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.

Taking those next steps…

fujiSo, I’m just about to start my third week of my Japanese challenge. I set this month aside to simply secure N4 grammar and around 500 Kanji using the ‘Basic Kanji’ book 1. Both of these are books I’ve used in the past, so technically I’m not learning anything new but rather becoming aware of things I’m confident with and things I need to review more regularly. In terms of both of these books, I’m on target to completing them by the end of this first month. Yet, that’s simply only completing them. What to do with those grey areas of knowledge?

Here I’ve been noticing compound Kanji but I have forgotten the meaning of some parts of them. To help me further with this, next week I’ll be using a range of Kanji books (which I have a far few)  to see which is the best to clarify such difficulties. I’ll review on this next week.
N4 Grammar
There are a few grammar points which I’ve forgotten, am unsure of how to use or they are similar to other grammar constructions (just what are the nuances?). So, what do you do about this?
1) Forgotten grammar points
Writing practice – I’m in the process of writing sentences which I will post on LingQ or iTalki.
2) Confusion or uncertainty
This requires clarity from someone who can easily explain the points. In two weeks time I’m going to seek out my past tutors on iTalki for clarification. I think this is important otherwise I could end up learning them incorrectly or even just ignoring them completely.
This, then, leads to the problem of speaking. It’s so easy to tootle along with a bunch of books, jotting down sentences in my notebook (always good to write by hand as it helps secure Kanji practice) as I go. But speaking!!! Never one of my strengths as I don’t have daily contact with anyone who speaks Japanese. Also using iTalki can be difficult because of the time zone difference. So naturally this is a compromise on my speaking progress.
I’m going to try to do shadowing practice and post this on LingQ. It’s not really for people to check my pronunciation but more that by posting it will make me more committed to doing it. Also it will hopefully have the advantage of secure more natural patterns of language. For this, I’m going to be using the mini-conversations found in textbooks. I think when doing anything with the language, it’s good to try to secure as many skills as you can within a single practice session. Whilst for grammar practice, I will write out by hand on square paper (secure character shape and stroke order) my own sentences using the N4 book (secure grammar) with words from my ‘Basic Kanji’ book (secure Kanji knowledge and stroke order). So, I hope to do the same with speaking. Here I hope to secure grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and intonation. This is going to be an extra mini-goal for me for the next two weeks. After the two weeks I’ll review the books I found useful for this, my schedule to do the practice and the feedback I receive. Will I feel more confident to talk to my tutor?

Back to it

It’s been far, far too long since I’ve been seriously focused on my languages. Through one thing or another, it must be close to a year now. This happens to a lot of people be it for personal reasons or just moving the interest to another language. It’s not something to worry about. In fact some linguists say, that by forgetting the language you actually make it stronger when you revisit it. Well, we’ll see. So, last week I decided to set myself a couple of challenges with my languages. A three month challenge for Italian and Japanese which I will hopefully post on each week.

So, I’ve thought carefully about what I would to achieve. Like all learning endeavors, there needs to be some kind of goal to reach otherwise you just end up coasting (if you’re lucky). These long-term goals need to be broken down into chunks – mid-term goals (month) and short-term goals (weekly/daily) So, for me this means the following.
3 months of immersion 
Japanese – 3 months: secure my past knowledge and be ready to tackle the difficulties of N3
Month 1 – can I secure N4?
500 Kanji
N4 grammar and vocabulary reviewed, noticed and used for a wealth of reading and listening
Italian – 3 months: take part in an Italian book club
Month 1 – how far can listening and reading get me?
Reading & listening (vocabulary revisited simply as part of the process)- ‘La Fabbrica di Cioccolato’ (finish) ‘Io Sono Leggenda’ (complete about 50%)
For my weekly goals, I’ve simply worked out how many chapters I need to cover a week. For alongside these goals, I’ll be doing other things with the languages. immersing myself into books that take my fancy, watching films/dramas, listening to podcasts and generally following articles on websites in my target languages. It’s good to have goals but it’s also good to do whatever I like. I find this nurtures my enthusiasm and motivation. So, time to get comfortable with the language.


I’m in my second month of learning Italian. I still have a long way to go but I must admit as well as using textbooks and doing drills, I’m also working my way through a number of fiction books which are above my level. Whilst I’m largely using LingQ for this as I can review vocabulary quickly, I’m also using actual books as well. I think this is keeping me enjoyment of learning the language at a high level 🙂 In the picture you can see target-reading books – books aimed at a beginner/beginner+ – and also general fiction books. Whilst I’m enjoying reading ‘Cuore’ at the minute, I am reading and re-reading each chapter many times to make sure I understand what’s going on but also so that I can strengthen my vocabulary without doing flashcards all the time.

I’ve also included in the picture some books translated into Italian. I’m not saying I’m a great fan of James Patterson, but I have read a couple of his books in the past.  I had the idea I would get the audiobooks for these and then I can just enjoy reading along and becoming familiar with the sounds/intonation of the language. Sadly, when I visited such audios don’t exist. 😦 So I’m going to spend some time today perhaps finding audiobooks of books I’m familiar with. I’m reading Roald Dahl with one of my classes at the minute, so it might be fun for me to read the Italian version at the same time. 🙂
So, my reading plan then is to focus on target-reading books, original Italian books, books and audiobooks of texts I’m familiar with in English and also short articles from Rai Arte or Rai Letturatura. I don’t think I did so much reading when learning Japanese but this is partly due to not finding the texts I wanted or having to learn five hundred Kanji before I could even attempt them! I’m fascinated to see where I will be in in two months time or at the end of the LingQ challenge 🙂

日本語 – Kanji drills vs. reading

So, I set myself the task of securing 500 Kanji by December. Not sure I did that. I feel I’m happy with about 400 but even in the real world not sure that this is solid enough. I can do quizzes but can I read them in native material? I think when you have gaps to fill or kana to transform you already know the answers – you know it’s just from a select number of possibilities. But when reading native material you’re bombarded by so many Kanji that it becomes more of a challenge.

I feel the reason I didn’t get to the 500 was I became tired of doing drills. Instead I switched my focus to improving my speaking as I’m starting to take more sessions at Italki. Now that I have that as part of my weekly routine I returned today to my Kanji study with a different outlook. Whilst I still want to reach the 500 mark, my focus now is actually on immersion and noticing. My reading material is now going to be of two main kinds – things I read simply for enjoyment and things I’ll use to improve my Kanji skills. is really helping me do the noticing and the ease in ‘reading’ the Kanji has improved. So whilst I’m inputting news articles into their system I’m also asking native speakers to record them for. Thanks kindly to the generosity of other users at LingQ taking the time to do this, I can repeatedly listen to the articles and therefore strengthen my reading. I’m going to see how this goes for the next six weeks, aiming to do about 20mins of this each day. Along with this I’m going to continue the traditional route of writing and doing exercises probably 3-4 times a week as well as filing in my Goldlist for the words I encounter but my priority is to make more of the immersion and to notice more.


今朝 、朝ご飯を食べながら、ポッドキャスト を聞きました。一週間に3日か4日、japanesepod101.comで ポッドキャスト を聞くようにしています。日本語で ポッドキャスト を聞いたりマンガを読んだりすることが好きです。あかなめについてのポッドキャストなので、今日聞いた ポッドキャスト が220px-SekienAkaname面白かったです。この化け物を知っていますか。記事によると、あかなめは恐ろしいお風呂だったと、あかなめは汚いものを食べました。これいいそうですね。掃除しなくていいから。ところが、あかなめは恐ろしい化け物ですよ。あかなめの翼はあいつなので、だれかがあかなめが掃除した風呂に入ったら、だんだんと重い病気にかかります。それから、このトピックを研究しました。すると、せきえんとりやまのえを 見つけました。このリンクを使ってください。

This morning while eating breakfast I listened to a short podcast.I try to visit at least three or four times a week. I often like to do things such as listen to podcasts and read manga to learn Japanese. The podcast I listened to today was interesting because it was about grime monster. Have you heard of this? According to the podcast, if the bathtub isn’t cleaned the grime monster appear and eats the dirty grime. That’s good, isn’t it. It’s good not to have to clean. However, it is a dangerous monster. Since the Akaname’s spit is poisonous, anyone who takes a bath after it has cleaned it gradually becomes  seriously ill. After reading this, I decided to research more into this topic.  Whereupon I discovered the paintings of Toriyama Sekien. Please use the link. Furthermore, I’ve just been reading a manga called Nonnonba by Mizuki. Here too akaname is mentioned.How strange is that? What a coincidence! amp;tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=k83ZUaSEOcXt0gXl_4GIBw&sqi=2&ved=0CDgQsAQ&biw=1366&bih=550




This morning I did the shopping, cleaned and read a long article about education. In particular, the article was about a grandmother’s experiences. The grandmother was born during the Meji era.  As  from a young child she had to move to many different houses, she often didn’t attend classes in school. Therefore, for a long time she couldn’t read and write. But, when the old woman thought she would like to learn, she was already sixty years old. Nonetheless, as she still had a lot of free time, the grandmother decided to teach herself. Every day she would memorise the characters one by one. Firstly she learned the entirety of Hiragana characters followed by Katakana and then continued with Kanji. I have become inspired by reading about the grandmother’s dedication.


I’ve recently read an article about vocabulary on – a really useful and encouraging website to aid language learning. I’ll link the full article at the bottom of this post but in essence I’m interested in trialling the methods outlined. Some of them don’t automatically appeal but I’m intrigued by how others have adapted them to make them more enjoyable. I’m going to try to do that as well. So, for two months I’m going to set 15-20mins aside for a task. I’m not sure how motivated I’ll feel throughout the whole process but I am particularly drawn to learning vocabulary from a contextual perspective as I’ve recently seen this method in a couple of Chinese textbooks and wondered about the success of such approaches. Anyway, here are the methods I’m going to try.

1. GoldList MethodImage
New notebook
Comfortable setting
Date the page
Left – Language being learned (I’m going to use Japanese)
Right – native language (English for me)
25 words
Write out vocabulary, reading it out aloud (20mins) followed by a 10min break.
No attempt to memorize 
Activity is as regular as I like (every day, every month etc) but in a single day not to do any more than ten sessions.
Two weeks later read through the list – 30% should be retained. Discard the words I know and write the remaining 17 words on the same sheet as the original 
Repeat this distillation process ten times with a two week break in between each time.
What I will do
I’ll be using my N3 word list and will even attempt to adapt this with a three column method – Kanji, Kana, English. I’ve seen a Youtube clip of someone using this same method with successully with Mandarin so I’m willing to try the same.
2. Luca Lampariello’s Natural Approach to Remembering Words
Learning through context using back-and-forth translation exercises.Image
Learn through context by reading as much as possible and being engaged (actually interested) in what is being learned.
A few days later go through translations and try to translate them back to the target language.
On some people have responded to this method by offering their adaptations of its principles. One way is to watch films or read books that they are already familiar with in their own language before tackling the target language version
What I will do
Japanese: ‘Monster’ manga volume 1, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. This will be interesting as I really want to read these texts anyway but in particular I’m wondering if reading ‘Monster’ will assist me (hinder me?) in my Kanji learning.
Chinese: Use my podcast resources for this. Nice short sentences with useful translations and consolidating audio as well. Looking forward to this as I already spend time enjoying these podcasts, particularly with shadowing, so it will bit fun to do another activity with them. 
Full article of vocabulary acquisition:
See also: