JLPT BC 126 | Boiling Down Japanese Vocabulary

JLPT BC 126 | Boiling Down Japanese Vocabulary post image

Lately, I’ve gotten more and more annoyed at doing vocabulary drills. A lot of this has to do with it getting tremendously boring to do the same thing over and over. But, also because of being at a higher level, it is easy to get two words that have similar meanings mixed up. And there were some simple words in my Memrise courses that I’ve been ignoring and pruning out.

I also couldn’t study the old N2 course on Memrise that much because it is too big to be used on the iPhone app. I almost dropped the whole course, but I’ve decided on another course of action instead.

I’m taking every single word I get wrong and adding it to a Japanese only deck. Although I’ve known Japanese to Japanese is the best way to learn, I’ve been pretty lazy about switching over. Mostly because I can’t find a good source of resources for practicing Japanese to Japanese words.

One handy app that a reader recommended before is 漢字読めるカナ. It practices the reading of the kanji and allows you to look up the definition online if you get it wrong. It also has a handy image search function, too.

But for Memrise, the data that I used to create the main dictionary is all from WWWJDIC. Meaning it is all Japanese to fairly good English definitions, so to create Japanese to Japanese I have to make the cards by hand. If I have time I might try to hunt down open-source data, which I’m sure exists somewhere, but for now it is a manual process.

Japanese to Japanese

Full immersion seems to get a lot of praise as ‘the’ way to study a language, and for the most part it is a pretty good method for hard-core language lovers. But, it can also lead to a bit of confusion and sometimes just be simply de-motivating because it is difficult to jump into at first. And some recent studies suggest that at the early stages of language learning, it might be better and faster to use one’s native language to learn with instead of guessing at meanings.

I like to call this ‘half’ immersion. Where you do immerse yourself sometimes but not all the time. For example, I’ve never understood Japanese explanations of grammar points. Sometimes it’s filled with too much jargon-y language terms, sometimes the grammar point is just too complicated. For whatever reason, I like to look at both the English explanation and the Japanese one, just to be safe. Also, it gives me a well-rounded understanding of how to use it and how it sounds.

I’ve been a bit hesitant to switch completely to Japanese to Japanese dictionaries because I’m afraid I won’t be able to lock in vocabulary as well as if I used an English definition. Also, some Japanese definitions are more complicated than the word they are describing. But, my recent experience with Japanese to Japanese for vocabulary building has been fairly okay so far, and has added a lot of clarification.

It has slowed down my studying a little bit, because you need longer definitions and I need to look up every word and add the card manually. But, I think this extra work helps you process the word more and ultimately to recall it better in the future.

Fires Galore

Overall though, I’d like to be doing a lot more JLPT practice than I am currently doing. The amount of time I have to study every day has dwindled down to only about 30 minutes or so. For N1, that is way too short of an amount of time to make good progress. I have spent more time on detailed grammar practice and I am squeezing in vocabulary practice when I can with my iPhone app.

I’ve had a lot of little personal fires of late to put out. A friend’s website went down, and we had to do some emergency work to bring it back up again. I’ve been offered a few more classes to teach, which is always a good thing.

And, I don’t want to jinx it, but it looks like I’m moving out in the very near future. We are currently going through the loan process and paperwork of buying a house. So, it looks like I won’t be getting any sleep for the next month or so. Ideally, it probably isn’t a good idea to be in the middle of a major move right before the JLPT, but it’s the perfect house, so we had to get it.

Anyway, the main focus for me is to improve my grammar and vocabulary score and keep my other scores up. I think that is fairly achievable and once the move is finished my life can have some normalcy and I can get back to blogging, studying, and creating courses.

How are things Shaping up for You?

Are you ready for the big exam? Taking it easy? Putting out fires of your own? Let me know in the comments.

{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Chad November 14, 2013, 8:48 am

    Generally, I would say up to JLPT 2 level, studying Japanese-to-Japanese is difficult. You won’t understand the definitions and explanations with high enough fidelity to be all that useful. As you said, as often as not, the definitions are as complex as the words they are defining. For grammar, it is even worse. I’ve never been a fan of series like Kanzen Master, which are entirely Japanese, for grammar precisely because when I answer a question incorrectly, it is often impossible to figure out why I was wrong without asking a native. My moderately-sized errors in understanding the book’s Japanese explanations are as large as the difference between the subtle grammar points that I am trying to study.

    As for the test, basically it is all grammar study and reading practice until 2-3 days before the test, because that is really what the test is all about. Those last few days, however, I will switch to pure SRS cram mode and try to put a few thousand words in front of my face at least once or twice in order to refresh any memories that may be lagging.

    • Clayton MacKnight November 14, 2013, 11:41 pm

      That sounds like a pretty solid strategy. I hate bumping into those words on the test I’ve never seen before. It always drives me nuts, even after doing a lot of reading and watching Japanese TV, there are still those words that pop up. Kind of annoying.

    • Victoria November 21, 2013, 3:08 am

      Agree on Kanzen Master. They’re so well reputed I bought the versions for 3-kyu, 2-kyu and 1-kyu before they issued new post-2010 versions, so I would be able to use them for extra practice materials. 3-kyu was ok but 2-kyu and above use only Japanese. It’s a ridiculous waste of time. I can spend 20 minutes looking up the grammar point in the Japan Times grammar dictionaries and feel smug, or I could just read the definition in 30 seconds in something like Nihongo So-Matome and spend the rest of that time practicing reading real Japanese sentences. The So-Matome books are probably “too easy” if you’re using them exclusively for test preparation and practice questions, but for familiarizing yourself with new grammar they’re hard to beat.

  • Bart November 15, 2013, 6:16 pm


    I totally agree with you. My main sticking point for these grammar books is knowing why an answer is incorrect. It’s kind of frustrating that the Shin Kanzen Master Reading book goes into great depth on analyzing the questions and answers, while the Grammar book gives no explanations for the answers at all. And the other series’ (So-Matome, Speed Master, Shiken ni Deru) grammar books are even worse! It’s good you have native speakers for a resource. I’ve been using some comparison dictionaries, but even those are all in Japanese and can be confusing as well.

    For the final two weeks before the N1 test, I’m trying to get the grammar memorized by reviewing example sentences and am trying to get as much of the reading and listening drill books completed as I can. Every year it’s a sprint to the finish. Good luck all!

  • Ytter December 31, 2013, 8:54 pm

    Some comments on Podcast 126 –

    for FOR-FOR definitions/equivalents, GIYF. I’ve had to use it for Albanian, where there just isn’t that much language-learning material at all for foreigners. Enough phrases added to Mnemoysne and eventually it becomes clear what they’re driving at.
    For direct, non-English-dependent vocabulary work, I like images. With Irfanview you can make slideshows that include clips of the words (list the audio file before the image file). If you’re really short of ways to use up time, you can have one image with more than one language (audio!-image1-audio2-image1. And so on.) Or you can recycle the files for different languages by just changing the filenames for the audio files in the txt file listing. If you run a show automatically you can use it to dictate vocabulary (the time between slides can be altered). Sort of like a poor-man’s Rosetta Stone, with the advantage that you don’t have to guess at the meaning of the images.

    Using native-language grammar textbooks isn’t always very efficient – in Russian class in college, I (and the rest of the class) spent weeks trying to figure out what the mysterious distinction produktivny vs. neproduktivny was all about. (I still remember the eureka! moment.) Anyway, “productive” just means an ending can be used to form new words, something we certainly weren’t about to do in any case (or aspect). There was no need to warn us away from trying.

    As for the monolingual dictionaries, a language school I worked at (briefly) in Prague was pushing them because the students already owned Czech-English dictionaries. When I looked at one, too many definitions were circular to make it useful: An x is used to y. Y is performed using an x.

    And thanks for the Introductory Japanese course at Memrise. A suggestion: in the hiragana course, if you want to use pairs of similar words (just & just a minute), present them together so that the distinction is clearly recognized. When they both come up at random, confusion is apt to prevail for some time. Or maybe next time I’ll just analyze the list before starting to see where the trouble spots are and work on them outside of class. In any case, thanks for putting the course together – I’m looking forward to the lessons on learning to read.

    • Clayton MacKnight January 7, 2014, 3:09 pm

      Thanks for all the great tips and feedback. I’ll have to take a look at Irfanview and see how to use it. Sounds like an interesting program. Also, I do need to do a lot of work on the Memrise courses. I keep running out of time with different jobs I get thrown on me. I’m hoping to clear out my schedule more so that I can put together some really great courses for everybody.

      • Ytter January 7, 2014, 7:48 pm

        I should have mentioned that IrfanView is free. And stable. And generally wonderful. (Hint: if it crashes during a slideshow because you try to go too fast for an audio file to complete, the program leaves the taskbar in Windows invisible. Just restart the program from a desktop icon, restart a slideshow, and exit normally. )

        It seems you have a lot on your plate these days. The Memrise course did what I hoped – it taught me my way around the keyboard, which is probably a more useful skill these days than handwriting. Like the cartoon said, “When you’re on the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

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