2016 Lesson Plan – Progress Report

I was going pretty well on my lesson plan until around mid-April and things started getting progressively off track.

First, I realized that my estimate for jpod101 beginner vocabulary was about half of the amount I needed.  I initially budgeted 400, but the real number is likely closer to 800 once I weed out all of the words I already know.  The complete list was around 1600 as I recall, but I seem to already know half of the words.  It’s a little bit discouraging to learn that I still don’t know half of the beginner vocabulary list.

Then I started noticing that my rtk workload wasn’t going down over time despite getting decent and increasing accuracy above 80%.  I noticed my pile of mature kanji wasn’t increasing and my mature accuracy was in the low 70s, so I’m guessing I was failing enough mature cards to offset the effect of increasing intervals on younger cards.  I’ve recently decided to change my settings on my rtk deck to get my mature accuracy much higher, but that it going to slow my progress as I’m not willing to increase my study time to compensate.

The worst thing to happen to my progress however was that I got extremely busy at work and wasn’t able to finish many reviews for a little over a week.  I ended up with about 2k reviews to work though and more reviews becoming due each day.  I’ll get through them in a few weeks and I might even spam correct answers on my most mature deck.  However, catching up with the younger cards will end up putting me behind my already behind schedule by about a month.

I’ve also decided to tweek the lesson plan a bit. I’m still planning on finishing the jpod101 vocabulary so that I have something comprehensible to listen to in the car.  That will effectively add time that I am able to do japanese things that I didn’t have before.  After that, I will probably insert some reading and reading related vocabulary study.  I’m not really sure what I’ll be reading, but maybe it will be nhk easy or some easy manga.  If I can find some short things that I can read during downtime at work, I can add a little more study time that I didn’t have before.  That also fits into my desire to focus on consuming as much actual Japanese media as possible.

All this means that it is all the more unlikely that I will be studying for the N3 this year.  I will probably take a few practice tests towards the test time and decide if I should take N3 or maybe N4 if N3 looks unlikely.

Updated Lesson plan for 2016

I’ve been getting more serious about making intelligent decisions on how I spend my study time.  To that end I’ve decided to start writing down my tentative lesson plan as a way of formalizing my plans which will hopefully lead to better decisions.

I’ve pretty much given up on the idea of proceeding further with core.  Instead, I am going to be focusing on learning only the words used in a particular work and then reading, watching, or listening to the work until I it is well understood.  I’ve decided to start with japanesepod101 dialogs because transcripts in english and japanese exist, vocabulary lists also exist for each season and I can listen in my car.  Ideally longer, well written stories would be better but I don’t feel like taking time to search and cobble together transcripts in 2 languages and create vocabulary lists.  Jpod101 dialogs will do just fine.  Additionally, there are levels all the way up to advanced material, so they are a bit like graded readers with audio.  The listening in my car part is important because it’s time that would be wasted, so it’s extra study time I wouldn’t otherwise have.

Before I do all that, I want to finally finish RTK and then proceed to start learning unknown vocab from jpod101 beginner season 1 and so on.  Mastering each season until proceeding to the next until it becomes too easy and I’ll move up to intermediate level.  Concurrently to this, I want to learn all of the vocabulary in a few songs that I can listen to for listening practice.  I’d also like to pre-learn the vocab used in a movie and then watch the movie until I can follow along easily.  I’ll use subs2srs if I need help with longer sentences.

I’m still not sure, but I might study for the JLPT N3 test in december time and enthusiasm permitting.

Exercise Cards* Cumulative Cards* Finish by*
finish rtk 140 140 feb 9 done! feb 7
add rtk leeches 300 289 440 mar 10 done! mar 28
rtk lookalikes deck 180 184 620 mar 28 done! feb 27
jpod101 beginner s1 vocabulary 400 1020 may 7
jpod101 dialogs - - ongoing
song vocabulary + srs + listen 100 1120 may 17
perfect groups 400 1520 june 26
anime vocabulary + watch 400 1920 aug 5
jlpt n4 ? dec?

* Card counts are approximate which makes finish by dates approximate as well.

My 2016 lesson plan

I should finish RTK by the end of the year. I’ll be traveling to Japan for the holidays, so I’m also planning to learn/refresh some survival japanese – the kinds of things that will really be useful, like reading a menu, and asking for a larger size of pants, etc. In 2016, I’m hoping to spend a lot less time learning, and more time using Japanese. Here is my tentative 2016 lesson plan:

  • Learn a few songs in Japanese that I can listen to over and over and also sing in karaoke.
  • Pick a few easy anime and/or dramas to scan and learn unknown vocab, then subs2srs, then watch.
  • RTK 2 (or at least memorize perfect groups).
  • Un-suspend all anki leeches.
  • Convert all kana vocab cards to kanji and eventually remove all furigana from the front of all cards.
  • Start reading NHK easy.
  • Start listening to native Japanese audio(podcasts, radio, etc) in the car and at work.

Progress Report: [1013d]::[1248hr]::[2329vocab]::[1621kanji]::[2312sentences]

In my last report, I mentioned that I was still planning on taking the jlpt n3 test, but almost immediately changed course.  Instead, I decided to finish RTK and then start native media.  I just felt that not finishing RTK, I would still have too many unknown kanji which would make studying native material and vocabulary too inefficient.

I currently have 350 unseen kanji(there are some suspended leeches).  I’m adding 98/week, so I’m hoping to finish just before the holidays and my Japan trip.  I’d really like to start studying some of my survival Japanese in order to understand as much as possible while I’m there.

I’ve been spending all of my time on getting through RTK, so I haven’t made any attempts to read japanese.  I’m expecting I’ll be able to understand a lot more written Japanese once I finish RTK.

Analytics: Optimal starting ease for core vocab in Anki

I’ve long wondered what the optimum starting ease settings are for learning vocabulary in anki.  Starting ease is the primary setting the affects accuracy, workload, and ultimately how much I can learn in a given time.  There’s supermemo’s theory page, but it’s not specific to japanese vocabulary or even language learning.  I want to know my personal settings for the deck I’m studying so I decided analyze my anki learning data to find out.

The first scatter chart shows the relationship between a card’s ease and my accuracy answering the card.  The blue data points are from when I first started studying core vocabulary and was using a lot of filtered decks.  I’ve since realized that filtered decks aren’t as efficient as simply using anki’s algorithm and sensible settings.  I’m also guessing that there’s a learning effect making it easier to learn japanese vocabulary once I’m a few thousand words into learning.  Either way, it seems that some combination of those factors is allowing me to be more accurate lately(red) as opposed to when I started(blue).



The second chart shows what happens when I simulate my workload for various values along the combined best fit curve.  The blue line(left axis) is simply the combined line from the chart above.  The red line(right axis) is the simulated workload and the yellow line(right axis) is a smoothed version of the red line.  As you can see, on the left side of the chart, if I try for high accuracy, my workload is twice what it could be if I accepted a lower accuracy.  At an ease of around 210, my accuracy should be around 61%, but my workload is about half what it is with ease 130 allowing me to study twice as many cards in the same amount of time.


The problem with the chart above is that the yellow line doesn’t accurately show how much of the vocabulary I actually “know” for any ease/accuracy setting.  In other words, if I am getting 60% accuracy vs 80% accuracy, I “know” 20% less vocabulary, but it’s counted the same in the chart above. So the following chart is the same, only the yellow workload line is adjusted to account for accuracy, so that every point on the line represents the same number of known cards.



Judging by this last chart, my most efficient starting ease for my core vocabulary deck is around 175 which should put my accuracy around 67%. Lately, I’ve had my ease set to rather easy settings because it makes the learning process a lot more fun when I feel like I’m winning. However, I realized that the slope of that yellow line is so steep that a small sacrifice in accuracy should result in a large decrease in workload, allowing me to add more cards. So, I’ve decided to slowly raise my ease settings until I find a good comprise between accuracy, efficiency and enjoyment.

Proper nutrition for brain health

In a 2008 meta study of 160 papers on food’s affect on the brain, researcher Fernando Gómez-Pinilla found some foods that my help with memory and cognition while avoiding depression and Alzheimer’s disease.  Here is a short summary of the paper’s findings.   Below is a list of the foods and behaviors that can affect brain health.

  • Omega-3 fatty acids from fish(Salmon)
  • Folic acid
  • Turmeric
  • Intermittent caloric restriction and meal skipping
  • Exercise
  • A enough sleep

Entering a new era – Semi-literacy

I finally added all the N3 kanji and vocabulary about a week ago.  So I’ve decided to branch out from anki exclusivity and start dating other apps.

I spent last week keeping up with anki reviews and reading actual Japanese.  Each day, I read a story from Japanese graded readers and an NHKeasy article(on reddit because there’s no furigana and people have translated the articles, so I can check my understanding).  I’m reading NHKeasy with a cool app called wakaru which has a built in dictionary so I can click on words  that I don’t know and get definitions.  I can also add the unknown words to a study list and export to anki.  I plan to keep up with anki reviews and read at least one new article per weekday while adding unknown words as I go.

This is finally where I’ve wanted to be since I started this odyssey – where I can understand enough Japanese in order to directly read things other than textbooks.   In other words, from now on I will be learning japanese by using Japanese.

For the next few months, I think I’ll stick with 1+ NHKeasy article per weekday or at least until it gets too easy.  I might mix other things in to keep it interesting, but I’m hoping to leverage narrow reading to the point where there is something I can do in Japanese that comes relatively easy. Already read one article 2 days ago that seemed to go pretty smoothly and it was a joy to actually just read without stumbling over difficult words and grammar.  I’ll probably continue with NHKeasy until every article goes as smooth as that.

Probably sometime towards the end of the year, I will switch to some other materials which I’ll list here just so I don’t forget:

  • Subs2srs for shows I’ve seen before (sikou no rikon, totoro, ect..)
  • Finish RTK 1 (finally!)
  • Read manga (Doraemon, Yotsubato!, etc…)
  • Memorize song lyrics
  • RTK 2 (or at least memorize perfect groups)
  • Kanzen Master and/or So-Matome books
  • Un-suspend partially learned leeches
  • Add vocabulary which I already know the kanji for(kanji word association tool)
  • Monolingual vocabulary cards

I’m also going to Japan for the holidays, so I’d like to learn some things that will come in handy while I’m there.  Stuff like navigating Japan’s trains in Japanese, place names, and the Japanese names of foods I’d like to order at the restaurant.  There are two events that happened when I was in Japan before and I’d like to avoid things like this from now on.  The first event is the first time I tried navigating the trains.  I got on the correct train going in the right direction, but one stop before the station I wanted, everyone got off the train and I was sitting there alone for a few minutes wondering what was going on.  Next thing I know, the train starts heading back to Shinjuku.  What I should have known was how to figure out that the train I was on only went as far as Nakano.  The other embarrassing event was when I went to a neighborhood ramen shop by myself and ordered a ramen. I’d studied what I wanted to order in advance, but didn’t anticipate everything because the lady who didn’t speak a word of english kept asking me if I wanted something that I didn’t understand.  Turns out she was asking if I wanted fresh garlic, but she had to bring it out the my table for me to understand.  So, at the very least, I’ll be prepared to solve those two problems by December.

Buonaparte’s Japanese Grammar Cheat Sheet

I thought buonaparte’s section on grammar was a good, one sheet, summary of Japanese Grammar.  So I pasted it almost verbatim and added links for the grammar jargon.

An idea about grammar

Inflect (change):

  • V (verbs); A-i (adjectives); C copula (be, never independent word)

Don’t inflect:


verbs: -ru, -u, suru verbs (N+suru), only 2 irregular: suru (do), kuru (come)

copula: de aru, da, desu, na, de gozaru, de irassyaru

adjectives: A-i (it’s a verb: big-is, good-is); AN (+C to form a predicate)

particles: ha(wa), ga, wo(o), no, ni, ka, to, yo, wa, ne, etc

pronouns: plenty of I, you, etc – they are nouns

politeness levels: plain, polite, honorific, humble

giving-receiving verbs: ageru, sasiageru, yaru, kureru, kudasaru, itadaku, morau

in-group ↔ out-group

male ↔ female speech



[Method] Listening – Reading (Japanese Edition)

Previously I’ve written about buonaparte’s Listening – Reading method.  I highly recommend reading the first article as I go into detail on materials and methodology.  This article is more of an addendum to the L-R article as it is applied to the unique requirements of learning Japanese. Buonaparte’s original write up is a little hard to follow(though worth the effort) so I’m writing a simple overview of the most important aspects.  As before, I’ve kept buonaparte’s words as much as possible and only edited and reformatted his/her content for brevity and clarity.

Recall that the core of the L-R method is that you are listening to Japanese as you read along in English.

The Tools

  • Three column parallel text with the Japanese sentence in L1, spaced hiragana, and Kanji.
  • Playlist with audiobook version of the text divided into individual sentences.
  • A mouse-over pop-up dictionary if necessary.

Before or During L-R

  • Learn Kana (Hiragana & Katakana)
  • Familiarize yourself with Kanji (see below)
  • Familiarize yourself with some basic syntax and grammar

The Method

I read a sentence in English.  I click the mp3/wav file in L2 (language I’m learning, say Japanese). The mp3 file is looped, I don’t stop listening.  I need to hear/understand how many words there are in the sentence I’m listening to, what is the grammar of the sentence, what sounds, pitch, intonation.  I use the parallel text, and if necessary a mouse-over pop-up dictionary. Let me stress once more: I don’t stop listening.

When I understand what I’m hearing, I concentrate on kanji for a moment – I don’t stop listening, I listen and look at the sentence written in kanji, I try to identify the components (I didn’t use Heisig, I learned all the classical bushu and their Japanese names).  And that’s it for the time being – no speaking, no reading without listening, no writing. The parallel written texts are only there to help me with my listening, at this stage, nothing more.  Then the following sentence – the same procedure.

After some 20-30 sentences, I click .m3u (the playlist link) – I again listen to the sentences I’ve just listened to, in a row without stopping, I always have the parallel text ready to quickly check, in case I forget something.  I don’t memorize anything – I concentrate on recognizing the meaning, words, grammar, sounds in the sentences I’ve just ‘learnt.’  Then the following paragraph. Then the following paragraph, and so on. Until the end.

Then I start from the beginning. This time I only listen, but always have the parallel texts ready, just in case, to check, if necessary.  Then… another book – same procedure.  From time to time I listen to something new at the same level or easier and only listen to check if I understand it ‘naturally’ – relying  only on what I’ve already learnt. If I do (and like it), I go on listening.   Only after reaching the stage of ‘natural’ listening to difficult texts, I concentrate on speaking


I never learnt kanji as single entities. I always learnt words in texts (audio + transcript + translation + pop-up dictionary). I never memorized any kanji. I relied on massive comprehensible exposure.

I didn’t care about the order of learning kanji or words/expressions, how frequent or infrequent they are. I was interested in what a given text meant (be it the title of a movie, a whole story or a novel). I didn’t care whether I forgot or didn’t forget.

I DID use some kind of a system to remember kanji:

  • I learnt 214 classical bushu (they are building blocks of kanji).  It only takes a few hours to learn all the bushu.  I learnt their Japanese names.  I made a one-page table and printed it for quick reference.   Some components can be a kanji on their own, some are just parts of other kanji.  If you don’t know kanji for a word, it’s all right to write the word in hiragana only.
  • I learnt stroke order rules – they are very easy to remember with hardly any exceptions.  
  • I read Len Walsh’s book and two introductions to kanji dictionaries.


kuro (black) in 黒澤 Kurosawa Akira (one of the very best film directors ever) is made up of ta (rice field) + tuti (earth, soil) + rekka (raging fire) {+} sato (village) and.  In other words, kanji have their own ‘alphabet’ – recurring elements that have their names and are easy to remember, because they mean something and you will see them time and again in many words. 

Some tips:

  • Make your kanji font really big – you must feel comfortable, you must clearly see all the strokes and components. Then you can make the font smaller and smaller.
  • Change the font – don’t get used to one font only. It will teach you what really is important in a kanji. Kanji may look different depending on the font.
  • Avoid furigana – it is much better to rely on parallel texts (kanji – spaced hiragana) + audio as long as possible.
  • Neither kana nor kanji mark pitch accent – you’d better listen to everything you’re learning, be it pronunciation, kana, kanji, grammar, vocabulary or novels.


Practicing speaking is the same as with vanilla L-R.  Concentrate on pronunciation/speaking by repeating after the recordings.  Repeat after the speaker what you only understand (the meaning) and can hear properly (phonemes, rhythm, etc).  Blind shadowing (without understanding) is a waste of time and effort.