行ったり来たり Going back and Forth

Dear reader, in my last post I promised, I would write new articles about *pulls out cheat-sheet* Grammar, my learning methods, and other things. Today I will kill two birds with one stone. I will write one article about both things. But before I will start, let me explain to you, what the title means. 行ったり来たり [いったりきたり] means “going back and forth.” And this is exactly how I feel right now. Instead of moving forward to things overdue, i had to take a step back, to solve something causing me trouble lately.

My learning methods

Way back when, or last year if you prefer, i started with Genki I. I had no concrete plan how to study with this book. So the first thing I did, was:

    creating a wordpad file, and call it Schedule.
    creating a set of other files, for 会話、単語、文法、練習、表現ノート、読み書き and so forth.

When I was done with this, I started creating yet another wordpad file, and a very special one indeed! It should contain a 十点 [じゅうてん] 10 point plan how to work with my 教科書 [きょうかしょ] textbooks. Here is an excerpt of what I came up with.

    Work through lesson X
    Making lot’s of notes
    Listen to dialogues
    Learn the vocabulary
    Copy the grammar points
    Create worksheets for both the exercises in the workbook and textbook
    Repeat everything after every third lesson
    Start a diary
    Have fun

This was my original plan, which in the end contained 14 points, and not all went past the planning stage into actually using them. Here is how I did it when I first began and didn’t know any better.

I started with the Introduction, copy writing the very short chapter. To make the story short, I wrote off almost the whole book line per line! In several different wordpad files, in a poor format, i had written down all the dialogues after I first studied them, then the vocabulary list, the grammar points, and all the exercises. Since it took some time to create the worksheets, usually a day or two, i had a little gap between learning and doing the exercises. After the worksheets for the exercises were done, I would usually re-read the dialogues and listen to them, moving on to the vocabulary, and finally to the grammar points and the exercises. It has taken 1 month to finish writing down the last chapter, and doing the last exercise in the book. Boy was I glad that i made it that far!

What I did not know about at that time, was the power of Anki, which would have probably saved me some time with the review of vocabulary. I had it on my PC, but I was not sure how to use it, and did not want to waste any time learning how to use it properly. What I did know was, that the Kanji are an important part of the language, so I’ve been using them right from the get go. The book contains ひりがな for the first three chapters, while I started converting the ひらがな words to 漢字. So i got exposure to them early on, which was very beneficial, i guess. The downside was that I could read the Kanji, but I was not able to write them. And as I did not know any characters other than those in the front of the book, and I started confusing some words while reading ever so often, I decided to move on to RTK.

But before I started to learn the kanji, which was in late 2010, I felt the need for merging the single documents, containing all the chapters from the book. Seeing how poor everything looked like, i decided to buy Office, to merge everything into a single document. Only this time properly formatted, as opposed to what I had up to that point. Right after installing this application, i started copying the first vocabulary list. It looked ugly in Word, too, to say the least. So I thought by myself, “why don’t you go the extra mile, to do a review of all the chapters, creating a good looking version of the book?” So, this is what I did, one big review, writing off the whole book again just for the fun of it, creating worksheets for the exercises, doing them, reviewing … This time it has taken only three weeks from start to finish.

As I mentioned above, the next thing in line was RTK. Because I felt there was a gap that needs to be filled. What’s it going to help if I recognize some characters when I read them, or because I have seen them so many times that I recognize them easily, when I’m not able to write them? And I hated the thought of constantly mixing up words that look pretty similar, like 天気、元気、学生、先生 and so forth. Though not all the characters look alike, i was able to mix up student with teacher. RTK did solve this problem, and it was a good choice, of doing it. Not only because I had time to think what I would want to do with my Japanese knowledge, once i bring it to a decent level, but mostly because of the supportive community over at kanji.koohii.com With the 2.042 漢字 in my back, i was ready to move on, to げんき 2. Now, you must think me mad, dear reader. I did yet another review of げんき 1! Yes, all the chapters again, all the exercises, all the vocabulary and the dialogues. Of course this time around i had only to read, and do the exercises, everything else was already there. I made it in less than 12 days this time around! Practice makes perfect, the saying goes, there must be something to it.

Finally I felt ready to make the big leap and dig my way through げんき 2. This time I was armed with new plans, a new way of learning, and some old but good habits taken from the experience of having learned with げんき 1. It was no easy start for me, i was procrastinating, the vocabulary gave me a hard time, and nothing seemed to make real sense. Not knowing what it was, I kept on going, slowly working my way through this book, leaving almost all the good habits behind. I was not reviewing the previous chapters anymore, thanks to Anki, i also skipped going over the vocabulary, and some other things I had better not done. But, what went wrong, you might ask? A couple of things, actually. I was not happy about my slow progress, my forgetfulness of vocabulary, my poor exercise answers, and my overall bad performance. Thanks to the great community I was brought back on track pretty fast. I was convinced that the problems I had were solved. But this was again far from the truth. Because I convinced myself, that going slower, is actually a good thing. What’s to loose if it takes 1 month to finish the book, or two, as long as i understand everything. In the end it has taken close to two months, with doing a chapter per week, instead 3 as with book 1.

Oh, grammar! Thou my arch enemy

Recently I was able to finish Genki 2, i wrote about it, in my last article. I felt confident, and ready to move on to An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. But again something was hindering me from actually doing it. The Grammar, which seemed to be my newest arch-enemy, blocking off the passage on my road to master the Japanese language. God alone knows how this problem came to be! I was perfectly well able to understand a grammar point, i could do most exercises with ease the second time around, but when I heard or read something in native media, i wouldn’t understand a thing. Because of my lack of knowing what a certain grammar point, or grammar word, means. I knew the vocabulary in isolation, so i was able to understand some things, but the grammar was ruining everything. So i started a long discussion what I could do to solve this problem. My first thought was to summarize the grammar points i had learned. But as this being not my strong suit, the other members who kindly took their time to answer, made some great suggestions, what else I could do. If you have read the discussion linked here, you can see with your own eyes, how great a community this is.

So I started creating flash cards which contained example sentences, clozed-deletion fields, and grammar notes. In the meantime I also started working my way through The Handbook of Japanese Adjectives and Adverbs, by Taeko Kamiya. It has taken approximately three days to create all the cards. Since all I had to do was to come up with a good card-setup, and copy all the information from my word file. Upon my first review I noticed that this is not going to get me anywhere in terms of understanding grammar in native media. So i streamlined the cards down to production, containing one example sentence, a clozed-delete field, and nothing more. This did not help either and the reviews were everything but fun. I still have to look up what something means that i had already learned. Some days after that, and soon after my last article here, i began working with An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese. This book is a big step up the ladder, compared with the smooth transition from Genki 1 and 2. The dialogues are long, the speed in which the actors speak is native level, and the sentences are very long. The shadowing process which I became very good with, helped me a lot, to speak along in sync with the actors. But my understanding of the dialogues in written form are almost non existent to say the least. There is no translation into English. Only some vocabulary here and there, that i will have to memorize. So i read around the web, and someone has written that after Genki I and II one should be able, to understand the content of this book as well. And I agree, after those two books, and everything else I did besides Genki should make it very possible to understand and translate the dialogues, from Japanese to English.

Yesterday it dawned on me where my grammar problems took their origins. As much as I liked the main content of the books, i did not do any of reading or writing sections. I was more into trying to slowly read 漫画 and native stuff, looking up things, making notes and things of that nature. This did some good for my vocabulary, but it did not help with either one of the books. While i was thinking, i remembered something, i told Tori-kun, when he had problems with listening to native media. “Go back to the basics, and work from there, this should solve your problem.” This kind of hit me, and got me thinking that i should work through the back of both books as well. Today I started with it, and made it to chapter 8, and i noticed what i was missing. And how i should have done these chapters as well, while working with the books. I dissect sentences, make notes about grammar points, and I get the occasional new vocabulary piece along the way. Now I can see that it was not only that i was not doing these chapters, but it was also another thing, which i was not aware of. Yes, I was listening to native media, hours on end. I was copying vocabulary that seemed to be interesting to a word file, and into Anki. But it was the way I was working with the material. I should have taken notes all the time, but i did not, i do now. And i could have done way more, than i actually did, like creating mind maps, which i do now.

Sometimes it can be good to go back a step, instead of plowing forward, hoping that everything will make sense someday, dear reader. Doing it only leads to problems piling up. So if you have a problem while learning, stop, think, discover the problem, and come up with ways to solve them. This is more important than making progress at a high cost. It is not worth it.

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