Last week, I caught the flu. It was a nasty fight to the death, but I made it through and now trying to get back on track with my studying and writing. I’ve managed to just get back on track with Anki, after starting it up and seeing that I had 700+ cards to study. It’s amazing how those things stack up fast.
I also had to get back into the regular habit of studying every morning on the train and on the train ride home. It can be quite easy to break a habit when there is a big change in your life like getting the flu, moving, getting married, etc… You start to concentrate more and more on something else and eventually forget that you have the habit.
But, if you ease back into it as soon as you can, it can be fairly easy to get back into your study habits. It only took me about a week and I was back to studying around 2 hours a day. I think the important thing is to start back step by step and be generous with the rewards. For example, if you manage to study 20 minutes today, then take a break and watch some YouTube videos or space out on some music for awhile. I never try to jump back into my full routine on the first day back.
The Ultimate Way to Study
A lot of people ask me what the best way to study is. As a matter fact, it is usually leading in the poll for what readers want to hear about. What is the best way to study a foreign language? What is the best shortcut to getting 満点 on the JLPT? How can you possible cram all that stuff into your head?
There is no lack of people out there to tell you what to do either. There are numerous language gurus that all have their different methods, tricks and philosophies. There are grammar nuts that will tell you to slave over grammar books until your head explodes. There are fluency gurus that will tell you to go grab the nearest native speaker you can find and talk their ear off. There are gurus that will tell you to learn the way babies do, the natural way so to speak.
In all this mess, who is the correct one? Who has that Holy Grail of language learning that will turn you into a Japanese speaking/writing/listening/reading machine?
Well, the truth is nobody really knows. We know slightly more now than say 100 years ago about language learning, but it is still a lot of guess work. For every one person I’ve seen become fluent just studying books, I’ve seen another become fluent from simply making a ton of foreign friends and trying to jump into the conversation as much as possible.
For example, a lot of people will tell you that drills are dead. That they are what makes language learning boring and useless, and yes, if the drills aren’t done properly and mindlessly than I could agree with that. However, drills (and I’m talking about all kinds of drills here, reading, writing, listening, speaking) can help you boost confidence and reinforce raw skills without a lot of mental work. Should you use them all the time? No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m just saying they have their place with some people.
Which gets me to my next point. Everybody is different. We all have different personalities and different styles of learning. What works for you might not work for everybody. It might, in fact, just work for you. And, that is totally cool. You are going to get extra points for using the method that everyone else is using. You are going to succeed by doing what helps you the most.
Just Another Tool in the Toolkit
When I was learning to teach English. I don’t exactly remember what I was doing, but my teacher was suggesting that I teach the class a little bit differently. I said that I felt uncomfortable doing it that way and gave her a couple of reasons why, but before I got through my whole speech of why her suggestions were rubbish, she stopped me. She told me ‘You don’t have to use my suggestion. It’s just another tool in the toolkit. You can choose to use it or not that’s your choice. I just thought I’d give you the tool.’
That advice has stuck with me. Everything I learn about language learning and teaching, I treat it as a tool. Some tools are good for grammar, others reading. Some tools are great for outgoing and social people, others are good for shier more reserved folk. The only person that truly knows if it is their kind of tool is the person studying.
So, the ultimate way to study Japanese and for the JLPT is to pick up a lot of tools. Try them out, see how they work. Are they a good match for you? Are they improving your weak points? Are they keeping you motivated to learn the language or putting you to sleep? Try to ask yourself these questions once every 2 or 3 months (or sooner if you are intensively studying.) Drop the tools that aren’t effective and pick up some new tools to replace them with. Wash, rinse and repeat.
Don’t just keep repeating the same thing if it isn’t getting you anywhere. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Also, you don’t want to put your brain to sleep. Keep switching it up and learn a lot faster.
What are the tools in your toolkit? What are they effective for?
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Music by Kevin MacLeod