Hello everyone! What follows is a post I wrote a little while ago, but am only posting now. It was originally intended for Mikotoneko & Friends, however I thought this post would be more appropriate here on my personal blog. (No worries, I still have something big planned to contribute to Mikotoneko & Friends 😉 ) Rather than update it with what else I’ve been doing since writing the post, I decided to keep it in its original form. Here it is…
To a certain extent, this post is also a personal journal. Proof to myself that my studies are not the same now as they were a year ago. A reminder to myself that I have made progress. Overall, there was definitely a lot of experimenting, tweaking, and discoveries, not only from a learning technique point of view, but also from a life experience point of view. (My apologies for including so many photos in this post, they were all taken by me over the last few months, each with their own meaning.)
I’ll start with a bit of a backstory: In midsummer 2013, I became unemployed. I had been working on a term position in the IT field, but the term was not renewed at the end. Certainly not good financially, but it was an expected outcome, and I wanted to be positive and see it as an opportunity for change. What does this have to do with language learning? Quite a bit, in the long run.
In the beginning, there was lots to think about. Although there would be more time for learning Japanese, there were still other things to consider, such as future employment. So early on, I did a lot of research about companies, training, looking at skills to brush up, thinking of the practicality of each possibility. Finding a job is a full time job, as they say.
Then when my activities turned back to Japanese, I asked myself, “What have I not tried so far?” With some time to experiment, I wanted to step out of my comfort zone, and try out things I’d more or less avoided so far. Output was something I hadn’t really tried much of up to this point, and I’d heard a lot of praise about language exchanges, and this was certainly a great candidate for the next step. So I went in head-first.
Initially, I was using a site called Shared Talk. It basically works on a penpal type system. You can search a directory of other users, send a friendly hello, then start exchanging messages. This was certainly a huge leap, and one I’m still glad to have made! It very quickly became my quest of the day to participate in an exchange.
This new challenge gave me a seize the day kind of attitude. While we still had refreshingly cool mornings and warm days, so I also wanted to start getting up extra early and go for a morning walk to start a productive day. I should add that I am not a naturally active person, but this was something I wanted to experience. With photos to prove it, I am proud to say I have experienced an early morning walk on the beach back at the homestead, and have seen the calm of the wee hours in the town that I call my home today. It’s amazing to see how this sort of inspiration can expand into many other areas of your life, indeed, including language learning.
Avoiding distractions is always a struggle. One of the biggest changes I made to try and minimize this was having a notepad and pen at my side. (Yes… real physical pen and paper… It does have its place 🙂 ) When random thoughts came to mind, whether it be something to touch base with someone about, or even just something to look up, I’d write it down. If it was important, than it would still be worth doing later. Often I would find that only half or less of things I wrote were still relevant later in the day, so just imagine if I’d acted on every impulse and got sidetracked!
SharedTalk was useful and a great move forward, but because of how it’s just purely exchanging messages, it’s too easy for the exchange to be a bit one sided—for example for your partner to not provide any corrections, or for the conversation to continue in one language only. So eventually I switched to Lang-8, a platform I’d tried out briefly before. I don’t know if the site worked differently back then, or if I just misunderstood it, but I hadn’t found it useful in the past. That changed when I gave it another chance.
With Lang-8, you make a post in your L2, as long or short as you want, on any topic you want, and native users will provide corrections. In return, you provide corrections for people writing in your own native language. It works on a balanced system where the more you help people, the more visibility your own posts get. Just be cautious of errors, perhaps by cross referencing with something like SpaceALC (if you’re also learning Japanese.) It could be something as innocent as a typo or just the other person misunderstanding what you meant to say, but errors do creep up. If you want to practice output, especially if you prefer writing over speaking, then it’s the best platform of its kind that I’ve come across.
Overall, the language exchanges were something that were positive and provided the huge leap out of my comfort zone that I really, truly needed. Members of the Lang-8 community have been very kind and helpful. Above all, I think it helped sort out some grammatical questions that I never really came across answers to with other methods. Absolutely worth a try!
At this point, there were still other things to take care of in life, such as financial and health (weight loss) issues. Around the winter holidays and new year, my studies had taken a bit of a drop, on purpose, so I could tend to these matters and enjoy the festivities of the season as well. To make a long story short, things are on back on track for both of the aforementioned issues, and I think the break actually benefited my passion for learning in the long run.
To get back into the groove, I found myself turning to iKnow—a site I’d mentioned in the past, something I’ve used in spurts here and there. Content with accompanying audio, example sentences, and a method that tests you in multiple ways, all without having to prepare anything—it was a great anti-burnout tool for sure. For reference, I was studying the core 3000 and 4000.
With all of this stuff, at first I was trying to work out a sort of schedule for myself, like a regimen like revolved around specific activities. I remember being quite pleased with myself when I found that it even somewhat resembled the schedule from a language school in Japan who’s website I’d been looking at. Eventually, it evolved into more like a checklist of activities, divided into the four main elements of a language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing. At this point too, I was pleased to see that I was doing things that reflected all of these elements.
Now that look back on it all, studies were definitely on a one thing leads to another route, and due to a feature in iKnow, I started looking at shadowing more closely. This is something I’d been discussing with a good friend, who’d been using a shadowing textbook + audio. Not having immediate access to said textbook, this would be a chance to try the often discussed Subs2SRS.
Subs2SRS is a program that will take a video file along with accompanying subtitles, and turn them into flashcards with audio, text, and a screenshot for context, basically as listening practice. An unexpected drawback was how a lot of the subs I came across did not match the video, timing-wise. Not just a second or two, but sometimes a whole minute off, and not even consistently off either. On the plus side, when you have working files, the nice part about Subs2SRS is that it gives a trackable method of incorporating listening practice and shadowing directly into your SRS program.
Being on a bit of an audio kick, I also started found myself tuning in to this world of polyglots on YouTube. For a change of pace if nothing else, I started listening to their words, watching their skills in action, and began to draw a lot of inspiration and practical advice from it. I think it was at this time that I’d realized audio and a more multimedia approach was something I had been lacking until recently. Another, unexpected bit of usefulness came when I’d hear them talk about how language learning fit into their daily lives, and how they did of course have lives, socializing, other hobbies, and day jobs on top of it, yet still had success in language learning. From their experiences and my own, I realized that not only is it possible to have a well balanced life with other activities beyond hardcore study, but in fact it’s quite important to do so.
Something they also all had in common was they all had their specific techniques and focuses. Things that worked for them, that were the most relevant to their interests and goals. Aside from passion and perseverance, making it personal was the other common theme. So after all this additional inspiration, I came full circle, but with new energy, new knowledge, and new techniques… I am of course talking about one of my personal favorites, Learning With Texts.
I had gone quite a while without using LWT. But when I got back into it, I knew my skills had improved. And with that, my use of it would evolve. That’s because in addition to all the new knowledge I’d accumulated from my previous experiences, my one true pairing of LWT+Anki had met some new friends, audio and sentences, and ran into an old acquaintance called kanji. I’ll explain…
Even the LWT author recommends learning texts that have accompanying audio, something I’d mostly ignored when I used it in the past. It was time to change that, and since I’d been experimenting with Subs2SRS, the obvious choice for me and my interests was to continue to use scripts for anime episodes, and also lyrics for the theme songs, to make things even more interesting. As long as I could find the text, I knew the audio was always available.
This change brings us to the current day. Wanting to focus on input for the time being, my current method starts with LWT. I find the script/subtitles for an anime episode (currently Outbreak Company), and paste it into LWT. As I come across a new word, I add the reading and bilingual definitions to a new card. The next steps are where things have expanded though, because instead of stopping there, I also search SpaceALC to find additional example sentences, and add them to Anki directly. This is especially useful when it comes to grammar or set phrases. And having cleared my deck of the full RTK set of kanji some time ago, I also re-add forgotten kanji from new words (via Tangorin’s vocab list feature) to import into Anki later on. To bring it all together, I take the audio from the anime episode, split it up into 3-5 minute sections, and add it to my phone for audio immersion and listening comprehension.
Learning new terms, kanji and full sentences, along with listening practice, all related to real, native, enjoyable media. After much experimenting, this is my current method for input-based learning. When I look back, I can see the many steps that brought me here, and am thankful to have had the chance to have tried each and every one of them. With all this experimenting and trying things out, I was encountering so many “I wish I’d been doing this all along!” type of situations. And certainly, discovering these things is progress as well.
A really invigorating discovery was I found the more that I learned, the more I was able to spend time with real media rather than just doing SRS reps. Marathons of manga, TV, and video games were turning into activities that were more wonderfully inspiring than mentally draining. The rewards for learning the language were growing.
I’m quite fortunate to have found a passion in life that I can extend to many other facets. Language learning isn’t something done to develop a solitary skill. It’s something can be used to enjoy new music, experience thrilling stories, discover tasty cuisine, connect with more people… in other words, it doesn’t just open up a new language to you, it opens up another world, one that can and will become part of your life, making it better every day.
I’m really glad to be at a point where I can continue to make progress with Japanese, but all while still enjoying my other hobbies more fully again, and even English media too. As far as language learning goes, I want to continue to focus on input with my LWT method. In fact I think it’s this focus on a particular element and method that allows me to still make good progress while having many other things going on in life at the same time.
I’ve also been thinking about how I want to be more a part of the community. What that means exactly, I haven’t decided just yet. More blogging? Updated guides? #ajatt on IRC? More twitter? Get back into the tadoku contests? It remains to be seen. This is something I’d really love to hear about from readers. What do you do to be involved with the language learning community? What would you like to see us talk about on the blog? How has your language learning journey transformed? As always, please feel free to leave comments below. See you all next time!