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Autodidactic Polymath

Study Plan 2018 1H

After the holidays and returning from Japan is as good of a time as any to reformulate my study plan.  I need to catch back up, but once I do, I plan to:

  1. gradually phase out RTK in preference of words
  2. continue survival japanese
  3. restart jpod 101 dialogs
  4. restart jpod101 vocabulary
  5. start useful knowledge deck

1.  For the past several months I have been making zero progress on my RTK deck.  My workload is the same as several months ago and my number of mature cards has actually gone down.  I could just keep plugging away or change my anki settings, but I think improvement will be marginal.  So I’ve decided to suspend kanji, starting with the most difficult and replace them with words containing the suspended kanji.  Ideally, I will replace each suspended kanji with 3 commonly used words when available.

2.  I’m about 100 into a deck of around 500 survival phrases, place names, menu items and other things useful for operating in Japan.  I’d like them to be fully internalized next time I go to Japan, so I might as well keep studying them now.

3.  I think studying the dialogs have made the largest improvement in my Japanese ablity, so I’d like to continue studying them.  I think I have about 6 months left if I add 2 per day.

4.  Knowing more vocabulary simply improves the efficacy of the dialogs and the dialogs reinforce the vocabulary.  so why not do them in tandem..?

5.  This isnt Japanese related, but I’m putting it here because it’s an anki deck I’m starting.  It’s just a deck of things I’d like to know.  A lot of them are things I don’t necessarily need to memorize, but want to read again periodically – like quotes or lifeProTips.  I’ll put these on long intervals and press good every time because I only need an occasional reminder.  I might eventually add some Japanese geography and history stuff in this deck or one like it.

Progress report from Japan

I’m writing this from Hanada airport in the departure lobby having just spent 8 days in Japan. This is the first time I can actually say that I understood more than a token word or phrase here or there.

This time, I could get the gist of menus, informational placards, and signs if I read them very slowly and carefully. Announcements are still mostly too fast, but roughly half the time I could get the gist of what they were trying to convey if I put a lot of effort decoding everything they were saying.

As last time, characters and words caught my eye everywhere and I would know them or at least know that they were familiar. I couldn’t even turn the recognition switch off and go back to the days when Japanese text was simply meaningless texture. Japanese text is looking more and more familiar to me now. I’d say it looks vaguely as familiar as looking at French where I may not understand but the characters don’t look foreign anymore. And as with French, I can look at Japanese text and decode much of it if I go slow and concentrate.

I feel like next time I come, I will be able to interact much more confidently and easily.

Lesson Plan H1 2017

It’s a new year so I thought it would be a good idea to write up a new lesson plan.  I’m not sure what I want to work on after I finish Japanese Pod 101 Beginner Season 1.  I’ll probably continue with Season 2, but I’m adding a few other things that I’m thinking of to the list.  My main priority is not too much vocabulary to the exclusion of reading and listening.

Exercise Cards* Cards/day* Finish by*
jpod 101 Beginner S01dialogs 44 1.5 mar 5
jpod 101 Beginner S02 vocab TBD
jpod 101 Beginner S02 dialogs TBD
NHK Easy Vocabulary TBD
Easy Vocabulary™ TBD
Restaurant Vocab TBD
Restaurant Dialogs TBD
Switch to Lingq? TBD

just a note

This is just a note to myself.  Since I’m getting close to finishing japanese pod101 beginner season 1 I’m wondering if I should continue with the beginner seasons.  From a quick look, there are 3535 vocabulary words for the remaining beginner seasons (including lower and upper beginner, but not absolute beginner).  From scrolling through the list, a rough guess would be that I know about half of those words. So if I want to finish the jpod101 beginner series, I’d need to study very roughly 1769 vocabulary words.  Or roughly the rest of the year studying Jpod 101 beginner.

On the good side, I believe finishing the beginner series will give me a very good basis for understanding a lot of things.  For instance easier manga

Priorities, Priorities, Priorities

I’ve always had in the back of my head a vague idea of what I’ve wanted to do with Japanese, but today I’m going to write explicitly what I am most interested in doing with Japanese.  I think this exercise will help me prioritize my study into the future.  Also, since I’m getting close to be able to read and follow along with real Japanese, it would be nice to start crossing things off the list saying “Finished.  I can do that now.  Woo-hoo”.

I’ll actually create two lists, each with the same items, only the ordering will be different.  The first list will be prioritized by which is most important to me – the stuff I want to be able to do most.  However the things I want to be able to do most might not necessarily be the easiest to achieve, so I am want to pick some of the low hanging fruit sooner than the tastiest.  So the 2nd list will be sorted more in the order that I plan to take these projects on.

Skills by importance:

  1. Hold conversations entirely in Japanese
  2. Exchange pleasantries in Japanese (eg how are you doing?, have you been here before? what was your favorite food?)
  3. Watch Japanese movies + TV (with Japanese subs, or raw)
  4. Read a Japanese menu and order food in Japanese
  5. Shop confidently.  (be able to ask for longer pants, organic milk, paper or plastic and understand answers from salespeople)
  6. Read Japanese non-fiction
  7. Read Regular NHK, Asahi Shimbun, etc
  8. Read NHK Easy
  9. Read Manga

Skills by order of study

  1. Read NHK Easy
  2. Read a Japanese menu and order food in Japanese
  3. Exchange pleasantries in Japanese (eg how are you doing?, have you been here before? what was your favorite food?)
  4. Shop confidently.  (be able to ask for longer pants, organic milk, paper or plastic and understand answers from salespeople)
  5. Read Manga
  6. Watch Japanese movies + TV (with Japanese subs, or raw)
  7. Read Regular NHK, Asahi Shimbun, etc
  8. Read Japanese non-fiction
  9. Hold conversations entirely in Japanese

The lists are somewhat an inverted version of each other since the things which matter most to me are also the most difficult.  For instance, If I’m able to hold a conversation entirely in Japanese on virtually any topic, it’s likely that I can do pretty much anything else on the list.  However there are some notable exceptions such as manga, which I’m not so interested in itself, but will help me with some of the conversation stuff so it’s closer to the middle of my priority list.

So we’ll see.  This list may evolve and I’ll likely work on several skills at the same time.  But I thought it would be helpful to explicitly prioritize certain things over others to guide my study.

Optimizing Anki Settings for Japanese Study

Default anki settings are ok for learning general material, but sub-optimal for most people learning Japanese.  Many people are put off by the myriad of options in anki.  This post suggests some anki settings which should make things a lot easier and goes on explain how the settings work.  If you are studying another subject, scroll down a bit where I explain a little anki theory.

Anki Settings Quick Start

If you want the tldr and just want to plug in some settings that should work better for you, here you go.  Start with anki’s defaults and change these settings:

  • New Cards – Steps:  1 10 60 360
  • New Cards – Starting Ease: 180
  • Lapses – Steps: 5 75 360
  • Lapses – New Interval: 15


The settings above show cards to you more often than the default so that you fail cards less often.  You might be tempted to adjust the settings even more so that your accuracy is doubly improved, but there is a point of diminishing returns where more frequent study yields less additional knowledge acquisition.

Anki Settings resulting in 70-80% accuracy are most efficient

70-80% is most efficient with efficiency falling off rapidly outside this range.

The efficiency sweet spot seems to be in the 70-80% accuracy range.  The efficiency curve is roughly parabolic, so the difference between 70% or 80% is negligible, but setting your anki settings to attain 90% accuracy you would need to study the same words roughly twice as many times which is clearly inefficient.  85% is just a bit less efficient than 80%.

On the other hand, 70% accuracy might be efficient, but forgetting 30% of the words you study every day can be soul crushing.  Even 80% accuracy is dispiriting some days, and remember that this is average, so some days will be better and some days will be worse.  This is really up to you, but personally I target accuracy around 80-85% because I am willing to trade some efficiency to make studying more enjoyable.  But you should target a specific accuracy range to aid in adjusting your anki settings.

Understanding Anki’s Settings

The anki settings we are discussing today affect three different groups of cards.  The ideal settings would have your accuracy for each of these groups of cards falling in the range you’ve decided work best for your goals.

  • Learning cards are brand new cards that you just started learning.  These have never had an interval over 1 day.
  • Young and Mature cards that you’ve been reviewing for a while.  These have an interval over 1 day.
  • Lapses (aka relearn) are young or mature cards that you just failed.  These had an interval over 1 day, but are treated like a learning card again.

Learning Cards Settings

The setting to adjust learning cards is ‘Steps‘ in the new cards section.  Steps is simply a list of how many minutes to wait until you see the same card again with a space between each step.  E.g. if you go with the default of 1 10, anki will show you a brand new card and then show it to you again 10 minutes later.  If you fail, you go back to the beginning of the list.  If you answer correctly twice in a row, the card will no longer be considered new, will become young and you will see it again the next day.  I don’t know about you, but studying a foreign language word twice in 10 minutes usually isn’t sufficient for me to remember it the next day.  I need to see it a few more times.  So if you use steps of 1 10 60 360, you will see it after 1 minute, 10 minutes, one hour, and 6 hours before it becomes young and the next interval is 1 day.

The goal is to get your learning accuracy within the range you set. Take a look your anki graph called ‘Answer Buttons’ and if your learning percentage is lower than desired, you may need to add another step – something like 1 6 36 180 560.  Or if your learning accuracy is high, consider 1 10 100.

It is important to know that anki’s graph combines the learn and relearn stats.  So it is best to install this anki add-on which separates the two stats.

Young and Mature Card Settings

The setting which affects young and mature accuracy is ‘Starting Ease‘.  A card’s ease is the percentage by which the interval is increased for each successive step.  Anki’s default stating ease is 250, so if you pass a card with an interval of 10 days, anki will multiply 10 days by 250% so the new interval will become 25 days.  This setting will vary widely by person, but I find a starting ease of 250 to be a bit too high for me to remember 80% of my mature cards so I set my starting ease around 180.

Whatever starting ease you set, anki will adjust each card’s ease over time to account for the difficulty of each card.  Anki decreases each card’s ease factor every time you press ‘again’ or ‘hard’.  Anki increases each card’s ease factor every time you press easy for that card.  But ideally you set an appropriate starting ease so that you aren’t studying cards at sub-optimal intervals while anki finds it’s level.  So keep an eye on your mature accuracy and adjust accordingly.  Keep in mind that mature accuracy will take a month or more to reflect changes because the intervals are 21 days and greater.


When you fail a card, the card will go through it’s learning steps (default 1 10) and it’s next step will be one day, just like for new cards.  But this behavior is adjustable separately from new cards.  Usually if you fail a card that has an interval of several months or years, after a relearn step or two, you will not need to reset it’s interval back to 1 day.  You can set a percentage of the old interval in ‘Lapses’ / ‘New Interval‘.  A setting of 10-15 is appropriate here.  So if you use 15% and your current interval is 6 months (180 days), the new interval will be 27 days after going through the relearning steps.

Lapses / Steps defaults to 1 10, but I prefer 5 75 360.  Again this should be adjusted based on your relearn accuracy and personal preference.


The settings at the top of the page are a decent starting point.  But to use your time most efficiently you should adjust them so that your learn, relearn, young and mature accuracy is within your target range.  The settings will vary considerably from person to person and for different types of cards.  For instance, my kanji cards need very different settings than my vocab cards and my grammar cards are different as well.  If you have any questions please leave a comment below and I will do my best to provide a thoughtful answer.

Revised Lesson Plan for Q4 2016

My last lesson plan was a complete fail due to RTK reviews taking longer than anticipated.

Long story short, about a month after finishing RTK I noticed my reviews were not going down and my accuracy was poor and not improving.  I saw no progress whatsoever for over 30days.  I made the decision to drastically crank my anki settings to study my cards more often and improve my accuracy.  Slowly over two months, my accuracy went from low 70s to high 80s, sometimes peeking into 90s but if my workload did anything it increased.

Virtually no progress but this should change soon.

Virtually no progress but this is finally starting to change.

I turned the settings back to normal a little over a month ago and workload has gone down substantially while maintaining accuracy. I should have normalized my settings much sooner so I could have a lower workload sooner, but it sure is nice to have accuracy still peeking into the 90s some days. Overall, my RTK workload was over 400 cards for several months, now it is hovering around 250 and dropping.  Since I made the change a little over a month ago, I’ve managed to increase mature cards from 500 to 750 which is amazing.  In another 45 days I expect to have 50% of my RTK cards mature and a workload in the mid 100’s which will make more time for studying other things.

Moving on

I plan to do roughly my old lesson plan set back by several months.  I’m still working on the plan so things may change. I’m still not not sure how I want to prioritize everything. One thing I’m considering adding is what I’m calling Easy Vocabulary™ because I believe I can make a list of words that I can learn much quicker than a normal vocabulary list.  Basically easy vocabulary are words whose constituent kanji give a hint to both the word’s reading and it’s meaning. I will write more about Easy Vocabulary at another time because there is more to it than this. I’ve added the WIP plan below.

Exercise Cards* Cumulative Cards* Finish by*
jpod 101 vocab 90 90 oct 23done oct 26
jpod 101 dialogs 119 209 dec 2 44 to go 2/2/2017
shirokuma vocab 500 709 jan 21postponed
Rtk lookalikes 85 794 TBDdone nov 4
shirokuma manga TBD
Easy Vocabulary™ TBD

* card counts could be WAY off which will obviously effect the schedule.


Once again I’m a little behind the schedule I set for myself.  I’m not sure exactly what happened.  I didn’t take any breaks and I was pretty busy except for the week between christmas and new year.  It’s probably because I estimated to liberally how many jpod101 dialogs I could get through in a day.  Turns out even 2 a day are too many so I’m oscillating between 1 and 2 per day.  Overall I was pretty happy until I revisited this list today so I think the list was a little ambitious.

Lesson Plan for the 2nd half of 2016

Update:  This plan was a total fail.  RTK reviews took WAY longer than than I anticipated and crowded out everything else.  I know RTK isn’t even on this list but it was the lingering reviews that refused to go down for several months.  Good news is they are going down now and I resumed  jpod101 vocab last week.  I’m working on a slightly revised lesson plan now.  More details to follow.

I’ve revised my lesson plan slightly for the rest of the year. The notable addition is NHKeasy vocab since I’ve started reading one article per weekday. I’ve decided to prioritize learning things that directly help me consume media that I can fit into the gaps in my day. NHKeasy I can read while at work, and jpod101 I can listen while driving. I kept perfect groups and anime on the list with a question mark. If I have time, I will consider adding them. It’s looking like N3 is a distant dream this year. But I haven’t completely written it off.

Exercise Cards* Cumulative Cards* Finish by*
jpod101 dialogs listening - ongoing
NHKeasy vocab ~400 ~400 Aug. 12 fail
NHKeasy articles read 1 each weekday - ongoing fail
jpod101 beginner s1 vocabulary ~400 ~800 Oct. 8 200 to go
?perfect groups ~400 ~1200 Dec. 3 fail
?anime vocabulary + watch ~400 ~1600 Jan. 30 fail

* card counts could be WAY off which will obviously effect the schedule.

Clearing my review backlog

I finally got my reviews down to zero last night.  It took 21 days to catch up after missing the better part of 11 days of reviews.  All of the red in the chart below shows how much skipping a few days affected my accuracy.  The first few days of catchup in particular saw my accuracy down in the low 70’s.  The low accuracy combined with a wall of 2k reviews didn’t do much for morale I can tell you that.  Screen Shot 2016-06-15 at 2.30.29 PM
The good news is that I’m caught up now.  I have a few more days until the reviews truly settle down to the same general level they were before this madness.  I’m actually hoping they settle down below the original level since I haven’t added any new cards in the last 20 days!  Ideally I will be able to add a few extra cards than normal to catch back up a little.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to match the pace I set for myself at the beginning of the year, but I’ll get close.

I’ve also started reading one NHKeasy article each weekday with much help from the new yomichan chrome extension.  Once I start adding cards again, I will probably add some of the more frequent NHKeasy vocab sourced from this site which has aggregated a frequency list of words culled from from a few years of NHKeasy articles.