Wow, I can’t believe it’s already been a full year since I started using my study planner! It went by so fast and there are already 12 months registered in it. At first, it was supposed to be a plain planner but I was unable to overcome my urge to decorate it… even just a little bit. So it’s not super fancy, but each month has a theme that usually matches my bullet journal’s theme for the same month. Also, the names of the months are in Polish – my native tongue.
I use a variety of abbreviations in my study planner – the boxes aren’t that wide and I try to fit each point within one line (for aesthetic reasons; it’s also more transparent that way). I also tend to shorten the titles of textbooks or shows that I register. With anime that’s usually easy because for most of them a shorter version already exists in the fandom. For instance, Cardfight!! Vanguard, which appears on some of the following pages, is often referred to as CFV so I implemented this abbreviation into the planner. For some shows, I had to create shorter versions of my own.
In addition, I had to come up with my own indicators for certain types of resources and language skills. They are as follows:
A = animation, anime; audiobook,
D = drama (Japanese live action tv series),
DR(CD) = drama CD,
SB = student’s book or the main book,
WB = workbook,
M = mock exam or mock questions,
K = kanji,
GR = grammar,
VOC(AB) = vocabulary,
🎧 = listening,
日記 = writing a dairy entry,
R = review,
N = new (usually refers to flashcards and means that I input new ones),
OFF = a day off, no studying was done.
DONE = yay, I’ve finished the thing!
If somewhere along with the entries small letters appear next to a number in the brackets, it means I was able to finish only a part of a certain chapter or a section. Rather than opening the textbook and checking how many pages or exercises I had done exactly, I just plant a small letter so that I know I was not done with something in one session.
If anyone’s curious, I’m using a blank monthly schedule from Muji along with a black Muji 0.38 gel pen. You can get those in Muji store (also available online, that’s how I purchase my Muji stuff).
There isn’t much on January pages since I haven’t kept a proper study planner back then! I got the idea at the end of January, actually – the inspiration sparked thanks to one of Instagram posts that showed in my feed (unfortunately, despite trying, I was unable to find THE post that inspired me – sorry guys).
However, I decided to include January in the planner anyway, even though I started registering what I do as February began because I had already studied in January and I could remember what I did that month. It wasn’t much, especially that my journey had only restarted, but I managed to review two N4 prep books (from Nihongo Challenge series). While doing the reading section, I actually discovered that I enjoy reading short passages a lot hence the first book of So-Matome N3 series I began was, in fact, the dokusho (reading) one.
Apart from Nihongo Challenge, my biggest achievement of that month was purchasing and reading the first entire manga volume in Japanese. It was hard, it was painful and my head was throbbing at the end of it, but I managed to read the first volume of Chihayafuru in about 2-3 days. I still remember how slow I was and how many times I had to open my dictionary to check even the simplest words and kanji. That experience made me realise how much I had forgotten over the past few years. However, because it was Chihayafuru, one of my favourite manga/anime series of all time, I couldn’t just put it away at that time. I did later when I began volume 2 and then didn’t finish it until about half a year later – I came back to reading it in September, I believe.
I was on a real fire back in February. As I overcame the first struggles connected with revising what I had learnt way before, I began expanding my knowledge – still only on N4 level (despite having passed it already).
I also focused on gaining back my kanji recognition skills, so I reviewed around 400 kanji I used to know from Basic Kanji Book vol. 1 (and other sources) and then jumped into Basic Kanji Book the workbook. It was a good choice since the workbook is a better fit for revising rather than accompanying the main book as you go through it chapter by chapter. The workbook contains many reading passages as well as writing and listening exercises with the use of kanji that were taught in the main book (they are divided thematically). Also, the grammar used in the workbook is of N4 level, so it isn’t a good choice for beginners (even though the main book is!).
Apart from kanji practice, February was the first month when I implemented two things that later became the core element of my daily studies: Anki along with Fluent Forever method (introduced in a book by the same title) as well as massive immersion via rewatching Japanese tv shows such as anime or dramas in the original. In this month I felt like watching Yowamushi Pedal again and so I did. It’s a very long anime series (4 seasons are currently out so that’s around 100 episodes), so it took me well into March to finish watching it without any subtitles.
One last major thing that happened in February was starting the Try! book for N4 level – in order to review grammar. I also noticed how well this book was structured not only in the case of grammar points but also in listening and reading practice. Till this day it’s my book of choice when it comes to learning grammar and I can’t wait to dig into the N2 copy I have. But that is going to happen after I review N3 level over the first quarter of 2020 (at least that’s the plan).
March was also a good month and as you can see, I actually achieved a lot over those 31 days. There were many shows I had completed but not so many books. Well, it isn’t surprising at all since back in January and February I was reviewing basic things and after some time I just remembered things I used to know before. At the end of March, however, I began to delve into N3 studies so obviously, my progress slowed down as learning new things takes more time than revising old ones.
Still, there was one more thing that I added to the learning mix: drama CDs. They are something I wish to elaborate more in the future posts but in a nutshell, they are a recording of voice actors acting out a scene. They’re a little different from an audiobook as there usually isn’t any narration. Instead, they kind of resemble a movie without the picture – you can hear what the characters are doing and saying (that includes noises made, like the wind blowing or a door squeaking as it is being opened).
Anyway, the snow melted so I was finally able to take my car out of the garage (we live in a mountainous area so my tiny city car without a four-wheel drive is basically useless in winter). As I was driving around, I came up with an idea to pop one of a few drama CDs I possess into the car’s CD slot. Consequently, listening to drama CDs had become one of the best activities I can do in the car – and also one of the most pleasant ones.
In this month I had slowed down significantly. I mean, I kept regular studies, but I wasn’t going as crazy as I used to over the first 3 months. I continued to watch anime alongside studying, but there were also days when I just watched a show and didn’t work with any textbooks or novels.
Due to Easter, I also took a bit of a break, but the family gathering wasn’t the only time I gave up studying – as you can see, there were some ‘off’ days outside Easter period as well. To tell the truth, in April high season at my job kicked off so at first, I struggled a little with adjustment to a new regime at work. Yet, after some time I adapted to my new schedule and workload as thus I was able to get my studies back on the right track which was later reflected in what my May looked like.
April was also the month when I forsook Kanzen Master because I noticed it was too difficult for a person who had just started their preparations for N3 level. I finished the first section of the vocabulary and reading textbooks and, consequently, didn’t even open the grammar one. Instead, I gave So-Matome series a try and they were a much better fit for N3 entry-level studies. I still cannot fathom, though, why I had put off using Try! N3 for later when I enjoyed my revision with its N4 counterpart so much. I guess I wanted to leave Try! for N3 wrap-up period since it nicely explains the grammar and also lets you practise listening exercises for the exam as well as do some reading.
It was a really good month. I was back in my game, keeping the right balance between work, family life and Japanese. In total, I took only 4 days off over the entire month! Given the professional workload I usually have in May, being able to make quite nice progress towards reaching the mid-N3 level.
It was also a month of putting new solutions into action. I received my 500 mon N3 book early that month and immediately began using it. 500 mon is a series of books which include mock exam questions, them being divided into 3 categories: kanji readings, vocabulary and grammar. On each page, 3 questions are asked and 4 possible answers are provided. On the next page, there are the answers as well as explanations why those answers are correct. I got to admit, as I was using this book, I picked up a ton of new knowledge. What’s more, you can go over it multiple times, thanks to a row of small boxes being presents next to each question – so you can tick whether you got the question right. Thanks to that, when you use that book for the second or further time, you can compare how well you did then and currently.
Another invention which actually got implemented at the end of April, but took full bloom in May (funny, since most flowers do bloom in May here!), was nikki (Japanese for “diary”). I started writing entries – not daily, but when I felt like it and, obviously, when something worth describing happened – in a simple notebook. Too bad I stopped doing it in summer because it gave me valuable hints on grammar points I couldn’t remember and needed to revise.
The last innovation that took place in May was getting access to Japanese Kindle. I was so glad I was provided with the opportunity and I have to admit that it boosted my reading frequency A LOT. I love using my tablet so I was that much more glad I could use it for practising my Japanese reading skills as well. Plus reading Kindle manga is awesome and their prices are not that bad. What’s more, if you are skilful, you can utilise their discount and save tons of money. I was genuinely surprised how often they do a 100% discount (yes, you read that right, a hundred per cent discount!) on the first 1, 2 or 3 volumes of a manga series to get you hooked. And those aren’t just indie or low-ranking titles. No! You can find well-known and bestseller titles being discounted 100%! I probably don’t have to tell you that thanks to visiting their online store often and watching out for such promotions, I stocked up a fair amount of manga and books to read for FREE?
June was one of the first worst months in 2019. Why? Because the heatwaves hit. The temperatures increased up to over 30 C (around 90 F for you American folks) and stayed in my country for DAYS, so obviously most people started to feel overwhelmed after some time – me included. I felt so lazy that I was unable to do much. Even heavier professional workload – because summer holidays started and my work is highly dependent on holiday seasons – didn’t help either because I was too tired to study after work and preferred to spend my time relaxing rather than committing to the books.
So, in consequence, June was the time when I utilised the most basic rule I had for my studies most – I focused on at least keeping up with flashcards revision. Despite having no energy for even a slight reading, I dedicated those 5 minutes of my time daily to run Anki and review my flashcards. I didn’t input new ones, though.
There it goes.
The worst month of the year!
Seriously, July is just my personal black mark when it comes to 2019 studying. I almost hadn’t done anything, I had even forgone revising my flashcards some days. The beginning was especially hard since the heatwaves were still present in my country so the consequences were similar to June’s – I didn’t do sh*t.
Another reason why I hadn’t done much studying that month was the fact that we adopted a cat at the very end of June. Over the first week Stefan was kept in my mother’s bedroom and he, being a little kitty, functioned in this typical baby routine consisting of eating, doing his business and napping (on repeat) so I was able to escape the bedroom and do my stuff while he was dozing off.
However, when he got accustomed to his new home, we let him explore the rest of the house so that he could get used to it and its residents too – and that was when my personal nightmare began. Stefan was such an energetic and ‘cat-ish’ cat (meaning he was everywhere he could reach doing the usual cat things) that I was disturbed every time I tried to sit down with my books. He harassed my pens, my books, everything that was lying on the desk so I had to hide most things and, of course, there couldn’t be much studying done. Fortunately, in August I came up with an idea of how to study while being under a constant kitty attack.
I was so mad after July that when August came, I made this small resolution to turn things around and get back to studying. The weather also helped because the usual August chills settled in so I could focus more easily thanks to that. It was also the month when I discovered that I could find refuge from our new family member, Stefan the cat, in my study. Study as in a room. I have a separate room for client meetings in the house. So I grabbed my books and pencil case and retreated to that room in the evenings.
It was a real game-changer, there’s no doubt in that. August pages clearly show that I was able to study more and more often. Sure, there were some ‘off’ days as well, but not as many as there were in June and July. I was also able to get back to writing my Japanese diary and reading mangas in the original.
Speaking of manga, that month I discovered a little gem on Kindle – a manga titled Hananoi-kun to Koi no Yamai (花野井くんと恋の病). It’s a shoujo manga (i.e. manga dedicated to girls, mostly covering typical teenage life and its problems, first love, first kiss etc.) about a plain girl who is asked by a handsome boy to go out with him. Surprisingly to her, she says yes and that’s how their slowly budding romance begins. What I love about this series is that even though the heroine is a plain girl, she’s a very nice person who wishes to work things out in a relationship rather than making a fuss over stupid things. It was a nice change from the usual drama when the characters don’t talk to each other when there’s a misunderstanding between them.
I also liked how chapters are titled – each chapter covers one of the ‘firsts’ that happen to a couple. So we have the first holding hands moment, the first kiss, first visit to each other’s rooms, first part-time job, first Valentine’s Day and so on. It’s a very heart-warming story and also quite easy to understand. I also adore the author’s drawing style – it matches the story perfectly.
The newest, 5th volume should be out later this month (January 2020) or in February and I am so looking forward to reading more of Hananoi kun (the boyfriend) and Hotaru’s (the heroine) story.
Fortunately, I kind of realised I had less than 3 months left till the exam so I started doing some real work in this month. I came back to watching anime with Japanese subtitles which was a marvellous solution for boosting both listening and reading skills. Netflix was especially great for that because, in case of Japanese shows, the subtitles contain exactly the same lines as the uttered ones so you can follow the conversation on the screen AND learn how it is written at the same time. This doesn’t work for foreign shows, though – the dubbing and the subtitles unfortunately usually do not match.
In September I finally got to studying with Try! I still cannot understand why I put off using that book for so long because after I began working with it, grammar was so much easier to comprehend than with So-Matome series. Plus the reading passages available in Try! are simply interesting.
One more thing happened in this month – I grabbed Chihayafuru the manga again. The last time I did this was in January as you remember. I was genuinely and positively surprised to find out how much progress I had made throughout the previous half a year. First of all, my reading speed has increased significantly and I could also understand and read much more without the use of a dictionary. This was also the moment when I forsook my vocabulary notebook for Chihayafuru. I used to keep one for volume 1 but as my skills progressed, I found it an unnecessary hassle to keep. I just wanted to enjoy my manga. Thanks to such attitude, I was able to breeze through the next 2 volumes before I switched to mock reading exercises for the upcoming JLPT.
Haha. Another funny month. Even though there are many breaks registered in this month, they weren’t the lazy kind of breaks. Instead of studying, I got into writing. I was on real fire with the story I am currently working on so I welcomed this all-consuming passion for writing with opened arms. As a result, I was able to break 60k worth of text over the course of 3 weeks thus completing my National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge a whole month early (as it takes place in November every year). Looking back, I think it was a good choice because thanks to that in November I was able to focus exclusively on last revisions and preparations before JLPT rather than being torn between participating in the challenge and studying Japanese.
At the end of October, I got back to studying (the fact that there was a little over a month left till D day definitely influenced my actions) but before that, I spent the time I had free from writing on gaming. At that time I was writing those posts about visual novel games as well as my personal recommendations of such here on this blog, so obviously I returned to some of them to check how much my language level had improved. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that there was a noticeable difference between how I perceived those games’ language difficult then and back in October. I knew more kanji and more vocabulary and I didn’t have to reach for a dictionary that often. It was an amazing and rewarding experience – much like when I started reading Chihayafuru again, after half a year, and could recognise my progress with Japanese.
I should be proud when looking at those pages. But am I really? Partially yes, but mostly no. I am perfectly aware that achieving that performance was possible because I had that thought of JLPT closing in at the back of my head all the time. I was also pressured to finish the prep books before the real deal so that I was as prepared as I could be. So somewhere along the month I kinda lost the joy of studying Japanese. A week before the exam I couldn’t look at my textbooks anymore and I began to drift away from sitting down and studying in order to save myself.
Some might say it was a good solution – one should clear their head and relax just before the exam – but I just knew that if I hadn’t taken the breaks my intuition had told me to take, I would have cracked. I didn’t want that to happen to my beloved Japanese because I remembered what happened to my university studies after years of forced studying – I didn’t care anymore as a result.
To not let history repeat itself, I took massive breaks just before the finishing line. I was kind of lucky because I found a good book series at the time and was able to forget about the exam thanks to it. Did I regret it then? A little. But after I took the exam itself, my regrets cleared up because I knew I did well and immediately felt excused for my indulgence.
Well, I could have expected that to happen. The exam took place on December 1st so obviously, I needed to take a break post-exam. However, due to Christmas time, all the preparations I had to do before THE dinner, I spent little time with Japanese. The only thing I did regularly was gaming since I got a Japanese RPG game – Persona 4 Golden – as my Saint Nicholas’ Day gift. Of course, it was good practice in terms of both reading and listening, but apart from that, I hadn’t done much else.
Yes, before New Year’s Eve I welcomed my desk and textbooks back, especially that I wanted to finish a few mangas I had started in 2019 in order to boost my count for the year but that was it.
Now, here we are, in January 2020 and I am back on the track again. I started reading Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (or ハリーポッターとアズカバンの囚人 in Japanese) as I promised myself in my New Year’s resolutions for 2020. I also began using Tobira which I anticipated before I took JLPT. I hope this year will be as successful as 2019 was. And I hope yours too, dear readers! See you every week in 2020! Happy New Year!