As I mentioned in the last post on Finding Your Daily Study Routine everyone works differently using different resources and methods to learn Japanese.
The following is my own routine, what works for me, what doesn’t and how this has changed over time and why. Hopefully this will help give people a better idea of how to study Japanese in your spare time.
First of all, I don’t set a fixed number of hours aside a day to study. I’ve tried it in the past and it’s always been detrimental for me because I feel like I HAVE to study rather than I WANT to study. I feel like it’s very important to enjoy studying, or at least have that sense of achievement that you’ve reached your goal.
I set myself goals instead. The big one is Take the JLPT N1 on July 5th 2015. I have had this goal on the table to the last year and a half and never study enough in preparation for it. I even paid for the exam in December 2014 and didn’t go because I was not ready! But no use crying over spilt milk. I accept that it happened (or didn’t happen) and move on, focusing this time on July.
This big goal is split into smaller goals:
Study all of JLPT N1 2000 Vocabulary on Memrise (which I managed to achieve this week!)
Study all of Nihongo Somatome N1 Kanji on Memrise (which I am writing the course for and have begun learning)
Read more Japanese texts (news articles, novels etc)
Listen to Japanese news radio (and be able to understand what’s being said)
I then have deadlines for these goals, but they’re flexible deadlines because, as you may have seen with the N1 exam, I’m bad at sticking to my deadlines…
Daily Studies Routines
So my daily study routine normally starts in the morning because I find that my brain always works better in the morning. I water all my words on Memrise before getting up, breakfasting and getting dressed.
If I have class it takes me over an hour to commute to Uni, which includes 30mins on the train, so I always learn new vocabulary using Memrise on the train. On days when I don’t have class I tend to not learn new words even though I know I really should >_<
When I’m not sitting down on the train and I’m walking, I listen to NHK News on a podcast, which I download in the morning (from Podbay) and put on my mp3 player. Although I find that I often get distracted and start thinking about other things listening to Japanese news I still find it informative and useful. There’s a lot of vocabulary I don’t understand but I’ve found that because the same reports get repeated throughout the days broadcasts I begin to pick up what they mean and I pick up vocabulary I’ve been learning on Memrise.
(Update 2023: Memrise no longer does “watering” or custom flashcards, and I no longer use it.)
Things I Do Less Often
Because I do Translation Studies at University it gives me opportunity to work on various Japanese texts each week, break them down and really understand their meanings. However, I admit that I am lacking this element and need to include reading more in my daily or bi-daily studies. I aim to do this by reading news articles and I’ve been meaning to start reading the novel Maou to Yuusha for a while. Uni work unfortunately takes priority over this, however, and I find that I run out of time quite often…
I write posts on Lang-8 which are then corrected by native Japanese speakers. I was using this to help me with my English to Japanese translations last year but have stopped since. Maybe I should really try and post something at least once a week, even if it’s a short post about what I’ve been up to or a short translation of an English text.
Translate manga. This has definitely come to a standstill. Although I love doing it and love the sense of achievement at completing a chapter, the group I translate for never upload my translations! This is a bit of a motivation killer so I’ve stopped for now. Hoping to at least finish the series I’m working on during Easter break when I don’t have to worry about Uni.
How my Study Routine Has Changed and Why
When I started learning Japanese it was as a hobby. I would have 1hr a week studying with a teacher and that was it. I was really, really bad at studying by myself and as a result it took me a year to learn the kanas and 2 years to cover the basics. If I had studied outside of my lessons this could have been reduced to 6 months! But I was lazy and prioritised other things.
My passion for really studying Japanese happened after I went there for 4 months with my best friend and we studied there and worked on farms (where we really needed to use the language everyday).
After getting back from Japan I still did not study on my own that much and didn’t really have a daily routine. This changed for good when I went back to study for 9 months at University at Kansai Gaidai. I was studying Japanese every day in class and on my own. When I got back to the UK I carried this on, using the Nihongo Somatome books to pass N3. I did not use any online resources then as the internet we a good way to distract me from learning.
I realised that I work best being taught by a teacher. Weekly lessons and having the set goal of a JLPT exam made me study and get a routine going.
After graduation I went to Japan again for 6 months to study for the JLPT N2. I used my own hand written flashcards and drilled kanji and vocabulary through writing. This was not a great idea as I did not use spaced repetition in my study so would find it difficult to retain the words I had learnt.
It wasn’t until after I got back to the UK again that I found some. I picked up Anki but found it incredibly difficult to use and dull. In October 2013 I commented at the end of a post on Apps what I used everyday. These, however, because very boring very quickly. But that’s when I found Memrise. It was good at providing spaced repetition, easy to use, gives you a sense of achievement with the points system, and easy to learn vocabulary with mnemonics.
How I study Japanese has changed greatly from when I started. I thought writing words down over and over would work, yet I never retained the information. But regular study, repetition and reading/listening to Japanese everyday is the best way to learn it in context. I do think working with a teacher, and aiming for a goal like the JLPT works best for me. I think Memrise is the best invention since sliced bread as I’ve learn so much in such a short span of time. Over the years I’ve slowly worked out what works well for me. I know my weaknesses and am trying to work hard on getting over them.
I think everyone will have bumps in the road, or hit plateaus in their learning. The important thing is to keep going, even if it’s only a tiny amount each day, this can eventually build up to a lot more. Stop and you’ll be tempted to stop for good and before you know it you haven’t studied any Japanese for 6 months.