Language Goals January 2019

A new year has started! There will be some changes but first I want to look at my goals from December:

Language Goals December 2018 – Results

Japanese

  • Take the JLPT N4
  • 52 Kanji (Heisig + Kanji Study App)
  • N3 vocabulary (Memrise, 600 new cards)
  • Reading practice (Watanoc N4 articles)
  • Listening practice

At the beginning of December I took the JLPT N4. I wrote about my experience with it here.

And I finally finished learning 2042 kanji with the Heisig method! I took me a really long time and I talked about it in more detail in this post.

In the beginning I was worried about my vocabulary goal because I was progressing very slowly. But then I got used to it and I even overachieved my goal! Overall I learned 734 new cards.

I read a few articles on Watanoc but not as many as I wanted. I really need to start reading more again. I did a lot of listening practice though. I mostly listened to the same old N4 stuff that I have over and over, trying to understand more and more. I also watched a lot of Japanese videos without subtitles. I understood almost nothing but I still hope it helps a bit getting used to native Japanese.

My Japanese study time dropped a lot in December because I was more busy than before. Overall I studied for 45 hours, that’s roughly 1.5 hours per day.

jpstudytime-2018-12

Spanish

  • Spanish novel (A2 level)
  • Watch Youtube videos
  • Duolingo reviews
  • Duolingo stories (Set 2)

Noooope, nothing… I watched maybe 3-4 youtube videos but that’s it. I just didn’t have time or motivation to do anything for Spanish.

French

  • Listen to songs
  • Duolingo reviews

I test out of at least one Duolingo skill per day and I did this consistantly the entire month. I also kept listening to songs though I have to admit less than the months before.

Language Goals January 2019

With the new year there will be some changes. I will be extremely busy in the next few months with other stuff I have to do, so there will be less time for language learning. This is why I decided to focus on Japanese only and put aside Spanish and French for a while. This was a very hard decision for me, but I think it’s better in the long run.

Since I want to keep my Duolingo streak I will still do some testing out of skills every day (either Spanish or French) so I won’t completely forget about it, and I might watch some youtube videos from time to time, but I don’t want to set any goals and feel pressured to do something.

So I only have Japanese goals for this month:

  • N3 vocabulary (Memrise, 800 new cards)
  • Reading practice (Watanoc N4 articles)
  • Listening practice

Yeah, very minimal again. My main focus is still building on vocabulary and I will try to learn 800 new cards. (Current Number of cards: 1201)

The rest of my time I will use for reading and listening practice.

 

 

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My Language Learning Year 2018

2018 was the first full year of language studies after picking it up again last year. There wasn’t a single day without studying for any language (I kept my streaks on Duolingo and Memrise even when I had almost no time). This year showed me once again how much I love languages and that I definitely want to continue learning!

January

Last year in October I decided to focus on Japanese for a while. And after taking the JLPT N5 I was even more motivated to study Japanese, so in January I mostly studied Japanese and started preparing for the N4 level.

At the end of January the results for the JLPT were published and I passed the N5, which gave me another motivation boost. I also started tracking my Japanese study time, which helped a lot to motivate myself and to see in which areas I needed to do more.

February

Thanks to some unexpected changes in my life I had the chance to go to free language classes during spring/summer so I decided to pick up Spanish and French again. Part of my February was still studying Japanese, but I started spending a considerable amount of time preparing for the language courses, especially the Spanish one.

March

In March I went to a French A1 course. It was a 3 weeks intensive course, 5 times per week, 3 hours per day + 1-2 hours for homework. I really wanted to focus on French during these 3 weeks to get a good foundation so I did almost nothing for Japanese. I don’t regret it, I learned a lot in this course and I absolutely loved it! In the exam I got the best grade possible with 99/100 points. This was amazing for me because in school I was really bad at French and this showed me that if I really want to study a language, I can be very good.

April – July

From the end of April until the end of July I went to a French A2 course and a Spanish B1 course. Since I also had to work I was really busy during these three months. I didn’t have time for Japanese anymore and only reviewed some words and kanji, but not very regularly. I also stopped making goals for Japanese because I couldn’t meet them anyway.

At the end of June I felt like I was about to hit a language learning burnout. I still continued with both courses and took the final exams. I got a very good grade in the French exam and a good grade in the Spanish exam. I felt like I learned a lot in this French course. I wish I had progressed more in Spanish in regards to speaking, but at least it gave me more confidence in Spanish in general.

August

In August I was on vacation and went to Amman (Jordan) for about 4 weeks. I mostly used these 4 weeks to take a break from everything so I didn’t really study any of my languages there. I kept reviewing some words and did some Duolingo lessons, but just on a very minimal level.

I also didn’t go there with the purpose of learning Arabic. Actually, this would have been very nice and I would have loved to try being in a country for 4 weeks and learn the language there. But I was so tired and worn out from my language classes and work that I just couldn’t add more work. I also didn’t think I could continue Arabic after these 4 weeks since I already had 3 active languages, so learning it at that time felt pointless to me.

September – November

After coming back from my break I realized how much of the N4 vocab, kanji and especially grammar I had forgotten, and that there were only 3 months left until the JLPT. So I started putting all my time into Japanese only, trying to study 2-3 hours every day. It was very tough because I also had to work a lot. At the end of November it was really hard for me to continue but I kept pushing, trying to practice as much as possible.

I barely did anything for Spanish or French anymore, except for watching some videos here and there and listening to music. I also kept reviewing both Spanish and French on Duolingo, though I was annoyed about the high amount of absolute beginner material they added instead of more advanced stuff.

In September I dabbled a bit in Irish because I found a free online course. I noticed quickly though that I can’t add another language at the moment and just looking a bit wasn’t very satisfying. I need to put more time into a language, otherwise I will just forget everything immediately and that’s too frustrating. So I decided to drop the language for now.

In October I participated in the Language Jam #2. The language that was chosen randomly for me was Tagalog! I had never considered learning this language so it was a nice chance to learn something about it. And it was so much fun studying it for a bit! I really like the language and might pick it up again later.

December

On December 2nd, I took the JLPT N4. I had pretty mixed feelings about it and it showed me how bad I was prepared in some areas. I realized how bad it was to take a break in Japanese because I had to study basic things like grammar before the test instead of focusing on practice tests and improving my listening and reading skills. I don’t regret taking the Spanish and French courses, they really helped me, but now I think I shouldn’t have neglected Japanese that much.

After the test I started preparing for the N3 level. This time I plan to study regularly so I won’t have the same problems in the next test.

I also finally finished learning the meanings of 2042 kanji with the Heisig method! I was very happy when I finally did it because now I can move on to learning kanji in context.

Overall I’m happy with how the year went and I think I learned a lot in my 3 main languages. I hope next year will be great too!

I finished learning 2042 kanji with the Heisig method!

I finished learning the meaning of 2042 kanji with the Heisig method! YAY!!!

I started with the Heisig method (RTK = Remembering the Kanji) in August 2017 and my original goal was to finish it in 6 months. In the beginning this worked very well and I made great progress. But then it started getting harder and harder. One reason was that some kanji were just harder in general, so it took me more time to remember them. Another reason was that some kanji were just super boring and I didn’t feel like learning them.

But I think the main reason was that learning so many kanji regularly takes a lot of effort and endurance. Maybe it’s possible to finish RTK in a few months if you have a lot of time. But if you’re working and doing other things like me, then it’s just too much at one point. As a result I became slower and slower and then had a break of several months.

heisig-book

Milestones

Looking at my twitter history, it seems I started on August 12th, 2017. I finished today, 501 days (16 months) later. I could have finished much earlier but I got burned out and took a long break of around 7 months, so technically it took me around 9 months to finish it.

I took screenshots of my progress in the Kanji Study app for every 200 new kanji so I can now look at what I did during these 501 days and can see when I hit which milestone:

12/08/2017 – Start
23/08/2017 – 214 kanji
13/09/2017 – 400 kanji
28/09/2017 – 600 kanji
15/12/2017 – 800 kanji
16/01/2018 – 1000 kanji
10/02/2018 – 1200 kanji
16/02/2018 – 1400 kanji
07/03/2018 – 1600 kanji
25/03/2018 – 1800 kanji
23/05/2018 – 1900 kanji
09/12/2018 – 2000 kanji
26/12/2018 – 2042 kanji

Studying went really well until October when I became really busy. Around February 2018 I realized how much it helps me to know the meaning and could study a lot of new kanji within a short period of time. Then I went to my Spanish and French courses and did almost nothing for Japanese. I had a 7 month long break until I finally did the last ~150 kanji.

What I think about the Heisig method

Before I started doing the Heisig method I read some controversial discussions but still decided I would do it. And I’m very glad I did it! When I was halfway done I realized how helpful this method is for me. When looking at texts I could recognize a lot of the kanji and guess the meaning of words with it. It also saved me a few times in the JLPT N4 when they added kanji from higher levels. Thanks to Heisig I could link them to the correct words easily. Now that I’m learning for the JLPT N3 I also notice how much easier it is for me to learn the kanji in context. For me this method is absolutely helpful and a good time investment.

Would I recommend doing it? I think everyone needs to find out for themselves if the method works for them or not. Though I think you can’t feel the effect immediately but only after a few hundreds of kanji and it takes quite some time to arrive at this point. I wouldn’t give up immediately, unless the method is really not working for you at all.

I also noticed that it works best for me for kanji that I hadn’t learned before. I already knew all the N5 kanji so I kind of skimmed over their stories… but since part of the kanji might be in another kanji later, I had then troubles remembering the stories. So I think the method is most effective if you don’t know any kanji yet (or only a few) and not that helpful if you already know quite a lot of kanji. With “method” I mean going through the entire book in a systematical way. I believe that learning stories for kanji is always very helpful.

Also, I want to encourage everyone who also needs a long time to go through the entire book. Don’t give up! I got pretty sick of posts from people saying that “it only takes 2-3 months”. Sure, if you have a lot of time and/or want to be burned out at the end. It made me feel bad in the beginning that I was so slow until I realized that comparing myself to others is useless. The most important things are to do it at a pace that works for you and to be consistent.

Screenshots of my progress

I took screenshots of my progress in the Kanji Study app because I was interested in how much of the JLPT levels would be covered and whether the lower level kanji would be introduced earlier or not. I used the first edition of the Heisig book with 2042 kanji.

I already knew all N5 kanji before I started with Heisig, so they are all marked with a red star in the Kanji Study app (= I know them well). I also knew a few N4 kanji which I marked yellow/orange. In October/November 2018 I looked specifically at N4 kanji and marked them all with an orange star.

When going through the book I gave every kanji a yellow star (= I’ve seen this kanji). In the beginning I spent more time with the kanji and gave some of them an orange star (= I know it). But pretty early I stopped it and only gave yellow stars. White stars mean I haven’t seen it in Heisig.

So the progress in my screenshots is not exactly Heisig only, but a mix. But I hope it’s still at least a bit useful. I think the most important things I learned are:

  • The 2042 Heisig kanji cover all kanji from the JLPT levels N5-N2
  • There are 227 kanji from the JLPT N1 level that are not in Heisig (at least not in this edition)
  • There are 39 kanji in Heisig which are not in any of the JLPT levels
  • The JLPT kanji are evenly distributed in the book. After 1900 kanji there were still two N4 kanji missing!

214 / 400 kanji

heisig-214heisig-400

600 / 800 kanji

heisig-600heisig-800

1000 / 1200 kanji

heisig-1000heisig-1200

1400 / 1600 kanji

heisig-1400heisig-1600

1800 / 1900 kanji

heisig-1800heisig-1900

2000 / 2042 kanji

heisig-2000heisig-2042

Rough study plan for the JLPT N3

I’m moving forward! Yay!! To avoid all the mistakes that I did while studying for the N4, I made a rough study plan for the N3. This will probably change a few times because I can’t really plan how much time I will have next year… but at least it’s a start to get a better overview of what I need and want to do.

Vocabulary

Before I do much else I want to get a solid knowledge of most of the vocabulary that might appear in the N3. So my main focus in the first few months will be on vocabulary. I plan to use pre-made Memrise decks because I don’t have time to make them myself.

I already started with a Nihongo So-Matome N3 deck and after this I want to do a Speed Master N3 deck (part 1 & part 2). Once I’m done with these too I will try to find another one, though there will probably a lot of overlap. So I might just collect words myself and make my own deck.

Kanji

The vocabulary decks also have the words written in kanji, so I will already learn a lot of kanji in context with these decks. In addition, I will go through all kanji in the Kanji Study app, take all the example words from N5-N3 with kanji from N5-N3 and make my own list. This should give me most of the words written in kanji that I need for the test. I will also use the Kanji Study app to practice writing kanji, but the focus on this will not be very high.

Grammar

I will only start with grammar once I have a good foundation of vocabulary and kanji. I think this will make it much easier to go through example sentences. If there are any unknown words I can add them to my own deck then (instead of adding words that I would learn later anyway…). I decided to use a mix of books and videos to study grammar.

As for books, I’m going with the Shin Kanzen Master grammar book because I read it’s more detailed than the Nihongo So-Matome one. Last time I made the mistake to go over grammar too shallowly, so I definitely need a book that contains more. Though I might have a look at other books too if I feel I need more explanation later.

I heard a lot of great things about the youtube channel Nihongo no Mori, which offers explanations for N3-N1, so I will go through their N3 videos. I also got the N3 course on Udemy (tip: if you want to get a course, wait until they have a sale — which they have very often — and you can get them for just $10-13). Their N4 course helped me so I hope this one will too.

Reading

I’m getting the Shin Kanzen Master reading book because I heard it’s extremely useful to prepare you for the test. To make the best of it I need good knowledge of vocab, kanji and grammar though. So my plan is to use this only when I’m done with all these things.

I don’t want to neglect reading before this though. So until I’m ready for it I will go through the remaining articles on Watanoc, do some of the reading passages of old N4 tests again, and then try reading NHK easy news with the Tangoristo app.

Listening

This year I really need to practice listening a lot more. I haven’t really decided how to do it yet, but I think I will use a mix of books, podcasts, youtube videos and easy anime. The main goal is to increase the amount of Japanese I’m listening to in general as well as doing specific practice sessions. I have a lot of booksmarks with podcasts so hopefully I find something for my level. I want to do this several times per week and already start now, not just a few weeks before the test.

What I did wrong in 1 year of self-studying Japanese for the JLPT N4

I’ve been self-studying Japanese since June 2018. From June to November 2018 I was preparing for the JLPT N5, which was basically reviewing what I had learned in my Japanese classes many years ago. Not much to do wrong here since I remembered everything quickly and could focus on practicing for the test.

From December 2018 on, I started preparing for the JLPT N4. I already knew much of the vocabulary and some grammar points, so I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult. But I made several mistakes, which lead to me not being fully prepared for the exam.

1. I didn’t study regularly. I think this was my biggest mistake. I can’t stress enough how important it is to study regularly. In my case I took a longer break (about 6 months) during which I studied French and Spanish. I don’t regret it because it helped me a lot for these two languages. But it was definitely bad for my Japanese studies. On some days I tried to review at least some Japanese vocabulary or kanji, but on many days I didn’t do anything. So I forgot many things and it took me much longer to review them later when I picked up Japanese again.

2. I neglected grammar. I went over all the N4 grammar points around January. But the problem was that I went over them in a very shallow way. My notes mostly consisted of how the grammar point was formed and sometimes a short explanation. But I rarely wrote down any example sentences. And even worse, I never made any effort to study the difference between similar grammar points. Then the break came and I forgot a lot. In September I realized I have to review all the grammar again and figure out the similar grammar points. All of this took a lot of time, when I could have done it earlier.

3. I neglected my weak point: listening. My main problem in the JLPT N5 was clearly the listening part because I hadn’t really practiced much for it. But instead of making this my main focus for the N4 I neglected it again. I tried to do as much as I could in the last 2 months before the exam and I feel that I did get better around the end. But it still wasn’t enough for the test.

4. I didn’t prepare well enough for the reading section. In September I started reading a lot of easy articles and found that my reading ability improved a lot. I also didn’t have many problems with test questions in the old JLPT format. The problem is that they changed the format for the new JLPT and I wasn’t really prepared for it. The reading section is much longer now. And the sentences are very, very long. When I read articles, the sentences were mostly short and managable. But the sentences in the JLPT were monsters. I should have known better after seeing the practice test but I ignored it.

5. I ignored similar words and grammar until the end. I realized in September that there are many grammar points and words that are similar but I kept ignoring them until just a few weeks before the exam. Looking up the differences seemed like too much work for me and I had so many other things to review too. So I kept doing them wrong in practice tests without really knowing why, which was definitely not helpful.

~~~

I can’t believe I made so many mistakes even though I always set short and long term goals for the N4 and revised them regularly to adapt to changes in my life. Looking at this now, there are a few things that I learned during this one year:

Self-studying requires a lot of discipline. It’s easy to say “I will do this and that”, but saying something and doing something are two different things. Setting monthly goals is very helpful to stay motivated and disciplined. I would also highly recommend making a yearly or half-yearly plan with goals to see how everything fits into it in the longer run, especially when preparing for a test. It might also be useful to find study buddies to keep each other motivated.

Studying regularly is very important. I think it’s totally fine to take short breaks here and there, but as soon as it’s several weeks or even months it’s becoming a problem. It’s easy to forget things which you haven’t practiced a lot and will probably take more time to review it later.

Doing 5-10 minutes per day is not enough. Some apps advertise their product saying something like “Learn a language in just 5-10 minutes a day!” This might work if you’re a beginner and are learning to an A1/A2 level in a very casual way. But once you want to advance more and/or are learning a language which is more complicated, I don’t believe that 5-10 minutes are enough. During my Japanese break I still did something for Japanese on many days for 5-10 minutes, but it didn’t really help much. I believe that at a certain level you need to put more time into it unless you are fine with a very, very slow progress.

It’s easy to distract yourself from things you don’t want to do. I knew what my biggest weakness was (listening) but instead of doing more listening practice, I did other things. Why? Because I found it boring and didn’t really want to do it. It’s very easy to do other things like learning vocab or kanji, just to avoid something you don’t like. Since it’s still studying for the language you won’t feel bad immediately for switching priorities. It’s best to re-evaluate priorities from time to time and push practicing weak skills higher on the list. And if it’s something you don’t want to do for a reason it’s best to find out why and try to change it to make it more interesting.

~~~

I feel a bit bad about all the mistakes I made, but on the other hand it made me learn a lot about self-studying and the way I’m studying. For the next year I definitely know better and can hopefully improve my self-studying routine!