I’ve looked at it in the past few days, it seems to be coming back to me easily. So I think extensive reading will be all that is required to get my German to a serviceable level for my purposes.

The German is very much a side project and Japanese remains my main language focus. For this though, I’m focused on my incremental reading project at the moment, and in fact have enough expectations for this that tadoku will be taking a bit of a back seat for a while. Well, essentially it is tadoku, just overclocked. But counting pages in my reading decks isn’t really practical so I don’t plan to report my pagecount from this source. All of which is to say, my score won’t be reflecting the actual quantity of reading I do, at all. A bit unfortunate but incremental reading is working so well for me I don’t want to put it on hold. I’ve lately added a four-panel manga deck into this mix, so I’m going to let this run for a little while longer before I blog about it, but I definitely do want to share more about this method soon.

As for what’s on the shelf, for Japanese I shall mainly be working my way through the Gosick light novels, which somewhat to my surprise I found I could read quite readily. I have all six volumes so that’s my Japanese reading sorted for the month. In German, I have a variety of classics, including (naturally) the German version of Alice in Wonderland. Also, I have an interesting book written by my great-great-grandfather, recording the story of how my ancestors left Russia and came to Canada. This is actually a parallel text, since my uncle made a translation of it. Additionally, I want to find some good German blogs, maybe some photography, or motorcycling, or early music.

tadoku epilogue

Yesterday once again marked the end of another month-long reading contest over at ReadMOD, and having sent my last update to the automatic abacus at six minutes to midnight, I finished with a grand-ish total of 565.45 pages.  Of this 212.7 pages were of books, 1731.4 of manga (counted at 20%), and the remainder sentences (17 sentences to the page).  This is nearly triple my effort of six months ago where I managed just over 200 pages.

I think this time I got considerably closer to the ideal of what extensive reading is meant to be about.  I got that feeling right from the start, when I finished the several level 4 graded readers I hadn’t looked at yet.  At first I was thinking – “this is too easy, I know almost all these words, this grammar is simple” – but, of course, that is exactly the point.  When you are clipping along and the pages flow readily, the occasional word causing you to think a little, or maybe look it up (I know, not supposed to use a dictionary – but I’m curious!) – that is when you are in the best state to get used to reading and get used to the language.  That’s exactly why it’s recommended to read something at 90% or better comprehension level.  Think of the cyclist in training; instead of struggling up the mountain in the highest manageable gear, stopping every ten metres to gasp for air, he keeps a pace that will allow him to ride steadily for an hour or more.  Do that enough, and eventually that mountain becomes no obstacle at all.

That’s when I ran out of graded readers and piled into my manga.  Sketchbook isn’t really difficult, but suddenly I was finding a lot of new words, a lot of katakana (Kuri-chan’s beloved insects all seem to have names made of a dozen katakana), trying to figure out Natsumi’s dialect (Hakata-ben), and fairly frequently coming to the end of a four-panel strip and having to say “I didn’t get a single bit of that!”.  Sometimes I’d go ten pages without needing to look up anything though – overall I’d say comprehension was in the range of 70ish%.  So not bad at all, but not precisely in the spirit of things.  I finished the six volumes in a week or so, and also somehow flailed through a volume of Zetsubou Sensei, which I could understand enough of to realize that I should wait with the rest until I could fully appreciate its genius.

At that point I’d run out of manga with furigana (sadly, still very dependent on that), so I started rereading.  The readers were easier the second time around, no surprise there.  Then it occurred to me that I’d only ever read through my seven volumes of Yotsuba&! once.  Those were the best days of this contest – back to the flow, enjoying the stories and characters and not worrying about the language.  Rereading a couple of Sketchbook rounded out the month, and those were also a lot easier the second time.  I’m even more convinced now that rereading is one of the keys to making extensive reading work the best.

Aside from all its intrinsic benefits, extensive reading throws weak spots into clear relief.  It quickly became clear what I need to work on the most.  After the contest I had had in mind to study through two more grammar books (I know it sounds terminally dull, but I find it interesting enough that it really helps me; also SRSing the example sentences makes sure that the patterns stick); however, I found that there were very few points where odd grammatical structures gave me pause.  Rather, there’s a tremendous quantity of words that I need to learn.  Also, to break out of the furigana trap, learning kanji readings is top priority.  The plan now is immediately to tackle both problems at once by going through the second volume of Remembering the Kanji, using the order given and most of the example words, and making sentence cards exactly like all my other sentence cards for them.  This ought to give me about 2500 kanji readings and as much vocabulary in roughly four months or so, and once I have most of the kanji readings under my hat acquiring new vocabulary will also become far easier.  Reading will of course continue and more books are already in the mail.

Big thanks again to LordSilent for all his hard work getting this to run as smoothly as it did, and well done to all my fellow participants.

tadoku midway update


Today I passed 300 pages, so at this rate I should be able to triple my score from last time. However the second half of the month I intend to do quite a bit of rereading, so that will slow my pagecount (it’s half credit). I’m very curious how much I’ll remember from my first passes through.

Sketchbook manga continues to entertain. I think the anime is better though. Well, there’s only so much character development and storyline you can do in a four-panel. Only one volume left (have I really read five volumes of it in two weeks??).

Still far too dependent on furigana. After the contest this month I intend to make kanji readings top priority. Still not entirely sure how I’ll go about it, but will probably use RTK2 to some extent.

I finally ran out of graded readers.  You know, the problem with buying a set of readers like that, very likely half the material won’t be terribly interesting. The only reason I read a couple of the stories was that they were in Japanese. Won’t be rereading those. Since I clearly didn’t learn that lesson (or more likely figured they were still worth it), I ordered considerably more of the same as well as Halpern’s Kanji dictionary.