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.