Biscuit, brew and Japanese. How much studying can you do in 5 minutes?

‘Practising is about quality not quantity. Some days I practise for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes’.

Yo Yo Ma

This really got me thinking a great deal not only about my music practice but also my study of languages. Not only does it make me feel less stressful about having days where I only spend a few minutes on something but it also made me think about how I can make those few minutes really count. So, in the time it takes me to have a brew and a biscuit I can do one of the following tasks.
Easy – tired but functioning 
Review vocabulary brew
Write Kanji
Write (copy) textbook sentences and annotate
Medium – able to put some thought into it 
Learn vocabulary
Read targeted text – uses Kanji I have learned and know
Hard – really focused and engaged 
Grammar explosion – take a single grammar point and its accompanying sentences and explore it to such an extent that you’re attacking it from many angles. Recently I’ve been working on ずに which translates to ‘without’. I wanted to write in Japanese ‘my father went on holiday without taking a bag’. I started to ask ‘Is there any implied feeling behind this (regret, embarrassment, surprise etc.)? If I write ‘without a bag’ do I have to have ‘without taking a bag’ for it to be correct Japanese? Also, is it okay to say ‘bag’ or do I need ‘suitcase’?  Will I have to include てくる or ていく (link to the time of the action in relation to the first part of the sentence)? Do these grammar parts have Kanji or Kana? All these thoughts went through my mind has I had my brew. I felt I was thinking about the language and asking questions which I really wanted to find the answers to. So, though I wasn’t writing loads and loads of sentences I was actively engaged with the point.
What could you do in 5mins? Use such short amounts of time to keep you motivated.

Update on the Reading Challenge – more than just reading

Whilst I haven’t posted on my weekly progress during the reading, looking back over the last month I’ve certainly seen an improvement. This is not so much about how much reading I’m doing – I was already making that a regular part of my day – but the kind of reading I am doing. In short I’ve strived to read things I have to or are at my level and balanced this with reading things I enjoy and are at the next level. I think this has really helped to maintain my enthusiasm for each of the languages I am studying but also useful in proving a support structure to build on my knowledge.

During this last month I’ve tried to keep a balance with reading manga and also newspaper reports. I’m a big fan of LingQ and this month it has been invaluable in my understanding the articles I’ve been following. It’s been great to keep up to date with events in Japan and also to develop my vocabulary list too. Manga has been fun and I’m currently reading them with a Japanese friend who is helping me grasp the informality and Kanji.
I’ve set myself a goal here to work through Assimil using Luca’s method of reading, listening and translating back and forth. I’m still focused here on lots of listening – I really need to secure my pronunciation – and reading. It’s going well and certainly I’m trying to consolidate the experience with my own practice sentences.

Japanese: Beyond beginner … Taking control

Over the past few weeks I’ve read some interesting blog posts (see links below) which one again have prompted me to consider my own language learning. I’ve written before how for a beginner the resources and guidance available can be overwhelming. The tricky part is to select the resources which are useful and enjoyable for you whilst at the same providing support to make sure you make progress. In my next post I’m going to review how I’ve been learning Chinese for the last five months – the successes and the pitfalls. But today I’ve been pondering again about my Japanese progress. In my language learning I do like to have a structure to my week. I fill in my diary both with Chinese and Japanese tasks. I find this is important as  I have little time and it also stops me wandering off or trying to accomplish everything only to become distracted or burn out.

On good weekdays I can have about four study hours but I always plan for the minimal – at least one hour Chinese, one hour of Japanese. I try to have two heavy days of Japanese and two heavy days of Chinese. To balance this, I have a couple of part-time days. The minimal here is vocabulary for Chinese and reading for Japanese – I often do more but I find I really need to rest the little grey cells. 🙂 In amongst this I try to see my ITalki friends at least once a week to boost my skills. Now whilst I’m pretty comfortable with my Chinese activities, I’m floundering with my Japanese. So, today I’m setting up a ‘plan’ that I’ll be trying for the next four weeks.
I think it’s time I made the most of my resources. For the next month as well securing my JLPT N4 knowledge through my language partners on italki, I’m also going to be revisiting the grammar points in written tasks as well as re-doing all those practice test books. This isn’t something I’ll find dull to do as I quite like doing the mini-quizzes and it’s also helping me to highlight vocabulary problems as well. In amongst this consolidation process I’m setting time aside to secure my Kanji skills. I’ll soon be reaching my target set for 500 characters and here too there have been successes and pitfalls. Nonetheless, I need to make this a constant part of my studies as I’ve certainly forgot some of the readings 😦 Finally, though, I’m turning to more active reading. I try to read something everyday. Sometimes this can be a fleeting few pages of a manga and others a newspaper article. I think I need to keep a balance between fun, enjoyable reading and reading where I really pay a great deal of attention to vocabulary and grammar. The tough part is keeping a record of the unknown vocabulary which doesn’t make it a dull, arduous task. We’ll see. I’m going to use my Kindle App for some of these books as it has an online dictionary. Though it won’t give me the words in English it does allow me to understand the Kanji. Like I say, the biggest problem here is making sure that I’m enjoying the reading process. I do like noticing new, difficult words or thinking about particular structures but I really don’t want this to hinder my enjoyment and for the reading book to become an alternative textbook. I have a few books I’ll be trying and around the end of December I’ll reflect on my progress.  To secure, advance and enjoy! Here goes –

Japanese – Goal

I’ve been studying this language now for over five years but I’m still rusty and I’ve never really had the opportunity (or courage) to set up a conversation with someone. In a recent article by Max ( he noted that N4 level is certainly conversational fluency. Well, it’s time I proved this, I think.  As I’ve finished going through my N3 grammar book for the first time, my main focus for the next few months is to secure this knowledge and, more importantly, use my N4 knowledge in a spoken exchange.
Create an audio blog at least once a week.
Maintain my reading and listening everyday. (I’ll post resources on this)
Write and, more importantly, review my posts on sites such as Linq and Lang8.
Three times a week おんどく (great method which Max discusses in his Kit)