JLPT BC 106 | Necessary Pruning

JLPT BC 106 | Necessary Pruning post image
Prune the Japanese Vocabulary

I think that one branch needs trimmed a little.

This month, I’ve been hit by a few setbacks. I caught a cold, which really isn’t that bad, but I caught some kind of stomach bug for a few days while I still had the cold. I wasn’t able to really do much for a good 2 or 3 days.

This is quite a problem for people using SRS, spaced repetition systems. If you use Anki, or like memrise.com, you know that taking a break from it can be pretty difficult. For example, if you use SRS for around a half hour a day, and you take 2 days off, you’ll come back to an hour and a half worth of studying to do.

That’s extremely de-motivating to see on your first day back from a vacation or after you just recovered from a nasty bout of the flu. I’ve gone over how to get back on track before and I followed a fairly similar method this time around as well.

That is, do a little bit here and there throughout the day. Don’t kill yourself in one big 3 hour marathon session, but study a little bit and give yourself a big reward afterwords. The important thing is to keep or re-establish the habit.

Kanji Study

Last month, I set a goal for myself to learn all the rest of the N1 kanji I needed to learn. I only had about 550 to go, so I figured it would be pretty easy to learn all the rest by the end of April. Well, I’m currently at about 450.

I wish I had made a little more progress but, I think being sick slowed things down a little. I still feel confident that I will hit my mark by the end of April. I need to use better mnemonics and break up the kanji into radicals a little more, because the kanji are getting more and more complicated.

The software I use, iKanji for iPhone (also available for Mac), sorts the list of N1 kanji by most simple to most complicated. Basically, the kanji toward the end of the list have more strokes in them and are generally more difficult to remember. It also seems that the more kanji I study the less useful the kanji become.

It seems like by this point, if you have studied all your vocabulary with kanji and you’ve kept up with the kanji for the level of the test you are studying at, you’ve probably already seen the most useful of the N1 kanji. Especially, if you’ve read a lot of native materials.

So, you might ask, why even take the time to learn all the not-so-useful kanji? Well, for me, it’s so I know I can recognize and read anything that’s been written in Japanese. I know I still need to study the joyo kanji (probably another 100 or so kanji), but for the most part after studying all the N1 kanji, I should be able to read anything and if I don’t know I word I can easily look it up without having to deal with kanji look up.


The one thing that getting sick really taught me was that I’m currently hoarding way too much vocabulary. If I take off 3 days, it’s incredibly difficult for me to get back on track even if I pace myself. So, I think it is time to do something about that.

Now, don’t get me wrong, SRS is an incredibly powerful tool, and when used properly, can dramatically shorten the amount of time it takes to study Japanese vocabulary. But anything this powerful can also be misused with disastrous results.

And vocabulary hoarding is something you do not want to do with your studying time. So, from time to time, I think you need to do some pruning to keep the amount of time you are drilling to a minimum. Ideally, SRS should make up only about 20~25% of your study time tops and that’s if you are aiming to really pack on the vocabulary.

So, I’ll be going back through my cards and ‘ignoring’ all the words that I’m simply not going to use again. And try to eliminate the easier words that I see or hear every day. Hopefully then I’ll have something a little more specific and I’ll get more bang for my buck.

How do you use SRS?

How much time do you spend doing SRS every day? Is it too much? Let me know in the comments below.

Photo by Vasenka

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Isaura February 7, 2013, 6:03 am

    “the Kanji are getting more and more complicated”
    I am studying every new words with Kanji, so for me the Kanji are not getting more and more complicated. For example, the word “kirei” was written in the first lessions, the word “shika” was written in the 15th lession of Genki. So first I memorized the Kanji of word “kirei”. And when I had to memorize the Kanji of “shika”, it was not complicated for me, because it is a part of the second Kanji of word “kirei”:))
    I memorize with Kanji a lot of words, too, which usually are written ba kana. For example “takusan”, “oishii”, “usagi”, “yoroshii”, “arigatou”, etc. Because I love Kanji very much:))

  • nino February 8, 2013, 7:39 am

    “It also seems that the more kanji I study the less useful the kanji become.”

    – my sentiments exactly!

    • Clayton MacKnight February 10, 2013, 9:44 am

      It seems like the first 500 or so you learn are pretty critical. Then you start seeing a lot of the odd kanji that are still useful, but your bang for the buck is a lot less.

  • Andrew February 11, 2013, 10:04 am

    Ya I became a kanji nerd myself but when I started RTK3 I lost some motivation :/ partially because I didn’t want to start it until I passed N1

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