Confessions of an Introverted Language Learner

IMG_20160814_094151

Cats love native-media

Sometimes I feel like the odd one out in the language learning sphere. Many, if not most language learners out there, are focused mainly on speaking. The social aspect is what motivates them, what defines how they learn, and what drives their progress. And that’s fine, there’s nothing wrong with that. However, with that in mind, the title of this post isn’t just to try and sound like a hipster blog writer, there is truly a confession to make!

My confession is this… speaking is not what motivates me.

I think this is true for many other of my fellow introverted language learners. I also think this is perfectly fine. We have different goals, different activities that we prefer over others. But yet we’re made to feel like we’re doing it wrong, that we’re never going to learn the language that way. Now, I totally agree that best way to get better at speaking, is by speaking. But what if that’s not your primary goal?

My own motivation, as is likely to be the case with other introverts, lies in enjoying native media. The fact that I can watch TV shows, read books, play video games, and even do my other hobbies in a foreign language, is the absolute coolest part of the process to me. Doing these things passively won’t get you very far, something else I can agree on. I think that is also a misunderstood part of our process though. But using those materials to pick out and learn new words and phrases from will. In other words, not just observing, but actively learning from them. Yes, extroverts, doing things the introverted way doesn’t mean that it isn’t hands-on.

I’ve noticed a lot of unfair comparisons when it comes to language learning based on input (reading/listening) vs. output (speaking/writing.) Comments such as: “It’s like wanting to learn how to swim, but all you do is watch videos about swimming. You don’t even get in the water.” No, that’s like wanting to learn a language and all you do is watch videos about the language rather than in it. Engaging with the language, understanding more and more by learning new vocabulary from the materials you’re passionate about and interested in, that is very much getting in the water. Those sort of activities are literally called immersion… kind of like with water, right?

Not wanting to knock it until I’ve tried it, I have done many hours of speaking practice with native-speaker tutors on Skype. During these speaking sessions, of course I made mistakes, but we could always understand each other in the target language. In other words, when the occasion arises, I’ve proven to myself that I can communicate; understand, and be understood. The tutoring session let me test out what I’d previously learned, but that session is not where I learned it.

In this regard, I tend to strongly agree with other input-based learners that speaking is not studying. It’s the performance after practicing. After speaking sessions on Skype, as useful and interesting as they were, I would still use input-based activities to learn what I needed to know to fill in the gaps. I think we do see the value of the social elements and can even find enjoyment in it sometimes, but for us introverts, the social element can be a draining experience rather than an energizing one. Since language learning is a marathon and not a sprint, why not focus on the activities that keep us motivated, inspired, and energized? Above all else, I certainly don’t want to discount the value of making friends in your target language. I just feel that it should be a friendship that arises naturally like any other, but you just happen to be interested in each other’s language.

I want to especially point out that this is not an “I’m right, and you’re wrong,” sort of argument. It’s very much a “You’re right, but we’re not wrong.” We are introverts in an extroverted world, and just as the truest, purest goal is for all language learners, perhaps we can strive to understand each other, just a little more.

If you’re interested in learning more about input-based language learning, here are some links to just a few supporters of the method:
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Gift-Giving Season

20151202_141317_HDR

With December now upon us, many have already turned their attention towards shopping for the gift-giving season. As a related post to the one I did on minimalism a while back (thanks again to everyone who read and shared it!) I wanted to go a bit deeper into the topic of gift giving. I’d like to mention that I am absolutely not against gift giving. I think it’s one of the many ways you can show someone you care about them. But I also think that depending on how it’s approached, it can lead to overspending, clutter, stress, and even the embarrassment of unwanted/unneeded items at times.

While I really am a big fan of the gatherings, food, games, and cheer of the holiday season above all else, I’ll be the first to admit that it’s still exciting to get the surprise of a gift at this time of year. With that in mind, here are a few ideas, not meant as an alternative to gift giving itself, but more-so as a means of broadening the horizons of it. I like concrete examples, so many of these are fairly personal and specific to myself, but I think this is a good way to not sound vague. Let’s go!

  • One of the most obvious is probably consumables such as fancy food/drink items. They can use it right away, yet it won’t create any long-term clutter since they are by nature, consumable. Oddly enough, even though I often feel a little iffy giving this kind of gift, I always like receiving them! A special cheese assortment, imported snacks, an arrangement of beers… These would all be very welcomed in my kitchen!
  • Gift cards would also fit into a similar category. This would also include any sort of digital markets, like the Nintendo eShop, Sony’s PSN, or Steam for games, or even subscription options on streaming sites like Netflix or Crunchyroll. Because those are online, they don’t even have to wait for stores to reopen before redeeming and enjoying a wishlist title. As has been the case for my family in the past, sometimes using a gift card towards a bigger purchase is something that has made all the difference in affordability for us.
  • You sometimes hear about the gift of your time, but let’s be a bit more specific. Perhaps an IOU on helping them paint a room in the spring, or give them a hand with declutting if that’s your specialty. Or if you have a special skill that someone else would like to learn, why not give them the gift of your time by imparting that knowledge to them, such as teaching them how to be handy, or introducing them to the basics of a new language they’re interested in learning.
  • On that same note, if the recipient is interested in learning a new skill that you don’t happen to specialize in, you could always help them along with it financially. Pre-paid guitar lessons, credit on paid resource sites,  helpful equipment or materials to aid their journey… These could all help move them along in the right direction.
  • Something we’ve done before for birthdays (including my own) is to basically make the party the gift. Covering the food, drinks and related expenses can be a pretty cool present if you ask me!
  • Another approach that I like is the gift trading game. (There are many variations on the rules, but it often goes something like in this article. The bottom line is that you get to have a party, and you only need to buy one gift. Everyone gets a surprise, no one goes broke, and it creates an event to socialize around. Depending on the group, you could even give a theme to the gifts, like all things geek-related.

I think something else to consider in the entire give/receiving exchange is that we perhaps may not be aware of others’ situations at the moment. A person or family may have recently experienced a job loss, huge unexpected bill(s), are on a critical mission to overcome massive debt, or any number of factors that could affect their financial situation around the holidays. Funds can be tight in the best of times, so looking at gift-giving in a more affordable and less stressful way can be very practical too.

I hope this post has shown that being a minimalist certainly does not mean you have to boycott the gift-giving season. And at the same time, I also think that even those who would not call themselves a minimalist can appreciate an approach that doesn’t lead to clutter or overspending.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays to all!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

An Introvert’s Adventures on italki

Getting there! (Photo taken by Animom)

Getting there! (Photo taken by Animom)

Live languages exchanges via sites such as italki are often a big topic in the language learning community. For the longest time, I’d focused exclusively on input, since things like native media have always been my main interest. To see the vast majority of language learners have speaking as their main goal (in other words, output), made me feel like I should finally give it a try. Although I eventually came to spend some time on the text-based exchange site Lang-8, I had yet to have an actual live conversation with a real native Japanese speaker. As an introvert, being put on the spot like this can be absolutely terrifying afterall! And that is exactly my purpose in writing this post: To encourage my fellow introverted language learners to give this method a try.

I have to admit that my reason for taking the plunge into italki wasn’t entirely just based on wanting to step out of my comfort zone (but that is some of it!) Truth be told, what really gave me enough push to give it a shot was starting to plan a trip to Japan. After finally paying off both a credit card and line of credit, our family was now able to start saving funds for a future trip. With a projected time of summer 2017, this idea was now starting to become a reality. No longer could I ignore learning how to speak Japanese, since I’d be needing to use it in the future in a very practical way!

For those not familiar with italki, it’s a site that asks as an intermediary between students and teachers to arrange a live video or audio tutoring session via an application such as Skype or Hangouts. As a student, it means you can view ratings and comments about teachers, keep track of your sessions, and also ensures that you won’t have to pay anything if your teacher doesn’t show up on Skype for the session. For teachers, of course the reverse is true too. They can manage all their sessions, and will still get paid if a student bails out on them without 24 hours prior notice. Thanks to this system, I think teachers and students alike can feel safe using the site.

The first challenge was selecting 3 tutors for the allotted trial sessions that new users get (these are basically just discounted rates to be used up to 3 times, and only once per teacher.) I contacted a few tutors by inbox message, and while the replies were all very positive, I eventually had to choose just 3 of them. Shortly after doing that, the time had quickly come for my first live Skype call with a real live tutor!

I’d looked up various tips on how to prepare, such as memorizing certain expressions or vocabulary that are likely to come up, or spending extra time listening to the language on the day of your session. I did all of these things, and I think they helped, but ultimately it came down to just jumping right and and doing it. Keep in mind this piece of advice is coming from a fellow-introvert! I am not the type of person to do something like going up to random native speakers social skydiving-syle, but with italki it’s quite different.

The frame of mind to get into, is that these wonderful people are tutors, and are there to help you with your language learning. Many of them are also currently learning another language other than English, and will understand your situation first-hand. Their approach is to make it a comfortable learning environment. Just about every tutor I’d contacted suggested writing a little something out in text form first, so I wrote a self-introduction to act as a starting point for tutoring. I find this preparation perhaps helped most of all, since discussing the errors in my text or talking about hobbies and the like gave instant topics to cover.

Now for the actual session… I signed into Skype and added the tutor to my contacts. With a text message in Japanese, I said I was a little nervous, but ready. Within seconds, the request for video chat came in. Here we go! The session started off with basic introductions, followed by questions about where I live and things like that. I found that things flowed fairly naturally, with no awkward moments at all. If it makes sense to say this, I was nervous but comfortable during the whole session.

The tutor spoke slowly and clearly, almost entirely in Japanese. On my end, I was 50/50 at best. I would sometimes try to say something in Japanese, make my best attempt, and then say it in English as confirmation. Thankfully the tutor wrote a lot of notes in the text chat, which I can now enter into Anki to improve for the next session. Even after just one session, I feel that I’ve had some grammatical rules clarified for me, and already have a good idea about which areas to improve on to enable smoother conversation.

Until now, I’d mostly been an input-only kinda guy when it came to language learning. While this still makes up the most of my study time, I can see some benefits to also speaking practice with a tutor. First and foremost, the fact that you have an upcoming session at a specific date and time, that is a service you’re paying for, really makes things get real very fast! You really spring into action, and focus only on things that will be practical for your upcoming session. Fast forwarding now to 6 sessions and 5 tutors later… I can say that it continues to be a positive experience. Sticking with the theme of the post, here are a few tips and personal thoughts for any fellow introverts (or anyone at all really!) who want to give italki a try:

I have to admit, that before just about every session, I’d be tempted to chicken out and cancel at the last minute (again, keep in mind you don’t get a refund for if it’s less than 24 hours notice! Another motivator to stick with it!) I was worried that I wouldn’t know what to say, and that it would be awkward because of it, or that I would have so much trouble saying anything that I would look like a fool. Yet after every session, although I felt a little drained, I also felt motivated and inspired. It’s about talking with someone who is helping you practice, not about trying to be the most interesting person in the world. Tutors on italki are there because they’re passionate about language learning, and are learners themselves and understand the problems you may face. They’re there to help you, and are sympathetic to the various challenges of language learning.

As mentioned earlier, I would absolutely recommend trying a few different tutors to start. I think I actually lucked out and had 100% good tutors, which made it hard to only pick a couple to stick with now that I’ve been through the process, but it really goes a long way to have a tutor that’s in line with your personality, learning style, goals, interests, and even time zone! Oh yes, while I’m on that topic…

If there was only one difficulty I had, it was the massive time difference between eastern Canada and Japan. For my particular time zone, we’re essentially totally reversed with AM and PM. If I was scheduling an early session for 8AM, it was late evening at 8PM for them. It’s perfectly understandable, but it did make it harder to schedule session times that worked for both parties. The plus side is that italki will adjust all times to be displayed in your local time zone. This is also true for the teachers when they list their availability, so as long as you see a free slot, you’re good to go and book the session!

Another preparation not to overlook is the technical side of things. No matter what device you’re using to access Skype, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have a backup, because let’s face it… technology fails sometimes! For example, if you’re using Skype on your laptop, it may not hurt if you have a smartphone on standby just in case. Or to use a real life example, during one session my Bluetooth earpiece ran out of battery, and I had to switch to the very quiet built in speakers and had trouble hearing the rest of the session because of it. (Not to mention that losing the noise cancelling feature of the Bluetooth piece likely made it harder for my tutor to hear as well.) Testing your audio/video settings ahead of time (especially on the PC-based Skype) won’t hurt either, as sometimes the program gets confused about which component to use for input/output on more multi-faceted devices such as a laptop.

Although my tutors were great for coming up with topics and questions to keep the conversation flowing, it can be a good idea to try and do your part as well. I’m certainly no conversational master, but something as simple as asking the same question back to the tutor can go a long way, not to mention it will get you used to both the question and answer sides of a conversation.

I think it’s the spontaneity of an italki session that makes it appealing as an additional learning method. Not only that, but since it’s a one-on-one session, it’s extremely personal in the sense that this session is for you and only for you, and no one else will have that exact same lesson. For this reason, I find that certain newly learned words, expressions, grammar, etc stick with me more than say just seeing it on a vocabulary list.

Speaking of which, most tutors that I’ve had were kind enough to write out many things in text form in the Skype chat. This is very useful not only for clarity’s sake, but you can also take these notes for further study, such as finding additional example sentences, creating cloze cards to remember expressions, and so on. This is one of the ways that you can take your learning beyond just the 30+ minute session on italki.

I hope that sharing my experiences so far on italki will give you a better idea what to expect, and that you can see that even us introverted language learners can benefit from and enjoy sessions on there. I really think it’s something that I will be sticking with in the long term, by aiming to have two sessions a month. I know I still have a long way to go, but even looking back at the handful of sessions I’ve had so far, I’m definitely very conscious of the improvements I’ve made. If you’ve tried out italki or similar platforms, please leave a comment below and tell me what your experience was like. Thanks for reading, and best of luck in your language learning journey!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Minimalism

Beach and Times June 2014 046

Minimalism is something that I’ve been interested in for a long time, but it’s only recently that I’ve come across the actual term for this lifestyle. Essentially, minimalism refers to living light and simply, without physical or mental clutter. It’s about less stuff, and more doing. Even more so, for me it especially means being able to focus on the people and activities that I love.

Talking about ideals is all well and good, but it’s taking action that brings them to life. With that in mind, here’s what I’ve been doing to try and focus on what matters the most to me…

The first and perhaps most basic step, was of course decluttering. Overstuffed closets and cupboards, kitchen table stacked with papers and junk mail–it made sense to start with the obvious. Following rules such as “Could I replace this within $20 and/or 20 minutes,” or “Have I used this in the last 3 months?” went a long way to reducing clutter. Even when it came to more major equipment that I was holding on to solely as a backup or to use “someday,” I got to thinking, why hang on to this stuff solely as backup, not even using it, when I could sell it or give it away to someone else to make use of in the here and now?

There are many items that I’ve held on to for sentimental reasons. Old birthday cards, photos, that sort of thing. The ironic part is that they were all shoved in a box, stored away, rarely to be seen. Well, the wonderful thing about the age that we live in, is that things can be digitized, scanned, photographed, and enjoyed in other ways such as a desktop slideshow or digital photo frame. I’ve been realizing more and more, that the item may be a reminder of the fond memories associated with it, but it does not contain those memories. For the most part, a scan or digital photograph can bring up those warm memories just as well, and perhaps even more conveniently.

This digitization is perhaps my current biggest work in progress, because when we’re talking about 30 years of amassing these types of things, it naturally takes more than a weekend to digitize! My plan is to find the most effective ways preserve these memories so they can be appreciated and remembered, rather than just tucked away. Then, once they’re safely in the digital world, I can ceremoniously and respectfully dispose of them to reduce clutter (in a bonfire for example), while still being able to bring up these memories by the digital scans that keep them alive.

I’ve also stopped being quite as obsessed with having a lot of gadgets and equipment. I used to spend money beyond my means for anything from tablets, new phones, multiple PCs, eReaders, network drives, numerous guitars and amps–you name it. Not only was this resulting in consumer debt, but it made digital life a bit confusing! (First world problem, I know…) Now I opt to get the most use out of the least amount of devices, rather than a separate standalone gadget for every possible application. I find things not only much simpler and convenient this way, but also much less expensive!

Although minimalism often does involve getting rid of some possessions in one way or another, it certainly doesn’t entail getting rid of everything you own. After all, a person usually needs at least a physical item or two (or more!) to enjoy their favorite hobbies, or even to attain their personal goals. In this sense, I think blogger Jana Fadness put it best by saying: “…minimalism is really about knowing what’s really important to you, and arranging your environment in such a way that it’s easier for you to focus on those important things.” To this I might add, “…and also exclude possessions that do not help you focus on those important things.

Overall, it’s been a lot about defining limits. Whether it be limiting myself to a certain shelf, binder, bin… whatever the case, working within these own personal guidelines has helped a lot. Another major guideline has been to not have anything simply stored away, never to be seen for years and years. “Use it or lose it,” whatever that may mean for that particular item. If it’s useful (and actually used), aesthetically inspiring (and on display), then by all means, keep it!

Gift giving and receiving are both a bit of a sticky topic, but it’s one that I especially want to open a dialogue about. So let me ask you this: Have you ever been shopping for a gift for someone else, unsure of what they would need, or even want? Personally, I know the last thing I would want to do is get the person something that would only clutter up their life, or be otherwise unwanted. For this reason, I’ve always been a bit uneasy when it comes to gift giving. Ironically, even though I’ve always felt a little embarrassed to get a person things like gift cards, food items, drinks, or other consumable/non-material items… yet I’ve always been quite happy to receive them.

I like cool shiny things as much as the next person, but there are ways to look at non-material gifts in a different light. For example, maybe you’re working towards saving for a trip, and could use help with the related expenses more than you could use another gadget. It could be anything from aiding in fitness and health, a dream vacation, aims of home ownership, starting a business project, an educational or personal development goal… If you could help that person reach that goal or dream, wouldn’t you? Perhaps one of the greatest gifts of all, whether to give or receive, is one that lets a person get closer to their goals, hopes, and dreams.

Although I could go on and on about various details, I wanted to keep this particular post relatively short and to the point, as one of my aims of writing this post is to open a dialogue with friends, family, or even random readers that happen to have stumbled upon my post.

If you want to explore this topic further, there’s a very vast and active community of minimalists on YouTube, as well as numerous blogs out there, such as The Minimalists, and Zen Habits. My advice would be to listen to what other minimalists have to say, and take the bits and pieces that apply to your situation, and improving your own life. As always, thank you for reading!

(P.S: Thank you to everyone who read the draft for this post. Your comments and kind words mean the world to me!)

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Tadoku Reflections & The Next Stage

20141028_142038_HDR

I’m now in the third and final month of my 3 month / 90 Day Japanese project. Last month was spent focusing on the tadoku reading contest. Although I didn’t reach my goal numerically, there is no doubt that the contest got me reading much more than I had previously, so with that in mind, it was an absolute success.

While I would never argue that reading and literacy are extremely important, and that there are no downsides to reading as a learning tool, I do feel that there were some pros and cons to using tadoku exclusively as a learning method. What follows are my personal pros & cons of participating in the tadoku contest. (Keep in mind that I’m referring to the contest itself and the way I went about it, ie: trying to get a certain amount of points solely by reading and doing little in terms of other learning activities. As mentioned above, I think reading as one of your language learning activities is always a pro!)

Pros

  • Encouraged me to tackle types of materials outside of my comfort zone (ie: novels)
  • Although I don’t feel that I truly learned any new words solely through reading them, I did have moments where I’d consciously recognize a word I’d previously learned, and strengthen that knowledge.
  • It forced me to take a good hard look at how much I was just doing SRS and not simply just spending time with/in the language itself.
  • I got much more comfortable with reading for longer periods of time.

Cons

  • Even though I had an interesting variety of reading materials, I felt like I was “not allowed” to also enjoy things like TV shows or less text-heavy gaming because they didn’t count nearly as much in terms of points, if at all.
  • Although I had moments where I would consciously recognize a word I’d previously learned, and strengthen that knowledge, I don’t feel that I truly learned any new words solely through reading them. (The opposite is listed as a pro.)
  • In other words, I felt like I was practicing (reading) but not necessarily learning (new SRS content).
  • Having to keep track of pages read discouraged me from trying too many different individual books/games/etc.

On Changing Habits
One major element of this challenge so far has been constantly changing habits. By always changing my focus to just 1 thing for the entire month, I found that I lost a bit of time each month to get into the groove, only to change those habits all over again for the next month. While this approach of one element at a time can work quite well in the beginner stages, I am happy to have discovered that I’m not a beginner in Japanese!

So with that in mind, much of what the 3rd month will be is taking the lessons I’ve learned from parts 1 and 2, and applying them to create new and improved, long-term habits for my language learning. As a result, November is purposely set to be more of a mixed bag rather than an extreme focus on just one particular element.

I really feel that one of the biggest hurdles in language learning isn’t necessarily things like finding the best tools or resources, but finding the best approaches and establishing the best habits that work for you, your life and your goals.

The Next Stage
Overall, I think participating in the contest was a personal success, and I’m glad I joined in. As stated above, it had a lot of positive effects, and despite a few negatives, I think it took a month of tadoku-only for me to realize the full advantages of increasing my reading time and not relying solely on SRS. This new realization of using SRS as a baseline rather than the complete end-goal will be integral to the next and final stage of this 3-month project.

In November, the first part of my learning plan is to keep a very short journal for each and every day. Completing a smaller, more manageable level of SRSing (now with new content again) will be the sort of bare essential for each day. But more than that, I have to log at least one other Japanese activity. Even if it’s just 30 minutes, I think making sure to go that extra mile and get that combination of study time + immersion time each day will lead to some big improvements.

Having this journal checked off each day and SRS-completed are two forms of a measurable goal for the month. The third form is where the real project-style activities come in for the month. I’ve been compiling a list of mini-missions to try out for the month; all things that really pertain to my interests and goals for learning Japanese. Out of that list, I’ve chosen 5 of these to check off in November. This will be where the bulk of my new SRS content comes from too. The idea isn’t to do any one of these to any extreme extent, but rather to give them all a try and see what the results are. Without any further delay, here are the mini-missions I have chosen for the month:

  • Completely learn the lyrics to a song in Japanese, including the guitar chords: Fairly self-explanatory, but this basically involves learning the vocabulary for the lyrics in LWT/Anki, then trying to memorize the lines with a cloze format as well, and finally taking that knowledge and learning the song’s guitar chords. This is a prime example of taking an existing hobby and combining it with language learning.
  • Reading the news: To be able to tackle the journalistic style of news sites, I want to start with learning the vocabulary just from the headlines at first, then move on to a full article.
  • Podcast synopsis: Similar to the news mini-mission, I want to try and understand more of what’s being said in podcasts. I want to do this by learning the vocabulary from the synopsis/blurb about a particular episode on the podcast’s site, and then listen to the episode itself afterwards, paying attention to these reoccurring words.
  • Learn the readings for characters’ names: It’s embarrassing, but I have a hard time keeping track of characters names in movies and TV shows. So as a fun way of fixing this problem and learning to read people’s names in kanji better, I got an idea for another card format in Anki. Using characters from anime that I’m watching, on the front of the card I’ll have a profile-style picture of that character, with their name in kanji written below it. Their name in kana will be there as well, but in a cloze format. This will also be a way to learn new kanji that I may not otherwise come across
  • Memorize the original Team Rocket speech in Japanese: This will be carried out in a similar way to the musical mini-mission above, but instead of a song, I’ll be using the Japanese version of a speech that no doubt many of you are familiar with.

None of these are particularly huge things to undertake on their own, since the idea here is to go for depth vs. breadth when it comes to fully exploring and learning with each mini-mission. Certainly some of these are much more involved than others (for example, memorizing a speech that’s only a few lines vs. a full song including the music too.)

Even though these are more or less all new learning experiments, they all build upon the method that I’v established as the one that works best for me (LWT, Anki, and accompanying audio when applicable.) This is something I’m glad to see in my studies, because it shows a certain level of success from all my previous experimenting and tinkering.

Now a few days into November, some of these activities are already underway. After the next few weeks, I hope to be able to report another accomplished language mission, just in time to take a break for the December holidays, and to be able to reflect on this 3 month project with success. I’ll be sure to post the results from each mini-mission at the end of the month too.

Thank you for reading, and good luck in your own language learning this month!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Tadoku Contest: Half-Way Point

Here we are, mid-month, and half-way through the current tadoku contest. It’s certainly been an eye-opener so far, even in ways that I wasn’t expecting. Here’s how I’m doing so far…

Crossing the bridge... to tadoku-land!

Crossing the bridge… to tadoku-land!

Adjusting
I’m currently slightly below halfway up to my goal (knowing that this has been a bit of a lazy week in terms of reading motivation). So I suppose you could say I’m right where I expect to be given all circumstances.

I had actually set my initial goal a fair bit higher, aiming to do much better than the previous time I’d participated in the contest. When I found myself falling quite behind this goal, I dug up my old results and looked at the date. That’s when I realized that I had previously done the contest during a period of unemployment. Although it pained me a little to reduce my new target so much, the fact that I know I can at least match or even slightly surpass my old goal while working a full time job again is huge progress, absolutely!

Immersion
The main benefit for me so far during this contest has been to take an honest look at my immersion time. I already knew that I had too much of reliance on using just flashcards, with not enough true “hands on” time with the language. Shifting my focus to spending much more time reading has shown me just how much this was the case. I think the best way to explain it is that with the amount of time I was spending on things like reading before, it wasn’t enough to really get my head spinning with the language. Thanks to the contest, I’ve also experienced things like my inner monologue being replaced with bits of Japanese words, or even dreams in the language. Having that feeling of the language lingering in your mind long after you’ve heard or read it is very motivating! And what’s more, it’s given me the courage to step outside my comfort zone and tackle types of materials that I hadn’t dared to attempt before.

SRS as a baseline
That being said, I’m definitely still a huge supporter of using an SRS in your studies. We all have days, weeks, or even months where things can get hectic in one way or another, and immersion activities can slide. By having a realistic, daily target with an SRS that is completed every day, you at least know that you’ve done something towards your goal and you won’t forget what you’ve learned so far. I think the trick is to use this as a baseline, and not the end of the line. Participating in this contest is making me realize that I have to go to that next extra step, deep immersion, to make that much more progress.

Life still happens
Speaking of using SRS to keep yourself afloat when times get busy… Although I’ve been making a conscious effort to seize more opportunities for reading, there are still many situations where I intentionally forgo immersion activities in favor of things like spending time with family and friends, or looking after matters at home. While it’s very important to look at where you can create more opportunities for your language activities, I think it’s equally important to not let the rest of your life slide either. In my experience, it will make your goal all the more sustainable, maintainable and attainable. I may not be reaching the higher reading targets of some of my fellow learners, but I know I’m still making progress, and improving my life every day.

Looking ahead
A side-effect of this stage of my 3 month project is that it’s actually making me want even more immersion. Not just for reading, but for a more varied approach of LWT/Anki, TV, music, gaming, podcasts, books… everything, the whole picture. This will actually play a huge role for the third and final part of my 3 month project. along with some more specific goals.

I’m definitely a believer in the importance of reading and literacy, but to be honest it’s not always the best activity given the situation. For example, when I go out walking at lunch time, it’s no doubt much safer to be listening to a podcast and watching where I’m going than to be reading on my phone and crashing into someone. Or after a particularly draining study session, one would not want to get burned out (or worse, turned-off from reading) by hitting the books even harder, and may find sitting back with a TV drama to be a way of winding down but still maintaining immersion with the language.

All this is not to say that tadoku isn’t useful. It is very useful, without a doubt! It’s just to say that I’m feeling like it should be only a part of my overall approach, and just like with SRS, not the entire approach. Still, I want to continue to give the contest and tadoku approach a fair chance, and will continue to focus on reading for the rest of the month. Then for November, I hope to brings things all together again and have an improved, more balanced approach to everything, with some surprises in the mix too. Stay tuned!

 
 
Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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