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.  

[Method] Listening – Reading

Listening – Reading (L-R) is a method of language acquisition written widely about by a polish polyglot who went by many different internet noms des plumes.  Phi-Staszeksiomotteikirunandemoii, and buonaparte are the few I know of, but there are most likely many more of her(him?).

If you click on the link, you’ll rapidly find out that the description is very confusing, but it needn’t be.  The core of Listening – Reading is as simple as reading in your native language while you listen in your target language.  But there are a few caveats, cautions, additional steps and guidelines below.  For the most part, I’ve used the buonaparte’s own words drawn from many different threads and condensed everything down to just the essentials and edited for formatting and readability.

Buonaparte has also graciously shared a comprehensive list of materials he has prepared for this method applied to Japanese.  I’ve also written a companion article summarizing buonaparte’s specific adaption of L-R for learning Japanese.  All thanks go to Buonaparte.

The Materials

  1. A recording performed by good actors or narrators in the language you want to learn
  2. The original text (of the recording)
  3. A translation into your own language or a language you understand
  4. The text(s) should be long: novels are best

The Listening – Reading Method

The order ought to be EXACTLY as follows:
1. You read the translation.
If it is a text you have read many times in your life, much better.  You must be passionately in love with the text you’re going to study and know it well.  You only remember well what you understand and what you feel is “yours” psychologically.  

2. You listen to the recording and look at the written text at the same time.
Because the flow of speech has no boundaries between words and the written text does, you will be able to separate each word in the speech flow and you will get used to the speed of talking of native speakers – at first it seems incredibly fast.  If you’ve ever tried to listen to native speakers of any language, you must have noticed that at first you do not know which groups of sounds form words and that the speakers speak as if they were machine guns.  The aim of STEP 2 is to cure these two small drawbacks, and at the same time to get some exposure to meaning, sounds, rhythm, intonation in L2.

*  If you already understand quite a bit of the text, can recognize the boundaries between words and the speed is no longer frightening you can skip to step 3.  If the speed is frightening you go on until it stops being so.

3. You look at the translation and listen to the text at the same time, from the beginning to the end of a story, usually three times is enough to understand almost everything.  If you’re a fast enough reader you can read much faster than people speak, so you’re able to know IN ADVANCE the meaning of what you’re going to listen to, and to be in a position to guess at least some meaning (with a good translation almost everything) of what you’re listening to.
This is the most important thing in the method, it is right AT THIS POINT that proper learning takes place.  If you’re not capable of doing it without stopping the audio, you might decide to read a page (or a paragraph) and listen to the passage once or twice and go on.

Because of the IDIOLECT of the author the first 10-20 pages might be a nightmare for some, but then it’s getting easier and easier, the longer the text the easier it becomes, but it’s still the same IDIOLECT, variation after variation on the same theme, more and more celestial music.

The aim of STEP 3 is obvious: MEANINGFUL EXPOSURE, INPUT, LISTENING COMPREHENSION.  And ultimately: NATURAL LISTENING – understanding completely new texts without any crutches, you only rely on your ears and what you already know. It basically means you are able to understand NEW recorded texts (usually slightly simpler than the ones you have “listened-read”) without using any written texts, neither the original nor a translation and without having read them in L1 before.  I might add here: garbage in, garbage out.

4. You repeat after the recording, you do it as many times as necessary to become fluent.  Of course, first you have to know how to pronounce the sounds of the language you’re learning. Do not try to speak until you’ve reached the stage of natural listening.  Blind shadowing (without understanding) is a waste of time and effort.  Repeat after the speaker what you only understand (the meaning) and can hear properly (phonemes, rhythm, etc).  Listen-repeat – if it’s correct: listen-repeat, listen-repeat.  If it’s not correct, do not repeat any more, only listen.

5. You translate the text from your own language into the language you’re learning.
You can do the translation both orally and in writing, that’s why the written texts should be placed in vertical columns side by side: you can cover one side and check using the other one.


  • The layout of the texts to learn is very important.   The original text and the literary translation should be placed in parallel vertical columns side by side.
    Sensory memories – visulal (iconic) and auditory (echoic)- are very short and disappear within a second, so you get lost when you have to look for words, they should CONSTANTLY be within your eyes’ and ears’ reach.
  • The translation:  a) interlinear, word for word (3 to 5 hours of audio) (for beginners)  b) literary, but following the original text as closely as possible.  Then you can check almost instantly whether you understand or not.
  • Listening to a short text time and again does not mean new exposure, it is still the same mechanical repetition. It might have its merits as well: you’re exposed to sounds, rhythm and intonation, but that’s about it, nothing more.
  • L-R is NOT watching subtitled movies.  You CANNOT read subtitles in advance, they appear on the screen at the same time as the characters are speaking, you have no time to pay attention to what you’re (mis)hearing, you concentrate on what is going on in the movie. Quite often, subtitles in L1 have very little in common with what is actually being said in L2.  By the way, L-R (reading in L1 with an occasional glance at L2 and LISTENING to L2) works MUCH, MUCH, MUCH better than just reading in L2 and listening to L2. I know, I’ve done both, girls and boys and both.
  • L-R is NOT Assimil and suchlike.  What makes L-R different is: 1. using long novels right from the start in fully bilingual format, with bilingual etexts in vertical columns with matching cells, side by side on ONE page, recorded by professional actors.  2. Step 3 (= listening to the target language while reading in a language you understand.  3. Using self-explanatory texts (= knowing the content beforehand, both the meaning and emotionally)  4. speaking and writing only after the incubation period, that is after getting to the stage of natural listening.  5. the Assault (= massive exposure in a relatively short time)  6. taking into account all the subsystems: pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary and discourse (= how to produce texts), discourse in textbooks is artificial and often wrong).  7. And that’s true, it IS the cheapest way of learning a language, both in terms of money and time.

How it works

GRAMMAR AND VOCABULARY  are in the texts,  why should you bother with lengthy and often wrong explanations?  When L1 and L2 are not closely related, say English and Japanese or to a lesser extent Polish and Japanese, you might want to read some basic information about L2 grammar, but nothing more.

READING  When you’ve done the right amount of listening-reading with parallel texts, you don’t have to learn the skill separately.  With languages using a different script, say Japanese for Indo-Europeans (us, unlucky bastards), ‘listening-reading’ saves a lot of toil, thousands of hours compared with traditional methods using textbooks and flashcards.

WRITING  After the right amount of exposure to complicated texts with full and beautiful DISCOURSE, a little bit of written retranslation from L2 to L1 should be enough.  You don’t need to translate whole books, though, only the phrases or sentences you feel you wouldn’t be able to say or write yourself.

 ‘Listening-reading’ is a SYSTEM (a set of interdependent elements that mean something as a whole). If you skip or omit one element, the structure crumbles.  Let me be stubborn once more.  Listening-reading’ is a system and that’s its only advantage. Not its particular components, not even STEP 3.  You can incorporate some elements into your own learning, but to exploit L-R to the maximum it is much better to use it as a whole.

Progress Report: [841d]::[968hr]::[2329vocab]::[787kanji]::[2312sentences]

After I wrote this, I completely changed gears and didn’t do anything I planned out here.  Instead, I’m continuing studying RTK until I finish in about a month.  Then I will start on native media.

The first thing you should notice is that I’ve added 421 new kanji since my last report.  This is for 2 reasons.  The first reason is that I’ve been wanting to start reading and I don’t want to spend too much time finding material with complete furigana coverage or adding it.  The other reason is that I’ve decided to study for the JLPT N3 test in December.  I haven’t decided to actually take the test, but studying for it is forcing me to round out my stills into something more useful for actually using Japanese.

Overall, kanji went quite fast compared to vocabulary.  I was able to add about 10 kanji for every hour I studied instead of 6 or 7 vocabulary words.  The kanji I added were the ones tagged as N3 in my kanji deck.  I’ve also suspended any unstudied non-N3 vocabulary, so I have about 80 more vocabulary to study.

As of today, I’m starting 2 new cards – audio only vocab to start getting better at listening comprehension, and kanji only vocab to get better at reading without the aid of furigana.  I’ll continue to mature the old cards for now.

June Goals:

– Audio only vocab cards.
– Vocab cards without furigana.
– Add the last 87 N3 vocab words

July & beyond:
– NHK easy
– Finish Tae Kim
– Start taking practice jlpt tests
– Reading parallel texts
– Listening practice (podcasts, subs2srs, nhk easy, buonaparte’s listening-reading)