Japanese – end of the 1st month

So, I’m at the end of my final week of the first month and thought it would be useful to reflect on my progress and think about what I’ll be doing during my second month.

Goal – To complete ‘Basic Kanji’ Book 1

Kanji – I set myself a target of completing the ‘Basic Kanji’ book 1. I initially I thought this had 500 Kanji but soon realised that this was for both volumes in the series. That’s fine as I was really looking to finish that first book and I have.:) Finishing that first book doesn’t mean I remember everything. So what to do now?
A) Characters I don’t recognise immediately 
To simply know the meaning of a single Kanji (not the possible readings) I’m using the following books.
‘Kanji Look and Learn’ which provides a picture and a story to help remember them. There are some from Basic 1 that are not in ‘Look’ so I’m making my own mnemonics.
I’m also displaying cards (White Rabbit Press) to cement ‘how’ they look and notice the stroke order.
Tuttle’s ‘Kanji Learning Dictionary’ – this particular dictionary is useful as it includes nicely referenced graphemes of the Kanji
B) Re-Enforce knowledge
Knowing individual characters is useful but it’s important to be able to read them. Therefore, my natural emphasis now is on vocabulary that have the very Kanji I’ve been studying. To do this I’m going to be using a few resources for this.
‘Goldlist’ – awhile back I used the ‘Goldlist’ method (https://huliganov.tv/goldlist-eu/) and really made great progress with it. I think this will also be useful for me now as it offers the opportunity for me to re-enforce Kanji stroke order as I’ll be handwriting my vocabulary.
‘Kanji Look and Learn’ workbook – again useful gap-fill exercises.
‘Kanji de Manga’ – I’ve heard some interesting things about these books so I’m going to give them a go just for fun. ‘Basic Kanji’ book 1 – selecting a reading passage at random.
‘Memrise’ – ‘Basic 1’ vocabulary can be found here.
Variety of N4 test books with only a focus on the Kanji questions.

Goal – To complete N4 grammar book

I have now completed working through all of the 122 grammar points in this book. This involved noting the qualities of each term and writing/completing sentences in my notebook. This was useful as writing by hand gives me so many opportunities to annotate the sentences as well as practice Kanji. I also constructed my own sentences and posted these onto LingQ and iTalki. I’m still, though, left with two targets.
A) Confusing grammar points.
One of the things I’ve discovered, is that I don’t completely understand the differences in a few grammar patterns as they share similar meaning. I need to speak to someone about such things. As such I set myself a mini-goal last week to improve my confidence in speaking. I started by recording myself reading particular conversations found in my textbook and posting this onto LingQ. I will post more on that mini-goal next week.
B) Unknown grammar
The other target I’m left with is using grammar points I understand but simply have never used. So, I’ve taken the contents page of this book, circled the points I want to use and then put these points into groups (about 10 groups in total). So, now I’ll just take one of these groups to do some mini-writing.

Goal – LingQ

I must admit that this was not a major focus for me this month. I did regularly work through vocabulary and tried to listen/read a few articles each week. I’m going to maintain this with a more active attempt tp import my own lessons. This was generally a light and fun part of my studies; I’m going to try to keep it like that for another month.
Before I break down how my second month is going to look in terms of time and task, I’m just going to enjoy the fact that I’ve completed my Japanese goals for the 1st month. Yeah! 🙂
Image result for cupcake#

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
LingQ.com 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 Amazon.it 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 🙂

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.

January Challenge – Reading

hokusai_Winter_Evening_in_Japan_I follow a number of blogs and Olle Linge’s site has really helped in introducing such things as various methods of strengthening vocabulary but lately I’ve been intrigued by his news of a reading challenge. The challenge can be undertaken through http://readmod.com/ but also by leaving a comment on Olle’s site (I’ve linked the full article below – worth a read). To take one summary from the article:

  1. Set a goal for January
  2. If you read longer texts, report the number of pages directly
  3. If you read shorter texts, count sentences (about 20 sentences per page)
  4. If character counting is convenient, treat 400 characters as one page
 I’ll be leaving a comment on Olle’s site but I’ll be posting my progress on a weekly basis. At the moment I’m studying three languages all of which are at different stages so my goals will reflect this. Also in my reading I want to try to include as much listening as I can. Equally I would like to spend time noticing features about the texts and perhaps consolidate this in a discussion with my Italki friends or in writing. So I agree that there will be times where I am simply reading for enjoyment but there will also be times where I’m getting the most I can from the experience. In addition, I have other commitments to Kanji, Hanzi, grammar and vocabulary practice that I need to work on. So my goals will accommodate this interest. The challenge is still there but I don’t want to forget or fall behind. So my challenge is to make an active effort to read throughout the week. That’s it. It isn’t my aim to set myself an unachievable amount of reading, leaving me feeling like a failure when I don’t meet my target. It is rather to secure an active (and hopefully enjoyable) reading habit. That is my goal.
  • Japanese (low intermediate)
  • Weekly approx :
  • News report – 14 pages (1 article is about 400 characters/1 page)
  • Manga – 50 pages
  • Novel – 5 pages
  • Month= 276
  • Chinese (6 months of studying)
  • Assimil – 5 pages
  • Textbook – 2 pages
  • Month = 28 pages
  • Italian (about three weeks of studying)
  • Textbook – 7 pages a week  (20 sentences a page)
  • Month = 21 pages
If you’re going to do the challenge please leave a comment below 🙂

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. LingQ.com 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.

汉语- input, input, input, ouput

It’s been about six months now since I’ve been studying Chinese and I must admit my aim of immersing myself in the language has really been enjoyable. It began with a priority of listening and reading. As I worked to unravel the grammar my own out-put became work on the tones. I think for any beginner of the language this must be the most difficult part. I can’t recommend enough the feedback and support I have had from the community of LingQ and Italki. I’ve managed to record my own versions of textbook dialogues and the LingQ community have given me feedback as to my errors and also recorded my transcripts when I’ve made a request. As for Italki I’ve made some really good friends who take so much time in helping my Chinese I feel I’ve become more confident in tackling the language. Yet, now I want to turn my attention to creating my own texts and gain recordings for these.

Any self-studier of any language will often complain of textbooks as they are often so geared towards the classroom environment – share with a partner this, role-play that. So, I’m going to try to use these opportunities not as a set-back but as a positive way for me to challenge my knowledge of the language.

Stage 1 
– Podcasts
– Pronunciation
– Vocabulary (iKnow app, Goldlist method)
Stage 2
– Assimil and Luca’s method
– My own recordings
– LingQ and Italki activities
Stage 3 (now)
– Own writing/scripts
– Yoyo Chinese to embed early skills and hopefully develop new ones.
– FluentU – great beginner material but I also enjoy the film trailers and advertisements (intermediate and advanced) as insights into the language and also for enjoyment
– Read and listen everyday for 15mins (LingQ)
– Maintain vocabulary and speaking practice.
I think if anything, I would like to spend more time just listening to the language be that through LingQ, watching films, news reports or TV shows. Though I’m naturally geared to improving my Hanzi practice, I really want to be able to speak the language. My goal now is to keep a strong input level but to drop it by 10%. This now means I’ll spend 70% of my time on input and 30% on output.

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 –