sentence srs – the middle of the beginning

It seems since the time I posted that I’d come back to the topic of sentence SRS in a week or so, about five weeks have passed.  Things kept changing as I settled in, and found things that worked and things that didn’t work; more of the former.

I have two decks at present.  One is the core2k deck, and the other is my main, long-term deck.  The core2k deck is disposable and I think I will, in fact, dispose of it shortly.  I’m very tired of the sentences.  They are of course not sentences I picked, so they have no intrinsic interest to me as chunks of meaning (as opposed to exam questions); that’s one problem.  Another (that, in fairness, I could solve with a ready finger on the delete key) is that even in this list of 2000 most common words, there are quite a few that will be mainly found in material that I have no interest in.  The political terms take me a long time to remember and a short time to forget.  Then, there’s also the extremely elementary grammar used.  I can’t learn anything but vocabulary from these sentences, yet they take just as long to review as any other.  Lastly, there’s the matter of the card format.  I started by reading the kana sentence for each card, and writing the entire sentence with the kanji.  Now, while this was effective in that I was learning kanji readings quickly, and my kana writing also benefited greatly (it needed it), it was pretty frustrating because it took a very long time.  There’s something about that number of cards per unit time that makes a significant difference to one’s state of mind about SRS reviewing.  Faster (within reason) is decidedly better.  So then I switched to this:

The cloze deletion was the easiest way I could get close to what I wanted; namely, the vocabulary word in question in highlighted kana, with the kanji in the answer; my task being to know the word and write the kanji.  The problem with this is as follows, where the orange line is approximately the path of my eye as I attempt to read the sentence:

It might not seem like a big deal but after a couple thousand reps it’s starting to make me severely annoyed with the deck.  Enough to make me not want to start reviewing it.  That isn’t right.  I should be looking forward to it.  For the time being I stopped adding new cards (I’m a bit over 600 cards in at the moment) to make the number of reviews per day a little more manageable, and those are down to around 40 now.  This has enabled me to make better progress on my main deck and restart mining.

I don’t think deleting the deck is anything to worry about.  Any words I need will come back to me in the course of normal sentence mining, and since I’ve studied them on if I do happen not to have remembered them they’ll be relearned in a snap.

So my main deck is up to just under 500 sentences.  Most of these are from the sentence patterns book I’ve linked to before; the rest are from Naoko Chino’s All About Particles, which is equally good.  I also want to thoroughly go through Shoji’s Basic Connections and Chino’s Japanese Verbs At A Glance, as well as take quite a few from the japanesepod101 upper intermediate lessons that I’m listening to and enjoying all day at work now.  The rest of the 10000 sentences will be taken from the wild.

Also, some of my later cards are monolingual.  Getting to monolingual cards in less than 500 sentences caused me to be inordinately pleased with myself (feel free to mock me in the comments for this!).  I have very few of these so far, but it’s quite clear that they cause you to think in Japanese far more than those with a translation at hand.  Grammar point explanations, though, I have no hesitation in putting in English.  It isn’t like I’ll be thinking of them whilst speaking anyway; they’re just for initial understanding.

Here’s one of the better samples from this deck:

While the ideal is to have only one knowledge item per card, I don’t see anything wrong with having a grammar point and a vocabulary word sharing a card.  After all, every sentence has grammar.  Here, the vocabulary word is highlighted in blue in the question, and the task is to write the kanji (as well as understand the whole sentence, naturally).  As well, since this sentence has a specific grammar point that it’s meant to illustrate – it’s taken from the epic 13 pages of various uses of が – that part of the sentence is highlighted in red.  The answer contains the sentence with the readings, and a Japanese definition of the vocabulary word.  Incidentally, if I don’t remember the reading of a name, I don’t fail the card.  I’ll worry about name readings later.

Briefly now, a couple of ideas for further sentence mining: firstly, I’d like to stop reviewing my RTK decks eventually, so in order to do this I’d like to go through the kanji in RTK order and find a couple of sentences for each one.  Secondly, I would like to try getting an anime with transcripts, SRSing every part of the transcripts that gives me any trouble (or you could say, that I can learn from), and then watching the show.  Also, of course, anything random that I happen to like from Twitter, blogs, and January’s tadoku.

So, it took a little while, but by now it feels as though I’m finding my groove with this game, and I look forward to much more.

sentence reviewing – yes, just started

It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I’ve just very recently started actually reviewing sentences, despite that supposedly being the cornerstone of my entire method.  First there was the kanji to learn, then core2k on to go through, and the tadoku month in the meantime, and once I finished core2k I wanted to finish sentence mining Chino’s Sentence Patterns book before actually starting to review.  Well, that’s done now.

So initial impressions then.  Highly effective, yes, and especially (at this point) for learning kanji readings.  I still want to go through RTK2, but I need to figure out how my daily routine will play out with the new things I’m doing.  (It was easy before. till done, kanji reviews, kick back with an anime.)  My card shows me the sentence in kana, and my task is to write it with kanji and, of course, understand it.  This is according to Khatz-dono’s thinking in this post.  It might get a bit old after a while, but so far it is no problem to do them all like that.  I think though, once my kanji knowledge has solidified, I’ll review more reading cards, and do less writing, simply because of the time requirement.  If you’re not familiarizing yourself with any new vocabulary or kanji there isn’t much point in writing the sentence, I’d guess.  So far it seems that about a minute and a half is required per sentence, so I can comfortably add about 20 cards from the core2k deck (sigh) and 10 from my main sentence deck, which is about 400 strong, all from that one book so far.

I think I’ll carry on exactly like this for about another week and then post a set of not-quite-so-initial impressions.


I finished the Core 2000 lists on a few days ago, so it feels like a bit of a stopping point at which I should evaluate what I know and think about the plan from this point onward.

Vocabulary would seem to be around 2500 words or so, with perhaps half that available to active recall.  Listening comprehension has been tracking vocabulary knowledge very closely.  This has led me to conclude that vocabulary is the single most important area to focus on, more so than grammar.  I need much much more than what I have in order to be even close to functional and not limited to graded material.  I might start the core 6000 on, or I might just use the word list with my own sentences in Anki.  The example sentences are pretty dull.

Kanji knowledge is getting more ingrained but readings are still weak.  Total number of kanji that I know the writings and meanings of would still be about 2000.  Readings, perhaps a hundred at best.

From this point onward sentence mining and review will be the core of my work.  I also want to maintain a simple vocab deck, which will be reviewed as recognition only, where each card will have the kanji as the question and the reading and definition as the answer – very conventional.  I intend to start using Japanese definitions wherever practical, so for each word I add I’ll look it up in my J-J dictionary and see if the definitions make any sense to me; if so, even if I need to add another few words from the definition, I’ll use it; if it’s too boggling I’ll continue to use the English definitions.  This way the deck will gradually move entirely to Japanese definitions.  As for the sentences, I intend to have the kana on the question side and the kanji and translation, or Japanese definitions in lieu of a translation, as the answer.  Reviewing that way will require writing each sentence, so it’ll be slow, but very thorough.  The first sentence collection is the core2k, but that’s mainly strictly for kanji readings since the grammar is extremely simple.  I’ll think I’ll keep those in a separate deck.  The sentences from the three books of Naoko Chino that I have – A Dictionary of Basic Japanese Sentence Patterns, All About Particles, and Japanese Verbs at a Glance, will form the foundation of my long-term sentence deck.  That should be around 700-800 sentences in all and cover nearly all grammatical structures possible.

Concerning kanji, it’s clear that I will need the extra thousand or so kanji from RTK3.  I’ll go through this the exact same way I did RTK1.  RTK1 reviews are presently taking me usually no more than ten minutes a day, but I will switch that to a Japanese keyword deck.  Also, I plan to systematically go through RTK2 to learn on-readings.

There is definitely a theme here, which is to go monolingual as soon as I can manage.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned extensive reading yet, that is where new sentences will come from.  I haven’t been doing much lately, and probably won’t for another couple weeks or so until I get all the sentences from Chino mined.  After that, extensive reading will be the headwaters, as it were, from which the river of SRS sentences will flow.  Some ideas for sentence mining sources:

  • my graded readers
  • manga
  • Aozora Bunko texts – I would like to buy a Kindle specifically for this
  • the 小学生新聞
  • my dictionary
  • tangorin (particularly useful for examples containing a specific word)
  • haiku
  • twitter – great for colloquial Japanese (I need to follow more Japanese tweeters)
  • blogs (I need to find a bunch)
  • japanesepod101 transcripts

Any other ideas for sentence sources, or any other feedback of any kind, is most welcome.

i won readmod

But, in fairness, so did everybody that participated.  I heard quite a few comments to the effect of “I never imagined I could actually read this much real Japanese, and in only one month” – and I’ll add my signature to that line as well.  At the beginning of the month I looked at my pace and concluded that, perhaps, with a strong effort, 200 pages might be possible; and in fact I did end up with 204 pages, and it wasn’t even that hard.  Also, I must here register my astonishment at the actual winner of the contest, BlackDragonHunt, and the runner-up, Seizar86, who both somehow managed to read over 2000 pages.  I don’t know that I’ve ever read that much in one month in English (not that I kept track), and I considered myself a thoroughbred bookworm.

Now, of course, the question is, was extensive reading more effective than vocabulary study and sentence SRSing?

And the answer is: I still don’t know.  More precisely, I don’t know if it was, at this point in time.   Later on I believe it would be (although I don’t think one would ever want to abandon SRS entirely, because rarer vocabulary and usages wouldn’t be reinforced adequately simply through extensive reading), and that is for one very simple reason (that Kanjiwarrior already brought up in his post about this); namely, that reading is an enjoyable pastime that one can cheerfully do all day long, but SRSing is work, and one can only do so and so much work.  So while, true, SRS is probably more efficient (not that it can be considered fully in isolation, because you have to get sentences from somewhere), several hours of reading is going to beat half an hour of SRS every single time.

That it works, and very effectively, is however not in question at all.  I noted that in the month of reading, while my vocabulary didn’t go up much, my comprehension level certainly did.  Also, my own early experience in English is a good indication.  I was reading Dickens at age 6 or 7.  And no, absolutely I did not fully understand what was going on.  But I understood enough to enjoy it, so I kept reading, and reading, and reading.  I was blessed to grow up with a large library and by the time I was ten or so I’d read nearly everything in it.  Being an only child, and growing up in the country, it was a pretty quiet time; so I think I can be fairly confident in saying that my current English ability (such as it is) is mainly due to this same extensive reading.  Even a fairly brief time can be highly beneficial, as is recorded in two case studies on antimoon; the one student recorded remarkable progress in the span of a single summer, and the other over only two years.

So why do I still have doubts about whether extensive reading is the best way to learn right now, and in Japanese?

Firstly, I found that as long as I stayed within the confines of the lower level graded readers, I could easily understand what was being said; but as soon as the grammar got a little more complex, in the advanced readers and certainly in the various non-didactic Japanese sources I used, I got lost very quickly.  Therefore, I think I would benefit from a little more study of grammar construction before charging forward.  And yes, I know, no one explains grammar to a Japanese baby; but the reason for that is that they don’t know any language at all!  As soon as you have a good grasp of one language, you have both an understanding of how a language works, and a framework to discuss it.  So while a child must learn strictly by example, because no other way is possible, an adult can quickly understand grammar with a simple explanation and a few examples, after which recognizing the constructions in the wild is far easier.  Naturally there is no point overdoing grammar study; this isn’t math or chemistry.

Secondly, I found that I was still far too dependent on furigana.  I want to learn kanji readings as quickly as possible now (which will probably mean RTK2, I think), and that will make a tremendous difference in reading ease.  At the moment, without furigana, sounding out new words is impossible, and looking them up is impractical – it takes too long and interrupts the flow of reading.

Worth mentioning is the importance of rereading.  Those Dickens novels I mentioned before – I don’t know how many times I read Great Expectations over the course of my education, but it was quite a few.  Each time I understood more, and each time I remembered more.  Rereading is what brings the SRS effect into extensive reading, and adds greatly to its effectiveness.  However, for the contest, since I was attempting to maximise my pagecount, I did no rereading at all.  I would suggest that a partial score be implemented for rereading in the next holding of the reading contest; perhaps count 0.5x pages for the first rereading and 0.25x thereafter, or some system like that.

So what now?  Certainly I’ll keep reading, but I think it’ll be a few months still before I can make it my main focus again, this time for good.  For now, I’ll finish core2k, build my sentence deck, and start working through RTK2.

どうもありがとうございました to LordSilent for hosting this contest.  It was a great experience.

readmod mid-way update

August is half over and therefore so is the ReadMOD.  Herewith a brief report:

In short, I’m at 92 pages, almost all of which have come from my graded readers.  I’ve nearly finished the level 3 set, with one book remaining.  That will provide another 10 or 12 pages.  However, I don’t think I’ll continue to the level 4 set just yet, since the later books of level 3 are really, really stretching my grammar comprehension – in several cases stretching it right past the breaking point.  And I really don’t like not understanding more than 10% at the very most.

So in that case I will have to broaden my sources.  I do have a big stack of manga, so that will get considerable attention.  Unfortunately only two series have furigana though and my kanji reading is still very weak.  よつばと is currently meandering through the postal service towards me – 急げ!  Also, I’m planning to spend a good amount of time on jpopasia reading lyrics.  I like this idea a lot because songs are repetitive, and you’re hearing the text sung as you go along, so it should be pretty effective for learning kanji readings.  Also, lyrics are usually grammatically pretty simple.

The question then is – is this more effective than ordered study?  And the answer is – 1. I don’t really know 2. it depends 3. probably 4. let’s continue another two weeks and answer it then 😉

looks a little dusty, i should scribble something here

Not to worry, I haven’t vanished quite yet, just haven’t had a great deal to blog about lately nor much time to write.  Right now I should be snoozing but I’ll divert a minute for a quick status update.

Lately I have been focusing mainly on going through the core2000 decks on  I haven’t finished any yet, because that doesn’t actually seem possible – how long do those things stay at 99% anyway?! – but I’m nearly done step 4 (out of 10) and started step 5.  200 words and sentences per deck.  I wanted to start my own sentence deck long ago already, but I figure I’ll finish this as quickly as I can and then get going on building a sentence deck and a great deal more extensive reading.  The sentences one gets whilst going through the core decks are not bad anyway and if one pays attention to them and tries to understand them fully (not hard so far) it’s pretty much as good.  I think.

Speaking of reading I’ve been sporadically reading the graded readers a bit and finished the first set and and working on the first book of the second set.  The first set was really easy and the second set is a nice step up.  Next month is the reading contest so I’ll be working much more on that, both readers and my stack of manga which is getting almost impressive when it’s all piled up at once – probably about thirty volumes by now.

Kanji is still ongoing of course and after importing my deck from the RTK website to Anki my daily reviews have on average gone down a little.  Usually between 60 and 80 now.  But I also made a deck to review for recognition, so that makes for another 60ish reviews a day – that’s quick though, can be done in ten or fifteen minutes usually.  The writing reviews usually take 15 or 20 minutes so on average so I’m done with kanji in half or three-quarter hour.  As far as readings, I did take a membership on but haven’t really had time to use it yet since core2k takes up most of my study time in the evenings.  So I depend on learning readings in context for now.

Also I’m slowly progressing through the Tae Kim grammar deck, adding just five cards a day, so that is usually ten or fifteen minutes worth.  I guess I’m about 20% done with that.

As far as listening, passive and otherwise, I just started the lower intermediate level podcasts from japanesepod101 which are nice because they have a whole lot less English than the beginner levels.  They’re somewhat of a challenge though, so listening to them at work isn’t proving to be terribly helpful.  Not sure what I’ll do about that.

So that’s that for now – I’m really focused on progressing through the core decks as far as I possibly can in the next week and a half before the reading contest starts, because once that begins then reading will get top priority.  It’ll certainly be interesting to see what progress I can make that way.

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.