Tadoku Training: Update #3 (Wrap-up)

In Review

As September comes to a close, so does part one of my 3 month project. Preparing for next month’s reading contest has been a very enlightening experience that has certainly pushed me back into action and made me take a look at my habits and learning environment more closely. Most of all, it’s helped remind me of what my goals for language learning are, and make the changes needed to get closer to those goals.

Over the month, I spent approximately 3 weeks with a huge focus on creating Anki flashcards for new words, expressions, and kanji, via the online tool Learning With Texts. For this project, all text (and accompanying audio) was from the official Japanese translation of the first Harry Potter book. During the 4th and last week of the month, I stopped adding content to Anki and instead put a bigger emphasis on the amount of new cards per day, so that I could review all new content by the end of the month. Throughout the entire month, I would also re-read the text I’d gone through, and listen to the audio for what I’d covered so far.

Although I didn’t get through an entire chapter as I’d originally planned, I did manage to tackle something well beyond my comfort zone. One might even say that reading a novel in a foreign language is one of the most advanced things a learner can do as far as input-based learning goes. As far as stats go, this equated to 345 new cards in Anki, including vocabulary in context, extra example sentences, and individual kanji to be learned RTK-style. (I also tried to incorporate as many monolingual definitions as possible, and sometimes used Google Images search results to help my understanding.)

With this in mind, I feel like my goal was met, since I was able to slightly exceed my daily target for new cards in Anki for the entire month, which was 10 new cards per day. As far as the 7 CD-tracks from the audiobook that I used, that tallies up to 19m35s of comprehensible audio (which to me offers a similar number to the output-based +1 Challenge‘s goal of having a 15 minute conversation with a native speaker.)

The Technical Tweaking

I wouldn’t be me if this project didn’t involve some tweaking of my Anki card formats. While I want to share my complete format collection in a future post, I think one change in particular that made this month has been particularly effective. Without going into any confusing details (yet!), I’m now using a format that tests me on either reading or meaning, depending on the situation, but not both. This helps review counts from getting out of control, yet I know I’m studying each new term in the most effective way possible for me. I also feel that my kanji reading skills have gone through the roof as a result.

I think that aside from more quantifiable results, ie: new cards learned, this tweak has been one of the main benefits from this phase of the project. In fact, with this method, despite kanji having been a hurdle in the past, I now feel like learning Japanese vocabulary is no more of a challenge than it would be for say, a European language with the Latin alphabet.

Going Forward

Overall I feel much better prepared for the tadoku contest than I have in the past. For this round of preparation, I went right for it and attempted material that was not only beyond my comfort zone, but is a type of media that represents a long term goal for me as well (being able to read novels in Japanese.) I’m looking forward to the next phase, because I can finally attempt a true tadoku learning experience. Last time I participated in the contest, I didn’t really do it with much focus, and still continued to do SRS related activities including sentence/term mining the whole time. But this time I’m ready to take on a more full immersion experience and use tadoku the way it was intended.

I’ll of course still need to maintain the new knowledge I learned through Anki, but I will be doing absolutely 0 new cards for the month of October, and will keep reviews capped to a minimum so that I don’t spend all my time combating Anki addiction. In all seriousness, I admit that I have often relied too much on just creating and using flashcards, and perhaps have not spent enough time just immersing in the language itself! I’m hoping giving tadoku a focus in October will help change this.

Reading List, and Beyond!

Now to the core of things, what I’ll be reading!

I’ve really come to believe that among other things, a goal should be measurable, so with that in mind, I will aim to beat my previous score from the last time I participated in the contest, which was 290.83 pages by their scoring system.“Be better today than you were yesterday!” is the path to a personal best!

If you’ve been following my updates so far, then I thank you 1000 times over, and invite you to share your own experiences in the comment section below. And to all tadoku participants, best of luck in October!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Tadoku Training: Update #2

(This is update 2 of 3 in my ongoing tadoku training. The update for my first checkpoint can be found here.) So far things are going well despite a few setbacks. My first cold in quite a while has sapped a fair bit of my “get up early in the morning” energy, but I’m managing to keep up my daily targets for reviewing vocabulary all the same. Even if you don’t have a lot of free time every day, I find that doing a project like this one allows you to take a look at where you can perhaps make the time, such as by getting up even just 20-30 minutes earlier, or by changing habits.

Originally my goal had been to learn all the unknown vocabulary from one chapter of the first Harry Potter book in Japanese (by the way, it’s not the first chapter… If you do a project like this, feel free to start wherever inspires you!) Given the amount of unknown vocabulary and grammatical structures for me to cover, I’m seeing that it may be a bit unrealistic to accomplish all of it in just 30 days, especially with life’s many other elements to balance as well. But rather than see this as a failure, I see it as a success. It means that without question, I’m attempting to tackle material out of my comfort zone. And as many articles have pointed out, growth happens outside of your comfort zone.

At the current rate, it looks like I’ll be able to aquire several hundred new words over the month. On top of this, new card formats in Anki have been seriously improving my kanji reading abilities. Whenever possible, I only add the monolingual definition to the card, even if I peek at the English one to ensure I’m guessing the meaning correctly. Sticking to this one source of material is also giving me repeated exposure to similar grammatical patterns that I’m becoming more able to understand. When taking occasional breaks for more media exposure such as TV or news sites, I’ve already some aha moments where I come across a word or expression that I can now understand, and am very conscious that learned it through this project. This effect is something that I plan on exploring further in the near future in fact 😉

The next update at the end of the month will serve as a summary of my overall experiences in preparing for the tadoku reading contest in October, as well as what changes I’ll be making during the contest itself. Stay tuned!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tadoku Training: Update #1

Here’s a quick update as to how my tadoku training is going so far.

I’ll start off by saying what a boost it’s given me already. After having been away from any focus on language projects, there is a big wave of new energy flowing into things. Things are definitely a one step at a time sort of process, but being able to look back and read/listen to what I’ve learned so far and understand it, short as it may be, is a huge confidence boost. It really gives me an “I can do this” sort of feeling. It also confirms that learning from reading and listening with media like this is exactly the sort of process I enjoy the most for language learning. It’s what motivates me, and gives me a sense of growth and progress. 

The biggest challenge so far has basically just been getting habits reestablished. Trying to get time in with LWT every morning, and keeping up with Anki throughout the day and evening, keeping in mind that there’s a daily target to meet now, on top of all of life’s other happenings… It can be done, if one stays conscious of their goal.

I’m really glad to be back onto an intensive Japanese project, and am quite confident that it will bring me a new level of knowledge and enjoyment of the language. I hope to make another update post later on in the month, and then one more after that as a summary before heading straight into the tadoku contest itself. Until then, time for more LWT!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Tadoku Training!

20140811_072259_HDR
After a wonderful summer of things like outdoor activities and an epic anime convention, I am all set to switch gears and get back into some serious Japanese projects. With autumn around the corner, I’ll be spending September, October, and November getting back into the swing of things with none other than a wonderful 90 day challenge. I’ll be taking a new and more focused approached to various missions I’ve tried in the past, so I hope this will give me a huge burst and skyrocket me on to a new level!
 
I’ve often said that one of my overall goals with Japanese is to be able to read light novels in their original form. So with that in mind, the first two months of my three month project will be very much centered on that goal. (I’ll get to the third month in a little bit.)
 
What I’ll Be Doing For Month 1

 
As many of you may know, there is another tadoku contest coming up in October. So what better way to spend September than preparing for the contest thorougly. I’ve attempted this in the past by learning vocabulary from a Wikipedia article about one of the books I’d be tackling. While it helped a little bit for certain key words, an encyclopedia entry is still not the actual story. But this time around, I’ve been fortunate enough to find a digital text edition of the book I’d like to read, along with audio. The story in question is the first Harry Potter book. Now I know this isn’t a story originally written in Japanese, but this edition is still in my target language, and the advantage of being able to study the vocabulary directly from the book along with the audio makes it an obvious choice for me.
 
I’ve done a great deal of experimenting with different methods for language learning over the last year, and have concluded that for my goals, LWT, Anki, and, when available, accompanying audio are without a doubt the most powerful combination for me. So for 30 days, I’ll be focused on learning new vocabulary directly from ハリー・ポッターと賢者の石 in all its glory. This means an increased amount of SRS activity each day, as well as regularly picking out new words with LWT. This means not having as much extra time for other immersion activities as a result, but that focus will come in time, and I’ll be all the more equipped for it too. Besides, after having basically taken most of the summer “off” from hardcore language learning, I feel even more ready and able to tackle it again with a fresh new start, and new ideas.
 
With this, I want to be fairly specific about not just the action, but also the general time and place to do each one. Personally, I find that many “at some point in the day” intentions don’t usually get done, so figuring out the most appropriate time to do something is very useful. I will have a personal list of the when and where, which I won’t bore you with since everyone’s schedules and availability can differ quite a bit. The important part is that you define what your goals and corresponding actions are, and that you map things out to ensure they will happen without getting too much on your plate.
 
At the end of September, I’d like to post a summary of my experiences with tadoku prep, then reveal my full reading list for the next month, as well as my plans for maintaining the newly learned vocabulary, and even some time management tips. Then of course October is all about extensive reading with the tadoku contest. As for rounding off the 90-day/3-month duration in November, the focus for that month is something that took me a while to decide, and will have the theme of living the language, but the details will be kept under wraps for now. Until then, good luck to everyone!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Animal Crossing Day

Animal Crossing is a life simulation game series by Nintendo, with the New Leaf installment being for the 3DS handheld gaming system. This summer, we decided to have an Animal Crossing Day themed day in the countryside. (For those who are unfamiliar with the game, I’ve started off with a collage showing some of the in-game activities you can do.) I think this is definitely a case where a picture is worth a thousand words, so let the photos begin!

Some of the various activities from Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Some of the various activities from Animal Crossing: New Leaf

Bug Catching

Bug Catching

Looking for treasures

Looking for treasures

Coming across some villagers

Coming across some villagers

Taking a break at the local café

Taking a break at the local café

We will call this one... "gardening"

We will call this one… “gardening”

Burying the time capsule, complete with tacky shirt

Burying the time capsule, complete with tacky shirt

Gone fishin'... AND diving

Gone fishin’… AND diving

The fire was wild, but luckily we had an expert on hand

The fire was wild, but luckily we had an expert on hand

Fireworks and the lovely moon to bring the day to a close

Fireworks and the lovely moon to bring the day to a close

Thanks for reading! If you made it this far, click here for a special bonus animated GIF! Stayed tuned for the special digging up of the time capsule, scheduled for summer 2015!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Life, Language Learning and Everything

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.

20130729_064008

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.

20130824_071207

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!

2013-10-16-15

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.

20130805_140224

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.

20131014_112822_hdr

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.

ruins-of-met-238

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Feel The Music!

I am a guitar player. Music has been a part of my life since I was about 12 years old. Before then, I didn’t really listen to music much, or play any instruments. That all changed when the band Green Day hit my ears.

Leaving from school (6th grade) to go to the one and only Green Day concert ever to be in Halifax (Insomniac tour.)

The catchy, punk sound hit me like a wave. In those days, I also got into bands like Nirvana, The Doors, Nine Inch Nails, and Marilyn Manson. I also got into instrumental music, especially from video game scores. Music had entered my life. I’ve thought for a long time now that music is being able to hear what someone is feeling. The emotion, the universal language that music conveys, is something I would not want to be without. I wanted to not only enjoy music, but to create it as well. First, I would need an instrument…

Christmas morning, the music begins.

My first guitar was by Series A, a clone of Jackson-brand guitars. This thing has been through a lot: practice, jams, drops, modifications, you name it. It’s still functional, but currently in retirement. I’m very proud to say that I still have my first guitar though. Now I don’t necessarily come from a musical family, but there is a certain photo that has family members with guitars in hand…

About to step into a burning ring of fire.

As I mentioned earlier, my interest in rock music eventually expanded into an appreciation for video game music. The first game to pull me into this was Final Fantasy IV for the Super Nintendo.

Final Fantasy IV for the Super Nintendo.

In fact I even went so far as to create some video game music tabs, especially for the site VG Jam. I remember spending hours and days learning songs from classic games. I’ve always really liked chiptune-era game music because I find it lends very well to the guitar sound.

Part of my Ghost and Goblins guitar tab.

But before being able to create tabs, I had to be able to play the instrument to begin with! It was very difficult at first. I had no idea how to even hold the thing. After a few lessons, I’d learned some of the basics, but still couldn’t really play any songs. For a while, I’d nearly given up the instrument. Then one day I learned the wonder of power chords, the source of the hard hitting sound associated with rock music. They were actually very easy to remember, because you only really had 2 formations, you just moved your hand up and down the fretboard to change the chord. I was ready to rock and roll!

Shenanigans!

I did eventually must up enough skill to actually play with other musicians. In the early days, we’d make a new band every week, with names such as The Sour Apples or Edgewise. The picture above shows James and I, with whom I made my one time live debut playing Castlevania songs in a 12th grade concert. It was completely last minute, we weren’t actually scheduled to go on stage, but the equipment was there, we knew the songs… so why not! The funny thing is, at that time I was actually playing drums! I’ve tried many instruments over the years with various levels of success (or failure), including guitar, bass, drums, keyboard, recorder, ocarina, violin, and mandolin. Despite all of that, I always come back to the guitar. It’s been there for me all these years, and I want to always be there for it!

Unplugged

Sometimes it’s nice to play acoustically, just you and the natural sound of the guitar. This would often be the case at things like camps and Christmas parties. The guitar truly is a portable instrument in this way.

Technology has played a big part in learning guitar for me. You can look up tabs and instructional videos online, and there’s even software that emulates professional level equipment.

Guitar corner

No matter where I lived, I always had some kind of guitar setup. The picture above me and Brittiny’s first apartment together.

What a mess! This is now baby’s room!

Then we moved into our first house together. I used to be quite a collector actually, having as many as 7 guitars at one time. Right now I have one electric, and one classical, both seen below.

Squier Jagmaster | Takamine Classical

In my musical future, I’d like to learn more guitar techniques, such as being able to play solos and difficult songs. Music will always be a source of inspiration and growth for me. No matter what the mood, there is always a song to immerse yourself in, and be taken away to another world of dreams.

I have no idea what’s going on in front of this amp, but I’m sure it was very serious and necessary.

On another note (all puns aside) it’s time for some tom foolery… Thank you, and good night!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment