SRS [2] Kanji Odyssey and Translations

Two days ago I wrote about my new deck structure, today I will go into more detail about my experience with the deck, and what I’m currently up to. I work on increasing my vocabulary, that’s why I started with Kanji in Context, and moved on to 2001 Kanji Odyssey. In comparison to Kanji in Context the vocabulary is more interesting, the program has audio, and the sentences are more or less easy. 40 Kanji into it and the ratio of words versus sentences is around 189 to 53. It is no even match, as I hoped for getting a broader variety of cards and activities during reviews, but this will change soon enough. I can catch this with either adding more example sentences from other sources, or I add activities to review facts in different ways. Thanks to my new deck structure, allowing me to do dictation cards, pure recognition, reading, listening, speaking and writing in one go, my retention rate for new cards is beyond 95%. This is more than I could have hoped for.

The learning begins before adding cards of course, and Kanji Odyssey is a great aid with this, in that it gives me two choices. I can deactivate the Furigana for most of the sentence and see how much I get. When I add sentences, I push play and type the sentence into Anki, and check if I got it right afterwards. Or is just add the sentence, after listening to it just once, and speaking along. It is much the same with vocabulary. I say the word out loud, and after copying and pasting the audio into the deck, it plays automatically. This way I can check if my pronunciation was correct. Every sentence has a translation, which is convenient, but some are a bit off. This is why I add my own translations at least for now, and only as long as the transition from J -> E cards is going on, and I feel comfortable with definitions in Japanese, and Japanese sentences and vocabulary only.

This time around adding content is different, because my deck structure is totally different. I start and enter 5 or 7 words per Kanji and then switch over to typing sentences. I also always have a copy of the folders open that contain the sample sentences and vocabulary as audio. This is a sort of motivation for me. Once I have added the audio for a word or a whole sentence, I delete the files from the folders right after that. By doing this the files in the folders decrease little by little, and I can see my progress. The files are vanishing, and the more files vanish, the closer I come to the end of a level. Of course this is far away right now, but even a small decrease in numbers of files, and the increase of cards in Anki, gives me the motivation I need.

Kanji Odyssey has only one flaw, which I was aware of before i got it off course, and which helps me more than it hinders progress. In early sentences words are introduced, which have not been covered in the vocabulary section. This again gives me a choice to decide how to rate those cards when they come up. If it is a card that contains words not actively learned yet, I just drag it along and don’t rate it hard when I mess up. The other thing are words that are not immediately useful, I want to memorize vocabulary in large quantities, so when I can’t remember a word in a sentence, but get the overall sentence meaning it will pass.

I also already saw that it pays off to put more emphasize on learning vocabulary, and reading, listening and writing more, as opposed to working on sentences before. In the last three or four months changes in methods happened quite often. Trying out new methods and abandoning old ones is part of the process of learning. This holds true for learning material as well. If one thing doesn’t work as expected another one can be just right. Sticking to one method that seemingly doesn’t work is not the way to go. One such method was mass translating sentences. Doing mass translations of sentences and analyzing them for grammar was something that has helped me. As was the case with typing of the books that I was studying with actively. Both those things, and various others along the way, were necessary. Because all of them led me to the discovery of tools, new insights, methods and discoveries how to learn. There was no waste of time involved because I was always learning something. Words, how to build sentences, how to break down sentences, how to increase my understanding of written material, and so on. And in this process of change that I went through there were times when I was absolutely satisfied and thought that no more changes are needed. The point at which everything is perfect will never be reached of course so I don’t even try. An attempt to find the perfect method for studying would only lead to wasting time better spend to using the language or learning.

This also means that I will never again slowly work through a textbook. The basics are covered well by doing Genki I and II, a part of AIAIJ, and some other books I haven’t been writing about here yet, but will. The only thing I will ever do with the textbooks again, is to copy sentences and vocabulary, if I find them interesting or worth keeping. And as far as textbooks go, there is one thing to them that was so obvious, that I completely missed it. Translations. There are several different views on this topic. There are those who went all the way translating everything back and forth. And there are others who say going Monolingual as early as possible is the only way.

It is clear that in the beginner phase there has to be a translation in one direction or the other. And textbooks are offering them. So if one is learning for some weeks or months, and the understanding of words and concepts increases, why is there still a need for translations of sentences? I did this, too, and very intensively to be honest. I wanted to have translations on my cards to see if my understanding was correct. And I was translating dialogues sentence by sentence, instead of accepting it as what it is, a dialogue with a developing argument, and an exchange of ideas. The same with reading passages. This makes no sense when thinking about it. I did exactly what I was laughing about in a book I read, and highly recommend to read as soon as possible, if you haven’t already. “Jay Rubin – Making Sense of Japanese.”

One of the worst things I see students doing when they start to translate texts is numbering their sentences. They take a perfectly sound paragraph, in which the author is trying to develop a thought, and they surgically slice it up, writing the translation of each sentence separately in their notebooks as if it had no relation to the others.

When I was reading a bit in the 中級から上級への日本語 supplement book it became obvious what I was doing. This book does contain vocabulary in Hiragana and Kanji, and? No translation of the words. The book also contains grammar explanations, in Japanese, no English translations there as well. Suppose you were going to work with this book, and you can understand what is written, even if you can’t understand everything, would you start translating sentences, passages of text, or grammar explanations? Or would you rather go and just translate the part you can’t understand? Translating a text is a skill of its own. But we are learning Japanese, don’t we? It all comes down to accepting the language, instead of translating concepts from one to the other language.

If someone learned the word 犬 and understands the concept there is no need to have a translation. Or if someone can read a sentence and understand it in Japanese it is the same. But still those words or sentences are either translated one way or both ways before adding or while reviewing those cards. If I don’t know a sentence it is easy to move on and come back to it later. In case I understand parts of it and not others, I only need to know what that part means, that I wasn’t able to get. Once the part becomes clear and the sentence makes sense, there is no need to translate the whole sentence. Or go ask someone to do it for me if I can’t. But what does being able to translate sentences from L3 to L2 or L1 have to say about the ability to understand what you are reading? Nothing at all.

Let me revisit the simple example 犬 to get my point across. 犬 will always be 犬 and not a 宇宙人 in disguise except in the movies. So why would you go and translate it? When you are able to accept that 犬 is this yapper of your neighbours that bugs the hell out of you, and 宇宙人 is A.L.F. but in Japanese instead of French or Takalog, this is all the understanding needed. Accepting the word or sentence in the target language is what counts.

Why is translating only parts or single words better as opposed to translate everything? The answer is because the material obviously wasn’t meant to be translated. Compare reading a passage of text in a random chapter of your textbook with reviewing cards in Anki. If you are unable to understand it in Anki, you fail the card, or rate it hard. If you are reading a textbook, and you see that you can’t understand parts of it, you are most likely going to translate it. But have you ever considered that the books have no translation for a reason? You are supposed to understand them by the time you are using those books. There should be no translations needed. You should be able to recognize what you aren’t able to understand and work from there instead.

Not using translations for sentences and leaving translations out of Anki does not mean to go monolingual. Because you will still translate words and you still work out grammar points in English or whatever your language is. Going monolingual means not using any L1, L2 or L14. Not translating also gives you more time for other activites, and move on if you don’t understand something, and come back when you are better prepared. You start processing the language itself instead of relying on a linguistic concept in the native language. From processing the language instead of translating, to go monolingual, and to start to actually think in that langauge is only a small step.

So i will drop away from doing translations of whole sentences, or passages of text, because they are simply not needed anymore. Now all I have to do is to unleash the power of all the methods that work for me, and to put to best use what koohii members are offering. In the meantime I continue having more fun than ever before, with reading, listening, and watching Anime and other things.

2 responses to “SRS [2] Kanji Odyssey and Translations


    “When you speak fluently you are thinking in that language, not translating from your native language in your head. As such it’s not really of any special help.

    Going meaning->Japanese is also near impossible once you move beyond basic vocab because of the massive number of synonyms and similar words.”

    That’s what I meant concerning what you try achieving by Recall/Production, Nagareboshi. I had been looking for this quote a bit, but now I found it. Hope it helps:)

    Regards, T.

  2. Hello Tori,

    Yes, it helps, not that it’s clear what you were talking about. It is true that Going from meaning [English] -> Japanese became more a hindrance. I was never going English -> Japanese with my production cards, though. Always Hiragana -> Kanji except for RTK. I am done with BKB, but still continue with RTK. RTKせずにはいられない。 Oh well.

    I switched to J -> E for vocabulary cards some weeks ago. And now it is a process of J -> E -> drop E once the word is known -> going J -> J, having J -> J definitions on my cards. It is harder to get English out of the way than I thought.

    And as far as English goes, I recently read the following: “If you don’t understand the Japanese sentence, you are likely to translate it wrong. But if you know the Japanese sentence, and can understand it as it is, you don’t have to translate it.”

    夢と現実を結ぶ橋は「努力」です。 🙂

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s