Arcane Secrets! (or one man's language learning story)

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drdunlap
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From: 水の都
Registered: 2009-06-01
Posts: 337
Website

This post became EXTRAORDINARILY long.. so I've decided to post a short version first for the people who only care about the main points and don't want any explanation. big_smile

Edit: Oh yeah, this is in response to the "So what exactly did you do?" question from the incredibly derailed Benny Lewis thread.

My philosophy-- 習うより慣れろ Don't study, get used to it. It's like AJATT without the system. Also- don't forget the hard work. Languages cannot be mastered in any length of time without the proper application of hard work. I didn't *DO* AJATT but I stole some ideas. The biggest two being 1. "Just Do It" and 2. "Do what you love anyway. Just do it in Japanese."

It took me 2 years and 10 months to pass the N1 with a 94%.
Sept '08 - June '09: College classes only. Some listening to music for pronunciation practice. Genki 1.
→Could only do what is in Genki 1.
Study Time: ~1 hour/day.

June '09 - Sept '09: Found AJATT. Did RTK1 and Tae Kim. Read "All About Particles." Language exchange penpals. Watching dramas, anime and podcasts for listening.
→Could understand basic conversational Japanese, read several hundred kanji.
Study Time: 3 ~ 4 hours/day. +600 cards in Anki.

Sept '09 - June '10
Back to school. No time so classes as main. Genki 2. An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. Final Fantasy 13 in Japanese. Began 1 novel.. very slowly.
→Could produce surprisingly natural Japanese and converse.. in text. Read ~half of RTK1's Kanji. Listening and Speaking terrible.
Study Time: 1 ~ 3 hours/day. +2 Textbooks into Anki.

June '10 - Sept '10
Pre-Study Abroad free time. Read 4 novels. Replayed FF13. Watched more drama/anime. Conversed online with Japanese university friends.
→Could almost read dictionary-free. Could write equivalent of college-level essay with correction. Listening and Speaking still terrible.
Study Time: 5 ~ 7 hours/day. +3011 cards in Anki.

Oct '10 - Aug '11
Study Abroad in Kobe. Read 2 novels. Read a lot of newspapers. Had a good teacher for reading/writing. Discovered 飲むニケーション. Watched all of One Piece. Took N1 in early July in Osaka.
→Could read non-technical material dictionary-free. Could converse about topics not too advanced but still a little awkward. Could write college level essays. Listening OK. 100% Japanese entertainment both possible and highly enjoyable.
Study Time: "Study"- 3 ~ 4 hours but lived mainly in Japanese thanks to summer cram. +3100 cards in Anki.


Last paragraph from the long post:
"My Japanese took its final huge jump AFTER I returned to the US but this post is long enough already. I may explain in depth later when I'm feeling masochistic but here's the short version:
Found FC2 Live. Read 7.5 more novels. Read newspaper every day. Played 5 games in Japanese. Went through job hunting, a break-up, and a fairly nasty period of self reflection- all in Japanese."

That's about it.

Passing N1 in December was probably possible but, as I explain in the long post, no one had clued me in to the fact that passing the N1 with a high score was a fairly rare feat and I was determined to make over 160 points or force myself to take it again. Of course I'll never know.. and I don't really care! tongue Now it's been 5 years and 1 month and I'm ok calling myself bilingual.

Last edited by drdunlap (2013 October 17, 5:50 am)

drdunlap
Member
From: 水の都
Registered: 2009-06-01
Posts: 337
Website

Incredibly In-Depth Unnecessarily Long Version

From that one thread that has become an Off Topic party:

JapaneseRuleOf7 wrote:

I think there is some real wisdom to be gained here, and if we could cut through the noise, we could all benefit.  So how'd you do it?  Just the facts, please.

I guess I can do that.

My 94% on the N1 came exactly 2 years and 10 months after I started Japanese from zero.
It has now been 5 years and 1 month.

I went back through my Facebook history to see where all this madness began so I could give something more exact than "under three years." That was an interesting journey. I fairly regularly made updates about my progress. It's really interesting to see what I was saying 4 - 5 years ago when I first discovered solo study.

Anyway I'll lay down my study timeline and methods along with some of the things I was (apparently) thinking as I went along. This is going to be long.. maybe.. so I'll apologize in advance. D:

1. The Beginning (Sept '08 - June '09):
I began in September of 2008 while in college.
I had no idea what I was doing and until June of 2009 my learning was 100% from that college class. I was, however, very motivated and listened to a ton of Japanese music in an attempt to get my pronunciation in line from the start.
In the class we finished Genki 1- that's it. Slowest. Class. Ever. But that made me realize that there must be a faster way to do things (and, after all, my first professor did tell me to just go read a novel).
So began my hunt for a better way..

What I could do (at the end of this period): Make very basic sentences using the contents of Genki 1. Read next to nothing.

2. Self-Study is Cool (June '09 - September '09)
I got a copy of RTK1 and signed up to this site to use the flashcard section. I also bought a little book called "All About Particles" because the same professor suggested it. I'm not actually sure how I found them but I ran into AJATT and Tae Kim's Guide around the same time. I spent about 3 or 4 hours a day doing RTK and Tae Kim's Guide and began a "sentence deck" a la AJATT. I wasn't up for turning off English, alienating my friends and becoming unable to play games and watch TV for fun anymore so I didn't DO AJATT- but I took the "just do it" philosophy and some of the methods (Anki, sentences, native material, make your surroundings Japanese). I also turned my Facebook and ipod touch to Japanese mode at this time.

That deck only has ~600 cards and that includes all of Tae Kim (I made the cards myself), All About Particles and some sentences. However, the sentence card thing wasn't really doing it for me so I changed my card layout later...

I also had several pen pals during this time. I don't remember where I found them and most faded away after a few months but we did language exchange and I got used to some natural Japanese. I also watched some anime and drama without subtitles to get the listening train going and when I could hear words of phrases I pulled them out to add to Anki.

A quote from the end of this period, "The biggest hurdle at this point is that, as in putting together a puzzle, even if you have all the pieces you don't necessarily know how they fit together. That will just take time and exposure, I imagine."

What I could do: Read a few hundred Kanji. Understand basic conversational Japanese with penpals (given time and frequent referencing of Tae Kim's guide). Production was atrocious and embarrassing.

3. Back to School... (Sept '09 - June '10)
As a full time student, I didn't have the time or energy to devote to crazy AJATT style study. I continued trying to find native material. I still watched some anime and dramas to keep my listening going but my Japanese study came mostly in the form of another year of classes. I skipped ahead 1 year but ended up putting all of Genki 2 and An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese into Anki decks because those were the books being used.

I made friends with a lot of Japanese exchange students but I couldn't speak with them.. I did, however, listen when they spoke to each other in order to glean whatever little nuggets of wisdom I could. This also began my Kansai-ben-ification as many of them were from Kobe and Osaka. I also got chosen to study abroad at Kobe University the following year.

In December, I bought 4 Murakami Haruki novels at a bookstore in New York. I began slooowly attempting to read A Wild Sheep Chase at this time but it was painful and I didn't have the time to create an Anki deck big enough to get much out of it so I put it on hold until summer.

In January, I bought Final Fantasy 13 in Japanese and played it like there was no tomorrow. I also understood it surprisingly well.

What I could do: Produce surprisingly natural sentences of surprising length and converse... in text. Speaking well was still a thing of dreams. Read about half of the Kanji from RTK1. Listening was embarrassingly terrible.

4. The Summer That Never Was (June '09 - September '10)
I changed my anki cards. Front: Word in Japanese, Example sentences. Back: English translation, Japanese definition, kanji readings. These have served me incredibly well.

And this is when things got messy. I had summer classes in June and July but I still had quite a bit of free time. Most of my friends were out of town for the summer. I was bored. I was lonely. From June to early September I spent ~5 - 7 hours per day reading, listening and desperately attempting to communicate with exchange student friends in Japanese online. I also read 4 novels- (Wild Sheep Chase, Kafka on the Shore, The End of the World and a Hard Boiled Wonderland, 1Q84 (the first two, as Book 3 didn't exist yet)).
Apparently I stopped studying at the end of August to give my brain a break and let my anki reviews fall to a reasonable level before Japan (I flew out of the US on Sept 21st). My anki deck from that summer includes ~3000 words.

I replayed FF13 again in August and understood it much better. I also listened to quite a bit of podcasts.

What I could do: Write an essay in Japanese (with the help of correction from native friends) that was, minus a few errors here and there, both cohesive and reasonably natural. Read novels almost dictionary-free. Listening and Speaking were still embarrassingly bad and that caused me trouble in the next stage...

5. Kobe. JLPT N1. (October '10 - August '11)
I don't feel like simply going to Japan is the magic pill to make your Japanese amazing. I'm sure many people can attest to this and anyone who's met a handful of foreigners in Japan is sure to know that most don't know much Japanese. But I'm aware that it had a greatly positive effect on my language study so I'm glad I had this chance.

I took a break from new Anki cards until November as I got used to life and school in another country. My "study" consisted of my classes and simply existing in Japanese as much as possible. I placed into the top level of Japanese at university and decided to go for it- despite not being very confident. This turned out to be amazing because of one teacher who really knew what was up. I took a reading and writing class with him. In the reading class, we read newspaper editorials and he ran through meanings of phrases and contractions and etc (all classes were 100% Japanese). In writing, we wrote 1 essay each class and he corrected our writing.

I also took regular classes in sociology, religion and linguistics.

By December I was reading novels and newspapers without a dictionary but my listening still sucked and because of that I couldn't converse very well. I corrected this by, as I've said someplace before, watching all of One Piece. Haha. But it worked! I also read only two novels this year but quite a bit of news and things for class.

In July I took the N1 and scored 169/180. Which is good, because according to a FB post from the time, I was set on taking the test again if I made less than a 160. (Still hadn't been clued in to the fact that this was a relatively rare feat).

My Anki file from this year also contains about 3100 words.

What I could do: 100% Japanese was possible. I could read most Japanese (that wasn't highly technical) without a dictionary, converse about many things but nothing too advanced, and produce college-level essays with minimal errors.

However, I could tell that I still wasn't quite "there" yet.


-- My Japanese took its final huge jump AFTER I returned to the US but this post is long enough already. I may explain in depth later when I'm feeling masochistic but here's the short version:
Found FC2 Live. Read 7.5 more novels. Read newspaper every day. Played 5 games in Japanese. Went through job hunting, a break-up, and a fairly nasty period of self reflection- all in Japanese.

Phew. That was long. I knew there was a reason I didn't want to do this. tongue

Zorlee
Member
From: Oslo / Kyoto
Registered: 2009-04-22
Posts: 526

Thank you very much for writing this. I really enjoyed reading it.
I think everyone can attest to your Japanese being awesome, and it's always interesting to read about how someone skilled practiced in order to get.. well, skilled smile

Oh, and I also like the fact that other "veteran" forum members stick around after getting proficient in Japanese. Keep up the good work smile

Last edited by Zorlee (2013 October 17, 6:01 am)

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SammyB
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From: Sydney, Australia
Registered: 2008-05-28
Posts: 335

Thanks for taking the time to write this up!!

tashippy
Member
From: New York
Registered: 2011-06-18
Posts: 539

Now I can watch one piece and say it's the doctor's orders!

Xanpakuto
Member
Registered: 2013-06-01
Posts: 239
Website

Can you tell us how you mined native material and put them into anki?

undead_saif
Member
From: Mother Earth
Registered: 2009-01-28
Posts: 635

That didn't feel long at all! It was enjoyable tongue
So it seems most of what helped you learn Japanese is "Don't study, get used to it.", as you said.
Thanks, that was quite motivational big_smile

Last edited by undead_saif (2013 October 17, 10:15 am)

tashippy
Member
From: New York
Registered: 2011-06-18
Posts: 539

It sounds to me like the intensive essay writing helped a bunch as well.

uisukii
Guest

Seems like two interesting threads have been given life thanks to that other thread. Cool.

drdunlap, that wasn't long at all. I think you've managed to summarize your study experience very well, and it was a joy to read.  At this point there is a strange urge for the reflexive 頑張って下さい!, but by this point it hardly needs to be said,

It's a little like being in the surf during a big break. Seeing those seasoned surfers take on the larger waves inspires everyone else out there to push that much harder to take on that next wave, even if it results in a tumble here and there. That's kind of what language is like: 99% time and effort spend paddling and making it through the breakers, but the rewards such as understanding something you didn't last week, last month, are, if ever fleeting, joyous. 


Hopefully threads like these will become numerous enough for the content to be archived for all of those unsure learners to remain motivated by the people who put the effort in and showed us that hard work does pay off, even if it seems like going nowhere at times.

legendmaxx
Member
From: Cleveland
Registered: 2011-06-04
Posts: 15

PLEASE go in depth about your last year that you didn't go into detail about!  I'm sure everyone here wants the dirty details, plus I need more accounts of peoples' life experiences in Japanese.  I think I can relate to many your periods of learning Japanese as well, so thank you for posting!

Reply #11 - 2013 October 17, 2:20 pm
tashippy
Member
From: New York
Registered: 2011-06-18
Posts: 539

uisukii wrote:

Seems like two interesting threads have been given life thanks to that other thread.

Yes, that other thread. Good times. Maybe we should reinstate threads about --ahh never mind.  enjoyed your surfing metaphor as well, you sure do build arm strength from all that paddling.

Reply #12 - 2013 October 17, 3:51 pm
undead_saif
Member
From: Mother Earth
Registered: 2009-01-28
Posts: 635

tashippy wrote:

It sounds to me like the intensive essay writing helped a bunch as well.

But he had to get to a relatively good level to start writing essays, right?
Either way, thinking about it, writing a proper essay is a big hurdle and so it seems it can be a great way to improve one's language.

Reply #13 - 2013 October 17, 5:22 pm
drdunlap
Member
From: 水の都
Registered: 2009-06-01
Posts: 337
Website

Thanks for the nice comments, everyone. ><;
I realized that things tie together nicely if I talk about the year in the US after I got back from Kobe so when I get some time tonight or tomorrow I'll try to write about that, too.

tashippy wrote:

It sounds to me like the intensive essay writing helped a bunch as well.

The class was once per week but it was incredibly helpful. However, it felt a lot like it was just polishing the skill I had already gained from my intensive study period. That rush of input allowed me to output quite natural Japanese but, as it all happened in such a short period of time, my brain was still getting used to things when I headed off to Kobe. My classes and daily interactions polished those skills- and of course I learned quite a bit of new things while I was there as well.. but in the end it felt like a really good polish. Which is, of course, necessary so I'm glad it happened..!

This past year in Japan has also been one really great polish of my final study period in the US. Hopefully I can motivate myself to soak up Japanese a little more actively while I'm here. I just don't feel the need to because I understand just about everything and Japanese no longer feels like a foreign object in my brain (that's why I'm ok with calling myself bilingual, despite knowing that I'm not 100% perfect-- yet). The only thing I have left to focus on are tiny little holes in my knowledge and extremely literary/technical things that I just happen to know in English and would be ok with knowing in Japanese as well.

But anyway, for now..
Onwards! To work!! ... (・ω・`)

Reply #14 - 2013 October 17, 5:55 pm
s0apgun
鬼武者 ᕦ(_ˇ)ᕤ
From: Chicago
Registered: 2011-12-24
Posts: 446
Website

I think you forgot to mention the 飲み会 to motivate speaking practice.

酒は飲んでも飲まれるな。

Thanks for taking the time to make this post doctor!

Reply #15 - 2013 October 17, 5:58 pm
vileru
Member
From: Cambridge, MA
Registered: 2009-07-08
Posts: 734

Could you tell us how you used the corrections from your essays and how exactly you watched One Piece? For example, did you make Anki cards for each corrected sentence in your essays or grammar cards for each grammatical error? When you watched One Piece did you watch it with/without subs? Did you review the script before/after watching it? Did you re-watch it until 100% comprehension?

drdunlap
Member
From: 水の都
Registered: 2009-06-01
Posts: 337
Website

Bored at work so a little reply time. Yayyy.

Xanpakuto wrote:

Can you tell us how you mined native material and put them into anki?

I just had a list of words that I continually added to as I read or heard new things. I then added them to Anki later. Most of my example sentences aren't from the original context but are rather short dictionary examples from goo's J-J dictionary.

In the beginning I looked up as I went a lot.. but as time went on I would guess from kanji and context and just write down the unfamiliar word to add later. Unless the meaning of a sentence or section entirely broke down I rarely looked to the dictionary. If I was in front of a computer and could guess the reading I would quickly check with rikaichan and then write it down to add later.

s0apgun wrote:

I think you forgot to mention the 飲み会 to motivate speaking practice.酒は飲んでも飲まれるな。

Oh yes..! Wait, didn't I mention 飲むニケーション somewhere!? :p
飲んで飲んで飲まれるまで♪ (笑)

vileru wrote:

Could you tell us how you used the corrections from your essays and how exactly you watched One Piece? For example, did you make Anki cards for each corrected sentence in your essays or grammar cards for each grammatical error? When you watched One Piece did you watch it with/without subs? Did you review the script before/after watching it? Did you re-watch it until 100% comprehension?

The corrections I just.. remembered. Same with nuance explanations and etc. from the reading class. My Anki decks are mainly vocab with a little grammar.

I watched One Piece with no subtitles and without having read the manga or scripts -once- and then moved on. I don't see the point of re-watching something to 100% unless you reaaaally want to know everything about that show. Or unless you reaaally like the show. (I've watched GITS Stand Alone Complex countless times because I really like it and it takes some rewatching to fully understand. Even for many Japanese people.) I can understand 100% of One Piece *now* and that's what matters to me.

I'm sure I've said this elsewhere before but raw quantity, and not worrying about 100% comprehension, will likely move you along much faster than attempting to perfect each thing as you go. This is how I did reading as well.. the first few novels I probably had tons of fuzzy areas or errors in comprehension but after the first batch of 4 my reading skills were awesome. I also believe that the trick to both obliterating the N1 and further levels of mastery is an incredible amount of seeing the same thing used in a million different ways.. not just understanding one or two examples perfectly. The N1's questions are saying, "A native has seen this a million times. It's second nature for them. Have you?" (This is also how the writing/reading teacher of the top level classes at Kobe University explained the N1.) Get the explanation once or twice. Then go hunting for experience..!

Also, I love Anki, but OVERusing it is probably a bad plan. I already knew the grammar in my essays, of course, I just made mistakes or nuance errors. So I listened to the explanation and stuffed it in my brain.. knowing that I would see that grammar again somewhere on my journey.

tashippy
Member
From: New York
Registered: 2011-06-18
Posts: 539

drdunlap wrote:

Also, I love Anki, but OVERusing it is probably a bad plan.

F&($# I still have Anki reviews due today! See ya...

s0apgun
鬼武者 ᕦ(_ˇ)ᕤ
From: Chicago
Registered: 2011-12-24
Posts: 446
Website

Haha damnit yes you did. I was reading this adventure on my phone in class I must have missed it sad

Reply #19 - 2013 October 18, 1:10 am
rich_f
Member
From: north carolina
Registered: 2007-07-12
Posts: 1674

I totally agree with you about seeing the grammar somewhere else to solidify it. Reading books for fun helped me a lot with N2, because I got to use the stuff I was learning.

Do you have an recommendations for good reading-for-pleasure books that cover some of the more formal/rigid stuff that shows up on the N1? I read LNs, but maybe I'm just reading the wrong ones, because I can't find good coverage of the stuff I want to remember. >_<

I suppose I should stop reading fluff, but fluff is relaxing after a crappy day.

JapaneseRuleOf7
Member
From: Japan
Registered: 2012-01-06
Posts: 194
Website

Whoa, I didn't see this till just now--Thanks a ton, Mr. Dr. Dunlap. 

As a complete aside, I bricked my iPhone yesterday doing an ios7 upgrade, and tomorrow I'm going to work on some Japanese farm, so it'll be early next week before I can read and digest this fully, but I did want to say thank you very much for answering my question, because I am genuinely interested in what you did to learn Japanese.

Man that was one long sentence.  Anyway, thanks.

tashippy
Member
From: New York
Registered: 2011-06-18
Posts: 539

Sorry, I'm new here: what is 'Japanese farm'?

edit: I'm so dumb. You mean a real farm, don't you? The first thiŋ I thought of was something like the 'movie method', a mnemonic farm.
I actually spent some time on a farm in Shizuoka, but I guess it shows I've probably spent more time on this forums.

Last edited by tashippy (2013 October 18, 12:04 pm)

rahsoul
Member
Registered: 2012-02-29
Posts: 63

tashippy wrote:

Sorry, I'm new here: what is 'Japanese farm'?

Who needs to study when you can just farm Japanese in your backyard. tongue

Reply #23 - 2013 October 18, 1:29 pm
Haych
Member
From: Canada
Registered: 2008-09-28
Posts: 168

Reading this aaalmost makes me wish I took a Japanese elective in undergrad. Sounds like it would be good for motivation, at least, even if the class itself is terrible.
I considered it, but I liked my elective choices too much already... Eh, I have no regrets. Self-studier 4 lyfe.

tashippy wrote:

thiŋ

Was this on purpose? I mean, it looks like a typo.. but it works, phonetically speaking. You're messin with my brain, dood

Reply #24 - 2013 October 18, 7:54 pm
s0apgun
鬼武者 ᕦ(_ˇ)ᕤ
From: Chicago
Registered: 2011-12-24
Posts: 446
Website

Is it possible that you could upload your Anki deck so we can check out your card layout that you described? pls respond (((;゜Д゜))

Reply #25 - 2013 October 18, 8:09 pm
tashippy
Member
From: New York
Registered: 2011-06-18
Posts: 539

aɪ doʊnt noʊ duːd