Subtitles and language learning

When I’m watching Japanese TV, I try to make use of Japanese subtitles instead of English subtitles as much as possible. But until recently, I had never given much thought to whether native-language or target language subtitles are better for language learners.

The following is a list of what I think are the main pros and cons for using native language and foreign language subtitles:

 

Native language subtitles

  • No matter what your level, foreign language content is accessible, which is great for listening practice. This is good for themes requiring specialist knowledge and/or vocabulary.
  • You can begin to make associations between words in your target language and words in your native language. I find that this is most likely to happen with everyday vocabulary.

 

Target language subtitles

  • Helps you to recognise common sentence patterns and vocabulary. For example, with Japanese, I found watching TV really helped me to understand more casual types of speech. Since we only studied polite language (ます/です) in class for quite a while before learning the plain form, this made things much easier when it was introduced.
  • You can focus on how certain situational phrases are used. This is especially good for phrases that don’t really translate to English, such as 失礼します (shitshurei shimasu) and お疲れ様でした (otsukaresama deshita) in Japanese.
  • It is much easier to recognise the words that you do not understand (and then look them up in the dictionary). Even in our native language, we often mishear things, and when we use native language subtitles it is easy to overlook words that we don’t know the meaning of.

 

As the above shows, both types of subtitles can have their own benefits. The choice between target and native language subtitles often depends on your language level and familiarity with the source material.

One way to make have the best of both words is to watch something without any subtitles, then again with target language subtitles, and then with native language subtitles. Fortunately, YouTube, Netflix and Viki make switching subtitles pretty easy.

Viki is especially good as dual language subtitles are available using the Learn Mode. This feature already exists for Korean and Chinese and is now in beta mode for Japanese.

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You can click on any word from the target language subs to get the English meaning – really useful!

My experiences with Learn Mode so far have been very positive and you get both benefits of native and foreign language subtitles.

 

Transitioning to target-language subtitles

As you progress in your language learning, you will be able to benefit even more from target-language subtitles. Here are my tips on moving towards using them over native language subtitles:

  • Choose something that you are really interested in, especially if you plan on watching it multiple times.
  • Try to choose something that is not too complicated. I recommend starting off with shows that closely relate to everyday life – because choosing something on a niche topic unrelated to something you already have knowledge of will only succeed in leaving you demotivated. Cultural differences can exacerbate this problem too.
  • Doing a bit of homework in your native language before watching anything helps a lot. This could be:
    • Reading the synopsis of a film in your native language
    • Reading the original book if you plan to watch a film adaptation (and vice versa).
    • Watching the trailer before watching the film
    • Reading a (spoiler-free) review

I might even write down names of key characters and locations. I find that doing this helps a great deal when you are actually watching a TV show. It means that you are not wasting precious time trying to remember the name of the main character’s sister!

  • Break shows down into smaller chunks. It’s much easier to watch TV series rather than films because TV episodes are shorter.
    • Watching without native language subtitles requires a high level of concentration which is hard to sustain for a 90+ minute film.
    • TV shows also have the advantage of being much easier to follow as you get used to how characters speak.
    • If you do choose a film, try watching it over a number of sessions to build your confidence.
  • Have a notepad handy and make a note of words and phrases that you didn’t understand or find interesting. I then look these up at the end of my listening session and add to my vocabulary list to review later.

 

…and if I get stuck?

Don’t beat yourself up if there is a phrase you just don’t understand. It is highly likely as a learner that you will encounter:

  • A slang word/ phrase
  • An idiom or saying
  • A word pronounced in a strange way (or said in different accent)
  • A pun
  • Words that merge together when spoken quickly
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Keep calm and carry on, even if you are feeling like this!

When you come across things like this, you could record a clip of what is being said and ask a friend or language partner to explain what is going on.

In some cases, I find that continuing to watch the show can help – later developments in the story might fill in gaps from what you missed earlier.

If you can turn on English subtitles, don’t be afraid to turn them on. Just because you do not understand something right now, doesn’t mean you will never understand it.

Obviously, the ideal situation is not to have any subtitles at all. Becoming too reliant on subtitles is unlikely to improve your listening or reading skills in your target language. One thing I try to do is to read native language subtitles as quickly as I can so that I can focus on the spoken language.

Sometimes you have to take the plunge and watch things without any subtitles – how much you do understand might just surprise you!

 

What is your stance on this? Do you go for native language subtitles, target language subtitles or none at all? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

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I failed with Anki (again)…my new approach to Anki reviews

As the title suggests, my relationship with Anki has its ups and downs. I haven’t been using Anki for vocabulary reviews on a regular basis for a couple of months, which I have been feeling guilty about recently. The main reason for my guilt is that when I am consistent with Anki, I retain so much more information. Unfortunately, the problem I have is that I always end up falling off the bandwagon.

A few months ago, I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with Anki reviews. I felt that I was retaining more vocabulary, especially in conjunction with daily tadoku reading. At first, I could get my reviews done in 20 minutes or less, which felt achievable even on a busy day.

But then I realised that I was spending more and more time reviewing cards – my review sessions were now at least 40 minutes. I began to dread opening up Anki and seeing how many minutes it would be until I finished my reviews, especially if I had missed a day. I stopped reading in Japanese as much because I felt that I needed to prioritise flashcards instead.

It seemed as if my Japanese study was being entirely dictated by Anki reviews and not any of the more exciting stuff. So at that time, sticking with Anki didn’t feel like the sensible choice and I stopped using it.

For the record, I do like Anki (and similar spaced repetition programs) a lot, but I find that after a couple of months I get burned out and have to take a break. This is probably the third or fourth time I have been in this situation, so I thought I would take a step back and think about how to be more consistent.

On reflection, here’s where I think I was going wrong:

  • I was learning stuff that was not important to me. I was using shared decks, which can be great, but it meant that there were words I was learning that I didn’t have any real interest in learning. I usually add interesting words I come across directly from Akebi (a wonderful free dictionary app) to Anki, which I find easier to learn because I discovered them in a context that interests me. Eventually, I want to transition to making all of my flashcards myself but thinking more carefully about what vocabulary I want to learn is a good first step.
  • I was trying to do all reviews in one long session, rather than breaking it down into smaller chunks. Using the Pomodoro technique could work, but as I find it difficult to focus solely on flashcard reviews for 25 minutes at a time, I will change the time spent a little bit. I think I should be looking at focusing for 10 minutes at a time, perhaps at different times of day (eg. 10 minutes in the morning, 10 minutes during my lunch break, 10 minutes in the evening).
  • I wasn’t balancing flashcard reviews with the fun stuff. Flashcards are not a replacement for reading, listening and speaking the language. For every 10 minutes I spend in Anki, I want to be spending another 10 minutes practising Japanese in another way that I enjoy (such as reading, or watching TV shows).
  • The limit on the number of new cards was too high. If you miss a day, the number of cards that I had to review the next day was very disheartening. Going forward I will experiment with how many cards I can comfortably review in about 20 minutes, and set a limit accordingly.
  • I wasn’t being honest with myself about whether I had actually learned the card or not. It is very easy to conflate recognition of a kanji with knowing how to write it, which doesn’t help me in the long term. So following on from my previous point, I want to limit the number of cards I review, and then I can spend more time reviewing each card in more depth.

There are a lot of ways to customise Anki, and I think that making better use of these will help me stay engaged with my vocabulary reviews.

It’s going to be a bit tough getting back into the rhythm of daily Anki reviews again, but I hope my new approach means I can keep an Anki habit for longer!

5 Things I Learned from my Year Abroad

My year abroad experience in Japan was almost five years ago, and is sadly becoming a distant memory.

I still remember how excited I was to finally be going to Japan. My year abroad was something I had been looking forward to for a long time, as I had never visited Japan beforehand. At the same time, I was so nervous to jump on a plane and fly across the world – what if Japan wasn’t what I expected it to be?

Fortunately, my year abroad was a positive experience for me and I am glad that I gave myself the opportunity to do it. A lot of things in my life have changed since then, but it is only now that I look back that I realise that it changed me in more ways than one. There are so many things that I learned on my year abroad experience that I am thankful for.

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Travelling Light = less stress!

This might seem like an odd thing to include, but this is a practical thing which still serves me well today. It is worth saying that I was (and still am) a hoarder!

Before going to Japan, the prospect of packing my most important belongings into a 23kg suitcase felt impossible. Some items I did need for Japan included makeup, painkillers, deodorant, comfortable shoes. Of course, I did want to prioritise some sentimental items, such as pictures of family and friends.

However I realised a few months in that after all of the time I spent trying to decide what I needed to take, there was a lot of stuff that I needn’t have brought with me.

Every time I have been travelling since then, I think carefully about what items I really need to take and pack solely on that basis. Thanks to the year abroad, I am a much lighter traveller than I used to be.

 

It’s important to let go and embrace imperfections

I have always held myself to high standards, especially when it comes to learning. Learning a language requires you to let go of that need for perfectionism, because us learners do make mistakes. There’s no point in getting hung up on that time you used the wrong word, or couldn’t understand that conversation.

As long as you can make yourself understood (in the politest way possible), you are making progress. Whenever I struggled with obsessing over my failures, I tried to think of the time when people were clearly happy I could speak some Japanese, or was able to translate something for my friends.

 

Open yourself to new things

Of course, you are in your target country to learn about that country’s language and traditions. There are bound to be certain things that you encounter that are completely new to you, both good and bad.

Your year abroad experience inevitably gives you the opportunity to mix with people you would not have crossed path with overwise. Learning about other languages and cultures aside from Japan was a real highlight of my time abroad.

Embrace the opportunity to have new cultural experiences whenever you can!

 

A greater sense of self

People I met who had already gone on their year abroad told me that I would end up learning a great deal about myself as well as Japan. I never truly understood what was meant by this until I was a couple of months into my exchange programme. It’s funny how much you think you know about your home country is easily tested when you get people asking things that you’d previously never given much thought, such as “Why is the UK flag known as the Union Jack?”.

I spent a lot of time worrying about how I would be treated in Japan. I am British born and bred, but my grandparents are from the Caribbean. So naturally, I stood out like a sore thumb in semi-rural Hokkaido! Fortunately, I never had any discrimination issues whilst in Japan, but having dark skin and afro hair did mean a lot of pointing and staring. It did ultimately make myself feel much more comfortable in my own skin, as I learnt to embrace what made me different (as well as the many things I had in common with the people I met).

 

People come and go

The year abroad can only last so long. My fellow students were from a wide variety of countries and it was inevitable that most of these people I would never see again after the year had ended. Whilst this is kind of sad, it reminds to you treasure things as they happen in the moment, because you will always have those memories of the experiences you have from your time abroad.

Overall, I feel that the year abroad gave me the chance to appreciate the wider world, as well as the life I was fortunate to have back home. Whilst I do not live in Japan now, I would certainly go back on a longer-term basis should the right opportunity came along.

If you have the chance to work or study abroad (especially as a student), I fully recommend it!

Daily Writing Practice with the NVA Challenge

I’ve posted before about keeping a journal in your target language as a way of practicing your writing skills. However, I’ve always struggled to think of things to write about in my journal. This struggle was the inspiration behind the Writing Challenge I did last November.

Fortunately, there is another language learning challenge that helps solve this problem: the NVA challenge!

NVA stands for Noun-Verb-Adjective: each day, the challenge provides you with one noun, one verb and one adjective to write a text with. The words are normally of a similar theme or complement each other in some way, which makes it easy to think of at least one sentence. In addition, the words used are words you would commonly use.

I’ve been doing the challenge myself for a few weeks and have found it very useful for building a daily writing habit.

I find that once I’ve actually written one sentence, it is much easier to then write a couple more sentences. Even on days when I am busy, I have been able to find the time to write down at least one sentence.

It’s become part of my daily routine to write just before I go to bed, which I find quite relaxing!

Excuse the messy writing – I currently insist on writing the texts by hand (in pencil!), as sadly I am forgetting how to write quite a lot of kanji…

I certainly recommend this writing challenge, as I think it is very accessible no matter what your language level is. The only thing I would say is that you might not find a word in your target language which corresponds directly to English, but that shouldn’t be your main focus. With Japanese, I don’t force myself to use the exact translation of the words given in the challenge if it doesn’t feel right to do so. Instead, I normally try to use a word which has a similar meaning. This also has the benefit of focusing your time on actually writing rather than looking up lots of lots of words in the dictionary.

You can always get your sentences corrected on language exchange apps/ websites such as Hello Talk, HiNative or Lang-8: Hello Talk and HiNative are best suited for sentences or short paragraphs and Lang-8 better for longer texts (sadly Lang-8 is not accepting new memberships).

Find the NVA Challenge on Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram and Habitica. If you use Habitica there is a guild dedicated to the NVA challenge, where others in the community check each other’s sentences too.

Today’s post was a short one but I just had to give a signal boost to this great challenge, with the hope that it might help some other language learners out!

How do you like to practice your writing skills? Let me know in the comments 🙂

Studying more effectively with the Pomodoro technique

I have a confession to make – I am a serial procrastinator. As much as I love learning Japanese and blogging, there are days when I can’t seem to get round to doing either of them. There are also days when I set quite a lot of time aside to write a blog post for example, but only end up with a half-finished post.

If I am honest with myself, my lack of productivity on days like this is normally because of two things:

  1. I haven’t thought through what my goal actually is and what I need to get it done
  2. I pick up my phone to check an email and somehow end up wasting time on somewhere like Facebook/ Twitter/ Reddit

Fortunately, the Pomodoro technique has really helped to cut down on my “bad productivity days” not only with blogging but with language learning too!

 

About the Pomodoro technique

Pomodoro is the Italian word for ‘tomato’ and refers to those tomato shaped timers often used when cooking.

Time management expert Francesco Cirillo came up with the Pomodoro technique which has 6 easy steps:

  1. Choose a task you’d like to get done
  2. Set the Pomodoro for 25 minutes
  3. Work on the task until the Pomodoro rings
  4. When the Pomodoro rings, put a checkmark on a piece of paper
  5. Take a short break (5 minutes)
  6. Every 4 Pomodoros, take a long break (usually 20 minutes)

 

Benefits of the Pomodoro technique

There are numerous benefits to the Pomodoro technique:

  • It’s easier to get focused and stay focused – 25 minutes is long enough to get things done, but not so long that you get bored.
  • Avoid distractions such as social media (you can check them on your breaks of course!).
  • Short breaks give your brain time to recharge – studying for a long time without breaks is counterproductive.
  • You soon work out how much time you need to dedicate to longer tasks. This is especially good if you have a deadline coming up!
  • Easy to track how time has been spent. Tracking time spent is a great way to make sure that you are spending time working towards the goals that are relevant to you.

I had been using the Pomodoro technique for other tasks that I struggle to motivate myself for such as job searching and tidying my room. It was only recently that I realised that it can be easily applied to language learning too.

Language learning requires a lot of energy, and sustaining the level of concentration needed to study effectively becomes more difficult over longer study sessions. From my own experience, studying for long periods of time without a proper break usually leads to frustration and burnout.

 

How I use Pomodoro for Japanese study

For me, the Pomodoro technique is particularly useful when I am having to work towards specific goals, such as studying grammar for the JLPT or working on improving my pronunciation. For regular daily study, I have a series of mini goals that I spend 10-15 minutes on and tick off as I go along (see my Habits over Goals post).

I particularly struggle with studying for the JLPT – summoning the motivation to study grammar, drill vocab and do mock tests can be extremely difficult, even when the test is only a few days away. This is an example of how I am using Pomodoros for my JLPT prep (I am working towards the JLPT N1 exam in December):

 

Before I start a session, I decide on a specific goal and how I am going to achieve the goal.

For example, I will spend 25 minutes reviewing JLPT grammar points from my Kanzen Master textbook. I usually stick to one learning resource only, as referring to more than one usually leads to procrastination.

 

I then set the timer to 25 minutes and prepare to study

At this point, I also make sure I have my noise-canceling headphones, some water, and any other tools I might need within easy reach.

I choose to listen to music during my Pomodoro study sessions. I always used to find music distracting, but then I realised that I absolutely cannot listen to music with words, because I usually start singing along. There are some great instrumental videos on Youtube if you search “study music” – my personal favourite things to listen to are Ghibli soundtracks and chilled hip hop.

 

Work on task for 25 mins, then take a short break

As soon as I start playing my study music, I know it’s time to get focused!

Sometimes I extend the Pomodoro length to 30 or 35 minutes if I feel like I am in deep focus, and taking a break after 25 minutes would be counterproductive. If I do this, then I usually reduce the number of Pomodoros accordingly.

I make sure that on my breaks that I physically get up and take a short walk, drink some water and grab a snack if I am hungry.

 

Complete 3 or 4 Pomodoros, then take a long break.

Review progress made and make notes for next session

I think it is important to look back on your session and review any issues you came across. The questions that I often ask myself include:

Did I identify some kanji/ vocabulary that I need to review?

Do I need to refer to another resource to clarify my understanding of a grammar point?

By doing this, I can make adjustments for my next session that will help me work more effectively.

 

How I track my Pomodoros

 

One of the best things about the Pomodoro technique is that the only tool you need is a timer. Having said that, there are a lot of apps out there that can help with tracking your Pomodoro sessions. Here are a couple of apps that I personally use:

 

Google Chrome Extension – Marinara: Pomodoro Assistant

I use Google Chrome as my browser, and there is a simple but extremely useful Chrome extension called Marinara that I use for blogging (as I normally need to be connected to the internet!)

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The icon on the far right shows a Pomodoro in progress

By clicking on the Marinara icon I can jump straight into a Pomodoro session. When each session is done, I get a popup to remind me to take a short or long break depending on how many Pomodoros I have completed.

Marinara has a countdown timer, which I find motivating when I feel my concentration slipping – knowing that I only have a couple of minutes to go helps to keep me going!

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You can adjust the length of the Pomodoros and how the extension alerts you to the end of a Pomodoro if you wish. Marinara also tracks your Pomodoro activity which is quite nice too.

 

Pomotodo App (iOS, Android, Mac, Windows)

When it comes to offline Japanese study sessions, I make use of Pomotodo. By creating an account, you can make to-do lists and track Pomodoros completed; these can then be synced to track your productivity across multiple platforms.

Pomotodo also has a few other useful features. For example, the mobile version allows you to block the use of certain apps whilst a Pomodoro is in progress. You can set daily, weekly or monthly goals and also see what times of the day or week you are most productive

Pomotodo is very user-friendly and I love the clean, simple design. The app is free but has a Pro version costing $3.90 per month – I don’t think that the Pro version adds enough value to be worth purchasing it though.

 

Using the Pomodoro technique has confirmed to me that the most important thing is not the length of time spent on a task, but rather how you use the time spent. Defining what goals you have and how you are going to achieve them is also key to using your time effectively. I only wish I had come across this technique before I last took the JLPT!

Do you have any time management hacks (for language learning or otherwise)? Let me know in the comments!

Ways to stay motivated in your Japanese studies

Learning Japanese (or any language) is a long journey, no matter what articles you read that promise fluency in 6 months.

Inevitably, there are going to be times along our journey when we lack the motivation to keep going. I’ve been a little bit unwell recently and after a few days rest I have found it hard to motivate myself to get studying again.

Here are some of the things I try to do when I need to find motivation to study Japanese:

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  • Watch a video of something that reminds you why you started learning in the first place.

It’s easy to lose sight of what initially drew us to our target language. Whether it be the culture, connecting to your roots, or to watch your favourite TV show without subtitles, there’s so many things that learning another language gives us an opportunity to experience. Whatever it is, watching a video relating to that topic is a great way of getting you back on track.

I personally find watching videos of people who have been able to learn Japanese to a high level really motivate me to keep studying. Kemushichan’s videos are always inspiring for me; my other personal favourites include Dogen and Renehiko.

 

  • Visualise your goals.

Take some time to think about your language learning goals. What is it that you want to achieve in the future with your target language; is it passing language exams? Holding a conversation with a native speaker?

If this is something you haven’t decided on yet, I recommend taking some time to define your goals in detail. When I am lacking in motivation, I remind myself of my short-term and long-term goals and how I will feel being able to achieve them.

When it comes to setting short-term goals, you might find the #clearthelist language challenges helps you to formulate and work on the goals more effectively. Here is an example from the amazing Fluent Language from May 2018.

 

  • Make sure to celebrate little victories.

Every time you feel yourself making progress, make sure to pat yourself on the back. It is easy to be demotivated when we experience setbacks, but it’s important to acknowledge the positives at the same time.

Let’s say you were having a conversation with a native speaker, but it was a little stilted. Whilst the conversation may not have flowed the way you wanted it to, you managed to get your point across and this is always something to celebrate. After all, languages are a form of communication, and being able to communicate is the important part – with more practice you will learn what sounds more natural.

When you are lacking in motivation, thinking back to the progress you have made will really help.

 

  • Take time to look back at what you’ve achieved.

This is similar to the previous point, but I find comparing what I understand now to what I understood either a few months ago or even when I first started really helps put my progress in perspective.

Think about what level you were at the start of the year – it’s quite likely that you have made more progress than you think and is a great reminder to keep going!

Having taken some time away from studying Japanese, I do tend to think about the words I used to know but have forgotten the meaning of. In order to combat this, I like to I look back at my old study notes to remind myself of the progress I have made since then.

 

  • Make or evaluate your study routine.

Sometimes a lack of motivation is linked to the nature of your current study routine. If motivation has been a consistent problem recently, it might be worth taking a look at your routine.

Are there any things that need changing? It might be that your expectations are too high and you need to set yourself a series of smaller goals every time you study. My post on simplifying your language routine might give you some ideas on how to do this.

 

  • Surround yourself with positive people.

The people that we choose to surround ourselves with can have a large impact on our motivation. By surrounding ourselves with people who understand our journey, we can get support and encouragement from them when we are struggling to carry on. This can be in the form of other language learners, teachers and tutors.

You might not know any Japanese learners in your area – don’t worry, because this is where social media is incredibly useful. I’ve found Twitter and Facebook groups in particular to be a great place to find inspiration, share stories and ask questions when you get stuck (Twitter is super popular in Japan so is especially useful!). There are also lots of great blogs out there for learning Japanese that I turn to when I need to stay motivated.

Language challenges are a great way to feel involved in the language learning community. For example:

I’ve also done my own 30-day Japanese writing challenge before which really helped motivate me to keep practising my writing skills, which I don’t practice as much as I should.

 

  • Make sure to reward yourself when you’ve finished your study session

Having a reward to look forward to at the end of the session is important, especially when faced with something that seems particularly daunting (for me, this is usually my kanji flashcard reviews!). I will treat myself to an episode of a TV show or time to play video games, with a bit of bonus time after a particularly long study session. When working towards a bigger goal like the JLPT, I tend to treat myself to something more special if I’ve hit my weekly study goals.

I hope this post helps if you’ve been finding yourself in a bit of a slump lately. The hardest part of studying is normally just getting started, so finding enough motivation to simply start is often all you need. The best thing I can recommend is to build helpful language learning habits wherever you can.

 

Have you got any tips or tricks for boosting your motivation? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Keeping it Simple: tips for simplifying your language study routine

I’ve been experimenting with my study routine recently, and I’ve realised that it has become much easier to stick to my study plan now that I have made some changes. Since focusing on better habit building, I feel like I’ve been making more progress.

Especially with the internet at our fingertips, there are more language resources than ever before; we can instantly download an app or watch a video if we want to start learning a new language.

The problem is really that we have too much choice.

Japanese language resources, in particular, are in abundance online. Combined with the difficulty level of kanji and grammar, learning Japanese can feel overwhelming whether you’ve been studying for 3 days or 3 years.

Here are three of the changes I have made recently that have not only simplified my own routine, but also stopped me from feeling overwhelmed:

 

Evaluate my study space

I don’t actually have a dedicated study space myself – I normally sit on my sofa or bed to study.

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I wish I had a desk like this! 

One thing that has helped me despite not having a desk is having a study notebook or novel near me at all times, whether that be in my work bag or on my bedside table. When I was studying for my school exams, I always used to put my study notes in a place where I couldn’t avoid seeing them, such as near my glasses or house keys.

Just seeing my Japanese notes on a daily basis, especially first thing in the morning, reminds me to fit in some time to study whenever possible.

If you do have your own study space, I suggest having a look at it to see how it can be improved. Only have the items that you really need for your studies (dictionary, textbooks, pens, pencils) and hide anything which could be a distraction. Having a tidy space will make sure that when you do sit down to study, you will be able to fully focus.

Similarly, with online resources, it is a good idea to put the apps or websites you use in a prominent position on your phone or internet browser. If online distractions are a problem for you, there are plenty of helpful apps out there to minimise distractions.

For example, I make sure I have a list of podcasts that I add to on a weekly basis: this ensures I always have something to listen to when I do have some spare time. This leads me nicely on to the next tip…

 

Identify dead time

I’ve written about using your time most effectively in my other post on Getting Your Language 5-a-day. The post mainly deals with splitting up language learning into smaller chunks and identifying ‘dead time’ which can be better spent working on your target language.

Our lives obviously vary from week to week, and so if you haven’t looked at your schedule recently it might be worth taking some time to re-evaluate your dead time.

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It’s important to be realistic about how much time you have to study, so that you can adjust your expectations based on how busy you are.

Don’t think that only having small amounts of time isn’t long enough for studying Japanese – consistency is better than the length of time you study for. By keeping up with that 5-10 minutes daily, you’re going to be making more progress than a longer study session of 1 hour a week.

The benefit of this for me is that I’ve realised that I actually have lots of time in the day to listen to Japanese than I thought. I especially enjoy listening to podcasts while doing housework.

 

Decide on what resources to focus on in advance

If you know exactly what you want to study and how you’re going to do it, you will be able to ensure you maximise your study time and minimise distractions. Studying Japanese (or any language) is better in short sessions, and knowing which resource I am going to use beforehand prevents me from wasting time before I’ve even started studying.

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Not pictured: my haul of Japanese textbooks and resources!

This also gives you the chance to assess what resources work better for you than others. There really are so many resources out there for Japanese, that when a new shiny app or website comes along, it is easy to forget about a tried and tested resource.

That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try out new resources, especially if it appears to suit your learning style. If something isn’t working for you, it is much easier to identify if you are using it consistently rather than sporadically.

In my case, I am working towards the JLPT again, so my study is more focused on vocabulary and grammar from textbooks (I like the Shin Kanzen master series so I am using their grammar textbook in particular).

 

Tracking habits

I am a big believer in cultivating good habits in order to help achieve your study goals, and for the past few months I’ve been using the Habitica app to track my language learning. On the app, I have a list of Japanese study habits to achieve daily (basically to listen/read/write/speak Japanese), which I can tick off when completed.

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There is a great Japanese learning challenge on Habitica which I recommend if you already use the app!

The biggest change I have noticed since using a habit tracker is that my mindset regarding Japanese study has changed. I do not strictly schedule study sessions at certain times of the day, so I just fit study in when I can.

When I do have a spare 5 minutes, I now think “what can I do in Japanese in 5 minutes” rather than “it’s only 5 minutes, I’ll check Facebook”.

Habit trackers are a really useful way of positively reinforcing new habits – I get so much satisfaction from ticking something off my daily goal list. Even after a long day, the fear of losing my habit streak has pushed me to open up a book or to finish my flashcard reviews.

There are tons of apps out there which allow you to track your habits and/or study time. Alternatively, if you use a bullet journal there are lots of cool ways to visually represent your habit building offline.

 

So this is my list of things that have helped me. Are there any changes you have made to your study schedule that have really helped you? Let me know in the comments!