I celebrated Christmas a little early again this year. The 23rd is a holiday here in Japan. (It’s the Emperor’s Birthday). It is the one day that we officially have off and get paid for it, so it tends to be the day my family and I celebrate Christmas.
Yes, I know it is a little bit of a bummer to not have Christmas off, but that is one of the things you have to deal with when you live in another country. I could ask for the day off, but I’m greedily hoarding my days off for much larger vacations.
Christmas in Japan is usually a lover’s holiday, which is why if you go out with your family to a “Christmas Dinner” you’ll most likely be surrounded by young couples. I used to do this a lot with friends actually until, yeah know, I got married. And the thing you are suppose to do if you are married with a family is get a great big bucket of fried chicken from KFC or as it is called here “Kentucky.”
This seems to be a bit of a thing in Japan, where major trends are created by a company to drum up business at certain times of the year. KFC happened to be lucky enough to fill in the gap for Christmas, earning them big bucks every year I’m sure.
Anyway, I’m really looking forward to getting some hard earned time off this year. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to the States for Christmas due to money and time not really working out for us this time. But it looks like we will be making our way across the Pacific sometime next year instead. This year, I’ll be doing the traditional Japanese thing of sitting around with family for New Year’s.
Read and Listen to Review
So, I have been working my way through Harry Potter. This is the second time I’ve tackled it and I can pretty easily get the main idea of what is going on and only get tripped up in a few minor spots. But this time, I want to absorb all the vocabulary instead of simply just having a brief notion of what things mean, I want practice them a few times and overlearn the material. The theory being that this will make it easier to read and over-learn the next book and the next book until reading any book becomes a cinch.
The biggest problem is keeping up with Memrise at the moment. And I’m trying to decide whether or not I should care about that or not. Should I just keep re-listening/re-reading material to understand all the vocabulary or should I drill to death? Do a combination of the two? At the moment, I’m trying to do both, which is working out quite well if I had the time to feed the drilling beast, but my free time to study is so patchy it is hard to maintain a regular pattern.
Anyway, what I like most about this method is that I get to study while I am walking. At first, I couldn’t be bothered to listened to Japanese day in and day out. I was tired after work, or tired in the morning and just wanted to listen to music or listen to one of my favorite podcasts. But, after listening to it a few times, my brain relaxes a bit and it has become a lot easier to follow everything while I’m walking. If my mind does start to wonder, I can pretty easily get back on track, because I’m so familiar with the book at this point. In some parts I know it so well that I can mouth the words as I listen, kind of a walking dictation practice.
This is great but what about material that doesn’t have audio?
I started reading a paper for junior high students. At first, I thought it would be really easy to get through, almost too easy. And there are some articles that are below my level. But, a lot of them are written to be just difficult enough for me to learn some valuable new vocabulary. It doesn’t seem to suffer from being dumbed down too much like NHK’s web easy news. It contains a lot of useful facts and articles about interesting, topical stuff like Ebola or space.
The biggest problem, again, is that I don’t have much ‘sitting-down’ time. I’m usually walking somewhere or sitting on the train. When I am home, I have a variety of stuff to do with the family, so it can be hard to get some quiet time alone when I can read and I am not too tired to concentrate. So what to do?
Well, my current method is asking my wife to record the articles that I want to read, so then I can listen to them while I’m walking to and from the station to go to work. This allows me to review while I’m doing something I have to do every morning – walk. For some reason, I have a pretty easy time of staying focused while I’m walking.
Reading this newspaper and reading Harry Potter has led me to start stockpiling a ton of vocabulary. I’m currently adding about 100 to 200 words a week and I’d like to do even more. What has been a big boon is the whole new app available for Memrise on the Android platform, which I’m sure will get ported to iPhone pretty soon as well.
The new app allows users to practice any course, big or small. This is great practice. Before I had to do my big courses at home, but now I can do any course on the road. I have a feeling I’ll be racking up a lot more points with this new app. I hope it makes it too iPhone soon as well.
SRS is not a cure all
SRS, Spaced Repetition Systems, can be pretty addictive. They are easy to just plunk down in front of and start drilling away and you can easily see the number of words you know, some systems even give you detailed reports of how well you are doing and your efficiency of studying. Memrise adds gaming to the equation with points and weekly/monthly/all-time leaderboards.
All of this can keep you studying and digesting more and more vocab, but it isn’t a cure-all. You aren’t finished with it, if all you do is drill the words. You need a little something more. You need context in order to really glue those words in and keep them glued in. Context can also provide you with extra information that you really can’t learn from a flashcard like the connotation of the word or its appropriateness in certain situations.
Reading gives you a great context for the use of these words and provides something meaningful and interesting to consume instead of lists and lists of words. In my opinion, it also helps you remember it more, because you can see the object or action taking place in the story, instead of just some dead word on a list.
I’m hoping that this winning combo of reading and SRS pushes me through to the higher level of the test. Reading through the comments from the first reactions post a few weeks back. It seems like reading interesting native material is a big key to absorbing sentence patterns, grammar and vocabulary and using and understanding it automatically.
Have you been doing some reading lately?
What are some good books to read to practice Japanese? What some good manga that you have read in the past? Let us know in the comments.