JLPT BC 114 | Less is More?

JLPT BC 114 | Less is More? post image

3 months ago I said I was making changes to try to reduce my studying time. And I have been able to meet that goal with a little success. I’ve also noticed a lot of benefits of dropping the drills and being a little more mindful of my studies.

The biggest issue is SRS, spaced repetition systems, practice. These systems are very handy for keeping vocabulary, kanji, and even grammar fresh in your head. But, it can be a little difficult to tone down the amount of studying you do with them.

For example, I haven’t added any new words to my stack of words I practice at Memrise for a good 2 months and I still have a few minor issues getting all my words reviewed every day. Part of that is because we are still working out some kinks with definitions (some of them are too long, too ambiguous, or not quite correct, etc…)

In general, it takes a long time to ‘shut off’ SRS. The iPhone app iKanji has some of the same issues. I’m just now getting to a point where it is pretty manageable after I went a little crazy trying to cram in all the N1 kanji.

It is very easy to get carried away with SRS or other similar learning systems I think. After all, they give you a measured, sometimes visual representation, of how much you know. But it is best to keep them to a minimum and fill your schedule with more cross-training exercises. That way, if something comes up you’ll be able to take a small break from studying Japanese and not come back to a mountain of words to review.

Less is More?

I found myself last year getting caught up in a trap trying to spend every waking moment drilling Japanese. Cramming in drill books and vocabulary apps whenever I had free time. And I think that you do need some drilling so that you have been exposed to a lot of different styles and vocabulary, but there is a definite need for cross-training as well.

And also spending all your waking hours pushing yourself to the max can really burn you out quick. I’ve come to the realization lately that I haven’t really changed up my pattern that much because I’m too afraid I’ll end up wasting time. I was too focused on learning X amount of kanji and X amount of vocabulary.

And those are great metrics to help you see your progress, but they shouldn’t govern everything you do. There is a famous quote that gets batted around about managing that I think applies to this situation – “What gets measured gets managed.” I think it really rings true here because it is very easy to concentrate on the numbers of language learning and not take a time to do something a little more, unmeasurable.

It is good to go off the beaten path a little bit here and there even if it isn’t the most efficient thing to do with your studying. It’s important to experiment and see how you learn, not how language gurus learn. That takes some experimentation, some dead ends, and some failures.

I also think you need to take a few short breaks here and there and veg out or else you’ll get burnt out. I took a small break from heavy studying over the Golden Week Break (4/27-5/6) and watched a few movies in English. It was great to just kick back and not have to focus so much on what is being said. And afterwards, I could start studying again and feel really interested in Japanese instead of feeling like I was eating my Brussels sprouts.

The one thing I would recommend though is to keep it separated. If you need a break from studying do something completely different like go for a walk or play a video game (if you don’t do gaming to study). One thing to avoid is if you use your smartphone to study with, hide the distractions, (like Facebook or Angry Birds), because you just might be tempted to keep playing games or checking Facebook and not make it back to studying.

But zoning out every once in awhile isn’t a particular bad thing. There is actually some pretty good research that proves zoning out is a critical state. So, go zone out every once in awhile.

Have you re-thought your studying recently?

Did you take a break from studying recently? Are you putting too much pressure on yourself? Let me know in the comments below.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • coffeenmusic June 9, 2013, 11:01 pm

    I just stumbled on to your podcast and listened to this. I appreciate hearing your perspective. I started learning Japanese on my own around a year ago. Mainly I have been using Anki to study words, kanji, and kana. You are right about the SRS’s dragging on forever. I still do the Kana set from Anki every day, which was started around 11 months ago, and know them all very well, but still receive around 10 a day. I started the Heisig Kanji set around 6 months ago and started going through 5 a day, then moved to 8 a day, and am now at 10 new cards a day. This results in around 130 reviews in the forward and 130 in the reverse direction, which takes up around 90 minutes of my time. So now I have conflicting feelings of wanting to achieve my goal of learning all the Heisig set as quick as possible and/or going completely insane in the process. Since you are so much further along, did you feel a sense of accomplishment when you achieved the goals you had set? Also, I like your idea of taking a break or studying differently on occasion, but do not have any good alternate methods. Thanks again for your post.

    • Clayton MacKnight June 11, 2013, 3:38 pm

      That is probably too much drilling to be doing every day. A good rule of thumb I try to stick to is the absolutely maximum amount of drilling you do should be around 25% of your total study time, and that is if you are ‘packing on’ the vocabulary to get to the next level or just increase your ability to read things without having to look up every other word.

      If you are pretty confident with hiragana and katakana, you should drop it in favor of something else. If you start to get rusty again, or a few rare kana start annoying you, like ぬ (which doesn’t show up in native Japanese that much) you can always add it back in. I’ve taken to pruning words that I am familiar with and I see on a regular basis. Words that are not so common but you still need are things you should keep drilling to infinity.

      As for alternatives, it might be time to give some reading a try. Reading is one of the best ways to increase vocabulary in any language. The biggest issue is finding easy enough materials (comprehensible input in linguistic lingo). But, for example, these graded readers are pretty slick for that. They are level 1 which is high N5 level, but they have a few different levels.

      • coffeenmusic June 13, 2013, 12:13 am

        I get frustrated trying to read Japanese because I only know around 40-50% of the Kanji I see and on top of that I don’t know many compound Kanji yet or the readings. That is my excuse for drilling so much, so I can finally get to a level where reading is comfortable. The biggest problem to me is understanding when Kanji is a compound vs Kun vs On. Do you have any advice in that department?

        I use NHK simple news quite a bit along with the Anki core 2000/6000 deck which has some relatively simple sentences. Do you mind checking and re-posting that link? Doesn’t seem to work for me.

        • Clayton MacKnight June 14, 2013, 3:23 pm

          Oops, I fixed the link. Here it is again – graded readers.

          I only really started studying individual on and kun readings when I got to an N2 level, and that was just to make sure I knew all the kanji. I think you might be better off studying the kanji in words, that way you can start to intuit when the kun and on readings are used. I’ve actually switched to doing that for N3 and above (I’m assuming I’m already pretty familiar with N5, N4).

          NHK simple news sounds like a good resource and the core 2k and 6k decks are pretty slick. I think you might need to just prune somethings you are pretty familiar with (and will most likely see again so you don’t need to keep reviewing them artificially).

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