In this series of “obvious” posts, we’ve gone over several things. First, we talked about epiphanies and how to get them. Then we went over confusion, and why it’s such a good thing. Lastly, we looked at conscious competence to show you why you’re having trouble (as well as the four stages one goes through to reach the “obvious-land”). Now, instead of talking about theory and the steps one goes through in order to reach “Japanese-is-obvious” levels, we’re going to talk about solid things you can do (and do right now) that will get you to this oh-so-awesome mountain peak of Japanese learning. I should warn you though… you’ll still have to think long term.
The Long, Difficult Trail
First, before we start, I just want to mention that the path is long. The path doesn’t end tomorrow. It doesn’t end next month. It goes for a while… arguably a lifetime, depending on where your standards are at, so you need to be ready for the long haul. To make things worse, after your initial downhill hike everything becomes an uphill climb.
There is good news, though – the longer you stick with it, the stronger your legs will get (paralleling your mind, and how it gets stronger as you practice learning, in this case, Japanese).
Now, if you had a giant mountain or hill to climb, what do you think the best way to do it is? Climbing for 8 hours all at once, one day a week? Or, how about climbing a little bit every day? I’d definitely go for the second option. Your legs will get stronger, and they won’t atrophy while you sit there doing nothing the other 7 days. Consistency wins this race. Hopefully you’ll remember that. If you aren’t consistent, and you don’t do a little bit every day, none of the strategies below will help you one bit. If you are, well, then you should try these out.
Here are some things you can do to make Japanese obvious. Some of it will be review for you and some of it (hopefully) will be new to you. Either way, though, this kind of thing is a good reminder for all of us to stay consistent with our studies.
5 Actionable Ways To Make Japanese More Obvious
I’m going to go over each way fairly quickly, but hopefully thoroughly enough for you to get started. It’s Thanksgiving Holiday for a lot of you out there starting tonight, so what a better time than now to spend a little time learning Japanese?
Get A Good SRS
At Tofugu (and even on TextFugu) we use Anki, though there are other SRS (that’s spaced repetition software) applications and websites out there as well (We just reviewed Memrise, in fact). Really, though, it doesn’t matter too much as long as the program you’re using does a few different things:
- It helps you to study things you don’t know more often.
- It keeps track of time so that you have cards that are “due” to study.
- Optional: Preferably it also doesn’t give you multiple choice. Multiple choice teaches you to “narrow down the answer” not to pull the memory out of your head. It’s much better to have to come up with the answer from nothing (or a mnemonic) otherwise it’s nothing like real life.
Now, the reason a good SRS is important for making Japanese obvious is because of the consistency. One study session means nothing. 365 study sessions? That means a ton. Plus, with a good SRS you study the things you need to study and the things you know get put away for a long time so you don’t have to see them very often (very efficient!). Over the course of a long time you’ll learn a lot and with this knowledge you’ll become consciously competent. From there, it’s only a matter of time before Japanese becomes obvious.
Start Studying Sentences
Sentences are a great way to study. They include grammar, vocab, and conversational Japanese… this is stuff you can use. There are various ways to study sentences but most likely the easiest way would be to search for a Japanese sentences deck on Anki. Just doing a search myself found quite a few good looking ones. The 8555 Japanese Sentences one looks like a really good one, if you don’t know where to start.
Doing this every day will get you really far – while there’s something to be said about vocab (and I will say something about vocab next!) sentences will be incredibly helpful to you over time. The more you learn, the more the puzzle pieces of Japanese will start to come together. The more puzzle pieces you have, the more obvious it becomes where to put the next piece, without even having to think about it.
Some tips to make sentence studying better:
- Say the sentences out loud.
- Be strict. If you don’t remember / know even one little part of the sentence mark it as wrong so it comes back (don’t worry, you’ll get it the next time!).
- Really having trouble with the reading for a sentence? Try RhinoSpike.
- Sentence study is probably best for lower to middle intermediate learners of Japanese. Beginners will be overwhelmed.
Be Efficient About Vocab Learning
Vocab is great. The more vocab you know, the more you can communicate. If you only know vocab and don’t know any grammar at all, you can still kind of talk to someone. If you only know grammar and don’t know any vocab, you can’t do that. So, vocab is important… The most important question you should ask yourself shouldn’t be “how do I learn vocab” – instead, it should be “in what order should I learn vocab?”
I’ve done a lot of the work for you (if you’re an Anki using person, at least), but the smartest thing to do is to learn in order of “most commonly used” to “least commonly used.” Let’s hark back to the “Puzzle Pieces” example again. Some pieces are more important than other pieces. Edge pieces, for example do a ton to help you place the center pieces. “The Most Common Vocab” are like those side pieces. If you put those down first (i.e. learn them first) you can put everything else down more easily. Basically, 10% of all the existing vocab make up 90% of the benefit… so, why not learn those first? Makes everything else easier, and you can start using everything a lot faster too.
So, in this case, Quality > Quantity in order to win and make Japanese more obvious.
Making lots of mistakes is super beneficial to your learning. For some reason schools punish people for making mistakes. Really, though, they should be encouraging people to make mistakes, because the more mistakes you make, the more you learn (at least as long as you’re paying attention to your mistakes and not repeating them too often).
Being scared of making mistakes will stop you from learning. If you freeze and cringe every time you mess up, you’ll be stuck at the back of the line, so to speak. So, to make Japanese obvious, you have to make a lot of mistakes. How would someone go about doing that, then?
One great way is to use Lang-8 … and use it A LOT. You write journal entries in the language you’re learning (Japanese) and then native Japanese speakers correct your journal entries for you. It’s pretty awesome, but not made for someone who isn’t really into their mistakes. If you’re a lower-mid intermediate level Japanese student (or higher) you should use Lang-8. Every time someone corrects a mistake, figure out why they corrected it that way. Starting to see a pattern? Well, then you aren’t learning from your mistakes.
Generally, though, you should try not to be afraid of messing up. Embrace mistakes and you’ll be able to move forward a lot faster. If you fear mistakes then you’ll also never progress, and that’s no good for our consistency mantra, right?
Explain Things To Others
It’s one thing to learn something, it’s a whole other thing to tell someone about it (and have it make sense). Having to explain / teach something you’ve learned makes you think about it in a totally different way. You have to process things that you “just know” into things that follow some sort of order. If you can teach something, then you understand it as well. Things you teach tend to be a lot more obvious to you than things you can’t teach.
Not everyone has a friend they can sit down and teach everything they’ve learned (booooring), but luckily in this digital age there are ways to replicate this and gain sort of the same effect. By starting a blog, YouTube channel, and so on, you can write up lessons on the things you’ve learned. Hey, you never know – perhaps someday you’ll gain an audience as well. Wouldn’t that be fun?
But, try to spend some time teaching what you’ve just learned right after you’ve learned it. Even if it’s only 10 minutes per day. It will raise questions about things you didn’t know as well as you thought you did and allow you to learn various concepts more in depth when you research them later, filling in the gaps.
So, teach teach teach… and you shall learn learn learn. Also, you’ll be making ambiguous things in your mind obvious, and that’s a great thing.
Obvious Enough For Yah?
Obviously there are more “obvious” things for you to do to help make your Japanese more obvious, but I hope the tips above will help you to get started. Really what it comes down to is consistency, and if you are smart about your learning you can add that to your arsenal as well.
What things do you do to help make Japanese more “obvious” to you? What actions get you one step closer that other people can do too? Share them in the comments below.
Oh, and don’t know Japanese but would love to learn? Try out TextFugu (plus, members get all those super-efficient vocab decks free).